Arrival in Paris, Canal Patent, Submarine Projects.

FULTON did not get away quite so early, nor perhaps H quite so easily as he
had anticipated. France, at this moment, having outlived the horrors of the
Reign of Terror, was now ruled by the Directory, the most noted members of
which were Carnot and Barras. Napoleon Bonaparte had been at the head of the
army since I795, and was just at this time in the midst of his brilliant
Italian campaign. France had been at war with England since I793, and was
now facing a coalition of Russia and Austria. In I797, however, there was a
short armistice with England, which afforded the necessary opportunity to
cross the Channel.
     That Fultons journey through France was not quite an easy matter may be
inferred from a letter which he wrote to Dr. Cartwright, in which he details
his experiences en route. Writing from Paris in July I797, he says: ~
     " After being detained at Calais three weeks, waiting for a passport, I
made a circuit of about three hundred miles, and on arriving at Paris, I
found the Directory had given a special order for my passport, which was
sent to Calais after my departure; thus there is every symptom of my
remaining here in peace, although the Americans are by no means well
received or suffered to rest in quiet.
     "The country through which I travelled is like a continued field, in
excellent cultivation, and all the districts of France are said to be in an
equally good state; thus plenty will relieve the burthens of war. But wliat
do I say of war ? In Paris one would suppose they had never heard of it for
all is gay and joyous. As to business I cannot yet say much; but I have
reason to believe there will be good encouragement to men of genius, and
improvement will be rapid on the termination of the war. Please to let me
know the state of your ideas relative to the steamboat . . . ."
     We conclude from this that Fulton landed on French soil at the latter
end of June or the beginning of July I797. As usual, he is optimistic as to
his prospects.
     He was fortunate in securing lodgings in the same hotel at which were
staying his fellow countryman, Joel Barlow, statesman, philosopher, and
poet, and his wife Ruth Baldwin. Probably Fulton bore letters of
introduction to the Barlows, or he may have met them in London, where they
had resided from 1790 to 1792. However that may be, it was a most happy
circumstance for Fulton, and gave rise to a lifelong friendship. Perhaps the
intimacy would be more correctly likened to that of father and son, although
Barlow was only eleven and his wife nine years older than Fulton, but the
fact that they were childless may explain the way in which they treated him.
They even had a nickname Toot for him, the origin of which, like that of
most nicknames, is obscure. Concerning this period, we cannot do better than
quote this eulogy: "Here commenced that strong affection, that devoted
attachment, that real friendship, which subsisted in a most extraordinary
degree between Mr. Barlow and Mr. Fulton during their lives. Soon after Mr.
Fulton's arrival in Paris, Mr. Barlow removed to his own hotel and invited
Mr. Fulton to reside with him. Mr. Fulton lived seven years in Mr. Barlow's
family, during which he learnt the French and something of the Italian and
German languages. He also studied the high mathematics, physics, chemistry
and perspective and acquired that science which, when united with his
uncommon natural genius, gave him so great a superiority over many
     Or, as another writer,2 with less accuracy but more vividness, says: "
During the seven years that Fulton remained in Paris, a room in the poet's
house, and a seat at his fireside were always reserved for him." This house
was in the rue de Vaugirard, No. 50.
     Fulton at once settled down to the work of getting out his
specification and preparing his drawings for the French patent for the canal
inclined plane. This appears to have occupied him during the winter which
was spent in Paris. We have glimpses of him in his correspondence with Dr.
Cartwright by letter, of which we give only the more important parts.
Writing on Sept. 20th, 1797, he says:
     " I have not had an opportunity of answering your letter of the 20th
August until now. I am much pleased with your mode of making houses
fireproof [i.e. English Patent No. 2194, Oct. 11th, 1797 and should be happy
to see it extended to America.... On these points that I have mentioned to
you, that providing me with descriptions and powers, I shall be happy to do
my best for you in America; but if you could sell the invention for a
reasonable sum, I should think it advisable. My idea of many of those things
which may be considered as only the overfowings of your mind is to convert
them into cash, and adhere firmly, even without partners, to some of your
more important objects, such as the steam engine, boat moving by steam, or
cordelier. I have a great objection to partners. I never would have but one
if I could help it, and that should be a wife."
	Fulton, judging by this and subsequent letters, is still apparently
on the eve of proceeding to America. His advice about converting unimportant
patents into cash is shrewd enough, and is exactly what every one would like
to follow. His determination not to go into partnership was to be broken
through on more than one occasion. The next letter is from Paris, on Nov.
     " I have received yours of the 12th instant and am happy to hear of the
success of your steam engine, and other improvements, for the extension of
which I will endeavour to make an arrangement when I have the pleasure of
seeing you. In this country there are but few engines and the principal are
at the collieries near Valenciennes . . ."
     On Feb. 16th, 1798 Fulton wrote a long letters from Paris, in which,
after mentioning the unlikelihood of his return to England, the pleasure he
had had in the society of Cartwright's family, and the circumstance of his
being " like a wanderer in life," he says: "It would give me much pleasure
to make the produce of your mind productive to you. You will therefore
consider what part of your inventions I may be intrusted with. The steam
engine, I hope, may be useful in cutting canals and moving boats, so that it
will be directly in my line of business. By the by, I have just proved an
experiment on moving boats with a fly of four parts similar to that of a
smoke jack, thus:
     I find this apply the power to great advantage and it is extremely
simple.... My small canals are making many friends; which business I shall
leave under the guidance of a company."
     In this letter Fulton mentions also Montgolfier and his hydraulic ram,
then just invented.
     It is interesting to note that his mind was still casting a thought or
two to marine propulsion. The sketch shows that his experiment was exactly
that which he had made in 1793, except that he had substituted a screw for
the paddle, an alteration that did not advance the solution of the problem
in any way.
     Eventually, on 14th February 1798, a patent (No 289) for fifteen years
was granted to " Sieur Fulton," for " Des nouveaux moyens de construire des
canaux navigables." In the printed copy there are sixteen pages of
descriptive matter, including numerous tables of expenses showing some
considerable knowledge of local possibilities. This matter is elucidated by
four engraved plates containing no less than fifty-six figures; on these
plates his name appears in full.
     In pursuance of his previous practice, Fulton endeavoured to interest
persons in high places in his schemes by means of letters. One of such
letters 2 iS addressed to the great Napoleon himself, just then starting on
his expedition to the East, which ended in the occupation of Egypt.


