Read SCIENCE APPLIED TO ART of Lectures on Popular and Scientific Subjects, free online book, by John Sutherland Sinclair‚ Earl of Caithness, on ReadCentral.com.

A resume of science and art requires to set forth what they have already done and what they are now doing to trace them down to our own time, and contrast their early stages with their present development. Giving to art and science all that is their due, it must be evident to every one that they are primarily not of human origin, but owe their existence and progress to those inherent faculties of man which have been bestowed upon him by an Almighty Being faculties given not only to fathom the works of creation, and adapt them for man’s use and benefit, but also that they might show forth the praise and honour of their Creator, as “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork.” To set forth science and art before an Institution like that here met together, behoves one to enter upon the subject in a way which will not only interest but also instruct. But this is only an opening address, and the lecturers who will follow me in due course will bring before you the special interests of those special subjects on which they are to treat. These cannot fail to interest as well as instruct those who attend, their object being profit to the mind, and hence not only the furtherance of mental culture, but increasing capabilities for material prosperity.

To address a meeting in Glasgow gives one a feeling of pleasure; but, before going further, I trust that when I have finished you may not be able to say of me, as the two Highlanders did after leaving church “Eh, man! wasna that a grand discoorse? it jumbled the head and confused the understanding!” This city has brought forth one of the greatest of men though, like many others, he had to fight an uphill battle in his early career that man was James Watt. But what a career was his! and what a benefit to all now living has proved the result of his perseverance, for to his genius are we mainly indebted for the manifold applications of the wondrous power of Steam! That word is enough; and the engines it now propels are a powerful testimony to the talent of the great man who brought this mighty power to bear on the vast machinery, not only of this great country, but of the whole world. Contrast, for one thing, the travelling facilities of Watt’s early days with those we now possess through his persevering industry. Fourteen days was then the usual time for a journey from Glasgow to London, while at present it can be performed in a less number of hours.

Railways! what have they not done! We see towns spring up in a few years where only a few cottages formerly stood, and wild glens transformed into fruitful valleys, by means of railways in their neighbourhood developing traffic and trade, and creating employment by placing them in communication with larger towns, and thus opening up new sources of material prosperity. Look at the magnitude of our railways. With respect to locomotives alone, in 1866 there were 8125 of these, and the work performed by them was the haulage of 6,000,000 trains a distance of 143,000,000 miles. As each engine possesses a draught-power equal to 450 horses, these 8125 locomotives consequently did the work of more than 3,500,000 horses, and as the average durability of a locomotive is computed to be about fifteen years, each will have in that time traversed nearly 300,000 miles! Then, again, there have to be replaced about 500 worn-out locomotives every year, at a cost for each of about L2500 to L3000, entailing an annual expenditure of nearly L1,500,000 sterling. All this money circulates for the country’s benefit, keeping our iron, copper, and coal mines, our furnaces and our workshops, all at work, and our people well and usefully employed, and thus proving one of the greatest advantages of applied science and art to this country and the world at large. If it had not been for steam, this valuable Institution might not have been in existence, having for its chief objects the promotion of the growth and increasing the usefulness of the applied sciences.

We have now one of the greatest triumphs of engineering art in the Mont Cenis Railway, and this, though worked out under great difficulties, has proved a perfect success. Still more recently we have had brought under our notice the bold scheme of connecting Britain and France by a tunnel under the English Channel a project which, but a few years ago, any one would have been thought mad to propose; but science has proved that it can be carried out; and it is only a few days since a large meeting was held in Liverpool with a view of tunnelling under the Mersey, and thus connecting Liverpool and Birkenhead. Nor do these schemes seem at all visionary when we learn that our go-ahead Transatlantic cousins have a project before the Legislature of New Jersey for laying wooden tubes underground, through which the mails and small parcels will be forwarded at the rate of 150 miles an hour! Through a similar tube, 6 feet in diameter, laid under the East and Hudson Rivers, passengers are to be transported from Brooklyn to Jersey city. A like scheme is in course of construction under the Thames. Another American engineering triumph will be the railway suspension bridge proposed to be built across the Hudson River at Peekskill, in the hilly district known to New Yorkers as the Highlands, which is to have a clear span of 1600 feet at a height of 155 feet above high water.

