James Nasmyth's Autobiography
by James Nasmyth
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

We were safely landed on that magnificent sea-girt volcanic rock— the Bass. After inspecting the ruins of what was once a castellated State prison, where the Covenanters were immured for conscience' sake, we wandered up the hill towards the summit. There we were treated to a short lecture by Professor Owen on the Solan Goose, which was illustrated by the clouds of geese flying over us. They freely exhibited their habits on land as well as in mid-air, and skimmed the dizzy crags with graceful and apparently effortless motions. The vast variety of seafowl screamed their utmost, and gave a wonderfully illustrative chorus to the lecture. It was a most impressive scene. We were high above the deep blue sea of the German Ocean, the waves of which leapt up as if they would sweep us away into the depths below.

Another of our delightful excursions was made under the guidance of my old and dear friend Robert Chambers.* [footnote... I cannot pass over the mention of Robert Chambers's name without adding that I was on terms of the most friendly intimacy with him from a very early period of his life to its termination in 1871. I remember when he made his first venture in business in Leith Walk. By virtue of his industry, ability, and energy, he became a prosperous man. I had the happiness of enjoying his delightful and instructive society on many occasions. We had rare cracks on all subjects, but especially respecting old places and old characters whom we had known at Edinburgh. His natural aptitude to catch up the salient and most humorous points of character, with the quaint manner in which he could describe them, gave a vast charm to his company and conversation. Added to which, the wide range and accuracy of his information, acquired by his own industry and quick-witted penetration, caused the hours spent in his society to remain among the brightest points in my memory. ...]

The object of this excursion was to visit the remarkable series of grooved and scratched rocks which had been discovered* [footnote... They had been first seen, some twenty years before, by Sir James Hall, one of the geologic lights of Edinburgh. ...] on the western edge of the cliff-like boundary of Corstorphine Hill. The glacial origin of these groovings on the rocks was then occupying the attention of geologists. It was a subject that Robert Chambers had carefully studied, in the Lowlands, in the Highlands, in Rhine-land, in Switzerland, and in Norway. He had also published his Ancient Sea Margins and his Tracings of the North of Europe in illustration of his views. He was now enabled to show us these groovings and scratchings on the rocks near Edinburgh. In order to render the records more accessible, he had the heather and mossy turf carefully removed— especially from some of the most distinct evidences of glacial rock-grooving. Thus no time was lost, and we immediately saw the unquestionable markings. Such visits as these are a thousand times more instructive and interesting than long papers read at scientific meetings. They afford the best opportunity for interchange of ideas, and directly produce an emphatic result; for one cannot cavil about what he has seen with his eyes and felt with his hands.

We returned to the city in time to be present at a most interesting lecture by Hugh Miller on the Boulder Clay. He illustrated it by some scratched boulders which he had collected in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. He brought the subject before his audience in his own clear and admirable viva voce style. The Duke of Argyll was in the chair, and a very animated discussion took place on this novel and difficult subject. It was humorously brought to a conclusion by the Rev. Dr. Fleming, a shrewd and learned geologist. Like many others, he had encountered great difficulties in arriving at definite conclusions on this mysterious subject. He concluded his remarks upon it by describing the influence it had in preventing his sleeping at night. He was so restless on one occasion that his wife became seriously alarmed. "What's the matter wi' ye, John? are ye ill?" "On no," replied the doctor, "it's only that confounded Bounder Clay!" This domestic anecdote brought down the house, and the meeting terminated in a loud and hearty laugh.

I, too, contributed my little quota of information to the members of the British Association. I had brought with me from Lancashire a considerable number of my large graphic illustrations of the details of the Moon's surface. I gave a viva voce account of my lunar researches at a crowded meeting of the Physical Section A. The novel and interesting subject appeared to give so much satisfaction to the audience that the Council of the Association requested me to repeat the account at one of the special evenings, when the members of all the various sections were generally present. It was quite a new thing for me to appear as a public lecturer; but I consented. The large hall of the Assembly Rooms in George Street was crowded with an attentive audience. The Duke of Argyll was in the chair. It is a difficult thing to give a public lecture especially to a scientific audience. To see a large number of faces turned up, waiting for the words of the lecturer, is a somewhat appalling sight. But the novelty of the subject and the graphic illustrations helped me very much. I was quite full of the Moon. The words came almost unsought; and I believe the lecture went off very well, and terminated with "great applause." And thus the meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh came to an end.

This, however, was not the end of our visit to Scotland. I was strongly urged by the Duke of Argyll to pay him a visit at his castle at Inverary. I had frequently before had the happiness of meeting the Duke and Duchess at the Earl of Ellesmere's mansion at Worsley Hall He had made us promise that if we ever came to Scotland we were not to fail to pay him a visit. It was accordingly arranged at Edinburgh that we should carry out our promise, and spend some days with him at Inverary before our return home. We were most cordially welcomed at the castle, and enjoyed our visit exceedingly. We had the pleasure of seeing the splendid scenery of the Western Highlands the mountains round the head of Loch Fyne, Loch Awe, and the magnificent hoary-headed Ben Cruachan, requiring a base of more than twenty miles to support him,—besides the beautiful and majestic scenery of the neighbourhood.

But my chief interest was in the specimens of high geological interest which the Duke showed me. He had discovered them in the Island of Mull, in a bed of clay shale, under a volcanic basaltic cliff over eighty feet high, facing the Atlantic Ocean. He found in this bed many beautifully perfect impressions of forest tree leaves, chiefly of the plane-tree class. They appeared to have been enveloped in the muddy bottom of a lake, which had been sealed up by the belching forth from the bowels of the earth of molten volcanic basaltic lava, and which indeed formed the chief material of the Island of Mull. This basaltic cliff now fronts the Atlantic, and resists its waves like a rock of iron. To see all the delicate veins and stalklets, and exact forms of what had once been the green fresh foliage of a remotely primeval forest, thus brought to light again, as preserved in their clay envelope, after they had lain for ages and ages under what must have been the molten outburst of some tremendous volcanic discharge, and which now formed the rock-bound coast of Mull, filled one's mind with an idea of the inconceivable length of time that must have passed since the production of these Wonderful geological phenomena.

I felt all the more special interest in these specimens, as I had many years before, on my return visit from Londonderry, availed myself of the nearness of the Giant's Causeway to make a careful examination of the marvellous volcanic columns in that neighbourhood. Having scrambled up to a great height, I found a thick band of hematitic clay underneath the upper bed of basalt, which was about sixty feet thick. In this clay I detected a rich deposit of completely charred branches of what had once been a forest tree. The bed had been burst through by the outburst of molten basalt, and converted the branches into charcoal. I dug out some of the specimens, and afterwards distributed them amongst my geological friends. The Duke was interested by my account, which so clearly confirmed his own discovery. On a subsequent occasion I revisited the Giant's Causeway in company with my dear wife. I again scrambled up to the hematitic bed of clay under the basaltic cliff, and dug out a sufficient quantity of the charred branches, which I sent to the Duke, in confirmation of his theory as to the origin of the leaf-beds at Mull.* [footnote...

I received the following reply from the Duke of Argyll dated "Inverary, Nov. 19, 1850": —

"MY DEAR SIR—Am I right in concluding, from the description which; you were so kind as to send to me, that the lignite bed, with its superincumbent basalts, lies above those particular columnar basalts which form the far-famed Giant's Causeway? I see from your sketch that basalts of great thickness, and in some views beautifully columnar, do underlie the lignite bed; but I am not quite sure that these columnar basalts are those precisely which are called the Causeway. I had never heard before that the Giant's Causeway rested on chalk, which all the basalts in your sketch do.

[Image] The Astrologers Tower—A Day Dream. By James Nasmyth. (Facsimile.)

"I have been showing your drawing of 'Udolpho Castle' and 'The Astrologer's Tower' to the Duchess of Sutherland, who is enchanted with the beauty of the architectural details, and wishes she had seen them before Dunrobin was finished; for hints might have been taken from bits of your work. —Very truly yours,

ARGYLL." ...]

