« AnteriorContinuar »
At last my sisters, with humane constraint,
I cannot come, with broken heart, to sigh
O'er his loved dust, and strew* with flowers his turf;
Character of Mr. James Watt.†
DEATH is still busy in our high places:—and it is with great pain that we find ourselves called upon, so soon after the loss of Mr. Playfair, to record the decease of another of our illustrious countrymen, and one to whom mankind has been still more largely indebted. Mr. James Watt, the great improver of the steam-engine, died on the 25th of April, at his seat of Heathfield, near Birmingham, in the 84th of his age. year
This name fortunately needs no commemoration of ours; for he that bore it survived to see it crowned with undisputed and unenvied honors; and many generations will probably pass away before it shall "have gathered all its fame." We have said that Mr. Watt was the great improver of the steam-engine; but, in truth, as to all that is admirable in its structure, or vast in its utility, he should rather be described as its inventor. It was by his inventions that its action was regulated so as to make it capable of being applied to the finest and most delicate manufac
+ The above beautiful tribute to the memory of the great inventor of the steam-engine is abridged by McDiarmid from an article which appeared in the "Scotsman" newspaper, and which was ascribed to Francis Jeffrey, Esq
tures, and its power so increased as to set weight and solidity at defiance.
By his admirable contrivances, and those of a kindred and lamented genius in America,* it has become a thing stupendous alike for its force and its flexibility,-for the prodigious power which it can exert, and the ease and precision and ductility with which it can be varied, distributed, and applied. The trunk of an elephant that can pick up a pin or rend an oak is as nothing to it. It can engrave a seal, and crush masses of obdurate metal before it,-draw out, without breaking, a thread as fine as gossamer, and lift up a ship of war like a bauble in the air. It can embroider muslin and forge anchors,-cut steel into ribands, and impel loaded vessels against the fury of the winds and waves.
It would be difficult to estimate the value of the benefits which these inventions have conferred upon the country.There is no branch of industry that has not been indebted to them; and in all the most material, they have not only widened most magnificently the field of its exertions, but multiplied a thousand fold the amount of its productions. It is our improved steam-engine that has fought the battles of Europe, and exalted and sustained, through the late tremendous contest, the political greatness of our land. It is the same great power which enables us to pay the interest of our debt, and to maintain the arduous struggle in which we are still engaged, with the skill and capital of countries less oppressed with taxation.
But these are poor and narrow views of its importance. It has increased indefinitely the mass of human comforts and enjoyments, and rendered cheap and accessible all over the world the materials of wealth and prosperity. It has armed the feeble hand of man, in short, with a power to which no limits can be assigned; completed the dominion of mind over the most refractory qualities of matter; and laid a sure foundation for all those future miracles of mechanic power which are to aid and reward the labors of after generations. It is to the genius of one man, too, that all this is mainly owing; and certainly no man ever before bestowed such a gift on his kind. The blessing is not only universal, but unbounded; and the fabled inventors of the plough and the loom, who are deified by the erring gratitude of their rude contemporaries, conferred less important benefits on mankind than the inventor of our present steam-engine.
*Robert Fulton, Esq.
This will be the fame of Watt with future generations; and it is sufficient for his race and his country. those to whom he more immediately belonged, who lived in his society and enjoyed his conversation, it is not, perhaps, the character in which he will be most frequently recalled -most deeply lamented-or even most highly admired.Independently of his great train of attainments in the mechanics, Mr. Watt was an extraordinary, and in many respects a wonderful man. Perhaps no individual in his age possessed so much and such varied and exact information-had read so much, or remembered what he had read so accurately and well.
He had infinite quickness of apprehension, a prodigious memory, and a certain rectifying and methodizing power of understanding, which extracted something precious out of all that was presented to it. His stores of miscellaneous knowledge were immense and yet less astonishing than the command which he had at all times over them. It seemed as if every subject that was casually started in conversation with him, had been that which he had been last occupied in studying and exhausting; such was the copiousness, the precision, and the admirable clearness of the information which he poured out upon it without effort or hesitation.
