Please answer these questions in paragraph form using my included article, and outside sources. Please paraphrase instead of quotation marks. Please make it about 800 words long.
a) Describe Newtonian mechanical culture and the role of Newtonian explicators.
b) How did Newtonianism couple British entrepreneurs and engineers and facilitate more
innovations in different technologies?
c) describe the connection between Newtonianism and the Industrial Revolution
Required Reading: Week 10
From: Newton and the Culture of Newtonianism, by Betty Jo Teeter Dobbs and Margaret C. Jacobs,
Humanities Press, New York, 1995.
Overture Sometimes a single-life or lives within a single-family manage to embody the major
themes of a book. Such is the case with the Watts—uncles, fathers, wives, sons, spanning three generations in Scotland and then England from roughly 1700 to 1800. All were interested in science; all turned to independent, entrepreneurial business and then to mechanized industry. James Watt (1736-1819) became world-famous because he modified and improved the simpler steam engines of the eighteenth century and made them into the most advanced technology of the age. With his modifications patented in 1775, the engines provided unprecedented power from water and coal, replacing men and horses. They could drain deep mines and fill tidal harbors. Fitted with a patented rotary device, they ran the new cotton factories, potteries, and breweries. The steam engine became both symbol and reality of industrial changes that by the 1780s in textiles such as cotton were beginning to be seen as revolutionary.
Before James Watt became world-famous he was the son of a little-known Scottish merchant, James Watt of Greenock (1698-1782), and nephew to two uncles, John and Thomas. All were in one way or another mathematical practitioners and knowledgeable about instruments and machines. One uncle, John Watt of Crawfordsdyke (1687-1737), short-lived and struggling, left the outlines of a life that, along with what is known about his more famous relatives, enliven any history book. In his hand-written notebooks, inherited from someone of the previous generation and shared with his brother, Thomas, John Watt recorded the intellectual and conceptual tools he learned from the new scientists, from Copernicus right through to his brilliant contemporary, Isaac Newton (d. 1727). Watt also inscribed his debt to the intellectual ferment associated with the English Revolution and with reforming Puritanism as it made its way after 1660 into Dissent. The Watts were all Calvinists of sorts; in Scotland and England that generally meant being a Presbyterian.
The intellectual roots of the Industrial Revolution arc rudimentarily there in the jottings of John Watt, obscure artisan, self-made teacher, small-time entrepreneur. We would probably never have known about him had not his nephew, James Watt, become famous and been a compulsive saver of letters, indeed of every scrap of paper. In Britain by 1720, as we shall see in subsequent chapters, there were many artisans turned educators like John and Thomas Watt. All were obscure and made their living from applied science and mathematics. They did not have an easy time of it.
John Watt’s surviving business cards are dated both 1730 and 1732 and contain a short self-portrait: “a young man comes to the Cost-side that professeth to teach … Mathematics … square and cube roots, trigonometry, navigation, sailing by the arch of a great circle, doctrine of spherical triangles with the use of both globes, astronomy, dyaling, gauging of beer and wine, surveying of land, making of globes, and these things he teacheth either arithmetically, geometrically or instrumentally.” For the date it was written the English used is old-fashioned, betraying the Scottish roots of John Watt. But his artisanal learning is prodigious and lies are used to explain things by instruments for those who possess little mathematics. Like his brother, the shipping merchant in Greenock, John Watt made a business from both land and sea, and like his brother, his handwriting suggests a man who is literate, but just. Making a living as a scientific lecturer was harder in 1730 than it would be in 1780, when so many more men and women saw the value of such learning. By then, however, a kit of scientific instruments would cost about 300 pounds, a sum that John Watt probably did not see in an entire year of work. Before his death a few years after he printed his business cards, John Watt got into financial trouble. We do not know why. His nephew, James Watt of engine fume probably inherited his books and used the mathematical
exercises and mechanical lessons when he too learned surveying and the making of globes and quadrants.
The just-literate uncle was learned in higher scientific culture but in his way. Aside from being literate—only slightly more than half of all Scottish men and even fewer women were at the time—lie had an acquaintance with the teachings of Kepler, Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Newton, and the mechanical philosophers. “Kepler observes that ye pulse of a strong healthful man beats about 4000 strokes in an hour. 67 times in a minute,” Watt taught, and knowing how to count a pulse beat, a navigator at sea without a clock could roughly estimate time. One manuscript exercise book that John Watt owned started up in the 1680s; it too was probably inherited from a relative of the previous generation. It gave the phases of the moon supposedly from William the Conqueror right into the reign of Charles II (d. 1685) “whom God grant long to reign over us.” Then came another page with the dates of full moons from 1687 to 1690. This book had been started sometime after the English Revolution, during the Restoration of the established church and king (1660-1685).