     CITIZEN GENERAL, Citizen PErier having informed me that you would like
to make acquaintance with my work on the System of Small Canals, I take the
liberty of presenting you with a copy, and shall be happy if you find
therein some means of improving the industries of the French Republic.
     To this copy I have added two memoirs which I propose to submit to the
Directory. One relates to the absolutely new system of Small Canals, which,
if it be adopted, will produce the most considerable part of the public
revenue. In the other I try to show the favourable results of this system,
and at the same time the necessity of an entire liberty of Commerce.
     These plans of improvement and my reflections upon Commerce, are
elaborations of the following ideas, which I regard as the basis of
political welfare, and which seem to me worthy of the consideration of all
republicans, and of all friends of humanity. Labour is the source of wealth
of all kinds; it follows that the more numerous the industrious and useful
class, the more a country should gain in riches and comfort. It is therefore
to the interest of each nation to draw from its natural advantages every
feature possible. To that end Governments must apply themselves above all to
internal improvements and seek continually to increase the number of useful
individuals; only by eliminating as far as possible the causes of war will
men be enabled to devote themselves to industrious works and reduce
     Among all the causes of wars, it is true each day sees disappear that
which relates to Kings, Priests, and the things which accompany them. But
nevertheless, Republics themselves will not be exempt from melancholy
quarrels, inasmuch as they do not separate themselves from the erroneous
system of exclusive commerce and distant possessions. Therefore all who love
their fellowmen should try and seek to destroy these errors. Ambition itself
should not ask for glory further than to show to men the way of truth and to
set aside the obstacles which hinder nations from arriving at a lasting
peace for what glory can survive that does not receive the sanction of
     To liberate the nations, Citizen General, you have embarked on great
enterprises, and the glory you have achieved should be as durable as time.
Who then could render a more efficacious approval of the projects which can
contribute to the general welfare ? It is with this idea that I submit my
work to you, hoping that if you find there some useful truths you will grant
the support of your powerful influence, and in fact favour projects, the
execution of which would render happy millions of men. Could virtuous genius
find a more delightful satisfaction ! It is from this point of view that
internal improvement and freedom of trade become of the highest importance.
     If success crowns the efforts of France against England, it will only
remain for her to terminate this long war gloriously by granting freedom to
trade and by compelling other powers to adopt this system. Political liberty
would thus acquire that degree of perfection and of scope of which it is
susceptible and Philosophy would see with joy the Olive Branch of Eternal
Peace sheltering Science and Industry.
				With salutation and respect, ROBERT FULTON