In the year following the meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh, the great Exhibition of all nations at London took place. The Commissioners appointed for carrying out this noble enterprise had made special visits to Manchester and the surrounding manufacturing districts for the purpose of organising local committees, so that the machinery and productions of each might be adequately represented in the World's Great Industrial Exhibition. The Commissioners were met with enthusiasm; and nearly every manufacturer was found ready to display the results of his industry. The local engineers and tool-makers were put upon their mettle, and each endeavoured to do his best. Like others, our firm contributed specimens of our special machine tools, and a fair average specimen of the steam hammer, with a 30 cwt. hammer-block.

I also sent one of my very simple and compact steam-engines, in the design of which I had embodied the form of my steam hammer—placing the crank where the anvil of the hammer usually stands. The simplicity and grace of this arrangement of the steam-engine were much admired. Its merits were acknowledged in a way most gratifying to me, by its rapid adoption by engineers of every class, especially by marine engineers. It has been adopted for driving the shafts of screw-propelled steamships of the largest kind. The comparatively small space it occupies, its compactness, its get-at-ability of parts, and the action of gravity on the piston, which, working vertically, and having no undue action in causing wearing of the cylinder on one side (which was the case with horizontal engines), has now brought my Steam Hammer Engine into almost universal use* [footnote... Sir John Anderson, in his Report on the machine tools, textile, and other machinery exhibited at Vienna in 1873, makes the following observations: —"Perhaps the finest pair of marine engines yet produced by France, or any other country, were those exhibited by Schneider and Company, the leading firm in France. These engines were not large, but were perfect in many respects; yet comparatively few of those who were struck with admiration seemed to know that the original of this style of construction came from the same mind as the Steam Hammer. Nasmyth's Infant Hercules was the forerunner of all the steam hammer engines that have yet been made from that type, which is now being so extensively employed for working the screw propeller of steam vessels." ...]

The Commissioners, acting on the special recommendation of the jury, awarded me a medal for the construction of this form of steam-engine* [footnote... The Council of the Exhibition thus describe the engine in the awards: — "Nasmyth, J., Patricroft, Manchester, a small portable direct-acting steam-engine. The cylinder is fixed, vertical and inverted, the crank being placed beneath it, and the piston working downwards. The sides of the frame which support the cylinder serve as guides, and the bearings of the crank-shaft and fly-wheel are firmly fixed in the bed-plate of the engine. The arrangement is compact and economical, and the workmanship practically good and durable." (See illustration of the design, page 424.) ...] as it was merely a judicious arrangement of the parts, and not, in any correct sense of the term, an invention, I took out no patent for it, and left it free to work its own way into general adoption. It has since been used for high as well as low-pressure steam— an arrangement which has come into much favour on account of the great economy of fuel which results from using it.

A Council Medal was also awarded to me for the Steam Hammer. But perhaps what pleased me most was the Prize Medal which I received for my special hobby—the drawings of the Moon's surface. I sent a collection of these, with a map, to the Exhibition. They attracted considerable attention, not only because of their novelty, but because of the accurate and artistic style of their execution. The Jurors, in making the award, gave the following description of them: "Mr. Nasmyth exhibits a well-delineated map of the Moon on a large scale, which is drawn with great accuracy, the irregularities upon the surface being shown with much force and spirit; also separate and enlarged representations of certain portions of the Moon as seen through a powerful telescope: they are all good in detail, and very effective."

My drawings of the Moon attracted the special notice of the Prince Consort. Shortly after the closing of the Exhibition, in October 1851, the Queen and the Prince made a visit to Manchester and Liverpool, during which time they were the guests of the Earl of Ellesmere at Worsley Hall. Finding that I lived near at hand, the Prince expressed his desire to the Earl that I should exhibit to Her Majesty some of my graphic lunar studies.

On receiving a note to that effect from the Countess of Ellesmere, I sent a selection of my drawings to the Hall, and proceeded there in the evening. I had then the honour of showing them to the Queen and the Prince, and explaining them in detail. Her Majesty took a deep interest in the subject, and was most earnest in her inquiries. The Prince Consort' said that the drawings opened up quite a new subject to him, which he had not before had the opportunity of considering. It was as much as I could do to answer the numerous keen and incisive questions which he put to me. They were all so distinct and cogent. Their object was, of course, to draw from me the necessary explanations on this rather recondite subject. I believe, however, that notwithstanding the presence of Royalty, I was enabled to place all the most striking and important features of the Moon's surface in a clear and satisfactory manner before Her Majesty and the Prince,

I find that the Queen in her Diary alludes in the most gratifying manner to the evening's interview. In the Life of the Prince Consort (vol. ii. p. 398), Sir Theodore Martin thus mentions the subject: — "The evening was enlivened by the presence of Mr. Nasmyth, the inventor of the steam hammer, who had extensive works at Patricroft. He exhibited and explained the map and drawings in which he had embodied the results of his investigations of the conformations of the surface of the Moon. The Queen in her Diary dwells at considerable length on the results of Mr. Nasmyth's inquiries. The charm of his manner, in which the simplicity, modesty, and enthusiasm of genius are all strikingly combined, are warmly dwelt upon. Mr. Nasmyth belongs to a family of painters, and would have won fame for himself as an artist —for his landscapes are as true to Nature as his compositions are full of fancy and feeling—had not science and mechanical invention claimed him for their own. His drawings were submitted on this occasion. and their beauty was generally admired.* [footnote... In his lecture on the "Geological Features of Edinburgh and its Neighbourhood," in the following year, Hugh Miller, speaking of the Castle Rock, observed: —"The underlying strata, though geologically and in their original position several hundred feet higher than those which underlie the Castle esplanade, are now, with respect to the actual level, nearly 200 feet lower. In a lecture on what may be termed the geology of the Moon, delivered in the October of last year before Her Majesty and Prince Albert by Mr. Nasmyth, he referred to certain appearances on the surface of that satellite that seemed to be the results, in some very ancient time, of the sudden falling in of portions of an unsupported crust, or a retreating nucleus of molten matter; and took occasion to suggest that some of the great slips and shifts on the surface of our own planet, with their huge downcasts, may have had a similar origin. The suggestion is at once bold and ingenious." ...]

The next time I visited Edinburgh was in the autumn of 1853. Lord Cockburn, an old friend, having heard that I was sojourning in the city, sent me the following letter, dated "Bonally, 3rd September," inviting me to call a meeting of the Faithful:

"MY DEAR Sir—Instead of being sketching, as I thought, in Switzerland, I was told yesterday that you were in Auld Reekie. Then why not come out here next Thursday, or Friday, or Saturday, and let us have a Hill Day? I suppose I need not write to summon the Faithful, because not having been in Edinburgh except once for above a month, I don't know where the Faithful are. But you must know their haunts, and it can't give you much trouble to speak to them. I should like to see Lauder here. And don't forget the Gaberlunzie.—Ever,

H. COCKBURN"* [footnote... James Ballantine, author of The Gaberlunzie's Wallet. In August 1865 Mr. Ballantine wrote to me saying: "If ever you are in Auld Reekie I should feel proud of a call from you. I have not forgotten the delightful day we spent together many years ago at Bonny Bonally with the eagle-eyed Henry Cockburn!" ...]

The meeting came off. I collected a number of special friends about me, and I took my wife to the meeting of the Faithful. There were present David Roberts, Clarkson Stanfield, Louis and Carl Haag, Sir George Harvey, James Ballantine, and D. O. Hill—all artists. We made our way to Bonny Bonally, a charming residence, situated at the foot of the Pentland Hills.* [footnote... The house was afterwards occupied by the lamented Professor Hodgson, the well-known Political Economist. ...] The day was perfect—in all respects "equal to bespoke." With that most genial of men, Lord Cockburn, for our guide, we wandered far up the Pentland Hills. After a rather toilsome walk we reached a favourite spot. It was a semicircular hollow in the hillside, scooped out by the sheep for shelter. It was carpeted and cushioned with a deep bed of wild thyme, redolent of the very essence of rural fragrance.

We sat down in a semicircle, our guide in the middle. He said in his quaint peculiar way, "Here endeth the first lesson." After gathering our breath, and settling ourselves to enjoy our well-earned rest, we sat in silence for a time. The gentle breeze blew past us, and we inhaled the fragrant air. It was enough for a time to look on, for the glorious old city was before us, with its towers, and spires, and lofty buildings between us and the distance. On one side Arthur's Seat, and on the other the Castle, the crown of the city. The view extended far and wide—on to the waters of the Forth and the blue hills of Fife. The view is splendidly described by "Delta": —

"Traced like a map, the landscape lies In cultured beauty, stretching wide: Here Pentland's green acclivities,— There ocean, with its swelling tide,— There Arthur's Seat and gleaming through Thy Southern wing, Dull Edin blue! While, in the Orient, Lammer's daughters,— A distant giant range, are seen; North Berwick Law, with cone of green, And Bass amid the waters."

