DECLINING YEARS OF BOULTON AND WATT—GREGORY WATT—DEATH OF BOULTON.
dissolution of the original partnership between Boulton and Watt, on
the expiry of the patent in 1800, Boulton was seventy-two years old,
and Watt sixty-four. The great work of their life had been
done, and the time was approaching when they must needs resign into
other hands the great branches of industry which they had created.
Watt, though the younger of the two, was the first to withdraw from
an active share in the concerns of Soho. He could scarcely be
said to taste the happiness of life until he had cast his business
altogether behind him.
It was far different with Boulton, to whom active occupation
had become a second nature. For several years, indeed, his
constitution had been showing signs of giving way, and nature
repeated her warning that it was time to retire. But in the
case of men such as Boulton, with whom business has become a habit
and necessity, as well as a pleasure and recreation, to retire is
often to die. He himself was accustomed to say that he must
either "rub or rust"; and as the latter was contrary to his nature,
he rubbed on to the end, continuing to take an active interest in
the working of the great manufactory which it had been the ambition
of his life to build up.
The department of business that most interested him in his
later years was the coinage. His chief pleasure consisted in
seeing his new and beautiful pieces following each other in quick
succession from the Soho Mint. Nor did he cease occupying
himself with new inventions; for we find him as late as 1797 taking
out a patent for raising water by impulse, somewhat after the manner
of Montgolier's Hydraulic Ram, to which he added many ingenious
improvements. His house at Soho continued to be the resort of
distinguished visitors; and his splendid hospitality never failed.
But, as years advanced and his infirmities increased, we find
him occasionally expressing a desire for quiet. He would then
retire to Cheltenham for the benefit of the waters, requesting his
young partners to keep him advised from time to time of the
proceedings at Soho. Even at Cheltenham, Boulton could not be
idle, but undertook a careful analysis of all the waters of the
place, the results of which he entered, in minute detail, in his
An alarming incident occurred at Soho towards the end of
1800, which is worthy of passing notice, as illustrative of
Boulton's vigour and courage even at this advanced period of his
life. A large gang of Birmingham housebreakers, knowing the
treasures accumulated in the silver-plate house, determined to break
into it and carry off the silver; together with the large sum of
money accumulated in the counting-house for the purpose of paying
the wages of the workmen, upwards of 600 in number, on Christmas
Eve. They had provided false keys for most of the doors, and
bribed the watchman, who communicated the plot to Boulton, to admit
them within the gates. He took his steps accordingly, arming a
number of men, and stationing them in different parts of the
The robbers made the attempt on three several occasions.
On the first night they tried their keys on the counting-house door,
but failed to open it, on which they shut their dark lantern and
retired. Boulton sent an account of the proceedings each night
to his daughter in London. On the first attempt being made, he
wrote,—"The best news I can send you is that we are all alive; but I
have lost my voice and found a troublesome cough by the agreeable
employment of thief-watching."
Two nights after, the burglars came again, with altered keys,
but still they could not open the counting-house door. The
third night they determined to waive art, and break in by force.
They were allowed to break in and seize their booty, and were making
off with 150 guineas and a load of silver, when Boulton gave the
word to seize them. A quantity of tow soaked with turpentine
was instantly set fire to; numerous lights were turned on; and the
robbers found themselves surrounded on all sides by armed men.
Four of them were taken after a desperate struggle; but the fifth,
though severely wounded, contrived to escape over the tops of the
houses in Brook-row.
Writing to his friend Dumergue, in London, of the exploit,
Boulton said,—"You know I seldom do things by halves; so I have sent
the four desperate wolves to Stafford Gaol, and I believe the fifth
is much wounded. If I had made my attack with a less powerful
army than I did, we should probably have had a greater list of
killed and wounded." [p.413-1]
It was in allusion to this exploit that Sir Walter Scott said of
Boulton to Allan Cunningham, "I like Boulton; he is a brave man,—and
who can dislike the brave? [p.413-2]
The incident, when communicated to Scott during one of his visits to
Soho, is said to have suggested the scene in 'Guy Mannering,' in
which the attack is made on Dirk Hatterick in the smuggler's cave.
Occupation in business was not of the same importance to Watt
that it was to Boulton; and he was only too glad to get rid of it
and engage in those quiet pursuits in which he found the most
pleasure. In the year 1790 he removed from the house he had so
long occupied on Harper's Hill, to a new and comfortable house which
he had built for himself at Heathfield in the parish of Handsworth,
where he continued to live until the close of his life. The
land surrounding the place was, until then, common; and he continued
to purchase the lots as they were offered for sale, until, by the
year 1794, he had enclosed about forty acres. He took pleasure
in laying out the grounds, planting many of the trees with his own
hands; and in course of time, as the trees reached maturity, the
formerly barren heath became converted into a scene of great rural
Annexed to the house, in the back yard, he built a forge, and
upstairs, in his "Garret," he fitted up a workshop, in which he
continued to pursue his mechanical studies and experiments for many
years. While Watt was settling himself for the remainder of
his life in the house at Heathfield, Boulton was erecting his large
new Mint at Soho, which was completed and ready for use in 1791.
When the lawsuits which had given Watt so much anxiety were
satisfactorily disposed of, an immense load was removed from his
mind; and he indulged in the anticipation of at last enjoying the
fruits of his labour in peace. Being of frugal habits, he had
already begun to save money, and accumulated as much as he desired.
But when the heavy arrears of Cornish dues were collected, about the
period of expiry of the patent, a considerable sum of money
necessarily fell to Watt's share; and then he began to occupy
himself in the pleasant recreation of looking out for an investment
in land. He was, however, hard to please, and made many
journeys before he succeeded in buying his estate.
Eventually Watt made several purchases of land at Doldowlod,
on the banks of the Wye, between Rhayader and Newbridge, in
Radnorshire. There was a pleasant farmhouse on the property,
in which he occasionally spent some pleasant months in summer amidst
beautiful scenery; but he had by this time grown too old to root
himself kindly in a new place; and his affections speedily drew him
back again to the neighbourhood of Soho, and to his comfortable home
During the short peace of Amiens in the following year, he
made the longest journey in his life. Accompanied by Mrs.
Watt, he travelled through Belgium, up the banks of the Rhine to
Frankfort, and home by Strasburg and Paris. While absent,
Boulton wrote him many pleasant letters, telling him of what was
going on at Soho. The brave old man was still at work there,
and wrote in as enthusiastic terms as ever of the coins and medals
he was striking at his Mint. Though strong in mind, he was,
however, growing feebler in body, and suffered much from attacks of
his old disease. "It is necessary for me," he wrote, "to pass
a great part of my time in or upon the bed; nevertheless, I go down
to the manufactory or the Mint once or twice a day, without injuring
myself as heretofore, but not without some fatigue. However,
as I am now taking bark twice a day, I find a daily increase of
strength, and flatter myself with the pleasure of taking a journey
to Paris in April or May next."
Upon Watt's arrival in London, a letter of hearty welcome
from Boulton met him; but it conveyed, at the same time, the sad
intelligence of the death of Mrs. Keir, a lady beloved by all who
knew her, and a frequent inmate at Soho and Heathfield. One by
one the members of the old circle were departing, leaving wide gaps,
which new friends could never fill up. The pleasant
associations which are the charm of old friendships were becoming
mingled with sadness and regret. The grave was closing over
one after another of the Soho group; and the survivors were
beginning to live for the most part upon the memories of the past.
But it is one of the penalties of old age to suffer a continuous
succession of such bereavements; and that state would be intolerable
but for the comparative deadening of the feelings which mercifully
accompanies the advance of years.
One of the deaths most lamented by Watt was that of Dr. Black
of Edinburgh, which occurred in 1799. Black had watched to the
last with tender interest the advancing reputation and prosperity of
his early protégé. They had kept up a continuous and
confidential correspondence on subjects of mutual interest for a
period of about thirty years. Watt, though reserved to others,
never feared unbosoming himself to his old friend, telling him of
the new schemes he had on foot and freely imparting to him his hopes
and fears, his failures and successes. When Watt visited
Scotland he usually took Edinburgh on his way, for the purpose of
spending a few days with Black and Robison. The latter went
express to London, for the purpose of giving evidence in the suit of
Watt against the Hornblowers, and his testimony proved of essential
"Our friend Robison," Watt wrote to Black, "exerted himself
much; and, considering his situation, did wonders." When
Robison returned to Edinburgh, his Natural Philosophy class received
him with three cheers. He proceeded to give them a short
account of the trial, which he characterised as "not more the cause
of Watt versus Hornblower, than of science against ignorance."
"When I had finished," said he, "I got another plaudit, that Mrs.
Siddons would have envied." [p.417]
No one was more gratified at the issue of the trial than Dr.
Black, who, when Robison told him of it, was moved even to tears.
"It's very foolish," he said, "but I can't help it when I hear of
anything good to Jamie Watt." The Doctor had long been in
declining health, but was still able to work. He was busy
writing another large volume, and had engaged the engraver to come
to him for orders on the day after that on which he died. His
departure was singularly peaceful. His servant had delivered
to him a basin of milk, which was to serve for his dinner, and
retired from the room. In less than a minute he returned, and
found his master sitting where he had left him, but dead, with the
basin of milk unspilled in his hand. Without a struggle, the
spirit had fled. As the servant expressed it, "his poor master
had given over living." He had twice before said to his doctor
that "he had caught himself forgetting to breathe."
Ed.—Joseph Black (1728-99): Scottish
physician, physicist, and chemist: Professor of Anatomy
and Chemistry at Glasgow University and of Medicine at
Edinburgh University. Black is known for his discoveries
of latent heat, specific heat, and carbon dioxide.
