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The following brief notices, of three lamented and honoured Friends, certainly were not contributed to the Edinburgh Review: But, as I am not likely ever to appear again as an author, I have been tempted to include them in this publication-chiefly, I fear, from a fond desire, to associate my humble name with those of persons so amiable and distinguished:But partly also, from an opinion, which has been frequently confirmed to me by those most competent to judge—that, imperfect as these sketches are, they give a truer and more graphie view of the manners, dispositions, and personal characters of the eminent individuals concerned—than is yet to be found—or now likely to be furnished, from any other quarter.
THE HONOURABLE HENRY ERSKINE.*
Died, at his seat of Ammondell, Linlith- | no successor, That part of eloquence is now gowshire, on the 8th instant, in the seventy- mute—that honour in abeyance. first year of his age, the Honourable Henry As a politician, he was eminently distinErskine, second son of the late Henry David, guished for the two great virtues of inflexible Earl of Buchan.
steadiness to his principles, and invariable Mr. Erskine was called to the Scottish Bar, gentleness and urbanity in his manner of asof which he was long the brightest ornament, serting them. Such indeed was the habitual in the year 1768, and was for several years sweetness of his temper, and the fascination Dean of the Faculty of Advocates: He was of his manners, that, though placed by his twice appointed Lord Advocate,-in 1782 and rank and talents in the obnoxious station of a in 1806, under the Rockingham and the Gren- Leader of opposition, at a period when politiville administrations. During the years 1806 cal animosities were carried to a lamentable and 1807 he sat in Parliament for the Dunbar height, no individual, it is believed, was ever and Dumfries district of boroughs.
known to speak or to think of him with any In his long and splendid career at the bar, thing approaching to personal hostility. In Mr. Erskine was distinguished not only by the return, it may be said, with equal correctness, peculiar brilliancy of his wit, and the grace- , that, though baffled in some of his pursuits fulness, ease, and vivacity of his eloquence, and not quite handsomely disappointed of but by the still rarer power of keeping those some of the honours to which his claim was seducing qualities in perfect subordination to universally admitted, he never allowed the his judgment. By their assistance he could slightest shade of discontent to test upon his not only make the most repulsive subject mind, nor the least drop of bitterness io minagreeable, but the most abstruse easy and gle with his blood. He was so utterly inca. intelligible. In his profession, indeed, all his pable of rancour, that even the rancorous felt wit was argument; and each of his delightful that he ought not to be made its victim. illustrations a material step in his reasoning: He possessed, in an eminent degree, that To himself, indeed, it seemed always as if deep sense of revealed religion, and ihat zeal.
they were recommended rather for their use ous attachment to the Presbyterian establish* than their beauty; and unquestionably they ment, which had long been hereditary in his
often enabled him to state a fine argument, or family. His habits were always strictly moral a nice distinction, not only in a more striking and temperate, and in the latter part of his and pleasing way, but actually with greater life even abstémious. Though the life and precision than could have been attained by ornament of every society into which he enThe severer forms of reasoning.
tered, he was always most happy and most In this extraordinary talent, as well as in the delightful at home; where the buoyancy of charming facility of his eloquence, and the his spirit and the kindness of his heart found constant radiance of good humour and gaiety all that they required of exercise or enjoywhich encircled his manner of debate, he had ment; and though without taste for expensive no rival in his own times, and as yet has had pleasures in his own person, he was ever most
indulgent and munificent to his children, and : From the "Endinburgh Courant” Newspaper a liberal benefactor to all who depended on his of the 16th of October, 1817.