Another grand and comparatively recent application of steam is in its adaptation to agriculture. Fields are now turned up by the steam-plough an invention as yet in its infancy in a manner that could never be done by mere hand-labour. Steam-culture has already penetrated as far north as John-o’-Groats, where I have one of the ploughs of Mr. Howard of Bedford, and but for its assistance I could not have taken in the land I have now worked up. So great is the demand for steam-cultivating apparatus, not only in Britain, but throughout the German plains and the flat alluvial soils of Egypt, that the makers have now more orders than they can readily supply.

In all our manufactories steam proves itself the motive power, and there is hardly a large work without it. This city can show its weaving, spinning, bleaching, and dyeing works all which have tended to raise Glasgow from the small town of Watt’s time to the proud position it now holds of being the first commercial city of Scotland. In this city, second only to Manchester in the production of cotton goods, it cannot fail to be interesting to state, that in the first nine months of the present year there has been exported 2,188,591,288 yards of cotton piece-goods manufactured in this country a larger quantity by nearly 150,000,000 yards than the corresponding period of 1867, the year of the largest export of cotton manufactures ever known until then. Of course Glasgow has had its share in this great branch of export trade, rendering it large, wealthy, and populous results which have mainly followed from the application of science to art.

Last, not least, see what steam has enabled us to do in regard to the food for the mind, both in printing it and afterwards in its distribution. Look, for instance, to Printing House Square to the “Times” newspaper. In the short space of one hour 20,000 copies are thrown off the printing-machine, and, thanks to the express train, the same day the paper can be read in Glasgow. Still further in this direction, the value of steam is also shown by its having enabled us to produce cheap literature, so strikingly instanced in the world-famed works of Sir Walter Scott, which we are now enabled to purchase at the small sum of sixpence for each volume a result which well shows the application of science to art.

Let us now observe what a varied number of mechanical and agricultural appliances are required to furnish us with this cheap literature. There is agriculture, in the growth of the fibre that produces the material of which the printing paper is made; then the flax-mill is brought into play to produce the yarn to be woven; then weaving to produce the cloth; after this, dyeing. Then the fine material is used for various purposes too numerous to mention; and after it has performed its own proper work, and is cast away as rags, no more to be thought of by its owner, it is gathered up as a most precious substance by the papermaker, who shows us the true value of the cast-off rags. Subjected to the beautiful and costly machinery of the paper-mill, the rags turn out an article of so much value that without it the world would almost come to a stand-still. Yet further, we have next the miner, who by his labour brings to the surface of the earth the metal required to produce the type for printing; after this the printing-press; and next the chemist, who by certain chemical combinations gives us the ink that is to spread knowledge to the world, by making clear to the eye the thoughts of authors who have applied their minds for the instruction and amusement of their fellow-men. But we do not end here; consider also that each and all, the farmer, the spinner, the weaver, the chemist, the miner, the printer, and the author, must respectively have a profit out of their various branches of industry, and does it not strike one forcibly what a boon to the world is this all-important application of science to art putting within the reach of the poor man and the working man the means of cultivating his mind, and so, by giving him matters of deep interest to think over, keeping him from idleness and perhaps sin (for idleness is the root of most evil), and making him a happy family-man instead of a public-house frequenter.

Many were strongly opposed to the introduction of steam, and would rather have seen it put down, and the old coach and printing-press, loom, spinning-wheel, and flail kept in use, fearing that machinery would limit employment; and a hard fight it has been to carry forward all that has hitherto been done. But what has proved to be the result? Thousands are now employed where formerly a few people sufficed, and we are all benefited in having better and cheaper goods, books, provisions, and all things needful. There is therefore the satisfaction of knowing that, by the thousand and one applications of steam, the physical, mental, and even moral condition of the people has been greatly ameliorated; in this way again proving a triumph for the application of science to art.