On hearing of the good old man's death, Watt wrote to
Robison,—"I may say that to him I owe, in a great measure, what I
am; he taught me to reason and experiment in natural philosophy, and
was a true friend and philosopher, whose loss will always be
lamented while I live. We may all pray that our latter end may
be like his. He has truly gone to sleep in the arms of his
Creator, and been spared all the regrets attendant on a more
lingering exit. I could dwell longer on this subject; but
regrets are unavailing, and only tend to enfeeble our own minds, and
make them less able to bear the ills we cannot avoid. Let us
cherish the friends we have left, and do as much good as we can in
Lord Cockburn, in his 'Memorials,' gives the following
graphic portrait of the father of modern chemistry:—
"Dr. Black was a striking and beautiful person; tall,
very thin, and cadaverously pale; his hair carefully powdered,
though there was little of it except what was collected into a long
thin queue; his eyes dark, clear, and large, like deep pools of pure
water. He wore black speck-less clothes, silk stockings,
silver buckles, and either a slim green silk umbrella, or a genteel
brown cane. His general frame and air was feeble and slender.
The wildest boy respected Black. No lad could be irreverent
towards a man so pale, so gentle, so elegant, and so illustrious.
So he glided, like a spirit, through rather mischievous sportiveness,
Of the famous Lunar Society, Boulton and Watt now remained
almost the only surviving members. Day was killed by a fall
from his horse in 1789. Josiah Wedgwood closed his noble
career at Etruria in 1795, in the sixty-fifth year of his age.
Dr. Withering, distinguished alike in botany and medicine, died in
1799, of a lingering consumption. Dr. Darwin was seized by his
last attack of angina pectoris in 1802, and, being unable to bleed
himself, as he had done before, he called upon his daughter to apply
the lancet to his arm; but, before she could do so, he fell back in
his chair and expired. Dr. Priestley, driven into exile, [p.419]
closed his long and illustrious career at Northumberland in
Pennsylvania in 1803. The Lunar Society was thus all but
extinguished by death; the vacant seats remained unfilled; and the
meetings were no longer held.
But the bereavements which Watt naturally felt the most were
the deaths of his own children. He had two by his second wife,
a son and a daughter, both full of promise, who had nearly grown up
to adult age, when they died. Jessie was of a fragile
constitution from her childhood, but her health seemed to become
re-established as she grew in years. But before she had
entered womanhood, the symptoms of an old pulmonary affection made
their appearance, and she was carried off by consumption.
Mr. Watt was much distressed by the event, confessing that he
felt as if one of the strongest ties that bound him to life was
broken, and that the acquisition of riches availed him nothing when
unable to give them to those he loved. In a letter to a
friend, he thus touchingly alluded to one of the most sorrowful
associations connected with the deaths of children:—
"Mrs. Watt continues to be much affected whenever
anything recalls to her mind the amiable child we have parted with;
and these remembrances occur but too frequently,—her little works of
ingenuity, her books and other objects of study, serve as mementoes
of her who was always to the best of her power usefully employed
even to the last day of her life. With me, whom age has
rendered incapable of the passion of grief, the feeling is a deep
regret; and, did nature permit, my tears would flow as fast as her
To divert and relieve his mind, as was his wont, he betook
himself to fresh studies and new inquiries. It is not
improbable that the disease of which his daughter had died, as well
as his own occasional sufferings from asthma, gave a direction to
his thoughts, which turned upon the inhalation of gas as a remedial
agent in pulmonary and other diseases. Dr. Beddoes of Bristol
had started the idea, which Watt now took up and prosecuted with his
usual zeal. He contrived an apparatus for extracting, washing,
and collecting gases, as well as for administering them by
inhalation. He professed that he had taken up the subject not
because he understood it, but because nobody else did, and that he
could not withhold anything which might the be of use in prompting
others to do better. The result of his investigations was
published at Bristol under the title of 'Considerations on the
Medicinal use of Fictitious Airs,' the first part of which was
written by Dr. Beddoes, and the second part by Watt.
But a still heavier blow to Watt was the death of his son
Gregory, a few years after the death of his only daughter.
Gregory Watt was a young man of the highest promise, and resembled
Watt himself in many respects—in mind, character, and temperament.
Those who knew him while a student at Glasgow College spoke of him
long after in terms of the most glowing enthusiasm. Among his
fellow-students were Francis, afterwards
Lord Jeffrey, and the poet
Campbell. Both were captivated not less by the brilliancy of
his talents than by the charming graces of his person.
Campbell spoke of him as "a splendid stripling—literally the most
beautiful youth I ever saw. When he was only twenty-two, an
eminent English artist—Howard, I think—made his head the model of a
picture of Adam." Campbell, Thomson, and Gregory Watt were
class-fellows in Greek, and avowed rivals; but the rivalry only
served to cement their friendship. In the session of 1793-4,
after a brilliant competition which excited unusual interest, the
Prize was awarded to Thomson; but, with the exception of the victor
himself, Gregory was the most delighted student in the class.
"He was," says the biographer of Campbell, "a generous, liberal, and
open-hearted youth; so attached to his friend, and so sensible of
his merit, that the honours conferred on Thomson obliterated all
recollections of personal failure." [p.421]
Francis Jeffrey was present at the commemoration of the first of
May, two years later, and was especially struck with the eloquence
of young Watt, "who obtained by far the greatest number of prizes,
and degraded the prize-readers most inhumanly by reading a short
composition of his own, a translation of the Chorus of the Medea,
with so much energy and grace, that the verses seemed to me better
perhaps than they were in reality. He is a young man of very
eminent capacity, and seems to have all the genius of his father,
with a great deal of animation and ardour which is all his own." [p.422]
Campbell thought him born to be a great orator, and
anticipated for him the greatest success in Parliament or at the
Bar. His father had, however, already destined him to follow
his own business. Indeed, Gregory was introduced as a partner
into the Soho concern, about the same time as his elder brother
James, and Matthew Robinson Boulton. But he never gave much
attention to the business. Scarcely had he left college,
before symptoms of pulmonary affection showed themselves; and, a
physician having been consulted, Mr. Watt was recommended to send
his son to reside in the south of England. He accordingly went
to Penzance for the benefit of its mild climate; and, by a curious
coincidence, he resided as boarder and lodger in the house of
Humphry Davy's mother. Davy was then a boy several years
younger than Gregory. He had already made some experiments in
chemistry, with sundry phials and kitchen utensils, assisted by an
old glyster apparatus presented to him by the surgeon of a French
vessel wrecked on the coast.
Although Gregory Watt possessed great warmth of heart there
was a degree of coldness in his manner to strangers, which repelled
any approach to familiarity. When his landlady's son,
therefore, began talking to him of metaphysics and poetry, he was
disposed to turn to him a deaf ear; but when Davy touched upon the
subject of chemistry, and made the rather daring boast for a boy,
that he would undertake to demolish the French theory in half an
hour, Gregory's curiosity was roused. The barrier of ice
between them was at once removed; and from thenceforward they became
attached friends. Young Davy was encouraged to prosecute his
experiments, which the other watched with daily increasing interest;
and in the course of the following year, Gregory communicated to Dr.
Beddoes, of Bristol, then engaged in establishing his Pneumatic
Institution, an account of Davy's experiments on light and heat, the
result of which was the appointment of the latter as superintendent
of the experiments at the Institution, and the subsequent direction
of his studies and investigations.
Gregory's health having been partially re-established by his
residence at Penzance, he shortly after returned to his father's
house at Birmingham, where Davy frequently visited him, and kept up
the flame of his ambition by intercourse with congenial minds.
Gregory heartily co-operated with his father in his investigations
on air, besides inquiring and experimenting on original subjects of
his own selection. Among these may be mentioned his inquiries
into the gradual refrigeration of basalt, his paper on which, read
before the Royal Society, would alone entitle him to a distinguished
rank among experimentalists. [p.423]
By the kindness of his elder brother James, Gregory Watt was
relieved of his share of the work at Soho, and was enabled to spend
much of his time in travelling about for the benefit of his health.
Early in 1801, we find him making excursions in the western counties
in company with Mr. Murdock, jun.; and looking forward with still
greater anticipations of pleasure to the tour which he subsequently
made through France, Germany, and Austria. We find him
afterwards writing his father from Freiburg, to the effect that he
was gradually growing stronger, and was free from pulmonary
affection. From Leipzig he sent an equally favourable account
of himself, and gave his father every hope that on his return he
would find him strong and sound.
These anticipations, however, proved delusive, for the canker
was already gnawing at poor Gregory's vitals. Returned home,
he busied himself with his books, his experiments, and his
speculations; assisting his father in recording observations on the
effects of nitrous oxide and other gases. But it was soon
found necessary to send him again to the south of England for the
benefit of a milder climate. In the beginning of 1804, his
father and mother went with him to Clifton, where he had an attack
of intermittent fever, which left him very weak. From thence
they removed to Bath, and remained there for about a month, the
invalid being carefully attended by Dr. Beddoes. During their
stay at Bath, Gregory's brother paid him a visit, and was struck by
his altered appearance. The fever had left him, but his cough
and difficulty of breathing were very distressing to witness.
As usual in such complaints, his mind was altogether unaffected.
"Indeed," wrote his brother, "he is as bright, clear, and vigorous,
upon every subject as I ever knew him to be. His voice, too,
is firm and good, and he enters into conversation I should lose the
recollection of his complaint if his appearance did not so forcibly
remind me of it. It is fortunate that he does not suffer much
bodily pain, nor, so far as I can discover, any mental anxiety as to
the issue of his complaint." [p.425-1]
When Gregory was sufficiently recovered from the debilitating
effects of his fever, he was moved to Sidmouth, where he appeared to
improve; but he himself believed the sea air to be injurious to him,
and insisted on being again removed inland. During all this
time his father's anxiety may be imagined; although he bore up with
as much equanimity as possible under circumstances so distressing.
