Imágenes de página


admirable taste which is conspicuous in his writings, or rather the higher principles from which that taste was but an emanation, spread a similar charm over his whole life and conversation; and gave to the most learned Philosopher of his day the manners and deportment of the most perfect Gentleman. Nor was this in him the result merely of good sense and good temper, assisted by an early familiarity with good company, and a consequent knowledge of his own place and that of all around him. His good breeding was of a higher descent; and his powers of pleasing rested on something better than mere companionable qualities. With the greatest kindness and generosity of nature, he united the most manly firmness, and the highest principles of honour, and the most cheerful and social dispositions, with the gentlest and steadiest affections.

Towards Women he had always the most chivalrous feelings of regard and attention, and was, beyond almost all men, acceptable and agreeable in their society, -though without the least levity or pretension unbecoming his age or condition: And such, indeed, was the fascination of the perfect simplicity and mildness of his manners, that the same tone and deportment seemed equally appropriate in all societies, and enabled him to delight the young and the gay with the same sort of conversation which instructed the learned and the grave. There never, indeed, was a man of learning and talent who appeared in society so perfectly free from all sorts of pretension or notion of his own importance, or so little solicitous to distinguish himself, or so sincerely willing to give place to every one else. Even upon subjects which he had thoroughly studied, he was never in the least impatient to speak, and spoke at all times without any tone of authority; while, so far from wishing to set off what he had to say by any brilliancy or emphasis of expression, it seemed generally as if he had studied to disguise the weight and originality of his thoughts under the plainest forms of speech and the most quiet and indifferent manner: so that the profoundest remarks and subtlest




observations were often dropped, not only without any solicitude that their value should be observed, but without any apparent consciousness that they possessed any.

Though the most social of human beings, and the most disposed to encourage and sympathize with the gaiety and even joviality of others, his own spirits were in general rather cheerful than gay, or at least never rose to any turbulence or tumult of merriment; and while he would listen with the kindest indulgence to the more extravagant sallies of his younger friends, and prompt them by the heartiest approbation, his own satisfaction might generally be traced in a slow and temperate smile, gradually mantling over his benevolent and intelligent features, and lighting up the countenance of the Sage with the expression of the mildest and most genuine philanthropy. It was wonderful, indeed, considering the measure of his own intellect, and the rigid and undeviating propriety of his own conduct, how tolerant he was of the defects and errors of other men. He was too indulgent, in truth, and favourable to his friends!—and made a kind and liberal allowance for the faults of all mankind-except only faults of Baseness or of Cruelty,

against which he never failed to manifest the most open scorn and detestation. Independent, in short, of his high attainments, Mr. Playfair was one of the most amiable and estimable of men: Delightful in his manners, inflexible in his principles, and generous in his affections, he had all that could charm in society or attach in private; and while his friends enjoyed the free and unstudied conversation of an easy and intelligent associate, they had at all times the proud and inward assurance that he was a being upon whose perfect honour and generosity they might rely with the most implicit confidence, in life and in death, and of whom it was equally impossible, that, under any circumstances, he should ever perform a mean, a selfish, or a questionable action, as that his body should cease to gravitate or his soul to live!

If we do not greatly deceive ourselves, there is nothing here of exaggeration or partial feeling,—and nothing with which an indifferent and honest chronicler would


not heartily concur. Nor is it altogether idle to have dwelt so long on the personal character of this distinguished individual: For we are ourselves persuaded, that this personal character has done almost as much for the cause of science and philosophy among us, as the great talents and attainments with which it was combined, and has contributed in a very eminent degree to give to the better society of this our city that tone of intelligence and libe rality by which it is so honourably distinguished. It is not a little advantageous to philosophy that it is in fashion,and it is still more advantageous, perhaps, to the society which is led to confer on it this apparently trivial distinction. It is a great thing for the country at large, -for its happiness, its prosperity, and its renown,-that the upper and influencing classes of its population should be made familiar, even in their untasked and social hours, with sound and liberal information, and be taught to know and respect those who have distinguished themselves for great intellectual attainments. Nor is it, after all, a slight or despicable reward for a man of genius, to be received with honour in the highest and most elegant society around him, and to receive in his living person that homage and applause which is too often reserved for his memory. Now, those desirable ends can never be effectually accomplished, unless the manners of our leading philosophers are agreeable, and their personal habits and dispositions engaging and amiable. From the time of Hume and Robertson, we have been fortunate, in Edinburgh, in possessing a succession of distinguished men, who have kept up this salutary connexion between the learned and the fashionable world; but there never, perhaps, was any one who contributed so powerfully to confirm and extend it, and that in times when it was peculiarly difficult, as the lamented individual of whom we are now speaking: And they who have had most opportunity to observe how superior the society of Edinburgh is to that of most other places of the same size, and how much of that superiority is owing to the cordial combination of the two aristocracies, of rank

[ocr errors]



and of letters*,-of both of which it happens to be the chief provincial seat,-will be best able to judge of the importance of the service he has thus rendered to its inhabitants, and through them, and by their example, to all the rest of the country.


In addition to the two distinguished persons mentioned in the text, (the first of whom was, no doubt, before my time,) I can, from my own recollection, and without referring to any who are still living give the names of the following residents in Edinburgh, who were equally acceptable in polite society and eminent for literary or scientific attainments, and alike at home in good company and in learned convocations:-Lord Hailes and Lord Monboddo, Dr. Joseph Black, Dr. Hugh Blair, Dr. Adam Fergusson, Mr. John Home, Mr. John Robison, Mr. Dugald Stewart, Sir James Hall, Lord Meadowbank, Mr. Henry Mackenzie, Dr. James Gregory, Rev. A. Alison, Dr. Thomas Brown, Lord Webb Seymour, Lord Woodhouselee, and Sir Walter Scott;--without reckoning Mr. Horner, the Rev. Sydney Smith, and Mr. George Wilson, who were settled in Edinburgh for several years, in the earlier part of the period referred to.




MR. JAMES WATT, the great improver of the steamengine, died on the 25th of August, 1819, at his seat of Heathfield, near Birmingham, in the 84th year of his age.

This name fortunately needs no commemoration of ours; for he that bore it survived to see it crowned with undisputed and unenvied honours; and many generations will probably pass away, before it shall have gathered "all its fame." We have said that Mr. Watt was the great Improver of the steam-engine; but, in truth, as to all that is admirable in its structure, or vast in its utility, he should rather be described as its Inventor. It was by his inventions that its action was so regulated, as to make it capable of being applied to the finest and most delicate manufactures, and its power so increased, as to set weight and solidity at defiance. By his admirable contrivance, it has become a thing stupendous alike for its force and its flexibility,-for the prodigious power which it can exert, and the ease, and precision, and ductility, with which that power can be varied, distributed, and applied. The trunk of an elephant, that can pick up a pin or rend an oak, is as nothing to it. It can engrave a seal, and crush masses of obdurate metal before it-draw out, without breaking, a thread as fine as gossamer, and lift a ship of war like a bauble in the air. It

* First published in an Edinburgh newspaper (" The Scotsman"), of the 4th September, 1819.

« AnteriorContinuar »