He finally retired from the exercise of that tion; but retained unimpaired, till within a profession, the highest honours of which he day or two of his death, not only all his intelhad at least deserved, about the year 1812, lectual activity and social affections, but, when and spent the remainder of his days in do- not under the immediate affliction of a painful mestic retirement, at that beautiful villa which and incurable disease, all that gaiety of spirit, had been formed by his own taste, and in the and all that playful and kindly sympathy with improvement and adornment of which he innocent enjoyment, which made him the idol found his latest occupation. Passing thus at of the young, and the object of cordial attachonce from all the bustle and excitement of a ment and unenvying admiration to his friends public life to a scene of comparative inactivity, of all ages. he never felt one moment of ennui or dejec
NOTICE AND CHARACTER
OF Mr. Playfair's scientific attainments,— methods of inquiry, and to imbue their minds, of his proficiency in those studies to which he from the very commencement of the study, was peculiarly devoted, we are but slenderly with that fine relish for the truths it disclosed, qualified to judge : But, we believe we hazard and that high sense of the majesty with which nothing in saying that he was one of the most they were invested, that predominated in his learned Mathematicians of his age, and among own bosom. While he left nothing unexthe first, if not the very first, who introduced plained or unreduced to its proper place in the the beautiful discoveries of the later conti- system, he took care that they should never nental geometers to the knowledge of his be perplexed by petty difficulties, or bewil. countrymen; and gave their just value and dered in useless details; and formed them true place, in the scheme of European know- betimes to those clear, masculine, and direct ledge, to those important improvements by methods of investigation, by which, with the which the whole aspect of the abstract sciences least labour, the greatest advances might be has been renovated since the days of our il- accomplished. lustrious Newton. If he did not signalise Mr. Playfair, however, was not merely a himself by any brilliant or original invention, teacher; and has fortunately left behind him he must, at least, be allowed to have been a a variety of works, from which other generamost generous and intelligent juulge of the tions may be enabled to judge of some of those achievements of others; as well as the most qualifications which so powerfully recomeloquent expounder of that great and magnifi- mended and endeared him to his contempocent system of knowledge which has been raries. It is, perhaps, to be regretted that so gradually evolved by the successive labours much of his time, and so large a proportion of of so many gifted individuals. He possessed, his publications, should have been devoted to indeed, in the highest degree, all the charac- the subjects of the Indian Astronomy, and the teristics both of a fine and a powerful under- Huttonian Theory of the Earth: And though standing;-at once penetrating and vigilant, it is impossible to think too highly of the inbut more distinguished, perhaps, for the cau- genuity, the vigour, and the eloquence of those tion and sureness of its march, than for the publications, we are of opinion that a juster brilliancy or rapidity of its movements,—and estimate of his talent, and a truer picture of guided and adorned through all its progress, his genius and understanding, is to be found by the most genuine enthusiasm for all that in his other writings ;-in the papers, both biois grand, and the justest taste for all that is graphical and scientific, with which he has beautiful in the Truth or the Intellectual Ener- enriched the Transactions of our Royal Sociegy with which he was habitually conversant. ty; his account of Laplace, and other articles
To what account these rare qualities might which he contributed to the Edinburgh Rehave been turned, and what more brilliant or view,—the Outlines of his Lectures on Natulasting fruits they might have produced, if his ral Philosophy,--and above all, his Introducwhole life had been dedicated to the solitary tory Discourse to the Supplement to the cultivation of science, it is not for us to con- Encyclopædia Brittannica, with the final corjecture; but it cannot be doubted that they rection of which he was occupied up to the added incalculably to his eminence and utility last moments that the progress of his disease as a Teacher; both by enabling him to direct allowed him to dedicate to any intellectual his pupils to the most simple and luminous exertion.
With reference to these works, we do not ginally printed in an Edinburgh newspaper
think we are influenced by any national, or of August, 1819. A few introductory sentences are other partiality, when we say that he was now omitted.