"Ever since we left Bath," he wrote to Mr. Boulton at Soho, "ours
has been a state of anxiety very distressing to us, and the
communication of which would not have been pleasing to our friends.
To add to this, I have myself been exceedingly unwell, though I am
now much better. Gregory suffered very much from the journey,
which was augmented by his own impatience; and though he seemed to
recover a little from his fatigue during the first week, his breath
became daily worse, until we were obliged to remove him, on Thursday
last, to the neighbourhood of Exeter, where he is now with his
The invalid became rapidly worse, and survived his removal only a
few days. "This day," wrote the sorrowing father to Boulton, "the
remains of poor Gregory were deposited in a decent, though private
manner, in the north aisle of the cathedral here, near the transept.
. . . . I mean to erect a tablet to his memory on the adjoining
wall; but his virtues and merits will be best recorded in the
breasts of his friends As soon as we can settle our accounts, we
shall all return homewards, with heavy hearts." [p.426]
Davy was deeply affected by Gregory Watt's death; and in the
freshness of his grief he thus unbosomed himself to his friend
"Poor Watt! He ought not to have died. I
could not persuade myself that he would die; and until the very
moment when I was assured of his fate, I would not believe he was in
any danger. His letters to me, only three or four months ago,
were full of spirit, and spoke not of any infirmity of body, but of
an increased strength of mind. Why is this in the order of
nature,—that there is such a difference in the duration and
destruction of His works? If the mere stone decays it is to
produce a soil which is capable of nourishing the moss and the
lichen; when the moss and the lichen die and decompose, they produce
a mould which becomes the bed of life to grass, and to a more
exalted species of vegetables. Vegetables are the food of
animals,—the less perfect animals of the more perfect; but in man,
the faculties and intellect are perfected,—he rises, exists for a
little while in disease and misery, and then would seem to
disappear, without an end, and without producing any effect.
"We are deceived, my dear Clayfield, if we suppose that the
human being who has formed himself for action, but who has been
unable to act, is lost in the mass of being; there is some
arrangement of things which we can never comprehend, but in which
his faculties will be applied . . . . We know very little; but in my
opinion, we know enough to hope for the immortality, the individual
immortality of the better part of man. I have been led into
all this speculation, which you may well think wild, in reflecting
upon the fate of Gregory! My feeling has given wings to my
mind. He was a noble fellow, and would have been a great man.
Oh! there was no reason for his dying—he ought not to have died."
More deaths! A few years later, and Watt lost his
oldest friend, Professor Robison of Edinburgh, his companion and
fellow-worker at Glasgow College nearly fifty years before.
Since then, their friendship had remained unchanged, though their
respective pursuits kept them apart. Robison continued busily
and usefully occupied to the last. He had finished the editing
of his friend Black's lectures, and was occupied in writing his own
'Elements of Mechanical Philosophy,' when death came and kindly
released him from a lingering disorder which had long oppressed his
body, though it did not enervate his mind. A few years before
his death, he wrote to Watt, informing him that he had got an
addition to his family in a fine little boy,—a grandchild, healthy
and cheerful,—who promised to be a source of much amusement to him.
"I find this a great acquisition," said he, "notwithstanding a
serious thought sometimes stealing into my mind. I am
infinitely delighted with observing the growth of its little soul,
and particularly with the numberless instincts, which formerly
passed unheeded. I thank the French theorists for more
forcibly directing my attention to the finger of God, which I
discover in every awkward movement and every wayward whim.
They are all guardians of his life, and growth, and powers. I
regret that I have not time to make Infancy, and the development of
its powers, my sole study." [p.428-1]
In 1805 he was taken from his little playfellow, and from the
pursuit of his many ingenious speculations. [p.428-2]
Watt said of him, he was a man of the clearest head and the most
science, of anybody I have ever known, and his friendship to me
ended only with his life, after having continued for nearly half a
century. . . . His religion and piety, which made him patiently
submit without even a fretful or repining word during nineteen years
of unremitting pain,—his humility, in his modest opinion of
himself,—his kindness, in labouring with such industry for his
family, during all his affliction, his moderation for himself, while
indulging an unbounded generosity to all about him,—joined to his
talents, form a character so uncommon and so noble, as can with
difficulty be conceived by those who have not, like me, had the
contemplation of it during his lifetime."
Little more remains to be recorded of the business life of
Boulton and Watt. The former, notwithstanding his declining
health and the frequent return of his malady, continued to take an
active interest in the Soho coinage. Watt often expostulated
with him, but in vain, urging that it was time for him wholly to
retire from the anxieties of business. On Boulton bringing out
his Bank of England silver dollar, with which he was himself greatly
pleased, he sent some specimens to Watt, then staying at Clifton,
for his inspection. Watt replied,—"Your dollar is universally
admired by all to whom we have shown it, though your friends fear
much that your necessary attention to the operation of the coinage
may injure your health."
Mrs. Watt joined her entreaties to those of her husband,
expressing the wish that, for Mr. Boulton's sake, it might rain
every day, to prevent his fatiguing himself by walking to and from
the works, and there occupying himself with the turmoils of
business. Why should he not do as Mr. Watt had done, and give
up Soho altogether, leaving business and its anxieties to younger
and stronger men? But business, as we have already explained,
was Boulton's habit, and pleasure, and necessity. Moreover,
occupation of some sort served to divert his attention from the
ever-present pain within him and, so long as his limbs were able to
support him, he tottered down the hill to see what was going forward
As for Watt, we find that he had at last learnt the art of
taking things easy, and that he was trying to make life as agreeable
as possible in his old age. Thus at Cheltenham, from which
place Mrs. Watt addressed Boulton in the letter of advice above
referred to, we find the agèd pair making pleasant excursions into
the neighbourhood during the day, and reading novels and going to
the theatre occasionally in the evening. "As it is the
fashion," wrote Mrs. Watt,—"and wishing to be very fashionable
people, we subscribe to the library. Our first book was Mrs.
Opie's 'Mother and Daughter,' a tale so mournful as to make both Mr.
Watt and myself cry like schoolboys that had been whipped; . . . and
to dispel the gloom that poor Adeline hung over us we went to the
theatre last night to see the 'Honeymoon,' and were highly pleased."
Towards the end of 1807 Boulton had a serious attack of his
old disease, which fairly confined him to his bed; and his friends
feared lest it might prove his last illness. He was verging
upon his eightieth year, and his constitution, though originally
strong, was gradually succumbing to confinement and pain. He
nevertheless rallied once more, and was again able to make
occasional visits to the works as before. He had promised to
send a box of medals to the Queen, and went down to the Mint to see
them packed. The box duly reached Windsor Castle, and De Luc
acknowledged its reception: "As no words of mine," he said, "could
have conveyed your sentiments to Her Majesty so well as those
addressed to me in your name, I contented myself with putting the
letter into her hands. Her Majesty expressed her sensibility
for the sufferings you had undergone during the period of your
silence, and at your plentiful gift, for which she has charged me to
thank you; and as, at the same time that you have placed the whole
at her own disposal, you have mentioned the Princesses, Her Majesty
will make them partakers in the present."
De Luc concluded by urging Mr. Boulton to abstain from
further work and anxiety, and reminded him that after a life of such
activity as his had been, both body and mind required complete rest.
"Life," said he, "in this world is a state of trial,
and as long as God gives us strength we are not to shun even painful
employments which are duties. But in the decline of life, when
the strength fails, we ought to drop all thought of objects to which
we are no longer equal, in order to preserve the serenity and
liberty of mind with which we are to consider our exit from this
world to a better. May God prolong your life without pain for
the good you do constantly, is the sincere wish of your very
affectionate friends (father and daughter),
Boulton's life was, indeed, drawing to a close. He had
for many years been suffering from an agonising and incurable
disease—stone in the kidneys and bladder—and waited for death as for
a friend. The strong man was laid low; and the night had at
length come when he could work no more. The last letter which
he wrote was to his daughter, in March, 1809; but the characters are
so flickering and indistinct as to be scarcely legible. "If
you wish to see me living," he wrote, "pray come soon, for I am very
ill." Nevertheless, he suffered on for several months longer.
At last he was released from his pain, and peacefully expired on the
17th of August, 1809, at the age of eighty-one.
Though he fell like a shock of corn, in full season, his
death was lamented by a wide circle of relatives and friends.
A man of strong affections, with an almost insatiable appetite for
love and sympathy, he inspired others with similar feelings towards
himself; and when he died, they felt as if a brother had gone.
He was alike admired and beloved by his workmen; and when he was
carried to his last resting-place in Handsworth Church, six hundred
of them followed the hearse, and there was scarcely a dry eye among
Matthew Boulton was, indeed, a man of truly noble nature.
Watt, than whom none knew him better, was accustomed to speak of him
as "the princely Boulton." He was generous and high-souled, a
lover of truth, honour, and uprightness. His graces were
embodied in a manly and noble person. We are informed through
Dr. Guest, that on one occasion, when Mr. Boulton's name was
mentioned in his father's presence, he said, "he was the ablest man
I ever knew." On the remark being repeated to Dr. Edward
Johnson, a courtly man, he said, "As to his ability, other persons
can judge better than myself. But I can say that he was the
best-mannered man I ever knew." The appreciation of both was
alike just and characteristic, and has since been confirmed by Mrs.
