James Nasmyth's Autobiography
by James Nasmyth
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About the end of my visit I was about to call upon one of my customers with reference to my machine tools; for though I pursued pleasure at occasional times, I never lost sight of business. It was a very dull day, and the streets about the Winter Palace were almost deserted. I was sitting in my drosky with my roll of drawings resting on my thigh —somewhat in the style of a commander-in-chief as represented in the old pictures—when I noticed a drosky coming out of the gates of the Winter Palace. I observed that it contained a noble-looking officer in a blue military cloak sitting behind his drosky driver. My driver instantly took off his hat, and I, quickly following his example, took off my hat and bowed gracefully, keeping my extended hand on the level of my head—a real royal salute. The person was no other than the Emperor Nicholas! He fixed his pecuniarily fine eyes upon me and gave me one of the grandest military salutes, accompanied, as I thought, with a kindly smile from his magnificent eyes as he passed close by me.

As I had been lunching with a Dutch engineer about half an hour before, and had a glass or two of champagne, this may have had something to do with my daring to give the Emperor, in his own capital, what I was afterwards told was not a bow but a brotherly recognition between potentates, and only by royal usage allowed to be so given,—namely, swaying off the hat at arm's length level with the head, so as to infer royal equality, or something of that sort. When I narrated to some Russian friends what I had done, they told me that I need not be surprised if I received a visit from the chief of police next morning for my daring to salute the Emperor in such a style. But the Emperor was doubtless more amused than offended, and I never received the expected visit.

To anticipate a little. Soon afterwards the Emperor sent me a present of a magnificent diamond ring through his ambassador in England— Baron Brunnow. It was also accompanied, as the Baron informed me, with the Emperor's most gracious thanks for the manner in which my steam hammer had driven the piles for his new forts at Cronstadt, which he had seen in full action. The steam-hammer pile-driver had also been used for driving the piles of the great bridge at Kieff. I next received an order for one of my largest steam hammers for the Imperial Arsenal, and it was followed by many more. It is a singular fact, as showing the readiness of the Russian and other foreign Governments to adopt at an early date any mechanical improvement of ascertained utility, that I supplied steam hammers to the Russian Government twelve months before our Admiralty availed themselves of its energetic action. The French were the first to adopt the invention; thanks to the insight of M. Bourdon, who had the opportunity of recognising its importance.

Before I leave this part of my subject, I must not omit to mention my friend Mr. Francis Baird, the zealous son of Sir Charles Baird. The latter was among the first to establish iron foundries and engine works at St. Petersburg. At the time of my visit he was far advanced in years, and unable to attend personally to the very large business which he had established. But he was nevertheless full of geniality. He greatly enjoyed the long conversations which he had with me about his friends in Scotland, many of whom I knew. He also told me about the persons in his employment. He said that the workmen were all serfs, or the sons of serfs. The Empress Catherine had given them to him for the purpose of being trained in his engine foundry, and in his sugar refinery, which was another part of the business. I had rarely seen a more faithful and zealous set of workmen than these Russian serfs. They were able and skilful, and attached to their employers by some deeper and stronger tie than that of mere money wages. Indeed, they were treated by Sir Charles Baird and his son with the kindest and most paternal care, and they duly repaid their attachment by their zeal in his service and the excellent quality of their work.

The most important business in hand at the time of my visit to the foundry was the moulding and casting of the magnificent bronze capitals of the grand portico of the Izak Church. This building is one of the finest in St. Petersburg. It is of grand proportions,—simple, noble, and massive. It is built upon a forest of piles. The walls of the interior are covered with marble. The malachite columns for the screen are fifty feet high, and exceed everything that has yet been done in that beautiful mineral. The great dome is of iron covered with gilt copper. This, as well as the Corinthian capitals of bronze, was manufactured at the foundry of the Bairds. The tympanum of the four great porticos consisted of colossal groups of alto-relievo figures, many of which were all but entirely detached from the background. It was a kind of foundry work of the highest order, all the details and processes requiring the greatest care. To my surprise every one engaged in this gigantic and refined metal work was a serf. The full-sized plaster models which they used in moulding were executed by a resident French sculptor. He was a true artist, and of the highest order. But to see the skilful manner in which these native workmen, drawn from the staff of the Bairds' ordinary foundry workers, performed their duties, was truly surprising. It would make our best bronze statuary founders wince to be asked to execute such work. Judging from what I saw of the Russian workmen in this instance, I should say that Russia has a grand future before it.

Having satisfactorily completed all my business arrangements in St. Petersburg, I prepared to set out homewards. But as I had some business to transact at Stockholm and Copenhagen I resolved to visit those cities. I left St. Petersburg for Stockholm by a small steamer, which touched at Helsingfors and Abo, both in Finland. The weather was beautiful. Clear blue shy and bright sunshine by day, and the light prolonged far into the night. Even in September the duration of the sunshine is so great and the night so short that the air has scarcely time to cool till it gets heated again by the bright morning rays. Even at twelve at night the sun dips but a little beneath the bright horizon on the north. The night is so bright in the Abo latitude that one can read the smallest print.

Nothing can be more beautiful than the charming scenery we passed through in our tortuous voyage to Stockholm. We threaded between the granite islands which crowd the shores of the Baltic. They are covered with pines, which descend to the water's edge. We swept them with our paddle-boxes, and dipped their bright green fronds into the perfectly clear sea. For about two days our course lay through those beautiful small islands. It seemed like a voyage through fairyland. And it continued in this exquisite tranquil way until we reached that crowning feature of all—the magnificent city of Stockholm, sleeping, as it were, on the waters of the Malar Lake, and surrounded by noble mountains clad with pines. With the exception of Edinburgh, Genoa, and Naples, I had never beheld so noble a city with such magnificent surroundings.

I spent but a short time in Stockholm, but quite sufficient to enable me to see much that was grandly beautiful in its neighbourhood. Lakes, rocks, and noble trees abounded, and exquisite residences peeped out through the woods, giving evidences of high civilisation. Elegance of taste and perfect domestic arrangements supplied every form of rational comfort and enjoyment. My old friend Sir John Ross, of Arctic celebrity, was settled at Stockholm as chief consul for Her Majesty. He introduced me to several of the leading English merchants, from whom I received much kind attention. Mr. Erskine invited me to spend a day or two at his beautiful villa in the neighbourhood. It was situated on the side of a mountain, and overlooked a lake that reminded me very much of Loch Katrine. Fine timber grew about, in almost inaccessible places, on the tops of precipices, and in shelves and clefts among the rocks. The most important result of my visit was an introduction to Baron Tam, the proprietor and chief director of the great Dannemora Iron Mine.

I was at once diverted for a time from my voyage to Copenhagen. I was most desirous of seeing in person this celebrated mine. The baron most willingly furnished me with several letters of introduction to his managers, and I proceeded to Dannemora by way of Upsala. I was much interested by this city, by its cathedral, containing the tomb of Gustavas Vasa, and by its many historical associations. But I was still more impressed by Old Upsala, about three miles distant. This is a place of great antiquity. It is only a little hamlet now, though at one time it must have been the centre of a large population. The old granite church was probably at one time a pagan temple. Outside, and apart from it, is a wooden bell-tower, erected in comparatively modem times. In a wooden box inside the church is a wooden painted god, a most unlikely figure to worship. And yet the Swedes in remote parts of the country carefully preserve their antique wooden gods.

The great sacrifices to Odin were made at Old Upsala. Outside the church, in a row, are three great mounds of earth, erected in commemoration of Odin, Thor, and Freia—hence our Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. These mounds, of about 60 feet high and 232 feet in diameter, were in former times used as burying-places for the great and valiant. I went into a cottage near the tumuli, and drank a bumper of mead to the memory of Thor from a very antique wooden vessel. I made an especial reverential obeisance to Thor, because I had a great respect for him as being the great Hammerman, and one of our craft,— the Scandinavian Vulcan.

I drove back to Upsala, and remained there for the night. It is a sleepy silent place. The only sound I heard was the voice of the watchman calling out the small hours of the morning from his station on the summit of the cathedral tower. As the place is for the most part built of wood, this precaution in the shape of a watchman who can see all points of the city is a necessary one in case of fire.

