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The Life of Napoleon I (Volume 1 of 2) by Rose

Fulton built a larger and stronger craft


As

yet only England was at war with the Emperor. Against her Napoleon now prepared to embattle the might of his vast Empire. The preparations on the northern coast were now wellnigh complete, and there was only one question to be solved--how to "leap the ditch." It seems strange to us now that no attempt was made to utilize the great motive force of the nineteenth century--steam power. And the French memoir-writers, Marmont, Bourrienne, Pasquier, and Bausset, have expressed their surprise that so able a chief as Napoleon should have neglected this potent ally.

Their criticisms seem to be prompted by later reflections rather than based on an accurate statement of facts. In truth, the nineteenth-century Hercules was still in his cradle. Henry Bell had in 1800 experimented with a steamer on the Clyde; but it aroused the same trembling curiosity as Trevithick's first locomotive, or as Fulton's first paddle-boat built on the Seine in 1803. In fact, this boat of the great American inventor was so weak that, when at anchor, it broke in half during a gale, thus ridding itself of the weight of its cumbrous engine. With his usual energy, Fulton built a larger and stronger craft, which not only carried the machinery, but, in August, 1803, astonished the members of the French Institute by moving, though with much circumspection.

Fulton, however, was disappointed, and if we may judge from the scanty records of his life, he

never offered this invention to Napoleon.[321] He felt the need of better machinery, and as this could only be procured in England, he gave the order to a Birmingham firm, which engined his first successful boat, the "Clermont," launched on the Hudson in 1807. But for the war, perhaps, Fulton would have continued to live in Paris and made his third attempt there. He certainly never offered his imperfect steamship to the First Consul. Probably the fact that his first boat foundered when at anchor in the Seine would have procured him a rough reception, if he had offered to equip the whole of the Boulogne flotilla with an invention which had sunk its first receptacle and propelled the second boat at a snail's pace.

Besides, he had already met with one repulse from Napoleon. He had offered, first to the Directory and later to the First Consul, a boat which he claimed would "deliver France and the world from British oppression."

This was a sailing vessel, which could sink under water and then discharge under a hostile ship a "carcass" of gunpowder or _torpedo_--another invention of his fertile brain. The Directory at once repulsed him. Bonaparte instructed Monge, Laplace, and Volney to report on this submarine or "plunging" boat, which had a partial success. It succeeded in blowing up a small vessel in the harbour at Brest in July, 1801; but the Commission seems to have reported unfavourably on its utility for offensive purposes. In truth, as Fulton had not then applied motive power to this invention, the name "plunging boat" conveyed an exaggerated notion of its functions, which were more suited to a life of ascetic contemplation than of destructive activity.

It appears that the memoir-writers named above have confused the two distinct inventions of Fulton just referred to. In the latter half of 1803 he repaired to England, and later on to the United States, and after the year 1803 he seems to have had neither the will nor the opportunity to serve Napoleon. In England he offered his torpedo patent to the English Admiralty, expressing his hatred of the French Emperor as a "wild beast who ought to be hunted down." Little was done with the torpedo in England, except to blow up a vessel off Walmer as a proof of what it could do. It is curious also that when Bell offered his paddle-boat to the Admiralty it was refused, though Nelson is said to have spoken in its favour. The official mind is everywhere hostile to new inventions; and Marmont suggestively remarks that Bonaparte's training as an artillerist, and his experience of the inconvenience and expense resulting from the adoption of changes in that arm, had no slight influence in setting him against all innovations.


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