Billeder på siden
PDF
ePub

manners, and knowlege, at any particular epoch; to trace the progress of the human mind; and to compare and appreciate the advances in civilization of distant periods. If identity of pursuits were made the principle of combination, and the professors of the same art or science were ranked together, we should be enabled to trace with ease the history of that art ,or science, and to calculate with precision the degree and the modes of its advancement.-Even an arrangement depending entirely on locality of birth or residence, though perhaps the least advantageous of all others, would yet not be without its use. It would afford a valuable illustration of general history, and would assist to ascertain the place which each country should occupy in the scale of science and polity.

We cannot suppose that an arrangement on any of these principles would be insuperably difficult, nor that it would even add much to the labour of the compiler. From a given mass of materials, it must be as easy to select those which relate to

persons who agree in the time or the plap of their existence, ce nature or in the identitage of their professions, as those whose names

correspond in their first letters.

With respect to the necessity for subordinate divisions' framed on different and incompatible principles, should any of these classifications be adopted, we profess that it eludes our observation. If priority of existence, for example, were to give priority of place in this work, what necessity would there be for any subordinate division?- In a classification of persons by the art or science which they professed, or by the place of their birth or residence, subordinate divisions might be adopted with great advantage, perhaps,--but certainly not from necessity. Thus, under the head of Painters, there might be subdivisions for the different departments of that art, as Historic, Landscape, &c. Under that of Mathematicians, there might be subdivisions for abstract mathematics, as Conic Sections, &c. and mixt mathematics—as their application to astronomy, . optics, &c. These subdivisions would be voluntary; and we do not perceive that they would rest on incompatible principles. In the present instance, however, this point is now decided.

Next to the arrangement of the work, the authors advert to another circumstance, still more essential to be considered in a design of this pature :-pamely, selection. The grand principle on which this must be founded, they truly remark, 'is Fame and Celebrity :-for this will be found to coincide with the two chief reasons that make us desirous of information concerning an individual, --curiosity, and the wish of enlarging our knowlege of mankind. Here the authors appear to feel the obvious

difficulty

[ocr errors]

difficulty of ascertaining who are the truly famous and the cele. brated. Some are raised to the notice of mankind merely by circumstances of birth and situation ; others have entitled themselves to honourable notice, by the beneficial exertion of their own great powers in art, scier:ce, or literature. Of the former class, the editors observe that, since the degree of power intrusted in their hands renders the personal character of even the most insignificant of them not without importance, and since the chronological series of leading events in a country is best learned by associating it with their names, it has been thought advisable in the present work to insert every individual of all the principal dynasties, antient and modern, with a summary of their reigns, more or less particular as they have exerted a greater or less personal influence over the occurrences in them.' Of the latter class, though the claim to celebrity, depending solely on personal qualifications, may seem to admit of an easier estimate than the preceding, yet the number of claimants is so great that, in the impossibility of commemorating all, many names must be rejected which on the first glance may seem as worthy of insertion as their preferred rivals. The difficult work of selection ought, in these cases, to be regulated by some fixed principles ; and the circumstances which appear to be most worthy of guiding the decision are those of invention and improvement.'

In the introduction, some observations follow respecting those who, by the exercise of their faculties in an original path, have added to the valuable products of human skill and ingenuity ;-and those by whom such inventions have been improvcd. In the conclusion, we have the following passage ; which gives a still more accurate view of the principles of selection, and of the plan on which the work is executed :

• Two other circumstances by which selection may be affected are, country and age. We have seen no general biographical work which is free from a decisive stamp of nationality ; that is, which does not include a greater number of names of natives of the country in which they were composed, than the fair proportion of relative fame and excellence can justify. Perhaps this fault is in some measure excusable, on account of the superior interest taken by all nations in eminence of their own growth; and if readers are gratified by such a deference to their feelings, writers will not fail to comply with their wishes. We do not pretend to have made no sacrifices of this sort; but being sensible that disproportion is a real blemish in a work, and that in this instance it partakes of the nature of injustice, we hope we shall be found not to have exceeded the bounds of moderation in this particular. We have most sedulously eadeavoured to avoid the more serious fault, of awarding to our countrymen individually, more than their due share of merit in com.