     Apart from the rhetorical flourishes which, while sincere enough on
Fulton's part, were only the stock modes of expressions of the period, this
is quite a remarkable letter. The recognition of the essential or root fact
that labour is the ultimate source of all wealth, and that therefore it
should be encouraged by unrestricted trade intercourse, stands out in marked
contrast to the narrow ideas of the mercantile system of that day. The
advice to Governments to turn their attention to "internal improvements"
rather than to "distant possessions," is one that might be listened to at
the present day, not from any conviction of its truth perhaps, but because
nearly all the area available has been seized already and the policy of "
opening up new markets " has been found to be but barren.
     Fulton, like so many others at this titne, looked upon Napoleon as the
strong man intent only on his country's welfare. Actually his letter was a
waste of paper and ink, for Napoleon had just tasted the intoxication of
success in war, and may even then have been meditating the ambitious idea of
establishing himself in supreme power. The establishment of a canal system
did not go far in the direction of furthering that idea !
     But we proceed too fast, for the period had already arrived when Fulton
had turned his attention to the subject of exploding gunpowder under water
and to the design of a submarine boat to carry these mines to their
destination unobserved. Why Fulton left the canal question is not known.
Perhaps the arrangement, whereby he was to receive from his partner in
November 1797 the second instalment of 500 pounds, had fallen through; we
can surmise also that he found it, if anything, more difficult to realise
his plans in France than he had done in England. Surrounded as he was by
wars and rumours of wars, he may have thought that he would be most
profitably employed if he turned his attention to engines of war.
     It may not be out of place to give a brief summary of what had been
done in the direction of submarine warfare prior to Fulton s taking up the
     Of course the idea of destroying a vessel by attack below the water
line, i.e. by ramming, is old and was practised in classical times, while
the use of combustible matter or missiles under water is hinted at. The most
noteworthy development of the last method took place when Antwerp was
besieged in 1584 by the Spanish. Giambelli, an Italian, who had vainly
submitted his schemes to Philip II of Spain and in disgust had entered the
service of the Dutch, blew up by means of bomb ships with clockwork
detonators the bridge that the Duke of Parma had built to close the entrance
to the City from the seaward. Had it not been for cowardice of the Dutch
admiral the siege would have been raised. After the fall of Antwerp,
Giambelli went to England the parallel with Fulton's career, as will appear
later, is curious and was engaged in fortifying the Thames. When in 1588 the
English fireships came among the Spanish fleet in Calais roads, the fear
that they were Giambelli's infernal machines caused such a panic that the
fleet stood out to sea; this incident was undoubtedly a factor in the defeat
of the Spanish Armada.
     Navigation under water is quite a different and much more serious
problem. We find the first intelligible description of a submarine boat in
William Bourne s Inscentiots or Devices: Very necessary for all Generalles
and Captaines, or Leaders of Men, as wel by Sea as by Land," published in
1578. The alteration in displacement of the boat to cause it to sink or rise
was to be effected by admitting water into, or forcing it out of, side
compartments, is by means of screws working a form of bellows a method
hardly practicable.
     It would weary the reader to refer to all subsequent schemes for
submarine navigation, but we may mention one that seems to have been put to
a practical test. It was that of Cornelius van Drebbel, an ingenious Dutch
man, who is credited with having in 1624 "built a ship which one could row
and navigate under water from Westminster to Greenwich . . .; even five or
six miles or as far as one pleased." Unfortunately only the vaguest
descriptions and no plans of this vessel have been preserved.
     We now come to the work of a man who achieved the first real practical
results. This was David Bushnell (b. 1742, d. 1824) of Saybrook, Conn., who
as early as 1771 conceived the idea of a submarine boat which should carry
with it the explosive compound or magazine intended for the destruction of
an enemy's vessel. No doubt he was led to think about warlike engines owing
to the War of Independence, which was being waged at that time. He submitted
his invention to the Governor and Council of the state of Maine, who in I776
advanced 60 pounds to help him to further his enterprise. He built a boat of
wood shaped like a turtle, which " was provided with an oar placed near the
top of the vessel and formed like a screw." It was steered by a rudder,
behind which was a magazine to contain a powder case. There was a hatch on
the top and just sufficient room for a man to stand upright. The vessel,
owing to its shape, had practi: cally no manceuvring power, and was really
intended to drift just awash with the tide to the enemy s ship, and there
the occupant was to attach the explosive. An unsuccessful attack was made on
H.M.S. Eagle, 64 guns, when lying at anchor in the river Hudson at New York.
In 1777, an attack on H.M.S. Cerbergs, at anchor at New London in the
Connecticut River resulted in the blowing up of a schooner astern of her
with the loss of several men. Bushnell subsequently went to France and
carried on experiments there, but with little more success.
     Fulton's scheme, as will be seen shortly, somewhat resembled
Bushnell's. This resemblance would be explained if the former had been
acquainted with what the latter had done, which is probable because a
description of the invention had been published in 1795.
     Fulton's work in France on the submarine and torpedo boat has only
recently been disentangled from his subsequent experiments in steam
navigation, and exhibited in their true light through the researches of
French investigators in the National Archives at Paris. The documents
concerning Fulton were brought to light in 1896 by the exertions of Lieut.
Emile Duboc. Since then they have been studied closely by others.1
     It is now found that Fulton had already in I797 conceived the idea of a
submarine boat, and had so far matured his plans that he was able to submit
definite propositions to the French Directory on 22 Frimaire an V1 (13 Dec
     These propositions he sent to one of the Directors, La Reveillere
Lepeaux, with a covering letter dated 2 days later, in which he says he is
willing to explain his engine to a technical man such as General Bonaparte,
whom he has been told is 'a good engineer." As these propositions formed the
basis of all the subsequent negotiations with the Directory, and the
Government which succeeded it, we give them in full:

TO THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTORY PARIS, 22d Frirzeire, 6th Year of the Republic.

     Considering the great importance of deminishing the Power of the
British Fleets, I have Contemplated the Construction of a Mechanical
Nautulus. A Machine which flatters me with much hope of being Able to
Annihilate their Navy; hence feeling confident that practice will Bring the
apperatus to perfection; The Magnitude of the object has excited in me an
Ardent desire to Prove tne expirement; For this Purpose, and Avoid
troubeling you with the Investigation of a new Project, or the expence of
Carrying it into effect; I have Arranged a Company who are willing to bear
the Expence, and undertake the Expedition on the following Conditions


     That the Government of France Contract to pay the Nautulus Company 4oo
Livers per Gun for each British Ships over 40 Guns which they may destroy;
and 2000 Livers per Gun for All vessels of war under 4o tons which they
destroy, that the sum be paid in Specie within six months after the
distruction of Each Vessel.


     That all prizes of British Vessels and Cargoes taken by the Nautulus
Company; shall be the Property of the Company; nor meet with any
Interruption from the Agents of Government further than to Ascertain that
they are British Property

     That the Government Give to the Nautulus Company the exclusive Right to
Use this Invention from all the Ports of France: Except when it is the
desire of Government to Construct Such Vessels to Act against the Enemies of
the Republic. In Such Case the Government, to be at Liberty to Build and
Multiply the Mechanical Nautulus, on paying to the Company One hundred
thousand Livers for Each Nautulus which they may Construct or use in the
Service of the Republic. Foscrt/z
     As a Citizen of the American States; I hope it may be Stipulated that
this Invention, or Any Similar Invention, shall not be used by the
Government of France Against the American States, Unless the Government of
America First apply the Invention Against France.