Next morning I hired a small sort of gig of a very primitive construction, with a boy for driver. His duty was to carry me to the next post-house, and there leave me to be carried forward by another similar conveyance. But the pony No. 2 was about a mile off, occupied in drawing a plough, so that I had to wait until the job was over. In about an hour or so I was again under weigh. And so on da capo, until about six in the evening, when I found myself within sight of the great mine. The post-house where I was set down was an inn, though without a signboard. The landlady was a bright, cheery, jolly woman. She could not speak a word of English, nor I a word of Dannemora Swedish. I was very thirsty and hungry, and wanted something to eat. How was I to communicate my wishes to the landlady? I resorted, as I often did, to the universal language of the pencil. I took out my sketch-book, and in a few seconds made a sketch of a table, with a dish of smoking meat upon it, a bottle and a glass, a knife and fork, a loaf, a saltcellar, and a corkscrew. She looked at the drawing and gave a hearty laugh. She nodded pleasantly, showing that she clearly understood what I wanted. She asked me for the sketch, and went into the back garden to show it to her husband, who inspected it with great delight. I went out and looked about the place, which was very picturesque. After a short time, the landlady came to the door and beckoned me in, and I found spread out on the table everything that I desired—a broiled chicken, smoking hot from the gridiron, a bottle of capital home-brewed ale, and all the et ceteras of an excellent repast. I made use of my pencil in many ways. I always found that a sketch was more useful than a blundering sentence. Besides, it generally created a sympathy between me and my entertainers.

[Image] The order for dinner

My visit to the Dannemora Mine at Osterby was one of peculiar interest. I may in the first place say that the immense collection of iron ore at that point has been the result of the upheaval of a vast volume of molten igneous ore, which has been injected into the rock, or deposited in masses under the crust of the earth. In some cases the quarried ore yields from 50 to 70, and even as much as 90 per cent of iron. The Dannemora Mine is a vast quarry open to the sky. When you come near it the place looks like a vast deep pit, with an unfathomable bottom. Ghostlike, weird-looking pinnacles of rocks stand out from its profound depths; but beyond these you see nothing but wreaths of smoke curling up from below. The tortuous chasm in the earth, caused by the quarries beneath, is about half a mile long, and about a thousand feet wide.

[Image] Dannemora iron mine. After a drawing by James Nasmyth.

The first process of the workmen in the quarries below is devoted to breaking into small fragments the great masses of ore scattered about by the previous night's explosions. These are sent to the surface in great tubs attached to wire ropes, which are drawn up by gins worked by horses. Other miners are engaged in boring blast holes in the ore, which displays itself in great wide veins in the granite sides of the vast chasm. These blast holes are charged with gunpowder, each with a match attached. At the end of the day the greater number of the miners are drawn up in the cages or tubs, while a few are left below to light the slow-burning matches attached to about a hundred charged bore holes. The rest of the miners are drawn up, and then begins the tremendous bombardment. I watched the progress of it from a stage projecting over the wild-looking yawning gulph. It was grand to hear the succession of explosions that filled the bottom of the mine far beneath me. Then the volumes of smoke, through the surface of which masses of rock were sometimes sent whirling up into the clear blue sky, and fell back again into the pit below. Such an infernal cannonade I have never witnessed. In some respects it reminded me of the crater of Vesuvius, from which such dense clouds of steam and smoke and fire are thrown up. In the course of the night, the suffocating smoke and sulphureous gases has time to pass away, and next morning the workmen were ready to begin their operations as before.

The ore extracted from this great mine is smelted in blast furnaces with wood charcoal, and forged into bars. The charcoal is, of course, entirely free from sulphur. When sent to Sheffield the iron is placed in fire-brick troughs closely surrounded by powdered charcoal. After a few days' exposure to red heat, the iron is converted into splendid steel, which has given such a reputation to that great manufacturing town. It is also the steel from which the firm of Stubbs and Company, of Warrington (to which I have already referred), produce their famous P.S. files.

After the explosions had ceased at the mine, I went with one of the managers to see the great Bar forge. It was a picturesque sight to see the forgemen at work with the tilt hammers under the glowing light of the furnaces. I inspected the machinery and forge works throughout, and had thus the opportunity of seeing the whole proceeding, from the blasting and quarrying of the ore in the mine, the forging and rolling of the worked iron into their proper lengths, down to the final stamp or "mark" driven in by the blow of the tilt hammer at the end of each bar. Having now thoroughly examined everything connected with this celebrated iron mine, I prepared to set out for Stockholm in the same way as I had come. To prepare the landlord for my setting out, I again resorted to my pencil. I made a drawing of the little gig and pony, with the sun rising, and the hour at which I wished to start. He understood it in a moment, and next morning the trap was at the door at the specified time.

Before I left Stockholm I made a careful and elaborate panoramic sketch of the city, as a companion to the one I had made of Genoa from the harbour a year before. I made this one from the summit of the King's Park, which is the favourite pleasure-ground of the people. I was ferried across in a little paddle-wheel boat, worked by Dalecarlian women in their peculiar costumes. The King's Park, or Djurgard, is doubly beautiful, not only from its panoramic view of the city, the Malar Lake, and the arm of the Baltic, which comes up to the Skeppsbron Quay, but also from the magnificent oak trees with which it is studded. These noble trees, as foreground objects, are perfect pictures. The masses of rock are grand, and the drives are beautifully kept. No wonder that the Swedes are so proud of this beautiful park, for it is the finest in Europe.

I left Stockholm for Gottenburg by steamer. This is one of the most picturesque routes in Sweden. First, we passed through the Malar Lake —one of the most beautiful pieces of water in the world. It contains no less than fourteen hundred islands, mostly covered with wood. Of course we did not see one twentieth part of the lake; we only steamed along its eastern shore for about twenty miles on our way to Sodertelye, where the Gotha Canal begins. We then reached the small Maran Lake, and afterwards an arm of the Baltic. We passed numberless islands and rocks and reached the Slatbacken Fiord, which we entered. Beautiful scenery surrounds the entrance to the fiord. In the morning, after rising up the locks between Mariehop and Wenneberga, and passing through Lakes Roxen and Boren, we found ourselves at Motala, near the entrance to the Wettern Lake.

Motala is a place of great importance in the manufacturing industry of Sweden. When I visited it, the iron-foundry was in charge of Mr. Caulson, a native of the country. I had known him some years before in London, and had the highest opinion of his ability as a constructive engineer. He was surrounded at Motala with everything in the way of excellently arranged workshops, good machine tools, as well as abundant employment for them. Indeed, this is the largest iron-foundry in Sweden, where iron steamers, steam-engines, and rolling mills are made. From its central position it has a great future before it.

The steamer crosses the lake to Carlsborg, at the entrance to the fiord and canal that leads to Lakes Wiken and Wenern. The latter is an immense lake—in fact, an inland sea. During a great part of the time we were out of sight of land. At length we reached Wenersborg, and passed down the Charles Canal. A considerable time is required to enable the steamer to pass from lock to lock—nine locks in all— down to the level of the Gotha River. During that time an opportunity was afforded us for seeing the famous Trollhatten Falls—a very fine piece of Nature's workmanship.

[Image] Part of Trollhatten Falls

Before leaving the subject of Sweden, I feel that I must say a word or two about the Swedish people. I admired them exceedingly. They are tall, fair, good-looking. They are among the most civil and obliging people that I have ever met. I never encountered a rude word or a rude look from them. In their homes they are simple and natural. I liked the pleasing softness of their voices, so sweet and musical— "a most excellent thing in woman." There was a natural gentleness in their deportment. All classes, even the poorest, partook of it. Their domestic habits are excellent. They are fond of their homes; and, above all things, they are clean and tidy. They strew the floors of their ground apartments with spruce pine twigs, which form a natural carpet as well as give out a sweet balsamic perfume. These are swept away every morning and replaced with fresh material.

With their many virtues, the Swedes are a most self-helping people. They are hard-working and honest, true and straightforward. In matters of commerce they are men of their word. They are clear-headed, honest-minded, and keen in their desire for knowledge. Their natural simple common sense enables them to clear away all parasitical and traditional rubbish from their minds, and to stand before us as men of the highest excellence. All happiness and prosperity to dear old Sweden!

