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( vii ) 


THE reign of George III. may in some important re- 
spects be justly regarded as the Augustan age of 
modern history. The greatest statesmen, the most 
consummate captains, the most finished orators, the 
first historians, all flourished during this period. For 
excellence in these departments it was unsurpassed in 
former times, nor had it even any rivals, if we except 
the warriors of Louis XIV.'s day, one or two states- 
men, and Bolingbroke and Massillon as orators. But 
its glories were not confined to those great departments 
of human genius. Though it could show no poet like 
Dante, Milton, Tasso, or Dryden ; no dramatist like 
Shakspeare or Corneille ; no philosopher to equal 
Bacon, Newton, or Locke, it nevertheless in some 
branches, and these not the least important of natural 
science, very far surpassed the achievements of former 
days, while of political science, the most important 
of all, it first laid the foundations, and then reared 
the superstructure. The science of chemistry almost 
entirely, of political economy entirely, were the growth 

viii PREFACE. 

of this remarkable era ; while even in the pure mathe- 
matics a progress was made which almost changed 
its aspect since the days of Leibnitz and Newton. The 
names of Black, Watt, Cavendish, Priestley, Lavoisier, 
Davy, may justly be placed far above the Boyles, the 
Stahls, the Hales, the Hookes of former times ; while 
Euler, Clairault, Lagrange, La Place, must be ranked 
as analysts close after Newton himself, and above Des- 
cartes, Leibnitz, or the Bernouillis ; and in economical 
science, Hume, Smith, and Quesnai really had no pa- 
rallel, hardly any forerunner. It would also be vain to 
deny great poetical and dramatic genius to Goldsmith, 
Voltaire, Alfieri, Monti, and the German school, how 
inferior soever to the older masters of song. 

But, above all, it must not be forgotten, that in our 
times the mighty revolution which has been effected in 
public affairs, and has placed the rights of the people 
throughout the civilized world upon a new and a 
firm foundation, was brought about, immediately in- 
deed by the efforts of statesmen, but prepared, and 
remotely caused, by the labours of philosophers and 
men of letters. The diffusion of knowledge among the 
community at large is the work of our own age, and 
it has made all the conquests of science both in recent 
and in older times of incalculably greater value, of in- 
comparably higher importance to the interests of man- 
kind, than they were while scientific study was con- 
fined within the narrow circles of the wealthy and 
the learned. 


Having, therefore, on retiring from office, more 
time left for literary pursuits than professional and 
judicial duties had before allowed me, I was not minded 
to waste, indolent and inactive, or enslaved by lower 
occupations, that excellent leisure : " Non fuit consi- 
lium socordia atque desidia bonum otium conterere; 
neque vero agrum colendo, aut venando, servilibus offi- 
ciis intentum, setatem agere. Statutum res gestas po- 
puli nostri carptim, ut queeque memoria digna videban- 
tur, perscribere ; eo magis quod mihi a spe, metu, par- 
tibus reipublicse, animus liber erat."* For I conceived 
that as portrait-painting is true historical painting in 
one sense, so the lives of eminent men, freely written, 
are truly the history of their times ; and that no more 
authentic account of any age, its transactions, the 
springs which impelled men's conduct, and the merits 
which different actors in its scenes possessed, can be 
obtained than by studying the biography of the per- 
sonages who mainly guided affairs, and examining 
their characters, which by their influence they im- 
pressed upon the times they flourished in. Such a 
work had moreover this advantage, that beside pre- 
serving the memory of past events, and the likeness of 
men who had passed from the stage, it afforded fre- 
quent opportunities of inculcating the sound principles 
of an enlightened and virtuous policy, of illustrating 
their tendency to promote human happiness, of exhi- 

* Sail., Cat., cap. iv. 


biting their power to raise the genuine glory as well 
of individuals as of nations. 

Though I could entertain no douht that this plan 
was expedient, no one could more doubt than I did 
the capacity brought to its execution, or feel more dis- 
trustful of the pen held by a hand which had so long 
been lifted up only in the contentions of the Senate 
and the Forum. My only confidence was in the spirit 
of fairness and of truth with which I entered on the 
performance of the task ; and I now acknowledge with 
respectful gratitude the favour which the work has 
hitherto, so far above its deserts, experienced from the 
public, both at home, in spite of party opposition, and 
abroad, where no such unworthy influence could have 
place. It is fit that I also express my equal satisfac- 
tion at the testimony which has been borne to its 
strict impartiality by those whose opinions, and the 
opinions of whose political associates, differed the most 
widely from my own. That in composing the work 
I never made any sacrifice of those principles which 
have ever guided my public conduct, is certain ; that I 
never concealed them in the course of the book is 
equally true ; nay, this has been made a charge against 
it, as if I was at liberty to write the history of my 
own times, nay, of transactions in many of which I 
had borne a forward part, and not show what my 
own sentiments had been on those very affairs. But 
if my opinions were not sacrificed to the fear that I 
might offend the living by speaking plainly of the 


dead, so neither were truth and justice ever sacrificed 
to those opinions. 

The Statesmen of George the Third's age having 
thus formed the subject of the volumes already pub-* 
lished, I now offer to the attention of the reader a 
more full and elaborate view of the Learned Men 
who flourished in the same period. In my opinion, 
these, the great teachers of the age, covered it with 
still greater glory than it drew from the Statesmen 
and the Warriors who ruled its affairs. It was neces- 
sary to enter much more into detail here than in the 
former branch of this work, because a mere general 
description of scientific or of literary merit is of ex- 
ceedingly little value, conveying no distinct or precise 
idea of the subject sought to be explained. It ap- 
peared the more necessary to discuss these matters 
minutely, because upon some of them much prejudice 
prevailed, and no attempt had hitherto been made to 
examine them completely, or even impartially. Of 
this a remarkable example is afforded by the want 
of any thing that deserves the name of a Life of 
Voltaire, and by the great prejudices, both favour- 
able and unfavourable to him, which, among differ- 
ent classes, exist on the subject. But it must also 
be observed that Dr. Black's discoveries have been far 
from attaining the reputation which they so well de- 
serve as the foundation of modern chemistry ; and 
justice to this illustrious philosopher required that the 
consequences arising from his modesty and his great 


powers so infinitely below theirs, he may hope to have 
obtained some little success, and done some small 
service to the good cause, he can only ascribe this 
fortune to the intrinsic merits of that cause which he 
has ever supported.* He ventures thus to hope that 
no one will suspect him of being the less a friend to 
religion, merely because he has not permitted his 
sincere belief to make him blind regarding the literary 
merit of men whose opinions are opposed to his 
own. His censures of all indecorous, all unfair, all 
ribald or declamatory attacks, however set off by wit or 
graced by eloquence, he has never, on any occasion, 
been slow to pronounce. 

Chateau Eleanor- Louise (Provence), Jan. 8, 1845. 

* It has given me a most heartfelt satisfaction to receive many 
communications from persons both at home and abroad, which inti- 
mated their having been converted from irreligious opinions by the 
* Commentaries and Illustrations of Paley,' published in 1 835 and 
1838. It must be noted that the passage of the present work in 
which Dr. Lardner is mentioned as an orthodox writer, refers to the 
great question between Christians and Infidels. He was an Uni- 
tarian, undoubtedly ; but his defence of Revelation forms really the 
groundwork of Dr, Daley's ' Evidences/ 








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THIS name is so intimately connected in the minds of 
all men with infidelity, in the minds of most men with 
irreligion, and, in the minds of all who are not well- 
informed, with these qualities alone, that whoever 
undertakes to write his life and examine his claims to 
the vast reputation which all the hostile feelings 
excited by him against himself have never been able 
to destroy, or even materially to impair, has to labour 
under a great load of prejudice, and can hardly expect, 
by any detail of particulars, to obtain for his subject 
even common justice at the hands of the general 
reader. It becomes, therefore, necessary, in the outset, 
to remove a good deal of misunderstanding which, 
from the popular abuse of language, creates great con- 
fusion, in considering the history and weighing the 
merits of this extraordinary person. 

The mention of Voltaire at once presents to every 
one the idea, not so much of a philosopher whose early 
inquiries have led him to doubt upon the foundations 
of religion, or even to disbelieve its truths, as of a 
bitter enemy to all belief in the evidence of things 



unseen an enemy whose assaults were directed by 
malignant passions, aided by unscrupulous contrivances, 
and, above all, pressed by the unlawful weapon of 
ridicule, not the fair armoury of argument ; in a 
word, he is regarded as a scoffer, not a reasoner. Akin 
to this is the other charge which makes us shudder 
by the imputation of blasphemy. Now, upon this 
manner of viewing Voltaire some things are to be 
explained, and some to be recalled, that they may be 
borne in mind during the discussion of his character. 
Let us begin with the last charge, because, until it 
is removed, no attention is likely to be gained by any- 
thing that can be urged in defence or in extenuation. 
It is evident that, strictly speaking, blasphemy can 
only be committed by a person who believes in the 
existence and in the attributes of the Deity whom he 
impugns, either by ridicule or by reasoning. An atheist 
is wholly incapable of the crime. When he heaps 
epithets of abuse on the Creator, or turns His attributes 
into ridicule^ he is assailing or scoffing at an empty 
name at a being whom he believes to have no 
existence. In like manner if a deist, one who dis- 
believes in our Saviour being either the Son of God 
or sent by God as his prophet upon earth, shall argue 
against his miracles, or ridicule his mission or his 
person, he commits no blasphemy; for he firmly 
believes that Christ was a man like himself, and that 
he derived no authority from the Deity. Both the 
atheist and the deist are free from all guilt of blas- 
phemy, that is, of all guilt towards the Deity or 
towards Christ. It is wholly another question 
whether or not they are guilty towards men. They 


plainly are so if they use topics calculated to wound 
the feelings of their neighbour who believes what 
they disbelieve ; because religion, unlike other subjects 
of controversy, is one that mixes itself with the strongest 
feelings of the heart, and these must not be rudely 
outraged ; because no man can be so perfectly certain 
that he is himself right and others are wrong, as to 
justify him in thus making their opinions the subject 
of insolent laughter or scurrilous abuse ; because it is 
our duty, even when fully convinced that we are 
dealing with error, and with dangerous error, to adopt 
such a course as will rather conciliate those we would 
gain over to the truth than make them shut their eyes 
to it by revolting their strongest feelings. Hence all 
law-givers have regarded such scoffing and insolent 
attacks on the religion professed by the great majority 
of their subjects as an offence justly punishable ; 
although it may fairly be doubted whether the inter- 
position of the law has ever had a tendency to protect 
religious belief itself, and may even be suspected of 
having favoured the designs of those who impugn it, 
both by the reaction which such proceedings always 
occasion, and by the more cautious and successful 
methods of attack to which they usually drive the oppo- 
nents of the national faith. But the offence, whether 
punished by the laws or not, is very incorrectly, 
though very generally, termed blasphemy, which is 
the offence of scoffing at the Deity, and assumes that 
the scoffer believes in him. Now it is barely possible 
that this offence may be committed ; but it is the 
act of a mad rather than a bad man. If, indeed, any 
one really believing pretends to unbelief in order to 



indulge in scoffing, no language is too strong to express 
the reprobation he deserves, if he be in his senses ; for 
he adds falsehood to a crime so horrible as almost to 
pass the bounds of belief the frightful act of wilfully 
rebelling against the Almighty Creator of heaven and 
earth. This is the first and worst form of the offence. 

Secondly : The like guilt will, to a certain extent, 
be incurred by him who vents his ribaldry, upon the 
mere ground of his scepticism. On such a subject 
doubting is not enough. Unless there is an entire 
conviction in the mind that the popular belief is utterly 
groundless in the one case (that of attacking the 
Deity) that there is a God, in the other (attacking 1 
Christianity) that there is a foundation for revelation, 
the guilt of blasphemy is incurred. He must be con- 
vinced, not merely doubt, or see reason for doubting ; 
because no one has a right to speculate and take the 
chances of being innocent ; guiltless if his doubts are 
well founded, guilty if they are not. The virtuous 
course here is the safe one. This is the moral of the 
fable in which the hermit answers the question of the 
rake, " Where are you, father, if there be not another 
world ?" with the other question, " And you, my son, if 
there be?'* We need not go so far as some have done, 
who on this ground contend that it is safer always 
to believe than to doubt, because belief must ever, to be 
of any value, depend on conviction. But we may 
assuredly hold that the better conduct is that which 
abstains from attack and offence where the reasons 
hang in suspense abstains because of the great guilt 
incurred if the doubts should prove groundless. 