     That if Peace is Concluded with England within three Months from the
date hereof Government will pay to the Nautulus Company the Amount of the
expences which they may have Incured In the experiments, Such payment to be
made within three Months after the declaration of Peace.

     And whereas fire Ships or other unusual means of destroying Navies are
Considered Contrary to the Laws of war, And persons taken in Such enterprise
are Liable to Suffer death, it will be an object of Safety if the Directory
give the Nautulus Company Commissions Specifying that all persons taken in
the Nautilus or Submarine expedition Shall be treated as Prisoners of War,
And in Case of Violence being offered; the Government, will Retaliate on the
Btitish Prisiners in a four fold degree.
     Citizens hoping that this engine will tend to Give Liberty to the seas;
it is of Importance that the experiment Should be proved as soon as Possible
in order that if Successful the terror of it may spread before the descent
on England, and that it may be brought Into use to facilitate that descent.
     Submitting these proposals to Your deliberations and waiting your
Command, I remain with all possible Respect your most Obedient

     It will be noticed that no hint is given in the letter as to the
construction of the Nautilus, and as the scheme must have appeared to men of
that time quite visionary, the fact that the communication was considered at
all, leads to the supposition that some influence had been brought to bear
upon the Directory possibly by members of the " Company " which Fulton had
     The propositions were transmitted on the 11th Nivose (31 Dec. 1797) to
the Minister of Marine who appears to have entertained them favourably, for
on the r8th Nivose he handed his report to the Directory and on the 24th
gave his reply to Fulton himself. This was to the effect that the inventor's
propositions were accepted in general, with the following amendments to the
clauses enumerated;
     (1) The sums proposed as prize money for the destruction of the enemy's
ships, being too great, were to be halved.
     (3) The construction of as large a number of IVautili as deemed
necessary was authorised, the place of construction, however, to be far
removed from all the war ports.
     (5) The reimbursement of the expenses of the Company that was asked for
in case of conclusion of peace was refused unless due to fear inspired by
the construction of the Naxtibs.
     (6) Finally, the Minister absolutely refused Fulton's request for
commissions in the French Navy, because he did not think that it was
"possible to grant commissions to men who made use of such means to destroy
the enemy's forces and, even so, that such commissions could be any
guarantee to them. For the reprisals with which the French Government could
threaten the English Cabinet would be useless, since there existed in
England three times more French prisoners than English prisoners in France."
     It would have been surprising had an old salt like Pleville-le-Pelley
shown anything but the repugnance which existed universally at that time, to
the employment of what were considered such unfair methods of warfare. His
dictum was that the agents must be considered outside the pale of
civilisation and as no better than pirates. History has often repeated
itself, and just such prejudice met the introduction of the crossbow and
again of the harquebus. Nowadays it is different: the dirigible balloon and
the aeroplane had been modified to act as destructive engines of war before
an opportunity had arisen where they could be so employed in actual warfare.
     Fulton's replyl to the communication of the Minister was an acceptance
of the amendments made by the Directory with the exception of that to clause
5, which he stipulated should read that the total sum to be reimbursed to
the Company on the conclusion of peace should be a sum not exceeding 25,000
francs, the reason given being that the construction and trial of the
Nautilus would take three months. Fulton also held to his original demand
for commissions for the crew. He proposed to construct his submarine at
Paris and test it at Havre.
     These revised conditions, with minor additions as to terms of payment,
he embodied in his "Third proposals relative to the mechanical Nautulus,"
which he forwarded to the Minister on the 1St Pluviose on VI (20 Jan. 1798).
     A draft decree was drawn up and submitted by the Minister to the
Directory; but it was never issued, for, on the 27th Pluvi6se (5 Feb.)
Fulton received from the Minister a letter telling him that all his
proposals were rejected.
     Judging from a marginal note by the Minister on the report, there is no
doubt that it was the question of their recognition as belligerents that
proved the stumbling block.
     Fulton, however, was not to be discouraged by this check, but took
advantage of a change of ministers a few months later to urge once more his
invention upon the Directory, this time with rather more success.

Go on to Chapter VI

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