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LIVES OF EMINENT
BORN A. D. 1737.-DIED A. D. 1816.
Few men have been more the subject of praise and of censure, praise the most flattering, and censure the most severe and unmitigated, --than Bishop Watson; and few men, perhaps, ever exposed themselves more unshrinkingly than this prelate did to the observation of men, whether for blame or approval. His life was spent in constant contact with the public; and as if the space of threescore years had not sufficed to gratify his love of notoriety, he took care that the world should be made again to sit in judgment on an intrepid and faithful exhibition of his own character and actions as soon as the grave had closed upon his mortal remains. It will readily be anticipated by the reader, that the worth of the bishop's auto-biography has been made a matter of as keen and acrimonious contention as his character itself; some have characterized it as a piece of “posthumous iniquity," while others have pronounced it to be the most valuable piece of auto-biography that has been presented to the world since Bishop Burnet's “ Account of his own Times.”
Richard Watson was born at Heversham, a delightful village in Westmoreland, in August, 1737. His father was a respectable schoolmaster, whose family had long been settled at Shap in the same county. The bishop's ancestors were of the class usually known in those parts by the name of states-men, that is, small proprietors who cultivated their own land with their own hands. The elder Watson had the honour of educating Ephraim Chambers, the author of the Encyclopædia; and is described by his son, in his epitaph, as “ludimagister haud inutilis," -a schoolmaster of some excellence ; but having been compelled to relinquish his master-ship of Heversham school on account of bad health, before his son was born, and having been succeeded in that office by an inferior teacher, the subject of our memoir did not receive that grammar-education which is required in early life to make an accomplished classical scholar according to English notions on this subject, and to fit a student, while passing through either university, to meet on equal ground the highly polished sons of Eton and Westminster in their respective colleges. This circumstance-although he always regarded the art of prosody as a very trifling attainment-he confesses proved a
disadvantage to him through life; it was indeed of little real importance, as he remarks, “whether Cicero would have said fortuito, or fortuito,— Areopăgus, or Areopāgus ; but then a thorough bred scholar would properly have thought meanly of a man who did not know such things, for minute correctness is generally a good and often the only test of accomplished scholarship." Still, having never been taught to make Latin or Greek verses, it cost him “more pains to remember whether a syllable was long or short than it would have done to comprehend a whole section of Newton's Principia ;" and his hands, he tells us, would often sbake with impatience and indignation while he was consulting Ainsworth or Labbé about a point which he was sure of forgetting in a moment's time.
He was admitted a sizar of Trinity college, Cambridge, in 1754. At this time he was acquainted with only two individuals in the university, and £300, the portion left him by his father, formed the amount of his slender resources. Clearly apprehending then that he had only his own industry and exertions to depend upon for the future, he set determinedly to work, and for four years and seven months was never out of college for one whole day. The result of this truly scholar-like self-denial and application was some knowledge of Hebrew, great improvement in Greek and Latin, and considerable proficiency in mathematics and natural philosophy ; and its reward a scholarship a year before the usual time of the sizars' sitting. He had also studied with much attention Locke's works, King's book on the ‘Origin of Evil, Puffendorf's treatise, 'De officio hominis et civis,' and some other books on similar subjects, and which in all probability gave the bias to those future habits of close and vigorous thinking, and that love of constitutional liberty, for which he was afterwards so distinguished.. After he had been six months at Cambridge, he was asked, during a college examination, whether Dr Clarke had demonstrated the absurdity of an infinite succession of changeable and dependent beings ? “I answered," he says, “ with blushing hesitation, Non.' The head lecturer, Brocket, with great good nature, mingled with no small surprise, encouraged me to give my reasons for thinking so; I stammered out, in barbarous Lam tin, that Clarke had inquired into an origin of a series, which, being from the supposition eternal, could have no origin; and into the first term of a series, which, being from the supposition infinite, could have no first.” This incident caused him to be cried up, he relates, as a great metaphysician ; and, four years after, procured him the friendship of Dr Law, from which he subsequently derived much advantage. The following extract from his auto-biography is interesting, and conveys a useful lesson to all students : “When I used to be returning to my room, at one or two in the morning, after spending a jolly evening, I often observed a light in the chamber of one of the same standing with myself; this never failed to excite my jealousy, and the next day was always a day of hard study. I have gone without my dinner a. hundred times on such occasions. I thought I never entirely under-, stood a proposition in any part of mathematics, or natural philosophy, till I was able, in a solitary walk, obstipo capite atque exporrecto labello, to draw the scheme in my head, and go through every step of the demonstration without book, or pen and paper. I found this was a very difficult task, especially in some of the perplexed schemes and long