Schimmelpenninek. She describes with admiration Boulton's
genial manner, his fine radiant countenance, and his superb
munificence: "He was in person tall, and of a noble appearance; his
temperament was sanguine, with that slight mixture of the phlegmatic
which gives calmness and dignity; his manners were eminently open
and cordial; he took the lead in conversation; and, with a social
heart, had a grandiose manner, like that arising from position,
wealth, and habitual command. He went about among his people
like a monarch bestowing largesse."
Boswell was equally struck by Boulton's personal qualities
when he visited Soho in 1776, shortly after the manufacture of
steam-engines had been begun there. "I shall never forget," he
says, "Mr. Boulton's expression to me when surveying the works.
'I sell here, sir, what all the world desires to have, POWER.'
He had," continues Boswell, "about seven hundred people at work.
I contemplated him as an iron chieftain, and he seemed to be a
father of his tribe. One of the men came to him complaining
grievously of his landlord for having distrained his goods.
'Your landlord is in the right, Smith,' said Boulton; 'but I'll tell
you what—find a friend who will lay down one half of your rent, and
I'll lay down the other, and you shall have your goods again.'"
It would be a mistake to suppose that there was any
affectation in Boulton's manner, or that his dignified bearing in
society was anything but natural to him. He was frank,
cheerful, and affectionate, as his letters to his wife, his
children, and his friends, amply demonstrate. None knew better
than he how to win hearts, whether of workmen, mining adventurers,
or philosophers. "I have thought it but respectful," he wrote
to Watt from Cornwall, "to give our folks a dinner at a public-house
near Wheal Virgin to-day. There were present William Murdock,
Lawson, Pearson, Perkins, Malcolm, Robert Muir, all Scotchmen, and
John Bull, with self and Wilson,—for the engines are all now
finished, and the men have behaved well, and are attached to us."
At Soho he gave an entertainment on a much larger scale upon his son
coming of age in 1791, when seven hundred persons sat down to
dinner. Boswell's description of him as the father of his
tribe is peculiarly appropriate. No well-behaved workman was
ever turned adrift. On the contrary, fathers introduced their
sons into the factory, and brought them up under their own eye,
watching over their conduct and their mechanical training.
Thus generation after generation of workmen followed each other's
footsteps at Soho.
There was, no doubt, good business policy in this; for
Boulton knew that by attaching the workmen to him, and inspiring
them with pride in the concern, he was maintaining that prestige
which, before the days of machine tools, would not have been
possible without the aid of a staff of carefully-trained and
highly-skilled mechanics. Yet he had many scapegraces amongst
them—hard drinkers, pugilists, cock-fighters, and scamps. Watt
often got wholly out of patience with them, and urged their
dismissal, whatever might be the consequence. But though none
knew as well as Watt how to manage machines, none knew so ill how to
manage men. Boulton's practical wisdom usually came to the
rescue. He would tolerate any moral shortcoming save treachery
and dishonesty. He knew that most of the men had been brought
up in a bad school, often in no school at all. "Have pity on
them, bear with them, give them another trial," he would say; "our
work must not be brought to a standstill because perfect men are not
yet to be had." "True wisdom," he observed on another
occasion, "directs us, when we can, to turn even evils into good.
We must take men as we find them, and try to make the best of them."
Still further to increase the attachment of the workmen to
Soho, and keep together his school of skilled industry, as he called
it, Boulton instituted a Mutual Assurance Society in connexion with
the works; the first of the kind, so far as we are aware,
established by any large manufacturer for the benefit of his
workmen. Every person employed in the manufactory, in
whatsoever condition, was required to be a member. Boys
receiving 2s. 6d. a week paid a halfpenny weekly to
the box; those receiving 5s. paid a penny a week, and so on,
up to men receiving 20s. a week, who contributed 4d.;
payments being made to them out of the fund during sickness and
disablement, in proportion to their contributions during health.
The effects of the Society were most salutary; it cultivated habits
of providence and thoughtfulness amongst the men; bound them
together by ties of common interest; and it was only in the cases of
irreclaimable drunkards that any members of the Soho Friendly
Society ever came upon the parish.
But this was only a small item in the constitution of the
Soho manufactory. Before its establishment, comparatively
little attention had been given to the organisation of labour on a
large scale. Workshops were so small that everything went on
immediately under the master's eye, and workmen got accustomed to
ply at their work diligently, being well watched. But when
manufacturing was carried on upon so large a scale as at Soho, and
separate processes were conducted in different rooms and workshops,
it was impossible that the master's eye should be over all his
workers, or over even any considerable portion of them at the same
It was therefore necessary to introduce a new system.
Hence the practice of inspection by deputy, and the appointment of
skilled and trustworthy foremen for the purpose of enforcing strict
discipline in the various shops, and at the same time economising
labour and ensuring excellence of workmanship. In carrying out
this arrangement, Boulton proved remarkably successful: and Soho
came to be regarded as a model establishment. Men came from
all parts to see and admire its organisation; and when Wedgwood
proceeded to erect his great pottery works at Etruria, he paid many
preliminary visits to Soho for the purpose of ascertaining how the
difficulties occasioned by the irregular habits of the workpeople
had been so successfully overcome by his friend; and of applying the
results of his experience in the organisation of his own
Though Boulton could not keep his eye directly on the
proceedings in the shops, he was quick to discern when anything was
going wrong. While sitting in the midst of his factory,
surrounded by the clang of hammers and the noise of engines, he
could usually detect when any stoppage occurred, or when the
machinery was going too fast or too slow, and issue his orders
accordingly. The sound of the tools going, and the hammers
clanging, which to strangers was merely an intolerable noise, was an
intelligible music to him; and, like the leader of an orchestra, who
casts his eye at once in the direction of the player of a wrong
note, so Boulton was at once conscious of the slightest dissonance
in the performances of his manufactory, and took the necessary steps
immediately to correct it.
From what we have already said, it will be sufficiently clear
that Boulton was a first-rate man of business. He had a hearty
enthusiasm for his calling, and took a just pride in it. In
conducting it, he was guided by fine tact, great knowledge of
character, and sound practical wisdom. When fully satisfied as
to the course he should pursue, he acted with remarkable vigour and
promptitude, bending his whole mind to the enterprise which he had
taken in hand. It was natural that he should admire in others
the qualities he himself desired to possess. "I can't say," he
wrote to Watt, "but that I admire John Wilkinson for his decisive,
clear, and distinct character, which is, I think, a first-rate one
of its kind." Like Wilkinson, Boulton was also distinguished
for his indomitable pluck; and in no respect was this more
strikingly displayed than in his prosecution of the steam-engine
Playfair has truly said, that had Watt searched all Europe
over, he could not have found another person so fitted to bring his
invention before the public in a manner worthy of its merits and
importance. Yet Boulton was by no means eager to engage in the
scheme. Watt could with difficulty persuade him to take it up;
and it was only in exchange for a bad debt that he at length became
a partner in it. But when once fairly committed, he threw
himself into the enterprise with an extraordinary degree of vigour.
He clearly recognised in the steam-engine a power destined to
revolutionise the industrial operations of the world. To M.
Argand, the famous French lamp inventor, he described it as "the
most certain, the most regular, the most durable, and the most
effective machine in Nature, so far as her powers have yet been
revealed to mortal knowledge"; and he declared to him that, finding
he could be of more use to manufactures and to mankind in general by
employing all his powers in the capacity of an engineer, than in
fabricating any kind of clincaillerie whatsoever, he would
thenceforward devote himself wholly to his new enterprise.
But it was no easy work he had undertaken. He had to
struggle against prejudices, opposition, detraction, and
difficulties of all kinds. Not the least difficulty he had to
strive against was the timidity and faintheartedness of his partner.
For years Watt was on the brink of despair. He kept imploring
Boulton to relieve him from his troubles; he wished to die and be at
rest; he "cursed his inventions"; indeed, he was the most miserable
of men. But Boulton never lost heart. He was hopeful,
courageous, and strong—he was Watt's very backbone. He felt
convinced that the invention must eventually succeed, and he never
for a moment lost faith in it. He braved and risked everything
to "carry the thing through." He mortgaged his lands to the
last farthing; borrowed from his personal friends; raised money by
annuities; obtained advances from bankers; and had invested upwards
of £40,000 in the enterprise before it began to pay.
During this terrible struggle he was more than once on the
brink of insolvency, but continued as before to cheer and encourage
his fainting partner. "Keep your mind and your heart pleasant
if possible," he wrote to Watt, "for the way to go through life
sweetly is not to regard rubs." To those about Watt he wrote,
"Do not disturb Mr. Watt, but keep him as free from anxiety as you
can." He himself took the main share of the burden,—pushing
the engine amongst the Cornish miners, bringing it under the notice
of London brewers and water companies, and finding money to meet the
heavy liabilities of the firm.
So much honest endeavour could not fail. And at last
the tide seemed to turn. The engine became recognised as a
grand working power, and there was almost a run upon Soho for
engines. Then pirates sprang up in all directions, and started
new schemes with the object of evading Watt's patent. And now
a new battle had to be fought against "the illiberal, sordid,
unjust, ungenerous, and inventionless misers, who prey upon the
vitals of the ingenious, and make haste to seize upon what their
laborious and often costly application has produced." [p.440]
At length this struggle, too, was conclusively settled in Boulton
and Watt's favour, and they were left at last to enjoy the fruits of
their labour in peace.
Watt never could have fought such a series of battles alone.
He would have been a thousand times crushed; and, but for Boulton's
unswerving courage and resolute determination, he could neither have
brought his engine into general use, nor derived any adequate reward
for his great invention. Though his specification lodged in
the Patent Office might clearly establish his extraordinary
mechanical genius, it is most probable that he himself would have
broken his heart over his scheme, and added another to the long list
of martyr inventors.
