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James Watt
Chapter VIII. The Record of the Steam Engine


THE Soho works, up to January, 1824, had completed 1164 steam engines, of a nominal horsepower of 25,945; from January, 1824, to 1854, 441 engines, nominal horse-power, 25,278, making the total number 160, of nominal horse-power, 51,223, and real horse-power, 167,319. Mulhall gives the total steam- power of the world as 50,150,000 horse-power in 1888. In i88o it was only 34,150,000. Thus in eight years it increased, say, fifty per cent. Assuming the same rate of increase from 1888 to 1905, a similar period, it is to-day 75,000,000 nominal, which Engel says may be taken as one-half the effective power (vide Muihall, "Steam," P. 546), the real horse-power in 1905 being 150,000,000. One horse-power raises ten tons a height of twelve inches per minute. Working eight hours, this is about 5,000 tons daily, or twelve times a man's work, and as the engine never tires, and can be run constantly, it follows that each horse-power it can exert equals thirty-six men's work; but, allowing for stoppages, let us say thirty men. The engines of a large ocean greyhound of 35,000 horse-power, running constantly from port to port, equal to three relays of twelve men per horse-power, is daily exerting the power of 1,260,000 men, or io,000 horses. Assuming that all the steam engines in the world upon the average work double the hours of men, then the 150,000,000 horse-power in the world, each equal to two relays of twelve men per horse-power, exerts the power of 3,600,000,000 of men. There are only one-tenth as many male adults in the world, estimating one in five of the population.

If we assume that all steam engines work an average of only eight hours in the twenty-four, as men and horses do (those on duty longer hours are not under continuous exertion), it still follows that the 10,000,000 of effective steam-power, each doing the work of twelve men, equals the work of 1,800,000,000 of men, or of 150,000,000 of horses.

Engel estimated that in 18So the value of world industries dependent upon steam was thirty-two thousand millions of dollars, and that in 1888 it had reached forty-three thousand millions of dollars. It is to-day doubtless more than sixty thousand millions of dollars, a great increase no doubt over i88o, but the one figure is as astounding as the other, for both mean nothing that can be grasped.

The chief steam-using countries are America, 14,400,000 horse-power in 1888; Britain, 9,200,000 horse-power nominal. If we add the British colonies and dependencies, 7,120,000 horse-power, the English-speaking race had three-fifths of all the steam-power of the world.

In 1840 Britain had only 620,000 horse-power nominal; the United States 760,000; the whole world had only 1,650,000 horse-power. To-day it has 75,000,000 nominal. So rapidly has steam extended its sway over most of the earth in less than the span of a man's life. There has never been any development in the world's history comparable to this, nor can we imagine that such a rapid transformation can ever come in the future. What the future is finally to bring forth even imagination is unable to conceive. No bounds can be set to its forth-coming possible, even probable, wonders, but as such a revolution as steam has brought must come from a superior force capable of displacing steam, this would necessarily be a much longer task than steam had in occupying an entirely new field without a rival.

The contrast between Newcomen and Watt is interesting. The Newcomen engine consumed twenty-eight pounds of coal per horse-power and made not exceeding three to four strokes per minute, the piston moving about fifty feet per minute. To-day, steam marine engines on one and one-third pounds of coal per horsepower—the monster ships using less—make from seventy to ninety revolutions per minute. "Destroyers" reach 400 per minute. Small steam engines, it is stated, have attained 600 revolutions per minute. The piston to-day is supposed to travel moderately when at 1,000 feet per minute, in a cylinder three feet long. This gives 166 revolutions per minute. With coal under the boilers costing one dollar per net ton, from say five pounds of coal for one cent there is one horse-power for three hours, or a day and a night of continuous running for eight cents.

Countless millions of men and of horses would be useless for the work of the steam-engine, for the seemingly miraculous quality steam possesses, that permits concentration, is as requisite as its expansive powers. One hundred thousand horse-power, or several hundred thousand horse-power, is placed under one roof and directed to the task required. Sixty-four thousand horse-power is concentrated in the hold of the great steamships now building. All this stupendous force is evolved, concentrated and regulated by science from the most unpromising of substances, cold water. Nothing man has discovered or imagined is to be named with the steam engine. It has no fellow. Franklin capturing the lightning, Morse annihilating space with the telegraph, Bell transmitting speech through the air by the telephone, are not less mysterious—being more ethereal, perhaps in one sense they are even more so— still, the labor of the world performed by heating cold water places Watt and his steam engine in a class apart by itself. Many are the inventions for applying power; his creates the power it applies.

