Boulton and Watt (IV.)
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HE Cornish miners continued baffled in their attempts to get rid of the water, which hindered the working of their mines.  The Newcomen engines had been taxed to the utmost, but were unable to send the workmen deeper into the ground.  The mine owners were accordingly ready to welcome any invention that promised to relieve them of their difficulty.  Among the various new contrivances for pumping water, that of Watt seemed to offer the greatest advantages; and if what was alleged of it proved true, it could not fail to prove of the greatest advantage to Cornish industry.

    Long before Watt's arrival in Birmingham, the Cornishmen had been in correspondence with Boulton, making inquiries about the new Scotch invention, of which they had heard; and Dr. Small, in his letters to Watt, repeatedly urged him to perfect his engine, with a view to its being employed in the drainage of the Cornish mines.  Now that the engine was at work in several places, Boulton invited his correspondents in Cornwall to inquire as to its performances, at Soho, or Bedworth, or Bow, or any other place where it had been erected.  The result of the inquiry was satisfactory, and several orders for engines for Cornwall were received at Soho by the end of 1776.  The two first were those ordered for Wheal Busy, near Chacewater, and for Tingtang, near Redruth.  The materials for the former were shipped by the middle of 1777; and, as much would necessarily depend upon the successful working of the first engines put up in Cornwall, Watt himself went to superintend their erection.

    Watt reached his destination after a long and tedious journey over bad roads.  He rode by stage as far as Exeter, and posted the rest of the way.  At Chacewater he found himself in the midst of perhaps the richest mining district in the world.  From thence to Camborne, which lies to the west, and Gwennap to the south, there is a constant succession of mines.  The earth has been burrowed in all directions for miles upon miles in search of ore, principally copper—the surface presenting an unnaturally blasted and scarified appearance by reason of the "deads" or refuse run out in heaps from the mine-heads.  Engine-houses and chimneys are the most prominent features in the landscape, and dot the horizon as far as the eye can reach.

    When Watt arrived at Chacewater he found the materials for the Wheal Busy engine had come to hand, and that some progress had been made with their erection.  The materials for the Tingtang engine, however, had not yet been received from Soho, and the owners of the mine were becoming very impatient for it.  Watt wrote to his partner urging despatch, otherwise the engine might be thrown upon their hands, especially if the Chacewater engine, now nearly ready for work, did not give satisfaction.

    From Watt's account, it would appear that the Cornish mines were in a very bad way.  "The Tingtang people," he said, "are now fairly put out by water, and the works are quite at a stand."  The other mines in the neighbourhood were in no better plight.  The pumping-engines could not keep down the water.  "Poldice has grown worse than Wheal Virgin was: they have sunk £400 a month for some months past, and £700 the last month; they will probably soon give up.  North Downs seems to be our next card."  The owners of the Wheal Virgin mine, though drowned out, like many others, could not bring their minds to try Watt's engine.  They had no faith in it, and stuck to the old atmospheric of Newcomen.  They accordingly erected an additional engine of this kind to enable them to go about eight fathoms deeper; "and they have bought," wrote Watt, "an old boiler of monstrous size at the Briggin, which they have offered £50 to get carried to its place."

    At Chacewater, Watt first met Jonathan Hornblower, son of the Joseph Hornblower who had come into Cornwall from Staffordshire, some fifty years before, to erect one of the early Newcomen engines.  The son had followed in his father's steps, and become celebrated in the Chacewater district as an engineer.  It was natural that he should regard with jealousy the patentees of the new engine; for if it proved a success, his vocation as a maker of atmospheric engines would be at an end.  Watt thus referred to him in a letter to Boulton: "Hornblower seems a very pleasant sort of old Presbyterian: he carries himself very fair, though I hear that he is an unbelieving Thomas."  His unbelief strongly showed itself on the starting of the Wheal Busy engine shortly after, when he exclaimed, "Pshaw! she's but a bauble: I wouldn't give twopence halfpenny for her."

    There were others beside Hornblower who disliked and resented what they considered the intrusion of Boulton and Watt into their district, and who indeed never became wholly reconciled to the new engine, though they were compelled to admit the inefficiency of the old one.  Among these was old Bonze, the engineer, a very clever mechanic, who positively refused to undertake the erection of the proposed new engine at Wheal Union if Boulton and Watt were to be in any way concerned with it.  But the mine-owners had to study their own interests rather than the humour of their engineers, and Watt secured the order for the Wheal Union engine.  Several other orders were promised, conditional on the performances of the Wheal Busy engine proving satisfactory.  "Ale and Cakes," [p.203] wrote Watt, "must wait the result of Chacewater: several new engines will be erected next year, for almost all the old mines are exhausted, or have got to the full power of the present engines, which are clumsy and nasty, the houses cracked, and everything dropping with water from their cisterns."

    Watt liked the people as little as he did their engines.  He thought them ungenerous, jealous, and treacherous.  "Certainly," said he, "they have the most ungracious manners of any people I have ever yet been amongst."  At the first monthly meeting of the Wheal Virgin adventurers, which he attended, he found a few gentlemen, but "the bulk of them would not be disgraced by being classed with Wednesbury colliers."  What annoyed him most was, that the miners invented and propagated all sorts of rumours to his prejudice.  "We have been accused," said he, "of working without leather upon our buckets, and making holes in the clacks in order to deceive strangers. . . . I choose to keep out of their company, as every word spoken by me would be bandied about and misrepresented.  I have already been accused of making several speeches at Wheal Virgin, where, to the best of my memory, I have only talked about eating, drinking, and the weather.  The greater part of the adventurers at Wheal Virgin are a mean dirty pack, preying upon one another, and striving who shall impose most upon the mine."

    Watt was of too sensitive and shrinking a nature to feel himself at home amongst such people.  Besides, he was disposed to be peevish and irritable, easily cast down, and ready to anticipate the worst.  It had been the same with him when employed amongst the rough labourers on the Monkland Canal, where he had declared himself as ready to face a loaded cannon as to encounter the altercations of bargain-making.  But Watt must needs reconcile himself to his post as he best could; for none but himself could see to the proper erection of the Wheal Busy engine, and get it set to work with any chance of success.

    A letter from Mrs. Watt to Mrs. Boulton, dated Chacewater, September 1st, 1777, throws a little light on Watt's private life during his stay in Cornwall.  She describes the difficulty they had in obtaining accommodation on their arrival, "no such thing as a house or lodging to be had for any money within some miles of the place where the engine was to be erected"; hence they had been glad to accept of the hospitality of Mr. Wilson, the superintendent of the mine.

    "I scarcely know what to say to you of the country.  The spot we are at is the most disagreeable in the whole county.  The face of the earth is broken up in ten thousand heaps of rubbish, and there is scarce a tree to be seen.  But don't think that all Cornwall is like Chacewater.  I have been at some places that are very pleasant, nay beautiful.  The sea-coast to me is charming, but not easy to be got at.  In some cases my poor husband has been obliged to mount me behind him to go to some of the places we have been at.  I assure you I was not a little perplexed at first to be set on a great tall horse with a high pillion.  At one of our jaunts we were only charged twopence apiece for our dinner.  You may guess what our fare would be from the cost of it; but I assure you I never ate a dinner with more relish in my life, nor was I ever happier at a feast than I was that day at Portreath. . . . One thing I must tell you of is, to take care Mr. Boulton's principles are well fixed before you trust him here.  Poor Mr. Watt is turned Anabaptist, and duly attends their meeting; he is indeed, and goes to chapel most devoutly."

    At last the Chacewater engine was finished and ready for work.  Great curiosity was felt about its performances, and mining men and engineers came from all quarters to see it start.  "All the world are agape," said Watt, "to see what it can do."  It would not have displeased some of the spectators if it had failed.  But to their astonishment it succeeded.  At starting, it made eleven eight-feet strokes per minute; and it worked with greater power, went more steadily, and "forked" more water than any of the ordinary engines, with only about one-third the consumption of coal.  "We have had many spectators," wrote Watt, "and several have already become converts.  I understand all the west-country captains are to be here to-morrow to see the prodigy."  Even Bonze, his rival, called to see it, and promised not only to read his recantation as soon as convinced, but never to touch a common engine again.  "The velocity, violence, magnitude, and horrible noise of the engine,"  Watt added, "give universal satisfaction to all beholders, believers or not.  I have once or twice trimmed the engine to end its stroke gently, and to make less noise; but Mr. Wilson cannot sleep unless it seems quite furious, so I have left it to the engine-men; and, by the by, the noise seems to convey great ideas of its power to the ignorant, who seem to be no more taken with modest merit in an engine than in a man."  In a later letter he wrote, "The voice of the country seems to be at present in our favour; and I hope will be much more so when the engine gets on its whole load, which will be by Tuesday next.  So soon as that is done, I shall set out for home."


    A number of orders for engines had come in at Soho during Watt's absence; and it became necessary for him to return there as speedily as possible, to prepare the plans and drawings, and put the work in hand.  No person had yet been attached to the concern who was capable of relieving Watt of this portion of his duties; while Boulton was fully occupied with conducting the commercial part of the business.  By the end of autumn Watt was again at home; and for a week after his return he kept so close to his desk in his house on Harper's Hill, that he could not even find time enough to go out to Soho and see what had been doing in his absence.  At length he felt so exhausted by the brain-work and confinement that he wrote to his partner, "A very little more of this hurrying and vexation will knock me up altogether."  To add to his troubles, letters arrived from Tingtang, urging his return to Cornwall, to erect the engine, the materials for which had at last arrived.  "I fancy," said Watt, "that I must be cut in pieces, and a portion sent to every tribe in Israel."

    After four months' labour of this sort, during which seven out of the ten engines then in hand were finished and erected, and the others well advanced, Watt again set out for Cornwall, which he reached by the beginning of June, 1778.  He took up his residence at Redruth, as being more convenient for Tingtang than Chacewater, hiring a house at Plengwarry, a hamlet on the outskirts of the town.  Redruth is the capital of the mining districts of Camborne, Redruth, and Gwennap.  It is an ancient town, consisting for the most part of a long street, which runs down one hill and up another.

    All round it the country seems to have been disembowelled; and heaps of scoriæ, "deads," rubbish, and granite blocks cover the surface.  The view from the lofty eminence of Carn Brea, a little to the south of Redruth, strikingly shows the scarified and blasted character of the district, and affords a prospect the like of which is seldom to be seen.


    On making inquiry as to the materials which had arrived during his absence, Watt was much mortified to find that the Soho workmen had made many mistakes.  "Forbes's eduction-pipe," he wrote, "is a most vile job, and full of holes.  The cylinder they have cast for Chacewater is still worse, for it will hardly do at all.  The Soho people have sent here Chacewater eduction-pipe instead of Wheal Union; and the gudgeon pipe has not arrived with the nozzles.  These repeated disappointments," said he, "will undoubtedly ruin our credit in the country; and I cannot stay here to bear the shame of such failures of promise."

    Watt had a hard time of it while in Cornwall, what with riding and walking from mine to mine, listening to complaints of delay in the arrival of the engines from Soho, and detecting and remedying the blunders and bad workmanship of his mechanics.  Added to which, everybody was low-spirited and almost in despair at the bad times,—ores falling in price, mines filled with water, engine-men standing idle, and adventurers bemoaning their losses.

    Another source of anxiety was the serious pecuniary embarrassments in which the Soho firm had become involved.  Boulton had so many concerns going, that a vast capital was required for the purpose of meeting current engagements; and the engine business, instead of relieving him, had hitherto only proved a source of additional outlay, and increased his difficulties at a time of general commercial depression.  He wrote to Watt, urging him to send remittances for the Cornish engines but the materials, though partly delivered, were not erected; and the miners demurred to paying on account, until they were fixed complete, and at work.  Boulton then suggested to Watt that he should try to obtain an advance from the Truro bankers, on security of the engine materials.  "No," replied Watt, "that cannot be done, as the knowledge of our difficulties would damage our position in Cornwall, and hurt our credit.  Besides," said he, "no one can be more cautious than a Cornish banker; and the principal partner of the firm you name is himself exceedingly distressed for money."

    Nor was there the least chance, in Watt's opinion, even if they had the money to advance, of their accepting any security that Boulton and Watt had to offer.  "Such is the nature of the people here," said he, "and so little faith have they in our engine, that very few of them believe it to be materially better than the ordinary one; and so far as I can judge, no one I have conversed with would advance us £500 on a mortgage of it." [p.210]

    All that Watt could do was to recommend that the evil day should be staved off as long as possible, or at all events, until the large engines he was then erecting were at work, when he believed their performances would effect a complete change in the views of the adventurers.  The only suggestion he could offer was to invite John Wilkinson, or some other moneyed man, to join them as partner and relieve them of their difficulties; for "rather than founder at sea," said he, "we had better run ashore."  Meanwhile, he urged Boulton to apply the pruning-knife and cut down expenses, assuring him that he himself was practising all the frugality in his power.  But as Watt's personal expenses at the time did not amount to £2 a week, it is clear that any savings he could effect, however justifiable and laudable, were but as a drop in the ocean compared with the liabilities to be met, and which must be provided without delay to avoid insolvency and ruin.