Then we began to crack, our host leading the way with his humorous observations. After taking our fill of rest and talk, we wended our way down again, with the "wimplin' burn" by our side, fresh from the pure springs of the hill, whispering its welcome to us.

We had earned a good appetite for dinner, which was shortly laid before us. The bill of fare was national, and included a haggis:

"Fair fa' your honest sonsie face, Great chieftain o' the puddin' race! Weel are ye wordy o'a grace As lang's my arm!"

The haggis was admirably compounded and cooked, and was served forth by our genial host with all appropriate accompaniments. But the most enjoyable was the conversation of Lord Cockburn, who was a master of the art—quick ready, humorous, and full of wit. At last, the day came to a close, and we wended our way towards the city.

Let me, however, before concluding, say a few words in reference to my dear departed friend David Oswald Hill. His name calls up many recollections of happy hours spent in his company. He was, in all respects, the incarnation of geniality. His lively sense of humour, combined with a romantic and poetic constitution of mind, and his fine sense of the beautiful in Nature and art, together with his kindly and genial feeling, made him, all in all, a most agreeable friend and companion. "D. O. Hill," as he was generally called, was much attached to my father. He was a very frequent visitor at our Edinburgh fireside, and was ever ready to join in our extemporised walks and jaunts, when he would overflow with his kindly sympathy and humour. He was a skilful draughtsman, and possessed a truly poetic feeling for art. His designs for pictures were always attractive, from the fine feeling exhibited in their composition and arrangement. But somehow, when he came to handle the brush, the result was not always satisfactory—a defect not uncommon with artists. Altogether, he was a delightful companion and a staunch friend, and his death made a sad blank in the artistic society of Edinburgh.

CHAPTER 19. More about Astronomy.

Astronomy, instead of merely being an amusement, became my chief study. It occupied many of my leisure hours. Desirous of having the advantage of a Reflecting Telescope of large aperture, I constructed one of twenty-inches diameter. In order to avoid the personal risk and inconvenience of having to mount to the eye-piece by a ladder, I furnished the telescope tube with trunnions, like a cannon, with one of the trunnions hollow so as to admit of the eye-piece. Opposite to it a plain diagonal mirror was placed, to transmit the image to the eye. The whole was mounted on a turn-table, having a seat opposite to the eye-piece, as will be seen in the engraving on the other side.

[Image] "Trunnion Vision" Reflecting telescope of 20-inch diameter mounted on a turn-table.

The observer, when seated, could direct the telescope to any part of the heavens without moving from his seat. Although this arrangement occasioned some loss of light, that objection was more than compensated by the great convenience which it afforded for the prosecution of the special class of observations in which I was engaged namely, that of the Sun, Moon, and Planets.

I wrote to my old friend Sir David Brewster, then living at St. Andrews, in 1849, about this improvement and he duly congratulated me upon my devotion to astronomical science. In his letter to me he brought to mind many precious memories.

"I recollect," he said, "with much pleasure the many happy hours that I spent in your father's house; and ever since I first saw you in your little workshop at Edinburgh,—then laying the foundation of your future fortunes,—I have felt a deep interest in your success, and rejoiced at your progress to wealth and reputation.

"I have perused with much pleasure the account you have sent me of your plan of shortening and moving large telescopes, and I shall state to you the opinion which I have formed of it. If you will look into the article 'Optics' in the Edinburgh Encyclopedia (vol. xv. p. 643), you will find an account of what has been previously done to reduce by one-half the length of reflecting telescopes. The advantage of substituting, as you propose, a convex for a plane mirror arises from two causes that a spherical surface is more easily executed than a plane one; and that the spherical aberration of the larger speculum, if it be spherical, will be diminished by the opposite aberration of the convex one. This advantage, however, will disappear if the plane mirror of the old construction is accurately plane; and in your case, if the large speculum is parabolic and the small one elliptical in their curvature.

"The only objection to your construction is the loss of light; first of one-fourth of the whole incident light by obstruction, and then one-half of the remainder by reflection from the convex mirror, thus reducing 100 rays of incident light to 37 1/2 before the pencil is thrown out of the tube by a prism or a third reflector. This loss of light, it is true, may be compensated by an additional inch or two to the margin of the large speculum; but still it is the best part of the large speculum that is made unproductive by the eclipse of it by the convex speculum. "With regard to the mechanical contrivance which you propose for working the instrument, I think it is singularly ingenious and beautiful, and will compensate for any imperfection in the optical arrangements which are rendered necessary for its adoption. The application of the railway turn-table is very happy, and not less so is the extraction of the image through the hollow trunnions.

"I am much obliged to you for the beautiful drawing of the apparatus for grinding and polishing specula, invented by Mr. Lassell and constructed by yourself. I shall be glad to hear of your further progress in the construction of your telescope; and I trust that I shall have the pleasure of meeting you and Mr. Lassell at the Birmingham meeting of the British Association.

In the course of the same year (1849) I sent a model of my Trunnion turn-table telescope for exhibition at a lecture at the Royal Institution, given by my old friend Edward Cowper. In the model I had placed a neat little figure of the observer, but the head had unfortunately been broken off during its carriage to London. Mrs. Nasmyth had made the wearing apparel; but Edward Cowper wrote to her, before the lecture, that he had put "Sir Fireside Brick" all to rights in respect of his garb. His letter after the lecture was quite characteristic.

"The lecture," he said, "went off very well last night. All the models performed their duty, and were duly applauded for doing so. My new equatorial was approved of by astronomers and by instrument-makers. The last gun I fired was a howitzer, but mounted swivel-gun fashion; on a sort of revolving platform, or something like a turn-table proper —the gunner at the side of the carriage. Do you know anything of the kind? Bang! Invented by one Nasmyth. Bang! The observer is sitting at ease; the stars are brought down to you instead of your creeping up a scaffolding after the stars. Well, the folks came to the table after the lecture, and 'The Nasmyth Telescope' kept banging away for a quarter of an hour, and was admired by everybody. The loss of light was not much insisted on, but it was said that you ran the risk of error of form in three surfaces instead of two. I see that Sir J. South states that Lord Rosse would increase the light of his telescope from five to seven by adopting Herschel's plan.

"De La Rue was quite delighted. He said, 'Well, I congratulate you on a most splendid lecture—I cannot call it anything else.' My father, who takes very little interest in these things, said, 'Well, Edward has made me understand more about telescopes than I ever did in my life.' The theatre was full, gallery and all. They were very attentive, and I never felt more comfortable in a lecture. I am happy to say that, having administered a dose of cement to Mrs. Nasmyth's friend, Sir Fireside Brick of Green Lanes, he is now in a convalescent state. The lecture is to be repeated in another fortnight. With many thanks for your kind assistance, yours very sincerely,


In the course of my astronomical inquiries I had occasion to consider the causes of the sun's light. I observed the remarkable phenomena of the variable and some times transitory brightness of the stars. In connection with geology, there was the evidence of an arctic or glacial climate in regions where such cannot now naturally exist; thus giving evidence of the existence of a condition of climate, for the explanation of which we look in vain for any at present known cause. I wrote a paper on the subject, which I sent to the Astronomical Society. It was read in May 1851. In that paper I wrote as follows:

"A course of observations on the solar spots, and on the remarkable features which from time to time appear on the sun's surface, which I have examined with considerable assiduity for several years, had in the first place led me to entertain the following conclusion: namely, that whatever be the nature of solar light, its main source appears to result from an action induced on the exterior surface of solar sphere,— a conclusion in which I doubt not all who have attentively pursued observations on the structure of the sun's surface will agree.

"Impressed with the correctness of this conclusion, I was led to consider whether we might not reasonably consider the true source of the latent element of light to reside, not in the solar orb, but in space itself; and that the grand function and duty of the sun was to act as an agent for bringing forth into vivid existence its due portion of the illuminating or luciferous element, which element I suppose to be diffused throughout the boundless regions of space, and which in that case must be exhaustless.