Glasgow is not only famous for its multifarious applications of water in its finely divided gaseous form of steam, but it has made admirable use of that element in its more familiar and fluid form, as shown in the gigantic undertaking of bringing a water-supply into this thriving and populous city. The peaceful waters of a Highland lake are suddenly turned from their quiet resting-place, where they have remained in peace for generations, the admiration of all beholders, and made to take an active part in contributing to the health, wealth, and comfort of Glasgow. The beautiful Loch Katrine has been brought into the city, furnishing a stream of pure water to minister to the wants of all classes of the people an undertaking which a few years ago would have been pronounced impossible; but here again science and art have prevailed, and brought about this all-important object and greatly desired and inestimable boon. The great capital of England itself cannot boast of such an advantage, and must still be content to drink water contaminated with impurities. Does not this speak volumes for the wealth and energy of Glasgow? What so conducive to health and cleanliness (and cleanliness is akin to godliness) as a pure and perfect supply of water such as you now possess; and you have great reason to be grateful for this beneficent application of science and art. With a worldwide celebrity for your waterworks, you have cause also to be proud of your chemical works, and that famous chimney of St. Rollox, one of the loftiest structures in the world. There are few cities more highly favoured than this. Would not Captain Shaw be glad if, in London, he had the head or command of water such as you have from Loch Katrine to save the great metropolis from the destruction by fire that they are in daily dread of? In Glasgow we hardly want this our grand Loch Katrine does it all.

Turn to your river, the beautiful Clyde, which eighty years ago could be forded at Erskine, while Port Glasgow was as far as ships could then come up a striking contrast to what is now to be seen at the Broomielaw, where the largest steamers and ships drawing thirty feet of water are moored in the very heart of the city, discharging produce from all parts of the world. What has done this but steam the energy of man; steam cutting a channel by dredging to admit of ships passing so far up the river: and this has been to Glasgow a great source of wealth by the promotion of commerce. Art has been permitted to work out great things for your city, and I trust still greater things are in store. Take the trade now in full progress on the banks of the Clyde. The shipbuilding is fast leaving the Thames and finding its way here. It is a pleasure to hear people say: “There is a fine ship she is Clyde-built.” “Who built her? Was it Napier, or Thomson, or Tod, or M’Gregor, or Randolph & Elder, or Caird, or Denny of Dumbarton, or Cunliff & Dunlop?” Pardon me if I have left out any name, for all are good builders. Then, again, it may be asked: “Who engined these ships?” “Oh, Clyde engineers, or those who built them.” I had the pleasure of being this year on board the Trinity yacht “Galatea,” on a cruise when fourteen knots an hour were accomplished; and that yacht is a good specimen of what Clyde shipbuilders can turn out. She was built by Caird. I have also had the pleasure of a trip in the “Russia,” one of the finest screw-vessels afloat, built by Thomson; and she has proved herself perhaps the fastest of sea-going steamers. Does not all this show what science applied to art has done?

Glasgow has also a College of the first order, one that is looked up to as sending men of high standing forth to the world. Watt worked under its roof as a poor mathematical instrument maker, and although enjoying little of its valuable instruction, he produced the steam-engine a lesson as to what those ought to do towards promoting the application of science to art who have the full benefit of a scientific training such as your College affords.