None was more ready to acknowledge the immense services of
Boulton in introducing the steam-engine to general use as a working
power, than Watt himself. In the MS. memoir of his
lately deceased friend deposited among the Soho papers, dated
Glasgow, 17th September, 1809, Watt says,—
"Through the whole of this business Mr. Boulton's
active and sanguine disposition served to counterbalance the
despondency and diffidence which were natural to me; and every
assistance which Soho or Birmingham could afford was procured.
Mr. Boulton's amiable and friendly character, together with his fame
as an engineer and active manufacturer, procured us many and very
active friends in both Houses of Parliament. . . . Suffice it to
say, that to his generous patronage, the active part he took in the
management of the business, his judicious advice, and his assistance
in contriving and arranging many of the applications of the
steam-engine to various machines, the public are indebted for great
part of the benefits they now derive from that machine.
Without him, or some similar partner (could such a one have been
found), the invention could never have been carried by me to the
length that it has been.
"Mr. Boulton was not only an ingenious mechanic, well skilled
in all the arts of the Birmingham manufacturers, but he possessed in
a high degree the faculty of rendering any new invention of his own
or of others useful to the public, by organising and arranging the
processes by which it could be carried on, as well as of promoting
the sale by his own exertions and those of his numerous friends and
correspondents. His conception of the nature of any invention
was quick, and he was not less quick in perceiving the uses to which
it might be applied, and the profits which might accrue from it.
When he took any scheme in hand, he was rapid in executing it, and
on those occasions spared neither trouble nor expense. He was
a liberal encourager of merit in others, and to him the country is
indebted for various improvements which have been brought forward
under his auspices. . . .
"In respect to myself, I can with great sincerity say that he
was a most affectionate and steady friend and patron, with whom,
during a close connexion of thirty-five years, I have never had any
"As to his improvements and erections at Soho—his turning a
barren heath into a delightful garden, and the population and riches
he has introduced into the parish of Handsworth, I must leave such
subjects to those whose pens are better adapted to the purpose, and
whose ideas are less benumbed with age than mine now are." [p.442]
We have spoken of Boulton's generosity, which was in keeping
with his whole character. At a time when he was himself
threatened with bankruptcy, we have seen him concerting a scheme
with his friend Wedgwood to enable Dr. Priestley to pursue his
chemical investigations free from pecuniary anxiety. To Watt
he was most liberal, voluntarily conceding to him at different times
profits derived from certain parts of the steam-engine business, far
beyond the proportions stipulated in the deed of partnership.
In the course of his correspondence we find numerous illustrations
of his generosity to partners as well as to workmen; making up the
losses they had sustained, and which at the time perhaps he could
ill afford. His conduct to Widow Swellengrebel illustrates
this fine feature in his character. She had lent money to
Fothergill, his partner in the hardware business, and the money was
never repaid. The consequence was, that the widow and her
family were seriously impoverished, and on their return to their
friends in Holland, Boulton, though under no obligation to do so,
remitted her an annuity of fifty pounds a year, which he continued
to the close of her life. "I must own," he wrote, "I am
impelled to act as I do from pity as well as from something in my
own disposition that I cannot resist." [p.443]
In fine, Matthew Boulton was a noble, manly man, and a true
leader of men. Lofty-minded, intelligent, energetic, and
liberal, he was one of those who constitute the life-blood of a
nation, and give force and dignity to the national character.
And working in conjunction with Watt, he was in no small degree
instrumental in introducing and establishing the great new working
power of steam, which has exercised so extraordinary an influence
upon all the operations of industry.
CLOSING YEARS OF JAMES WATT—HIS DEATH—CONCLUSION.
Medallion of Sir
Francis Legatt Chantrey's statue of Watt (reverse side)
By William Wyon, engraved by C. Chabot.
(The Life of James Watt, Muirhead, London, 1858.)
THE fragile and
sickly Watt outlived the most robust of his contemporaries. He
was residing at Glenarbach, near Dumbarton, with his relatives, when
the intelligence reached him of the death of his partner. To
Mr. Boulton's son and successor he wrote,—
"However we may lament our own loss, we must
consider, on the other side, the torturing pain he has so long
endured, and console ourselves with the remembrance of his virtues
and eminent qualifications. Few men have possessed his
abilities, and still fewer have exerted them as he has done; and if
to these we add his urbanity, his generosity, and his affection to
his friends, we shall make up a character rarely to be equalled.
Such was the friend we have lost, and of whose affection we have
reason to be proud, as you have to be the son of such a father."
Bust of Matthew Boulton, St. Mary's Church,
by John Flaxman (ca. 1809). [p.432]
The deaths of his friends, one by one, reminded Watt of his
own mortality, and frequent references to the subject occur in his
letters about this time. He felt as if he were in danger of
being left in the world alone. But he did not give himself up
to melancholy, as he had been prone to do at the earlier periods of
his life. Shortly after his son Gregory died, he wrote to a
relative,—"I know that all men must die, and I submit to the decrees
of Nature, I hope with due reverence to the Disposer of events.
Yet one stimulus to exertion is taken away, and, somehow or other, I
have lost my relish for my usual occupations. Perhaps time may
remedy that in some measure; meanwhile I do not neglect the means of
amusement which are in my power."
Watt was at no loss for occupation to relieve the tedium of
old age. He possessed ample resources in himself, and found
pleasure alike in quiet meditation and in active work. His
thirst for knowledge was still unslaked, and he sought to allay it
by reading. His love of investigation was as keen as ever, and
he gratified it by proceeding with experiments on air, on light, and
on electricity. His inventive faculty was still potent, and he
occasionally varied his occupation by labouring to produce a new
machine or to improve an old one. At other times, when the
weather allowed, he would take a turn at planting in his grounds and
gardens; and occasionally vary his pleasure by a visit to Scotland,
to London, or to his estate in Wales.
Strange to say, his health improved with his advancing age,
and though occasionally dyspeptic, he was now comparatively free
from the racking headaches which had been the torment of his earlier
years. Unlike Boulton, who found pleasure in the active
pursuit of business, Watt, who had regarded it as a worry, was now
glad to have cast it altogether behind him. His mind was free
from harassing cares; his ambition in life was satisfied; he was no
more distressed by fears of Cornish pirates; and he was content
peacefully to enjoy the fruits of his invention. And thus it
was that Watt's later years may be pronounced to have been the
happiest of his life.
He had, indeed, lost nearly all his old friends, and thought
of them with a melancholy regret,—not, however, unmingled with
pleasure. But other young friends gathered about him, sat at
his feet, and looked up to him with an almost reverential
admiration. Among these we find Rennie and Telford the
engineers, Campbell the poet, Humphry Davy, Henry Brougham, Francis
Horner, and other rising men of the new generation. Lord
Brougham bears testimony to Watt's habitual cheerfulness, and to his
enjoyment of the pleasures of society during the later years of his
life. "I can speak on the point," he says, "with absolute
certainty, for my own acquaintance with him commenced after my
friend Gregory's decease. A few months after that event, he
calmly and with his wonted acuteness discussed with me the
composition of an epitaph to be inscribed on his son's tomb.
In the autumn and winter of 1805 he was a constant attendant at our
Friday Club, and in all our private circles, and was the life of
them all." [p.447]
To the close of his life, Watt continued to take great
pleasure in inventing. It had been the pursuit of his life,
and in old age it became his hobby. "Without a hobby-horse,"
said he, "what is life?" He proceeded to verify his old
experiments, and to live over again the history of his inventions.
When Mr. Kennedy of Manchester asked him, at one of his last visits
to Heathfield, if he had been able, since his retirement from
business, to discover anything new in the steam-engine, he replied,
"No; I am devoting the remainder of my life to perfect its details,
and to ascertain whether in any respect I have been wrong."
But he did not merely confine himself to verifying his old
inventions. He also contrived new ones. One of the
machines that occupied his leisure hours for many years was his
machine for copying statuary. We find him busy with it in
1810, and he was still working upon it in the year of his death,
nearly ten years later. The principle of the machine was to
make a cutting tool or drill travel over the work to be executed, in
like ratio with the motion of a guide-point placed upon the bust to
be copied. It worked, as it were, with two hands; the one
feeling the pattern, the other cutting the material into the
required form. The object could be copied either of the full
size, or reduced with the most perfect accuracy to any less size
that might be required. In preparing the necessary tools, Watt
had the able assistance of his friend Murdock, who was always ready
with his kindly suggestions and criticisms. In January, 1813,
Watt wrote to him,—"I have done a little figure of a boy lying down
and holding out one arm, very successfully; and another boy, about
six inches high, naked, and holding out both his hands, his legs
also being separate. But I have been principally employed in
making drawings for a complete machine, all in iron, which has been
a very serious job, as invention goes on very slowly with me now.
When you come home, I shall thank you for your criticisms and
The material in which Watt executed his copies of statuary
were various,—marble, jet, alabaster, ivory, plaster of Paris, and
mahogany. Some of the specimens we have seen at Heathfield are
of exquisite accuracy and finish, and show that he must have brought
his copying-machine to a remarkable degree of perfection before he
died. There are numerous copies of medallions of his
friends,—of Dr. Black, De Luc, and Dr. Priestley; but the finest of
all is a reduced bust of himself, being an exact copy of Chantrey's
original plaster-cast. The head and neck are beautifully
finished, but there the work has stopped, for the upper part of the
chest is still in the rough. Another exquisite work, than
which Watt never executed a finer, is a medallion of Locke in ivory,
marked "January, 1812." There are numerous other busts,
statuettes, medallions,—some finished, others half-executed, and
apparently thrown aside, as if the workman had been dissatisfied
with his work, and waited, perhaps, until he had introduced some new
improvement in his machine.