Nor was this promptitude and compass of knowledge confined in any degree to the studies connected with his ordinary pursuits. That he should have been minutely and extensively skilled in chemistry and the arts, and in most of the branches of physical science, might perhaps have beer. conjectured; but it could not have been inferred from his usual occupations, and probably is not generally known, that he was curiously learned in many branches of antiquity, metaphysics, medicine, and entomology, and perfectly. at home in all the details of architecture, music, and law. He was well acquainted, too, with most of the modern languages and familiar with their most recent literature. Nor was it at all extraordinary to hear the great mechanician and engineer detailing and expounding, for hours together, the metaphysical theories of the German logicians, or criticising the measures or the matter of German poetry.
In his temper and dispositions he was not only kind and affectionate, but generous and considerate of the feelings of all around him, and gave the most liberal assistance and encouragement to all young persons who showed any indi
cations of talent, or applied to him for patronage or advice. His health, which was delicate from his youth upwards, seemed to become firmer as he advanced in years. His friends in Edinburgh never saw him more full of intellectual vigor and colloquial animation-never more delightful cr more instructive than in his last visit to Scotland, in autumn, 1817. Indeed, it was after that time that he applied himself, with all the ardor of early life, to the invention of a machine for mechanically copying all sorts of sculpture and statuary,—and distributed among his friends some of its earliest performances, as the productions of a young artist just entering on his 83d year.
This happy and useful life came at last to a gentle close. He expressed his sincere gratitude to Providence for the length of days with which he had been blessed, and his exemption from most of the infirmities of age, as well as for the calm and cheerful evening of life that he had been permitted to enjoy, after the honorable labors of the day had been concluded. And thus, full of years and honors, in all calmness and tranquillity, he yielded up his soul, without a pang or struggle, and passed from the bosom of his family to that of his God!
Death and character of Howard.—CLARKE.
It had almost been his daily custom, at a certain hour, to visit Admiral Priestman, but, failing of his usual call, the Admiral went to know the cause, and found him sitting before a stove in his bed-room. Having inquired after his health, Mr. Howard replied, that his end was fast approaching, that he had several things to say to his friend, and thanked him for calling.
The Admiral endeavored to turn the conversation, imagining the whole might be merely the result of low spirits; but Mr. Howard soon assured him it was otherwise, and added, "Priestman, you style this a very dull conversation, and endeavor to divert my mind from dwelling on death; but I entertain very different sentiments. Death has no terrors for me: it is an event I have always looked to with cheerfulness, if not with pleasure; and be assured that it is to me a more grateful subject than any other."
He then spoke of his funeral, and cheerfully gave directions concerning the manner of his interment. "There is a spot," said he, "near the village of Dauphigny, which would suit me nicely; you know it well, for I have often said I should like to be buried there; and let me beg of you, as you value your old friend, not to suffer any pomp to be used at my burial; nor any monument, nor monumental inscription whatsoever to mark where I am laid; deposit me quietly in the earth, place a sun-dial over my grave, and let me be forgotten."
A letter at this time arriving from England, containing pleasing information of his son, it was read aloud by his servant; upon the conclusion of which, Mr. Howard, turning his head, said, "Is not this comfort for a dying father?" He then made the Admiral promise to read the service of the Church of England over his grave, and that he should be buried in all respects according to the forms of his own country.
Having succeeded in his application, the countenance of Mr. Howard brightened, a gleam of evident satisfaction came over his face, and he prepared to go to bed. He then made his will; shortly after which, symptoms of delirium appeared.
After this he ceased to speak. A physician was called in, who prescribed the musk draught. It was administered by Admiral Mordvinof, who prevailed on Mr. Howard to swallow a little; but he refused the rest, evincing great disapprobation. A rattling in the throat ensued, and he shortly after breathed his last.
"I cannot name this gentleman," says Mr. Burke, "without remarking that his labors and writings have done much to open the eyes and hearts of mankind. He visited all Europe, not to survey the sumptuousness of palaces, or the stateliness of temples; not to make accurate measurements of the remains of ancient grandeur; not to form a scale of the curiosities of modern art; not to collect medals or collate manuscripts, but to dive into the depth of dungeons; to plunge into the infection of hospitals; to survey the mansions of sorrow and pain; to take the gauge and dimensions of misery, depression, and contempt; to remember the forgotten, to attend to the neglected, to visit the forsaken, and to compare and collate the distresses of all men in all countries. His plan was original, and it was as full of genius as it was of humanity. It was a voyage of discovery; a circumnavigation of charity The benefit of his labor is felt more or