I set out from Gottenburg to Helsingborg, along the shores of the Kattegat. From Helsingborg I crossed the Sound by a small steamer to Elsinore, famous for its connection with Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The old dreary looking castle still stands there. From Elsinore I went to Copenhagen, and occupied myself for a few days in visiting the wonderful museums. There I saw, in the Northern Antiquities Collection, the unwritten history of civilisation in the stone, bronze, and iron tools which have brought the world to what it is now. This museum is perfectly unrivalled. I saw there the first section of kitchen-middens—that is, the refuse of oyster shells, fish-bones, and other stuff thrown out by the ancient inhabitants of the country after their meals; together with accumulations of rude stone implements, kelts, arrow-heads, and such like. Then there were the articles of the Bronze Age, with war trumpets; the articles of the early Iron Age, which also contain some remarkable golden war horns. These are followed by the middle Iron Age, and then by the later Iron Age. This part of the collection is superb. But it is impossible for me to describe the wonders of the museum.

I was greatly interested too by the collection of articles at the Rosenburg Castle. This is the only museum at Copenhagen which is not free; but the price charged is very small. It contains an extraordinary collection of royal clothes (what would Sartor Resartus say?), armour, furniture, drinking vessels, and all manner of personal antiquities connected with the Kings of Denmark.

I was especially interested by the collection of royal drinking vessels, from the earliest, made of wood, down to the latest, grand gold and silver flagons. What most amused me in respect to these boozing implements were the pegs that marked the depths down to which the stalwart Dane was able to swig at a pull one enormous draught of wine. In some cases the name and date of the achievement of the heavy drinker was engraved on the flagon to record his feat. "Take him a peg down" was the ordinary saying, and the words have become a proverb amongst ourselves. For we unquestionably have derived a great deal of our drinking capabilities from our ancestors the Danes. The whole of the museums at Copenhagen are excellent.

Besides those I have mentioned, are the Ethnographic Museum—the best of its kind; the Museum of Coins, the most complete I have seen; the Thorwaldsen Museum; the Mineralogical Museum; the Zoological Museum, and many more. The custodians are most kind and civil; and when they see any visitor interested in the collection, they take a special pleasure in going round with him and pointing out the beauty and rarity of the articles, imparting at the same time most interesting information. I wish those melancholy taciturn "staff-in-hand" attendant custodians of our British Museums could or would follow their example, and thus aid the chief object of these costly institutions.

Holding the memory of Tycho Brahe in the highest regard as one of the great pioneers of astronomy, I was much interested by a contemporary portrait of him in the Town Hall; but still more so by the remains of his observatory at the top of the great Round Tower, where he carried on his careful observations by instruments of his own design and construction. These, with many additions, he afterwards transported to the island of Hveen, where the remains of his castle and observatory are still to be seen; While I was mounting the Round Tower I could not but think of the footsteps of the great astronomer who has made it classic ground.

I left Copenhagen for Hamburg by coach. After passing through the island of Zealand, I was ferried across to the island of Fyen, and after that I proceeded along the mainland of Sleswick and Holstein. I was much pleased with what I saw of the people of these provinces. Their farmhouses and cottages were wonderfully clean and neat. The women were all engaged in scrubbing and polishing. I believe I saw more brass in the shape of bright door-knockers during my journey than I had seen in all England. Even the brass and iron hoops round the milk pails, by constant scrubbing, looked like gold and silver. Every window had its neat dimity curtains edged with snow-white trimming. The very flower-pots were painted red, to fetch up their brightness to the general standard. I never saw a more cheerful and happy-looking people than those whom I observed between Copenhagen and Hamburg. They seemed to me to be very like the people of England— especially in the northern and eastern parts—in their oval faces, their bright blue eyes, and their light and golden hair, as well as their active minds and bodies, which enable them to do their work with hearty cheerful energy.

I went from Hamburg to Amsterdam by steamer; and after doing a few days' business I went to take a peep at the fine collections of pictures there, as well as at the Hague. Then I proceeded to Rotterdam, and took ship for England by the Batavian steamer. I reached home safely after my prolonged tour. Everything was going on well at the Bridgewater Foundry. The seeds which I had sown in the northern countries of Europe were already springing up plentifully in orders for machine tools; and the clang of the hammer and the whirl of the lathes and planing machines were working cheerily on from morning till night.

CHAPTER 17. More about Bridgewater Foundry—Woolwich Arsenal.

The rapid extension of railways and steam navigation, both at home and abroad, occasioned a largely increased demand for machinery of all kinds. Our order-book was always full; and every mechanical workshop felt the impulse of expanding trade. There was an increased demand for skilled mechanical labour—a demand that was far in excess of the supply. Employers began to outbid each other, and wages rapidly rose. At the same time the disposition to steady exertion on the part of the workmen began to decline.

This state of affairs had its usual effect. It increased the demand for self-acting tools, by which the employers might increase the productiveness of their factories without having resort to the costly and untrustworthy method of meeting the demand by increasing the number of their workmen. Machine tools were found to be of much greater advantage. They displaced hand-dexterity and muscular force. They were unfailing in their action. They could not possibly go wrong in planing and turning, because they were regulated by perfect self-acting arrangements. They were always ready for work, and never required a Holiday or a Saint Monday.

As the Bridgewater Foundry had been so fortunate as to earn for itself a considerable reputation for mechanical contrivances, the workshops were always busy. They were crowded with machine tools in full action, and exhibited to all comers their effectiveness in the most satisfactory manner, Every facility was afforded to those who desired to see them at work; and every machine and machine tool that was turned out became in the hands of its employers the progenitor of a numerous family.

Indeed, on many occasions I had the gratification of seeing my mechanical notions adopted by rival or competitive machine constructors, often without acknowledgment; though, notwithstanding this point of honour, there was room enough for all. Though the parent features were easily recognisable, I esteemed such plagiarisms as a sort of left-handed compliment to their author. I also regarded them as a proof that I had hit the mark in so arranging my mechanical combinations as to cause their general adoption, and many of them remain unaltered to this day.

The machine tools when in action did not require a skilled workman to guide or watch them. All that was necessary to superintend them was a well-selected labourer. The self-acting machine tools already possessed the requisite ability to plane, to turn, to polish, and to execute the work when firmly placed in situ. The work merely required to be shifted from time to time, and carefully fixed for another action of the machine.

Besides selecting clever labourers, I made an extensive use of active handy boys to superintend the smaller class of self-acting machine tools. To do this required little exertion of muscular force, but only observant attention. The machine tools did all the working (for the thinking had been embodied in them beforehand), and they turned out all manner of geometrical forms with the utmost correctness. This sort of training educated the faculties of the lads, and trained their ideas to the perception of exactness of form, at the same time that it gave them an intimate acquaintance with the nature of the materials employed in mechanical structures. The rapidity with which they thus acquired the efficiency of thoroughly practical mechanics was surprising.

As the lads grew in strength they were promoted to the higher classes of work. We gave to the foreman of each department the right to recommend to a special rise of wages any lad who showed an extra intelligent earnestness and assiduity in superintending his machine. This produced an active spirit of emulation, which not only advanced their efficiency but relieved the foreman from a source of irritation in the discharge of his duties. I have already referred to the subject in a former portion of this narrative; but it cannot be too strongly urged upon the attention of proprietors of mechanical works. Besides making first-rate workmen, this method prevents the lads from getting into habits of workshop dishonesty, i.e. "skulking," and other annoyances.

My system of non-binding of apprentices was the "perfect cure," if I may so speak. All that existed between us was mutual satisfaction with each other, and that alone proved from first to last in every respect a perfect bond.

So completely were the workmen in attendance on self-acting machines relieved from the necessity of labour, that many of the employers, to keep the men from falling asleep, allowed them to attend to other machines within their powers of superintendence. This kept them fully awake. The workmen cheerfully acquiesced in this arrangement, as a relief from tedium, and especially when a shilling extra was added to their wages for each additional machine. All went well for a time, for men as well as masters. But now came the difficulty. The system was opposed to the rules of the Trades' Union. Their committee held that setting one man to superintend more than one machine was keeping out of employment some other man who ought to be employed. And yet, at the time that the objection was made, such persons were not to be had. The increased demand for skilled labour had employed every spare workman.