certainly one of the best writers of his age ; and even that we do not now recollect any and the singular thing in his case was, not one of his contemporaries who was so great a only that he left this most material part of his master of composition. There is a certain work to be performed after the whole outline mellowness and richness about his style, had been finished, but that he could proceed which adorns, without disguising the weight with it to an indefinite extent, and enrich and and nervousness which is its other great char- improve as long as he thought fit, without any acteristic, -a
,-a sedate gracefulness and manly risk either of destroying the proportions of simplicity in the more level passages,—and a that outline, or injuring the harmony and unity mild majesty and considerate enthusiasm of the original design. He was perfectly where he rises above them, of which we aware, too, of the possession of this extraorscarcely know where to find any other exam- dinary power; and it was partly, we presume, ple. There is great equability, too, and sus- in consequence of it that he was not only at tained force in every part of his writings. He all times ready to go on with any work in never exhausts himself in flashes and epi- which he was engaged, without waiting for grams, nor languishes into tameness or in- favourable moments or hours of greater alacsipidity: At first sight you would say that rity, but that he never felt any of those doubts plainness and good sense were the predomi- and misgivings as to his being able to get cre. nating qualities; but by and bye, this sim- ditably through with his undertaking, to which plicity is enriched with the delicate and vivid we believe most anthors are occasionally liable. .colours of a fine imagination,—the free and As he never wrote upon any subject of which forcible touches of a most powerful intellect, he was not perfectly master, he was secure -and the lights and shades of an unerring and against all blunders in the substance of what harmonising taste. In comparing it with the he had to say; and felt quite assured, that if styles of his most celebrated contemporaries, he was only allowed time enough, he should we would say that it was more purely and finally come to say it in the very
of peculiarly a written style,--and, therefore, re- which he was capable. He had no anxiety, jected those ornaments that more properly therefore, either in undertaking or proceeding belong to oratory. It had no impetuosity, with his tasks; and intermitted and resumed ihurry, or vehemence, -no bursts or sudden them at his convenience, with the comfortable turns or abruptions, like that of Burke; and certainty, that all the time he bestowed on #though eminently smooth and melodious, it them was turned to account, and that what was not modulated to an uniform system of was left imperfect at one sitting might be solemn declamation, like that of Johnson, nor finished with equal ease and advantage at spread out in the richer and more voluminous another. Being thus perfectly sure both of elocution of Stewart; nor, still less, broken his end and his means, he experienced, in the into that patchwork of scholastic pedantry and course of his compositions, none of that little conversational smartness which has found its fever of the spirits with which that operation admirers in Gibbon. It is a style, in short, of is so apt to be accompanied. He had no great freedom, force, and beauty, but the de- capricious · visitings of fancy, which it was liberate style of a man of thought and of necessary to fix on the spot or to lose for ever, learning; and neither that of a wit throwing -no casual inspirations to invoke and to wait out his extempores with an affectation of care for,-no transitory and evanescent lights to less grace,-nor of a rhetorician thinking more catch before they faded. All that was in his of his manner than his matter, and deter- mind was subject to his control, and amenamined to be admired for his expression, what. ble to his call, though it might not obey at the ever may be fate of his sentiments.
moment; and while his taste was so sure, His habits of composition were not perhaps that he was in no danger of over-working any exactly what might have been expected from thing that he had designed, all his thoughts their results. He wrote rather slowly,-and and sentiments had that unity and congruity, his first sketches were often very slight and that they fell almost spontaneously into harimperfect, like the rude chalking for a mas- mony and order; and the last added, incorterly picture. His chief effort and greatest porated, and assimilated with the first, as if pleasure was in their revisal and correction; they had sprung simultaneously from the same and there were no limits to the improvement happy conception. which resulted from this application. It was
But we need dwell no longer on qualities not the style merely, nor indeed chiefly, that that may be gathered hereafter from the works gained by it: The whole reasoning, and sen- he has left behind him. They who lived with timent, and illustration, were enlarged and him mourn the most for those which will be new modelled in the course of it; and a naked traced in no such memorial! And prize far outline became gradually informed with life, above those talents which gained him his high colour, and expression. It was not at all like name in philosophy, that Personal Character the common finishing and polishing to which which endeared him to his friends, and shed careful authors generally subject the first a grace and a dignity over all the society in draughts of their compositions, - nor even which he moved. The same admirable taste like the fastidious and tentative alterations which is conspicuous in his writings, or rather with which some more anxious writers assay the higher principles from which that taste their choicer passages. It was, in fact, the was but an emanation, spread a similar charm great filling in of the picture,-the working up over his whole life and conversation; and gave of the figured weft, on the naked and meagre to the most learned Philosopher of his day woof that had been stretched to receive it; l the manners and deportment of the most perfect Gentleman. Nor was this in him the never failed to manifest the most open scorn result merely of good sense and good temper, and detestation. Independent, in short, of his assisted by an early familiarity with good high attainments, Mr. Playfair was one of the company, and a consequent knowledge of his most amiable and estimable of men: Delightown place and that of all around him. His ful in his manners, inflexible in his principles, good breeding was of a higher descent; and and generous in his affections, he had all that his powers of pleasing rested on something could charm in society or attach in private; better than mere companionable qualities. and while his friends enjoyed the free and With the greatest kindness and generosity of unstudied conversation of an easy and intelnature, he united the most manly firmness, ligent associate, they had at all times the and the highest principles of honour, -and proud and inward assurance that he was a the most cheerful and social dispositions, with Being upon whose perfect honour and genethe gentlest and steadiest affections.