Watt took out no patent for the invention, which he pursued,
as he said, merely as "a mental and bodily exercise." Neither
did he publish it, but went on working at it for several years
before his intentions to construct such a machine had become known.
When he had made considerable progress with it, he learned, to his
surprise, that a Mr. Hawkins, an ingenious person in the
neighbourhood, had been long occupied in the same pursuit. The
proposal was then made to him that the two inventors should combine
their talents and secure the invention by taking out a joint patent.
But Watt had already been too much worried by patents to venture on
taking out another at his advanced age. He preferred
prosecuting the invention at his leisure merely as an amusement; and
the project of taking out a patent for it was accordingly abandoned.
It may not be generally known that this ingenious invention of Watt
has since been revived, and applied, with sundry modifications, by
our cousins across the Atlantic, in fashioning wood and iron in
various forms; and powerful copying-machines are now in regular use
in the Government works at Enfield, where they are employed in
rapidly, accurately, and cheaply manufacturing gun-stocks!
Watt carried on the operations connected with this invention
for the most part in his Garret, a room immediately under the roof
at the kitchen end of the house at Heathfield, and approached by a
narrow staircase. It is a small room, low in the ceiling, and
lighted by a low broad window, looking into the shrubbery. The
ceiling, though low, inclines with the slope of the roof on three
sides of the room, and, being close to the slates, the place must
necessarily have been very hot in summer, and very cold in winter.
A stove was placed close to the door, for the purpose of warming the
apartment, as well as enabling the occupant to pursue his
experiments, being fitted with a sand-bath and other conveniences.
But the stove must have been insufficient for heating the garret in
very cold weather, and hence we find him occasionally informing his
correspondents that he could not proceed further with his machine
until the weather had become milder.
His foot-lathe was fixed close to the window, fitted with all
the appliances for turning in wood and metal fifty years ago; while
a case of drawers fitted into the recess on the left-hand side of
the room contained a large assortment of screws, punches, cutters,
taps, and dies. Here were neatly arranged and stowed away many
of the tools with which he worked in the early part of his life, one
of the drawers being devoted to his old "flute tools." In
other divisions were placed his compasses, dividers, scales, decimal
weights, quadrant glasses, and a large assortment of
instrument-making tools. A ladle for melting lead, and a
soldering-iron were hung ready for use near the stove.
Crucibles of metal and stone were ranged on the shelves along
the opposite side of the room, which also contained a large
assortment of bottles filled with chemicals, boxes of fossils and
minerals, jars, gallipots, blowpipes, retorts, and the various
articles used in chemical analysis. In one corner of the room
was a potter's lathe. A writing-desk was placed as close to
the window, for the sake of the light, as the turning-lathe would
allow; and in the corner was the letter-copying machine,
conveniently at hand.
In this garret Watt spent much of his time during the later
period of his life, only retiring from it when it was too hot in
summer, or too cold in winter, to enable him to continue his work.
For days together he would confine himself here, without even
descending to his meals. He had accordingly provided himself,
in addition to his various other tools, with sundry kitchen
utensils,—amongst others, with a frying-pan and Dutch oven—with
which he cooked his meals.
For it must be explained that Mrs. Watt was a thorough
martinet in household affairs, and, above all things, detested
"dirt." Mrs. Schimmelpenninck says she taught her two pug-dogs
never to cross the hall without first wiping their feet on the mat.
She hated the sight of her husband's leather apron and soiled hands
while he was engaged in his garret-work; so he kept himself out of
her sight at such times as much as possible. Some notion of
the rigidity of her rule may be inferred from the fact of her having
had a window made in the kitchen wall, through which she could watch
the servants, and observe how they were getting one with their work.
Her passion for cleanliness was carried to a pitch which
often fretted those about her by the restraints it imposed; but her
husband, like a wise man, gently submitted to her rule. He was
fond of a pinch of snuff, which Mrs. Watt detested, regarding it as
only so much "dirt"; and Mr. Muirhead says she would seize and lock
up the offending snuff-box whenever she could lay hands upon it.
He adds that at night, when she retired from the dining-room, if Mr.
Watt did not follow at the time fixed by her, a servant entered and
put out the lights, even when a friend was present; on which he
would slowly rise, and meekly say, "We must go."
One can easily understand how, under such circumstances, Watt
would enjoy the perfect liberty of his garret, where he was king;
and could enjoy his pinch of snuff in peace, and make as much "dirt"
with his turning-lathe, his crucibles, and his chemicals as he
chose, without dread of interruption.
One of the fears which haunted Watt as old age advanced upon
him was, that his mental faculties, in the exercise of which he took
so much pleasure, were deserting him. To Dr. Darwin he said,
many years before,—"Of all the evils of age, the loss of the few
mental faculties one possessed in youth is most grievous." To
test his memory, he again began the study of German, which he had
allowed himself to forget; and he speedily acquired such proficiency
as enabled him to read the language with comparative ease.
But he gave still stronger evidence of the integrity of his
powers. When in his seventy-fifth year he was consulted by the
Glasgow Waterworks Company as to the best mode of conveying water
from a peninsular across the Clyde to the Company's engines at
Dalmarnock,—a difficulty which appeared to them almost
insurmountable; for it was necessary to fit the pipes, through which
the water passed, to the uneven and shifting bed of the river.
Watt, on turning over the subject in his mind, shortly hit upon a
plan, which showed that his inventive powers were unimpaired by age.
Taking the tail of the lobster for his model, he devised a tube of
iron similarly articulated, of which he forwarded a drawing to the
Waterworks Company; and, acting upon his recommendation, they had
the tube forthwith made and laid down with complete success.
Watt declined to be paid for the essential service he had thus
rendered to the Waterworks Company; but the directors made a
handsome acknowledgment of it by presenting him with a piece of
plate of the value of a hundred guineas, accompanied by the cordial
expression of their thanks and esteem.
Watt did not, however, confine himself to mechanical
recreations at home. In summer-time he would proceed to
Cheltenham, the air of which agreed with him, and he would make a
short stay there; or he would visit his friends in London, Glasgow,
or Edinburgh. While in London, his great delight was in
looking in at the shop windows,—the best of all industrial
exhibitions,—for there he saw the progress of manufacture in all
articles in common use amongst the people. To a country
person, the sight of the streets and shop-windows of London alone,
with their display of objects of art and articles of utility, is
always worth a visit. To Watt it was more interesting than
passing through the finest gallery of pictures.
At Glasgow, where he stayed with his relatives the Macgregors,
he took pleasure in revisiting his old haunts; he dined with the
College Professors, [p.455]
and noted with lively interest the industrial progress of the place.
The growth of Glasgow in the course of his lifetime had, indeed,
been extraordinary, and it was in no small degree the result of his
own industrial labours. The steam-engine was everywhere at
work; factories had sprung up in all directions; the Broomielaw was
silent no longer; the Clyde was navigable from thence to the sea,
and its waters were plashed by the paddles of numerous steamers.
The old city of the tobacco lords had become a great centre of
manufacturing industry; it was rich, busy, and prosperous; and the
main source of its prosperity had been the steam-engine.
A long time had elapsed since Watt had first taken in hand
the repair of the little Newcomen engine in Glasgow College, and
afterwards laboured in the throes of his invention in his shop in
the back court in King Street. There were no skilled mechanics
in Glasgow then, and the death of the "old white-iron man" who
helped him had been one of his sorest vexations. Things were
entirely changed now. Glasgow had already become famous for
its engine-work, and its factories contained some of the most
skilled mechanics in the kingdom. Watt's original notion that
Scotchmen were incapable of becoming first-rate mechanics was
confuted by the experience of hundreds of workshops; and to none did
the practical contradiction of his theory give greater pleasure than
to himself. He delighted to visit the artisans at their work,
and to see with his own eyes the improvements that were going
forward; and when he heard of any new and ingenious arrangement of
engine-power, he would hasten to call upon the mechanic who had
contrived it, and make his acquaintance.
One of such calls, which Watt made during a visit to Glasgow,
in 1814, has been pleasantly related by Mr. Robert Hart, who, with
his brother, then carried on a small steam-engine factory in the
"One forenoon," he says, "while we were at work, Miss
Macgregor and a tall elderly gentleman came into the shop.
She, without saying who he was, asked if we would show the gentleman
our small engine. It was not going at the time, and was
covered up. My brother uncovered it. The gentleman
examined it very minutely, and put a few pointed questions, asking
the reason for making her in that form. My brother, seeing he
understood the subject, said that she had been so made to try what
we thought was an improvement; and for this experiment we required
another cistern and air pump. He was beginning to show what
was properly Mr. Watt's engine, and what was not; when, at this
observation, Miss Macgregor stopped him, saying,—'Oh, he understands
it; this is Mr. Watt!'
"I never at any time saw my brother so much excited as he was
at that moment. He called on me to join them, saying,—'This
is Mr. Watt!' Up to this time I had continued to work at
what I was doing when they came; and, although I had heard all that
was said, I had not joined the party till I learned who he was.
Our supposed improvement was to save condensing water, and was on
the principle introduced by Sir John Leslie, to produce cold by
evaporation in a vacuum. Mr. Watt took much interest in this
experiment, and said he had tried the same thing on a larger scale,
but without the vacuum, as that invention of Professor Leslie's was
not known at the time. He tried it exposed to the air, and
also kept wet; and at one of the large porter-breweries in London he
had fitted up an apparatus of the same nature. The pipes
forming his condenser were laid in the water of the Thames, but he
could not keep them tight, from the expansion and contraction of the
metal, as they were exposed to various temperatures."