It is a third and lesser degree of this offence if a 


person carelessly gives way to a prevailing unbelief, 
and does not apply his faculties to the inquiry with 
that sober attention, that conscientious diligence, 
which its immense importance demands of all rational 
creatures. No man is accountable for the opinion he 
may form, the conclusion at which he may arrive, 
provided that he has taken due pains to inform his 
mind and fix his judgment. But for the conduct of 
his understanding he certainly is responsible. He 
does more than err if he negligently proceeds in the 
inquiry; he does more than err if he allows any 
motive to sway his mind save the constant and single 
desire of finding the truth ; he does more than err if 
he suffers the least influence of temper or of weak 
feeling to warp his judgment ; he does more than err 
if he listens rather to ridicule than reason, unless it be 
that ridicule which springs from the contemplation of 
gross and manifest absurdity, and which is in truth 
argument and not ribaldry. 

Now by these plain rules we must try Voltaire ; and 
it is impossible to deny that he possessed such sufficient 
information, and applied his mind with such sufficient 
anxiety to the discovery of truth, as gave him a right 
to say that he had formed his opinions, how 
erroneous soever they might be, after inquiring, and 
not lightly. The story which is related of the Master 
in the Jesuits' Seminary of Louis le Grand, where he 
was educated, having foretold that he would be the 
Corypheus of deists, if true, only proves that he had 
very early begun to think for himself; and whoever 
doubted the real presence, or questioned the power of 
absolution, was at once set down for an infidel ip 


those countries and in those times. It would be the 
fate of any young scholar in the Roman colleges at 
this day, especially were he to maintain his doubts 
with a show of cleverness ; and were he to mingle 
the least wit with his argument, he would straight- 
way be charged with blasphemy. But it must be 
added that an impression unfavourable to the truths of 
religion, and its uses, was made upon Voltaire's mind 
by the sight of its abuses, and by a consideration of the 
manifest errors inculcated in the Romish system. It is 
not enough to bring him within the blame above stated 
under the third head, that he was prejudiced in conduct- 
ing his inquiries, if that prejudice proceeded from the 
errors of others which he had unjustly been summoned 
to believe. He is not to be blamed for having begun 
to doubt of the truths of Christianity in consequence 
of his attention having originally been directed to the 
foundations of the system by a view of the falsehoods 
which had been built upon those truths. Even if the 
bigotry of priests, the persecutions of sovereigns, the 
absurdities of a false faith, the grovelling superstitions 
of its votaries, their sufferings, bodily as well as mental, 
under false guides and sordid pastors, roused his 
indignation and his pity, and these alternating emotions 
first excited the spirit of inquiry, afterwards too much 
guided its course, we are not on that account to con- 
demn him as severely as we should one who, from 
some personal spleen or individual interest, had 
suffered his judgment to be warped, and thus, as it 
were, lashed himself into disbelief of a system alto- 
gether pure, administered by a simple, a disinterested, 
a venerable hierarchy. 


Let us for a moment, independent of what may be 
termed the political view of the question independent 
of all that regards the priesthood consider the posi- 
tion of a person endowed with strong natural faculties, 
and not under the absolute dominion of his spiritual 
guides, nor prevented by their authority from exercising 
his reason ; but, on the contrary, living at a moment 
when a spirit of free inquiry was beginning generally 
to prevail. He is told that the mystery of transubstan- 
tiation must be believed by him as a fact; he is told 
that there has been transmitted through a succession of 
ages from the apostles one of the Divine attributes, 
the power of pardoning sin, arid that the laying a 
priest's hands on a layman gives him this miraculous 
power, to be exercised by him how guilty soever may 
be his own life, how absolutely null his own belief in 
the Divine being nay, that this power has come 
through certain persons notorious atheists themselves, 
and whose lives were more scandalously profligate than 
anything that a modest tongue can describe. Presented 
to a vigorous mind, and not enforced by an authority 
which suffers no reasoning, or if enforced yet vainly 
so enforced, these dogmas and these claims became the 
subject of discussion, and were rejected almost as soon 
as they were understood. .But in company with them 
were found many other doctrines and pretensions of a 
very different complexion, yet all of them were pro- 
nounced to have the same Divine original ; and no 
greater sanctity, no higher authority, no deeper vene- 
ration was claimed for them than for the real presence 
of the Creator at the summons of the priest, or the 


participation of that priest in the attributes of the God- 
head. Let us be just towards the youth who was 
placed in these circumstances, and let us not condemn 
him for hastily rejecting the wheat with the chaff, 
before we endeavour to place ourselves in the same 
situation, asking what effect would be produced on our 
minds by severe denunciations against us should we 
doubt the priest's power, or refuse an explicit assent to 
his dogmas, which our reason, nay our senses rejected, 
while he refused all access to the inspired volumes 
which contained, or were said to contain, their only 
warrant. Rejecting the false doctrines, the chances 
are many that our faith would be shaken in the true. 
How many Protestants were made in the sixteenth 
century by the sale of indulgences ! But how many 
unbelievers in Christianity have been made in all 
ages of the Church by the grosser errors of Rome, 
the exorbitant usurpations of her bishops, and the 
preposterous claims of her clergy ! 

It is also to be observed that Voltaire was, through 
his whole life, a sincere believer in the existence and 
attributes of the Deity. He was a firm and decided, 
and an openly declared unbeliever in Christianity, but 
he was, without any hesitation or any intermission, a 
theist. Then in examining, the justice of the charge 
of blasphemy it is to be borne in mind that not one 
irreverent expression is to be found in all his number- 
less writings towards the Deity in whom he believed. 
He has more ably than most writers stated and illus- 
trated the arguments in favour of that belief. He has 
consecrated some of his noblest poetry to celebrate the 


powers of the Godhead.* Whatever exceptionto this 
assertion may seem to be found in those writings will, 
on consideration, prove to be only apparent. It will 
be found that he is speaking only of the Deity as 
represented in systems of religion which he dis- 
believed \ consequently he is there ridiculing only the 
idols, the work of men's hands, and the objects of 
superstitious worsftip, not the great Being in whom he 
believed and whom he adored. Even his ' Candide,' 
one of his greatest, perhaps his most perfect work, is 
only intended to expose the extravagance of the optimist 
doctrine ; and however we may lament its tone in some 
sort, it is certainly not chargeable with ridiculing any- 
thing which a philosophic theist must necessarily 

But no one can exempt Voltaire from blame for the 
manner in which he attacked religious opinions, and 
outraged the feelings of believers. There he is without 
defence. Had all men been prepared to make the step 

* His dramatic compositions abound in such religious sentiments, 
clothed in the noblest language of poetical abstraction ; but his 
celebrated verses, said to have been written extempore in a com- 
pany that were admiring the firmament one summer's evening, may 
be placed by the side of the finest compositions in that kind 

" Tous ces vastes pays d'azur et de lumiere, 
Tires du sein du vide, formes sans matiere, 
Guides sans compas, tournans sans pivot, 
N'ont a peine coute la depense d'un mot." 

When I once cited these to my illustrious friend Monti, who never 
would allow any poetical merit to the French, he objected to the 
last phrase, which he called the pivot, as low and prosaic, and as 
affording a proof of his constant position that the French have no 
poetical language. 


which he had himself taken, the wound would have 
been inconsiderable. But he must have written with 
the absolute certainty that their religious belief would 
long survive his assaults, and that consequently, to the 
vast majority of readers, tbey could only give pain. 
Indeed he must, in the moments of calm reflection, 
have been aware that reasoning, and not ridicule, is the 
proper remedy for religious error, and that no one can 
heartily embrace the infidel side of the great question 
merely because he has been made to join in a laugh at 
the expense of absurdities mixed up with the doctrines 
of believers ; nay, even if he has been drawn into a 
laugh at the expense of some portion of those doctrines 
themselves It is no vindication for Voltaire against 
this heavy charge, but it may afford some palliation of 
his offence, if we reflect on the very great difference 
between the ecclesiastical regimen under which he 
lived, and that with which we are acquainted in our 
Protestant community. Let no man severely condemn 
the untiring zeal of Voltaire, and the various forms of 
attack which he employed without measure, against 
the religious institutions of his country, who is not 
prepared to say that he could have kept entire possession 
of his own temper, and never cast an eye of suspicion 
upon the substance of a religion thus abused, nor ever 
have employed against its perversions the weapons of 
declamation and of mockery ; had he lived under the 
system which regarded Alexander Borgia as one of its 
spiritual guides, which bred up and maintained in all 
the riot of criminal excess an aristocracy having for 
one branch of its resources the spoils of the altar, which 
practised persecution as a favourite means of conviction, 


and cast into the flames a lad of eighteen, charged with 
laughing as its priests passed by. Such dreadful abuses 
were present to Voltaire's mind when he attacked the 
Romish superstitions, and exposed the profligacy, as well 
as the intolerance, of clerical usurpation. He unhappily 
suffered them to poison his mind upon the whole of 
that religion of which these were the abuse ; and, when 
his zeal waxed hot against the whole system, it blinded 
him to the unfairness of the weapons with which he 
attacked both its evidences and its teachers. 

The doctrine upon toleration, upon prosecutions for 
infidelity, even for blasphemy, which I have now ven- 
tured to propound,. is supported by the very highest 
authority among persons of the most acknowledged 
piety, and of the warmest zeal for the interests of re- 
ligion. It was the constant maxim of my revered friend, 
Mr. Wilberforce, that no man should be prosecuted for 
his attacks upon religion. He gave this opinion in 
Parliament ; and he was wont to say, that the ground 
of it was his belief in the truths of religion. "If 
religion be, as I believe it, true, it has nothing to fear 
from any such assaults. It may be injured by the 
secular arm interfering." Just so the well-known 
Duke of Queensberry, when conversing upon the 
writings of Paine, and other assailants of the consti- 
tution, made answer to a sycophant, who said of those 
attacks, "And so false too," " No," said his Grace, "not 
at all : they are true, and that is their danger, and the 
reason I desire to see them put down by the law ; 
were they false, I should not mind them at all." 

In the like spirit we have the unsuspected testimony 
of men like Dr. Lardner and Bishop Jeremy Taylor, 


Christians whose piety and virtue, and whose orthodoxy, 
are beyond all suspicion : "The proper punishment," 
says Lardner, "of a low, mean, indecent, scurrilous 
way of writing, seems to be neglect, contempt, scorn, and 
final indignation" (Letter to the Bishop of Chester on the 
Prosecution of Woohton, 1729). "Blasphemy" (says 
Taylor) " is in aliena republica, a matter of another 
world. You may as well cure the colic by brushing a 
man's clothes, or fill a man's belly with a syllogism, as 
prosecute for blasphemy. Some men have believed it 
the more as being provoked into a confidence and vexed 
into a resolution. Force in matters of opinion can do 
no good, but is very apt to do hurt ; for no man can 
change his opinion when he will. But if a man 
cannot change his opinion when he list, nor ever does 
heartily or resolutely but when he cannot do other- 
wise, then to use force may make him a hypocrite, 
but never to be a right believer ; and so, instead of 
erecting a trophy to God and true religion, we build 
a monument for the devil" (Liberty of Prophesying, 
s. xiii. 19.) Bishop Warburton says plainly, "he should 
have been ashamed of even projecting to write in 
defence of Moses had he not thought that all infidels 
had equal liberty to attack him." (Dedication to the 
Divine Legation.) 

These things being premised, we may now proceed 
with more ease and less interruption from controversial 
topics, to examine the extraordinary history of this 
eminent person. 

He was the son of the Sieur Arouet, a person of 
respectable family, filling the place of treasurer in the 
Chamber of Accounts, an exchequer office of con- 


siderable emolument. His mother was of a noble 
family, that of d'Aumart. A small estate possessed by 
the father was called Voltaire ; and the custom in 
those days being for the younger children of wealthy 
commoners to take the name of their estate, leaving 
the family name to the eldest, Francois Marie, as the 
younger of two sons^ took the name of Voltaire, which 
on his brother's death many years after he did not 
change. He was born the 20th of February, 1 694 ; and 
being so feeble that his life was not expected, he was 
baptised immediately, the christening being deferred 
till the 22d of November following. This has given 
rise to doubts at which of the two periods his birth took 
place. It has frequently been remarked as a singular 
circumstance, that two eminent authors who have 
lived to extreme old age, Fontenelle and Voltaire, 
were both thus unlikely at their birth to live at all, 
both being born almost in a dying condition ; yet not 
only did they enjoy unusually long life, but they 
retained their great faculties entire to the last, although 
the one died in his eighty-fifth year, and the other 
lived to within a few weeks of a hundred. 

