Mechanical Beginnings


Study arithmetic and geometry ,
Practise art of drawing ,
Its important uses ,
Make tools and blowpipe ,
Walks round Edinburgh ,
Volcanic origin of the neighbourhood ,
George the Fourth's vist ,
The Radical Road ,
Destructive fires ,
Journey to Stirling ,
The Devon Ironworks ,
Robert Bald ,
Carron Ironworks ,
Coats of mail found at Bannockburn ,
Models of condensing steam-engine ,
Professor Leslie ,
Edinburgh School of Arts ,
Attend University classes ,
Brass-casting in the bedroom ,
George Douglass ,
Make a working steam-engine ,
Sympathy of activity ,
The Expansometer ,
Make a road steam-carriage ,
Desire to enter Maudslay's factory

I LEFT the High School at the end of 1820. I carried with me a small amount of Latin, and no Greek. I do not think I was much the better for my small acquaintance with the dead languages. I wanted something more living and quickening. I continued my studies at private classes. Arithmetic and geometry were my favourite branches.The three first books of Euclid were to me a new intellectual life. They brought out my power of reasoning. They trained me mentally. They enabled me to arrive at correct conclusions, and to acquire a knowledge of absolute truths. It is because of this that I have ever since held the beautifully perfect method of reasoning, as exhibited in the exact method of arriving at Q.E.D., to be one of the most satisfactory efforts and exercises of the human intellect.

Besides visiting and taking part in the works at Patterson's foundry, and joining in the chemical experiments at Smith's laboratory, my father gave me every opportunity for practising the art of drawing. He taught me to sketch with exactness every object, whether natural or artificial, so as to enable the hand to accurately reproduce what the eye had seen. In order to acquire this almost invaluable art, which can serve so many valuable purposes in life, he was careful to educate my eye, so that I might perceive the relative proportions of the objects placed before me. He would throw down at random a number of bricks, or pieces of wood representing them, and set me to copy their forms, their proportions, their lights and shadows respectively.

I have often heard him say that any one who could make a correct drawing in regard to outline, and also indicate by a few effective touches the variation of lights and shadows of such a group of model object's, might not despair of making a good and correct sketch of the exterior of York Minster!

My father was an enthusiast in praise of this graphic language, and I have followed his example. In fact, it formed a principal part of my own education. It gave me the power of recording observations with a few graphic strokes of the pencil, which far surpassed in expression any number of mere words. This graphic eloquence is one of the highest gifts in conveying clear and correct ideas as to the forms of objects -- whether they be those of a simple and familiar kind, or of some form of mechanical construction, or of the details of fine building, or the characteristic features of a wide-stretching landscape. This accomplishment of accurate drawing, which I achieved for the most part in my father's work-room, served me many a good turn in future years with reference to the engineering work which became the business of my life.

I was constantly busy. Mind, hands, and body were kept in a state of delightful and instructive activity. When not drawing, I occupied myself in my father's workshop at the lathe, the furnace, or the bench. I gradually became initiated into every variety of mechanical and chemical manipulation. I made my own tools and constructed my chemical apparatus, as far as lay in my power. With respect to the latter, I constructed a very handy and effective blowpipe apparatus, consisting of a small air force-pump, connected with a cylindrical vessel of tin plate. By means of an occasional use of the handy pump, it yielded such a fine steady blowpipe blast, as enabled me to bend glass tubes and blow bulbs for thermometers, to analyse metals or mineral substances, or to do any other work for which intense heat was necessary. My natural aptitude for manipulation, whether in mechanical or chemical operations, proved very serviceable to myself as well as to others; and (as will be shown hereafter) it gained for me the friendship of many distinguished scientific men.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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