    Fothergill, Boulton's other partner, was even more desponding than Watt.  When Boulton left Soho on his journeys to raise ways and means, Fothergill pursued him with dolorous letters, telling of mails that had arrived without remittances, of bills that must be met, of wages that must be paid on Saturday night, and of the impending bankruptcy of the firm, which he again and again declared to be "inevitable."  "Better stop payment at once," said he, call our creditors together, and face the worst, than go on in this neck-and-neck race with ruin."  Boulton would then hurry back to Soho, to quiet Fothergill, and keep the concern going; on which another series of letters would pour in upon him from Mr. Matthews, the London financial agent, pressing for remittances, and reporting the increasingly gloomy and desperate state of affairs.

    Boulton himself was, as usual, equal to the occasion.  His courage and determination rose in proportion to the difficulties to be overcome.  He was borne up by his invincible hope, by his unswerving purpose, and above all by his unshaken belief in the commercial value of the condensing engine.  If they could only weather the storm until its working powers could be fully demonstrated, all would yet be well.

    In illustration of his hopefulness, we may mention that in the midst of his troubles a fire took place in the engine-room at Soho, which was happily extinguished, but not before it had destroyed the roof and done serious damage to the engine, which was brought to a standstill.  Boulton had long been desirous of rebuilding the engine-house in a proper manner, but had been hindered by Watt, who was satisfied merely with the alterations necessary to accommodate the room to the changes made in the engine called "Beelzebub." [p.212]  On hearing of the damage done by the fire, Boulton, instead of lamenting over it, exclaimed, "Now I shall be able at last to have the engine-house built as it should be."

    After many negotiations, Boulton at length succeeded in raising a sum of £7,000 by granting a Mr. Wiss security for the payment of an annuity, while the London bankers, Lowe, Vere, and Williams, allowed an advance of £14,000 on security of a mortgage granted by Boulton and Watt on the royalties derived from the engine patent, and of all their rights and privileges therein.  Though the credit of the house was thus saved, the liabilities of Boulton and his partners continued to press heavily upon them for a long time to come.

    Meanwhile, however, a gleam of light came from Cornwall.  Watt sent the good news to Soho that "both Chacewater and Tingtang engines go on exceedingly well, and give great satisfaction.  Chacewater goes 14 strokes of 9 foot long per minute, and burns about 128 bushels per 24 hours.  The water has sunk 12 fathoms in the mine, and the engine will fork [i.e. pump out] the first lift this night.  No cross nor accident of any note has happened, except the bursting of a pump at Tingtang, which was soon repaired."  Four days later Watt wrote, "The engines are both going very well, and Chacewater has got the water down 18½ fathoms; but after this depth it must make slower progress, as a very large house of water begins there, and the feeders grow stronger as we go deeper."

    Watt looked upon the Chacewater trial as the experimentum crucis, and continued to keep his partner duly informed of every circumstance connected with it.  "They say," he wrote, "that if the new engine can fork the water from Chacewater, it can fork anything, as that is the heaviest to fork in the whole county."  On the 15th of August he wrote, "Chacewater is now down to 10 fathoms of the second lift, and works steady and well; it sinks 9 feet per day.  Chacewater people in high spirits: Captain Mayor furiously in love with the engine."  On the 29th he wrote again, "Chacewater engine is our capital card, for should it succeed in forking this mine, all doubts will then be removed."  The adventurers of the great Poldice mine watched the operations at Chacewater with much interest.  Two Newcomen engines, pumping night and day for months, had failed to clear their mine of water; and now they thought of ordering one of the new engines to take their place; "but all this," said Watt, "depends on the success of Chacewater, which God protect: it is now down 311 fathoms, and will be in fork of this lift to-morrow, when it is to be put down three fathoms lower and fixed there."  On the 17th he wrote, "I have been at Chacewater today, where they are in fork of the second lift 341 fathoms.  The great connexion-rod still unbalanced.  The engine went yesterday 14 strokes per minute.  To-morrow I go to Wheal Union, and on Saturday to Truro, to meet Poldice adventurers. . . . By attending to the business of this county alone," said he, "we may at least live comfortably; for I cannot suppose that less than twelve engines will be wanted in two or three years, but after that very few more, as these will be sufficient to get ore enough; though you cannot reckon the average profits to us at above £200 per engine."

    When Boulton and Watt first begun the manufacture of steam-engines, they were mainly concerned to get orders, and were not very particular as to the terms on which they were obtained.  But when the orders increased, and the merits of the invention gradually became recognised, they found it necessary to require preliminary agreements to be entered into as to the terms on which the engine was to be used.  It occurred to them, that as one of its principal merits consisted in the saving of fuel, it would be a fair arrangement to take one-third of the value of such saving by way of royalty, leaving the owners of the engines to take the benefit of the remaining two-thirds.  Nothing could be fairer than the spirit of this arrangement, which, it will be seen, was of even more advantage to the owners of the engines than to the patentees themselves.  The first Cornish engines were, however, erected without any condition as to terms; and it was only after they had proved their power by "forking" the water, and sending the miners twenty fathoms deeper into the ground, that the question of terms was raised.  Watt proposed that agreements should be entered into on the basis above indicated.  But the Cornish men did not see the use of agreements.  They had paid for the engines, which were theirs, and Boulton and Watt could not take them away.  Here was the beginning of a long series of altercations.  The miners could not do without the engine.  It was admitted to be of immense value to them, rendering many of their mines workable that would otherwise have been valueless.  But why should they have to pay for the use of such an invention?  This was what they never could clearly understand.

    To prevent misunderstandings in future, Watt wrote to Boulton, recommending that no further orders for engines should be taken unless the terms for using them were definitely settled beforehand.  "You must excuse me," he added, "when I tell you that, for my part, I will not put pen to paper [i.e. make the requisite drawings] on a new subject until that is done.  Until an engine is ordered, our power is greater than that of the Lord Chancellor; as I believe even he cannot compel us to make one unless we choose.  Let our terms be moderate, and, if possible, consolidated into money a priori, and it is certain we shall get some money, enough to keep us out of jail,—in continual apprehension of which I live at present." [p.216]

    To meet the case, a form of agreement was drawn up and required to be executed before any future engine was commenced.  It usually provided that an engine of certain given dimensions and power was to be erected at the expense of the owners of the mine; and that the patentees were to take as their recompense for the use of their invention, one-third of the value of the fuel saved by it compared with the consumption of the ordinary engine.  It came to be understood that the saving of fuel was to be estimated according to the number of strokes made.  To ascertain this, Watt contrived an ingenious piece of clockwork, termed the Counter, which, being attached to the main beam, accurately marked and registered, under lock and key, the number of its vibrations.  Thus the work done was calculated, and the comparative saving of fuel was ascertained.

    Though the Cornish miners had been full of doubts as to the successful working of Watt's engine, they could not dispute the evidence of their senses after it had been erected and was fairly at work.  There it was, "forking water" as never [an] engine before had been known to "fork."  It had completely mastered the water at Wheal Busy; and if it could send the workmen down that mine, it could in like manner send them down elsewhere.  Wheal Virgin was on the point of stopping work, in which case some two thousand persons would be thrown out of bread.  Bonze's new atmospheric engine had proved a failure, and the mine continued flooded.  It had also failed at Poldice, which was drowned out.  "Notwithstanding the violence and prejudice against us," wrote Watt, "nothing can save the mines but our engines. . .. Even the infidels of Dalcoath are now obliquely inquiring after our terms!  Cook's Kitchen, which communicates with it, has been drowned out some time."

    Watt, accordingly, had many applications about engines; and on that account he entreated his partner to come to his help.  He continued to hate all negotiating about terms, and it did not seem as if he would ever learn to like it.  He had neither the patience to endure, nor the business tact to conduct a negotiation.  He wanted confidence in himself, and did not feel equal to make a bargain.  He would almost as soon have wrestled with the Cornish miners as higgled with them.  They were shrewd, practical men, rough in manner and speech, yet honest withal; [p.217] but Watt would not encounter them when he could avoid it.  Hence his repeated calls to Boulton to come and help him.  Writing to him about the proposed Wheal Virgin engine, he said, "Before I make any bargain with these people, I must have you here."  A few days after, when communicating the probability of obtaining an order for the Poldice engine, he wrote,—"I wish you would dispose yourself for a journey here, and strike while this iron is hot."  A fortnight later he said, "Poldice people are now welding hot, and must not be suffered to cool.  They are exceedingly impatient, as they lose £150 a month until our engine is going. . . . I hope this will find you ready to come away.  At Redruth, inquire for Plengwarry Green, where you will find me."

    Boulton must have been greatly harassed by the woes of his partners.  Fothergill was still uttering lamentable prophecies of impending ruin; his only prospect of relief being in the success of the steam-engine.  He urged Boulton to endeavour to raise money by the sale of engine contracts or annuities, in order to avert a crash.  Matthews, the London agent, also continued to represent the still urgent danger of the house, and pressed Boulton to go to Cornwall and try to raise money there upon his engine contracts.  Indeed, it was clear that the firm of Boulton and Fothergill had been losing money by their business for several years past; and that, unless the engine succeeded, they must, ere long, go to the wall.  When Boulton turned to Cornwall, he found little comfort.  Though the engines were successful, Watt could not raise money upon them.  The adventurers were poor,—were for the most part losing by their ventures, in consequence of the low price of the ore; and they almost invariably put off payment by excuses.  Thus, while Boulton was in London trying to obtain accommodation from his bankers, the groans of his partner in Birmingham were more than re-echoed by the lamentations of his other partner in Cornwall, who rang the changes of misery through all the notes of the gamut.

    At length, about the beginning of October, 1778, Boulton contrived to make his long-promised journey into Cornwall. [p.219]  He went round among the mines, and had many friendly conferences with the managers.  He found the engine had grown in public favour, and that the impression prevailed throughout the mining districts that it would before long become generally adopted.  Encouraged by his London financial agent, he took steps to turn this favourable impression to account.  Before he left Cornwall—where he remained until the end of the year,--he succeeded in borrowing a sum of £2,000 from Elliot and Praed, the Truro bankers, on security of the engines erected in the county; and the money was at once forwarded to the London agents for the relief of the firm.  He also succeeded in getting the terms definitely arranged for the use of several of the most important engines erected and at work.  It was agreed that £700 a year should be paid as royalty in respect of the Chacewater engine,—an arrangement even more advantageous to the owners of the mine than to the patentees, as it was understood that the saving of coals amounted to upwards of £2,400 a year.  Other agreements were entered into for the use of the engines erected at Wheal Union and Tingtang, which brought in about £400 per annum more, so that the harvest of profits seemed at length fairly begun.

    Watt remained at Cornwall for another month, plodding at Poldice and Wheal Virgin engines, and returned to Birmingham early in January, 1779.  Though the pumping-engine had thus far proved remarkably successful, and accomplished all that Watt had promised, he was in no better spirits than before.  "Though we have, in general, succeeded in our undertakings," he wrote to Dr. Black, "yet that success has, from various unavoidable circumstances, produced small profits to us; the struggles we have had with natural difficulties, and with the ignorance, prejudices, and villanies of mankind, have been very great, but I hope are now nearly come to an end, or vanquished." [p.220-1]  His difficulties were not, however, nearly at an end, as the heavy liabilities of the firm had still to be met.  More money had to be borrowed, and Watt continued to groan under his intolerable burden.  "The thought of the debt to Lowe, Vere, and Co.," he wrote to his partner, "lies too heavy on my mind to leave me the proper employment of my faculties in the prosecution of our business; and, besides, common honesty will prevent me from loading the scheme with debts which might be more than it could pay." [p.220-2]

    A more hopeful man would have borne up under these difficulties; for the reputation of the engine was increasing, and orders were coming in from various quarters.  Soho was full of work; and, provided the credit of the firm could be maintained, it was clear that the undertaking on which they had entered could not fail to prove remunerative.  Watt could not see this, but his partner did; and Boulton accordingly strained every nerve to maintain the character of the concern.  While Watt was urging upon him to curtail the business, Boulton sought in all ways to extend it.  He sent accounts of his marvellous engines abroad, and orders for them came in from France and Holland.  Watt was more alarmed than gratified by the foreign orders, fearing that the engine would be copied and extensively manufactured abroad, where patents had not yet been secured.  He did not see that the best protection of all was in the superiority of his mechanics and tools, enabling first-class work to be turned out,—advantages in which the Soho firm had the start of the world.  It is true his mechanics were liable to be bribed, and foreigners were constantly haunting Soho for the purpose of worming out the secrets of the manufacture, and decoying away the best men.  Against this, every precaution was taken, though sometimes in vain.  Two Prussian engineers came over from Berlin in 1779, to whom Watt showed every attention; after which, in his absence, they got into the engine-room, and carefully examined all the details of "Old Bess," making notes.  When Watt returned, he was in high dudgeon, and wrote to his partner that he "could not help it, unless by discountenancing every foreigner who does not come avowedly to have an engine."

