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may forget to notice even the existence of the man, who earned a certain portion both of fame and fortune by traducing and vilifying him.
The following attack on the celo brated biographer of Johnson, is a once graphic and characteristical:
O Boswell, Bozzy, Bruce, whate'er thy name,
PROFESSOR PLAYFAIR was the el. sor Wilkie, when confined by illness, dest son of the Reverend James selected him as the person best quaPlayfair, Minister of Benvie in For lified to read his Lectures on Natefarshire, at which place he was born ral Philosophy; and notwithstanding on the 10th of March 1748. He re- the great disparity of years between ceived the rudiments of his education the Professor and the Student, they in his paternal mansion, and at the became intimate friends. At the age of fourteen was sent to the Uni- early age of eighteen, he presented versity of St Andrew's, where his himself as a candidate for the Progenius and industry soon attracted fessorship of Mathematics io the the notice, and gained him the friend- Marischal College of Aberdeen; and ship of his teachers. For the ma. after a comparative trial, which lastthematical sciences, in which he was ed eleven days, only two out of six afterwards destined to attain such candidates who had appeared, the consummate proficiency, he had Reverend Dr Trail, who was appointshown an early and decided predi- ed to the chair, and Dr Hamilton, lection ; and so distinguished had who now fills it, were found to be bis been his progress in his favourite superiors *. In 1769 he completed study, even at College, that Profes- his studies, and having left the Uni
• Of the extent of mathematical knowledge required on this occasion, the following ertract from the conditions presented to the candidates before trial will afford a sufficient idea :
Each of the candidates is to demonstrate some of the propositions in each of the first six books of Euclid, and any of the first twenty-two propositions of the eleventh book. The candidates are to demonstrate propositions in plane and spherical trigonometry, and to ap ply the propositions to the actual solution of cases, and to explain the orthographic stereographic and gnomonic projections of the sphere. They are further to explain the genesis of the three conic sections, and to demonstrate their capital properties. The candidates are to have questions put to them relating to the principles of algebra, the nature and composition of equations, and their olulion by the method of divisors and other methods ; tbe arith
ersity, spent much of his time fortion of his brothers, and the prosecume years in the society of Dr Ro- tion of his studies. The sermons he ertson the historian, Dr Adam delivered during his incumbency we mith, Dr Matthew Stewart, Dr have heard eulogized, in the warmlack, and Dr Hutton. In 1772 he est terms, by very competent judges, ecame a candidate for the Profes- who described them as finished pieces orship of Natural Philosophy in St of composition, and distinguished by
drew's, vacant by the death of his that beautiful simplicity, yet severe iend Dr Wilkie ; but he was dis. logic, by which all his writings are ppointed in his views of this situa- so strongly characterized. ion, for which he was so eminently Besides occasional visits to Edin. ualified, by the patrons being, as it burgh, he made an excursion in hould seem, pledged to confer it on 1774 to the Highlands of Perthshire, inother gentleman, a member of the where Dr Maskelyne was then emUniversity.
ployed in performing a set of expeThis disappointment was the more riments on the force of gravity and severely feli by Mr Playfair, owing the effect of mountains in disturbing to the death of his father, which took the plumb-line; and during a short place in the course of the same year, stay on the side of Schehaillien, a and devolved on him the charge of friendship was formed, which termihis mother and family, of whom one nated only with the life of the As. brother only was sufficiently advan- tronomer Royal. Under the auspiced to provide for himself. For al. ces of this celebrated man, Mr Playthough Lord Gray immediately pre- fair's first Mathematical Essay, on sented him to his father's living, that the Arithmetic of Impossible Quannobleman's right of presentation tities, was, four years after, present. was in this instance disputed by the ed to the Royal Society of London, Crown lawyers : and it was not till and published in 1779 in the 68th, August 1773, that he obtained pos- volume of the Philosophical Transsession, by a resolution of the Gene. actions. ral Assembly of the Church, for which In 1782, he resigned his living, he was chiefly indebted to the strenue for the purpose of superintending ous support of his illustrious friend the education of the present Mr Dr Robertson. The legal question Ferguson of Raith, and his brother continued long dependent before Sir Ronald ; and in 1785, an exthe Court of Session, but was finally change having taken place between decided in Lord Gray's favour, by Dr Adam Ferguson, Professor of which his nomination was confirmed. Moral Philosophy in the University Mr Playfair now became resident at of Edinburgh, and Mr Dugald StewLiff, where he devoted himself chief- art, who then filled the Mathema. ly to the discharge of his professional tical Chair, and the delicate health duties, devoting his leisure hours to of the former having unfitted him for the superintendence of the educa- discharging the duties of his labori
metic of surds, the composition of powers, the extraction of roots, the doctrine of ratios, the inethod of indivisibles, the arithmetic of infinities, the doctrine of prime and ultimate ratios, and the method of Auxions, direct and inverse, the nature of logarithms, and the expression of fuents by the measures of ratios and angles.” The particular questions proposed to the candidates for solution, were, of course, such as to require a complete and ready command of each of the subjects here specified.