To show the position of earth, moon, and sun, the maker of the Watt book gave both the Copernican and the Tychonic systems. Living after 1660 he was savvy enough to know that the geocentric model of Ptolemy was, as Descartes put it in the 1640s, “now commonly rejected by all philosophers.” While natural philosophers in the Royal Society at this time were sure enough about the Copernican system of the sun in the center of the universe, there was still some doubt among everyday scientific practitioners. So this fellow hedged his bets and learned Tycho’s system, which still put the earth in the center with elliptically orbiting planets around the sun. He also understood the completely heliocentric system of Copernicus with earth and planets revolving around the sun. For the purposes of navigation, either would do. Indeed what interests us is how this teacher of seamen and navigators was up on the latest theories about the structure of the heavens. By the 1680s the Ptolemaic system, with the earth in the center and perfect circular orbits made by planets and sun around it, was simply no longer believed. The Watt brothers were better at science than they were at history. Their knowledge of Copernicus was sketchy, perhaps recorded from memory: “Copernicus a famous astronomer of Germany, who lived in the year 1500….” Actually, he was a Pole who published his famous work in 1543. But no mind, the details of Copernicus’s “system” were accurate enough in John Watt’s handbook of applied science.
The new mechanics that evolved in the seventeenth century along with the new astronomy was synthesized into English-language textbooks written generally after 1700 by the followers of Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. This new science, as we have seen, presumed on seeing the world, everything from air to water and earth, as composed of particles possessed of weight and measurement. In addition rational mechanics as it was developing did not abandon the traditional function of the discipline; it too organized local motions and made them more usable with the assistance of levers, weights, pulleys, and rotary motion.
Somehow John Watt and his brother Thomas had learned enough of the new mechanics to make drawings of inventions intended to be used at sea to measure the distance traveled by ship. Presumably, they were the inventors. Wheels of graded circumference turned one into another, powered by the weight of water against a wheel that protruded into the sea. Carefully calibrated, each wheel reduced the feet into inches traversed, as would a series of connected pendula, and the final wheel mounted on a cabin wall would show (in ten movements of a hand on a circle) that the ship had traveled 10 miles. One drawing bears the signature of Thomas Watt, and it was still more sophisticated: “The great wheel which is to turne about once every 100 part sailing, turn yet second wheel
6 times about, and this turn ye ballance wheel 6 tymes about … ye index wheel turning about once in 10 tymes of this which will make a 10th part of a day. . .” It was an extremely cumbersome device, easily dislodged by the rocking of a ship. It probably never made it to the patent stage.
The drawings prove that mechanical invention occurred in the family and that early in the eighteenth century the Watts could think about the weight of water and the calibration of movement proportionally. They could also think about the smallest particles of air possessing weight as a result of their motion and they did exercises to determine “the weight of smoke that is exhaled of any combustible body.” In a separate notebook probably dated 1722-1723, John Watt left a treatise on mechanic principles full of axioms and definitions: “The Center of Gravity of a Body is the point thereof about which the parts remain in equilibrium. velocity . . . by which a body runs a given space in a given time is the ratio of the space to the time. . . .” Watt was learning his Newtonian mechanics, possibly using a French treatise by the Dutch Newtonian s Gravesande. In the same book he went on to apply the principles to weight balancing on a lever, to wheels, gears, etc. He is also reading physico-theology.
Although learned in the latest mechanical science neither Watt uncle had even a modicum of success at inventing. Although they were teachers of mechanics, navigation, and fortification, the astrological predictions they also inherited may have meant more to them. Their notebooks contain what is described as the 1681 writings of the radical astrologer, John Pordage. What the astrologer had to say may have appealed to the precariousness of their lives, both personal and as Dissenters, political. Why else would someone in the family have copied the predictions?
Pordage was no run-of-the-mill astrologer. From the 1650s onward he was a radical in both philosophy and politics who sided with the enemies of absolute monarchy and regularly predicted dire fates for kings and potentates, even for bankers and clergy: “The conjunction of ye sun and mars will have a strange effect in some countries in Europe & some prince perhaps last from England finds its true lot … some moneyed men shall suffer loss, & that from ye breaking of some great banker or bankers in or about ye city of London; some clergyman may be frowned upon by his prince.” The authorities of church and state never liked the Pordages of their world, and after 1660 outlawed the Dissenters (non-Anglican Protestants) who were especially drawn to preachings associated with radicals like Pordage.