    Their principal reliance, however, was necessarily on home orders, and these came in satisfactorily.  Eight more engines were wanted for Cornwall,—those already at work continuing to give satisfaction.  Inquiries were also made about pumping-engines for collieries in different parts of England.  But where coals were cheap, and the saving of fuel was of less consequence, the patentees were not solicitous for orders unless the purchasers would fix a fair sum for the patent right, or rate the coals used at a price that would be remunerative in proportion to the savings effected.  The orders were, indeed, becoming so numerous, that the firm, beginning to feel their power, themselves fixed the annual royalty, though it was not always so easy to get it paid.

    The working power of Watt was but limited.  He still continued to suffer from intense headaches; and, as all the drawings of new engines were made by his own hands, it was necessary in some measure to limit the amount of the work which was undertaken.  "I beg," he wrote to his partner in May, 1779, relative to proposals made for two new engines, "that you will not undertake to do anything for them before Christmas.  It is, in fact, impossible,—at least on my part; I am quite crushed."  But he was not always so dispirited, for in the following month we find him writing to Boulton an exultant letter, announcing orders for three new engines from Cornwall. [p.222]

    Watt continued for some time longer to suffer great annoyance from the shortcomings of his workmen.  He was himself most particular in giving his instructions, verbally, in writing, and in drawings.  When he sent a workman to erect an engine, he sent with him a carefully drawn up detail of the step-by-step proceedings he was to adopt in fitting the parts together.  Where there was a difficulty, and likely to be a hitch, he added a pen-and-ink drawing, rapid but graphic, and pointed out how the difficulty was to be avoided.  It was not so easy, however, to find workmen capable of intelligently fitting together the parts of a machine so complicated and of so novel a construction.  Moreover, the first engines were in a great measure experimental, and to have erected them perfectly, and provided by anticipation for their various defects, would have involved a knowledge of the principles of their construction almost as complete as that of Watt himself.

    Nor was Watt sufficiently disposed to make allowances for the workmen's want of knowledge and want of experience; and his letters were accordingly full of complaints of their shortcomings.  He was especially annoyed with the mistakes of a foreman, named Hall, who had sent the wrong articles to Cornwall, and he urged Boulton to dismiss him at once.  But Boulton knew better.  Though Watt understood engines, he did not so well understand men.  Had Boulton dismissed such men as Hall, because they made mistakes, the shop would soon have been empty.  The men were as yet but at school, learning experience, and Boulton knew that in course of time they would acquire dexterity.  He was ready to make allowance for their imperfections, but at the same time he did not abate in his endeavours to find out and engage the best hands, wherever they were to be found—in Wales, in Cornwall, or in Scotland.  He therefore kept on Hall, notwithstanding Watt's protest, and the latter submitted. [p.224]

    Watt was equally wroth with the enginemen at Bedworth.  "I beg and expect," he wrote to Boulton, "that so soon as everything is done to that engine, you will instantly proceed to trial before creditable witnesses, and if possible have the whole brood of these enginemen displaced, if any others can be procured; for nothing but slovenliness, if not malice, is to be expected of them."  It must, however, be acknowledged that the Bedworth engine was at first very imperfect, having been made of bad iron, in consequence of which it frequently broke down.  In Cornwall the men were no better.  Dudley, Watt's erector at Wheal Chance and Hallamanin, was pronounced incapable and a blunderer.  "If something be not very bad in London, I wish you would employ Hadley to finish those engines, and send Joseph here to receive his instructions and proceed to Cornwall, otherwise Dudley will ruin us."

    The trusty "Joseph" was accordingly despatched to Cornwall to look after Dudley, and remedy the defects in Wheal Chance and Hallamanin engines; but when Watt arrived at Chacewater shortly after, he found that Joseph, too, had proved faithless.  He wrote to Boulton, "Joseph has pursued his old practice of drinking in a scandalous manner, until the very enginemen turned him into ridicule. . . . I have not heard how he behaved in the west; excepting that he gave the ale there a bad character."  Notwithstanding, however, his love of strong potations, Joseph was a first-rate workman.  Two days later Watt wrote, "Though Joseph has attended to his drinking, he has done much good at his leisure hours, and has certainly prevented much mischief at Hallamanin and some at Wheal Union.  He has had some hard and long jobs, and consequently merits some indulgence for his foibles."  By the end of the month "Joseph had conquered Hallamanin engine, all but the boiler," but Watt added, "His indulgence has brought on a slight fit of the jaundice, and as soon as the engine is finished, he must be sent home."

    By this time Watt had called to his aid two other skilled workmen, Law and Murdock, who arrived in Cornwall in the beginning of September, 1779.  In Watt's letters we find frequent allusions to Murdock.  Wherever any work had to be done requiring more than ordinary attention, Watt specially directed that "William" should be put to it.  "Let William be sent for from Bedworth," he wrote from Cornwall in 1778, "to set the patterns for nozzles quite right for Poldice."  Boulton wished to send him into Scotland to erect the engine at Wenlockhead, but Watt would not hear of it.  "William" was the only man he could trust with the nozzles.  Then William was sent to London to take charge of the Chelsea engine; next to Bedworth, to see to the completion of the repairs previous to the final trial; then to Birmingham again to attend to some further special instructions of Watt; and now we find him in Cornwall, to take charge of the principal engines erecting there.

    William Murdock was not only a most excellent and steady workman, but a man of eminent mechanical genius.  He was the first maker of a model locomotive in this country; he was the introducer of lighting by gas, and the inventor of many valuable parts of the working steam-engine, hereafter to be described.  His father was a millwright and miller, at Bellow Mill, near Old Cumnock, in Ayrshire, and was much esteemed for his probity and industry, as well as for his mechanical skill.  He was the inventor of bevelled cast-iron gear for mills, and his son was proud to exhibit, on the lawn in front of his house at Sycamore Hill, Handsworth, a piece of the first work of the kind executed in Britain.  It was cast for him at Carron Ironworks, after the pattern furnished by him, in 1766.


Ed.William Murdock (1754-1839): Scottish engineer and inventor (among other things, of the "Sun and Planet" rotary motion and of gas lighting) later to become a partner in the firm of Boulton and Watt.  From a portrait by John Graham Gilbert.  Picture Wikipedia.

    William was born in 1754, and brought up to his father's trade.  On arriving at manhood, he became desirous of obtaining a larger experience of millwork and mechanics than he could acquire at his father's little mill.  Hearing of the fame of Boulton and Watt, and the success of their new engine, he determined to travel south, and seek for a job at Soho.  Many Scotchmen were accustomed to call there on the same errand, probably relying on the known clanship of their countrymen, and thinking that they would find a friend and advocate in Watt.  But, strange to say, Watt did not think Scotchmen capable of becoming first-class mechanics. [p.226]

    When Murdock called at Soho, in the year 1777, to ask for a job, Watt was from home, but he saw Boulton, who was usually accessible to callers of every rank.  In answer to Murdock's inquiry whether he could have a job, Boulton replied that work was rather slack with them, and that every place was filled up.  During the brief conversation that ensued, the blate young Scotchman, like most country lads in the presence of strangers, had some difficulty in knowing what to do with his hands, and unconsciously kept twirling his hat with them.  Boulton's attention was directed to the twirling hat, which seemed to be of a peculiar make.  It was not a felt hat, nor a cloth hat, nor a glazed hat; but it seemed to be painted, and composed of some unusual material.  "That seems to be a curious sort of hat," said Boulton, looking at it more closely; "why, what is it made of? "  "Timmer, sir," said Murdock modestly.  "Timmer?  Do you mean to say that it is made of wood?"  "Yes, sir."  "Pray, how was it made?"  "I turned it mysel', sir, in a bit lathey of my own making."  Boulton looked at the young man again.  He had risen a hundred degrees in his estimation.  He was tall, good-looking, and of open and ingenuous countenance; and that he had been able to turn a wooden hat for himself in a lathe of his own making was proof enough that he was a mechanic of no mean skill.  "You may call again, my man," said Boulton.  "Thank you, sir," said Murdock, giving a final twirl to his hat.

    When Murdock called again, he was at once put upon a trial job, after which he was entered as a regular hand.  We learn from Boulton's memorandum-book that he was engaged for two years, at 15s. a week when at home, 17s. when from home, and 18s. when in London.  Boulton's engagement of Murdock was amply justified by the result.  Beginning as a common mechanic, he applied himself diligently and conscientiously to his work, and became trusted.  More responsible duties were confided to him, and he strove to perform them to the best of his power.  His industry and his skilfulness soon marked him for promotion, and he rose from grade to grade until he became Boulton and Watt's most trusted co-worker and adviser in all their mechanical undertakings of importance.

    When Murdock went into Cornwall to take charge of the engines, he gave himself no rest until he had conquered their defects and put them in thorough working order.  He devoted himself to his duties with a zeal and ability that completely won Watt's heart.  He was so filled with his work, that when he had an important job in hand, he could scarcely sleep at nights for thinking of it.  When the engine at Wheal Union was ready for starting, the people of the house at Redruth, in which Murdock lodged, were greatly disturbed one night by a strange noise in his room.  Several heavy blows on the floor made them start from their beds, thinking the house was coming down.  They rushed to Murdock's room, and there was he in his shirt, heaving away at the bed-post in his sleep, calling out, "Now she goes, lads! now she goes!"

    Murdock was not less successful in making his is way with the Cornishmen with whom he was brought into daily contact; indeed, he fought his way to their affections.  One day at Chacewater, some half-dozen of the mining captains came into the engine-room and began bullying him.  This he could not stand, and adopted a bold expedient.  He locked the door and said, "Now, then, you shall not leave this place until I have it fairly out with you."  He selected the biggest, and put himself in a fighting attitude.  The Cornishmen love fair play, and while the two engaged in battle, the others, without interfering, looked on.  The contest was soon over; for Murdock was a tall, powerful fellow, and speedily vanquished his opponent.  The others, seeing the kind of man they had to deal with, made overtures of reconciliation; and they shook hands all round, and parted the best of friends. [p.229]

    Watt continued to have his differences and altercations with the Cornishmen, but he had no such way of settling them.  Indeed, he was almost helpless when he came in contact with rough men of business.  Most of the mines were then paying very badly, and the adventurers raised all sorts of objections to making the stipulated payment of the engine dues.  Under such circumstances, altercations with them took place for which Watt was altogether unprepared.  He was under the apprehension that they were constantly laying their heads together for the purpose of taking advantage of him and his partner.  He never looked on the bright side of things, but always on the darkest.  "The rascality of mankind," said he to Dr. Black, "is almost beyond belief."  Though his views of science were large, his views of men were narrow.  Much of this may have been the result of his recluse habits and closet life, as well as of his constant ill-health.  With his racking headaches, it was indeed difficult for him to be cheerful.  But no one could be more conscious of his own defects of his want of tact, his want of business qualities, and his want of temper—than he was himself.  He knew his besetting infirmities, from which even the best and wisest are not exempt.  His greatness was mingled with imperfections, and his strength with weakness.  It is not in the order of Providence that the gifts and graces of life should be concentrated in any one perfectly adjusted character.  Even when we inquire into the "Admirable Crichton " of biography, and seek to trace his life, it vanishes almost into a myth.

    In the midst of his many troubles and difficulties, Watt's invariable practice was to call upon Boulton for help.  Boulton was satisfied to take men as he found them, and try to make the best of them.  Watt was a man of the study; Boulton a man of the world.  Watt was a master of machines; but Boulton of men.  Though Watt might be the brain, Boulton was the heart of the concern.  "If you had been here," wrote Watt to Boulton, after one of his disagreeable meetings with the adventurers, "If you had been here, and gone to that meeting with your cheerful countenance and brave heart, perhaps they would not have been so obstinate."  The scene referred to by Watt occurred at a meeting of the Wheal Union Adventurers, at which the savings effected by the new engine were to be calculated and settled.

    In subsequent letters Watt continued to urge Boulton to come to him.  His headaches were constant, unfitting him for work.  Besides, he could scarcely stir out of doors for the rain.  "It rains here," said he, "prodigiously.  When you come, bring with you a waxed linen cloak for yourself, and another for me, as there is no going out now for a few miles without getting wet to the skin.  When it rains in Cornwall, and it rains often, it rains solid!"