Assuming, therefore, that the sun's light is the result of some peculiar action by which it brings forth into visible existence the element of light, which I conceive to be latent in, and diffused throughout space, we have but to imagine the existence of a very probable condition, namely, the unequal diffusion of this light-yielding element, to catch a glimpse of a reason why our sun may, in common with his solar brotherhood, in some portions of his vast stellar orbit, have passed, and may yet have to pass, through regions of space, in which the light-yielding element may either abound or be deficient, and so cause him to beam forth with increased splendour, or fade in brilliancy, just in proportion to the richness or poverty of this supposed light-yielding element as may occur in those regions of space through which our sun, in common with every stellar orb, has passed, is now passing, or is destined to pass, in following up their mighty orbits.

"Once admit that this light-yielding element resides in space, and that it is not equally diffused, we may then catch a glimpse of the cause of the variable and transitory brightness of stars,and more especially of those which have been known to beam forth with such extraordinary splendour, and have again so mysteriously faded away; many instances of which abound in historical record.

"Finally, in reference to such a state of change having come over our sun, as indicated by the existence of a glacial period, as is now placed beyond doubt by geological research, it appears to me no very wild stretch of analogy to suppose that in such former periods of the earth's history our sun may have passed through portions of his stellar orbit in which the light-yielding element was deficient, and in which case his brilliancy would have suffered the while, and an arctic climate in consequence spread from the poles towards the equator, and thus leave the record of such a condition in glacial handwriting on the everlasting walls of our mountain ravines, of which there is such abundant and unquestionable evidence. As before said, it is the existence of such facts as we have in stars of transitory brightness, and the above named evidence of an arctic climate existing in what are now genial climates, that renders some adequate cause to be looked for. I have accordingly hazarded the preceding remarks as suggestive of a cause, in the hope that the subject may receive that attention which its deep interest entitles it to obtain.

"This view of the source of light, as respects the existence of the luciferous element throughout space, accords with the Mosaic account of creation, in so far as that light is described as having been created in the first instance before the sun was called forth." Dr Siemens read a paper before the Royal Society in March 1882, on "A New Theory of the Sun". His views in many respects coincided with mine.* [footnote... Interstellar space, according to Dr. Siemens, is filled with attenuated matter, consisting of highly rarefied gaseous bodies— including hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, and aqueous vapour; that these gaseous compounds are capable of being dissociated by radiant solar energy while in a state of extreme attenuation; and that the vapours so dissociated are drawn towards the sun in consequence of solar rotation, are flashed into flame in the photosphere, and rendered back into space in the condition of products of combustion. With respect to the influence of the sun's light on geology, Dr. Siemens says: "The effect of this continuous outpour of solar materials could not be without very important influences as regards the geological conditions of our earth. Geologists have long acknowledged the difficulty of accounting for the amount of carbonic acid that must have been in our atmosphere at one time or another in order to form with lime those enormous beds of dolomite and limestone of which the crust of our earth is in great measure composed. It has been calculated that if this carbonic acid had been at one and the same time in our atmosphere it would have caused an elastic pressure fifty times that of our present atmosphere; and if we add the carbonic acid that must have been absorbed in vegetation in order to form our coal-beds we should probably have to double that pressure. Animal life, of which we had abundant traces in these 'measures,' could not have existed under such conditions, we are almost forced to the conclusion that the carbonic acid must have been derived from an external source." ...]

Soon after my paper was read, Lord Murray of Henderland, an old friend, then a Judge on the Scottish Bench, wrote to me as follows: —"I shall be much obliged to you for a copy, if you have a spare one, of your printed note on Light. It is expressed with great clearness and brevity. If you wish to have a quotation for it, you may have recourse to the blind Milton, who has expressed your views in his address to Light: —

"'Hail, holy Light! offspring of heaven first-born Or of the Eternal co-eternal beam May I express thee unblamed? since God is light, And never but in unapproached light Dwelt from eternity—dwelt then in thee, Bright effluence of bright essence increate!"'

About the same time Sir Thomas Mitchell, Surveyor General of Australia, communicated his notions on the subject. "My dear Sir," he wrote, "Your kind and valuable communications are as welcome to me as the sun's light, and I now thank you most gratefully for the last, with its two enclosures. These, and especially your views as to the source of light, afford me new scope for satisfactory thinking—a sort of treasure one can always carry about, and, unlike other treasures, is most valuable in the solitude of a desert. The beauty of your theory as to the nature of the source of light is, that it rather supports all preconceived notions respecting the soul, heaven, and an immortal state."

I still continued the study of astronomy. The sun, moon, and planets yielded to me an inexhaustible source of delight. I gazed at them with increasing wonder and awe. Among the glorious objects which the telescope reveals, the most impressive is that of the starry heavens in a clear dark night. When I directed my 20-inch reflecting telescope almost at random to any part of the firmament, especially to any portion of the Milky Way, the sight of myriads of stars brought into view within the field of the eye-piece was overpoweringly sublime.

When it is considered that every one of these stars which so bewilderingly crowd the field of vision is, according to rational probability, and, I might even say, absolute certainty, are Suns as vast in magnitude as that which gives light to our globe, and yet situated so inconceivably deep in the abyss of space as to appear minute points of light even to the most powerful telescope, it will be felt what a sublime subject appears before us. Turn the telescope to any part of the heavens, it is the same.

Let us suppose ourselves perched upon the farthest star which we are enabled to see by the aid of the most powerful telescope. There, too, we should see countless myriads of Suns, rolling along in their appointed orbits, and thus on and on throughout eternity. What an idea of the limitless extent of Creative Power—filling up infinite space with the evidences of His Almighty Presence! The human mind feels its utter impotency in endeavouring to grasp such a subject.

I also turned my attention to the microscope. In 1851 I examined, by the aid of this instrument, the infusoria in the Bridgewater Canal. I found twenty-seven of them, of the most varied form, colour, and movements. This was almost as remarkable a revelation as the mighty phenomena of the heavens. I found these living things moving about in the minutest drop of water. The sight of the wonderful range of creative power—from the myriads of suns revealed by the telescope, to the myriads of moving organisms revealed by the microscope—filled me with unutterably devout wonder and awe.

Moreover, it seemed to me to confer a glory even upon the instruments of human skill, which elevated man to the Unseen and the Divine. When we examine the most minute organisms, we find clear evidence in their voluntary powers of motion that these creatures possess a will, and that such Will must be conveyed by a nervous system of an infinitesimally minute description. When we follow out such a train of thought, and contrast the myriads of suns and planets at one extreme, with the myriads of minute organised atoms at the other, we cannot but feel inexpressible wonder at the transcendent range of Creative Power.

Shortly after, I sent to the Royal Astronomical Society a paper on another equally wonderful subject, "The Rotatory Movements of the Celestial Bodies. As the paper is not very long, and as I endeavoured to illustrate my ideas in a familiar manner, I may here give it entire:

"What first set me thinking on this subject was the endeavour to get at the reason of why water in a basin acquires a rotatory motion when a portion of it is allowed to escape through a hole in the bottom. Every well-trained philosophical judgment is accustomed to observe illustrations of the most sublime phenomena of creation in the most minute and familiar operations of the Creator's laws, one of the most characteristic features of which consists in the absolute and wonderful integrity maintained in their action whatsoever be the range as to magnitude or distance of the objects on which they operate.

"For instance, the minute particles of dew which whiten the grass-blade in early morn are moulded into spheres by the identical law which gives to the mighty sun its globular form!

"Let us pass from the rotation of water in a basin to the consideration of the particles of a nebulous mass just summoned into existence by the fiat of the Creator—the law of gravitation coexisting. "The first moment of the existence of such a nebulous mass would be inaugurated by the election of a centre of gravity, and, instantly after, every particle throughout the entire mass of such nebulae would tend to and converge towards that centre of gravity.

"Now let us consider what would be the result of this. It appears to me that the inevitable consequence of the convergence of the particles towards the centre of gravity of such a nebulous mass would not only result in the formation of nucleus, but by reason of the physical impossibility that all the converging particles should arrive at the focus of convergence in directions perfectly radial and diametrically opposite to each other, however slight the degree of deviation from the absolute diametrically opposite direction in which the converging particles coalesce at the focus of attraction, a twisting action would result, and Rotation ensue, which, once engendered, be its intensity ever so slight, from that instant forward the nucleus would continue to revolve, and all the particles which its attraction would subsequently cause to coalesce with it, would do so in directions tangential to its surface, and not diametrically towards its centre.