S 3

parison

parison with foreign competitors. In this point we would be truly citizens of the world.

• The circumstance of age or period in which the claimants have lived, has an operation similar to that of country. We are inuch more impressed with the relative consequence of persons who have trod [trodden] the stage of life within our own memory, than of those whose scene of action has long been closed, though equally eminent in their day. Of course, curiosity is more active respecting the former; and to this natural predilection it may be proper for the biographer to pay some deference, provided he does not too much infringe the principle of equitable proportion, which ought essentially to regulate a work, professing to comprehend every age of the world, as well as every country: One cause that will always give to modern and domestic articles somewhat more than their exact share of extent, is the greater ease and copiousness with which information respecting them is usually obtainable. This presents a temptation to prolixity, which a writer can with difficulty resist.

• Prolixity, however, we have in all cases studiously avoided ; which leads us to speak of the remaining consideration, viz ; that of the compass we have allowed ourselves. Biography will certainly bear to be written much at large; and in judicious hands it is often the more entertaining and instructive the more it is minute. But with so vast a subject before us as the lives of eminent men of all ages and nations, it is obviously impracticable to employ a very extensive scale ; and the aim must rather be, to give a set of characteristic sketches in miniature, than a series of finished and full-sized portraits. The scope we have taken admits, in our opinion, of such an execution with regard to all characters of real eminence; and we hope we have dismissed few of that class, without fully answering the leading biographical questions, What was he? What did he? His moral and intellectual qualities, the principal events of his life, his relative merit in the department he occupied, and especially, the manner in which he was first formed to his art or profession, with the gradations by which he rose to excellence, have engaged our at. tentive inquiries, and we have endeavoured to develope them with all the accuracy that conciseness would allow. But having been thus diffuse with respect to the higher claimants, we have been necessarily reduced to very brief notices of those of inferior rank. These articles we have considered as rather designed for being consulted than read; and we have comprised under a few short heads of inform, ation, all that we had to say concerning them.'

• Besides the references to authorities occasionally given in the substance of articles, at the end of every one are printed in Italiç the names of all the authors who have been consulted in compiling the narrative. But it is to be understood that, in general, we have derived from these sources the matter of fact alone, not the sentiments and reflections.'

Having detained the reader thus long in giving an outline of the plan of this production, which, both from its own nature and the character of its editors, we consider as entitled to great attention, we shall conclude by laying before him a specimen of its execution, in the life of the celebrated D'Alembert; from the pen of Dr. Enfield :

Alembert, John le Rond d', a celebrated French philosopher and mathematician, and an elegant writer, was born at Paris on the 16th of November, 1717. He came into the world under the disadvantage of illegitimate birth, and was exposed as a foundling by his mother, who is said to have been mademoiselle Tencin, sister of the abbe, afterwards cardinal, Tencin. His surname, de le Rond, is derived from the church near which he was exposed. He owed his life to the humanity of the overseer of the quarter, who put him to nurse to the wife of a glazier. Information of the situation of the child being communicated to his father Destouches Canon, he listened to the voice of nature and duty, and took measures for his future subsistence and education.

• The genius of D'Alembert did not wait the maturity of age to display its powers. When he was only ten years old,'his school. master declared, that he had nothing further to teach him. He was sent to finish his education at the college of Mazarin, where his attainments raised him to the first distinction. Early in his academic course, his attention was directed to theology; and he composed a " Commentary on the Epistle of Paul to the Romans," which raised in the Jansenists an expectation that D'Alembert would prove an able champion in their cause, and might even become a second Paschal. His penetrating intellect, however, found more satisfaction in the demonstrative reasonings of mathematicians, than in the vague disputations of theological controversialists ; and he, at this time, acquired a predilection for mathematical studies, which remained with him through life.