Each day brings forth something new the electric telegraph, for instance, by which our thoughts and desires are transmitted to all parts of the world, so to speak, in a moment of time. When we think that we are within an instant of America, it gives one a feeling of awe, for it shows to what an extent we have been permitted to carry the application of science to art. A small wire is carried across the great Atlantic, and immediate communication is the result. The achievements of science were shown to a great extent in the laying of this cable, and perhaps still more in its recovery after it had been broken. A small cable is lost at the bottom of the ocean, far from the land, and in water about two miles in depth a ship goes out, discovers the spot, and then grappling irons are lowered. Science with its long arm, as it were, reaches down the almost unfathomable abyss, and with its powerful hand secures and brings to the surface of the ocean the fractured cable, which is again made to connect the Old and New Worlds thus verifying almost the words of Shakespeare, when he speaks of calling “spirits from the vasty deep.” After splicing the cable, the vessel proceeds with the work of paying it out, as it sails across the Atlantic; and once more science and art find a successful issue, for Europe and America are united.

What the combination of science and art has done is, however, not yet exhausted: witness the splendid specimens of artillery now produced by Sir Joseph Whitworth and Sir William Armstrong weapons by which projectiles are thrown with an almost irresistible force. The beauty of their construction is a triumph to art, and their mathematical truth a triumph to science. One thing follows another, and no sooner have men of originality and observation perfected the means of destruction, when others press forward and furnish the means of defence. Our armour-clads, such as the “Warrior” and others which lately visited these waters, have thus been called into existence, and they are splendid specimens of what science applied to art can achieve.

The Menai Bridge is another instance of the power of man in applied science. A railway bridge is required to further communication, but Government demands that the navigation of the Strait shall not be impeded. The mind of a great man is called into action, and by applying scientific principles to engineering art, we have that wonder of the world, the great tubular bridge over the Menai Straits. This work required a mind of no ordinary nature, but such a one was found in the celebrated Robert Stephenson. I am proud to say I was privileged to have him as a friend, and I greatly lamented his death, not only as a friend, but as an irreparable loss to the world of science.

Another instance of science applied to art and not the least important is the adaptation of glass to form the lens which enables the flame of a lamp to be seen from a great distance. What this has done for the mariner is shown in our lighthouses, which enable him to know where he is by night as well as by day, for the lights are made to revolve, to be stationary, or to show various colours or flashes, which reveal to him their respective positions. The compass also, though ancient, is still an application of applied science, and by it the mariner is enabled to guide his ship safely over the ocean. A very beautiful instance of applied science to art is electrometallurgy, in which metals are deposited by means of the galvanic battery in any required form or shape, and this process of gilding and plating is executed with marvellous rapidity. All these various instances show what the mind of man has done, and is doing; but the applications of science to art are so endless, that even their simple enumeration could not be included in the limits of an opening address, for there are few things to which science cannot be applied. One of the most recent and beautiful is the art of photography, where, by means of applied chemistry, aided by the rays of the sun, there can be produced the most pleasing and lifelike representations. This new application of chemistry is a most interesting one, which shows that we do not stand still, and as long as arts and science are permitted to be practised by us we are not intended to stand still, but to exercise our minds to the utmost to unravel those mysteries of nature that are yet to be developed.

Chemistry, as a regular branch of natural science, is of comparatively recent origin, and can hardly be said to date earlier than the latter third of last century. The Greek philosophers had some vague yet profound ideas on this subject, but their acquaintance was limited to speculations a priori, founded on general and often inaccurate observations of natural occurrences. Yet their acuteness was such, that some of their speculations as to the constituent properties of matter coincide in a wonderful degree with those which now prevail among modern philosophers. It is not easy to define what chemistry is in a few words, but it may be described as the science which has for its object the investigation of all elementary bodies which exist in the universe, with the view of determining their composition and properties. It also seeks to detect the laws which regulate their mutual relations, and the proportions in which these elements will combine together to form the compounds which constitute the animal, vegetable, and mineral kingdoms, as well as the properties of these various compounds. The ancients admitted only four elements earth, air, fire, and water. Chemists now far exceed this number, and seek to show what these elements are composed of by analysing them into the various gases, solids, and liquids.