BOULTON again went to Watt's help in Cornwall at the end of autumn, 1779.  He could not afford to make a long stay, but left as soon as he had settled several long-pending agreements with the mine proprietors.  The partners returned to Birmingham together.  Before leaving, they installed Lieutenant Henderson as their representative, to watch over their interests in their absence.  Henderson was a sort of Jack-of-all-trades and master of none.  He had been an officer of marines, and afterwards a West India sugar-planter.  He lost all that he possessed in Jamaica, but gained some knowledge of levelling, draining, and machinery.  He was also a bit of an inventor, and first introduced himself to Boulton's notice by offering to sell him a circular motion by steam which he alleged he had discovered.  This led to a correspondence, which resulted in his engagement to travel for the firm, and to superintend the erection of engines when necessary.

    Henderson experienced the same difficulty that Watt had done in managing the adventurers, and during his stay in Cornwall he was never done calling upon Boulton to hasten to his assistance and help him, as he said, "to put them in good spirits and good temper."  As the annual meetings drew near, Henderson anticipated a stormy time of it, and pleaded harder than ever for Boulton to come to him.  It seemed as if it would be necessary for Boulton to take up his residence in Cornwall; and as the interests at stake were great, it might be worth his while to do so.  By the summer of 1780, Boulton and Watt had made and sold forty pumping-engines, of which number twenty were erected and at work in different parts of Cornwall; and it was generally expected that before long there would scarcely be an engine of the old construction left at work in the county.  This was, in fact, the only branch of Boulton's extensive concerns that promised to be remunerative. [p.233]  He had become loaded with a burden of debt, from which the success of the engine business seemed to offer the only prospect of relief.

    Boulton's affairs were fast approaching to a crisis.  He had raised money in all directions to carry on his extensive concerns.  He had sold the Patkington estate, which came to him by his wife, to Lord Donegal, for £15,000; he had sold the greater part of his father's property, and raised further sums by mortgaging the remainder; he had borrowed largely from Day, Wedgwood, and others of his personal friends, and obtained heavy advances from his bankers; but all this was found insufficient, and his embarrassment seemed only to increase.  Watt could do nothing to help him with money, though he had consented to the mortgage of the steam-engine royalties to Mr. Wiss, by which the sum of £7,000 had been raised.  This liability lay heavy on the mind of Watt, who could never shake himself free of the horror of having incurred such a debt; and many were the imploring letters that he addressed to Boulton on the subject.  "I beg of you," said he, "to attend to these money affairs.  I cannot rest in my bed until they [i.e. the mortgage and bankers' advance] have assumed some determinate form.  I beg you will pardon my importunity, but I cannot bear the uneasiness of my own mind, and it is as much your interest as mine to have them settled."

    The other partner, Fothergill, was quite as downhearted.  He urged that the firm of Boulton and Fothergill should at once stop payment and wind up; but as this would have seriously hurt the credit of the engine firm, Boulton would not listen to the suggestion.  They must hold on as they had done before, until better days came round.  Fothergill recommended that at least the unremunerative branches of the business should be brought to a close.  The heaviest losses had indeed been sustained through Fothergill himself, whose foreign connexions, instead of being of advantage to the firm, had proved the reverse; and Mr. Matthews, the London agent, repeatedly pressed Boulton to decline further transactions with foreigners.

    There was one branch of the Boulton and Fothergill business which Boulton at once agreed to give up.  This was the painting and japanning business; by which, as appears from a statement prepared by Mr. Walker, now before us, the firm were losing at the rate of £500 a year.

    The picture-painting business seems to have been begun in 1777, and was carried on for a few years under the direction of Mr. Eginton, who afterwards achieved considerable reputation at Birmingham as a manufacturer of painted glass.  A degree of interest has been recently raised on the subject of the Soho pictures, in consequence of the statements made as to the method by which they are supposed to have been produced.  It has been surmised that they were taken by some process resembling photography.  We have, however, been unable to find anything in the correspondence of the firm calculated to support this view.  On the contrary, they are invariably spoken of as "mechanical paintings," "pictures," or "prints," produced by means of "paints" or "colours."  Though the precise process by which they were produced is not now known, there seems reason to believe that they were impressions from plates prepared in a peculiar manner.  The impressions were taken "mechanically" on paper; and both oil and water colours [p.236] were made use of.  Some of the pictures were of large size 40 by 50 inches—the subjects being chiefly classical.  This branch of the business being found unproductive, was brought to a close in 1780, when the partnership with Eginton was at the same time dissolved.

    Another, but more fortunate branch of business into which Boulton entered with Watt and Keir, about the same time, was the manufacture of letter-copying machines.  Watt made the invention, Boulton found the money for taking out the patent, and Keir conducted the business.  Watt was a very voluminous correspondent, and the time occupied by him in copying letters, the contents of which he desired to keep secret from third parties, was such that in order to economise it he invented the method of letter-copying now in common use.  The invention consisted in the transfer, by pressure, of the writing made with mucilaginous ink, to damp an unsized transparent copying-paper, by means either of a rolling press or a screw press.  Though Watt himself preferred the rollers, the screw press is now generally adopted as the more simple and efficacious process.

    This invention was made by Watt in the summer of 1778.  In June we find him busy experimenting on copying-papers of different kinds, requesting Boulton to send him specimens of "the most even and whitest unsized paper"; and in the following month he wrote to Dr. Black, "I have lately discovered a method of copying writing instantaneously, provided it has been written the same day, or within twenty-four hours.  I send you a specimen, and will impart the secret if it will be of any use to you.  It enables me to copy all my business letters." [p.237]

    For two years Watt kept his method of copying a secret; but hearing that certain persons were prying into it with the view of turning it to account, he determined to anticipate them by taking out a patent, which was secured in May, 1780.  By that time Watt had completed the details of the press and the copying-ink. Sufficient mahogany and lignum-vitae had been ordered for making 500 machines, and Boulton went up to London to try and get the press introduced in the public offices.

    He first waited upon several noblemen to interest them in the machine, amongst others on Lord Dartmouth, who proposed to show it to George III.  The King said Boulton, in a letter to Watt, "writes a great deal, and takes copies of all he writes with his own hand, so that Lord Dartmouth thinks it will be a very desirable thing for His Majesty."  Several of those to whom the machine was first shown, apprehended that it would lead to increase of forgery—then a great source of terror to commercial men.  The bankers concurred in this view, and strongly denounced the invention; and they expostulated with Boulton and Watt's agent for offering the presses for sale.  "Mr. Woodmason," wrote Boulton, "says the bankers mob him for having anything to do with it; they say that it ought to be suppressed."

    Boulton was not dismayed by this opposition, but proceeded to issue circulars to the members of the Houses of Lords and Commons, descriptive of the machine, inviting them to an inspection of it, after which he communicated the results to his partner:—

. . . . "On Tuesday morning last I waited on some particular noblemen, according to promise, at their own houses, with the press, and at one o'clock I took possession of a private room adjoining the Court of Requests, Westminster Hall, where I was visited by several members of both Houses, who in general were well pleased with the invention; but all expressed their fears of forgery, which occasioned and obliged me to exercise my lungs very much.  Many of the members tried to copy bank notes, but in vain. . . .

    "On Thursday . . . . at half-past two . . . . I had a tolerable good House, even a better than the Speaker, who was often obliged to send his proper officer to fetch away from me the members to vote, and sometimes to make a House.  As soon as the House formed into a Committee upon the Malt Tax, the Speaker left the chair and sent for me and the machine, which was carried through the gallery in face of the whole House into the Speaker's Chamber. . . . Mr. Banks came to see the machine on Thursday.  I thought it might be of service to show it to the Royal Society that evening . . . . After the business of the Society was over, he announced Mr. Watt's invention and my readiness to show it, and it was accordingly brought in and afforded much satisfaction to a crowded audience . . . . I spent Friday evening with Smeaton and other engineers at a coffee-house, when a gentleman (not knowing me) exclaimed against the copying-machine, and wished [the inventor was hanged] and the machines all burnt, which brought on a laugh, as I was known to most present." [p.238]

    By the end of the year, the 150 machines first made were sold off, and more orders were coming in.  Thirty were wanted for exportation abroad, and a still great number were wanted at home.  The letter-copying machine gradually and steadily made its way, until at length there was scarcely a house of any extensive business transactions in which it was not to be found.  Watt himself, writing of the invention some thirty years later, observed that it had proved so useful to himself, that it would have been worth all the trouble of inventing it, even had it been attended with no pecuniary profit whatever.

    Boulton's principal business, however, while in town, was not so much to push the letter-copying machine, but to set straight the bankers' account, which had been over-drawn to the amount of £17,000.  He was able to satisfy them to a certain extent by granting mortgages on the engine royalties payable in Cornwall, besides giving personal bonds for repayment of the advances within a given time.  It was necessary to obtain Watt's consent to both these measures; but, though Watt was willing to agree to the former expedient, he positively refused to be a party to the personal bonds.

    Boulton was therefore under the necessity of arranging the matter himself.  He was enabled to meet the more pressing claims upon the firm, and to make arrangements for pushing on the engine business with renewed vigour.  Watt was, however, by no means so anxious on this score as Boulton was.  He was even desirous of retiring from the concern, and going abroad in search of health.  "Without I can spare time this next summer," he wrote, "to go to some more healthy climate to procure a little health, if climate will do, I must give up business and the world too.  My head is good for nothing."

    While Boulton was earnestly pressing the invention on the mining interest, and pushing for orders, Watt shuddered at the prospect of any further work.  He saw in increase of business only increase of headaches.  "The care and attention which our business requires," said he, "make me at present dread a fresh order with as much horror as other people with joy receive one.  What signifies it to a man though he gain the whole world, if he lose his health and his life?  The first of these losses has already befallen me, and the second will probably be the consequence of it, unless some favourable circumstances, which at present I cannot foresee, should prevent it."

    Judging by the correspondence of Watt at this time, his sufferings of mind and body must have been excessive; and the wonder is how he lived through it all.  But "the creaking gate hangs long on its hinges," and Watt lived to the age of eighty-three, long surviving his stronger and more courageous partner.  Intense headache seemed to be his normal state, and his only tolerable moments were those in which the headache was less violent than usual.

    His son has since described how he remembered seeing his father about this time, sitting by the fireside for hours together, with his head leaning on his elbow, suffering from most acute sick-headaches, and scarcely able to give utterance to his thoughts.  "My headache," he would write to Boulton, "keeps its week-aversary to-day."  At another time, "I am plagued with the blues; my head is too much confused to do any brain-work." Once, when he had engaged to accompany his wife to an evening concert, he wrote, "I am quite eat up with the mulligrubs, and to complete the matter I am obliged to go to an oratorio, or serenata, or some other nonsense, to-night."

    Mrs. Watt tried her best to draw him out of himself, but it was not often that she could divert him from his misery.  What relieved him most was sleep, when he could obtain it; and, to recruit his powers, he was accustomed to take from nine to eleven hours' sleep at night, besides naps during the day.  When Boulton had erysipelas, in Cornwall, and could not stir abroad, he wrote to his partner complaining of an unusual lowness of spirits, on which Watt undertook to be his comforter in his own peculiar way.  "There is no pitch of low spirits," said he, "that I have not a perfect notion of, from hanging melancholy to peevish melancholy.  You must conquer the devil when he is young."

    Watt experienced all the tortures of confirmed dyspepsia, which cast its dark shadow over the life of every day.  His condition was often most pitiable.  It is true, many of the troubles which beset him were imaginary, but he suffered from them in idea as much as if they had been real.  Small evils fretted him, and great ones overwhelmed him.  He met them all more than halfway; and usually anticipated the worst.  He had few moments of cheerfulness, hopefulness, or repose.  Speaking of one of his violent headaches, he said, "I believe it was caused by something making my stomach very acid;" and unhappily, as in the case of most dyspeptics, the acidity communicated itself to his temper.  When these fits came upon him, and the world was going against him, and ruin seemed about to swallow him up quick, he would sit down and pen a long gloomy letter to his partner, full of agony and despair.  His mental condition showed at what expense of suffering in mind and body the triumphs of genius are sometimes achieved.

    In the autumn of 1780, Boulton went into Cornwall for a time to look after the business there.  Several new engines had been ordered, and were either erected or in progress, at Wheal Treasury, Tresavean, Penrydee, Dalcoath, Wheal Chance, Wheal Crenver, and the United Mines.  One of the principal objects of his visit was to settle the agreements with the mining companies for the use of these engines.

    It had been found difficult to estimate the actual savings of fuel, and the settlement of the accounts was a constant source of cavil.  There was so much temptation on the one side to evade the payments according to the tables prepared by Watt, and so much occasion for suspicion on the other that they had been evaded by unfair means, that it appeared to Boulton that the only practicable method was to agree to a fixed annual payment for each engine erected, according to its power and the work it performed.

    Watt was very averse to giving up the tables which had cost him so much labour to prepare; but Boulton more wisely urged the adoption of the plan that would work most smoothly, and get rid of the heart-burnings on both sides.  Boulton accordingly sent down to Watt a draft agreement with the Wheal Virgin adventurers, who were prepared to pay the large sum of £2,500 a year in respect of five new engines erected for their firm; and urged him to agree to the terms.  "You must not be too rigid," said he, "in fixing the dates of payment.  A hard bargain is a bad bargain."

