Letter from Erasmus Darwin to James Watt, 1789/11/20

20 November 1789

Darwin writes to Watt to request some details of the Boulton and Watt steam engine for his next poem.


Dear Sir, Derby Nov. 20-89

As the Loves of the Plants pays me well, & as I write for pay not for fame, I intend to publish the Economy of Vegetation in the spring. – now in this work I shall in a note mention something about steam-engines, which may occupy 2 or 3 pages. The historical part as far as relates to the Marquis of Worcester, Capt Savery, Mr. Newcomen & Cowley, I think to abstract from Harris’s Lexicon, & Chamber’s dictionary. But what must I add about Messrs. Watt & Boulton? This is the question. – Now if you will at a leisure hour tell me what the world may know about your improvements of the steam-engine; or any thing about your experiments or calculated facts about the power of your engines, or any other ingenious stuff

for a note I shall with pleasure insert it, either with or without your name, as you please. if you do not take this trouble I shall must make worse work of it myself; & celebrate your engines, as well as I can. I wish the whole not to exceed about 2 or 3 quarto pages, & to consist of such facts, or things, as may be rather agreeable: I mean gentlemen-like facts not abstruse calculations, only fit for philosophers.

I see in Chambers Dict. Beighton estimates the sarcity[?] of steam to be about 3000 to one. of water, may I know your calculation on this subject? May I mention your working your piston with oil?

I hope you use the warm bath, & enjoy better health, & ride some furious hobby horse.
– I am sorry I can not see you oftener, it is a great loss to my understanding, & to my happyness.

the Lord keep you, adieu,
from yours affectly.
E Darwin

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Image creators: Dr Darwin, Erasmus (Creator)
Image courtesy of: Birmingham Archives
Donor ref: JWP 3 38 Packet B 4 p1