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The Progress of Mechanical Invention. Jan. • A survey might be made of the different branches of human knowledge; and what each presents as most remarkable in this ‘ respect might be brought to view. Chemistry has its philosopher's stone; medicine its universal panacea; mechanics its perpetual motion; politics, and particularly that part which regards finance, its method of liquidating, without funds and ' without injustice, national debts. Under each head of error, 'the insuperable obstacles presented by the nature of things to 'the success of any such scheme, and the illusions, which may ' operate upon the human mind to hide the obstacles, or to ' nourish the expectation of seeing them surmounted, might be ‘pointed out. Above all, dishonest projectors, impostors of every kind, ought to be depicted: the qualities of mind and character, which they possess in common, should be described. • But throughout the whole work, that tone of malignity ' which seems to triumph in the disgraces of genius, and which ' seeks to envelope wise, useful, and successful projects in the
contempt and ridicule with which useless and rash projects are * justly covered, should be guarded against. Such is the cha
racter, for example, of the works of the splenetic Swift. • Under the pretence of ridiculing projectors, he seeks to deliver up to the contempt of the ignorant, the sciences themselves. They were hateful in his eyes on two accounts: the one, because he was unacquainted with them; the other, because they were the work, and the glorious work, of that race which • he hated ever since he had lost the hope of governing part of it.'
Abstract science, until within a comparatively recent period, was the almost exclusive occupation of all men claiming to rank among the sect of the philosophers.' With the brilliant personal exception of Watt, they appeår to have considered it beneath their dignity to carry out their learned theories into any practical or profitable employment. Great mechanical ingenuity they no doubt displayed; but it was devoted to the construction of instruments adapted to scientific research, some of which, it is true, have since been found of utility to the general public. A few investigations were diligently prosecuted which promised to be of national benefit, such as those relating to the longitude, chronometers, and the lunar theory; but they were entertained rather as favourite scientific puzzles, inherited from past generations, than as problems whose solution would prove a vast commercial good. Davy's safety lamp was almost an exception, at the time it appeared: and people wondered to hear that Herschel had made anything in the vulgar way of money by his telescopes, or Wollaston by his platinum. Their
• bays are sere, their former laurels fade,' is the sentence pronounced by Byron upon the poets, — but it was recorded also at that period against all labourers in the field of intellect, who might descend to trade.' Byron can have little thought that it should appear in the posthumous edition of his works, that he lived to receive for copyright from Mr. Murray 23,5401.
The tendencies of the present age are, perhaps, too much the reverse of this; and have become too exclusively practical. In science, as in politics, it may be an empty pedantry to recur too constantly to first principles; but it is worse than pedantry to attempt to do without them. Yet this attempt is made every day by persons who will not undertake, or cannot appreciate, the incessant labour by which the pioneer of discovery must consolidate his progress. When men of science hardly dare to assert their comprehension of the elementary principles of some novel theory, the inventor rushes in with his prospectus and patent, to turn it to account. As a matter of
course, failure and loss are the result; and science itself will sometimes share the inevitable discredit, or the calm philosopher may be turned away from the investigation, which only he can follow duly, by the atmosphere of fallacy,--or, to use a plain word, humbug, that has been thrown around it. Before the very alphabet of the electro-magnetic action was accurately understood, contrivances were busily placarded whereby its agency was to supersede the steam engine. Whatever truth there may be in the facts of Phrenology or the theories of Mesmerism, has been fatally obscured through the eager determination of empirics to work “the idea’ profitably. Those who have been disgusted with the puff, or pillaged by the charlatan, are not unlikely to pass upon the whole subject a hasty sentence of transportation beyond the pale of philosophical inquiry.
The curiosities of the Patent Rolls' would furnish materials for a copious chapter in some work devoted to an exhibition of the eccentricities of intellect. Even the titles affixed as labels to a multitude of inventions suggest very curious reflections. In the list of patents registered during a few months of 1846 and 47, given in the works mentioned at the head of this article, we find, along with a numerous family of contrivances for personal and household uses, one for an · Anti-emergent Rat* trap;' others for improvements in bedsteads,'— in pianofortes, saddles, and penholders ; for a new fastening for shutters;' or securing corks in bottles; and for "certain improvements
in the manufacture of spoons.' Articles of dress supply their quota. We have improvements in sewing and stitching;' a new mode of applying springs to braces ;' improvements
in hats, caps, and bonnets;' an improved apparatus to be • attached to boots and shoes in order to protect the wearer ' from splashes of mud in walking;' and a long list of inventions connected with the application of gutta percha.
The military and naval professions appear rather out of fashion. Nevertheless an improvement is registered in the manufacture of bayonets;' and another for "warping and hauling vessels,' the inventor being designated Commander R.N. For the literary profession an improved ink has been invented by * M. "J. B. Reade, Clerk ;' and a Birmingham merchant registers some new and improved instruments or machines for effecting
or facilitating certain arithmetical computations or processes. The medical profession is enriched by 'a new apparatus for
the treatment of distortions of the spine;' improvements in 'artificial palates ;' in the manufacture of epithems; the
cutting of lozenges;' and 'a means or apparatus for admi• nistering certain matters to the lungs for medical or surgical
purposes ;' by which vague description it was intended to specify the instruments used in the inhalation of ether.