Whether the steam engine has reached its climax, and gas, oil, or other agents are to be used extensively for power, in the near future, is a question now debated in scientific circles. Much progress has been made in using these substitutes, and more is probable, as one obstacle after another is overcome. Gas especially is coming forward, and oil is freely used. For reasons before stated, it seems to the writer that, where coal is plentiful, the day is distant when steam will not continue to be the principal source of power. It will be a world surpriser that beats one horse-power developed by one pound of coal. The power to do much more than this, however, lies theoretically in gas, but there come these wise words of Arago to mind: "Persons "whose whole lives have been devoted to speculative labours are not aware how great the distance is between a scheme, apparently the best concerted, and "its realisation." So true! \Vatt's ideas in the brain, and the steam engine that he had to evolve during nine long years, are somewhat akin to the great gulf between resolve and performance, the "good resolution" that soothes and the "act" that exalts.

The steam engine is Scotland's chief, tho not her only contribution to the material progress of the world. Watt was its inventor, we might almost write Creator, so multiform were the successive steps. Symington by the steamship stretched one arm of it over the water; Stephenson by the locomotive stretched the other over the land. Thus was the world brought under its sway and conditions of human life transformed. Watt and Symington were born in Scotland within a few miles of each other. Stephenson's forbears moved from Scotland south of the line previous to his birth, as Fulton's parents removed from Scotland to America, so that both Stephensonand Fulton could boast with Gladstone that the blood in their veins was Scotch.

The history of the world has no parallel to the change effected by the inventions of these three men. Strange that little Scotland, with only 1,500,000 people, in 1791, about one-half the population of New York City, should have been the mother of such a triad, and that her second "mighty three" (Wallace, Bruce and Burns always first), should have been of the same generation, working upon the earth near each other at the same time. The Watt engine appeared in 1782; the steamship in i8oi; the locomotive thirteen years later, in 1814. Thus thirty-two years after its appearance Watt's steam-engine had conquered both sea and land.

The sociologist may theorise, but plain people will remember that men do not gather grapes from thorns, nor figs from thistles. There must be something in the soil which produces such men; something in the poverty that compels exertion; something in the "land of the mountain and the flood" that stirs the imagination; something in the history of centuries of struggle for national and spiritual independence; much in the system of compulsory and universal free education; something of all these elements mingling in the blood that tells, and enables Scotland to contribute so largely to the progress of the world.

Strange reticence is shown by all Watt's historians regarding his religious and political views. Williamson, the earliest author of his memoirs, is full of interesting facts obtained from people in Greenock who had known Watt well. The hesitation shown by him as to Watt's orthodoxy in his otherwise highly eulogistic tribute, attracts attention. He says:

We could desire to know more of the state of those affections which are more purely spiritual by their nature and origin—his disposition to those supreme truths of Revelation, which alone really elevate and purify the soul. In the absence of much information of a very positive kind in regard to such points of character and life, we instinctively revert in a case like this to the principles and maxims of an infantile and early training. Remembering the piety portrayed in the ancestors of this great man, one cannot but cling to the hope that his many virtues reposed on a substratum of more than merely moral excellence. Let us cherish the hope that the calm which rested on the spirit of the pilgrim ....was one that caught its radiance from a far higher sphere than that of the purest human philosophy.

Watt's breaking of the Sabbath before recorded must have seemed to that stern Calvinist a heinous sin, justifying grave doubts of Watt's spiritual condition, his "moral excellence" to the contrary notwithstanding. Williamson's estimate of moral excellence had recently been described by Burns:

But then, nae thanks to him for a' that,
Nae godly symptom ye can Ca' that,
It's naething but a milder feature
Of our poor sinfu' corrupt nature.
Ye'll get the best o' moral works,
Many black gentoos and pagan works,
Or hunters wild on Ponotaxi
Wha never heard of orthodoxy.

Williamson's doubts had much stronger foundation in Watt's non-attendance at church, for, as we shall see from his letter to De Luc, July, 1788, he had never attended the "meeting-house" (dissenting church) in Birmingham aitho he claimed to be still a member of the Presbyterian body in declining the sheriffalty.