Nevertheless the system, in the eyes of the Union, "must be put down." The demand was made that every machine must have a Union man to superintend it, and that he must be paid the full Union regulation wages. All labourers and lads were to be discharged, and Union men employed in their places. As the times were good, and the workshops were full of orders, it was thought by the Union that the time had come to put the matter to the test. The campaign was opened by the organisation of a powerful body, entitled "The Amalgamated Society of Mechanical Engineers." It included every class of workmen employed in the trade—ironfounders, turners, fitters, erectors, pattern-makers, and such like. All were invited to make common cause against the employers.

In order to make a conspicuous demonstration of their power, the Council of the Union first attacked the extensive firm of Platt Brothers, Oldham. The Council sent them a mandate to discharge all their labourers or other "illegal hands" from their works—all who were employed in superintending their vast assortment of machinery— and to fill their places with "legal mechanics" at the then regulation wages. The plan of the Union was to attack the employers one by one— to call out the hands of one particular workshop until the employers were subdued and obeyed the commands of the Union; and then to attack another employer in the same way. The sagacity of this policy very much resembled that of the ostrich, which hides its head in hole and thinks it is concealed. The employers knew the drift of the policy, and took steps to circumvent it.

A mutual defence association was formed, and a decree was issued that, unless the demand of the Council against Platt's factory was withdrawn by a certain day, every employer would at once close his concern. The Union, nevertheless, stuck to their guns—but only for a time. A strike took place. The works of some of the most extensive employers of labour were closed. Everything was paralysed for a time; the men went about with their hands in their pockets, while the women and children at home were wanting food. After a few weeks the funds of the Amalgamated Society became so reduced that the men gradually retired from the contest. Meanwhile, such concerns as contrived to keep their workmen in full employment—of whom we were one made use of the occasion to act on the healthy system of what I have termed "Free trade in ability." We added, so far as we could, to the number of intelligent labourers, advanced them to the places which the Unionist workmen had left at the order of their Council, and thus kept our men on full wages until the strike was over. This was the last contest I had with Trades' Unions. One of the results was that I largely increased the number of self-acting machines, and gave a still greater amount of employment to my unbound apprentices. I placed myself in an almost impregnable position, and showed that I could conduct my business with full activity and increasing prosperity, and at the same time maintain good-feeling between employed and employer.

Another important point was this,—that I always took care to make my foremen comfortable, and consequently loyal. A great part of a man's success in business consists in his knowledge of character. It is not so much what he himself does, as what he knows his heads of departments can do. He must know them intimately, take cognisance of the leading points of their character, pick and choose from them, and set them to the work which they can most satisfactorily superintend. Edward Tootal, of Manchester, said to me long before, "Never give your men cause to look over the hedge." He meant that I should never give them any reason for looking for work elsewhere. It was a wise saying, and I long remembered it. I always endeavoured to make my men and foremen as satisfied as possible with their work, as well as with their remuneration.

I never had any cause to regret that I had struck out an independent course in managing the Bridgewater Foundry. The works were always busy. A cheerful sort of contentment and activity pervaded the entire establishment. Our order-book continued to be filled with the most satisfactory class of entries. The railway trucks in the yard, and the canal barges at the wharf, presented a busy scene,— showing the influx of raw material and the output of finished work. This happy state of affairs went on in its regular course without any special incident worthy of being mentioned. The full and steady influx of prosperity that had been the result of many years of interesting toil and cheerful exertion, had caused the place to assume the aspect of a smoothly working self-acting machine.

Being blessed with a sound constitution, I was enabled to perform all my duties with hearty active good-will. And as I had occasional journeys to make in connection with our affairs and interests, these formed a very interesting variety in the ordinary course of my daily work. The intimate and friendly intercourse which I was so fortunate as to cultivate with the heads of the principal engineering firms of my time, kept me well posted up in all that was new and advanced in the way of improvements in mechanical processes. I had at the same time many pleasant opportunities of making suggestions as to further improvements, some of which took root and yielded results of no small importance. These visits to my friends were always acceptable, if I might judge from the hearty tone of welcome with which I was generally received.

I do not know what may be the case in other classes of businesses or professions, but as regards engineer mechanists and metal workers generally, there is an earnest and frank intercommunication of ideas— an interchange of thoughts and suggestions—which has always been a source of the highest pleasure to me, and which I have usually found thoroughly reciprocated. The subjects with which engineers have to deal are of a wide range, and jealousy in intercommunication is almost entirely shut out. Many of my friends were special "characters." For the most part they had made their own way in the world, like myself. I found among them a great deal of quaint humour. Their talk was quite unconventional; and yet their remarks were well worth being treasured up in the memory as things to be thought about and pondered over. Sometimes they gave the key to the comprehension of some of the grandest functions in Nature, and an insight into the operation of those invariable laws which regulate the universe. For all Nature is, as it were, a grand workshop, ruled over by an ever present Almighty Master,—of whose perfect designs and works we are as yet only permitted to obtain hasty and imperfect glimpses.

To return to my own humbler progress. From an early period of my efforts as a mechanical engineer, I had been impressed with the great advantages that would result from the employment of small high-pressure steam-engines of a simple and compact construction. These, I thought, might suit the limited means and accommodation of small factories and workshops where motive power was required. The highly satisfactory results which followed the employment of steam-engines of this class, such as I supplied shortly after beginning business in Manchester, led to a constantly increasing demand for them. They were used for hoisting in and out the weighty bales of goods from the lofty Manchester warehouses. They worked the "lifts," and also the pumps of the powerful hydraulic presses used in packing the bales.

These small engines were found of service in a variety of ways. When placed in the lower parts of the building the waste steam was utilised in warming the various apartments of the house. The steam was conveyed in iron pipes, and thus obviated the risk of fire which attended the use of stoves and open fire-grates. I remember being much pleased with seeing a neat arrangement of a "hot-closet" heated by the waste steam conveyed from the bottom of the building. This was used for holding the dinners and teas of the minor clerks and workpeople. Another enclosed place, heated by waste steam, was used for drying wet clothes and jackets during rainy weather. Much attention was paid by the employers to their workpeople in these respects. The former exhibited a great deal of kindly thoughtfulness. But men and master were alike. It was a source of the greatest pleasure to me, when looking round the warehouses and factories, to see the intelligent steady energy that pervaded every department, from the highest to the lowest.

I never lost sight of the importance of extending the use of my small steam-engine system. It was the most convenient method of applying steam power to individual machines. Formerly, the power to drive a machine was derived from a very complicated arrangement of shafting and gearing brought from a distant engine. But by my system I conveyed the power to the machine by means of a steam pipe, which enabled the engine to which it was attached to be driven either fast or slow, or to be stopped or started, just as occasion required. It might be run while all the other machines were at rest; or, in the event of a breakdown of the main engine of the factory, the small engine might still be kept going or even assist in the repairs of the large one.

An important feature in this mode of conveying power by means of piping —in place of gearing and shifting belts and belt pulleys—was the ease with which the steam could be conveyed into intricate parts of the building. The pipes which I used were of wrought-iron, similar to those used in conveying gas. They could be curved to suit any peculiarity of the situation; and when the pipes were lapped with felt, or enclosed in wooden troughs filled with sawdust, the loss of heat by radiation was reduced to a minimum. The loss of power was certainly much less than in the friction of a long and perhaps tortuous line of shafting. With steam of 50 lbs. to the inch, a pipe of one-inch bore will convey sufficient steam to give forth five horse-power at a distance of two or three hundred feet from the boiler.* [footnote... In the case of rambling premises, such as iron shipbuilding yards, the conveyance of steam by well-protected pipes put underground for the purpose of driving engines to work punching and plate-shearing machines (which have to be near at hand when the work is required), has very great practical advantages. ...]

I adopted the same practice in working the refined and complex machines used in printing coloured patterns on calico. A great variety of colours has to be transferred by a combination of rollers—each carrying its proper colour; these are printed on the calico with the utmost exactness, and result in the complete pattern. My system of having a separate engine to give motion to these colour-printing machines was found to be of great service, and its value was recognised by its speedy and almost universal adoption. Every connection with the main shaft, with its gearing and belts and pulleys—by which colour-printing had before been accomplished—was entirely done away with, because each machine had its own special engine. The former practice had led to much waste, and the printing was often confused and badly done. The power was conveyed from a great central steam-engine; the printing machines were ranged by the side of a long gallery, and by means of a "clutch" each machine was started at once into action.