The year 1681 was bad for Dissenters and, as far as we know and as far back as anyone of the next generation could remember, the Watts were Dissenters. Although more numerous in Presbyterian Scotland than in most places in the kingdom, they faced persecution and now the prospect of a Catholic king. In 1681 the movement led by Whigs to exclude James, duke of York and brother of Charles II, from the throne had failed utterly. Since 1660 Dissenting clergy—Presbyterian, Congregational, especially Anabaptist and Quaker—had been jailed or fined and many had migrated to the new world or to the Dutch Republic. Although granted liberty after the Revolution of 1689, people like the Watts would remain second-class citizens throughout the eighteenth century. Not surprisingly, the same Watt notebook with the predictions contains considerable information on the colony of Pennsylvania where William Penn and the Quakers had granted everyone full religious liberty. Being at. tracted to the subversive preachings of Pordage and having an interest in Pennsylvania bespoke a degree of religious, if not political, radicalism in the roots of this entrepreneur family. A hundred years later it would surface again in the revolutionary decade of the 1790s when the grandnephew of John Watt, James Watt, Jr., sided with the French revolutionaries.
A full century earlier, reading the astrologer Pordage along with the Scriptures also denoted a devout Protestantism. As Pordage said in predicting by the stars: “we do not thereby pervert ye true meaning of ye Scriptures & tho we are forbidden in ye holy Scriptures to be afraid or dismayed at ye signs of heaven, viz. to be possessed with such a fear as is inconsistent with our confidence in God, or as disturbs us in performing ye duties we owe as creatures to our great creator.” Another searcher of the Scripture, Isaac Newton, who preferred to take his millenarian predictions directly from his own reading and nominally an Anglican, could not have agreed more.
The Watts of Newton’s lifetime illustrate the way in which we must understand science in his time, like dark thread entwined in a tapestry of many colors, a whole cloth made up of religious and secular values crisscrossed with scientific learning. Once people were literate they had resources that went from the Bible to astronomical tables; once they had some capital and some commerce they could try to take shortcuts in industrial ventures by using levers, weights, and engines. We separate science from religion, science from technology, theories from practices. They did not.
John Watt left a legacy of scientific learning and disciplined striving that never deserted Watts for a hundred years. In the course of the eighteenth century, other Europeans would arrive at the same knowledge with different values and assumptions: devotion to kings or Catholic clergy, or an aristocratic dislike of business and commerce, or a good eye for commerce and no particular interest in applied mechanisms. Of all the ways science could be woven into a wearable cloth, the way the Watts spun will remain the focus of this book. Their success was not, however, in the stars despite their interest in astrology. The economics of their situation could not predict their eventual triumph, although having access to capital was clearly essential. By the mid-eighteenth century consumption and international commerce had given the British a precious commodity in the eighteenth century, surplus capital. They also had coal, iron, and cheap labor. As we are about to see, they also possessed a distinctive scientific culture that now needs to be factored into the economic setting.
The Turn to Mechanized Industry: The Setting of Engineers and Entrepreneurs Purely economic models traditionally assume that if people have coal, capital, and
cheap labor they will see it as being in their best interests to industrialize. If they need any specialized scientific or technical knowledge to do that, they will just go out and get it. Such arguments about the way human beings change, make choices, or even recognize what choices are available, presume a particular definition of the way people are. Their free will prodded by their economic interests creates the advantageous cultural setting required, or free uncultured agents simply transcend any restraints that culture may impose. Rationality means always choosing what is perceived as being in one’s best interests. Put somewhat crudely, offer someone the chance to make a profit—in this case to industrialize—and they will perceive progress, do anything, invent or innovate as needed, try and try again until they succeed.
What is missing in the story of early industrialization to date is any convincing cultural paradigm—a sct of recognizable values, experiences, and knowledge patterns possessed among key social actors—that offers insight into the formation of the industrial mentality of the late eighteenth century. According to David Landes, for the West “work has barely begun on the nonrational obstacles to innovation, on the negative influence of institutional, social, and psychological attitudes.” The economic model of human actions finds little of interest in the differences among the various scientific cultures that emerged in eighteenth-century
northwestern Europe. The model points us elsewhere, solely to supplies of capital or cheap labor, to explain Britain’s extraordinary leap forward in mining, transportation, and manufacturing. The role of culture—imagined as the tinted spectacles that enhance or impede individual perception and choice, or that sharpen short-range or long-range vision—has no place in traditional economic explanations. This book seeks to remedy a deficiency in our own cultural knowledge.