When only twelve years of age, he distinguished 
himself by the excellence of some begging verses to 
the Dauphin from an invalid who had served under 
the prince, and who applied for this help to the 
Master of the College of Louis le Grand, where Vol- 
taire then was. The master being busy, handed 
him over to his promising scholar, as being quite able 
to do what was desired. The lines are very good, and 
the idea sufficiently happy. The old soldier is made 
to say that the different heathen gods having given 


Monseigneur various gilts at his birth, a more benefi- 
cent Deity had provided the petitioner's Christmas- 
box by bestowing on their favourite the boon of ge- 
nerosity. It is known that this incident procured for 
him the favour of the famous Ninon de 1'Enclos, then 
in her ninetieth year, and to whom he was presented 
by his godfather, the Abbe de Chateauneuf. She died 
soon after, and left him a legacy of 2,000 francs, to 
buy books with.* When his father found that he was 
introduced by the Abbe into this and other fashion- 
able society, and that he was cultivating his taste for 
poetry, he became alarmed for his success in life, 
having destined him for the profession of the law. 
He placed him, therefore, in a school of jurisprudence, 
intending to purchase for him a President's place, ac- 
cording to the practice of the French bar in those days. 
Voltaire, however, had already begun to taste the sweets 

* He has, in a letter which remains (Melanges Lit., ii. 294), recorded 
many particulars of her extraordinary life and great qualities. Her 
portrait by St. Evremond is well known ; it is happily drawn : 

" L'indulgente et sage Nature 
A forme 1'ame de Ninon 
De la volupte d'Epicure, 
Et de la vertu de Caton." 

In consequence of a quarrel between two of her lovers there was a 
proposition of sending her to a convent of " Filles repenties :" she 
said that would not suit her, as she was " ni fille, ni repentie" 
The provident parents in good society used to place their sons 
under her patronage to form them for polite company. Of one 
Renaud, a coxcomb whom she was said to have formed, she observed, 
" Qu'elle faisait comme Dieu, qui s'e*tait repenti d'avoir fait Thornine." 
When her old and intimate friend, Madame de Maintenon, be- 
came devote, and offered to provide handsomely for her would 
she but follow her example, her answer was, " Je n'ai nul besoin 
ni de fortune, ni de masque." 


of* classical study, and he had lived in a society fre- 
quented by the Abbe his godfather, who appears to 
have been a person of loose morals and of sceptical 
opinions. The extreme bigotry which Madame de 
Maintenon had introduced into the Court of Versailles 
when the declining faculties and health of Louis 
XIV. had rendered him the victim of superstitious 
terrors, and, through these, the tool of priestly intole- 
rance, gave rise to a reaction in the gay circles of 
Paris ; and in resisting the inroads of that gloom by 
which the asceticism of the ancient mistress had signa- 
lised her late repentance, the Contis, the Chaulieus, 
the Sullys, the La Feres, carried their opposition 
further than they perhaps at first intended, or even 
afterwards were aware of : they patronised universal 
discussion, even of the most sacred subjects, and best 
received opinions, until a fashion of free thinking was 
set ; and from being at first revolted at the intolerance 
which destroyed Catinat at Court, notwithstanding 
his genius and his probity, on account of his supposed 
infidelity, and ascribed the defeats of Vendome to his 
occasional absence from mass, without reflecting that 
Marlborough was a heretic and Eugene a deist ; the 
frequenters of the most polished society in the world 
became accustomed to believe more sparingly than 
Catinat, and see less of the Host than Vendome. 

It was in this association that Voltaire, then a boy, 
became inured to the oblivion both of his law books 
and of his religious principles, when his parent made 
a last effort to save him, and restore him to the 
learned profession, and to the bosom of the church, 
by sending him as page or attache to the French am- 


bassador at the Hague, a near kinsman ^of the Abbe 
Chateauneuf. He there fell in love with the 
daughter of a profligate woman, Madame Dunoyer, 
who considering the match a bad one, had him sent 
home by the ambassador, and published his love let- 
ters, which are admitted to have no merit. His father 
would only receive him on condition of his consenting 
to serve in a notary's office. A friend of the family, M. 
de Caumartin, had compassion on the sufferings 
which this arrangement occasioned, and obtained per- 
mission to have him pass some months in his country 
residence at St. Ange. The Bishop Caumartin, then 
an elderly man, and who had lived with all the 
more learned persons of the past age, excited him, by 
his conversation upon the Sullys and the Henrys, to 
meditate two of the greatest of his works, his epic 
poem and his history. 

The death of Louis, which happened on Voltaire's 
return to Paris, gave rise to a very indecent expression 
of public joy, and to many libels upon his memory. 
One of these being without any foundation ascribed to 
him, his confinement in the Bastille was the conse- 
quence. Here, however, his spirit continued unbroken. 
He sketched the poem of the 'League,' afterwards called 
the 'Henriade ;' and he corrected a tragedy, ' CEdipe,' 
which he had written several years before, when only 
eighteen years old. The imprisonment being in the 
course of a few weeks found to be entirely illegal and 
vexatious, the Regent ordered his immediate liberation, 
with a sum of money by way of compensation. The 
tragedy was not acted till two years after, in 1718 ; 
and it is a singular fact, that when, in 1713, it had 


been in its original imperfect state submitted to Dacier, 
with the pedantry of his nature he strongly recom- 
mended the introduction of choruses, to be sung after 
the manner of the Greek tragedy. A letter of his is 
still extant, giving this sage and practical counsel ; 
but the Greek critic was not the only pedant. When 
in 1769, Voltaire had gained the famous cause of 
Sirven, through the exertions of M. Merville, a leading 
advocate of Toulouse, he refused all pecuniary remu- 
neration, but desired as his reward, that his client 
would now consent to add choruses to the ' GEdipe.' 

How powerful was the sentiment of ambition in 
his nature appears not merely from his bold attempt at 
a tragedy audaxque juventa in his eighteenth year, 
but from his adventurous competition for the prize of 
poetry proposed by the Academic Franchise a year or 
two before ; the king having, in the superstition of his 
declining age, at length resolved to fulfil the promise 
of his predecessor by decorating the altar of Notre 
Dame. This formed the subject of the ode, which 
was rejected in favour of a ridiculous piece by the 
Abbe Dujarri ; so that it is a singular fact in Voltaire's 
history that his first published work was a devotional 

The tragedy of ' GEdipe' was successful ; and Lamotte, 
then of established reputation, but which with ordi- 
nary poets is by no means a security against jealousy, 
had the noble candour to declare that this tragedy 
gave sure promise of a successor to Corneille and Ra- 
cine. But the prejudices of the stage forced Voltaire 
to introduce a love scene against his better judgment, 
which had decided against the incongruous mixture of 



tenderness with the horrors of the subject. It is 


related of him, and he has himself countenanced the 
anecdote, that in the giddiness of youth, and plunged 
in dissipation, he was insensible to the dangers of 
failure, and felt so little of the nervous agitation 
belonging to a dramatic author's first night, as to 
be seen carrying in mockery the train of the High 
Priest. Madame la Marechale de Villars, then at the 
head of Parisian society, asked who that young man 
was, who appeared as if trying to have the play 
damned ; and upon being told that it was neither 
more nor less than the author himself, she was so 
struck with the originality, that she desired to have 
him presented to her. Becoming one of her circle, he 
conceived for her the first and probably the only 
passion which he ever seriously felt. His love was 
unsuccessful ; but it interrupted his studies, nor did 
he ever after allude to it but with a feeling of 
regret bordering upon remorse. 

The merits of 'CEdipe' no longer form a debateable 
question. If the continued representation for forty- 
five nights had left any doubt upon this subject, the 
concurrent voices of so many different audiences during 
the sixty years and upwards that it has kept possession 
of the stage pronounce a sentence from which there 
is no appeal.* For an author of any age it is a fine 

* The judgments pronounced by the audience on a first represent- 
ation are a very different test, being necessarily much more subject 
to accident, to caprice, and to party manoevures. The striking 
example of the ' Britannicus,' nay, even of the ' Phedre' and the 
' Athalie ' themselves (these two now admitted on all hands to be 
Racine's masterpieces), may well guard us against yielding to the 


performance; for a young man of eighteen or nine- 
teen, a truly wonderful one ; promising, perhaps, 
considerably greater dramatic success than even the 
author of ' Zaire' ever attained. But he unfortunately 
preferred writing mult a than multum ; and this remark 
is more peculiarly applicable to his dramatic compo- 
sitions than to any of his other important efforts. 

The distinguishing beauty of the ' CEdipe* is its 
fervid, correct, and powerful declamation ; and though 
the most magnificent passage be taken from Sophocles, 
there are numberless others of undoubted originality. 
Into some of the inconsistencies, and even absurdities, 
of the Greek plot he has fallen, and the most of 
whatever is good in that plot certainly is not his own. 
But no one who has either seen the representation or 
read the poem, can easily forget the powerful im- 
pression which its diction leaves on the mind. Some 
of the passages are marked by their supposed allusion 
to the priesthood of his own times ; and one especially 
is generally given as his first declaration of war against 
the sacred order : 

" Nos pretres ne sont point ce qu'un vain peuple pense 
Notre credulite fait toute leur science." (Act iv. sc. 4.) 

But surely, when we observe that this is only the 

first expressions of the vox populi. Perhaps even the great union of 
opinion in France, placing Corneille so far above Racine, is another 
instance of erroneous judgment produced by accidental circum- 
stances. Had Racine preceded Corneille, would the decision have 
been the same ? There may, however, be some ground for giving 
the same precedence to the latter that we yield to Massillon and 
Bourdaloue over Bossuet. 

c 2 


summing up of an invective satirical, but perfectly 
just, against the Pagan superstitions which are spe- 
cified, we may well suppose, that had not his future 
writings supplied the commentary, no one could have 
deemed the allusion in these fine lines irreverent to 
the hierarchy of Rome. Now, it is true, they are 
sufficiently marked ; and in consequence of that com- 
mentary they never fail to be applied. I recollect 
the thunder of applause which they called forth in 
1814, when I saw this play during the first restor- 
ation. The court of Louis XVIII. was supposed to 
favour the Church in an especial manner, and this 
pointed the public attention more peculiarly to such 
allusions. Two other lines were productive of nearly 
equal applause : 

" Tin prtre,"quel qu'il soit, quelque Dieu qui 1'inspire, 
Doit prier pour ses rois, et non pas les maudire." 

(Act iii. sc. 3.) 

The reason of this excitement was, that the lines 
contain a reproof of the High Priest's insolence, and 
that was sufficient. On another occasion, the same 
season, I heard much louder applause in that theatre. 
It was of the lines, 

" Le premier qui fut roi, fut un soldat heureux : 
Qui sert bien son pays n'a pas besoin d'a'ieux." 