It seems probable that Watt, in his theological views, like Priestley and others of the Lunar Society, was in advance of his age, and more or less in accord with Burns, who was then astonishing his countrymen. Perhaps he had forstalled Dean Stanley's advice in his rectorial address to the students of St. Andrew's University: "go to Burns for your theology," yet he remained a deeply religious man to the end, as we see from his letter (page 216), at the age of seventy-six.

We know that politically Watt was in advance of his times for the prime minister pronounced him "a "sad radical." He was with Burns politically at all events. Watt's eldest son, then in Paris, was carried away by the French Revolution, and Muirhead suggests that the prime minister must have confounded father and son, but it seems unreasonable to suppose that he could have been so misled as to mistake the doings of the famous Watt in Birmingham for those of his impulsive son in France.

The French Revolution exerted a powerful influence in Britain, especially in the north of England and south of Scotland, which have much in common. The Lunar Society of Birmingham was intensely interested. At one of the meetings in the summer of 1788, held at her father's house, Mrs. Sella immelpenniack records that Mr. Boulton presented to the company his son, just returned from a long sojourn in Paris, who gave a vivid account of proceedings there, Watt and Dr. Priestly being present. A few months later the revolution broke out. Young Harry Priestley, a son of the Doctor's, one evening burst into the drawing-room, waving his hat and crying, "hurrah! Liberty, Reason, "Brotherly Love forever! Down with kingcraft and priestcraft! The majesty of the people forever! France is free!" Dr. Priestley was deeply stirred and became the most prominent of all in the cause of the rights of man. He hailed the acts of the National Assembly abolishing monarchy, nobility and church. He was often engaged in discussions with the local clergy on theological dogmas. He wrote a pamphlet upon the French Revolution, and Burke attacked him in the House of Commons. All this naturally concentrated local opposition upon him as leader. The enthusiasts mistakenly determined to have a public dinner to celebrate the anniversary of the Revolution, and no less than eighty gentlemen attended, altho many advised against it. Priestley himself was not present. A mob collected outside and demolished the windows. The cry was raised, "To the new meeting-house 1" the chapel in which Priestley ministered. The chapel was set on fire. Thence the riot proceeded to Priestley's house. The doctor and his family, being warned, had left shortly before. The house was at the mercy of the mob, which broke in, destroyed furniture, chemical laboratory and library, and finally set fire to the house. Some of the very best citizens suffered in like manner. Mr. Ryland, one of the most munificent benefactors of the town, Mr. Taylor, the hanker, and Hutton, the estimable book-seller, were among the number. The home of Dr. Withering, member of the Lunar Society, was entered, but the timely arrival of troops saved it from destruction. The members of the Lunar Society, or the "lunatics," as they were popularly called, were especially marked for attack. The mob cried, "No "philosophers!" "Church and King forever!" All this put Boulton and Watt upon their guard, for they were prominent members of the society. They called their workmen together, explained the criminalty of the rioters, and placed arms in their hands on their promise to defend them if attacked. Meanwhile everything portable was packed up ready to be removed.

Watt wrote to Mr. DeLuc, July i, 1791:

Though our principles, which are well known, as friends to the established government and enemies of republican principles, should have been our protection from a mob whose watchword was Church and King, yet our safety was principally owing to most of the Dissenters living south of the town; for after the first moment they did not seem over-nice in their discrimination of religion and principles. I, among others, was pointed out as a Presbyterian, though I never was in a meeting-house (Dissenting Church) in Birmingham, and Mr. Boulton is well-known as a Churchman. We had everything most portable packed up, fearing the worst. however, all is well with us.

From all this we gather the impression that Radical principles had permeated the leading minds of Birmingham to a considerable extent, probably around the Lunar Society district in greater measure than in other quarters, altho clubs of ardent supporters were formed in London and the principal provincial cities.

In the political field, we have only one appearance of Watt reported. Early in 1784, we find him taking the lead in getting up a loyal address to the king on the appointment as prime minister of Pitt, who proposed to tax coal, iron, copper and other raw materials of manufacture to the amount of $5,000,000 per year, a considerable sum in those days when manufacturing was in its infancy. Boulton also joined in opposition. They wisely held that for a manufacturing nation to tax raw materials was suicidal: let taxes be laid upon luxuries, upon vices, and, if you like, upon It property; tax riches when got, but not the means of getting them. Of all things don't cut open the hen that lays the golden eggs."