rosity they might rely with the most implicit Towards Women he had always the most confidence, in life and in death,—and of whom chivalrous feelings of regard and attention, it was equally impossible, that, under any cirand was, beyond almost all men, acceptable cumstances, he should ever perform a inean, and agreeable in their society,—though with a selfish, or a questionable action, as that his out the least levity or pretension unbecoming body should cease to gravitate or his soul to his age or condition : And such, indeed, was live! the fascination of the perfect simplicity and If we do not greatly deceive ourselves, there mildness of his manners, that the same tone is nothing here of exaggeration or partial feel. and deportment seemed equally appropriate ing; -and nothing with which an indifferent in all societies, and enabled him to delight the and honest chronicler would not heartily conyoung and the gay with the same sort of con- cur. Nor is it altogether idle to have dwelt versation which instructed the learned and so long on the personal character of this disthe grave. There never, indeed, was a man tinguished individual : For we are ourselves of learning and talent who appeared in society persuaded, that this personal character has so perfectly free from all sorts of pretension done almost as much for the cause of science or notion of his own importance, or so little and philosophy among us, as the great talents solicitous to distinguish himself, or so sincerely and attainments with which it was combined, willing to give place to every one else. Even -and has contributed in a very eminent deupon subjects which he had thoroughly studied, gree to give to the better society of this our he was never in the least impatient to speak, city that tone of intelligence and liberality by and spoke at all times without any tone of which it is so honourably distinguished. It is authority; while, so far from wishing to set not a little advantageous to philosophy that it off what he had to say by any brilliancy or is in fashion,-and it is still more advantaemphasis of expression, it seemed generally geous, perhaps, to the society which is led to as if he had studied to disguise the weight confer on it this apparently trivial distinction. and originality of his thoughts under the It is a great thing for the country at large, plainest forms of speech and the most quiet for its happiness, its prosperity, and its reand indifferent manner: so that the profound- nown,—that the upper and influencing classes est remarks and subtlest observations were of its population should be made familiar, often dropped, not only without any solicitude even in their untasked and social hours, with that their value should be observed, but with sound and liberal information, and be taught out any apparent consciousness that they to know and respect those who have distinpossessed any.
guished themselves for great intellectual atThough the most social of human beings, tainments. Nor is it, after all, a slight or and the most disposed to encourage and sym- despicable reward for a man of genius, to be pathise with the gaiety and even joviality of received with honour in the highest and most others, his own spirits were in general rather elegant society around him, and to receive in cheerful than gay, or at least never rose to his living person that homage and applause any turbulence or tumult of merriment; and which is too often reserved for his memory. while he would listen with the kindest indul. Now, those desirable ends can never be efgence to the more extravagant sallies of his fectually accomplished, unless the manners younger friends, and prompt them by the of our leading philosophers are agreeable, heartiest approbation, his own satisfaction and their personal habits and dispositions enmight generally be traced in a slow and tem- gaging and amiable. From the time of Hume perate smile, gradually mantling over his and Robertson, we have been fortunate, in benevolent and intelligent features, and light- Edinburgh, in possessing a succession of dising up the countenance of the Sage with the tinguished men, who have kept up this saluexpression of the mildest and most genuine tary connection between the learned and the philanthropy. It was wonderful, indeed, con- fashionable world; but there never, perhaps, sidering the measure of his own intellect, and was any one who contributed so powerfully to the rigid and undeviating propriety of his own confirm and extend it, and that in times when conduct, how tolerant he was of the defects it was peculiarly difficult, as the lamented inand errors of other men. He was too indul-dividual of whom we are now speaking: And gent, in truth, and favourable to his friends! they who have had most opportunity to ob--and made a kind and liberal allowance for serve how superior the society of Edinburgh the faults of all mankind-except only faults is to that of most other places of the same of Baseness or of Cruelty,--against which he size, and how much of that superiority is owing to the cordial combination of the two the importance of the service he has thos aristocracies, of rank and of letters, * -of both rendered to its inhabitants, and through them, of which it happens to be the chief pro- and by their example, to all the rest of the vincial seat, will be best able to judge of country.
