Billeder på siden

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 much 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 attentive 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 Italic 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 atten


tion, 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 schoolmaster 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 "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 fondness for mathematics rese superior to every other consideration; and

$ 4


rather than deny himself the gratification of following, without restraint, 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 honourable 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 employed 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 afterwards 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



Equinoxes, et sur la Nutation de l'Axe de la Terre dans le Système Newtonien," 4to. Paris, 1749; and, in 1752, he published a treatise, containing much original matter, under the title, "An Essay towards a New Theory of the Motion of the Fluids," [Essai d'une nouvelle Théorie du Mouvement des Fluides] 4to. Paris, 1752. In the same year he published, "Elements of Music," upon the principles of Rameau; an excellent abridgment of that author's doctrines. About the same time appeared, in the Memoirs of the Academy of Berlin, "Researches concerning the Integral Calculus." Other pieces, published at various times in the Memoirs of the Academies of Paris and Berlin, were afterwards collected under the title of "Opuscules Mathématiques," published at Paris in nine volumes 4to. in 1773, or "Memoirs on various Subjects of Geometry, Mechanics, Optics, and Astronomy," from the year 1761 to 1773D'Alembert also wrote "Researches on several important Points of the System of the World." [Recherches sur différens Points importans du Système du Monde] 3 vols. 4to, Paris, 1754, 1756. These numerous and original productions, in various branches of mathematical science, entitle D'Alembert to rank among the most celebrated mathematicians of the age. He has had the merit of adding a new calculus, or method of performing mathematical investigations and resolutions, to those of the last age, and new branches of the science of motion to those discovered by Galileo, Huygens, and Newton.

With the character of an eminent mathematician, D'Alembert united that of a polite scholar. Genius, judgment, and elegant taste are happily displayed in his miscellaneous works, and he is justly regarded in France as one of the first writers of that nation. He is generally understood to have been the first projector of that vast undertaking, to which the world has been much indebted for the diffusion of knowledge, "The Encyclopædia." This work was begun in 1750 by D'Alembert, Voltaire, Diderot, and many other learned men. The work is enriched by many valuable articles in mathematics, history, and polite literature, from the pen of D'Alembert and it may be remarked, to the credit of his judgment, that his style is always suited to his subject, and that he never assumes the language of poetry in scientific discussions. To him the public is indebted for the excellent preliminary discourse of the Encyclopædia; and the vestibule of this superb edifice will remain a lasting monument of his genius and good sense: it is an elegant dissertation, in which are united strength and harmony, learning and taste, just thinking and fine writing. The general table which he gives of human knowledge, discovers a comprehensive, well-informed, and methodical mind; and the judgments, which he passes upon writers who have contributed to the improvement of science, are worthy of an enlightened and impartial philosopher. D'Alembert displayed his fine talents in many other literary productions. His "Translation of select Parts of Tacitus," [Traduction de divers Morceaux de Tacite] in 2 vols. 12mo, afford an elegant specimen of his learning. His "Memoirs of Christina, Queen of Sweden," is a masterly piece of biographical writing. In this work the au


thor shows that he understood the natural rights of mankind, and that he had the courage to assert them. His "Essay on the Alliance between the Learned and the Great," gravely, but keenly, satirises the mean servility of the former, and the insolent tyranny of the latter. A lady of high rank, hearing the author accused of having exaggerated the despotism of the great, and the submission which they require from those who are honoured with their patronage, said smartly, "If he had consulted me, I could have told him still more of the matter." These pieces, together with other essays on subjects of polite literature; "Eloges," on Bernouilli, Terrasson, Montesquieu, Mallet, and Dumarsais; and " Elements of Philosophy," were about the year 1760 collected into five volumes, and published under the title of "Melanges de Litérature, d'Histoire, it de Philosophie," 5 vols. 12mo. [Literary, Historical, and Philosophical Miscellanies.]

In 1765, D'Alembert published a piece "On the Destruction of the Jesuits," [De la Destruction des Jésuites] in 12mo, Paris, 1765, in which he treats with nearly equal severity the Jesuits and their adversaries. He gives a large collection of epigrams occasioned by the fall of this body, with some of his own. This work treats the disciples of Ignatius Loyola with so much insulting contempt, that it may not improperly be said of the author, "Non ridet, sed iridet." [He deals in derision rather than ridicule.] D'Alembert excelled in panegyric no less than satire. Upon his election, in 1772, to the office of secretary to the French academy, he continued the History of the Academy," published by Messrs. Pelisson and D'Olivet, by w ting in the form of éloges, or panegyrics, "An History of those Members of the French Academy who died between the Years 1700 and 1771," [Histoire des Membres de l'Académie Françoise, morts depuis 1700 jusqu'en 1771] 6 vols. 12mo, Paris, 1787. This collection, notwithstanding some inequalities of style, is justly admired; it abounds with lively portraits, amusing anecdotes, ingenious parallels, and fine reflections.


While D'Alembert confined himself chiefly to mathematical studies, he remained in comparative obscurity; and his uncommon talents as a man of genius and wit were known only to a small circle of friends. As soon, however, as he embarked in the great design of publishing an Encyclopædia, he attracted a large share of public attention; and, with some obloquy, on account of the freedom of several articles of the work, obtained, as he proceeded, high reputation for the knowledge and talents which, in common with his colleagues, he discovered. His company was now sought by the great, and his literary merit was thought sufficient to entitle him to royal patronage. Through the interest of the minister, count D'Argenson, the king, in 1756, granted him a pension of twelve hundred livres. In 1762, the empress of Russia invited him to undertake the education of her son, the grand-duke, accompanying the invitation with an offer of a salary of an hundred thousand livres, and other considerable privileges. This flattering proposal, D'Alembert's attachment to his friends and his country, and his fondness for literary leisure, would not permit him to accept,


« ForrigeFortsæt »