"In due course of time the entire of the remaining nebulous mass would become affected with rotation from the more rapidly moving centre, and would assume what appears to me to be their inherent normal condition, namely, spirality, as the prevailing character of their structure; and as that is actually the aspect which may be said to characterise the majority of those marvellous nebulae, as revealed to us by Lord Rosse's magnificent telescope, I am strongly impressed with the conviction that such reasons as I have assigned have been the cause of their spiral aspect and arrangement.

"And by following up the same train of reasoning, it appears to me that we may catch a glimpse of the primeval cause of the rotation of every body throughout the regions of space, whether they be nebulae, stars, double stars, or planetary systems.

"The primary cause of rotation which I have endeavoured to describe in the preceding remarks is essentially cosmical, and is the direct and immediate offspring of the action of gravitation on matter in a diffused, nebulous, and, as such, highly mobile condition.

"It will be obvious that in the case of a nebulous mass, whose matter is unequally distributed, that in such a case several sub-centres of gravity would be elected, that is to say, each patch of nebulous matter would have its own centre of gravity; but these in their turn subordinate to that of the common centre of gravity of the whole system, about which all such outlaying parts would revolve. Each of the portions above alluded to would either be attracted by the superior mass, and pass in towards it as a wisp of nebulous matter, or else establish perfect individual and distinct rotation within itself, and finally revolve about the great common centre of gravity of the whole.

"Bearing this in mind, and referring to some of the figures of the marvellous spiral nebulae which Lord Rosse's telescope has revealed to us, I shall now bring these suggestions to a conclusion. I have avoided expanding them to the extent I feel the subject to be worthy and capable of; but I trust such as I have offered will be sufficient to convey a pretty clear idea of my views on this sublime subject, which I trust may receive the careful consideration its nature entitles it to. Let any one carefully reflect on the reason why water assumes a rotatory motion when a portion of it is permitted to escape from an aperture in the bottom of the circular vessel containing it; if they will do so in the right spirit, I am fain to think they will arrive at the same conclusion as the contemplation of this familiar phenomenon has brought me to.


I was present at a meeting of the Geological Society at Manchester in 1853, in the discussions of which I took part.

I was much impressed by an address of the Rev. Dr. Vaughan (then Principal of the Independent College at Manchester), which is as interesting now as it was then. After referring to the influence which geological changes had produced upon the condition of nations, and the moral results which oceans, mountains, islands, and continents have had upon the social history of man, he went on to say: "Is not this island of ours indebted to these great causes? Oh, that blessed geological accident that broke up a strait between Calais and Dover! It looks but a little thing; it was a matter to take place; but how mighty the moral results upon the condition and history of this country, and, through this country's influence, upon humanity! Bridge over the space between, and you have directly the huge continental barrack-yard system all over England. And once get into the condition of a great continental military power, and you get the arbitrary power; you cramp down the people, and you unfit them from being what they ought to be—FREE And all the good influences together at work in this country could not have secured us against this, but for that blessed separation between this Isle and the Continent."

In 1853 I was appointed a member of the Small Arms Committee for the purpose of re-modelling and, in fact, re-establishing the Small Arms Factory at Enfield. The wonderful success of the needle gun in the war between Prussia and Denmark in 1848 occasioned some alarm amongst our military authorities as to the state of affairs at home. The Duke of Wellington to the last proclaimed the sufficiency of "Brown Bess" as a weapon of offence and defence; but matters could no longer be deferred. The United States Government, though possessing only a very small standing army, had established at Springfield a small arms factory, where, by the use of machine tools specially designed to execute with the most unerring precision all the details of muskets and rifles, they were enabled to dispense with mere manual dexterity, and to produce arms to any amount. It was finally determined to improve the musketry and rifle systems of the English army. The Government resolved to introduce the American system, by which Arms might be produced much more perfectly, and at a great diminution of cost. It was under such circumstances that the Small Arms Committee was appointed.

Colonel Colt had brought to England some striking examples of the admirable machine tools used at Springfield, and he established a manufactory at Pimlico for the production of his well-known revolvers. The committee resolved to make a personal visit to the United States Factory at Springfield. My own business engagements at home prevented me accompanying the members who were selected; but as my friend John Anderson (now Sir John), acted as their guide, the committee had in him a most able and effective helper. He directed their attention to the most important and available details of that admirable establishment. The United States Government acted most liberally in allowing the committee to obtain every information on the subject; and the heads of the various departments, who were intelligent and zealous, rendered them every attention and civility.

The members of the mission returned home enthusiastically delighted with the results of their inquiry.The committee immediately proceeded with the entire re-modelling of the Small Arms Factory at Enfield. The workshops were equipped with a complete series of special machine tools, chiefly obtained from the Springfield factory. The United States Government also permitted several of their best and workman and superintendents to take service under the English Government. Such was the origin of the Enfield rifle. The weapon came as near to absolute perfection as possible, It was perfect in action, durable and excellent in every respect even in it's conversion to the breechloader it is still one of the best weapons. It is impossible to give too much praise to Sir John Anderson and Colonel Dixon for the untiring and intelligent zeal with which they carried out the plans, as well as for the numerous improvements which they introduced. These have rendered the Enfield Small Arms Factory one of the most perfect and best regulated establishments in the kingdom.

CHAPTER 20. Retirement from Business.

I had been for some time contemplating the possibility of retiring altogether from business. I had got enough of the world's goods, and was willing to make way for younger men. But I found it difficult to break loose from old associations. Like the retired tallow-chandler, I might wish to go back "on melting days." I had some correspondence with my old friend David Roberts, Royal Academician, on the subject. He wrote to me on the 2d June 1853, and said:

"I rejoice to learn, from the healthy tone that breathes throughout your epistle, that you are as happy as every one who knows you wishes you to be, and as prosperous as you deserve. Knowing, also, as I do, your feeling for art and all that tends to raise and dignify man, I most sincerely congratulate you on the prospect of your being able to retire, in the full vigour of manhood, to follow out that sublime pursuit, in comparison with which the painter's art is but a faint glimmering. 'The Landscape of other worlds' you alone have sketched for us, and enlightened us on that with which the ancient world but gazed upon and worshipped in the symbol of Astarte, Isis, and Diana. We are matter-of-fact now, and have outlived childhood. What say you to a photograph of those wonderful drawings? It may come to that."* [footnote... It did indeed "come to that," for I shortly after learned the art of photography, chiefly for this special purpose. ...]

But I had something else yet to do in my special vocation. In 1854 I took out a patent for puddling iron by means of steam. Many of my readers may not know that cast-iron is converted into malleable iron by the process called puddling. The iron, while in a molten state, is violently stirred and agitated by a stiff iron rod, having its end bent like a hoe or flattened hook, by which every portion of the molten metal is exposed to the oxygen of the air, and the supercharge of carbon which the cast iron contains is thus "burnt out." When this is effectually done the iron becomes malleable and weldable.

This state of the iron is indicated by a general loss of fluidity, accompanied by a tendency to gather together in globular masses. The puddler, by his dexterous use of the end of the rabbling bar, puts the masses together, and, in fact, welds the new-born particles of malleable iron into puddle-balls of about three-quarters of a hundredweight each. These are successively removed from the pool of the puddling furnace, and subjected to the energetic blows of the steam hammer, which drives out all the scoriae lurking within the spongy puddle-balls, and thus welds them into compact masses of malleable iron. When reheated to a welding heat, they are rolled out into flat bars or round rods, in a variety of sizes, so as to be suitable for the consumer.

The manual and physical labour of the puddler is tedious, fatiguing, and unhealthy. The process of puddling occupies about an hour's violent labour, and only robust young men can stand the fatigue and violent heat. I had frequent opportunities of observing the labour and unhealthiness of the process, as well as the great loss of time required to bring it to a conclusion. It occurred to me that much of this could be avoided by employing some other means for getting rid of the superfluous carbon, and bringing the molten cast-iron into a malleable condition.

