James Watt (1736-1819)

History of the origin of Mr Watt's improvements on the steam-engine.





ART. I.—History of the Origin of Mr Watt’s Improvements on
the Steam-Engine.
Contained in a letter from the late JAMES
WATT, Esq. LL. D. F. R. S. Lond. and Edin. Member of the
National Institute of France, and of the Batavian Society of
Rotterdam, to David Brewster, LL. D. F. R. S. &c.*

AT your request, I have carefully perused my late excellent
friend Dr Robison’s articles “Steam” and “Steam-Engines,”
in the Encyclopædia Britannica, and have made remarks upon
them in such places where, either from the want of proper infor-
mation, or from too great a reliance on the powers of his extra-
ordinary memory, at a period when it probably had been weak-
ened by a long state of acute pain, and by the remedies to which
he was obliged to have recourse, he had been led into mistakes
in regard to facts, and also in some places where his deductions
have appeared to me to be erroneous.

There had been but very little interchange of letters between
us for some years previous to his writing those articles, and our
opportunities of meeting had been rare, and of short duration,
and not occupied by philosophical discussions. Had I been ap-


* This letter, which has not yet been published, was written under circum-
stances which will be stated in a subsequent memoir of the life of Mr Watt, and it
cannot fail to be regarded as an interesting document in the history of his brilliant
inventions. It was composed as an introduction to the account of the Steam En-
gine, which forms part of Dr Robison’s System of Mechanical Philosophy, now in
the press; and as it will he necessary to refer to it from our Account of Mr Watt’s
Life, we have gratified our readers with the entire letter, by the permission of his
son, the present James Watt, Esq. of Heathfield, and of Dr Brewster, to whom it
was addressed.—ED.
VOL. II. NO. 3. JANUARY 1820.