The reference was instantly made to Napoleon, and 
the piece could hardly proceed for the boisterous 

It is certain that the tragedies of Voltaire are the 
works of an extraordinary genius, and that only a 
great poet could have produced them ; but it is 
equally certain that they are deficient for the most 


part in that which makes the drama powerful over 
the feelings, real pathos, real passion, whether of 
tenderness, of terror, or of horror. The plots of 
some are admirably contrived ; the diction of all is 
pure and animated ; in most passages it is pointed, 
and in many it is striking, grand, impressive ; the cha- 
racters are frequently well imagined and portrayed, 
though without sufficient discrimination; and thus 
often running one into another, from the uniformity 
of the language, terse, epigrammatic, powerful, which 
all alike speak. Nor are there wanting situations of 
great effect, and single passages of thrilling force ; 
but, after all, the heart is not there ; the deep feeling, 
which is the parent of all true eloquence as well as 
all true poetry, didactic and satirical excepted, is 
rarely perceived ; it is rather rhetoric than eloquence, 
or, at least, rather eloquence than poetry. It is de- 
clamation of a high order in rhyme ; no blank 
verse, indeed, can be borne on the French stage, or 
even in the French tongue ; it is not fine dramatic 
composition : the periods roll from the mouth, they 
do not spring from the breast ; there is more light 
than heat ; the head rather than the heart is at work. 
It seems that if there be any exception to this 
remark, we must look for it in the ' Zaire,' his most 
perfect piece, although, marvellous to tell, it was 
written in two and twenty days. In my humble 
opinion, it is certainly obnoxious to the same general 
objection, though less than any of his other pieces; 
yet it is truly a noble performance, and it unites many 
of the great requisites of dramatic excellence. The 
plot, which he tells us was the work of a single day, 


is one of the most admirable ever contrived for the 
stage, and it is a pure creation of fancy. Nothing 
can be conceived more full of interest and life and 
spirit nothing more striking than the combinations 
and the positions to which it gives rise, while at the 
same time it is quite natural, quite easy to conceive, 
in no particular violating probability. Nor can any- 
thing be more happy or more judicious than the 
manner in which we are, at the very first, brought 
into the middle of the story, and yet soon find it 
unravelled and presented before our eyes without 
long and loaded narrative retrospects. Then the 
characters are truly drawn with a master's hand, and 
sustained perfectly and throughout both in word and 
in deed. Orosman, uniting the humanized feelings 
of an amiable European with the unavoidable remains 
of the Oriental nature, ambitious, and breathing war, 
more than becomes our character, yet generous and 
simple-minded ; to men imperious, but as it were by 
starts, when the Tartar predominates ; to women deli- 
cate and tender, as if the Goth or the Celt prevailed 
in the harem ; unable to eradicate the jealousy of the 
East, yet, like a European, too proud not to be 
ashamed of it as a degradation, and thus subduing it 
in all instances but one, when he is hurried away by 
the Asiatic temperament and strikes the fatal blow, 
which cannot lessen our admiration, nor even wholly 
destroy our esteem. The generous nature of Nour- 
estan and Lusignan excites our regard, and, perhaps, 
alone of all the perfect characters in epic or in dramatic 
poetry, they are no way tiresome or flat. But Zaire 
herself, unlike other heroines, is, if not the first, at 


least equal to the first, of the personages in touching 
the reader and engaging his affections. Nothing can 
be conceived more tender; and the conflict between 
her passion for the Sultan and her affection for her 
family, between her acquired duty to the crescent and 
her hereditary inclination to the cross, is most beau- 
tifully managed. Of detailed passages it would be 
endless to make an enumeration, but some may be 
shortly marked. Few things in poetry are finer than 
Lusignan's simple answer to Chatillon, who tells 
him that he was impotent to save his children : 

" C. Mon bras charge de fers ne les put pas secourir. 
L. Helas! et j'etais pere, et je ne pus mourir." 

Nourestan's indignation, the boiling over of a fana- 
tical crusader's enthusiasm against his sister for falling 
in love with an infidel prince (Act iii. sc. 4), is a truly 
noble piece of declamation. Orosman's proud feeling 
towards the sex, for the first time following the Asiatic 
course (Act iii. sc. 7), is not less finely expressed: 

" Mais il est trop honteux de craindre une maitresse 
Aux moeurs de 1'Occident laissons cette bassesse ! 
Ce sexe dangereux, qui veut tout asservir, 
S'il regne dans 1'Europe, ici doit obe'ir." 

The famous passage " Zaire, vous pleurez ?" which 
electrified the audience in France, and never fails 
still to produce this effect, needs not be specified, ex- 
cept for the purpose of noting, that the exclamation 
" Zaire, vous m'aimez !" is hardly less touching, or less 
powerful to paint the Sultan's character. 

Next to ' Zaire ' the ' Merope ' certainly is Voltaire's 
finest drama ; and its success at first was even greater 
than that of ' Zaire.' At one part the audience were so 
intoxicated with admiration, that they called out for 


Voltaire, and forced him to show himself the first 
time that the honour was ever bestowed, which has 
now become worthless, because lavished on the author 
of every successful piece. But the multitude went a 
step further in his case, and insisted upon the beautiful 
daughter-in-law of the Marechale de Villars publicly 
saluting him ; a requisition savouring much more of 
indecorum than enthusiasm. 

It is impossible to deny either the great merits of 
the ' Merope/ or to doubt its marked inferiority to 
' Zaire.' The composition, and, in general, the execu- 
tion, must be confessed to be in the best manner of that 
eloquence, or rather rhetoric, which I have ventured 
to describe as the character of Voltaire's tragedies ; but 
it is not, like ' Zaire,' at least many portions of ' Zaire,' a 
successful incursion into the adjoining, though far 
loftier domain of feeling : in a word, the high region 
of fine verse is here under the author's power ; the 
higher region of poetry does not submit to his con- 
trol. The fable is excellently pursued ; while there is 
little original or very happy in the characters, of which 
the principal one is so possessed by a feeling of love 
and anxiety for a son whom she had barely seen, that 
it is difficult to sympathise with the leading sentiment 
of the piece. Fine passages no doubt abound, and 
bursts (mouvemens) of an impressive, and of a sur- 
prising and even elevating kind, are occasionally intro- 
duced, though by far the finest is imitated professedly 
from the ' Merope ' of Maffei it is when Egisthe men- 
tions his mother ; and Merope then believing that he 
had murdered her son, that is himself, exclaims 

" Barbare ! il te reste une mere ! 
Je serois mre encore sans toi," &c. (Act iii. sc. 4.) 


The verses on a military usurper have been already 
cited. Lines such as the concluding couplet of the 
second act are not rarely scattered through the piece, 
and never fail to produce a great effect in the delivery. 
They have, like the former, been not rarely applied to 

" Quand on a tout perdu, quand on n'a plus d'espoir, 
La vie est un opprobre, et la mort un devoir." 

These, the ' Zaire' and ' Merope,' seem, beyond all com- 
parison, and without any doubt, to be the finest of 
Voltaire's dramatic works. His own favourite, how- 
ever, appears to have been the ' Catiline,' or ' Rome 
Sauvee.' He dwells with great complacency on its 
having been more applauded than * Zaire ' on its first 
representation, and accounts for its not having, like 
' Zaire,' kept possession of the stage, by observing that 
nobody now-a-days conspires, but every one has loved. 
The superiority of this to its rival, the ' Catiline ' of 
Crebillon, is also admitted ; nor can we deny it a con- 
siderable degree of that which constituted Voltaire's 
dramatic merit, his eloquence far more remarkable 
than his poetry. It may also be admitted that if this 
criticism can ever lose its force, it must be in a com- 
position of which the hero is Cicero; nor, if the 
eloquence were of a higher order, if it were fervid 
and impassioned, if it were warm from the heart, 
and addressed and moved the feelings, would the de- 
cision of which the author appears to complain ever 
have gone forth against it. But the tragedy has, be- 
side many other faults, that of frigid declamation, in 
pure diction, often happy, generally pointed, even to 
epigram, but still cold and artificial. There is also to 


be remarked in the piece a singular want of judgment. 
The history of Catiline is not professed to be followed, 
yet all the departures from it are in diminution of the 
dramatic interest ; and nothing can be less correct 
than the assertion which accompanies the confession 
that the facts of the story are changed it is not true, 
or anything like the truth, that the " genius and the 
character of Cicero, Catiline, Cato, and Csesar, are 
faithfully painted." Can anything be less excusable, 
whether we regard dramatic interest or the truth of 
history, than representing Catiline as uxorious, and 
all but won over to abandon his enterprise by his 
wife's remonstrances and tears ? The absurdity of 
making Csesar put down the conspiracy, and supersede 
C. Antonius and Petreius in the command at the 
battle in which Catiline fell, requires no comment. 
This, and Caesar's rhodomontade before setting out, his 
embracing Cicero, and vowing that he goes either to 
die, or to justify the Consul's good opinion of him, and 
his being overpersuaded by a speech of Cicero, not 
merely to abandon Catiline but to destroy him, is as 
utterly unlike that great man's character as anything 
that can well be imagined. For Cato, it is surely as 
little in his manner as can be, to tell Cicero that 
Rome calls him her father and her avenger ; and that 
Envy at his feet trembles and adores him : 

" Et TEnvie a tes pieds 1'admire avec terreur." 

But the grand defect of this piece is the absurd and 
hopeless attempt of bringing Cicero upon the stage. 
Brutus and Antony had been successfully so dealt 
with by Shakspeare ; but they were men of action ; 


Cicero, a mere orator, never could be endured as the 
hero of a piece ; eloquence, the triumphs of the tongue, 
are wholly unfitted to form the subject of a drama. 
Voltaire has endeavoured to supply the defect by mak- 
ing Catiline murder not his step-son, which he was 
supposed to have done, but his father-in-law, a certain 
Nonnius, which no one ever dreamt of but the poet ; 
and his wife, in her grief and rage, puts herself to 
death by stabbing herself on the stage. 

But if we desire to perceive how great is Voltaire's 
failure, we must not only consider what he has done to 
make his drama cold and uninteresting, but what ma- 
terials he had within his reach, and avoided using. 
Few narratives present so lively, nay, so dramatic a 
picture as that of Sallust. The diction is fine ; but 
had Livy written it, his exquisite and dignified style 
would have placed the Catiline conspiracy at the 
head of historical works. The character of Catiline, 
better given in some parts of Cicero, particularly the 
Pro Sulla, Pro Coelio, and Pro Mursena ; his dark, 
designing, and unscrupulous nature ; his utter profli- 
gacy of life and manners ; his fierce temper ; his un- 
tameable ambition ; his powers, as well of body as of 
mind; his invincible courage all form a personage 
made for stage effect, and only prevented from pro- 
ducing it in the highest degree by such preposterous 
conceits as making him tender-hearted to his wife, 
a thing to have been carefully avoided by the dra- 
matist, even if his letter, given by Sallust, shows some 
care for that very profligate woman and his child. 
But then what can be finer than the meeting holden 
in a remote recess of his house, and his address under 


cloud of night to his associates to say nothing of the 
dark suspicion thrown out by the historian, that he 
made them drink human blood mixed with their wine 
when he swore them to the enterprise !* But the 
speech is very fine bold, abrupt, simple, concise, emi- 
nently calculated for the occasion : " Quin igitur, 
expergiscemini ? En ilia, ilia quam ssepe optastis 
libertas ! Fortuna omnia victoribus prsemia posuit: res, 
tempus, pericula, egestas, belli spolia magnifica, magis 
quam oratio mea vos hortentur. Vel imperatore, vel 
milite me utimine. Neque animus, neque corpus a 
vobis aberit." The other speech which he makes on 
the eve of the fight is also very noble and charac- 
teristic : " Quod si virtuti vestree fortuna inviderit, 
cavete inulte animam amittatis ; neu capti potius sicuti 
pecoratrucidemini, quam virorum more pugnantes,cruen- 
tam atque luctuosam victoriam hostibus relinquatis."f 
With such noble materials, Voltaire makes as poor a 
speech as it was possible to manufacture as wordy 
and unimpressive. He calls his conspirators "an 
assemblage of the greatest of human kind ;" and that 
being not enough, they are " conquerors of kings 
avengers of their countrymen his true friends, his 
equals, his supports." He tells them that " they had 
subdued Tigranes and Mithridates, and made the 
Euphrates red with their blood, only to make worth- 
less senators proud, who, as a recompence, allowed the 
conspirators to adore their persons at a distance." 
How much finer is the simple description in Sallust ! 
" The Patricians squander away their wealth in 

* Fuere ea tempestate qui dicerent. (Cap. xxii.) 
f Cap. Iviii. 


building out the sea, and levelling mountains, while 
we are without the necessaries of life !" But the 
whole comparison is to the same effect. 

Then, can anything be finer than the scene in the 
Senate where Cicero made his first famous speech? First 
the historian paints Catiline as full of dissimulation, 
and acting the part of a suppliant, with downcast look 
and submissive voice, appealing to the senators whe- 
ther it w r as likely a man of his rank and former services 
should be guilty of the things laid to his charge, while 
the state was defended by " M. Tullius Cicero, inqui- 
linus civis urbis Romee " (one living in a hired lodging). 
Thereupon a loud cry was raised against him, and he 
was saluted with the name of rebel and parricide. 
"Turn ille furibundus ' Quoniam quidem circum- 
ventus, inquit, ab inimicis, prseceps agor, incendium 
meum ruina extinguam.' "* 

Thus the Catiline of Sallust; but he of Voltaire, 
after saying his part is taken, and calling his followers 
to come away, departs quietly enough not the furi- 
bundus proripuit of Sallust, or even the triumphans 
gaudio erupit of Tully but 

" Vous, senat, incertain, qui venez de m'entendre, 
Choisissez a loisir le parti qu'il faut prendre." 