Showing the marked differences between the scientific cultures found in Britain in comparison to France or The Netherlands tries to recreate the different universes wherein entrepreneurs actually lived. From there the cultural model presented here suggests that mental universes played a historical role that was important. In this chapter, we will concentrate almost entirely on Great Britain in the eighteenth century, on institutions and attitudes that worked in favor of innovation. Later chapters will explore the culture of science that can be seen in other western European settings. Laying emphasis on culture should never be seen as an attempt to supplant economic factors. In a sophisticated historical account, cultural and economic life should be seen as they are experienced by human beings, as intrinsically woven together.
The eighteenth-century British civil engineer or mechanician, barely a professional figure, often self-educated and self-fashioned by pioneers like Jean Desaguliers, John Smeaton, and James Watt, is the key figure in the cultural side of the story discussed in this chapter. Indebted to the scientific culture established in England by 1700, such men acquired the necessary learning to do the more advanced calculations needed to move heavy objects over hilly terrain or out of deep coal mines never before tapped. British engineers and entrepreneurs who sought to build or improve canals and harbors and invent, as well as use, steam engines, had to be able to understand one another. Too much was at stake for their partnerships to fail (as was so often the case despite their best efforts). Scientific culture anchored around the Newtonian synthesis provided the practical and increasingly accessible vocabulary.
As it turned out, both engineers and entrepreneurs were well served by knowledge of applied Newtonian mechanics. After 1687 and the publication of the Principia mechanics, pneumatics, hydrostatics, and hydrodynamics had all been regularized and systematized by the Newtonian synthesis. Its eighteenth-century explicators, beginning with Francis Hauksbee and Jean Desaguliers, then wrote textbooks, which by 1750 made applied mechanical knowledge available to anyone who was highly literate in English, soon in French and Dutch.
Access to the mechanical knowledge found in the textbooks was critically important, yet the depth and breadth of its European diffusion differed widely. By the 1720s mechanical knowledge was more visible in Britain (in both England and Scotland) than anywhere else in the West; by then the British had invented what Larry Stewart calls “public science.” On the Continent, the spread of specifically Newtonian and applied scientific knowledge to the larger public was inhibited—but not stopped—by various factors. High among them was the power of the Catholic clergy at work in the various educational establishments found, for example, in France and the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium).
In mid-eighteenth-century Britain industrial entrepreneurs in partnership with engineers merged in a preexisting setting conducive to innovation. It fostered trial and error through a common mechanical language and through relatively egalitarian interaction among and between them.11 Both the language and the sating guaranteed trial and error, and it was (and is) absolutely essential to technological development. Engineers needed to have hands-on familiarity with the site intended for development while speculators or local
improvers also had to possess a meaningful understanding of applied mechanics to communicate with them. Such an understanding was best learned through touching or watching mechanical devices from table-top models to the real thing. Installing the wrong engine could bring bankruptcy. Applied mechanics taught by lectures, textbooks, and schoolmasters, served as the lingua franca when coal mines needed to be drained or harbors dredged or canals installed, or mechanical knowledge transferred from one industry to the next. As we saw in John Watt’s notebooks, eighteenth-century textbooks of applied science slid effortlessly into technology, if for nothing else than to illustrate with weights and pulleys the principles of local motion and how they related to planetary motion. Decades before we can date the onset of industrial development fueled by power technology, its rudiments lay in the Newtonian textbooks available to literate people.
Historians once assumed that “much of [British] technical, scientific and organizational elements were international property before 1750.” But the evidence drawn from formal and informal educational sites from Rotterdam to Lyon suggests that the Continental diffusion of the culture of applied mechanics was much more sporadic and uneven than has been previously imagined. In some European cases the scientific element defined as a set of laws memorized or mathematically formulated was available, but the technical elements and organizational circumstances—the informal learning, the mechanical illustrations, the hands-on use of devices, the relatively egalitarian philosophical society, the cultural “packaging” of science—differed enormously.
British scientific culture further rested on relative freedom of the press, the property rights and expectations of landed and commercial people, and the vibrancy of civil society in the form of voluntary associations for self-education and improvement. In early eighteenth-century Britain, these structural transformations worked for the interests of practical-minded scientists and merchants with industrial interests. Using Newtonian science taken from those parts of the Principia pertaining to the mechanics of local motion, the scientists created and the merchants consumed curricula and books applicable to technological innovation. In some cases engineer scientists also developed pumps and steam engines specifically intended as early as 1710 to enable “one man to do the work of a thousand” and aimed at the marketplace of entrepreneurs.”