The result of this was a considerable shock to the machine, and an interference with the relative adjustments of the six or eight colour rollers, which were often jerked out of their exact relative adjustment. Then the machines had to be stopped and the rollers readjusted, and sometimes many yards of calico had been spoiled before this could be done.

These difficulties were now entirely removed. When all was adjusted, the attendant of the print-machine had only to open gradually the steam admission valve of his engine, and allow it to work the machine gently at its first off-go; and when all was seen to be acting in perfect concert, to open the valve further and allow the machine to go at full speed. The same practice was adopted in slowing off the machine, so as to allow the attendant to scrutinise the pattern and the position of the work, or in stopping the machine altogether. So satisfactory were the results of the application of this mode of driving calico printing machines, that it was adopted for the like processes as applied to other textile fabrics; and it is now, I believe, universally applied at home as well as abroad. I may also add that the waste steam, as it issued from the engine after performing its mechanical duty there, was utilised in a most effective manner by heating a series of steam-tight cylinders, over which the printed cloth travelled as it issued from the printing machine, when it was speedily and effectively dried. In these various improvements in calico printing I was most ably seconded by Mr. Joseph Lese, of Manchester, whose practical acquaintance with all that related to that department of industry rendered him of the greatest service. There was no "Invention," so to speak, in this almost obvious application of the steam-engine to calico-printing. It required merely the faculty of observation, and the application of means to ends. The main feature of the system, it will be observed, was in enabling the superintendent of each machine to have perfect control over it,—to set it in motion and to regulate its speed without the slightest jerk or shock to its intricate mechanism. In this sense the arrangement was of great commercial value.

I had another opportunity of introducing my small engine system into the Government Arsenal at Woolwich. In 1847 the attention of the Board of Ordnance was, directed to the inadequacy of the equipment of the workshops there. The mechanical arrangements, the machine tools, and other appliances, were found insufficient for the economical production of the apparatus of modern warfare. The Board did me the honour to call upon me to advise with them, and also with the heads of departments at the arsenal. Sir Thomas Hastings, then head of the Ordnance, requested me to accompany him at the first inspection. I made a careful survey of all the workshops, and although the machinery was very interesting as examples of the old and primitive methods of producing war material, I found that it was better fitted for a Museum of Technical Antiquity than for practical use in these days of rapid mechanical progress. Everything was certainly far behind the arrangements which I had observed in foreign arsenals. The immediate result of my inspection of the workshops and the processes conducted within them was, that I recommended the introduction of machine tools specially adapted to economise labour, as well as to perfect the rapid production of war material. In this I was heartily supported by the heads of the various departments. After several conferences with them, as well as with Sir Thomas Hastings, it was arranged that a large extension of the workshop space should be provided. I was so fortunate as to make a happy suggestion on this head. It was, that by a very small comparative outlay nearly double the workshop area might be provided—by covering in with light iron roofs the long wide roadway spaces that divided the parallel ranges of workshops from each other.

This plan was at once adopted. Messrs. Fox and Henderson, the well-known railway roofing contractors, were entrusted with the order; and in a very short time the arsenal was provided with a noble set of light and airy workshops, giving ample accommodation for present requirements, as well as surplus space for many years to come. In order to supply steam power to each of these beautiful workshops, and for working the various machines placed within them, I reverted to my favourite system of small separate steam-engines. This was adopted, and the costly ranges of shafting that would otherwise have been necessary were entirely dispensed with.

A series of machine tools of the most improved modern construction, specially adapted for the various classes of work carried on in the arsenal, together with improved ranges of smiths' forge hearths, blown by an air blast supplied by fans of the best construction, and a suitable supply of small hand steam hammers, completed the arrangements; and quite a new era in the forge work of the arsenal was begun. I showed the managers and the workmen the docile powers of the steam hammer, in producing in a few minutes, by the aid of dies, many forms in wrought-iron that had heretofore occupied hours of the most skilful smiths, and that, too, in much more perfect truth and exactitude. Both masters and men were delighted with the result: and as such precise and often complex forms of wrought-iron work were frequently required by hundreds at a time for the equipment of naval gun carriages and other purposes, it was seen that the steam hammer must henceforward operate as a powerful auxiliary in the productions of the arsenal.

In the introduction of all these improvements I received the frank and cordial encouragement of the chief officers of the Board of Ordnance and Admiralty. My suggestions were zealously carried out by Colonel J. N. Colquhoun, then head of the chief mechanical department of the Ordnance works at Woolwich. He was one of the most clear-headed and intelligent men I have ever met with. He had in a special degree that happy power of inspiring his zeal and energy into all who worked under his superintendence, whether foremen or workmen. A wonderfully sympathetic effect is produced when the directing head of the establishment is possessed of the valuable faculty of cheerful and well-directed energy. It works like an electric thrill, and soon pervades the whole department. I may also mention General Dundas, director of the Royal Gun-Factory, and General Hardinge, head of the Royal Laboratories.* [footnote... The term "Laboratory" may appear an odd word to use in connection with machinery and mechanical operations. Yet its original signification was quite appropriate, inasmuch as it related to the preparation of explosive substances, such as shells, rockets, fusees, cartridges, and percussion caps, where chemistry was as much concerned as mechanism in producing the required results. ...]

This latter department included all processes connected with explosives. It was superintended by Captain Boxer, an officer of the highest talent and energy, who brought everything under his control to the highest pitch of excellence. I must also add a most important person, my old and much esteemed friend John Anderson, then general director of the Machinery of the arsenal. He was an admirable mechanic, a man of clear practical good sense and judgment, and he eventually raised himself to the highest position in the public service.

The satisfactory performance of the machinery which had been supplied to the workshops of the royal dock yards and arsenals, led to further demands for similar machinery for foreign Governments. Foreign visitor were allowed freely to inspect all that had been done whatever may be said of the wisdom of this proceeding it is certainly true that no mechanical improvement can long be kept secret nowadays. Everything is published and illustrated in our engineering journals. And if the foreigners had not been allowed to obtain their new machines from England, they were provided with facilities enough for constructing them for themselves. At all events, one result of the improved working of the new machines at the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, was the receipt of large orders for our firm for the supply of foreign Governments. For instance, that of Spain employed us liberally, principally tor the equipment of the royal dockyards of Ferrol and Cartagena. These orders came to us through Messrs. Zuluatta Brothers, who conducted their proceedings with us in a prompt and business-like way for many years. Through the same firm we obtained orders to furnish machinery for the Spanish royal dockyard at Havana.

In 1849 we received an extensive order from the Russian Government. This was transmitted to us through the Imperial Consulate in London. The machinery was required for the equipment of a very extensive rope factory at the naval arsenal of Nicolaiev, on the Black Sea This order included all the machinery requisite for the factory, from the heckling of the hemp to the twisting of the largest ropes and cables required in the Russian naval service. The design and organisation of this machinery in its minutest detail caused me to made a special study of the art of rope-making. It was a comparatively new subject to me; but I found it full of interest. It was difficulty, and therefore to be overcome. And in this lies a great deal of the pleasure of contriving and inventing.

During the progress of the work I had the advantage of the frequent presence of an able Russian officer, Captain Putchkraskey, whose intelligent supervision was a source of much satisfaction. We had also occasional visits from Admiral Kornileff, a man of the highest order of intelligence. He was not only able to appreciate our exertions to execute the order in first-rate style, but to enter into all the special details and contrivances of the work while in progress. I had often occasion to meet Russian officers while at the Bridgewater Foundry. They were usually men of much ability, selected by the Russian Government to act as their agents abroad, in order to keep them well posted up in all that had a bearing upon their own interests. They certainly reflected the highest credit on their Government, as proving their careful selection of the best men to advance the interests of Russia.

During the visit of the Grand Duke Constantine to England about that time, he resided for some days with the Earl of Ellesmere at Worsley Hall, about a mile and a half from Bridgewater Foundry. We were favoured with several visits from the Grand Duke, accompanied by Baron Brunnow, Admiral Hoyden, and several other Russian officials. They came by Lord Ellesmere's beautiful barge, which drew up alongside our wharf, where the party landed and entered the works. The Grand Duke carefully inspected the whole place, and expressed himself as greatly pleased with the complete mastery which man had obtained over obdurate materials, through the unfailing agency of mechanical substitutes for manual dexterity and muscular force.