And so it is throughout ; the same contrast between 
the tame, feeble, vague verses of the modern poet, and 

* Cap. xxxi. Cicero (pro Mursena, c. xxv.) gives a different 
account, but less picturesque : " erupit senatu triumphans gaudio ;" 
and adds, that he had some days before used the famous words in 
answer to a threat of prosecution from Cato ; but Voltaire was at 
perfect liberty to choose either version of the fact, and he preferred 
his own mean and most tame design. 


the spirited, the picturesque of the ancient historian, 
really a finer poet than he who would needs drama- 
tise the story into prose. The battle so exquisitely 
painted by Sallust could not indeed be rendered on 
the stage, but something of the noble speech that 
preceded might have been given. Then how tamely 
does Csesar, in recounting the fight, render the " Memor 
generis atque pristinse dignitatis, in confertissirnos 
hostes incurrit," and the sad and striking scene dis- 
played after the battle, when " quisque quern pugnando 
locum ceperat eum amissa anima corpore tegebat;" 
but Catiline, on the contrary, was found " longe a suis 
inter hostium cadavera, paululum etiam spirans, fero- 
ciamque animi quam habuerat vivus in voltu reti- 
nens."* This is far from the greatest failure of 
Voltaire, but it is a failure, and a failure by de- 
parting from the admirable simplicity of the original. 

" Catiline terrible au milieu du carnage, 
Entoure d'ennemis immoles a sa rage, 
Sanglant, couvert de traits, et combattant toujours, 
Dans nos rangs eclaires a termine ses jours. 
Sur des morts entasses I'effroi de Rome expire : 
Romain, je le condamne ; et soldat, je 1'admire." 

It may here be observed that the admirable trait of 
each soldier falling where he fought, but the terrible 
chief far apart from all his men, because in advance of 
them all, being first left out, the extraordinary effect of 
paululum etiam spirans where he had fallen, and the 
ferociam animi voltu retinens, are equally abandoned. 

* One never can read this great masterpiece of narrative without 
recollecting Quinctilian's phrase, " Salustii immortalem velocitatem." 


One is really tempted to question (as some have ques- 
tioned) Voltaire's thorough acquaintance with the 
force of the Latin tongue. Assuredly he very 
differently judges the eloquence of Massillon, in a 
language of which, like him, he was so accomplished 
a master. 

It would be unjust to close the ' Rome Sauvee' with- 
out awarding just praise to many of its detached parts, 
and especially of the lines, worthy of Cicero himself, 
which he is made to pronounce 

" Remains, j'aime la gloire, et ne veux point m'en taire ! 
Des travaux des humains, c'est le digne salaire : 
Senat ! en vous servant, il la faut acheter ; 
Qui n'ose la vouloir, n'ose la meriter !" 

All accounts agree that when Voltaire, at the first 
representation of the piece in a private theatre, acted 
this part, his enthusiastic delivery of these words con- 
veying a sentiment so intimately mixed with his whole 
soul produced such an effect that the audience could 
hardly tell if it was the poet or the great orator they 

The conspiracy of Catiline has afforded not only to 
Crebillon but to our Ben Jonson the subject of a 
tragedy. He copies, by translating, Sallust and Cicero ; 
but he does not preserve the fire of the one, or the 
picturesque effect of the other. The speech to the 
conspirators is but poorly rendered. Thus the Quin 
expergiscemini ? by being made an exhortation instead 
of a reproach, sinks into 

" Wake, wake, brave friends, 
And meet the liberty you oft have wished for." 

How much finer the literal version, " Why wake ye 


not ? See ! see ! that liberty you so often have wished 
for." Nothing can be more poor than the version in 
blank verse of the first Catilinarian, unless perhaps it 
be Catiline's exclamation on rushing forth from the 

" I will not burn without my funeral pile : 
It shall be in the common fire rather than mine own, 
For fall I will with all, ere fall alone." 

Nor is the speech before the battle better rendered ; 

" And if our destiny envy our virtue 
The honour of the day, yet let us vow 
To sell ourselves at such a price as may 
Undo the world to buy us, and make Fate, 
While she tempts ours, fear her own estate." 

A piece of rant and fustian which the poet probably 
thought Sallust had not the genius to think of. The 
description of Catiline's body after the battle is not 
perhaps quite so bad, nor the idea lent to the historian 
so feeble 

" Yet did his look retain 

Some of its fierceness, and his hands still moved, 
As if he laboured yet to grasp the state 
With these rebellious parts." 

Altogether the piece is incomparably inferior to 
Voltaire's in every part on which a comparison can 
be made. In learning, it is true, the Frenchman is 
far surpassed, who might have written his ' Catiline ' 
without ever having read a line either of the orator or 
of the historian ; but the Englishman's far greater 
failure is not excused by his attempt being the more 


Of the inferior dramas, ' Alzire ' and ' Mahomet ' or 
' Le Fanatisme ' are certainly the best ; but they are far 
from being equal to the ' Zaire ' and ' Merope,' though 
far superior to the ' Catiline.' The object of both is 
to present fanaticism in its most dangerous shape in 
the union which it not unfrequently forms with great 
and even with good qualities. This object is well 
attained, and there is also a mixture of softness in the 
characters of Alzire and Palmire which forms a pleas- 
ing relief to the harsher features of Mahomet, Gusman, 
and Zamore. Both tragedies contain fine passages of 
declamation ; and the picture of the revolting and 
hateful character of the Spaniards (in the New World, 
at least) that execrable and yet despicable mixture of 
cruelty and fanaticism, fraud and avarice with which 
' Alzire ' opens, is not surpassed in moral descriptive 
poetry. * Alzire ' was perfectly successful from the 
first ; but the favour which it then enjoyed has worn 
out. ' Mahomet ' was at first only performed at Lile, 
and during its first representation the news of Frede- 
rick's victory at Molwitz having been received by Vol- 
taire, he interrupted the performance to make it known, 
saying to those around him, " You'll see, that piece of 
Molwitz will make mine pass." At Paris it was for- 
bidden by the timidity of Cardinal Fleury, alarmed by 
some passages. Voltaire presented it to the Pope 
Benedict XIV. (Lambertini), accompanying it with 
two very indifferent Latin verses as an inscription for 
his Holiness's portrait. He received an answer full of 
kindness and liberality from that eminent priest, who 
also mentioned that an ignorant Frenchman had 
objected to the quantity of Hie in the Latin lines, 



and that he had put him down with two lines of 
Virgil, showing it to be either long or short, though 
he had not read Virgil for fifty years. Voltaire 
replied that a third verse should have been given, and 
inscribed on the Pope's picture by all his subjects 

" Hie vir, hie est tibi quern promitti saepius audis ;" 

adding very inaccurately, if not ignorantly, that the 
word is both long and short in this line, whereas it is 
only long by position. 

The late Lord Grantley told me that when he was 
a young man fresh from Eton, he passed a few days at 
Ferney, and found Voltaire much puzzled to restore, 
consistently with the metre, a Latin couplet which a 
stranger had made upon him, of which a word or two 
had been displaced. The Etonian pleased him exceed- 
ingly by at once performing the easy operation 

" Ecce domus qualem Augusti non protulit setas 
Hie sunt Maecenas, Virgiliusque simul." 

The author of ' Catiline ' had confounded himself by 
beginning with domus. It must be added, however, 
that he wrote an excellent motto for a dissertation 
upon heat, which he preferred in the competition for 
an academy prize 

" Ignis ubique lafcet, naturam amplectitur omnem 
Cuncta parit, renovat, dividit, unit, alit." 

Crebillon, then director of the Parisian stage, was 
far less tolerant towards the f Mahomet ' than the 
Roman pontiff had been, and prohibited the repre- 
sentation of the play for ten years, when D'Alembert 
(in 1751), named by D'Argenson to examine it, 


reported in its favour with a courage wholly to be 
expected from him. The success of the piece was 
great, but, like ' Alzire,' it has not retained its place 
on the stage. 

Many of his other pieces were damned from the 
first. This was the fate of 'Artemire,' the second 
which he produced ; but he changed it in some particu- 
lars, and it had a great success under the name of ' Mari- 
amne,' as indeed ( Zaire' itself had been the substitute 
for ' Eryphyle,' which failed. 'Adelaide,' in like manner, 
failed, and c Gaston de Foix,' its substitute, had some 
success. The failure was owing to a jest passed on 
one of the passages much admired by critics. When 
Vendome exclaims, " Es tu content, Couci ?" a wag in 
the pit cried u Couci-couci," the French for so-so, or 
indifferent. A similar practical joke had for a while en- 
dangered the performance of ' Mariamne' some one, 
on the Queen drinking, cried out " La Heine boit" 
The panegyrists of Voltaire dwell on these and similar 
anecdotes, to account for the loss of many of his pieces, 
but no play of real merit was ever thus destroyed. 
Many, also, praise the construction of some of them, 
and dwell especially upon the excellence of the plots. 
But the theatrical hell is paved with good designs ill 
executed, as well as the other. 

As for the comedies of Voltaire, they are wholly to 
be rejected : the utmost praise to which they can 
aspire is as pieces de societe. They were indeed very 
little played at any time, except in private parties. 
The best is the ' Ecossaise,' which never was played 
at all. It is a bitter satire on Freron, under the name 
of Frelon (hornet), a profligate, mercenary, libeller, 

D 2 


who, like some of his vile tribe in our own day, earned 
a miserable subsistence by selling the venom of his pen 
to the cowardly malice of some, and his forbearance to 
the less malignant but as despicable timidity of others. 
The ' Enfant Prodigue' had considerable success, being 
played, it is said, nearly thirty times ; but it was never 
known to be Voltaire's till he claimed it some years 
after. It is his most elaborate attempt in comedy, 
being a piece in five acts. Its verse, in five feet (or ten 
syllables), was an innovation, and apparently was not 

Thus, if the distance were less which separates Vol- 
taire's tragedies from the rude and awful grandeur of 
the ( Cid,' and the exquisite pathos and perfect harmony 
of the ' Phedre' and ' Athalie,' he would still be, on the 
comparison, left far behind Corneille, whose ' Menteur,' 
and Racine, whose * Plaideurs,' continue to keep their 
place in the line with the comedies of Moliere him- 
self, though the former is partially imitated from the 
Spanish, and the latter from the Attic stage.* 

The 'GEdipe,' which was first performed in 1718, was 
followed in 1722 and 1724 by the ' Artemire' and ' Ma- 
riamne,' of which mention has been made, and the poem 
of the ' Ligue ' was finished and published in the latter 
year, and afterwards given under the name of the ' Henri- 
ade.' To this work may be applied the same observation 
which the dramatic poetry of the author gives rise to, 
it is beautifully written it abounds in fine descrip- 
tion, in brilliant passages of a noble diction, in senti- 

* The * Wasps' of Aristophanes, a satire on the Athenian special 


ments admirable for their truth, their liberality, their 
humanity, its tendency is to make fanaticism hateful, 
oppression despicable, injustice unbearable ; but it is 
the grand work of a philosopher and a rhetorician, 
more than the inspiration of a poet. No one ever 
ventured upon a comparison of this epic with the 
' Iliad ' or the ' Odyssey ;' the '^Eneid' has been reckoned 
to present more facilities of approach, but at how great 
a distance does it leave the ( Henriade ! ' Even Lucan, 
if less tender, is far more majestic ; Tasso has, in every 
one essential quality, immeasurably surpassed Vol- 
taire ; with Milton he will not bear to be named, 
far less compared ; and Dante, little epic as he is, has 
more touches of the poetic fire, more inimitable pic- 
tures drawn with a single stroke, more appeals to our 
feelings of horror, wonder, and even pity, in a single 
canto, than can be found in the whole ten of the ' Hen- 
riade.' There abounds in the poem fine writing, 
smooth versification, noble ideas, admirable sentiments 
but poetry is wanting. The objection made by 
all, or nearly all critics, that the plot is so clumsily 
framed as to make the hero a subordinate person for 
nearly the first half, and to place over his head as his 
sovereign and master one of the most despicable and 
even disgusting voluptuaries that ever reigned in mo- 
dern times, is perhaps not altogether well grounded, 
though it has some foundation. Although the 
first in rank, Valois (Henry III.) is a cipher, while 
his successor is the person actively employed in the 
conduct of affairs ; and were the last a sort of mayor of 
the palace, the objection would lose its whole force : 
but Valois is not at all a roi faineant; we are called 


upon to recognise his existence and his acts ; we are 
even required to feel for him when he falls by the 
hands of an assassin ; to accomplish his destruction 
the spirits Discord and Fanaticism are evoked from 
hell ; the form of Guise, whom Valois had murdered, 
is assumed, and the King expires uttering a speech 
calculated to excite great interest in his fate. 