The conversation then diverged to the subject of his early
experiments with the Newcomen engine, the difficulties he had
encountered in finding a proper material for steam-pipes, the best
method of making steam-joints, and to various means of overcoming
obstacles which occur in the prosecution of mechanical experiments,
in the course of which he reverted to the many temporary expedients
which he had himself adopted in his early days.
Watt was so much pleased with the intelligence of the
brothers Hart, that he invited them to call upon him that evening at
Miss Macgregor's, where they found him alone with the ladies.
"In the course of conversation," continues Mr. Hart, "which embraced
all that was new at the time, the expansion and the slow contraction
of metals were touched on. This led to a discussion on iron in
engine-making," in which Watt explained the practice which
experience had led him to adopt as the best.
The conversation then turned upon the early scene of his
inventions, the room in the College, the shop in King Street, the
place on Glasgow Green near the Herd's house where the first idea of
a separate condenser flashed upon his mind, and the various steps by
which he had worked out his invention. He went on to speak of
his experience at Kinneil and Boroughstoness, of the Newcomen engine
he had erected and worked there for the purpose of gaining
experience, and incidentally referred to many of the other
interesting events in his past career. At a late hour the
brothers took their leave, delighted, as they well might be, with
the affability and conversableness, of "the great Mr. Watt."
But it was not in mechanics alone that Watt was so
fascinating in his conversation. He was equally at home
amongst philosophers, women, and children. When close upon his
eighty-second year, he formed one of a distinguished party assembled
in Edinburgh, at which Sir Walter Scott, Francis Jeffrey, and others
were present. He delighted the northern literati with his
kindly cheerfulness, not less than he astonished them by the extent
and profundity of his information.
"This potent commander of the elements," says
Scott,—"this abridger of time and space, this magician, whose
machinery has produced a change in the world, the effects of which,
extraordinary as they are, are perhaps only now beginning to be
felt,—was not only the most profound man of science, the most
successful combiner of powers, and combiner of numbers, as adapted
to practical purposes,—was not only one of the most generally
well-informed, but one of the best and kindest of human beings.
There he stood, surrounded by the little band of northern literati,
men not less tenacious, generally speaking, of their own opinions,
than the national regiments are supposed to be jealous of the high
character they have won upon service. Methinks I yet see and
hear what I shall never see or hear again. The alert, kind,
benevolent old man had his attention alive to every one's question,
his information at every one's command. His talents and fancy
overflowed on every subject. One gentleman was a deep
philologist, he talked with him on the origin of the alphabet as if
he had been coeval with Cadmus; another, a celebrated critic, you
would have said the old man had studied political economy and
belles-lettres all his life; of science it is unnecessary to speak,
it was his own distinguished walk." [p.460]
Indeed, the extent of his knowledge was the wonder of all who
came in contact with him. "It seemed," said Jeffrey, "as if
every subject that was casually started had been that which he had
been occupied in studying." Yet, though no man was more ready
to communicate knowledge, none could be less ambitious in displaying
it. In company, when not spoken to, he sat as if tranquilly
pursuing his own meditations, with his head bent forward or leaning
on his hand. But as he could not fail to be a prominent
feature in any society which he entered, it was seldom that he was
left outside the circle of social talk. Men of letters, men of
science, artists, ladies, and children, thronged about him.
Once, when on a visit to his friend Rennie in London, he accompanied
him to an evening party at Sir George Warrender's. At first he
sat by himself quiet and abstracted, until some young ladies engaged
him in conversation, which gradually turned upon the mystery of the
fabrics they wore, the insignificant materials out of which they
were formed, and the beauty and value given to them by the industry
and ingenuity of man; and, other auditors being attracted by his
descriptions, he shortly found himself the centre of a group of fair
and admiring listeners.
He seemed to be alike at home on all subjects, the most
recondite and the most common, the most special and the most
general. Mrs. Schimmelpenninck [p.461-1]
relates how he took her upon his knee when a little girl, and
explained to her the principles of the hurdy-gurdy, the piano, the
Pan's-pipe, and the organ; teaching her how to make a dulcimer and
improve a Jew's-harp. To a Swedish artist he communicated the
information that the most pliant and elastic painting-brush was made
with rats' whiskers. He advised ladies how to cure smoky
chimneys, how to warm and ventilate dwellings, and how to obtain
fast colours; while he would willingly instruct a maid-servant as to
the best way of cleaning a grate. [p.461-2]
A lady still living, who remembers Watt, informs us that he used to
carry a carpenter's foot-rule in the side pocket of his breeches,
and would occasionally bring it out in after-dinner conversation or
elsewhere, to illustrate the subject under discussion.
He was full of anecdotes relating to all manner of subjects,
which he was accustomed to tell in a very effective way. [p.462]
He spoke in a low grave tone, with a broad Scottish accent.
The late Mr. Murdock mentioned to us one of his favourite stories
relating to two smugglers pursued by excisemen. The two
smugglers had reached the mouth of a coal-pit and got into the corve-cage
with their apparatus, the excisemen only coming up in time to see
them descending the shaft, where they were soon out of sight.
On the ascending corves coming up to the settle-board, the excisemen
asked to be sent down after the smugglers, and they were sent down
accordingly. Halfway down the shaft they met the smugglers in
the other cage coming up! And so the relator kept them
ascending and descending, passing and repassing each other,—his
auditors being in convulsions of laughter, while he himself was
Campbell, the poet, who paid Watt a visit in February, 1819,
only six months before his death, describes him as so full of
anecdote that he spent one of the most amusing days he had ever
enjoyed with a man of science and a stranger to his own pursuits.
To the last he was a great reader of novels; and Mrs. Watt and he
had many a hearty cry over the imaginary woes of love-lorn heroes
and heroines. Scott says no novel of the least celebrity
escaped his perusal, and that this gifted man of science was as much
addicted to productions of this sort as if he had been a milliner's
apprentice of eighteen. A lady, still living, [p.463]
informs us that she remembers the admiration which Watt expressed
for the Waverley novels, then making their appearance in rapid
succession, and used to quote his opinion as a great authority for
her own devotion to such works,—forgetting that, as the old frame
requires the armchair after the heat and burden of the day, so the
taxed mind needs rest and recreation after long years of study,
anxiety, and labour.
Mr. Stockdale, of Carke, gives the following account of a
visit which his sister, a cousin of Mr. Boulton's, paid to
Heathfield in 1818, shortly before Mr. Watt's death:—
"When tea was announced to Mr. Watt, he came from his
'garret,' and on being told who my sister was, he asked after her
relations in the kindest way, and then sat down in his armchair.
A cup of tea was handed to him, and alongside of it was placed a
small cup containing a yellow powder, of which he took a spoonful
and put it into his tea, observing that he had long been plagued
with a stomach complaint, for which he had found this powder of
mastich a sovereign remedy. He talked more than my sister
expected. Sometimes he fell into a reverie, appearing absorbed
in thought, his eyes fixed on space, and his head leaning over his
chest. After a while he retired to his study and my sister
returned to Soho."
Mr. Hollins, sculptor, of Birmingham, supplies the following
further reminiscence. When a youth in a local architect's
office, he was sent out to Heathfield one afternoon, to submit to
Mr. Watt the plans of certain proposed alterations in the parish
church of Handsworth. The church stood a few fields off, and
its spire rose above the trees within sight of his drawing-room
windows. It was his parish church, in which his friend Boulton
had been buried, and where he himself wished to lie. When the
young man mentioned his errand, Mr. Watt said he was just about to
take his afternoon's nap. "But you can sit down there and read
that newspaper, and when I have got my nap I will look at the
plans." So saying he composed himself to rest in his
arm-chair; the youth scarce daring to turn the pages for fear of
At length, after a short sleep, he woke full up and said,
"Now let me see them." He looked over the plans, examined them
in detail, and criticised them keenly. He thought the proposed
alterations of a paltry character, unworthy of the wealth and
importance of the parish. "Why," said he, "if these plans be
carried out, preaching at Handsworth will be like pitching the word
of God out of a keyhole!" When Mr. Watt's decided views as to
the insufficiency of the design were reported to the committee,
steps were taken greatly to enlarge it, and Handsworth Church was
thus indebted to his suggestions for much of its present beauty.
He proceeded with the completion of his sculpture-copying
machine until nearly the close of his life. When the weather
was suitable, he would go upstairs to his garret, don his woollen
surtout and leather apron, and proceed with his work. He was
as fastidious as ever, and was constantly introducing new
improvements. It was a hobby and a pursuit, and served him as
well as any other. To M. Berthollet he wrote,—"Whatever may be
its success, it has at least had the good effect of making me avoid
many hours of ennui, by employing my hands when I could not employ
my head, and giving me some exercise when I could not go out."
It also pleased him to see the invention growing under his hands as
of old, though it is possible that during his later years he added
but little to the machine. Indeed, it seems to have been as
nearly as possible complete by the year 1817, if we may judge by the
numerous exquisitely-finished specimens of reduced sculpture—busts,
medallions, and statuary—laid away in the drawers of the garret at
Heathfield. He took pleasure in presenting copies to his more
intimate friends, jocularly describing them as "the productions of a
young artist just entering his eighty-third year." Shortly
after, the hand of the cunning workman was stopped by death.
The machine remained unfinished; and it is a singular testimony to
the skill and perseverance of a man who had accomplished so much,
that it is almost his only unfinished work.
In the autumn of 1819 he was seized by his last illness.
