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LONDON: PRINTED BY W. CLOWES AND SONS, DUKE STREET, STAMFORD STRELI,

AND CHARING CROSS.

PREFACE.

The object of the following volumes is to give an account of some of the principal men by whom the material development of England has been promoted, -the men by whose skill and industry large tracts of fertile land have been won from the sea, the bog, and the fen, and made available for human habitation and sustenance; who have rendered the country accessible in all directions by means of roads, bridges, canals, and railways; and have built lighthouses, breakwaters, docks, and harbours, for the protection and accommodation of our home and foreign commerce.

Notwithstanding the national interest which might be supposed to belong to this branch of literature, it has hitherto received but little attention. When the author first mentioned to the late Robert Stephenson his intention of writing the Life of his father, that gentleman expressed strong doubts as to the possibility of rendering the subject sufficiently popular to attract the attention of the reading public. “ The building of bridges, the excavation of tunnels, the making of roads and railways," he observed, “ are mere mechanical matters, possessing no literary interest ;” and in proof of this he referred to the * Life of Telford' as “a work got up at great expense, but which had fallen still-born from the press.”

Besides the apparent unattractiveness of the subject, its effective treatment involved the necessity of burrowing through a vast amount of engineering reports, which,

6

VOL. I.

next to law papers, are about the driest possible reading, except to those professionally interested in them.

Circumstances such as these have probably concurred in deterring literary men from entering upon this field of biography, which has hitherto remained comparatively unexplored. Hence, most of the Lives and Memoir's contained in the following series are here attempted for the first time. All that has appeared relating to Brindley, Smeaton, and Rennie, is comprised in the brief and unsatisfactory notices contained in Encyclopedias and Biographical Dictionaries. What has been published respecting Myddelton's life is for the most part inaccurate, whilst of Vermuyden no memoir of any kind exists. It is true, a Life of Telford'has appeared in quarto, but, though it contains most of that engineer's reports, the history of his private life as well as of his professional career is almost entirely omitted.

Besides the Lives of these more distinguished men, the following volumes will be found to contain memoirs of several meritorious though now all but forgotten persons, who are entitled to notice as amongst the pioneers of English engineering. Such were Captain Perry, who repaired the breach in the Thames embankment at Dagenham; blind John Metcalf, the Yorkshire road-maker; William Edwards, the Welsh bridge-builder; and Andrew Meikle, Rennie's master, the inventor of the thrashing-machine. Although the Duke of Bridgewater was not an engineer, we have included a memoir of him in the Life of Brindley, with whose early history he was so closely identified; and also because of the important influence which he exercised on the extension of the canal system and the development of modern English industry.

The subject, indeed, contains more attractive elements than might at first sight appear. The events in the lives of the early engineers were a succession of individual struggles, sometimes rising almost to the heroic. In one case, the object of interest is a London goldsmith, like Myddelton; in another, he is a retired sea-captain, like Perry; a wheelwright, like Brindley; an attorney's clerk, like Smeaton ; a millwright, like Rennie; a working mason, like Telford; or an engine brakesman, like Stephenson. These men were strong-minded, resolute, and ingenious, impelled to their special pursuits by the force of their constructive instincts. In most cases they had to make for themselves a way; for there was none to point out the road, which until then had been untravelled. To our mind, there is almost a dramatic interest in their noble efforts, their defeats, and their triumphs; and their eventual rise, in spite of manifold obstructions and difficulties, from obscurity to fame.

It will be observed from the following pages that the works of our engineers have exercised an important influence on the progress of the English nation. But it may possibly excite the reader's surprise to learn how modern England is in all that relates to skilled industry, which appears to have been among the very youngest outgrowths of our national life.

Most of the Continental nations had a long start of us in art, in science, in mechanics, in navigation, and in engineering. Not many centuries since, Italy, Spain, France, and Holland looked down contemptuously on the poor but proud islanders, contending with nature for a subsistence amidst their fogs and their mists. Though surrounded by the sea, we had scarcely any navy until within the last three hundred years. Even our fisheries were so unproductive, that our markets were supplied by the Dutch, who sold us the herrings caught upon our own coasts. England was then regarded principally as a magazine for the supply of raw mate

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