* In addition to the two distinguished persons Dr. Adam Fergusson, Mr. John Home, Mr. Joha mentioned in the text, (the first of whom was, no Robison, · Mr. Dugald Stewart, Sir James Hall, doubl, before my time,) I can, from my own recol- Lord Meadowbank, Mr. Henry Mackenzie, Dr. lection, and without referring to any who are still James Gregory, Rev. A. Alison, Dr. Thomas living-give the names of the following residents in Brown, Lord Webb Seymour, Lord WoodbouseEdinburgh, who were equally acceptable in polite lee, and Sir Walter Scott;-without reckoning society and eminent for literary or scientific aitain. Mr. Horner, the Rev. Sydney Smith, and Mr. ments, and alike at home in good company and George Wilson, who were settled in Edinburgh in learned convocations :-Lord Hailes and Lord for several years, in the earlier part of the period Monboddo, Dr. Joseph Black, Dr. Hugh Blair, referred to.
NOTICE AND CHARACTER
JAMES WAT T.*
MR. JAMES Watt, the great improver of the It was our improved Steam-engine, in short, steam-engine, died on the 25th of August, that fought the battles of Europe, and exalted 1819, at his seat of Heathfield, near Birming- and sustained, through the late tremendous ham, in the 84th year of his age.
contest, the political greatness of our land. It This name fortunately needs no commemo- is the same great power which now enables ration of ours; for he that bore it survived to us to pay the interest of our debt, and to see it crowned with undisputed and unenvied maintain the arduous struggle in which we honours; and many generations will probably are still engaged, (1819), with the skill and pass away, before it shall have gathered "all capital of countries less oppressed with taxa. its fame.' We have said that Mr. Watt was tion. But these are poor and narrow views the great Improver of the steam-engine; but, of its importance. It has increased indein truth, as to all that is admirable in its finitely the mass of human comforts and enstructure, or vast in its utility, he should joyments; and rendered cheap and accessirather be described as its Inventor. It was ble all over the world, the materials of wealth by his inventions that its action was so regu- and prosperity. It has armed the feeble hand lated, as to make it capable of being applied of man, in short, with a power to which no to the finest and most delicate manufactures, limits can be assigned ; completed the doand its power so increased, as to set weight minion of mind over the most refractory quaand solidity at defiance. By his admirable lities of matter; and laid a sure foundation contrivance, it has become a thing stupendous for all those future miracles of mechanic alike for its force and its flexibility, for the power which are to aid and reward the laprodigious power which it can exert, and the bours of after generations. It is to the genius ease, and precision, and ductility, with which, of one man, too, that all this is mainly owing! that power can be varied, distributed, and ap- And certainly no man ever bestowed such a plied. The trunk of an elephant, that can gift on his kind. The blessing is not only pick up a pin or rend an oak, is as nothing to universal, but unbounded; and the fabled init
. It can engrave a seal, and crush masses ventors of the plough and the loom, who were of obdurate metal before it-draw out, with. Deified by the erring gratitude of their rude ont breaking, a thread as fine as gossamer, cotemporaries, conferred less important beneand lift a ship of war like a bauble in the air. !fits on mankind than the inventor of our preIt can embroider muslin and forge anchors, sent steam-engine. cut steel into ribands, and impel loaded ves- This will be the fame of Watt with future sels against the fury of the winds and waves. generations: And it is sufficient for his race
It would be difficult to estimate the value and his country. But to those to whom he of the benefits which these inventions have more immediately belonged, who lived in his conferred upon this country. There is no society and enjoyed his conversation, it is branch of industry that has not been indebted not, perhaps, the character in which he will to them; and, in all the most material, they be most frequently recalled-most deeply have not only widened most magnificently lamented—or even most highly admired. Inthe field of its exertions, but multiplied a dependently of his great attainments in me. thousand-fold the amount of its productions. chanics, Mr. Watt was an extraordinary, and
in many respects a wonderful man. Perhaps First published in an Edinburgh newspaper no individual in his age possessed so much (" The Scotsman"), of the 4th September, 1819. and such varied and exact information,-had