rous office, Mr Playfair was elected lustrated. As an evidence of the care joint Professor of Mathematics,- with which this celebrated work w situation which he held for twenty elaborated, we may mention that fre years. He now wrote and publish- years, from 1797 to 1802, were es ed successively in the Philosophical ployed in its composition; another Transactions of the Royal Society of proof, in addition to that furnished Edinburgh, a variety of papers on by Rousseau and others, that great mathematical subjects, the most re. excellence, and especially a severe markable of which is his “ Remarks simplicity and purity of style, are on the Astronomy of the Brah- only to be attained by a happy conmins ;" a paper which indicates the bination of consummate art and onmost profound acquaintance with wearied industry. science, and has thrown much light In 1805, Mr Playfair quitted the on a subject hitherto little cultivated Mathematical Chair to succeed the or understood. His Elements of celebrated Professor Robison in thar Geometry appeared in 1795, and is of Natural Philosophy. The well. too well known to require any parti- known disputes that took place corcular mention. It is worthy of no. cerning the appointment of a suctice, however, that this work has cessor to Mr Playfair induced him gone through five editions, four of to address a letter to the Lord which were called for before it was Provost, in which he vindicated the introduced as a class-book into the cause of science against the partor University.
views of a party, and thus involved In the spring of 1797, a new di. himself as a principal in the violent rection was given to Mr Playfair's controversy which ensued. Hi studies, by the death of his ingenious reply to the personal attack made friend Dr James Hutton, of whose upon him is still remembered as te works he began to draw up an ab- markable for beauty of style, keen. stract, with
view to the composi- ness of sarcasm, and force of rez. tion of a biographical memoir; an soning. But science triumplied over occupation which eventually gave party views, and Mr Playfair sova birth to the “ Illustrations of the resumed his favourite pursuits, and Huttonian Theory of the Earth," one prepared his Essays on the Solids of of the most classical and profound greatest Attraction, and on the Proworks on Science of which any lan- gress of Heat in Spherical Bodies, guage can boast. This task was, which afterwards appeared in the in some degree, imposed upon Mr Transactions of the Royal Society Playfair, no less by reverence for of Edinburgh. In 1814, he publishthe memory of his friend, than by ed bis Outlines of Natural Philothe real merits of the theory itself, sophy in two volumes octavo ; and in which Dr Hutton's inelegant com- the following year a Memoir of the position and defective arrangement Life of Professor Robison. But beprevented from being thoroughly sides the various publications just understood or correctly appreciated; mentioned, and numerous contribuand it is superfluous to add, that it tions to the Edinburgh Review, two has been mainly indebted for the works of great importance had for celebrity it has since acquired, to some time occupied Mr Playfair's the inimitable skill, profound know. most serious attention. One of these ledge, and admirable perspicuity was the exquisite “ Dissertation on and elegance with which it was il. the Progress of Mathematical and
wysical Science since the Revival count, will be found in the memoir Letters in Europe," written for prefixed to the late edition of his e Supplement to the Encyclopædia works, published at Edinburgh, by itannica, and published in that Constable and Company, and from irk in 1816; and the other, which which this brief notice is taken. is interrupted by the Dissertation, From this tour, which occupied is a new edition of his “ Illustra. seventeen months, during which he ins of the Huttonian Theory of had travelled over no less than 4000 e Earth,” of greater magnitude miles, Mr Playfair returned to resume an the former, and upon a diffe. his academical labours ; but in the nt principle of arrangement. That course of the ensuing summer ex. ? did not live to complete his de. perienced a severe attack of a disgn, must be viewed by every one ease in the bladder, which interrupt. ; unfortunate for the theory itself, ed both his lectures and his studies hich his accumulated treasures of during a great portion of the winter. eological knowledge would perhaps He was however able to resume and ave still more satisfactorily eluci. finish the course of lectures ; but in ated, and as a great and irreparable June, the disease recurred with in. Išs to science in general.