I was invited to meet this distinguished party at Worsley Hall on more than one occasion, and was much pleased with the frank and intelligent conversation of the Grand Duke, in his reference to what he had seen in his visits to our works. It was always a source of high pleasure to me to receive visits from Lord Ellesmere, as he was generally accompanied by men of distinction who were well able to appreciate the importance of what had been displayed before them. The visits, for instance, of Rajah Brooke, the Earl of Elgin, the Duke of Argyll, Chevalier Bunsen, and Count Flahault, stand out bright in my memory.

But to return to my rope-making machinery. It was finished to the satisfaction of the Russian officers. It was sent off by ship to the Black Sea in July 1851, and fitted up at Nicolaiev shortly after. I received a kind and pressing invitation from Admiral Kornileff to accompany him on the first trip of a magnificent steamer which had been constructed in England under his supervision. His object was, not only that I might have a pleasant voyage in his company, but that I might see my machinery in full action at Nicolaiev, and also that I might make a personal survey of the arsenal workshops at Sebastopol. It would, no doubt, have been a delightful trip, but it was not to be. The unfortunate disruption occurred between our Government and that of Russia, which culminated in the disastrous Crimean War. One of the first victims was Admiral Kornileff. He was killed by one of our first shots while engaged in placing some guns for the defence of the entrance to the harbour of Sebastopol.

CHAPTER 18. Astronomical pursuits.

Let me turn for a time from the Foundry, the whirr of the self-acting tools, and the sound of the steam hammers, to my quieter pursuits at home. There I had much tranquil enjoyment in the company of my dear wife. I had many hobbies. Drawing was as familiar to me as language. Indeed, it was often my method of speaking. It has always been the way in which I have illustrated my thoughts. In the course of my journeys at home and abroad I made many drawings of places and objects, which were always full of interest, to me at least; and they never ceased to bring up a store of happy remembrances.

Now and then I drew upon my fancy, and with pen and ink I conjured up "The Castle of Udolpho," " A Bit of Old England," "The Fairies are Out," and "Everybody for Ever." The last is crowded with thousands of figures and heads, so that it is almost impossible to condense the drawing into a small compass. To these I added "The Alchemist," "Old Mortality," "Robinson Crusoe," and a bit of English scenery, which I called "Gathering Sticks." I need not say with how much pleasure I executed these drawings in my evening hours. They were not "published," but I drew them with lithographic ink, and had them printed by Mr. Maclure. I afterwards made presents of the series to some of my most intimate friends.

[Image] The Antiquarian. By James Nasmyth (Facsimile)

In remembrance of the great pleasure which I had derived from the perusal of Washington Irving's fascinating works, I sent him a copy of my sketches. His answer was charming and characteristic. His letter was dated " Sunnyside," Massachusetts, where he lived. He said (17th January 1859):

DEAR SIR—Accept my most sincere and hearty thanks for the exquisite fancy sketches which you have had the kindness to send me, and for the expressions of esteem and regard in the letter which accompanied them. It is indeed a heartfelt gratification to me to think that I have been able by any exercise of my pen to awaken such warm and delicate sympathies, and to call forth such testimonials of pleasure and approbation from a person of your cultivated taste and intellectual elevation. With high respect and regard, I remain, nay dear sir, your truly obliged friend, Washington Irving."

[Image] The Fairies. By James Nasmyth. (Facsimile)

Viscount Duncan, afterwards Earl Camperdown, also acknowledged receipt of the drawings in a characteristic letter. He said: —"We are quite delighted with them, especially with 'The Fairies,' which a lady to whom I showed them very nearly stole, as she declared that it quite realised her dreams of fairyland. I am only surprised that amidst your numerous avocations you have found time to execute such detailed works of art; and I shall have much pleasure in being reminded as I look at the drawings that the same hand and head that executed them invented the steam hammer, and many other gigantic pieces of machinery which will tend to immortalise the Anglo-saxon race."

But my most favourite pursuit, after my daily exertions at the Foundry, was Astronomy. There were frequently clear nights when the glorious objects in the Heavens were seen in most attractive beauty and brilliancy.

I cannot find words to express the thoughts which the impressive grandeur of the Stars, seen in the silence of the night, suggested to me; especially when I directed my Telescope, even at random, on any portion of the clear sky, and considered that each Star of the multitude it revealed to me, was a SUN! the centre of a system! Myriads of such stars, invisible to the unassisted eye, were rendered perfectly distinct by the aid of the telescope. The magnificence of the sight was vastly increased when the telescope was directed to any portion of the Milky Way. It revealed such countless multitudes of stars that I had only to sit before the eyepiece, and behold the endless procession of these glorious objects pass before me. The motion of the earth assisted in changing this scene of inexpressible magnificence, which reached its climax when some object such as the "Cluster in Hercules" came into sight. The component stars are so crowded together there as to give the cluster the appearance of a gray spot; but when examined with a telescope of large aperture, it becomes resolved into such myriads of stars as to defy all attempts to count them. Nothing can convey to the mind, in so awful and impressive a manner, the magnificent and infinite extent of Creation, and the inconceivable power of its Creator!

I had already a slight acquaintance with Astronomy. My father had implanted in me the first germs. He was a great admirer of that sublimest of sciences. I had obtained a sufficient amount of technical knowledge to construct in 1827 a small but very effective reflecting telescope of six inches diameter. Three years later I initiated Mr. Maudslay into the art and mystery of making a reflecting telescope. I then made a speculum of ten inches diameter, and but for the unhappy circumstance of his death in 1831, it would have been mounted in his proposed observatory at Norwood. After I had settled down at Fireside, Patricroft, I desired to possess a telescope of considerable power in order to enjoy the tranquil pleasure of surveying the heavens in their impressive grandeur at night.

As I had all the means and appliances for casting specula at the factory, I soon had the felicity of embodying all my former self-acquired skill in this fine art by producing a very perfect casting of a ten-inch diameter speculum. The alloy consisted of fifteen parts of pure tin and thirty-two parts of pure copper, with one part of arsenic. It was cast with perfect soundness, and was ground and polished by a machine which I contrived for the purpose. The speculum was so brilliant that when my friend William Lassell saw it, he said "it made his mouth water." It was about this time (1840) that I had the great happiness of becoming acquainted with Mr. Lassell,* [footnote... Mr. Lassell was a man of superb powers. Like many others who have done so much for astronomy, he started as an amateur. He was first apprenticed to a merchant at Liverpool. He then began business as a brewer. Eventually he devoted himself to astronomy and astronomical mechanics. When in his twenty-first year he began constructing reflecting telescopes for himself. He proceeded to make a Newtonian of nine inches aperture, which he erected in an observatory at his residence near Liverpool, happily named "Starfield." With this instrument he worked diligently, and detected the sixth star in the trapezium of Orion. In 1844 he conceived the bold idea of constructing a reflector of two feet aperture, and twenty feet focal length, to be mounted equatorially. Sir John Herschel, in mentioning Mr. Lassell's work, did me the honour of saying "that in Mr Nasmyth he was fortunate to find a mechanist capable of executing in the highest perfection all his conceptions, and prepared by his own love of astronomy and practical acquaintance with astronomical observations, and with the construction of specula, to give them their full effect." With this fine instrument Mr. Lassell discovered the satellite of Neptune. He also discovered the eighth satellite of Saturn, of extreme minuteness, as well as two additional satellites of Uranus. But perhaps his best work was done at Malta with a much larger telescope, four feet in aperture, and thirty-seven feet focus, erected there in 1861. He remained at Malta for three years, and published a catalogue of 600 new nebulae, which will be found in the Memoirs of the Royal Astronomical Society. One of his curious sayings was, "I have had a great deal to do with opticians, some of them—like Cooke of York—are really opticians; but the greater number of them are merely shopticians!" ...] and profiting by his devotion to astronomical pursuits and his profound knowledge of the subject. He had acquired much technical skill in the construction of reflecting telescopes, and the companionship between us was thus rendered very agreeable. There was an intimate exchange of opinions on the subject, and my friendship with him continued during forty successive years. I was perhaps a little ahead of him in certain respects. I had more practical knowledge of casting, for I had begun when a boy in my bedroom at Edinburgh. In course of time I contrived many practical "dodges" (if I may use such a word), and could nimbly vault over difficulties of a special kind which had hitherto formed a barrier in the way of amateur speculum makers when fighting their way to a home-made telescope. I may mention that I know of no mechanical pursuit in connection with science, that offers such an opportunity for practising the technical arts, as that of constructing from first to last a complete Newtonian or Gregorian Reflecting Telescope. Such an enterprise brings before the amateur a succession of the most interesting and instructive mechanical arts, and obliges the experimenter to exercise the faculty of delicate manipulation. If I were asked what course of practice was the best to instil a true taste for refined mechanical work, I should say, set to and make for yourself from first to last a reflecting telescope with a metallic speculum. Buy nothing but the raw material, and work your way to the possession of a telescope by means of your own individual labour and skill. If you do your work with the care, intelligence, and patience that is necessary, you will find a glorious reward in the enhanced enjoyment of a night with the heavens—all the result of your own ingenuity and handiwork. It will prove a source of abundant pleasure and of infinite enjoyment for the rest of your life.