The arts follow naturally the professions; and we observe that the peculiar branch of art which owes so much to the genius of M. Soyer holds a deserved rank in the estimation of inventors. They have furnished us with improvements in the mode of * making comfits, of preserving fruit and vegetables, of '
' storing beer, ale, and porter:' with a new apparatus for • hatching eggs;' and a collapsible tube for sauces,' made by ‘placing a solid piece of tin upon a properly shaped matrix, • when a rod of steel being forcibly impressed thereon a thin tube * is formed. The sauces are enclosed in the tube and expelled
by squeezing, so there is no waste or leakage and no air admitted 'to corrupt the purity of goût.' This invention, however ridiculous it may sound, has been found useful in other arts besides cooking; and has been adopted as a reservoir of colours for painters, and generally when it is required that substances should be preserved in a moist state and secured from atmospheric influence.
Inventions of grander aim are of course almost innumerable. Some are vaguely described as ' new modes of obtaining motive * power;' others as rotary, locomotive, or marine engines. A large number refer to our staple manufactures; as, machines
for spinning and weaving, or for “preparing, slubbing, and roving cotton and other fibrous substances.' We find one invention for “aerial locomotion ;' and several for making roads and ways.'
For the agriculturist there are machines for 'cutting, slicing,
or otherwise dividing, hay, straw, or turnips ;' several improvements in 'tilling land;' and one of very comprehensive character, for certain carbonic compounds, formed of earth, * vegetable, animal, and mineral rubbish, fecal substances, and waste of manufactories, and certain acids and alkalies, which compounds are applicable as manures.'
A few inventions are of American origin, and sufficiently characteristic. One is for improvements in finishing raw hide whips; one or two more for the manufacture of cigars; but the most curious of all is described as the ' Patent Enunciator;
being a substitute for the usual suit of bells in hotels.' It consists of a highly ornamental roséwood frame, on which two hundred numbers are conspicuously arranged, each ordinarily marked by a sector card delicately hung on a pivot connected with the machinery. When any one of the two hundred pulls is started, a hammer strikes on a delicately toned bell, -and the figures of the corresponding number are unmasked, the vibration of the card continuing for some seconds to indicate the numbers last brought into view. The inventor, a Mr. Johnson of New York, was stated to have on hand more orders than he could supply.
It is a theory rather in favour with inventors, that many of the most brilliant discoveries have been made by accident; and indeed the examples are sufficiently well known, of apparently fortuitous occurrences giving birth to very wonderful realities. But if we could inquire more accurately, we should probably learn that the lucky accident had but set in motion à certain train of thought in an already prepared mind; while by far the majority of cases exhibit to us the new discovery elaborated by reiterated trials and improvements from its rude original. Á word dropped in casual conversation suggested an idea to the mind of a clergyman (Cartwright) of practical and benevolent tendencies; which, under the influence of contradiction, became hot and strong enough to absorb all his energies for the production of a power loom. On the other hand, we hear of a practical manufacturer (Radcliffe) becoming convinced that it was possible and desirable to effect a certain operation by machinery instead of manual labour ; and shutting himself up with workmen and tools for many months, until he emerged from his seclusion with a warp dressing machine, to testify to the success of their prolonged exertions.
Even the simplest looking contrivances require knowledge, especially mathematical knowledge, of no ordinary degree at every step. The mere calculation, for example, of the best form to be given to the teeth of wheels, which are intended to transmit motion reciprocally, requires a process of analysis beyond the competence of ninety-nine in the hundred even of educated men. In more primitive stages of the mechanical arts great nicety was not required. The cogs were then rudely notched in the peripheries of the wooden wheels by the saw or chisel. But now that more perfect workmanship is necessary, the mechanist must form the surfaces of the teeth into such a curve, that they shall roll instead of rubbing on one another, as they successively come in contact, and the friction and wear of material be thus reduced to a minimum. It is true that many of these calculations are already prepared and published in tabulated forms, and therefore the inventor is not called upon to calculate them for himself. But few can hope to become successful improvers, who are not at least competent to understand their nature, and able to determine the particular points of every new contrivance where such considerations become important.
But we fear that what is called the Inventive Faculty is a quality far more cheap and abundant, than the patience that can trace, or the understanding that can comprehend the delicate theorems which ought to guide the inventor, and can alone shield him from failure. Ambition too perpetually misleads him, and beguiles him into attempting the grandestachievements of science, with insufficient means and imperfect knowledge. Artists who could command a decent livelihood as sign painters, still heroically starve amid their unsaleable canvass daubed with pictures of the Historic order! Johnson has immortalised the folly of a man who announced himself to the occupants of an inn parlour, as the Great Twalmley, inventor of the new Floodgate Iron. But so innocent a vanity hardly deserved to be treated with so much contempt. Mr. Twalmley had, at all events, obtained success and fortune, to justify his self-conceit. Ridicule would far more justly be bestowed upon those half-informed mechanicians, who aspire to change the whole aspect of our national industry or our system of warfare, by the application of abilities which, at best, might be usefully devoted to domestic purposes, or the invention of instruments ranking with the Floodgate Iron.
Were it not that no exercise of tyranny would be more fiercely resented than any attempt to interfere with the true born Englishman's privilege to throw away his time and money at his own pleasure, we could suggest the appointment of certain boards of examiners, whose approval should be first secured before any invention, purporting to be novel, could be admitted to the expensive honours of a patent. We well know, however, how distasteful the suggestion would prove, and how jealously an