creased violence, and after an illness In the prosecution of bis geologi- of a month, terminated his existence al inquiries, Mr Playfair spent a on the 19th of July 1819. Tortion of almost every summer va- A paper having appeared in the sation in a personal examination of Edinburgh Magazine, for August he more interesting districts of 1819, from the masterly pen of Me Scotland, England, and Wales; and Jeffrey, in which the character of being anxious to extend his resear- Professor Playfair is felicitously ches to the Continent, for which drawn and skilfully discriminated, the re-establishment of peace, in we shall conclude this notice by ap. 1815, presented every facility, he propriating the greater part of this made arrangements for undertaking very able composition. a tour through France and Switzer. - No event of the kind certainly land, to be extended, if leave of ab- ever excited more general sympaserce could be procured for a winter, thy than the death of Mr Playfair ; to the southern extremity of Italy. and no individual, we are persuaded, This plan was carried into effect, will be longer or more affectionateand Mc Playfair was every where ly remembered by all classes of his received with the distinction due to fellow-citizens : and yet it is to those his high character and his great e- very circumstances that we must minence in science. In Paris, par- look for an explanation of the apticularly, the persons most illustrious parent neglect by which his memofor science or rank vied with each ry has been followed. His humble other in showing him every flatter- admirers had been deterred from ing distinction and kind attention, expressing their sentiments by a na. and appear to have been equally tural feeling of unwillingness to en struck with the extent of his ac- croach on the privilege of those quirements and the refined simpli- whom a nearer approach to his pereity of his manners.
Some memo and talents rendered more rials of this journey, of which it is worthy to speak of them ; while the to be regretted that he himself did learned and eloquent among his not live to publish any detailed ac- friends have trusted to each other
for the performance of a task which of its movements, and guided and they could not but feel to be pain. adorned through all its progress by ful in itself, and not a little difficult the most genuine enthusiasm for al to perform as it ought to be; or, that is grand, and the justest taste perhaps, have reserved for some for all that is beautiful in the truth more solemn occasion that tribute
intellectual energy with for which the public impatience is which he was habitually conversar. already at its height.
“ To what account these rare qua« We beg leave to assure our read. lities might have been turned, and ers, that it is merely from anxiety to what more brilliant or lasting fruita do something to gratify this natural they might have produced, if bis impatience, that we presume to en-, whole life had been dedicated to ter at all upon a subject to which we the solitary cultivation of science, are perfectly aware that we are in. it is not for us to conjecture; but it capable of doing justice ; for of Mr cannot be doubted that they added Playfair's scientific attainments, of incalculably to his eminence and his proficiency in those studies to utility as a teacher ; both by ens. which he was peculiarly devoted, we bling him to direct his pupils to the are but slenderly qualified to judge; most simple and luminous methods but, we believe, we hazard nothing in of inquiry, and to imbue their saying that he was one of the most minds, from the very commence learned mathematicians of his age, ment of the study, with that fire and among the first, if not the very relish for the truths it disclosed, first, who introduced the beautiful and that high sense of the majesti discoveries of the latter continental with which they were invested, the geometers to the knowledge of his predominated in his own boson countrymen, and gave their just value While he left nothing unexplained and true place in the scheme of Euro« or unreduced to its proper place in pean knowledge to those important the system, he took care that they improvements by which the whole as. should never be perplexed by petty pect of the abstract sciences has been difficulties, or bewildered in useless renovated since the days of our illus- details, and formed them betimes to trious Newton. If he did not signalize that clear, masculine, and direct me himself by any brilliant or original thod of investigation, by which, with invention, he must at least be allow. the least labour, the greatest adrased to have been a most generous and tages might be accomplished. intelligent judge of the achievements “ Mr Playfair, however, was not of others, as well as the most elo- merely a teacher; and has fortunate quent expounder of that great and ly left behind him a variety of works
, magnificent system of knowledge from which other generations may be which has been gradually evolved by enabled to judge of some of those the successive labours of so many qualifications which so powerfully gifted individuals.
He possessed, recommended and endeared him to indeed, in the highest degree, all his contemporaries. It is perhaps the characteristics both of a fine to be regreited that so much of his and powerful understanding, at time, and so large a proportion of once penetrating and vigilant, but his publications, should have been more distinguished, perhaps, for the devoted to the subjects of the Indian caution and sureness of its march, astronomy, and the Huttonian the than for the brilliancy or rapidity ory of the earth. For though no