I well remember the visit I received from my dear friend Warren de la Rue in the year 1840. I was executing some work for him with respect to a new process which he had contrived for the production of white lead. I was then busy with the casting of my thirteen-inch speculum. He watched my proceedings with earnest interest and most careful attention. He told me many years after, that it was the sight of my special process of casting a sound speculum that in a manner caused him to turn his thoughts to practical astronomy, a subject in which he has exhibited such noble devotion as well as masterly skill. Soon after his visit I had the honour of casting for him a thirteen-inch speculum, which he afterwards ground and polished by a method of his own. He mounted it in an equatorial instrument of such surpassing excellence as enabled him, aided by his devotion and pure love of the subject, to record a series of observations and results which will hand his name down to posterity as one of the most faithful and patient of astronomical observers.

[Image] Fireside, Patricroft. After a drawing by James Nasmyth

But to return to my own little work at Patricroft. I mounted my ten-inch home-made reflecting telescope, and began my survey of the heavens. Need I say with what exquisite delight the harmony of their splendour filled me. I began as a learner, and my learning grew with experience. There were the prominent stars, the planets, the Milky Way —with thousands of far-off suns—to be seen. My observations were at first merely general; by degrees they became particular. I was not satisfied with enjoying these sights myself; I made my friends and neighbours sharers in my pleasure; and some of them enjoyed the wonders of the heavens as much as I did.

In my early use of the telescope I had fitted the speculum into a light square tube of deal to which the eye-piece was attached, so as to have all the essential parts of the telescope combined together in the most simple and portable form. I had often to remove it from place to place in my small garden at the side of the Bridgewater Canal, in order to get it clear of the trees and branches which intercepted some object in the heavens which I wished to see. How eager and enthusiastic I was in those days! Sometimes I got out of bed in the clear small hours of the morning, and went down to the garden in my night-shirt. I would take the telescope in my arms and plant it in some suitable spot, where I might get a peep at some special planet or star then above the horizon.

It became bruited about that a ghost was seen at Patricroft! A barge was silently gliding along the canal near midnight, when the boatman suddenly saw a figure in white. "It moved among the trees with a coffin in its arms!" The apparition was so sudden and strange that he immediately concluded that it was a ghost. The weird sight was reported at the stations along the canal, and also at Wolverhampton, which was the boatman's headquarters. He told the people at Patricroft on his return journey what he had seen, and great was the excitement produced. The place was haunted: there was no doubt about it! After all, the rumour was founded on fact, for the ghost was merely myself in my night-shirt, and the coffin was my telescope, which I was quietly shifting from one place to another in order to get a clearer sight of the heavens at midnight.

My ambition expanded. I now resolved to construct a reflecting telescope of considerably greater power than that which I possessed. I made one of twenty inches diameter, and mounted it on a very simple plan, thus removing many of the inconveniences and even personal risks that attend the use of such instruments. (For illustration of the plan of mounting a large telescope, see p. 338) It had been necessary to mount steps or ladders to get at the eyepiece, especially when the objects to be observed were at a high elevation above the horizon. I now prepared to do some special work with this instrument. In 1842 I began my systematic researches upon the Moon. I carefully and minutely scrutinised the marvellous details of its surface, a pursuit which I continued for many years, and still continue with ardour until this day. My method was as follows: —

I availed myself of every favourable opportunity for carrying on the investigation. I made careful drawings with black and white chalk on large sheets of grey-tinted paper, of such selected portions of the Moon as embodied the most characteristic and instructive features of her wonderful surface. I was thus enabled to graphically represent the details with due fidelity as to form, as well as with regard to the striking effect of the original in its masses of light and shade. I thus educated my eye for the special object by systematic and careful observation, and at the same time practised my hand in no less careful delineation of all that was so distinctly presented to me by the telescope—at the side of which my sheet of paper was handily fixed. I became in a manner familiar with the vast variety of those distinct manifestations of volcanic action, which at some inconceivably remote period had produced these wonderful features and details of the moon's surface. So far as could be observed, there was an entire absence of any agency of change, so that their formation must have remained absolutely intact since the original cosmical heat of the moon had passed rapidly into space. The surface, with all its wondrous details, presents the same aspect as it did probably millions of ages ago.

This consideration vastly enhances the deep interest with which we look upon the moon and its volcanic details. It is totally without an atmosphere, or of a vapour envelope, such as the earth possesses, and which must have contributed to the conservation of the cosmical heat of the latter orb. The moon is of relatively small mass, and is consequently inferior in heat-retaining power. It must thus have parted with its original stock of cosmical heat with such rapidity as to bring about the final termination of those surface changes which give it so peculiar an aspect. In the case of the earth the internal heat still continues in operation, though in a vastly reduced degree of activity. Again in the case of the moon, the total absence of water as well as atmosphere has removed from it all those denudative activities which, in the earth, have acted so powerfully in effecting changes of its surfaces as well as in the distribution of its materials. Hence the appearance of the wonderful details of the moon's surface presents us with objects of inconceivably remote antiquity.

[Image] General structure of Lunar craters.

Another striking characteristic of the moon's surface is the enormous magnitude of its volcanic crater formations. In comparison with these, the greatest on the surface of the earth are reduced to insignificance. Paradoxical as the statement may at first appear, the magnitude of the remains of the primitive volcanic energy in the moon is simply due to the smallness of its mass. Being only about one-eightieth part of the bulk of the earth, the force of gravity on the moon's surface is only about one-sixth. And as eruptive force is quite independent, as a force, of the law of gravitation, and as it acted with its full energy on matter, which in the moon is little heavier than cork, it was dispersed in divergent flight from the vent of the volcanoes, free from any atmospheric resistance, and thus secured an enormously wider dispersion of the ejected scoriae. Hence the building up of those enormous ring-formed craters which are seen in such vast numbers on the moon's surface—some of them being no less than a hundred miles in diameter, with which those of Etna and Vesuvius are the merest molehills in comparison.

I may mention, in passing, that the frequency of a central cone within these ring-shaped lunar craters supplies us with one of the most distinct and unquestionable evidences of the true nature and mode of the formation of volcanoes.

They are the result of the expiring energy of the volcanic discharge, which, when near its termination, not having sufficient energy to eject the matter far from its vent, becomes deposited around it, and thus builds up the central cone as a sort of monument to commemorate its expiring efforts. In this way it recalls the exact features of our own terrestrial craters, though the latter are infinitely smaller in comparison. When we consider how volcanoes are formed— by the ejection and exudation of material from beneath the solid crust— it will be seen how the lunar eminences are formed; that is, by the forcible projection of fluid molten matter through cracks or vents, through which it makes its way to the surface.

[Image] Pico, an isolated Lunar Mountain 8000 feet high.

It was in reference to this very interesting subject that I made a drawing of the great isolated volcanic mountain Pico, about 8000 feet high.* [footnote... this illustration exhibits a class of volcanic formations that may be seen on many portions of the moon's surface. They are what I would term exudative volcanic mountains, the results of a comparatively gentle discharge of volcanic matter, which has resulted in heaped up eminences; a vast group of which were displayed in the illustration, some of them being upwards of 20,000 feet high. ...]