This, however, must be reckoned as the least of the 
objections to which the poem is exposed ; nor is the 
want of scenes surrounded with peril to try the hero's 
courage, nor even the feeble and unskilful manner in 
which the great event of the piece, Henry's conversion 
to obtain the crown, the most fatal defect. The piece 
is without dramatic interest ; the characters are not 
sustained in action, still less in speech indeed there is 
hardly any speaking in the poem. It is truly singu- 
lar to find a writer, whose forte as a poet lay in 
dramatic composition, almost entirely abandon his 
stronghold when he comes to compose his epic. The 
action proceeds, but it proceeds by way of narrative. 
The characters are unfolded, but it is by the descrip- 
tions of the author, not by their own words. Indeed 
there are very few characters brought forward, and 
scarcely any but the hero himself bear their parts in 
the action. Want of fine metaphors, and penury of 
figurative expression, have been always imputed to it ; 
and though there is no lack of similes, these are not 
very happy. But the cardinal defect is that the author 
appears perpetually before us ; it is a history rather than 
a poem a history in numerous verse, and beautifully 
composed, but not more dramatic, and certainly less 
beautifully composed, than many passages of Livy, and 


some of Sallust. The objection made to the intro- 
duction of philosophy, as having no warrant from the 
ancients, is hypercritical, beside being incorrect ; Vir- 
gil's cosmogony in the sixth ^Eneid afforded a prece- 
dent, if, in a modern poem, any were wanting. The 
same answer may be given to the cavil against his 
giving characters of persons introduced. Even Virgil 
has a few touches of this kind, and Lucan largely 
uses his moral pencil. But however admirable these 
passages of the ' Henriade,' and how easily soever we 
may be disposed to admit them as legitimate, they are 
exceptionable, as the only means on which the poet 
relies for bodying forth his conceptions. Again and 
again the remark occurs ; we take the whole of the 
portraits and of the action from the artist, and not 
from the actors. 

If the failures are signal in great passages, such as 
called for the full exertion of the poet's power for 
example, the St. Bartholomew, and the famine ; the 
death of Coligny in the former being altogether tame, 
with the exception of the lines which represent him 
as a king adored by his people, while his assassins, 
awe-struck by his presence, kneel before him ;* the 
latter being described by words conveying general ideas 
of suffering or of disgust, not by things ; and the pic- 
ture of the infernal Catherine de' Medicis receiving 
Coligny's head,f if the failure be still more signal in 

* " Et de ces assassins ce grand homme entoure', 

Semblant un roi puissant par ses peuple adore." (ii. 219.) 

f " Medicis le regut avec indifference, 

Sans paraitre jouir du fruit de sa vengeance, 



the denouement, Henry's conversion operated by an 
address of St. Louis to the Almighty, in which, for- 
getting Massillon's celebrated exordium to Louis 
XIV.'s funeral sermon, the Saint is actually made to 
call the hero "Le Grand Henri? nay, if the details 
of that conversion are so described as to make it almost 
appear that Voltaire is laughing in his sleeve,* we 
must allow the very great beauty of other passages. 
The description of the Temple of Love, with which 
the ninth canto opens, is rich and splendid ; the pic- 
ture of St. Louis descending to stay the conqueror's 
hand in the sixth ; the characters drawn so finely and 
forcibly in the seventh, especially those of Richelieu 
and Mazarin; the more concise traits by which he 
paints Guise in the third 

" Connaissant ses perils, et ne redoutant rien, 
Heureux guerrier, grand prince, et mauvais citoyen ;" 

and Morney in the sixth 

" II marche en philosophe, ou 1'honneur le conduit, 
Condamne les combats, plaint son maitre, et le suit ;" 

these are all of the very highest excellence in their 
kind, though that kind is not epic, hardly poetical. So 
are such passages of profound sense as the strains of the 
immortal choir in the seventh canto, strains " which 
each star repeated in its course," 

Sans remords, sans plaisir, maitresse de ses sens, 

Et comme accoutumee a de pareil encens." (ii. 242.) 

* See particularly x. 480, et seq. This passage contains the line 
on transubstantiation which Marmontel admires so much as to pro- 
nounce that curse of Fenelon against those who are not moved by 


" A ta faible raison garde-toi de te rendre, 
Dieu t'a fait pour 1'aimer, et non pour le comprendre ; 
Invisible a tes yeux, qu'il regne dans ton coeur, 
II confonde 1'injustice, il pardonne a 1'erreur ; 
Mais il punit aussi toute erreur volontaire, 
Mortel ouvre les yeux quand son soleil t'eclaire !" 

But the finest of all these extraordinary passages are 
such as in the same Canto, by far the finest of the 
poem, paint not merely by abstract ideas and by 
verbose descriptions, but by strokes of genuine poetry, 
the fiend of Envy : 

" La git la sombre Envie, a Frail timide et louche, 
Versant sur des lauriers les poisons de sa bouche ; 
Le jour blesse ses yeux, dans 1'ombre etincelans, 
Triste amante des morts, elle hait les vivans." 

" Pale Envy see, with faltering step advance, 
With look suspicious, indirect, askance, 
With eyes that quiver and abhor the light, 
But flash with fire and sparkle in the night : 
She pours her venom o'er each laureled head, 
Hates all that live, sad lover of the dead." 

Of Pride : 

" Aupres d'elle est 1'Orgueil, qui se plait et s'admire." 
Of Weakness : 

" La Faiblesse au teint pale, aux regards abattus : 
Tyran qui cede au crime et de*truit les vertus." 

" Weakness, with paly hue and downcast eyes, 

Under whose iron rule vice thrives and virtue dies." 

the famous couplet in the first Eclogue, " Fortunate senex," &c., 
" Malheur a qui n'est pas emu en le lisant." I fear many a reader 
lies under this anathema. The verse is 

" Et lui decouvre un Dieu dans un pain qui n'est plus." 
" And in a loaf that is no more reveals a God." 


Of Ambition : 

" Sanglante, inquiete, egaree, 

De trones, de tombeaux, d'esclaves entouree." 

" Restless, bloodstain'd, all perils wildly braves, 
Stalks among thrones, and sepulchres, and slaves." 

Of Hypocrisy : 

"La tendre Hypocrisie aux yeux pleins de douceur : 
Le ciel est dans ses yeux, 1'enfer est dans son cceur." 

" The tender creature's eyes with sweetness swell : 
Heaven 's in those eyes, and in her heart is hell." 

Nor is the song of these furies, on seeing Henry 
approach their impious troop, without the highest 
merit : 

" Quel mortel, disent-ils, par ce juste conduite, 
Vient nous persecuter dans 1'eternelle nuit ?" 

These are passages of true poetry ; they even approach 
the seventh Canto to the sixth book of the ' ^Eneid/ 
It may be questioned if the ideas of making Envy 
" triste amante des morts" Feebleness "tyran qui 
cede aux crimes et detruit les vertus" and Hypocrisy 
" tendre," are equalled by any of Virgil's moral pictures. 
Certainly to all in the eleventh book of the ' Odyssey ' it 
is beyond doubt immeasurably superior, as indeed is 
the sixth ^Eneid. Nor can we hesitate to affirm that, 
had the rest of the e Henriade' been composed in the 
same poetic spirit, we should not have been suffered 
with impunity to consider it an elegant history. 

In the year 1730 Voltaire wrote part of another 
poern, which he finished at intervals during the seven 
or eight years following his too famous mock-heroic, 
the * Pucelle d'Orleans.' It is painful and humiliating 
to human genius to confess, what yet is without any 


doubt true, that this is, of all his poetical works, the 
most perfect, showing most wit, most spirit, most of 
the resources of a great poet, though of course the 
nature of the subject forbids all attempts at either the 
pathetic or the sublime ; but in brilliant imagery in 
picturesque description in point and epigram in 
boundless fertility of fancy in variety of striking and 
vigorous satire all clothed in verse as natural as 
Swift's, and far more varied as well as harmonious 
no prejudice, however naturally raised by the moral 
faults of the work, can prevent us from regarding it as 
the great masterpiece of his poetical genius. Here of 
course the panegyric must close, and it must give way 
to indignation at such a perversion of such divine 
talents. The indecency, often amounting to absolute 
obscenity, which pervades nearly the whole compo- 
sition, cannot be excused on the plea that it is only a 
witty licentiousness, instead of one which excites the 
passions ; still less can it be palliated by citing bad pre- 
cedents, least of all by referring to such writers as 
Ariosto, who more rarely violates the laws of decorum ;* 

* In some of the author's correspondence he is fond of referring 
to indelicate passages of other writers in his justification ; nay, even 
to the plain language used in some parts of the Old Testament. This 
flimsy reason is at once put to flight by Sir Joshua Reynolds's illustra- 
tion of the nakedness of the Indian and the prostitute. But it is worth 
while to observe how carefully the first and greatest of poets avoids 
all cause of blame in the passages where he is brought towards the 
verge of indecency. The Song of the Bard, in the 8th Odyssey, 
where Vulcan's discovery of Mars and Venus is related, is the most 
remarkable of these ; and the jocose talk of Apollo and Mars on the 
subject savours somewhat of ribaldry. But see the short and simple 
expressions used, and mark that nothing is liquorishly dwelt on : 

*lg TO. Trpwra yuiyrjffav f.v 'H^aioroio fiopoiffir. (viii. 269.) 



whereas Voltaire is ready to commit this offence at every 
moment, and seems ever to take the view of each sub- 
ject that most easily lends itself to licentious allusions. 
But this is not all. The ' Pucelle' is one continued 
sneer at all that men do hold, and all that they ought 
to hold, sacred, from the highest to the least important 
subjects, in a moral view from the greatest to the most 
indifferent, even in a critical view. Religion and its 
ministers and its professors virtue, especially the 
virtues of a prudential cast the feelings of humanity 
the sense of beauty the rules of poetical compo- 
sition the very walks of literature in which Voltaire 
had most striven to excel are all made the constant 
subjects of sneering contempt, or of ribald laughter ; 
sometimes by wit, sometimes by humour, not rarely 
by the broad grins of mere gross buffoonery. It is 
a sad thing to reflect that the three masterpieces of 
three such men as Voltaire, Rousseau, Byron, should 
all be the most immoral of their compositions. It 
seems as if their prurient nature had been affected by a 
bad but criminal excitement to make them exceed 
themselves. Assuredly if such was not Voltaire's case, 
he well merits the blame ; for he scrupled not to read 
his ' Pucelle' to his niece, then a young woman.* 


Avrop ywv evdoipi irapa xp vffir l Aippodiny. (viii. 342.) 

So when describing in the llth Odyssey Neptune's rape of Pyro, the 
old bard only says 

Av<7 $e xapfctWfV <ovr)v, Kara &VTTVOV e^evev. (xi. 244.) 
* Correspon dance Generale, iii. 454. 


But here it would be unjust to forget that the 
same genius which underwent this unworthy pro- 
stitution, was also enlisted by its versatile possessor in 
the service of virtue and of moral truth. There may 
be some doubt if his moral essays, the ' Di scours sur 
I'Homme,' may not be placed at the head of his serious 
poetry none whatever that it is a performance of the 
highest merit. As the subject is didactic, his talents, 
turned towards grave reasoning and moral painting, 
adapted rather to satisfy the understanding than to 
touch the heart, arid addressing themselves more to 
the learned and polite than to the bulk of mankind, 
occupied here their appointed province, and had their 
full scope. Pope's moral essays gave the first hint of 
these beautiful compositions ; but there is nothing 
borrowed in them from that great moral poet, and 
there is no inferiority in the execution of the plan. A 
strict regard to modesty, with the exception of a line 
or two, reigns throughout, and the object is to incul- 
cate the purest principles of humanity, of tolerance, 
and of virtue. None but a Romanist bigot could ever 
have discovered the lurking attack upon religion in the 
noble verses against substituting vain ceremonies for good 
works, and attempting to honour the Deity by ascetic 
abstinence from the enjoyments which he has kindly 
provided for our happiness. Nay, the finest panegyric 
on the ministry of Christ is to be found mingled with 
the same just reprehensions of those who pervert and 
degrade his doctrines (Disc, vii.), and even the optimism 
of which in his other works he has ridiculed the 
extravagant doctrines, is here preached with a pious 
approval of its moderate and rational faith, (Disc. iii. v.) 