It could scarcely be called a seizure, for he suffered little, and
continued calm and tranquil, in the full possession of his
faculties, almost to the last. He was conscious of his
approaching end, and expressed from time to time his sincere
gratitude to Divine Providence for the worldly blessings he had been
permitted to enjoy, for his length of days, and his exemption from
the infirmities of age. "I am very sensible," said he to the
mourning friends who assembled round his deathbed, "of the
attachment you show me, and I hasten to thank you for it, as I feel
that I am now come to my last illness." He parted with life
quietly and peacefully, on the 19th of August, 1819, in the
eighty-third year of his age. He was buried near his deceased
friend and partner, Mr. Boulton, in Handsworth Church. Over
his remains, which lie in a side aisle, was placed a monument by
Chantrey, perhaps his finest work, justifying the compliment paid to
the sculptor that he "cut breath"; for when first uncovered before
the old servants assembled round it at Soho, it so powerfully
reminded them of their old master, that they " lifted up their
voices and wept."
Watt has been fortunate in his monumental honours. The
colossal statue of him in Westminster Abbey [Ed.—since removed to
Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinbugh] also from the
chisel of Chantrey, bears upon it an epitaph from the pen of Lord
Brougham, which is beyond comparison the finest lapidary inscription
in the English language; and among its other signal merits, it has
one which appertains rather to its subject than its author, that,
lofty as is the eulogy, every word of it is true. [p.467]
The monument was raised by public subscriptions, initiated at a
meeting in London presided over by the Prime Minister, and attended
by the most illustrious statesmen, men of science, men of letters,
and men of art, of the time, who met for the purpose of
commemorating in some suitable manner the genius of Watt. " It has
ever been reckoned one of the chief honours of my life," says Lord
Brougham, " that I was called upon to pen the inscription upon the
noble monument thus nobly reared."
James Watt by Chantrey, now in the Scottish National Portrait
Gallery, Edinburgh. Picture Wikipedia.
Watt was also honoured during his lifetime. Learnèd
Societies were proud to enrol him amongst their members. He
was a Fellow of the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, a
Foreign Associate of the Institute of France, and a Member of the
Batavian Society. The University of Glasgow conferred on him
the degree of Doctor of Law. Lord Liverpool offered him a
baronetcy; but, consistent with the simplicity of his character, he
declined the honour. He was invited to serve as Sheriff on two
occasions, for Staffordshire and for Radnorshire; but he strongly
pleaded to be excused undertaking the office. He was "a timid
old man," and hoped that he "should not have a duty imposed upon him
that he was totally unfit for, nor have his gray hairs weighed down
with a load of vexatious cares. My inventions," he said, "are
giving employment to the best part of a million of people, and
having added many millions to the national riches, I have a natural
right to rest in my extreme age." His pleas were in both cases
regarded as sufficient, and he was excused the office.
It is altogether unnecessary to pronounce a panegyric on the
character and achievements of James Watt. This has already
been done by Lord Jeffrey in language that cannot be surpassed.
Sir James Macintosh placed him "at the head of all inventors in
all ages and nations"; and Wordsworth the poet, twenty years
after his death, said, "I look upon him, considering both the
magnitude and the universality of his genius, as perhaps the most
extraordinary man that this country ever produced: he never
sought display, but was content to work in that quietness and
humility, both of spirit and of outward circumstances, in which
alone all that is truly great and good was ever done."
Watt was himself accustomed to speak of his inventions with
the modesty of true genius. To a nobleman who expressed to him
his wonder at the greatness of his achievements, he said, "the
public only look at my success, and not on the intermediate failures
and uncouth constructions which have served as steps to enable me to
climb to the top of the ladder." Watt looked back upon his
twenty long years of anxiety and labour before the engine succeeded,
and heaved a sigh. "Without affecting any maidenly coyness,"
he wrote to Dr. Darwin, who proposed to eulogise him in his 'Botanic
Garden,' "you really make me appear contemptible in my own eyes by
considering how far short my pretensions, or those of the invention
were, of the climax of human intellect,—I that know myself to be
inferior to the greatest part of enlightened men in most things.
If I have excelled, I think now it has been by chance, and by the
neglects of others. Preserve the dignity of a philosopher and
historian; relate the facts, and leave prosperity to judge. If
I merit it, some of my countrymen, inspired by the amor patriæ,
may say, 'Hoc a Scoto factum fuit.'"
Although the true inventor, like the true poet, is born, not
made,—and although Watt pursued his inventions because he found his
highest pleasure in inventing,—yet his greatest achievements were
accomplished by unremitting application and industry. He was a
keen observer and an incessant experimenter. "Observare" was
the motto he deliberately adopted; and it expresses the principle
and success of his life. He was always on the watch for facts,
noting and comparing them. He took nothing for granted; and
accepted no conclusions save on experimental evidence. "Nature
can be conquered," he said, "if we can but find out her weak side."
His patience was inexhaustible. He was never baffled by
failure, from which he declared that he learnt more than from
success. "It is a great thing," he once observed to Murdock,
"to find out what will not do: it leads to one finding out
what will do."
"Give me facts," he once said to Boulton, "I am sick of
theory: give me actual facts." Yet, indispensable though facts
are, theory is scarcely less so in invention; and it was probably
because Watt was a great theorist, that he was a great inventor.
His invention of the separate condenser was itself the result of a
theory, the soundness of which he proved by experiment. So
with the composition of water, the theory of which he at once
divined from the experiments of Priestley. He continued
theorising during the whole progress of his invention of the
steam-engine. New theories suggested new arrangements and the
application of entirely new principles, until in course of time the
engine of Newcomen became completely transformed.
Watt's engine was not an invention merely—it might almost be
called a creation. "The part which he played," says M.
Bataille, "in the mechanical application of the force of steam, can
only be compared to that of Newton in astronomy, and of Shakspeare
in poetry. And is not invention the poetry of science?
It is only when we compare Watt with other mechanicians that we are
struck by his immense superiority,—when we compare him, for example,
with Smeaton, who was, perhaps, after him, the man who had advanced
the farthest in industrial mechanism. Smeaton began, about the
same time as Watt, his inquiries as to the best means of improving
the steam-engine. He worked long and patiently, but in an
entirely technical spirit. While he was working out his
improvements, Watt had drawn forth from his fertile imagination all
those brilliant inventions to which we owe the effective working
steam-engine. In a word, Smeaton knew how to improve, but
Watt knew how to create." [p.471]
As for the uses of the steam-engine, they are too widely
known to stand in need of illustration. Had Watt, at the
outset of his career, announced to mankind that he would invent a
power that should drain their mines, blow their furnaces, roll and
hammer their metals, thrash and grind their corn, saw their timber,
drive their looms and spindles, print their books, impel ships
across the ocean, and perform the thousand offices in which steam is
now regularly employed, he would have been regarded as an
enthusiast, if not as a madman. Yet all this the steam-engine
had done and is now doing. It has widely extended the dominion
of man over inanimate nature, and given him an almost unbounded
supremacy over the materials which enter into his daily use.
It has increased his power, his resources, and his enjoyments.
It is the most universal and untiring of labourers,—the steam-power
of Great Britain alone being estimated as equal to the manual labour
of upwards of four hundred millions of men, or more than double the
number of males supposed to inhabit the globe. It is, indeed,
no exaggeration to say that the steam-engine of Watt is, without
exception, the greatest invention of modern times; and that it has
been instrumental in effecting the most remarkable revolution in all
departments of industry that the world has ever seen.
A few years since, we visited the little garret at Heathfield
in which Watt pursued the investigations of his later years.
The room had been carefully locked up since his death, and had only
once been swept out. Everything lay very much as he left it.
The piece of iron he was last employed in turning lay upon the
lathe. The ashes of the last fire were in the grate; the last
bit of coal was in the coal scuttle. The Dutch oven was in its
place over the stove, and the frying-pan in which he used to cook
his meals was hanging by its accustomed nail.
Many objects lay about or in the drawers, indicating the
pursuits which had been interrupted by death,—busts, medallions, and
figures, waiting to be copied by the sculpture-machine,—many
medallion moulds, a store of plaster of Paris, and a box of plaster
casts from London, the contents of which do not seem to have been
disturbed. Here are Watt's ladles for melting lead, his
foot-rule, his glue-pot, his hammer. Reflecting mirrors, an
extemporised camera with the lenses mounted on pasteboard, and many
camera-glasses laid about, indicate interrupted experiments in
optics. There are quadrant-glasses, compasses, scales,
weights, and sundry boxes of mathematical instruments, once highly
prized. In one place is a model of the governor, in another of
the parallel motion, and in a little box, fitted with wooden
cylinders mounted with paper and covered with figures, is what we
suppose to be a model of his proposed calculating machine.
On the shelves are minerals and chemicals in pots and jars,
on which the dust of nearly half a century has settled. The
moist substances have long since become dried up, the putty has been
turned to stone, and the paste to dust. On one shelf we come
upon a dish in which lies a withered bunch of grapes. On the
floor, in a corner, near to where Watt sat and worked, is a
hair-trunk—a touching memorial of a long past love and a long dead
sorrow. It contains all poor Gregory's school-books,—his first
attempts at writing, his boy's drawings of battles, his first school
exercises down to his College themes, his delectuses, his grammars,
his dictionaries, and his class books,—brought into this retired
room, where the father's eye could rest upon them.
Near at hand is the sculpture machine, on which Watt
continued working to the last. Its wooden framing is
worm-eaten and dropping into dust, like the hands which made it.
But though the great workman has gone to his rest, with all his
griefs and cares, and his own handiwork is fast crumbling to
decay;—the spirit of his work, the thought which he put into his
inventions, still survives, and will probably continue to influence
the destinies of his race for all time to come.