    Watt replied in a long letter, urging the accuracy of his tables, and intimating his reluctance to depart from them.  To this Boulton responded, "Now, my dear Sir, the way to do justice to our own characters, and to trample under our feet envy, hatred, and malice, is to dispel the doubts, and to clear up the minds of the gentlemanly part of this our best of all kingdoms; for if they think we do wrong, it operates against us although we do none, just as much as if we really did the wrong.  Patience and candour should mark all our actions, as well as firmness in being just to ourselves and others.  A fair character and standing with the people is attended with great advantage as well as satisfaction, of which you are fully sensible, so I need say no more."

    Watt did not give up his favourite tables without further expostulation and argument, but at length he reluctantly gave his assent to the Wheal Virgin agreement, by which the annual payment of £2,500 was secured.  This was really an excellent bargain, though Watt seemed to regard it in the light of a calamity.  In the letter intimating his reluctant concurrence, he observed: "These disputes are so very disagreeable to me, that I am very sorry I ever bestowed so great a part of my time and money on the steam-engine.  I can bear with the artifices of the designing part of mankind, but having myself no intention to deceive others, I cannot brook the suspicions of the honest part, which I am conscious I never merited even in intention, far less by any actual attempt to deceive."

    Two days later Watt again wrote, urging the superiority of his tables, concluding thus: "I have been so much molested with headaches this week, that I have perhaps written in a more peevish strain than I should have done if I had been in better health, which I hope you will excuse."  Boulton replied, expressing regret at his lowness of spirits and bad health, and advising him to cheer up.  "At your leisure," said he, "you may amuse yourself with a calculation of what all the engines we shall have in eighteen months erected in Cornwall will amount to; you will find it good for low spirits."

    "I assure you," he said at another time, "you have no cause for apprehension as to anything in this country; all is going on well."  Boulton seemed to regard his partner in the light of a permanent invalid, which he was; and on writing to his various correspondents on matters of business at Soho, he would adjure them "not to cross Mr. Watt."  To Fothergill he wrote respecting the execution of an order: "the matter," he said, "must be managed with some delicacy respecting Mr. Watt, as you know that when he is low-spirited he is vexed at trifles."

    Another important part of Boulton's business in Cornwall, besides settling the engine agreement, was to watch the mining adventures themselves, in which by this time Boulton and Watt had become largely interested.  In the then depressed state of the mining interest, it was in many cases found difficult to raise the requisite money to pay for the new engines; and the engineers must either go without orders or become shareholders to prevent the undertakings dropping through altogether.  Watt's caution impelled him at first to decline entering into such speculations.  He was already in despair at what he considered the bad fortunes of the firm, and the load of debts they had incurred in carrying on the manufacture of engines.  But there seemed to be no alternative, and he at length came to the conclusion with Boulton, that it was better "not to lose a sheep for a ha'porth of tar."

    Rather than lose the orders, therefore, or risk the losses involved by the closing of the mines worked by their engines, the partners resolved to incur the risk of joining in the adventures; and in course of time they became largely interested in them.  They also induced friends in the North to join them, more particularly Josiah Wedgwood and John Wilkinson, who took shares to a considerable amount.

    Boulton now made it his business to attend the meetings of the adventurers, in the hope of improving their working arrangements, which he believed were very imperfect.  He became convinced of this, after his first meeting with the adventurers of the Wheal Virgin mine.  He found their proceedings conducted without regard to order.  The principal attention was paid to the dining, and after dinner and drink little real business could be done.  No minutes were made of the proceedings; half the company were talking at the same time on different subjects; no one took the lead in conducting the discussions, which were disorderly and anarchical in the extreme.

    Boulton immediately addressed himself to the work of introducing order and despatch.  He called upon his brother adventurers to do their business first, and talk and drink afterwards.  He advised them to procure a minute-book in which to enter the resolutions and proceedings.  His clear-headed suggestions were at once agreed to; and the next meeting, for which he prepared the agenda, was so entirely different from all that had preceded it, in respect of order, regularity, and business transacted, that his influence with the adventurers was at once established.  "The business," he wrote to Watt, "was conducted with more regularity, and more of it was done, than was ever known at any previous meeting."  He perceived, however, that there was still room for great improvements, and added, "Somebody must be here all next summer . . . I shall be here myself the greater part of it, for there will want more kicking than you can do. . . . Grace au Dieu!  I neither want health, nor spirits, nor even flesh, for I grow fat."

    To increase his influence among the adventurers, and secure the advantages of a local habitation among them, Boulton deemed it necessary to take a mansion capable of accommodating his family, and which should serve the same purpose for his partner when sojourning in the neighbourhood.  Boulton's first idea was to have a portable wooden house built and fitted up in the manner of a ship's cabin, which might readily be taken to pieces and moved from place to place as business required.  This plan was, however, eventually abandoned in favour of a residence of a more fixed kind.  After much searching, a house was found which promised to answer the intended purpose,—an old-fashioned, roomy mansion, with a good-sized garden full of fruit-trees, prettily situated at Cosgarne, in the Gwennap valley.  Though the United Mines district was close at hand, and fourteen of Boulton and Watt's engines were at work in the immediate neighbourhood, not an engine chimney was to be seen from the house, which overlooked Tresamble Common, then an unenclosed moor.  Here the partners by turns spent much of their time for several successive years, travelling about on horseback, from mine to mine, to superintend the erection and working of the engines.

    By this time the old Newcomen engines had been almost completely superseded, only one of that construction remaining at work in the whole county of Cornwall.  The prospects of the engine business were, indeed, so promising that Boulton even contemplated retiring altogether from his other branches of business at Soho, and settling himself permanently in Cornwall. [p.247]


    Notwithstanding the great demand for engines, the firm continued in serious straits for money, and Boulton was under the necessity of resorting to all manner of expedients to raise it, sometimes with Watt's concurrence, but oftener without.  Watt's inexperience in money matters, conjoined with his extreme timidity and nervousness, made him apprehend ruin and bankruptcy from every fresh proposition made to him on the subject of raising money.  He was kept so utterly wretched by his fears as to be on many occasions quite unmanned, and he would brood for days together on the accumulation of misery and anxiety which his great invention had brought upon him.  His wife was kept almost as miserable as himself, and as Matthew Boulton was the only person, in her opinion, who could help him out of his troubles, Mrs. Watt privately appealed to him in the most pathetic terms:—

    "I know," she wrote, "the goodness of your heart will readily forgive me for this freedom, and your friendship for Mr. Watt will, I am sure, excuse me for pointing out a few things that press upon his mind.  I am very sorry to tell you that both his health and spirits have been much worse since you left Soho.  It is all that I can do to keep him from sinking under that fatal depression.  Whether the badness of his health is owing to the lowness of his spirits, or the lowness of his spirits to his bad health, I cannot pretend to tell.  But this I know, that there are several things that prey so upon his mind as to render him perfectly miserable.  You know the bond that he is engaged in to Vere's house has been the source of great uneasiness to him.  It is still so, and the thought of it bows him down to the very ground. . . . There is another affair that sits very heavy on his mind; that is, some old accounts that have remained unsettled since the commencement of the business.  They never come across his mind but he is rendered unfit for doing anything for a long time.  A thousand times have I begged him to mention them to you. . . . Believe me, there is not on earth a person who is dearer to him than you are.  It causes him pain to give you trouble.  The badness of his constitution, and his natural dislike to business, make him leave many things undone that he knows ought to be done, and, when it is perhaps too late, to make himself unhappy at their being neglected. . . . In his present state of weakness, every ill, however trifling, appears of a gigantic size, while, on the other hand, every good is diminished.  Again, I repeat, that from the certain knowledge I have of his temper, nothing could contribute more to his happiness and make him go on cheerfully with business than having everything finished as he goes along, and have no unsettled scores to look back to and brood over in his mind." [p.249]

    Mrs. Watt concluded by entreating that no mention would be made to her husband of her having written this letter, as it would only give him pain, and explaining that she had adopted the expedient merely in the hope that something might be done to alleviate his sufferings.  This, however, was a very difficult thing to do.  Boulton could remind his hopeless partner of the orders coming in for engines, and that such orders meant prosperity, not ruin; but he could not alter the condition of a mind essentially morbid.

    Boulton was himself really in far greater straits than Watt.  He had risked his whole fortune on the enterprise in which they were engaged and, besides finding money for buildings, plant, wages, materials, and credits, he was maintaining Watt until the engine business became productive.  We find from the annual balance-sheets that Watt was regularly paid £330 a year, which was charged upon the hardware business; and that this continued down to the year 1785.  Till then everything had been out-go; the profits were all to come.  It was estimated that upwards of £40,000 were invested in the engine business before it began to yield profits and all this money was found by Boulton.  In one of his letters to Matthews he wrote, "I find myself in the character of P, pay for all," but so long as his credit held good, Watt's maintenance was secure.

    So soon, however, as it became clear that the enterprise would be a success, and that the demand for engines must shortly become national, the firm was threatened with a danger of another kind, which occasioned almost as much alarm to Boulton as it did to Watt.  This was the movement set on foot in Cornwall and elsewhere with the object of upsetting their patent.  Had the engine been a useless invention, no one would have questioned their right of property in it; but, as it was recognized as of boundless utility, it began to be urged that the public ought to be free to use it without paying for it.  It was alleged that it had become indispensable for the proper working of the mines, and that the abolition of the patent right would be an immense boon to the mining interest, and enable them to work the ores at a much reduced cost, while the general industry of the country would also be greatly benefited.

    When Boulton wrote to Watt from Cornwall, informing him that the Cornishmen were agitating the repeal of the special Act by which their patent had been extended, and were getting up petitions with that object, Watt replied, "I suspected some such move as this; and you may depend upon it, the mine-owners will never be easy while they pay us anything.  This is a match of all Cornwall against Boulton and Watt; and though we may be the better players, yet they can hold longer out.  However, if we do die, let us die hard."

    In another letter, Watt said, "I am at this moment so provoked at the undeserved rancour with which we are persecuted in Cornwall, that, were it not on account of the deplorable state of debt I find myself in, I would live on bread and cheese, and suffer the water to run out at their adits, before I would relax the slightest iota of what I thought my right in their favour."

    But would Parliament really take away the patent right which they had extended, and deprive Watt and his partner of the fruits of their long labour, anxiety, and heavy outlay, now that the superiority of their steam-engine had become established?  Would the Legislature consign them to certain ruin because it would be for the advantage of the Cornish miners to have the use of the invention without paying for it?  Watt would not for a moment believe this, and both he and Boulton felt strong in the conviction that their patent right would be maintained.

    Time was when Watt would have gladly parted with his invention for a very small sum, and made the engine free to all, so far as he was concerned.  Even after it had been perfected at Soho, after repeated and costly experiments, he declared his willingness to sell all his interest in it for £7,000, which would have barely remunerated him for the time and labour he had bestowed upon it, then extending over nearly twenty years of the best part of his life.  And now, after six years of the partnership had run, and the heavy expenditure incurred by Boulton in introducing the engine was still unproductive, Watt regarded it as cruel in the extreme to attempt to deprive him of his just reward.  To Boulton he disburdened himself fully, in strong and sometimes bitter terms.

    "They charge us," he said, "with establishing a monopoly, but if a monopoly, it is one by means of which their mines are made more productive than ever they were before.  Have we not given over to them two-thirds of the advantages derivable from its use in the saving of fuel, and reserved only one-third to ourselves, though even that has been still further reduced to meet the pressure of the times?  They say it is inconvenient for the mining interest to be burdened with the payment of engine dues; just as it is inconvenient for the person who wishes to get at my purse that I should keep my breeches-pocket buttoned.  It is doubtless also very inconvenient for the man who wishes to get a slice of the squire's land, that there should be a law tying it up by an entail.  Yet the squire's land has not been so much of his own making, as the condensing engine has been of mine.  He has only passively inherited his property, while this invention has been the product of my own active labour, and of God knows how much anguish of mind and body."

    "Why don't they," he further asked, "petition Parliament to take Sir Francis Bassett's mines from him?  He acknowledges that he has derived great profits from using our engines, which is more than we can say of our invention; for it appears by our books that Cornwall has hitherto eaten up all the profits we have drawn from it, as well as all that we have got from other places, and a good sum of our own money into the bargain.  We have no power to compel anybody to erect our engines.  What, then, will Parliament say to any man who comes there to complain of a grievance he can avoid, and which does not exist but in his own imagination? . . . We are in the state of the old Roman who was found guilty of raising better crops than his neighbours, and was therefore ordered to bring before the assembly of the people his instruments of husbandry, and to tell them of his art.  He complied, and when he had done, said, 'These, O Romans, are the instruments of our art, but I cannot bring into the forum the labours, the sweats, the watchings, the anxieties, the cares, which produced these crops."  So, every one sees the reward which we may yet probably receive from our labours; but few consider the price we have paid for that reward, which is by no means a certain annuity, but a return of the most precarious sort. . . . In short, my dear Sir, with a good cause in hand, I do not fear going before Parliament or anywhere else.  I am sure that if they did anything they would put us in a better position than we are in now." [p.253]

    The miners' petition to Parliament, though much talked about, was not, however, presented; and the schemers who envied Boulton and Watt the gains which they had now the prospect of deriving from the use of their engine, shortly after resorted to other means of participating in them, to which we shall hereafter refer.  In the mean time Boulton, at the urgent entreaty of Watt, who described himself as "loaded to 12 lbs. on the inch," returned to Birmingham; though he had scarcely left before urgent entreaties were sent after him that he must come back again to Cornwall.