His ridicule of saints is confined to the fanatical 
devotees or hypocritical pretenders who degrade and 
desecrate the name. If he mentions any miracles with 
disrespect, it is their false ones, as in that fine passage, 
which yet gave offence, in the seventh Discourse 

" Les miracles sont bons ; mais soulager son frere, 
Mais tirer son ami du sein de la misere, 
Mais a ses ennemis pardoimer leur vertus, 
C'est un plus grand miracle, et qui ne se fait plus." 

To judge of the admirable tendency of this noble 
poem, we need only cite such lines as give the subject 
of the first discourse omitted strangely with some of 
the very finest of the whole, as those on Timante, 
Cyrus, and De Thou, in the seventh : 

" Mortel, en quelque etat que le ciel t'ait fait naitre, 
Sois soumis, sois content, et rend grace a ton maitre :" 

and those on tolerance in the second 

" Ferme en tes sentimens et simple dans ton coeur, 
Aime la verite, mais pardonnez a 1'erreur ; 
Fuis les importuner d'un zele atrabilaire. 
Ce mortel qui s'egare est un homme, et ton frere ; 
Sois sage pour toi seule, compatissant pour lui, 
Fais ton bonheur enfin par le bonheur d'autrui." 

The panegyric on friendship in the fourth is perhaps 
unequalled on that trite subject. That point and 
satire should be found in this poem was to be expected, 
but they are by no means overdone ; nay, they are kept 
in subjection to the great and good design of the 
work; and if we have a dark picture strongly but 
admirably drawn, it is that of the despicable Des 
Fontaines : 


" Ce vil fripier d'ecrits que 1'interet devore, 
Qui vend au plus ofFrant son encre et ses fureurs, 
Meprisable en son gout, detestable en ses moeurs. 
Medisant, qui se plaint des brocards qu'il essuye, 
Satirique, ennuyeux, disant que tout 1'ennuye, 
Criant que le bon gout s'est perdu dans Paris, 
Et le prouvant tres bien, du moms, par ses ecrits." 

(Disc, iii.) 

" Huckster of printed wares, who barters still 
The oil or venom of his hireling quill ; 
Whose taste and morals are alike impure, 
And none his writings, none his life endure ; 
A general slanderer, touch him and he roars, 
Dully, the dulness of the age deplores, 
Cries that at Paris taste in books there 's none, 
And proves it if he can but sell his own." 

We have also such wholesome morality as the couplet 
against asceticism in the tenth : 

" Malgre la saintete de son auguste emploi, 
C'est n'etre bon a rien de n'etre bon qu'a toi." 

And the noble one in the third against envy 

" La gloire d'un rival s'obstine a t'outrager, 
C'est en le surpassant que tu dois t'en venger !" 

But some passages have high merit of a more 
purely poetical cast. There is nothing finer, if any- 
thing so fine, in Pope, as the close of the fifth, where 
he compares his own prosecution of his literary labours, 
while arrested at Francfort, to Pan's continuing to 
play while Cacus seized his flocks ; and then breaks 
out in a strain not surpassed by Virgil 

" Heureux qui jusqu'au temps du terme de sa vie, 
Des beaux arts amoureux, peut cultiver les fruits ! 
II brave 1'injustice, il calme les ennuis, 
II pardonne aux humains, il rit de leur delire, 
Et de sa main mourant il touche encore la lyre." 


" Ah, happy he who to life's latest hour 
Of the arts enamour'd, plucks their fruit and flower; 
He braves injustice, snail-pac'd time beguiles, 
Forgives his foes, at human folly smiles. 
Life's glimmering lamp feeds with poetic fire, 
And with his dying fingers sweeps the lyre." 

There is, perhaps, one yet greater passage, the con- 
clusion of the third canto : 

" Qu'il est grand, qu'il est doux, de se dire a soi-meme, 
Je n'ai point d'ennemis, j'ai des rivaux que j'aime, 
Je prends part a leur gloire, a leur maux, a leur biens, 
Les arts nous ont unis, leurs beaux jours sont les miens : 
C'est ainsi que la terre avec plaisir rassemble, 
Ces chenes, ces sapins, qui s'elevent ensemble, 
Un sue tou'ours egal est prepare pour eux ; 
Leur pieds touchent aux enfers, leur cime est dans les cieux ; 
Leur tronc inebranlable, et leur pompeuse tete, 
Resiste, en se touchant, aux coups de la tempete ; 
Us vivent 1'un par 1'autre, ils triomphent du temps, 
Tandis que sous leur ombre on voit de vil serpens, 
Se livrer, en sifflant, des guerres intestines, 
Et de leur sang impure arroser leur racines." 

The following translation is most imperfect, and has 
only the merit of being very literal : 

" How grand, how sweet, the heavenly strains ascend, 
Foes I have none, my rival is my friend ; 
The arts unite us, common are our cares, 
And each the other's griefs and glories shares : 
So Earth, our common parent, loves to rear 
Yon oak, yon pine, and make them flourish near ; 
On one green spot the sylvan giants stand, 
Cast one broad shadow o'er the grateful land ; 
Feel the same juice through all their veins arise ; 
Deep pierce their roots entwined, their tops approach the skies. 
Their trunks unshaken, of majestic form, 
Embracing each the other, mock the storm ; 
O'er time they triumph, strong in mutual aid, 
While envious snakes, obscure, frequent their shade, 


And hiss, and sting, and with each other's blood 
Impure, profane the monarchs of the wood." 

The 'Loi Naturelle,' though not without consider- 
able beauties, and altogether free from exceptionable 
passages, is every way inferior to this fine poem. The 
'Desastre de Lisbonne' is of the same merit; and 
though the object is to cry down those who deny the 
existence of evil, it conducts the argument with perfect 
decency nay, the turn given to it at the close is of a 
purely religious character. 

" Le passe n'est pour nous qu'un triste souvenir, 
Le present est affreux s'il n'est point d'avenir ; 
Si la nuit du tombeau detruit 1'etre qui pense, 
Un jour tout sera bien ' voila notre esperance !' 
Tout est bien aujourd'hui voila 1'illusion !" 

" Sad the remembrance of the moments past, 
And sad the present, if they be the last ! 
O'er all our landscape evil sheds a gloom, 
If all our prospect 's bounded by the tomb ; 
When we say, ' all is well,' from truth we stray, 
Our comfort is, ' all will be well one day.' " 

It is melancholy to reflect on the use which was 
sometimes made of such a rich genius, and to think of 
the benefits which might have been showered down 
upon mankind by the wise and temperate employment 
of those treasures. Great as were the services unde- 
niably rendered in spite of the evil mixture, they sink 
into nothing compared with what might have been 
hoped from their pure and diligent devotion to the 
best interests of mankind. 

There needs no comment upon the numerous class 
of the lighter and shorter productions, the vers de 
societe, the epigrams, the jeuoc < esprit, in which he 



was by common consent admitted to have excelled all 
his contemporaries probably all the wits that ever 
lived and wrote. Their great inequality is no doubt 
as certain, and it was an inevitable consequence of such 
a facility as he possessed, and such an active spirit as 
moved him. Their peculiar adaptation to the circum- 
stances that gave them birth is also a necessary con- 
comitant of this kind of composition. But it is singu- 
lar that the most elaborate of the whole class of his 
writings, and the one which he probably most valued, 
the ' Guerres civiles de Geneve,' is without exception 
the worst of all his productions, and can hardly be 
matched for dulness and flatness by any undoubted 
production in verse of any other eminent poet. 

It seemed convenient to discuss the question, or 
rather the kind and the degree of what is unquestion- 
able Voltaire's poetical excellence on the occasion 
of his first success, the ' QSdipe,' in order to take the 
whole subject at once, and not to break the continuity 
of our narrative each time that a new drama or a new 
poem was produced by his fertile genius. We must 
now return to the history of his life. 

The success of 'CEdipe' placed him, though young, 
on the lists of fame, and of dramatic fame, the most 
quick of all others, especially at Paris, in its returns 
both of profit and social enjoyment. He became the 
friend, even the confidant, of the Due de Richelieu, 
and shared in his disgrace under the Regent, being 
obliged for a while to quit Paris. But on the re- 
presentation of the ' Mariamne,' he was permitted to 


return, and he soon after accompanied Madame de 
Rupelmonde to the Low Countries. To her he ad- 
dressed in that year, 1 722, the ' Epitre a Uranie,' a 
sceptical rather than a plainly deistical ode, which 
possessed some poetical merit, but was forgotten 
among his subsequent successes. At Brussels he made 
the acquaintance of J. B. Rousseau, and laid the 
foundation of the unrelenting animosity with which 
that middling writer and irritable personage pursued 
him ever after. This he owed to a jest ; having told 
him, on reading his ' Ode to Posterity,' " that it would 
never reach its destination." Rousseau, himself the 
author of many licentious epigrams against the clergy, 
hypocritically affected to take offence at the 6 Epitre a 
Uranie/ and at Voltaire's irreverent demeanour during 
mass. Had he but spared the truth which he spoke 
in jest on the bad ode, he might have scoffed with 
Lmcian and blasphemed with Borgia. 

He now endeavoured in vain to regain the enjoy- 
ment he most loved the society of Paris. An 
unfortunate quarrel with the Chevalier de Rohan 
exposed him to the resentment of the Court, and the 
risk of again inhabiting the Bastille. Some epigram 
or jest at the Chevalier's expense had been reported 
to him, and he basely set his servants on the wit, 
whom they severely beat. A challenge was the con- 
sequence ; but as the poet's rank did not authorize this 
liberty, he was on the point of being handed over to 
the police, or secured by a lettre de cachet, and he 
resolved to fly. His plan was to visit England, at- 
tracted by her liberty, and above all, by that which ho 
seems ever to have valued most the spirit of toler- 

E 2 


ance and the security against ecclesiastical oppression. 
He lived above two years in London and its neigh- 
bourhood, chiefly at Wandsworth, in the house of 
a friend, Mr. Falconer, then a respectable Turkey 
merchant, afterwards Ambassador to the Porte and 
Secretary to the Duke of Cumberland. During this 
residence he corrected the ' Hen Hade :' it was now 
published under that name, by a subscription, which 
Queen Caroline, then Princess of Wales, warmly 
patronized, and which produced a large sum of money. 
He likewise devoted himself with his wonted zeal and 
success to the study of the Newtonian philosophy. 
He lived in the society of our literary men ; though 
the great age of Sir Isaac Newton prevented him 
from forming any acquaintance with him whose 
system he was destined first to make known in Europe. 
With Pope and with Congreve he had many inter- 
views : for the former he acquired a respect and 
esteem which the similarity of their poetical genius 
naturally cemented, and which no envy or jealousy 
ever interrupted ; of the latter, he is said to have 
formed a less favourable judgment. The silly affect- 
ation of * telling him, when he came to admire the 
Moliere of England, that he valued himself, not on 
his authorship, but would be regarded as a man of the 
world, received a just rebuke : "I should never have 
come so far to see a gentleman," said Voltaire. 

This journey to England had two important conse- 
quences. The money which he obtained, and which 
he afterwards increased by a lucky chance in the 
lottery, and by engaging in one or two successful 
mercantile speculations, yielded him an ample income 


for the rest of his life ; so that he cared little for the 
profits of his works, and indeed gave many of them to 
the booksellers and the actors for nothing. Not only 
was he thus secured in the state of independence 
which is an author's best protection against crude and 
hasty composition, but he was able to follow the bent 
of his taste in choosing his subjects, and of his dispo- 
sition both to encourage young authors of merit, and 
to relieve the distresses of deserving persons. Proofs 
also remain which place beyond all doubt his kindness 
to several worthless men, who repaid it with the black 
ingratitude so commonly used as their current coin by 
the base and spiteful, who salve their own wounded 
pride by pouring venom on the hand that saved or 
served them. 

But his residence in England had a still more 
important result the importation he made from 
thence of the Newtonian system, or rather, of all Sir 
Isaac Newton's wonderful discoveries. So deeply 
rooted were the prejudices of our Continental neigh- 
bours in favour of the Cartesian philosophy, that 
when Fontenelle pronounced his eloge of Newton, at 
the Academic des Sciences, he gave the preference to 
Des Cartes ; and even ten years later, the Chancellor 
D'Aguesseau refused the licence to print Voltaire's 
work because it denied and disproved the Vortices 
an act of narrow-minded bigotry in science scarcely 
to be matched in all its annals. Voltaire, soon after 
his return from England, published his f Lettres sur les 
Anglais' a candid and intelligent work ; and in three 
of these he gives a very correct though extremely 
general and popular sketch of Newton's discoveries. 