The method that occurred to me was the substitution of a small steam pipe in the place of the puddler's rabbling bar. By having the end of this steam pipe bent downwards so as to reach the bottom of the pool, and then to discharge a current of steam beneath the surface of the molten cast iron, I thought that I should by this simple means supply a most effective carbon-oxidating agent, at the same time that I produced a powerful agitating action within the pool. Thus the steam would be decomposed and supply oxygen to the carbon of the cast-iron, while the mechanical action of the rush of steam upwards would cause so violent a commotion throughout the pool of melted iron as to exceed the utmost efforts of the labour of the puddler. All the gases would pass up the chimney of the puddling furnace, and the puddler would not be subject to their influence. Such was the method specified in my patent of l854* [footnote... Specification of James Nasmyth—Employment of steam in the process of puddling iron. May 4, 1854; No. 1001. ...]

My friend, Thomas Lever Rushton, proprietor of the Bolton Ironworks, was so much impressed with the soundness of the principle, as well as with the great simplicity of carrying the invention into practical effect, that he urged me to secure the patent, and he soon after gave me the opportunity of trying the process at his works. The results were most encouraging. There was a great saving of labour and time compared with the old puddling process; and the malleable iron produced was found to be of the highest order as regarded strength, toughness, and purity. My process was soon after adopted by several iron manufacturers with equally favourable results. Such, however, was the energy of the steam, that unless the workmen were most careful to regulate its force and the duration of its action, the waste of iron by undue oxidation was such as in a great measure to neutralise its commercial gain as regarded the superior value of the malleable iron thus produced.

Before I had time or opportunity to remove this commercial difficulty, Mr. Bessemer had secured his patent of the l7th of October, 1855. By this patent he employed a blast of air to do the same work as I had proposed to accomplish by means of a blast of steam, forced up beneath the surface of the molten cast iron. He added some other improvements, with that happy fertility of invention which has always characterised him. The results were so magnificently successful as to totally eclipse my process, and to cast it comparatively into the shade. At the same time I may say that I was in a measure the pioneer of his invention, that I initiated a new system, and led to one of the most important improvements in the manufacture of iron and steel that has ever been given to the world.

Mr. Bessemer brought the subject of his invention before the meeting of the British Association at Cheltenham in the autumn of 1856. There he read his paper "On the Manufacture of Iron into Steel without Fuel."* [footnote... On the morning of the day on which the paper was to be read, Mr. Bessemer was sitting at breakfast at his hotel, when an ironmaster (to whom he was unknown) said, laughing, to a friend within his hearing, "Do you know that there is somebody come down from London to read us a paper on making steel from cast iron without fuel? Did you ever hear of such nonsense?" The title of the paper was perhaps a misnomer, but the correctness of the principles on which the pig iron was converted into malleable iron, as explained by the inventor, was generally recognised, and there seemed every reason to anticipate that the process would before long come into general use. ...]

I was present on the occasion, and listened to his statement with mingled feelings of regret and enthusiasm—of regret, because I had been so clearly superseded and excelled in my performances; and of enthusiasm—because I could not but admire and honour the genius who had given so great an invention to the mechanical world. I immediately took the opportunity of giving my assent to the principles which he had propounded. My words were not reported at the time, nor was Mr. Bessemer's paper printed by the Association, perhaps because it was thought of so little importance but, on applying to Mr. (now Sir Henry) Bessemer, he was so kind as to give me the following as his recollection of the words which I used on the occasion.

"I shall ever feel grateful," says Sir Henry, "for the noble way in which you spoke at the meeting at Cheltenham of my invention. If I remember rightly, you held up a piece of my malleable iron, saying words to this effect: 'Here is a true British nugget! Here is a new process that promises to put an end to all puddling; and I may mention that at this moment there are puddling furnaces in successful operation where my patent hollow steam Rabbler is at work, producing iron of superior quality by the introduction of jets of steam in the puddling process. I do not, however, lay any claim to this invention of Mr. Bessemer; but I may fairly be entitled to say that I have advanced along the road on which he has travelled so many miles, and has effected such unexpected results that I do not hesitate to say that I may go home from this meeting and tear up my patent, for my process of puddling is assuredly superseded.'"

After giving an account of the true origin of his process, in which he had met with failures as well as successes, but at last recognised the decarburation of pig iron by atmospheric air, Sir Henry proceeds to say:

"I prepared to try another experiment, in a crucible having no hole the the bottom, but which was provided with an iron pipe put through a hole in the cover, and passing down nearly to the bottom of the crucible. The small lumps and grains of iron were packed around fit, so as nearly to fill the crucible. A blast of air was to be forced down the pipe so as to rise up among the pieces of granular iron and partially decarburise them. The pipe could then be withdrawn, and the fire urged until the metal with its coat of oxyde was fused, and cast steel thereby produced.

"While the blowing apparatus for this experiment was being fitted up, I was taken with one of those short but painful illnesses to which I was subject at that time. I was confined to my bed, and it was then that my mind, dwelling for hours together on the experiment about to be made, suggested that instead of trying to decarburise the granulated metal by forcing the air down the vertical pipe among the pieces of iron, the air would act much more energetically and more rapidly if I first melted the iron in the crucible, and forced the air down the pipe below the surface of the fluid metal, and thus burn out the carbon and silicum which it contained.

"This appeared so feasible, and in every way so great an improvement, that the experiment on the granular pieces was at once abandoned, and, as soon as I was well enough, I proceeded to try the experiment of forcing the air under the fluid metal. The result was marvellous. Complete decarburation was effected in half an hour. The heat produced was immense, but, unfortunately more than half the metal was blown out of the pot. This led to the use of pots with large hollow perforated covers, which effectually prevented the loss of metal. These experiments continued from January to October 1855. I have by me on the mantelpiece at this moment, a small piece of rolled bar iron which was rolled at Woolwich arsenal, and exhibited a year later at Cheltenham.

"I then applied for a patent, but before preparing my provisional specification (dated October 17, 1855), I searched for other patents to ascertain whether anything of the sort had been done before. I then found your patent for puddling with the steam rabble, and also Martin's patent for the use of steam in gutters while molten iron was being conveyed from the blast furnace to a finery, there to be refined in the ordinary way prior to puddling.

"I then tried steam in my cast steel process, alone, and also mixed with air. I found that it cooled the metal very much, and of itself could not be used, as it always produced solidification. I was nevertheless advised to claim the use of steam as well as air in my particular process (lest it might be used against me), at the same time disclaiming its employment for any purpose except in the production of fluid malleable iron or steel. And I have no doubt it is to this fact that I referred when speaking to you on the occasion you mention. I have deemed it best that the exact truth—so far as a short history can give it—should be given at once to you, who are so true and candid. Had it not been for you and Martin I should probably never have proposed the use of steam in my process, but the use of air came by degrees, just in the way I have described."

It was thoroughly consistent with Mr. Bessemer's kindly feelings towards me, that, after our meeting at Cheltenham, he made me an offer of one-third share of the value of his patent. This would have been another fortune to me. But I had already made money enough. I was just then taking down my signboard and leaving business. I did not need to plunge into any such tempting enterprise, and I therefore thankfully declined the offer.

Many long years of pleasant toil and exertion had done their work. A full momentum of prosperity had been given to my engineering business at Patricroft. My share in the financial results accumulated with accelerated rapidity to an amount far beyond my most sanguine hopes. But finding, from long continued and incessant mental efforts, that my nervous system was beginning to become shaken, especially in regard to an affection of the eyes, which in some respects damaged my sight, I thought the time had arrived for me to retire from commercial life.

Some of my friends advised me to "slack off," and not to retire entirely from Bridgewater Foundry. But to do so was not in my nature. I could not be indifferent to any concern in which I was engaged. I must give my mind and heart to it as before. I could not give half to leisure, and half to business. I therefore concluded that a final decision was necessary. Fortunately I possessed an abundant and various stock of hobbies. I held all these in reserve to fall back upon. They would furnish me with an almost inexhaustible source of healthy employment. They might give me occupation for mind and body as long as I lived. I bethought me of the lines of Burns: "Wi' steady aim some Fortune chase; Keen hope does ev'ry sinew brace; Thro' fair, thro' foul, they urge the race, And seize the prey: Then cannie, in some cosy place, They close the day."

