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The Steam Engine Explained and Illustrated With an Account of its Invention and Progressive Improvement and its Application to Navigation and Railways; Including also a Memoir of Watt

323 pages
Library of Alexandria
That the history of the invention of a piece of mechanism, and the description of its structure, operation, and uses, should be capable of being rendered the subject matter of a volume, destined not alone for the instruction of engineers or machinists, but for the information and amusement of the public in general, is a statement which at no very remote period would have been deemed extravagant and incredible. Advanced as we are in the art of rendering knowledge popular, and cultivated as the public taste is in the appreciation of the expedients by which science ministers to the uses of life, there is still perhaps but one machine of which such a proposition can be truly predicated: it is needless to say that that machine is the STEAM ENGINE. There are many circumstances attending this extraordinary piece of mechanism which impart to it an interest so universally felt. Whether we regard the details of its structure and operation, the physical principles which it calls into play, and the beautiful contrivances by which these physical principles are rendered available;—or, passing over these means, we direct our attention to the ends which they attain, we are equally filled with astonishment and admiration. The history of the steam engine offers to our notice a series of contrivances which, for exquisite and refined ingenuity, stand without any parallel in the annals of mechanical science. These admirable inventions, unlike other results of scientific inquiry, have also this peculiarity, that, to understand their excellence and to perceive their beauty, no previous or subsidiary knowledge is necessary, save what may be imparted with facility and clearness in the progress of the explanation and development of the machine itself. A simple and clear exposition, divested of needless technicalities and aided by well-selected diagrams, is all that is necessary to render the construction and operation of the steam engine, in all its forms, intelligible to persons of plain understanding and moderate information. But if the contrivances by which this vast power is brought to bear on the arts and manufactures, be rendered attractive by their great mechanical beauty, how much more imposing will the subject become when the effects which the steam engine has produced upon the well-being of the human race are considered. It has penetrated the crust of the earth, and drawn from beneath it boundless treasures of mineral wealth, which, without its aid, would have been rendered inaccessible; it has drawn up, in measureless quantity, the fuel on which its own life and activity depend; it has relieved men from their most slavish toils, and reduced labour in a great degree to light and easy superintendence. To enumerate its present effects, would be to count almost every comfort and every luxury of life. It has increased the sum of human happiness, not only by calling new pleasures into existence, but by so cheapening former enjoyments as to render them attainable by those who before could never have hoped to share them: the surface of the land, and the face of the waters, are traversed with equal facility by its power; and by thus stimulating and facilitating the intercourse of nation with nation, and the commerce of people with people, it has knit together remote countries by bonds of amity not likely to be broken. Streams of knowledge and information are kept flowing between distant centres of population, those more advanced diffusing civilisation and improvement among those that are more backward. The press itself, to which mankind owes in so large a degree the rapidity of their improvement in modern times, has had its power and influence increased in a manifold ratio by its union with the steam engine.