    While Boulton was in Cornwall, the principal manufacturers of Birmingham, dissatisfied with the bad and dear supply of copper, resolved to form themselves into a company for the purpose of making brass and spelter; and they wrote to Boulton offering to raise the requisite means, provided he would take the lead in the management of the concern.  He could not but feel gratified at this best of all proofs of the esteem in which his townsmen held him, and of their confidence in his business qualities.  Boulton, however, declined to undertake so large an addition to his labours.  He felt that he would soon be an old man, and that it would be necessary for him to contract rather than extend the field of his operations; besides, the engine business was already sufficiently prosperous to induce him to devote to it the chief share of his attention.  But he promised to his Birmingham friends that he would always be glad to give them his best advice and assistance.  He accordingly furnished them with a plan of operations, and drew up a scheme for their consideration, which was unanimously adopted and the whole of the share capital was at once subscribed for.  He also made arrangements with his Cornish friends for a regular supply of copper direct from the mines on the best terms.

    On Boulton's return to Birmingham, we find him entering upon an elaborate series of experiments, to determine the best constituents of brass; in the course of which he personally visited the principal calamine works in Wales and Derbyshire, for the purpose of testing their different produce.  He diligently read all the treatises on the subject, and made inquiries as to the practice adopted in foreign countries.  Finding, however, that the continuance of his connexion with the brass company was absorbing more of his time than he could afford to bestow upon it, he shortly withdrew from the concern,—partly also, because he was dissatisfied with what he considered the illiberal manner in which the managing committee were conducting its affairs.

    Another subject which occupied much of Boulton's attention about the same time, was the improvement of engine boilers.  At an early period he introduced tubes in them, through which the heated air of the furnace passed, thereby greatly increasing the heating surface and enabling steam to be raised more easily and rapidly.  We find him in correspondence with Watt on the subject, while residing at Redruth in the autumn of 1780.  He first suggested iron tubes; but Watt wrote, "I cannot advise iron for the tubes of boilers, but they may be thought of."  Next Boulton suggested the employment of copper tubes; to which Watt replied, "I approve of what you observe about making copper flanches to the boiler pipes in future, and Ale and Cakes can easily be converted to that way whenever they put up a second boiler."  We find Boulton introducing four copper tubes 20 inches in diameter into the Wheal Busy boiler, which was 26 feet in length,—the fire passing through two of the tubes, and returning through the other two.  Here, therefore, we have Boulton anticipating the invention of the tubular boiler, and clearly adopting it in practice, long before the existence of the locomotive,—for which it was afterwards re-invented.  In fact, the multitubular boiler is but a modification and extension of Boulton's principle, as applied by him at so early a period to the Cornish boilers.

    The numerous MSS. books left by Boulton show the care with which he made his experiments, and the scrupulousness with which he recorded the results.  Copies of his observations and experiments on boilers were sent to Watt, to be entered by him in "the calculation book," in which was recorded the tabulated experience of the firm.  Boulton was also an excellent mechanical draughtsman, as appears from his tablets, which contain a number of beautifully executed drawings of engines and machinery, with very copious and minutely-written instructions for erecting them.  Some of the drawings of sugar-mills are especially well executed, and delicately coloured.  A rough sketch is given in one of the books, with a written explanation in Boulton's hand, of a mode of applying power in taking canal-boats through tunnels.  It consists of an engine-boat, with toothed claws attached to it for the purpose of catching metal racks fastened along the sides of the tunnel, such being his design for working boats upon canals.  While in Cornwall, he occupied his evenings in drawing sections of various mines, showing the adits, and the method of applying the pumping machinery, to which were also added numerous elaborate calculations of the results of engine-working.  He also continued to devise improvements in the construction and working of the steam-engine, on which subject he exchanged his views with Watt at great length.  In one of his letters he says: "I like your plan of making all the principal wearing parts of tempered steel, and the racks of best Swedish iron, with the teeth cut out.  Query: Would it not be worth while to make a machine for dividing and cutting the teeth in good form out of sectors?  The iron would be less strained by that mode of cutting."  At other times, when the steam-engine subject seemed exhausted, he proceeded with the designing of road-carriages, in which he was an adept, filling a quarto drawing-book, entitled 'Thoughts on Carriages,' with sketches of different kinds of vehicles, some in pencil and Indian ink, and others in colours, beautifully finished.  Such were the leisure employments of this indefatigably industrious man.






WATT'S presence being much wanted in Cornwall, he again proceeded thither, accompanied by his wife and family, and arrived at Cosgarne towards the end of June, 1781.  He found that many things had gone wrong for want of the master's eye, and it was some time before he succeeded in putting affairs in order.  The men had been neglecting their work, "going a-drinking."  Cartwright had "contracted a fever in his working arm, and been swallowing ale for a cure,"—until he heard Watt had come, when the fever left him.  Mrs. Watt also found occasion to complain of sundry little grievances, and favoured Boulton with a long catalogue of them.  Gregory and Jessy had caught cold on the journey, and workmen were hammering about the house making repairs.  There was, however, one gleam of brightness in her letter: "James's spirits were surprisingly mended since his arrival."

    Watt was a most voluminous correspondent.  He wrote Boulton several times a week great folio sheets, written close, in small hand.  The letters must have occupied much of his time to write, and of Boulton's to read.  The latter, seeing his partner's tendency to indulge in "worrit" about petty troubles, advised him in a kindly spirit not to vex himself so much about such matters, but to call philosophy to his aid.  Why should he not occupy some of his spare time in writing out a history of all his steam-engine contrivances, to be dedicated to Sir Joseph Banks, and published in the 'Transactions of the Royal Society'?  But Watt was extremely averse to writing anything for publication, and the suggestion was not acted on.  Then, knowing Watt's greatest pleasure to be in inventing, Boulton in a subsequent letter advised him to take up afresh and complete a plan which they had often discussed, of producing rotary motion, by which the engine might be applied to work mills and drive machinery.

    Watt had from the first regarded the employment of the steam-engine in producing continuous rotary motion as one of its most useful applications, and with this object he invented his original wheel-engine.  No steps were taken to introduce the invention to practical use; but it occurred to Watt that the same object might be better effected by employing the ordinary engine for the purpose, with certain modifications.  The subject had partially occupied his attention during his first visit to Cornwall; for we find him writing Boulton from Chacewater, in 1779, "As to the circular motion, I will apply it as soon as I can, but foresee that I shall be very busy shortly, and much out of doors."  On his subsequent return to Birmingham, after frequent conferences with his partner on the subject, he proceeded to prepare a model, in which he made use of a crank connected with the working beam of the engine to produce the rotary motion.

    There was no originality in the employment of the crank, which was an expedient that Watt had long before made use of. [p.260]  The crank was, indeed, one of the most common of mechanical appliances.  It was in daily use in every spinning-wheel, in every grindstone turned by hand, in every turner's and knife-grinder's foot-lathe, and in every potter's wheel.  It was one of the commonest, as it must have been one of the oldest, of mechanical expedients.  "The true inventor of the crank rotative motion," said Watt, "was the man who first contrived the common foot-lathe: applying it to the engine was like taking a knife to cut cheese which had been made to cut bread."

    Though Watt had become very reserved, especially to strangers, about his inventions, be could not altogether keep from the knowledge of his workmen the contrivances on which his thoughts were occupied.  He was under the necessity of employing them to make patterns after his drawings, from which any ingenious man might readily apprehend what he was aiming at.  The Soho workmen were naturally curious about the new inventions and adaptations which Watt was constantly producing, and these usually formed the subject of conversation at their by-hours.  While the model of the crank-engine was under construction at Soho in the summer of 1780, a number of the workmen met one Saturday evening, according to custom, to drink together at the "Waggon and Horses," a little old-fashioned, low-roofed, road-side public-house, still standing at Handsworth.  The men were seated round the little kitchen-parlour, talking about their work, and boasting, as men will do over their beer, of the new and wonderful things which they were carrying forward in the shops.  Dick Cartwright, the pattern maker, was one of the loudest of the party.  He was occupied upon a model for the purpose of producing rotary motion, which he declared would prove one of the best things Mr. Watt had ever brought out.  The other men were curious to know all about it, and to illustrate the action of the machine, Cartwright proceeded to make a rude sketch of the crank upon the wooden table with a bit of chalk.  A person, who sat in the kitchen corner in the assumed garb of a workman, drank in greedily all that the men had been saying;—for there were many eavesdroppers constantly hanging about Soho, some for the purpose of picking up surreptitious information, and others to decoy away skilled workmen who were in the secrets of the manufacture.  Watt himself had never thought of taking out a patent for the crank, not believing it to be patentable; but the stranger aforesaid had no such hesitation, and it is said he posted straight to London and anticipated Watt by securing a protection for the contrivance. [p.262]


    Watt was exceedingly wroth when he discovered the trick which had been played him, and he suspected that Matthew Washborough was at the bottom of it.  Washborough was a Bristol mechanic, who carried on several branches of mechanical trade, amongst others that of clock-making on a large scale.  Watt had employed Washborough to make nozzles for several of the Cornish engines, but was not satisfied with his work; for we find him writing to his partner, "If Washborough makes no better engines than he does eduction-pipes, he will soon be blown: the Wheal Union pipe is the worst job you ever saw, being worse than Forbes's, which was very bad; I scarce know what to do with it."  It would appear from this that Washborough had begun to make engines, thereby turning to account the knowledge he had acquired in Cornwall.  One of the first he made was for the purpose of driving the lathes of his own manufactory at Bristol; and it affords a clear proof of Washborough's ingenuity that in this engine he employed both the fly-wheel and the crank.  He has been styled the inventor of the fly-wheel, but he was no more its inventor than he was of the crank; the Irish Professor Fitzgerald having proposed to employ it as part of Papin's engine as early as the year 1757.  Washborough shortly after erected an engine after the same plan for a manufacturer on Snow Hill, Birmingham; and then it was that Watt learned that he had been "bolted out," as he termed it, from making use of the crank.

    At first he was puzzled what to do to overcome the difficulty, but his prolific mind was rarely at a loss, and before many months were over he had contrived several other methods for effecting rotary motion.  "I dare not, however," he wrote to Boulton, "make my new scheme, lest we be betrayed again; I believe we had best take the patent first."  At the same time Watt was persuaded that no contrivance could surpass the crank [p.264-1] for directness, simplicity, and efficiency.  He was therefore desirous, if possible, of making use of it in his rotative engine, as originally proposed; and he wrote to Boulton, then at Redruth, "I think you ought to call upon Washborough as you return, and let him know that we will dispute his having an exclusive right to those cranks." [p.264-2]

    Boulton called upon Washborough accordingly, and gave him notice to this effect.  But Watt hesitated to use the crank after all.  Although the contrivance was by no means new, its application to the steam-engine was new; and, notwithstanding the unfair way in which Pickard had anticipated him, Watt did not like to set the example of assailing a patent, however disputable; as it might furnish a handle to those who were at the time seeking to attack his own.  The proposal was made to him that he should allow the Washborough Company to use his steam-engine in exchange for their allowing him to use the crank; but this Watt positively refused to agree to, as he felt confident in being able to produce a satisfactory circular motion without employing the crank at all.

    Thus matters stood until the beginning of the year 1781, when Washborough, having entered into an arrangement with the Commissioners of the Navy to erect an engine for grinding flour at the Deptford Victualling Yard, [p.265] a formal application was made to Boulton and Watt to apply their engine for the purpose.  Watt protested that he could not bring himself to submit to such an indignity.  If the Commissioners thought proper to employ him to erect the necessary engine, rotative motion, and machinery, he would exert every faculty which God had given him in doing so, but he "would never consent to hold the candle to Washborough."

    Boulton, acting on the advice of his partner, declined to enter into the proposed connexion.  The Navy Board were placed in a dilemma by this decision.  They then referred the matter to Mr. Smeaton, and requested him to report to them as to the most suitable plan of a flour-mill, and the steam-engine best calculated to drive it.  To the great surprise of Watt as well as Washborough, Smeaton reported that both their engines were alike unsuited for such a purpose.  "I apprehend," he said, "that no motion communicated from the reciprocating lever of a fire-engine can ever produce a perfect circular motion, like the regular efflux of water in turning a water-wheel!"  This report relieved the Commissioners.  They abandoned their scheme, and the order for Washborough's engine was at once countermanded.