Watt's services were enlisted and he drew up a paper for circulation upon the subject. The policy failed, and soon after Pitt was converted to sounder doctrines by Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations." Free trade has ruled Britain ever since, and, being the country that could manufacture cheapest, and indeed, the only manufacturing country for many years, this policy has made her the richest, per capita, of all nations. The day may be not far distant when America, soon to be the cheapest manufacturing country for many, as it already is for a few, staple articles, will be crying for free trade, and urging free entrance to the markets of the world. To tax the luxuries and vices, to tax wealth got and not in the making, as proposed by Watt and Boulton, is the policy to follow. Watt shows himself to have been a profound economist.

Watt had cause for deep anxiety for his eldest son, James, who had taken an active part in the agitation. He and his friend, Mr. Cooper of Manchester, were appointed deputies by the "Constitutional Society," to proceed to Paris and present an address of congratuation to the Jacobin Club. Young Watt was carried away, and became intimate with the leaders. Southey says he actually prevented a duel between Danton and Robespierre by appearing on the ground and remonstrating with them, pointing out that if either fell the cause must suffer.

Upon young Watt's return, king's messengers arrived in Birmingham and seized persons concerned in seditious correspondence. Watt suggests that Boulton should see his son and arrange for his leaving for America, or some foreign land, for a time. This proved to be unnecessary; his son was not arrested, and in a short time all was forgotten. He entered the works with Boulton's son as partner, and became an admirable manager. To-day we regard his mild republicanism, his alliance with Jacobin leaders, and especially his bold intervention in the quarrel between two of the principal actors in the tragedy of the French Revolution, as "a ribbon in the cap of youth." That his douce father did the same and was proud of his eldest born seems probable. Our readers will also judge for themselves whether the proud father had not him- sell a strong liking for democratic principles, "the "rights of the people," "the royalty of man," which Burns was then blazing forth, and held such sentiments as quite justified the prime minister's accusation that he was "a sad radical."

In Britain, since Watt's clay, all traces of opposition to monarchy aroused by the French Revolution have disappeared, as completely as the monarchy of King George. The "limited monarchy" of to-day, developed during the admirable reign of Queen Victoria, has taken its place. The French abolished monarchy by a frontal attack upon the citadel, involving serious loss. Not such the policy of the colder Briton. He won his great victory, losing nothing, by flanking the position. That the king "could do no wrong," is a doctrine almost coeval with modern history, flowing from the "divine right" of kings, and, as such, was quietly accepted. It needed only to be properly harnessed to become a very serviceable agent for registering the people's will.

It was obvious that the acceptance of the doctrine that the king could do no wrong involved the duty of proving the truth of the axiom, and it was equally obvious that the only possible way of doing this was that the king should not be allowed to do anything. Hence he was made the mouthpiece of his ministers, and it is not the king, but they, who, being fallible men, may occasionally err. The monarch, in losing power to do anything has gained power to influence everything. The ministers hold office through the approval of the House of Commons. Members of that house are elected by the people. Thus stands government in Britain "broad-based upon the people's will."

All that the revolutionists of Watt's day desired has, in substance, been obtained, and Britain has become in truth a "crowned republic," with "government of the people, for the people, and by the people." This steady and beneficent development was peaceably attained. The difference between the French and British methods is that between revolution and evolution.

In America's political domain, a similar evolution has been even more silently at work than in Britain during the past century, and is not yet exhausted— the transformation of a loose confederacy of sovereign states, with different laws, into one solid government, which assumes control and insures uniformity over one department after another. The centripetal forces grow stronger with the years; power leaves the individual states and drifts to Washington, as the necessity for each successive change becomes apparent. In the regulation of interstate commerce, of trusts, and in other fields, final authority over the whole land gravitates more and more to Washington. It is a beneficent movement, likely to result in uniform national laws upon many subjects in which present diversity creates confusion. Marriage and divorce laws, bankruptcy laws, corporation charter privileges, and many other important questions may be expected to become uniform under this evolutionary process. The Supreme Court decision that the Union was an indissoluble union of indissoluble states, carries with it finally uniform regulation of many interstate problems, in every respect salutary, and indispensable for the perfect union of the American people.


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