Astronomy is the most ancient of all the sciences. The Chaldeans, the Egyptians, the Chinese, the Hindoos, Gauls, and Peruvians, each regarded themselves as the inventors of astronomy, an honour which Josephus deprives them of by ascribing it to the antediluvian patriarchs. From the few facts to be gleaned out of the vague accounts by ancient authors regarding the Chaldeans, it may be inferred that their boasted knowledge of this science was confined to observations of the simplest kind, unassisted by any instruments whatever. The Egyptians, again, though anciently considered the rivals of the Chaldeans in the cultivation of this science, have yet left behind them still fewer records of their labours, though it is so far certain that their astronomical knowledge was even greater than that of the Chaldeans. The Phoenicians seem to have excelled in the art of navigation, and would no doubt direct their course among the islands of the Mediterranean by the stars; but if they had any further speculative notions of astronomy, they were probably derived from the Chaldeans or Egyptians. In China, astronomy has been known from the remotest ages, and has always been considered as a science necessary and indispensable to the civil government of the Celestial Empire. On considering the accounts of Chinese astronomy, we find it consisted only in the practice of certain observations, which led to nothing more than the knowledge of a few isolated facts, and they are indebted to foreigners for any further improvements they have since adopted.

The Greeks seem to have made the most early advances in astronomy; for notwithstanding that the art of observation was still in its infancy, we are indebted to the labours and speculations of ancient Greek philosophers for raising astronomy to the dignity of a science. The complicated but ingenious hypotheses of the Greek Ptolemy prepared the way for the discovery of the elliptic form of the planetary orbits and other astronomical laws by the German Kepler, which again conducted our English Newton to the discovery of the law of gravitation. I am not, however, desirous of giving this meeting a lecture on astronomy I shall leave that to Professor Grant. But it is singular that I should have come here on a day on which one of the now known observations and movements of the planets has taken place the transit of Mercury. This was calculated to occur this day by the science of astronomy, and it is also known when it will again occur, namely, on the 6th of May 1878. I will end this subject by saying, that the discoveries in astronomy in the last and present centuries have been so many and interesting, that it would be quite impossible for me to enter here minutely upon them.

In conclusion, What have science and art done for us? They have cultivated our minds they have made us think, wonder, and admire, and I trust caused us to adore and reverence the Creator of this vast universe. They have taught us the knowledge and value of time, and have also shown the value of what man has been enabled to work out for his own benefit and that of the world at large.

The chemist deals with the various substances brought under his notice, thereby acquiring a knowledge of their properties, enabling him to produce results which are truly beneficial. This knowledge is power.

The painter makes the features of Nature his study, and by his brush delineates them on the canvas, and thus by knowledge of art he exhibits power.

The astronomer’s science is one of vast magnitude and importance the study of it embracing both science and art: science in the various intricate calculations he requires to make in connection with the heavenly bodies. By his researches we have discovered the form of the earth and other planets, their respective distances from each other, their revolutions, their eclipses and their orbits, and, more wonderful still, the precise time when the various movements of each occur. In art, the astronomer has originated and perfected the many powerful and beautiful instruments now required for taking observations, and these, when compared with the instruments in use in bypast times, are excellent evidences of modern progress in this direction. Our wonder is excited when we look at the instruments formerly in use; that so much was done through them, and the advance made by art in the perfection of those now adopted, show us again that knowledge is power.

The navigator, by a combination of astronomy and seamanship, is enabled to plough the great deep, and at all times by mathematical calculation to discover the exact position of his ship. What, however, would he be without the aid of art? The compass, the sextant, or quadrant, &c., are the means which enable him to attain these grand results, and to bring his ship to the desired haven. The use of these is knowledge, and this knowledge is power.

Alike with all other things which science and art have called into use, knowledge is power, and this power was given by the Almighty, as I said at the beginning of this lecture, to enable man to fathom the works of creation. Let us then so live that we may ever admire the results of the labours of science and of art, and at the same time ever remember Him who has given us the power to discover and use them for our benefit, thanking God, who first made all things and pronounced them very good, for His great mercy toward us.