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THE

EDINBURGH REVIEW.

OCTOBER, 1839.

N. CXLI.

ART. I.--Life of Thomas Telford, Civil Engineer, written by

himself; containing a Descriptive Narrative of his Professional Labours : with a Folio Atlas of Copperplates. Edited by John Rickman, Esq., one of bis Executors. With a Preface, Supplement, Annotations, and Index. 8vo. London: 1838.

A
MONG our various mental exercises, there is none more inter-

esting in its nature, or more salutary in its effects, than that of tracing the intellectual progress of a strong mind struggling with the adverse currents of birth and fortune, and, by the force of talent and character alone, attaining an elevated place in society. Nor is this study less instructive when those powers whose developement we trace have found their highest application, either in objects of European importance, or in those of a more domestic character and limited influence, which add to the wealth, or the security, or the honour of our native land.

Contributing as they do to our most immediate and pressing wants—appealing to the eye by their magnitude, and often by their grandeur, and associated, in many cases, with the warmer impulses of humanity and personal safety—the labours of the mechanist and the engineer acquire a contemporary celebrity which is not vouchsafed to the results of scientific research, or to the productions of literature aud the fine arts. The gigantic steam-vessel, which expedites and facilitates the intercourse of

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nations ---the canal, which unites two distant seas--the bridge and the aqueduct, which span an impassable valley—the harbour and the breakwater, which shelter our vessels of peace and of warthe railway, which hurries us along on the wings of mechanismand the light beacon, which throws its directing heams over the deep-address themselves to the secular interests of every individual; and obtain for the engineer who invented, or who planned them, a high and a well-merited popular reputation.

In studying these great efforts of genius, we cannot fail to be struck with the wide range of scientific knowledge which they embrace, as well as with the extraordinary sagacity and practical skill which they display. But our surprise is greatly increased when we learn that the inventors and engineers who executed them, were neither mathematicians nor natural philosophers, but, generally speaking, individuals of humble station, who, by habits of observation almost innate, by powers of discrimination almost intuitive, and by practical knowledge gathered in the workshop or acquired in manual labour, gradually rose to professional celebrity, and secured to themselves the confidence of the public. That this has been pre-eminently the case in England, requires no other proof than to mention the names of Watt, Arkwright, Smeaton, Brindley, Rennie, and Telford, men to whom their country owes the deepest obligations; though, with one exception, it has left these obligations to be testified by the honours which private adıniration confers, and by monuments which individual enthusiasm has reared.

It would be a curious enquiry, which, did our limits permit us, we should willingly pursue, to ascertain that specific bent of mind, and that peculiar faculty of combining the data of traditionary and acquired knowledge, which, in these eminent men, supplied the place of direct instruction in the principles of mathematics, mechanics, and general physics. In a letter addressed to the writer of this article, Mr Watt distinctly stated that he never attended Dr Black's chemical lectures, as had been alleged, and was unfortunately prevented by the necessary 'avocations of his business from attending any other lectures at

college;' and, if we mistake not, he bas either stated to ourselves, or in some of his writings, that he had a natural inaptitude for mathematical enquiries: yet there was no individual among the chemical or mechanical philosophers of the day, whose knowledge of these subjects was so varied and correct, and who had treasured up with equal care those irrefragable results which could safely be applied in the construction of great works. Mr Telford, also, had a singular distaste for mathematical studies, and never even made himself acquainted with the elements of

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chanical, and chemical knowledge, when the rapidly increasing wants of society have made new demands upon genius, an engineer who is not tolerably versant in mathematical science, and Thoroughly instructed in mechanics, hydrodynamics, chemistry, optics, and mineralogy, is not qualified to superintend those national undertakings which are now altering the very' form and pressure of social life.

Setting aside the consideration of canals, harbours, roads, and bridges, as the structures of other days, we have now lighthouses on every headland and in every port-gas-works in every vilbage--suspension bridges over every stream-steamers on every lake, frith, and ocean--and railways, like the gossamer paths of the spider, stretching their iron gradients over the length and breadth of the land. On these subjects our ancestors have bequeathed to us no traditionary knowledge, and experience bas not yet revealed her trustworthy results. Experiments, therefore, and experiments conducted by scientific men, and combined with the precision of mathematical analysis, are absolutely necessary to supply these defects;---to determine the durability and cohesive strength of those solid materials which must soon whirl with new velocities, labour under new strains, and perform new functions in the world of meebanism. We must make our beams of timber invulnerable by plunging them in the Styx of mercurial solutions; we must demand froin iron its adamantine strength by the due combination of its crystalline elements;-we must make one bar equal to two, by giving it scientific rigour; and, after exhausting every preventive device, we must provide adequate bulwarks to resist the explosive forces of gas and of steam.

That these views are well founded and generally entertained, is evident from the remarkable fact, that no fewer than four universities or colleges have, in the course of last winter, and apparently without any knowledge of each other's intentions, made arrangements for organizing courses for civil engineers; and we have no doubt that in all of them these courses will be opened for students during the ensuing winter. If we demand from our lawyers a regular course of study in matters where our civil rights only are coneerned, and claim from our medical advisers and religious instructors not only a long noviciate in their studies, but a positive proficiency in their professional pursuits, shall we not, with equal reason, insist upon a thorough and profound knowledge of civil engineering in cases where property on the largest seale is at stake, where millions of lives are in peril, and where the highest national interests are involved ?

Our universities were all established in times when there were only three learned professions; and their modes of instruction were,

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