It was no doubt a great sorrow for me and my dear wife to leave the Home in which we had been so happy and prosperous for so many years. It was a cosy little cottage at Patricroft. We had named it "Fireside." It was small, but suitable for our requirements. We never needed to enlarge it, for we had no children to accommodate. It was within five minutes' walk of the Foundry, and I was scarcely ever out of reach of the Fireside, where we were both so happy. It had been sanctified by our united love for thirteen years. It was surrounded by a nice garden, planted with trees and shrubs. Though close to the Bridgewater Canal, and a busy manufacturing population was not far off, the cottage was perfectly quiet. It was in this garden, when I was arranging the telescope at night, that I had been detected by the passing boatman as "The Patricroft Ghost"

When we were about to leave Patricroft, the Countess of Ellesmere, who, as well as the Earl, had always been our attached friends, wrote to my wife as follows: "I can well understand Mr. Nasmyth's satisfaction at the emancipation he looks forward to in December next. But I hope you do not expect us to share it! for what is so much natural pleasure to you is a sad loss and privation to us. I really don't know how we shall get on at Worsley without you. You have nevertheless my most sincere and hearty good wishes that the change may be as grateful to you both as anything in this world can be."

Yet we had to tear ourselves away from this abode of peace and happiness. I had given notice to my partner* [footnote... The "Partner" here referred to, was my excellent friend Henry Garnett, Esq., of Wyre Side, near Lancaster. He had been my sleeping partner or "Co." for nearly twenty years, and the most perfect harmony always existed between us. ...] that it was my intention to retire from business at the end of 1856. The necessary arrangements were accordingly made for carrying on the business after my retirement. All was pleasantly and satisfactorily settled several months before I finally left; and the character and prosperity of the Bridgewater Foundry have been continued to the present day.

But where was I to turn to for a settled home? Many years before I had seen a charming picture by my brother Patrick of "A Cottage in Kent" It took such a hold of my memory and imagination that I never ceased to entertain the longing and ambition to possess such a cottage as a cosy place of refuge for the rest of my life. Accordingly, about six months before my final retirement, I accompanied my wife in a visit to the south. In the first place we made a careful selection from the advertisements in the Times of "desirable residences" in Kent. One in particular appeared very tempting. We set out to view it. It seemed to embody all the conditions that we had pictured in our imagination as necessary to fulfil the idea of our "Cottage in Kent." It had been the property of F. R. Lee, the Royal Academician. With a few alterations and additions it would entirely answer our purpose. So we bought the property.

I may mention that when I retired from business, and took out of it the fortune that had accumulated during my twenty-two years of assiduous attention and labour, I invested the bulk of it in Three per cent Consols. The rate of interest was not high, but it was nevertheless secure. High interest, as every one knows, means riskful security. I desired to have no anxiety about the source of my income, such as might hinder my enjoying the rest of my days in the active leisure which I desired. I had for some time before my retirement been investing in consols, which my dear wife termed "the true antibilious stock," and I have ever since had good reason to be satisfied with that safe and tranquillising investment. All who value the health-conserving influence of the absence of financial worry will agree with me that this antibilious stock is about the best.

The "Cottage in Kent" was beautiful, especially in its rural surroundings. The view from it was charming, and embodied all the attractive elements of happy-looking English scenery. The noble old forest trees of Penshurst Park were close alongside, and the grand old historic mansion of Penshurst Place was within a quarter of a mile's distance from our house. There were many other beautiful parks and country residences in our neighbourhood; the railway station, which was within thirty-five minutes' pleasant walk, enabling us to be within reach of London, with its innumerable attractions, in little more than an hour and a quarter. Six acres of garden-ground at first surrounded our cottage, but these were afterwards expanded to sixteen; and the whole was made beautiful by the planting of trees and shrubs over the grounds. In all this my wife and myself took the greatest delight.

[Image] Hammerfield, Penshurst.

From my hereditary regard for hammers—two broken hammer-shafts being the crest of our family for hundreds of years—I named the place Hammerfield; and so it remains to this day. The improvements and additions to the house and the grounds were considerable. A greenhouse was built, 120 feet long by 32 feet wide. Roomy apartments were added to the house. The trees and shrubs planted about the grounds were carefully selected. The coniferae class were my special favourites. I arranged them so that their natural variety of tints should form the most pleasing contrasts. In this respect I introduced the beech-tree with the happiest effect. It is bright green in spring, and in the autumn it retains its beautiful ruddy-tinted leaves until the end of winter, when they are again replaced by the new growth.

The warm tint of the beech contrasts beautifully with the bright green of the coniferae, especially of the Lawsoniania and the Douglassi— the latter being one of the finest accessions to our list of conifers. It is graceful in form, and perfectly hardy. I also interspersed with these several birch-trees, whose slender and graceful habit of growth forms so fine a contrast to the dense foliage of the conifers. To thus paint, as it were, with trees, is a high source of pleasure in gardening. Among my various enjoyments this has been about the greatest.

During the time that the alterations and enlargements were in progress we rented a house for six months at Sydenham, close to the beautiful grounds of the Crystal Palace. This was a most happy episode in our lives, for, besides the great attractions of the place, both inside and out, there were the admirable orchestral daily concerts, at which we were constant attendants. We had the pleasure of listening to the noble compositions of the great masters of music, the perfectly trained band being led by Herr Manns, who throws so much of his fine natural taste and enthusiastic spirit into the productions as to give them every possible charm.

From a very early period of my life I have derived the highest enjoyment from listening to music, especially to melody, which is to me the most pleasing form of composition. When I have the opportunity of listening to such kind of music, it yields me enjoyment that transcends all others. It suggests ideas, and brings vividly before the mind's eye scenes that move the imagination. This is, to me, the highest order of excellence in musical composition. I used long ago, and still continue, to whistle a bit, especially when engaged in some pleasant occupation. I can draw from my mental repository a vast number of airs and certain bits of compositions that I had once heard. I possess that important qualification for a musician—"a good ear;" and I always worked most successfully at a mechanical drawing when I was engaged in whistling some favourite air. The dual occupation of the brain had always the best results in the quick development of the constructive faculty. And even in circumstances where whistling is not allowed I can think airs, and enjoy them almost as much as when they are distinctly audible. This power of the brain, I am fain to believe, indicates the natural existence of the true musical faculty. But I had been so busy during the course of my life that I had never any opportunity of learning the practical use of any musical instrument. And here I must leave this interesting subject.

So soon as I was in due possession of my house, I had speedily transported thither all my art treasures—my telescopes, my home stock of tools, the instruments of my own construction, made from the very beginning of my career as a mechanic, and associated with the most interesting and active parts of my life. I lovingly treasured them, and gave them an honoured place in the workshop which I added to my residence. There they are now, and I often spend a busy and delightful hour in handling my tools. It is curious how the mere sight of such objects brings back to the memory bygone incidents and recollections. Friends long dead seem to start up while looking at them. You almost feel as if you could converse with the departed. I do not know of anything so touchingly powerful in vividly bringing back the treasured incidents and memories of one's life as the sight of such humble objects. Every one has, no doubt, a treasured store of such material records of a well-remembered portion of his past life. These strike, as it were, the keynote to thoughts that bring back in vivid form the most cherished remembrances of our lives. On many occasions I have seen at sale rooms long treasured hoards of such objects thrown together in a heap as mere rubbish. And yet these had been to some the sources of many pleasant thoughts and recollections, But the last final break-up has come, and the personal belongings of some departed kind heart are scattered far and wide. These touching relics of a long life, which had almost become part of himself, are "knocked down" to the lowest class of bidders. It is a sad sight to witness the uncared for dispersion of such objects—objects that had been lovingly stored up as the most valued of personal treasures. I could have wished that, as was the practice in remote antiquity, such touching relics were buried with the dead, as their most fitting repository. Then they might have left some record, instead of being desecrated by the harpies who wait at sales for such "job lots."

Behold us, then, settled down at Hammerfield for life. We had plenty to do. My workshop was fully equipped. My hobbies were there, and I could work them to my heart's content. The walls of our various rooms were soon hung with pictures, and other works of art, suggestive of many pleasant associations of former days. Our library book-case was crowded with old friends, in the shape of books that had been read and re-read many times, until they had become almost part of ourselves. Old Lancashire friends made their way to us when "up in town," and expressed themselves delighted with our pleasant house and its beautiful surroundings.