• Retaining a grateful attachment to the asylum of his infancy and childhood, and desiring nothing more than a quiet retreat, where he might prosecute his studies in tranquillity, D'Alembert, upon leaving the college, took up his residence in the family of his nurse, the only family which he could consider as his own. Here he lived many years in great simplicity of manners, esteeming himself happy in contributing, as his fortunes improved, to the comfortable subsistence of those, whose kind attentions had, during his early years, supplied the place of parental affection. His worthy hostess, not having enjoyed the advantages of education, was not aware how great a man she had fostered ; and, though she frequently heard him mentioned as the author of books which were admired, she still regarded him as an object of compassion. “ You will never," said she one day to him, “ be any thing but a philosopher; and what is a philosopher but a fool, who toils and plagues himself, that people may talk of him after he is dead?”

• In order to enlarge his means of comfortable subsistence, D'Alembert at first turned his thoughts to the law, and took his degrees in that profession. Finding this employment unsuitable to his inclination, he next applied to the study of medicine. But his fondAess for mathematics rose superior to every other consideration ; and

rather

S 4

[merged small][ocr errors]

248

Aikin and Enfield-General Biography, Vol. 1. rather than deny himself the gratification of following, without re. straint, the strong bias of his mind towards these studies, he chose to decline the benefit of any lucrative profession.

"At the age of twenty-four, in the year 1741, the original genius of D'Alembert for mathematical investigation appeared in a masterly correction of the errors of Reyneau's “ Analyse Demontrée,” a work of high repute in analytics ; and this work, in concurrence with his general reputation for uncommon talents, obtained him an honaiwable admission into the academy of sciences. He now applied himself with great assiduity to the solution of the problem concern. ing the motion and path of a body which passes obliquely from a rarer into a denser fluid. This inquiry led him into general speculations on the forces of moving bodies, which produced « A Treatise on Dynamics,” [Traité de Dynamique] 4to. Paris, 1744, 1758, first published in 1743. In this treatise, the author establishes an equality at each instant between the changes which the motion of a body has undergone, and the forces or powers which have been em. ployed to produce them; in other words, he separates into two parts the action of the moving powers, and considers the one as producing alone the motion of the body in the second instant, and the other as employed to destroy that which it had in the first. This principle he afterwards applied to the theory of equilibrium, and to the motion of fluids : and all the problems, before resolved in physics, became, in some measure, its corollaries. The discovery of this new principle was followed by that of a new calculus, the first applications of which appeared in “ A Discourse on the general Theory of the Winds,” [Reflexions sur la Cause générale des Vents] 4to. Paris, 1747, which, in 1746, obtained the prize-medal in the academy of Berlin. This society was so fully satisfied of the merit of this discourse, that they elected him an honorary member. It happened at this time, that the king of Prussia terminated a glorious campaign by an honourable peace. D'Alembert availed himself of this fortunate circumstance, and dedicated his work to the king in these three Latin verses :

! Hæc ego de ventis, dum ventorum ocyor alis

Palantes agit Austriacos Fredericus, et orbi,
Insignis lauro, ramum prætendit olivæ.
Swifter than wind, while of the winds I write,
The foes of conqu’ring Frederic speed their flight ;
While laurel o'er the hero's temple bends,

To the tir'd world the olive branch he sends.
? Flattered by this dedication, Frederic sent him a polite letter,
and from this time ranked him among his philosophical friends. --
His new “ Calculus of Partial Differences," D'Alembert, in 1747,
applied to the subjects of sounds, and vibrating chords. He after-
wards employed his principle concerning motion, in explaining the
motion of any body of a given figure. In 1749 he resolved the
problem of the precession of the equinoxes, determining its quantity,
and explaining the phenomenon of the nutation of the terrestrial
axis discovered by Dr. Bradley; “ Recherches sur la Précession des

9*

Equinoxes,

« ForrigeFortsæt »