It exhibits a very different appearance from that of our mountain ranges, which are for the most part the result of a tangential action. In the case of the earth, the hard stratified crust had to adapt itself to the shrunken diameter of the once much hotter globe. This tangential action is illustrated in our own persons, when age causes the body to shrink in bulk, while the skin, which does not shrink to the same extent, has to accommodate itself to the shrunken interior, and so forms wrinkles—the wrinkles of age. This theory opens up a chapter in geology and physiology well worthy of consideration. It may alike be seen in the structure of the surface of the earth, in an old apple, and in an old hand.* [footnote... The shrunken hand on the other side is that of Mr. Nasmyth, photographed by himself. According to The Psychonomy of the Hand, by R. Beamish, F.R.S., author of The Life of Sir M. I. Brunel, it exhibits a thoroughly mechanical hand, as well as the hand of a delicate manipulator; illustrating that remarkable expression in the Book of Job, that "in the hand of all the sons of men God places marks, that all the sons of men may know their own works."—ED. ...]

[Image] Shrunken Apple and Hand.* [footnote... These illustrations serve to illustrate one of the most potent of geological agencies which has given the earth's surface its grandest characteristics. I mean the elevation of mountain ranges through the contraction of the globe as a whole. By the action of gravity the former larger surface crushes down, as it were, the contracting interior; and the superfluous matter, which belonged to a bigger globe, arranges itself by tangential displacement, and accommodates itself to the altered or decreased size of the globe. Hence our mountain ranges, which though apparently enormous when seen near at hand are merely the wrinkles on the face of the earth. ...]

While earnestly studying the details of the moon's surface, it was a source of great additional interest to me to endeavour to realise in the mind's eye the possible landscape effect of its marvellous elevations and depressions. Here my artisic faculty came into operation. I endeavoured to illustrate the landscape. scenery of the Moon, in like manner as we illustrate the landscape scenery of the Earth. The telescope revealed to me distinctly the volcanic craters, the cracks, and the ranges of mountains—by means of the light and shade on the moon's surface. One of the most prominent conditions of the awful grandeur of lunar scenery is the brilliant light of the sun, far transcending that which we experience upon the earth—enhanced by the contrast with the jet-black background of the lunar heavens,— the result of the total absence of atmosphere. One portion of the moon, on which the sun is shining, is brilliantly illuminated, while all in shade is dark.

While the disc of the sun appears a vast electric light of overpowering rayless brilliancy, every star and planet in the black vault of the lunar heavens is shining with steady brightness at all times; as, whether the Sun be present or absent during the long fourteen days' length of the lunar day or night, no difference on the absolutely black aspect of the lunar heavens can appear. That aspect must be eternal there. No modification* [footnote... a small degree of illumination is, however, given to some portions of the Moon's surface by the Earth-shine, when the earth is in such a position with regard to the Moon, as to reflect some light on to it, as the Moon does to the earth. ...] of the darkness of shadows in the Moon can result from the illuminative effect, as in our case in the earth, from light reflected into shadows by the blue sky of our earthly day The intensity of the contrast between light and shade must thus lend another awful aspect to the scenery of the Moon, while deprived of all those charming effects which artists term "aerial perspective," by which relative distances are rendered cognisable with such tender and exquisite beauty. The absence of atmosphere on the Moon causes the most distant objects to appear as close as the nearest; while the comparatively rapid curvature of the moon, owing to its being a globe only one-fourth the diameter of the earth, must necessarily limit very considerably the range of view.

[Image] Lunar Mountains and Extinct Volcanic Craters

It is the combination of all these circumstances, which we know with absolute certainty must exist in the Moon, that gives to the contemplation of her marvellous surface, as revealed by the aid of powerful telescopes,—one of the grandest and most deeply interesting subjects that can occupy our thoughts; especially when we regard the physical constitution and the peculiar structure of her surface, as that of our nearest planetary neighbour, and also as our serviceable attendant by night.

Then there are the Tides, so useful to man, preserving the sanitary condition of the river mouths and tide-swept shores. We must be grateful for the Moon's existence on that account alone. She is the grand scavenger and practical sanitary commissioner of the earth. Then consider the work she does! She moves hundreds of ships and barges, filled with valuable cargoes, up our tidal rivers, to the commercial cities on their banks. She thus performs a vast amount of daily and nightly mechanical drudgery. She is the most effective of all Tugs; and now that we understand the convertibility and conservation of force, we may be able to use her Tide-producing powers through the agency of electricity for mechanical purposes. It is even possible that the Tides may yet light our streets and houses!* [footnote... It is not quite a century since London was in part supplied with water by the Moon, through employing the tidal action by the waters at Old London Bridge, where the tide mills worked the water-supplying pumps. ...]

Is the moon inhabited? It seems to me that the entire absence of atmosphere and water forbids the supposition—at least of any form of life with which we are acquainted. Add to this adverse condition, the fact of the moon's day being equal to fourteen of our days; the sun shining with much more brilliancy of effect in the moon than on the earth, where atmosphere and moisture act as an important agent in modifying its scorching rays; whilst no such agency exists in the moon. The sun shines there without intermission for fourteen days and nights. During that time the heat must accumulate to almost the melting point of lead; while, on the other hand, the absence of the sun for an equal period must be followed by a period of intense cold, such as we have no experience of, even in the Arctic regions. The highest authorities state that the cold during the Moon's long night must reach as low as 250 degrees below the freezing point of water. These considerations, I think, reasonably suggest that the existence of any form of life in the Moon is in the highest degree improbable.

The first occasion on which I exhibited my series of drawings of the Moon, together with a map six feet in diameter of its entire visible surface, was at the meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh in 1850. I always looked forward to these meetings with great pleasure, and attended them with supreme interest. My dear wife always accompanied me. It was our scientific holiday. It was also our holiday of friendship. We met many of our old friends, and made many new friends. Alas, how many of them have departed! Herschel, Faraday, Robinson, Taylor, Phillips, Brewster, Rosse, Fairbairn, Lassell, and a host of minor stars, who, although perhaps wanting in the brightness or magnitude of those I have named, made good amends by the warmth of their cheerful rays. We saw the younger lights emerging above the horizon: the men who still continue to shed their glory over the meetings of the Association.

How delightful was our visit to Edinburgh in 1850. It was "mine own romantic town." I remembered its striking features so well. There was the broad mass of the Old Town, with its endless diversity of light and shade. There was the grand old fortress, with its towers and turrets and black portholes. Towards evening the distant glories of the departing sun threw forward, in dark outline, the wooded hill of Corstorphine. The rock and Castle assumed a new aspect every time I looked at them. The long-drawn gardens filling the valley between the Old Town and the New, and the thickly-wooded scars of the Castle rock, were a charm of landscape and a charm of art. Arthur's Seat, like a lion at rest, seemed perfect witchcraft. And from the streets in the New Town, or from Calton Hill, what singular glances of beauty were observed in the distance—the gleaming waters of the Firth, and the blue shadows among the hills of Fife.

I remembered it all, from the days in which I sat, as a child, beside the lassies watching the "claes" on the Calton Hill and hearing the chimes of St. Giles's tinkling across the Nor' Loch from the Old Town; the walks, when a boy, in the picturesque country round Edinburgh, with my father and his scientific and artistic friends; my days at the High School, and then my evenings at the School of Arts; my castings of brass in my bedroom, and the technical training I enjoyed in the workshop of my old schoolfellow; my roadway locomotive and its success; and finally, the making of my tools and machines intended for Manchester, at the foundry of my dear old friend Douglass. It all came back to me like a dream. And now, after some twenty years, I had returned to Edinburgh on a visit to the British Association. Many things had been changed—many relatives and friends had departed—but still Edinburgh remained to me as fascinating as ever.

The excursions formed our principal source of enjoyment during these scientific gatherings. The season was then at its happiest. Nature was in her most enjoyable condition, and the excursionists were usually in their holiday mood. The meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh was presided over by Sir David Brewster. The geologists visited the remarkable displays of volcanic phenomena with which the neighbourhood of Edinburgh singularly abounds. Indeed, Edinburgh owes much of its picturesque beauty to volcanoes and earthquake upheavings. Our excursions culminated in a visit to the Bass Rock. The excursion had been carefully planned, and was successfully carried out. The day was beautiful, and the party was of the choicest. After reaching the little cove of Canty Bay, overlooked by the gigantic ruins of Tantallon Castle, we were ferried across to the Bass; through a few miles of that capricious sea, the Firth of Forth, near to where it joins the German Ocean. We were piloted by that fine old British tar, Admiral Malcolm, while the commissariat was superintended by General Pasley.

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