    So soon as Watt had got fairly settled at Cosgarne, in the summer of 1781, he proceeded to work out the plan of a rotary-working engine.  Boulton was making experiments with the same object at Soho, communicating to him the results from day to day.  He was stimulated to prosecute the inquiry by the applications which he received from many quarters for steam-engines suitable for driving mills.  He therefore urged Watt to complete the invention, and to prepare the drawings and specification, declaring his readiness at any time to provide the money requisite for taking out a patent.  "The people in London, Manchester, and Birmingham," said he, "are steam-mill mad.  I don't mean to hurry you, but I think that in the course of a month or two we should determine to take out a patent for certain methods of producing rotative motion of the fire-engine, remembering that we have four months in which to describe the particulars of the invention." [p.266]

    Watt proceeded to put his ideas in a definite shape as fast as his bad health and low spirits would allow.  Every now and then a fit of despair came upon him about his liability to the bankers, and so long as it lasted he was unmanned, and could do nothing.  At the very time that Boulton was writing the letter last quoted, Watt was thus bewailing his unhappy lot:—"When I executed the mortgage," said he, "my sensations were such as were not to be envied by any man who goes to death in a just cause; nor has time lessened the acuteness of my feelings. . . . I thought I was resigning in one hour the fruits of the labour of my whole life,—and that if any accident befell you or me, I should have left a wife and children destitute of the means of subsistence, by throwing away the only jewel Fortune had presented me with. . . . These transactions have been such a burden upon my mind that I have become in a manner indifferent to all other things, and can take pleasure in nothing until my mind is relieved from them; and perhaps, from so long a disuse of entertaining pleasing ideas, never may be capable of receiving them any more." [p.267]

    Boulton made haste to console his partner, and promised to take immediate steps to relieve his mind of the anxiety that weighed so heavily upon it; and he was as good as his word.  At the same time he told Watt that he must not suppose he was the only man in the world who had cares and troubles to endure.  Boulton himself had, perhaps, more than his share; but he tried to bear them as lightly as he could.  With his heavy business engagements to meet, his large concerns to keep going, he was scarcely a man to be envied; yet he continued to receive his visitors as usual at Soho, and to put on a cheerful countenance.

    "I am obliged," he wrote, "to smile, to laugh, to be good-humoured, sometimes to be merry, and even go to the play!  Oh, that I were at the Land's End!"  Such was his playful way of reminding Watt of the necessity of cheerfulness to enable one to get through work pleasantly. [p.268]

    But Watt's temperament was wholly different.  His philosophy never rose to the height of taking things easy.  He could not cast his cares behind him, nor even lose sight of them; but carried them about with him by day, and took them to bed with him at night; thus making life a constant vexation —a daily and nightly misery.

    But a new and still more alarming source of anxiety occurred to disturb the mind of poor Watt, and occasion him many more sleepless nights.  The movement to abolish the patent by repeal of the Act of Parliament having broken down, attempts were now made in many quarters to evade it by ingenious imitations, in which the principle of Watt's engine was adopted in variously disguised forms.  But to do this successfully would have required an inventive faculty almost as ingenious as that of Watt himself; for he had drawn the specification of his patent too carefully to be easily broken through by the clumsy imitators who made the attempt.  It was, however, only natural that the success of the new engine should draw the attention of mechanics to the same subject.  Watt had drawn a great prize: why should not they?—though they little knew the burden of sorrow which his prize had brought down upon him.  They only knew of the large annual dues—probably exaggerated by rumour—which were being paid to the patentees for the use of their engines; and they not unnaturally sought to share in their good fortune.  There might possibly be other mechanical methods by which the same objects were to be accomplished, without borrowing from Watt; at all events it was worth trying.  Hence the number of mechanical schemers who made their appearance almost simultaneously in various parts of the country, and the number of new methods contrived by them for the production of motive power.

    Watt was very soon informed of the schemes which were on foot in his immediate neighbourhood—much too soon for his peace of mind.  He at once wrote to his partner: "Some Camborne gentlemen (supposed to be Bonze and Trevithick) have invented a new engine which they say beats ours two-thirds, and one of the partners has gone to London to procure a patent for it."  Though Bonze was an excellent engineer, and elicited the admiration of Watt himself, it turned out that he had no concern in the new invention.  Its projectors proved to be the Hornblowers, also engineers of considerable local repute.  Watt had befriended the family, and employed them in erecting his engines, by which means they had become perfectly familiar with their construction and mode of action.  Jonathan Hornblower had a large family of sons, of whom Jabez, Jesse, Jethro, and Jonathan were engineers like their father.  Jabez, one of the cleverest, had spent some time in Holland, from whence he had returned with some grand scheme in his head for carrying out an extensive system of drainage.  Like his father and the other sons, he was employed in erecting Watt's engines, which had the effect of directing his attention to the invention of a new power which should supersede that of his employer.

    It was for some time doubtful what was the precise character of the new engine.  Indeed the Hornblowers themselves long remained undecided about its actual form, being still in the throes of invention.  They knew that they must copy discreetly, so as not to lay themselves too open to an attack for piracy; and though they urged the superiority of their engine so strongly as to induce several of the mining companies to believe in them, and even to withhold orders from Boulton and Watt, they refrained as yet from publishing their invention.  Watt wrote to his partner that he understood the Hornblowers' engine was on some new principle, and the only novelty he could think of was a caloric air-engine.  He therefore asked Boulton to make all the inquiries he could as to the respective bulks and prices per 1,000 feet of all possible kinds of air in their most expanded states.  "I am much vexed," he continued, "by this affair.  Jabez does not want abilities: the rest are fools.  If they have really found a prize, it will ruin us . . . . Bankruptcy might ensue to both.  But I don't fear getting my bread independent of engines, though much easier with them." [p.271]

    Boulton also communicated to Watt, the rumours that had reached him from Scotland, of more inventions of engines that were to beat Watt's out of the field.  "The cry is still, they come!" said he.  "Hatley from Scotland is going with Lord Dunmore to Virginny; he says that he and somebody else in Scotland have invented an engine that is three times better than yours."  Boulton recommended that a search should be made at the Patent-Office, to ascertain what new engines were being patented.  Watt entirely approved of this, and urged that the search should be made at once.  "I do not think we are safe a day to an end," he wrote, "in this enterprising age.  One's thoughts seem to be stolen before one speaks them.  It looks as if Nature had taken an aversion to monopolies, and put the same thing into several people's heads at once to prevent them; and I begin to fear that she has given over inspiring me, as it is with the utmost difficulty that I can hatch anything new."

    Notwithstanding this confession on the part of Watt, his inventive faculties were really never at any time of his life more vigorous than now.  He was rapidly maturing his rotative engine, with its various ingenious methods for securing circular motion; and working out the details of the double-cylinder expansion engine, with its many admirable contrivances.  Boulton continued to receive applications at Soho for engines capable of working flour-mills and other machinery, and Watt himself was urged by like inquiries from manufacturers in Cornwall.  "Mr. Edwards," he wrote Boulton, "waits impatiently the success of our rotative machine.  He wants a power able to lift a hammer of 700 lbs., 2 feet high, 120 times per minute. . . . In relation to the circular engine, an experiment should be made on a large scale, and to work a hammer.  I want your ideas on that head."  A fortnight later, Watt had matured his own ideas, and made the necessary declaration of his invention before a magistrate, preliminary to making the usual application for a patent. [p.272]

    Watt was exceedingly busy about this time in superintending the erection of new engines.  No fewer than twelve were in progress in different parts of the county.  As he travelled about from one mine to another on horseback, and spent a good deal of his time in the open air, his mind was diverted from preying upon itself according to his ordinary habit, and his health and spirits improved accordingly.

    Boulton was equally busy at Soho, where he was erecting a powerful engine for blowing the furnaces at Walker's ironworks at Rotherham, and another for Wilkinson's forges at Bradley, in which he proposed to employ a double cylinder, with a double crank and a pair of fly-wheels.  At intervals he went into Yorkshire, Lancashire, and Shropshire, to look after various other engines in progress; writing Watt cheerful letters as to the improving prospects of the firm.  He found the steam-engine everywhere gaining in public estimation.  "The more it is known," he wrote, "the more it will be in demand.  As to the scheme of the Hornblowers, they shall sooner press me down into the earth than press down a piston with steam."  And again, "Give yourself no uneasiness about the Horners' engine.  Our title to the invention is as clear as can be; and it is as well secured as an Act of Parliament can make it—

"Doubt that the sun is fire,
 Doubt all the powers of sight,
 Doubt truth to be a lyer,
 But never doubt our right."

    Watt's first surmise, that the Hornblowers intended to work their engine by heated air or gas, had set Boulton upon a series of inquiries and experiments on the subject, in which he was assisted by Dr. Priestley, who had shortly before settled in Birmingham, and was a willing co-operator in all investigations of this nature.  Their object was to ascertain whether it was practicable to produce mechanical power by the absorption and condensation of gas on the one hand, and by its disengagement and expansion on the other.  Boulton afterwards informed Watt that Dr. Priestley had proceeded with the experiments and come to the conclusion that "there is nothing to be feared from any of the tribe of gases, which cannot be produced nearly so cheap as steam; and as to steam you know its limits better than any man." [p.273]

    Watt's fears for his patent were about this time excited anew by the result of the great Arkwright trial, in which Arkwright was non-suited, and compelled to forego the rights derived from his improvements and combinations in spinning machinery.  The principal ground on which the patent was set aside, was that the specification was unintelligible.  On this, Watt observed,—

    "Though I do not love Arkwright, I don't like the precedent of setting aside patents through default of specification.  I fear for our own.  The specification is not perfect according to the rules lately laid down by the judges.  Nevertheless, it cannot be said that we have hid our candle under a bushel.  We have taught all men to erect our engines, and are likely to suffer for our pains. . . . I begin to have little faith in patents; for, according to the enterprising genius of the present age, no man can have a profitable patent but it will be pecked at, and no man can write a specification of a fire-engine that cannot be evaded, if the words and not the true intent and meaning be attended to.  As kissing goes by favour, and as, in dubious cases, men are actuated by their prejudices, so, where a blue is very like a green, they may decide either way." [p.274]

    Watt continued to be alarmed by the rumours of the forthcoming Hornblowers' engine.  "I have heard," he wrote, "that a female confidant of Jonathan's has seen the engine, and says that they evaporate half a hogshead of water with one ounce of coals! . . . that in a few days they are to publish in print what their invention is, illustrated with a copper-plate.  Then we shall see and admire, if God pleaseth; I hope we shall not believe and tremble."  Later he wrote,—"Our cause is good, and yet it has a bad aspect.  We are called monopolists, and exactors of money from the people for nothing.  Would to God the money and price of the time the engine has cost us were in our pockets again, and the devil might then have the draining of their mines in place of me.  Yet all are not alike.  Some are just, and I believe do not grudge us, and some are friendly.  All this is to no purpose.  The law must decide whether we have property in this affair or not, and we must submit to what we cannot help."

    At length Watt learnt the precise nature of the Hornblowers' invention.  "It is no less," he wrote Boulton, "than our double-cylinder engine, worked upon our principle of expansion."  This was an old idea of Watt's, which he had pursued while labouring upon his model at Kinneil.  "It is fourteen years," he said, "since I thought of the double-cylinder engine, and I think that I mentioned it to Mr. Smeaton, when I explained the expansion engine to him in your parlour, some years ago.  Wm. Murdock and Mr. Henderson can testify to my having mentioned it to them; but this of the Horners seems to be a different thing, being hung on the same beam."  As early as May, 1769, he had communicated to Dr. Small a clear and explicit description of his method of working steam expansively; and he adopted the principle in the Soho engine, in 1778, as well as in the Shadwell engine erected in the same year.  He was, however, prevented carrying it out extensively in practice by the inexpertness of the workmen.  "Though the effect of the steam," he explained to a correspondent, "is thereby increased 50 per cent. (by theory 100 per cent.), it cannot be done without rendering the machine more complicated than we wish; and simplicity is a most essential point in mechanics.  There are other contrivances known to us which would increase the effect in an inferior degree, say from one-fourth to one-sixth, but they are all attended with peculiar inconveniences which forbid their use until the illiterate and obstinate people who are entrusted with the care of the engines become more intelligent and better acquainted with the machine." [p.276]

    Though suffering much from his usual headaches, which frequently disabled him from thinking, Watt finished the drawings of the rotary engine in a week, and forwarded them to Boulton at Soho.  "I believe," he said in a later letter, "a well-regulated expansive engine is the ne plus ultra of our art."  But he intimated that a new trouble had come upon him in the shape of another inventor of a steam-engine, in which all the distinctive principles of his own invention were embodied.  "If he be engine mad," said Watt, "and if it be agreeable to you, he shall have my share of them, provided he will come to my price.  I wish to retire, and eat my cake in peace, but will not go without the cake.  All mankind seem to have resolved to rob us.  Right or wrong, they will pluck the meal from our mouths." [p.277]  Boulton, on his next journey to London, called upon the alleged inventor, a Mr Ewer, and declared to Watt that the invention, so far as it was new, was not worth a farthing, and that all that was good in it was borrowed from their engine.  "Though the white marks on your cow or your horse," said he, "may be changed to black, the cow and horse are not the less your property."  He therefore counselled Watt to relieve himself of all anxiety on this account.  Watt replied, "Ewer seems to have a genius more capable of inventing than of prudently examining the merits of his invention.  Poets lose half the praise they would otherwise get did they but tell us what they discreetly blot.  We must publish a book of blots."