The continuous planting of the shrubs and trees gave us great pleasure. Those already planted had grown luxuriantly, fed by the fertile soil and the pure air. Indeed, in course of time they required the judicious use of the axe in order to allow the fittest to survive and grow at their own free will. Trees contrive to manage their own affairs without the necessity of much labour or interference. The "survival of the fittest" prevails here as elsewhere. It is always a pleasure to watch them. There are many ordinary old-fashioned roadside flowering plants which I esteem for their vigorous beauty, and I enjoy seeing them assume the careless grace of Nature.

The greenhouse is also a source of pleasure, especially to my dear wife. It is full of flowers of all kinds, of which she is devotedly fond. They supply her with subjects for her brush or her needle. She both paints them and works them by her needle in beautiful forms and groups. This is one of her many favourite hobbies. All this is suitable to our fireside employments, and makes the days and the evenings pass pleasantly away.

CHAPTER 21. Active leisure.

When James Watt retired from business towards the close of his useful and admirable life, he spoke to his friends of occupying himself with "ingenious trifles," and of turning "some of his idle thoughts" upon the invention of an arithmetical machine and a machine for copying sculpture. These and other useful works occupied his attention for many years.

It was the same with myself. I had good health (which Watt had not) and abundant energy. When I retired from business I was only forty-eight years old, which may be considered the prime of life. But I had plenty of hobbies, perhaps the chief of which was Astronomy. No sooner had I settled at Hammerfield than I had my telescopes brought out and mounted. The fine clear skies with which we were favoured, furnished me with abundant opportunities for the use of my instruments. I began again my investigations on the Sun and the Moon, and made some original discoveries, of which more anon.

Early in the year 1858 I received a pressing invitation from the Council of the Edinburgh Philosophical Society to give a lecture before their members on the Structure of the Lunar Surface. As the subject was a favourite one with me, and as I had continued my investigations and increased my store of drawings since I had last appeared before an Edinburgh audience, I cheerfully complied with their request. I accordingly gave my lecture before a crowded meeting in the Queen Street Lecture Hall.

The audience appeared to be so earnestly interested by the subject that I offered to appear before them on two successive evenings and give any viva voce explanations about the drawings which those present might desire. This deviation from the formality of a regular lecture was attended with the happiest results. Edinburgh always supplies a highly-intelligent audience, and the cleverest and brightest were ready with their questions. I was thus enabled to elucidate the lecture and to expand many of the most interesting points connected with the moon's surface, such as might formerly have appeared obscure. These questioning lectures gave the highest satisfaction. They satisfied myself as well as the audience, who went away filled with the most graphic information I could give them on the subject.

But not the least interesting part of my visit to Edinburgh on this occasion was the renewed intercourse which I enjoyed with many of my old friends. Among these were my venerable friend Professor Pillans, Charles Maclaren (editor of the Scotsman), and Robert Chambers. We had a long dander together through the Old Town, our talk being in broad Scotch. Pillans was one of the fine old Edinburgh Liberals, who stuck to his principles through good report and through evil. In his position as Rector of the High School, he had given rare evidence of his excellence as a classical scholar. He was afterwards promoted to be a Professor in the University. He had as his pupils some of the most excellent men of my time. Amongst his intimate friends were Sydney Smith, Brougham, Jeffrey, Cockburn—men who gave so special a character to the Edinburgh society of that time.

We had a delightful stroll through some of the most remarkable parts of the Old Town, with Robert Chambers as our guide. We next mounted Arthur's Seat to observe some of the manifestations of volcanic action, which had given such a remarkable structure to the mountain. On this subject, Charles Maclaren was one of the best living expounders. He was an admirable geologist, and had closely observed the features of volcanic action round his native city. Robert Chambers then took us to see the glacial grooved rocks on another part of the mountain. On this subject he was a master. It was a vast treat to me to see those distinct evidences of actions so remotely separated in point of geological time—in respect to which even a million of years is a humble approximate unit* [footnote... "It is to our ever-dropping climate, with its hundred and fifty-two days of annual rain, that we owe our vegetable mould with its rich and beauteous mantle of sward and foliage. And next, stripping from off the landscape its sands and gravels, we see its underlying boulder-clays, dingy and gray, and here presenting their vast ice-borne stones, and there its iceberg pavements. And these clays in turn stripped away, the bare rocks appear, various in colour and uneven in surface, but everywhere grooved and polished, from the sea level and beneath it, to the height of more than a thousand feet, by evidently the same agent that careered along the pavements and transported the great stones.

HUGH MILLER'S Geological Features of Edinburgh and its Neighbourhood. ...]

What a fine subject for a picture the group would have made! with the great volcanic summit of the mountain behind, the noble romantic city in the near distance, and the animated intelligent countenaces of the demonstrators, with the venerable Pillans eagerly listening—for the Professor was then in his eighty-eighth year. I had the happiness of receiving a visit from him at Hammerfield in the following year. He was still hale and active; and although I was comparatively a boy to him, he was as bright and clear-headed as he had been forty years before.

In the course of the same year I accompanied my wife and my sister Charlotte on a visit to the Continent. It was their first sojourn in foreign parts. I was able, in some respects, to act as their guide. Our visit to Paris was most agreeable. During the three weeks we were there, we visited the Louvre, the Luxembourg, Versailles, and the parts round about. We made many visits to the Hotel Cluny, and inspected its most interesting contents, as well as the Roman baths and that part of the building devoted to Roman antiquities. We were especially delighted with the apartments of the Archbishop of Paris, now hung with fine old tapestry and provided with authentic specimens of mediaeval furniture. The quaint old cabinets were beautiful studies; and many artists were at work painting them in oil. Everything was in harmony. When the sun shone in through the windows in long beams of coloured light, illuminating portions of the antique furniture, the pictures were perfect. We were much interested also by the chapel in which Mary Queen of Scots was married to the Dauphin. It is still in complete preservation. The Gothic details of the chapel are quite a study; and the whole of these and the contents of this interesting Museum form a school of art of the best kind.

From Paris we paid a visit to Chartres, which contains one of the most magnificent cathedrals in France. Its dimensions are vast, its proportions are elegant, and its painted glass is unequalled. Nothing can be more beautiful than its three rose-windows. But I am not writing a guide-book, and I must forbear. After a few days more at Paris we proceeded south, and visited Lyons, Avignon, and Nismes, on our way to Marseilles. I have already described Nismes in my previous visit to France. I revisited the Roman amphitheatre, the Maison Quarree, that perfect Roman temple, which, standing as it does in an open square, is seen to full advantage. We also went to see the magnificent Roman aqueduct at Pont du Gard. The sight of the noble structure well repays a visit. It consists of three tiers of arches. Its magnitude, the skilful fitting of its enormous blocks, makes a powerful impression on the mind. It has stood there, in that solitary wooded valley, for upwards of sixteen centuries; and it is still as well fitted for conveying its aqueduct of water as ever. I have seen nothing to compare with it, even at Rome. It throws all our architectural buildings into the shade. On our way back from Marseilles to Paris we visited Grenoble and its surrounding beautiful Alpine scenery. Then to Chambery, and afterwards to Chamounix, where we obtained a splendid view of Mont Blanc. We returned home by way of Geneva and Paris, vastly delighted with our most enjoyable journey.

I return to another of my hobbies. I had an earnest desire to acquire the art and mystery of practical photography. I bought the necessary apparatus, together with the chemicals; and before long I became an expert in the use of the positive and negative collodion process, including the printing from negatives, in all the details of that wonderful and delightful art. To any one who has some artistic taste, photography, both in its interesting processes and glorious results, becomes a most attractive and almost engrossing pursuit. It is a delightful means of educating the eye for artistic feeling, as well as of educating the hands in delicate manipulation. I know of nothing equal to photography as a means of advancing one's knowledge in these respects. I had long meditated a work "On the Moon," and it was for this purpose more especially that I was earnest in endeavouring to acquire the necessary practical skill. I was soon enabled to obtain photographic copies of the elaborate models of parts of the moon's, surface, which I had long before prepared. These copies were hailed by the highest authorities in this special department of astronomical research as the best examples of the moon's surface which had yet been produced.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10     Next Part
Home - Random Browse