In the Royal Society of London, but especially in numerous provincial scientific and philosophical societies from Spalding to Birmingham and Derbyshire, mechanical learning formed the centerpiece of discussions, demonstrations, and lectures. Into a setting of formal, but just as important informal institutions for applied, yet experimental scientific learning, came eighteenth-century entrepreneurs, would-be engineers, governmental agents, local magistrates, even skilled artisans—all faced with economic and technological choices and receptive to new knowledge systems promising new solutions. The route out of the Principia (1687) to the coal mines of Derbyshire or the canals of the Midlands was mapped by Newtonian explicators who made the application of mechanics as natural as the very harmony and order of Newton’s grand mathematical system. As we shall see in chapter 9 when we examine British settings as diverse as coal mines or select Parliamentary committees investigating the plans submitted by engineers or canal companies, after 1750 technically literate laymen and civil engineers communicated through a common scientific heritage. Their cultural universe had fashioned the “mental capital” of the first Industrial Revolution.
The cultural approach emphasizes not simply the intellectual component in the British setting, the books and lectures, but also its public and social nature, how and by whom it was absorbed and deployed. The British scientific societies were populated by men of land,
business, and finance. They made science innovative in application, but not necessarily in original achievements. The social and cultural setting of British science after Newton helps explain the relative absence of originality by comparison with French science.” Taking note of the aristocratic character of French scientific institutions and examining how it reinforced their theoretical and mathematical bent (as we will in greater detail in chapter 8) throws the British model into sharper relief.
Within an applied framework the Newtonian mechanical tradition laid particular emphasis on mechanical experimentation and actual demonstration with levers, weights, pulleys, table-top replications of engines, and so on. When turned toward application the practical and investigative style was critically important for encouraging industrial development. It tied science to machines as well as to an accessible method capable of being used by technicians and engineers who eagerly embraced the discipline and style of replication and verification. They in turn brought these practices to technological problems. Such men could simply not have understood the sharp distinction made in modern times between the scientific and the technological.
A letter of 1778 from the civil engineer, John Smeaton to James Watt concerning his steam engine, illustrates the interaction of scientific method with trial and error industrial innovation and, not least, with profit. As part of his normal way of proceeding, Smeaton explains that “to make myself master of the subject, I immediately resolved to build a small engine at home, that I could easily convert it to different shapes for Experiments…. I am determined to prosecute my original intentions of finding out the true Rationale…. The fact is … I have no account upon which I can depend, of the actual performance upon a fair and well-attested experiment, of anyone of your engines. .. . If you can show me a clear experiment … I should think it’s no trouble to go to Soho [Watt’s workshop] on purpose to see it.” If Smeaton became convinced of the value of Watt’s innovation, then the engine could be built into plans or consultations for which Smeaton was being commissioned by canal or mine developers.
With these disciplined methods of verification and replication British engineers imagined themselves to be scientists or their imitators. They could mow from hands-on knowledge of machines to the application of theories drawn from mechanics, hydrostatics, or pneumatics. In addition, science and mathematics occupied their leisure and informed the education of their children, and they bought books and instruments in all fields from optics to astronomy and telescopes.
In some middle-class households, technical knowledge was shared by both husband and wife, as the letters between James and Annie Watt illustrate. He invented the separate condenser for the steam engine; she was a chemist in her own right who sought to perfect bleaching techniques and to replicate the experiments of the French chemist Berthollet who had produced chlorine. Women’s participation in scientific culture, given the inequality of their status throughout the West, can be turned into one important index of its spread. From the 1730s onward there was a European-wide effort led by Newtonians like the Italian, Francesco Algarotti, to find a female audience for science. British periodicals appeared specifically aimed at making science accessible to women. This may also have had something to do with their use of surplus capital. A 1775 guide to the London stock exchange said that stockbrokers developed to assist women making investments and to represent them on the exchange floor. In Birmingham where the Watts lived, mechanics appeared in the curricula of girls’ schools by the 1780s.
By the 1780s many of the girls in Birmingham must have come from families where manufacturing and machines were commonly discussed. The mental posture of such
mechanists or engineers with entrepreneurial interests might best be described as a merger of theoretical science and highly skilled artisanal craft. They knew machines from having built them, or from having closely examined them, and what is important from our perspective, they knew that machines worked best when they took into account mechanical principles learned from basic theories in mechanics, hydrostatics, and dynamics. Once learned, the theories could then be laid to one side for as long as the basic skill in metalworking or mathematics remained. As the great engineer William Jessop told his inquisitive employers in the Bristol Society of Merchant Venturers, “in the earlier part of my time [I] endeavored to make myself acquainted with these Principles [respecting the discharge of water over cascades], and having been once satisfied with the result, I have, as most practical men do, discharged my memory in some measure from the Theory, and contented myself with re
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