    Meanwhile Watt went on inventing, even while he was complaining of his inability to invent, and of the uselessness of inventing.  Invention had grown into a habit with him, which he could not restrain.  In the very letter in which he wrote "It is of no use inventing—everybody is seizing upon our schemes," he communicated to Boulton that he had contrived a machine, then erecting at Dalcoath, for the purpose of stopping the engine when at full speed, when any accident happened to the rods or outside chains,—first taking away the power, and then holding the bob fast whenever it might be at the turn.  A few days later he communicated that he had contrived a new way of opening the regulators.  He was also finishing his plan of the new equalising beam, and the double expansion engine, which he requested might be proceeded with at once.  "I have shown the equalising beam," said he, "to no person whatever.  Please push it on.  It is our dernier ressort, and may perhaps be all that villany will leave us, and that not long."  Boulton wrote back to his partner, bidding him to be of good heart.  "If our spirits don't fail us," said he, "I think our engine won't."

    At the same time Watt was inventing his new jointed top-working gear, which he reported answered exceedingly well with the Dalcoath engine, and, in pursuance of an idea thrown out by Boulton, he perfected the model of a horizontal-axled elliptical with one pulley, which he described as performing à merveille, being free from all untoward frictions.  He was also busy inventing a new method of an equalising beam, by causing the gudgeon to change its place; and another by means of a roller acting upon a curve in the nature of the working gear.  Besides his experiments in mechanics, he was prosecuting investigations  as to the properties of nutgalls in combination with various chemical substances, for the purpose of obtaining the best kind of ink for use with his copying machines; and at another time we find him contriving various iron cements for joints, confessing that he had "lost all faith in putty"; the result of which was his discovery of the well-known metallic cement.


    In the correspondence between the partners on these various topics, we seem to see the ideas out of which so many inventions grew, in their various stages of birth, growth, and development.  They concealed nothing from each other, but wrote with the most perfect unreserve.  Each improved on the other's ideas,—Watt upon Boulton's, and Boulton upon Watt's; both experimenting on the same subject at the same time, and communicating the results of the experiments in the most elaborate detail.  The phrase often occurs in their letters: "I write thus fully that you may see exactly what is passing in my mind."  The letters were sometimes of extraordinary length, one of Boulton's (dated 25th September, 1781) extending to eight pages folio, closely written, containing upwards of 4,000 words.  Scarcely a day passed without their spending several hours in writing to each other.  Boulton also kept up a correspondence with Mrs. Watt, in addition to his elaborate letters to her husband.  The lady entered into various matters of personal interest, describing her occupations and domestic pursuits, and communicating the state of her husband's health, which was a matter of no less interest to Boulton than to herself.

    As the autumn set in with its fogs and rains, Watt's headaches returned with increased severity, and he repeatedly complained to Boulton of being "stupid and ill, and scarcely able to think."  "I tremble," said he, "at the thought of making a complete set of drawings.  I wish you could find me out a draughtsman of abilities; as I cannot stand it much longer."  Watt's temper was also affected by the state of his health; and he confessed that he felt himself not at all cut out for the work he had to do, so far as related to business: "I am not philosopher enough," he said, "to despise the ills of life; and when I suffer myself to get into a passion, I observe it hurts me more than it does anybody else.  I never was cut out for business, and wish nothing so much as not to be obliged to do any; which perhaps will never fall to my lot; therefore I must drag on a miserable existence the best way I can." [p.280]

    Watt was very busy at this time in preparing the specification and drawings of the circular motion, which he said he found an extremely difficult job, owing to the distracted state of his head.  The letters patent for the invention had been secured on the 25th October, 1781, and he had four months allowed him in which to prepare and lodge the full description. He laboured at his work late and early, his mind being for months in the throes of invention. In the beginning of November we find him writing to Boulton, sending him the "first three yards of the specification," written out on folio sheets joined together. Watt's letters to his partner at this time contain numerous rough sketches of his proposed methods for securing circular motion without using the crank, from which he conceived himself to be in a measure precluded by Pickard's patent. He devised no fewer than five distinct methods by which this object might be accomplished, by means of wheels of various sorts rotating round an axis. The method eventually preferred was the one invented by Wm. Murdock, and commonly known as known as the sun and planet motion [p.281]. It has the singular property," said Watt, "of going twice round for each stroke of the engine, and may be made to go oftener round if required without additional machinery."



Ed.—schematic animation of Murdoch's "Sun and Planet" rotative gears.

The Sun is yellow, the planet red, the reciprocating crank is blue, the flywheel is green and the driveshaft is grey. Notice that the sun and flywheel rotate twice for every rotation of the planet when they have a 1:1 ratio of teeth.  Source Wikipedia.

    Rough sketches of these various methods were forwarded to Soho in order that the requisite careful drawings of them might be prepared in time to be lodged with the specification; but when they reached Watt in Cornwall he declared them to be so clumsily executed that he could not for very shame send them in; and though greatly pressed by mining business, and suffering from "backache, headache, and lowness of spirits," he set to work to copy them with his own hands.  He worked up his spare time so diligently, that in ten days he had the plans finished and returned to Boulton, whom he wrote saying that he had improved the construction of several of the machines, and got one copy of the specification drawing finished in an elegant manner upon vellum, being the neatest drawing he had ever made."  The necessary measures being then taken to perfect the patent, it was duly enrolled on the 23rd February, 1782.

    During the time that Watt was busy completing the above specification and drawings, his mind was full of other projects, one of which was the perfecting of his new expansive engine.  It is curious to find him, in his letters to Boulton, anticipating the plan of superheating the steam before entering the cylinders, which has since been carried into effect with so much success.

    By the middle of March he had sufficiently matured his ideas of a reciprocating expansive engine to enable him to take out letters patent, and the invention was enrolled on the 4th of July in the same year.  It included the double engine and double-acting engine (steam pressing the piston upwards as well as downwards), the employment of steam on the expansive principle, various methods of equalising the power of the engine, the toothed rack and sector for guiding the piston-rod, and a rotative engine or steam-wheel.  While perfecting these beautiful adaptations, Watt was often plunged in the depths of distress,—by sickness, headaches, and low spirits; by the pecuniary difficulties of the firm; by the repeated attempts of the Cornish miners to lower their dues; and by threatened invasions of his patent from many quarters.

    Another of Watt's worries was the unsteadiness of his workmen.  His letters to Boulton were full of complaints on this score.  Excepting William Murdock, who was in constant demand, there was scarcely one of them on whom he could place reliance.  "We have very little credit, indeed," said he, "in our Soho workmen.  James Taylor has taken to dram-drinking at a most violent rate,—is obstinate, self-willed, and dissatisfied."  And again, Cartwright's engine has been a continued series of blotchings and blunders.  J. Smith and the rest are ignorant, and all of them must be looked at daily; or worse follows.  Had I had any one man of common prudence and experience, who would have attended from morning till night, these things might have been avoided, and my life would have been more comfortable.  As things are, it is much otherwise." [p.283]

    Things were quite as bad at Soho itself; for early in 1782 we find Boulton writing thus: "The forging-shop wants a total reformation; Peploe and others constantly drunk; spoke mildly to them at first, then threatened, and am now looking out for good hands, which are very scarce."

    Murdock was by far the ablest and most efficient of the Soho workmen, and he won golden opinions in all quarters; so much so, that he was in constant request.  We find him described as "flying from mine to mine," putting the engines to rights.  If anything went wrong, Murdock was immediately sent for.  He was active, quick-sighted, shrewd, indefatigable, and an excellent workman.  His wages, down to 1780, were only 20s. a week, and, thinking himself worth more, he asked for an advance to two guineas.  Boulton, instead of refusing, adroitly managed to obtain a present of ten guineas from the owners of the United Mines, to which he added other ten, in acknowledgment of the admirable manner in which Murdock had erected their new engine; Mr. Beauchamp, the Chairman of the Company, having publicly declared that "he regarded William as the most obliging and industrious workman he had ever known."  Though Murdock's wages were not then raised, and though Bonze, the Cornish engineer—a man of means as well as of skill and experience—invited him to join in an engineering partnership, William remained loyal to the Boulton and Watt firm, and in due time he had his reward.

    Murdock's popularity with the Cornishmen increased so much, that Watt seems to have grown somewhat jealous of him, for when William was to be had, they preferred him to Watt himself.  At Wheal Virgin, the adventurers insisted upon having him all to themselves; but this was not practicable, as there were other engines in progress requiring constant attention,—Wheal Crenver, which Watt described as "in the enemy's country, Pool hardly completed yet, and Dalcoath in its childhood."

    Combined with the troubles arising out of the perversities, blunderings, and bad conduct of his workmen, Watt had also to struggle against torment of mind and body, aggravated by bad news from home.  Boulton was in the crisis of his troubles with his partner Fothergill, from whom he was desperately struggling to shake himself free. [p.285]

    Watt was made additionally miserable by the state of the banker's account, which was still overdrawn to a very large amount.  The bankers were urgent for repayment, but neither of the partners saw where the money was to come from.  Watt again thought of giving up the business altogether, and selling his share of the steam-engine patent business as the only possible means of relief.

    "I am almost moved," he wrote to Boulton, "if Lowe, Vere, and Williams will free me from any demands on my future industry, to give up my present property altogether, and trust to Providence for my support.  I cannot live as I am with any degree of comfort.  The want of the superfluities of life is a trifle compared with continual anxiety.  I do not see how you can pay L. V. & W. £1,000 per quarter; I am sure it cannot be from the engine business, unless we can reduce the amount of our general expenses to 0, and live upon air ourselves. . . . Though you and I should entirely lose this business and all its profits, you will get quit of a burdensome debt; and as both of us lived before it had a being, so we may do afterwards.  Therefore consider what can be done, and do it without reluctance, or with as little as you can; and depend upon it that I am sincerely your friend, and shall push you to nothing that I do not think to be for your advantage. . . . If matters were to come to the worst, many methods may be fallen upon whereby we may preserve some consequence in the world.  A hundred hours of melancholy will not pay one farthing of debt.  Summon up your fortitude and try to turn your attention to business, and to correct the abuses at Soho. . . . All the idlers should be told that in case they persevere in want of attention, then dismission must ensue. . . . The Soho part of the business has been somehow a perpetual drain to us, and if it cannot be put on a better footing, must be cut off altogether by giving out the work to be done by others."

    To add to their troubles, a fire broke out in the house of the London agent for the sale of copying machines; and the building, with its contents, was burnt to the ground, thereby causing a loss to the firm of above a thousand pounds.  The mining trade was also wretchedly bad in Cornwall, several of the more important mines being unproductive, while ore was selling at low prices.  The adventurers were accordingly urging Watt to abate the agreed dues for the use of their engines, and in several cases threatened to close the mines unless he did so.  The United Mines asked to be reduced £50 a month.  Watt having refused to make the abatement, the mine was ordered to be stopped, on which he consented to give up the dues altogether for a period of six months.  "There seemed," he wrote to Boulton, "to be no other course, if we would maintain our right, and at the same time do justice to the poor people, who must otherwise absolutely starve, and are already riotously disposed through the stopping of Wheal Virgin."  "In short," said he, "almost the whole county is against us, and look upon us as oppressors and tyrants, from whose power they believe the horrid imps of Satan are to relieve them."

    Watt was indeed thoroughly sick of Cornwall, and longed to get back to Birmingham.  He confessed he did not see how, under the present state of things, he could be of any more use there.  The weather was very tempestuous, and he felt the fatigue of travelling from mine to mine too much for him to endure.  On the 4th of April he wrote,—"I returned from the coast to Cosgarne last night with an aching head, after a peregrination of two days in very stormy weather."  "Upon the whole," he wrote to Boulton, "I look upon our present Cornish prospects as very bad, and would not have you build too much upon them nor upon the engine business, without some material change.  I shall think it prudent to look out for some other way of livelihood, as I expect that this will be swallowed up in merely paying its burdens."  Watt, accordingly, finding that he could do no more good in Cornwall, left it about the middle of April, and returned with an aching head and heavy heart to Birmingham.


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