But in 1738 appeared his more full and satisfactory 
account of them, and it certainly does the greatest 
honour to its author. This work owes its origin, 
however, not more to the English residence of the 
author, than to the intimacy which he formed soon 
after his return to France, about the year 1730, with 
the family of Du Chatelet ; and before considering 
the merits of the book, it may be convenient to dwell 
for a little while upon the history of that celebrated 

The Marquess had married several years before a 
lady of high rank, Gabrielle Emilie de Breteuil, much 
younger than himself ; and, according to the manners of 
those times and that country, she herself had not been 
consulted upon the match when her parents gave her 
away. When Voltaire became acquainted with her, 
she was in her twenty-fourth year, and one of the 
most remarkable persons, both for beauty, talents, and 
accomplishments, that adorned the French Court, or 
the refined society of Paris. At first her acquaintance 
with the poet was of an ordinary kind, probably formed 
by the reputation of the wit and the rank of the lady. 
But the literary taste of the Marchioness found so 
much improvement and such constant gratification in 
the great resources of his various knowledge, his ver- 
satile talents, and his inexhaustible wit, that it can be 
no wonder if his society soon became necessary to a 
woman of her decided inclination for literary and sci- 
entific pursuits. The fame which he had acquired as 
a dramatist, and in the brilliant circles of Paris society, 
would have riveted the attention of an ordinary 
woman, to whom he showed a desire of devoting him- 


self. But though she was herself fond of all the 
common amusements of her rank and sex, lived in the 
circles of the court as might be expected of a Breteuil, 
and cultivated all the graces even as displayed in the 
lighter accomplishments, it seems doubtful if she 
would have formed so decided a predilection for the 
company of any one who had not begun to cultivate 
those severer sciences to which she gave a marked pre- 
ference. Nor can we much question the probability 
of Voltaire having, after his return from England, 
turned his attention far more to these studies than he 
otherwise would have done, in order to make* a pro- 
gress not only in philosophy, but also in the good graces 
of a person so distinguished in every way, young, 
handsome, noble, attractive, as well as learned be- 
yond the ordinary measure even of man's information, 
endowed with talents both solid and ornamental, and 
inspired by a taste for the graver as well as the lighter 
pursuits of genius. The difficulties in which he was 
involved by a lettre de cachet threatened, if not issued, 
on account of the ' Letters ' after his return from Eng- 
land, had obliged him to leave Paris. There seems every 
reason to believe that the arrangement by which he be- 
came an inmate in the Marquess's house was formed 
about the same time, and that he found a refuge at the 
chateau of Cirey in Champagne, whither the literary 
tastes of the Marchioness had made her resolve to with- 
draw from the frivolity of the court and the dissipation 
of the capital, and had enabled her to prevail with the 
Marquess, who yielded to this new plan of life. They 
had at this time a son and a daughter ; and an Abbe 
named Linant was engaged as the tutor of the former, 


while the Marchioness herself superintended the lat- 
ter's education. 

The chateau of Cirey, on the confines of Cham- 
pagne and Lorraine, had, like most French country 
houses, fallen into some disrepair. Steps were imme- 
diately taken to put it in order, and a considerable 
addition of a gallery and a laboratory, or cabinet of 
natural philosophy, was made to it under Voltaire's 
superintendence. The elegance and even luxury of the 
apartments is described as very great. He likewise 
furnished the funds required for the improvements, by 
lending the Marquess 40,000 francs, and by providing a 
portion of the furniture, of the apparatus, and of the 
library, which became a sufficiently large one for all or- 
dinary purposes. It appears, that soon after the building 
was finished, he reduced his claim to 30,000 francs, and 
agreed to take in lieu of that sum an annuity of 2000 
francs. Fifteen years, however, elapsed without any 
payment of the annuity ; and though the arrears now 
amounted to 30,000 francs, he agreed to receive 15,000 
both for these arrears and for the remainder of his life- 
interest in the annuity : of this 1 5,000 francs it does 
not appear that he ever received more than 10,000 
so that he gave up altogether a sum of about 2000/. 
sterling, principal and interest.* But he appears 
constantly to have assisted the household with money, 
which the careless habits of the Marquess, and the 
yet less worldly nature of the Marchioness, occasion- 
ally rendered necessary. The income of the Marquess 

* A sura equal at the present time, and in England, to at least 


was about 40,000 francs, equal to about 6000/. in this 
country at the present time. 

The family appears to have lived together in great 
harmony, though occasionally somewhat broken by 
the rather impetuous temper of the fair analyst. 
They led a retired, contemplative, and studious, but 
by no means a dull or unvaried life. Visits were 
occasionally made to Paris ; in Brussels and the 
Hague it became necessary to pass some time, partly 
on account of Voltaire's work then printing there, 
the ' Elements,' partly on account of a law-suit by 
which the family had been exhausted for sixty years, 
and of which Voltaire's active interposition obtained 
the amicable settlement, by payment to the Marquess 
of 220,000 francs. 

Some of the greatest mathematicians of the age fre- 
quented the chateau, and assisted the Marchioness in 
her studies. Kcenig and his brother, disciples of the 
Bernouillis, passed two years there ; but also D. Ber- 
nouilli himself was occasionally a visitor ; and so was 
the illustrious Clairault. Maupertuis, a man of very in- 
ferior mark, but esteemed at that time, when his journey 
to measure a degree in Lapland caused him to be over- 
rated, was more than once the Marquess's guest and 
his wife's instructor or fellow-student. The Mar- 
chioness seldom dined with the family, whose dinner- 
hour was twelve ; but they more frequently assembled 
all together to supper at eight in the evening. Though 
the Marchioness was chiefly engaged in her ' Com- 
mentaries on Newton,' and her able and learned trans- 
lation of the ' Principia,' she could distract her mind 
from such studies by the pleasures of music and of the 
stage ; and w r e find Voltaire telling friends whom he 


is inviting to visit them, that " plays are made daily, 
and Jupiter's satellites observed nightly (Cor. Gene- 
rale, iii. 184) ; that they will be free to pass the 
mornings in their own apartments, and will hear read 
in the evening the compositions of the day ; and that 
the Marchioness ' joue ou 1'opera, ou la comedie, ou 
la comete ' " (ib. 312). Indeed Voltaire himself exhi- 
bited perhaps the most remarkable instance of varied 
and versatile talents on record, by producing, within 
the same three or four years, the Newtonian * Ele- 
ments,' his prize essay on ' Fire/ ' Zaire,' ' Alzire,' 
' Mahomet,' ' the Discours sur I'Hornme,' more than 
half of the ' Pueelle,' the History of Charles XII.,' 
besides an endless variety of minor pieces, and some 
volumes of correspondence in prose and verse. The 
' Pueelle ' was begun to amuse him while obliged to 
fly from Paris in 1734 by the persecutions he suffered 
on account of the ' Letters on England.' 

It was at Cirey, then, with a few weeks passed in 
'Sgravesande's society at Leyden, that Voltaire com- 
posed, and finally prepared for publication, his 'Elements 
of the Newtonian Philosophy,' as well as his ' Essay on 
Fire ;' and of both these works we may now treat. 

In order to estimate the merits of the work on Sir 
Isaac Newton's discoveries, we must first consider the 
state in which it found the Newtonian system on the 
Continent ; next, the helps which he had in writing it. 

There can be no doubt that Clairault, destined 
afterwards to confirm the theory of the moon's motions, 
though at first, with others, to undergo a temporary 
error upon the subject, destined also to join with 
D'Alembert and Euler in explaining the disturbing 
forces by working out the problem of the three 


bodies, destined, finally, to bring the disturbances in 
the trajectories of comets within the theory of planetary 
attraction, very early, probably before Voltaire, adopted 
the Newtonian philosophy ; for, though only fifteen 
years old when Voltaire's l Letters* were written, he 
had, when only thirteen, begun his admirable work on 
Curves of Double Curvature, and it was published 
very soon after the ' Letters' appeared. But it is certain 
he had given nothing to the world on the theory of 
gravitation. Maupertuis had probably, in scientific 
circles, professed his conversion, and intimated that he 
renounced the Cartesian philosophy ; but until after his 
return from Lapland, in 1738, he never made any pub- 
lic profession of his faith, his ' Commentary/ in 1732, 
being confined to the dynamical subject of the 12th Sec- 
tion of the ' Principia' (Book L). Voltaire's ' Letters/ 
therefore, published in 1732, first defended generally, 
and his ' Elements/ in 1738, defined in detail the new 
system, and gave an explanation of it so clear and 
popular, as in all likelihood neither Maupertuis nor 
Clairault could have furnished. He therefore justly 
claims the glory of first making the Newtonian sys- 
tem accessible to the bulk of European readers, of 
fully refuting the Cartesian errors, and of boldly op- 
posing a doctrine which, of all philosophical tenets 
since Aristotle's philosophy, had taken the strongest 
hold of men's minds. Indeed, the prejudices in favour 
of the Vortices, like those in favour of the Aristotelian 
philosophy, appear to have partaken of the zeal, and 
even of the intolerant spirit, which theological dogmas 
are too often found to excite. Fontenelle, in his 
' Eloge' of Newton, had shown his adhesion to Des 


Cartes. The Chancellor D'Aguesseau, as I have already 
remarked, could never be prevailed upon to grant a 
licence for printing Voltaire's work; he kept the 
manuscript in his possession for eight months, and 
ended by refusing his permission a piece of folly and 
bigotry worthy of that eminent and virtuous, but 
feeble character, which had made him also refuse the 
licence to print a novel, unless the hero was made to 
change his religion and become a Catholic. Even 
the ' Letters on England' had suffered persecution, 
partly from their opposing Des Cartes, but chiefly be- 
cause, with .Locke, they denied innate ideas, which 
the bigoted clergy deemed an approach to material- 
ism, or at any rate, a doctrine tending to level the 
human mind with that of the lower animals a doc- 
trine, however, it must be observed, for that very reason 
somewhat favourable to themselves. The result of their 
efforts was a lettre de cachet, and Voltaire's sudden flight 
from Paris. Another consequence very discreditable 
to him was his positive and public denial of the author- 
ship, and affirming that the letters had been written 
by his early patron, the Abbe Chaulieu, now no more. 
These letters were first published in London by his 
friend M. Their iot, who caused them to be translated 
into English, in which language they first appeared. 
He was allowed to reap the whole profits of the work. 
Afterwards Voltaire gave a bookseller at Rouen leave 
to publish the original French ; but withdrew his 
consent as soon as he perceived the trouble into which 
the work would bring him. His countermand, how- 
ever, arrived too late, and he suffered great annoyance 
in consequence. It is usually represented that this 


book, containing his more general sketch of the 
Newtonian system, was written as early as 1727 or 1728 ; 
but this is certainly incorrect. The letters were in 
great part written while he was living at the house of 
Mr. Falconer at Wandsworth ; but those on Sir Isaac 
Newton's discoveries were so far from being then 
finished, that they were probably not commenced ; for 
we find in the ' Correspondance ' letters as late as the 
autumn of 1732, in which he consulted Maupertuis upon 
the doctrine of attraction, and was wavering between 
that and the vortices. There are no less than five 
letters written by him on this subject ; and after his 
objections to the Newtonian doctrine had been removed 
by Maupertuis, he falls back and sends him a long 
paper on the moon's motion, dated 5th November, 
1732.* The ' Letters ' at length appeared, however, and 
his own account of that portion of them is at once 
accurate and witty. " I carefully avoid entering into 
calculations," he says : " I am like a person who settles 
with his steward, but does not go to work arithme- 
tically." The ' Elements' were written between 1732 
and 1736, were finished about that time, and were 
published in 1738. 

The other matter for consideration is the assistance 
which Voltaire had privately in preparing this work. 
It is clear that he must have begun his physical 
studies with a very indifferent provision of mathe- 
matical knowledge. It is equally clear that he studied 
natural philosophy with Madame du Chatelet, who 
had a particular taste for the mathematics. She had 

* Cor. Gen., i. 244 et seq., and 259; ii. 493, 514. 


received instruction from Maupertuis ; some also from 
Clairault before he went to Lapland ; but she received 
still more from him after he returned to Cirey. He 
had fully instructed her in the Newtonian philosophy, 
and in the method of conducting the demonstrations of 
the * Principia' analytically a most invaluable service to 
any student at that time, when the excellent commen- 
tary of the Jesuits* (Le Sueur and Jacquier) had not 
appeared : she reduced his lessons to writing, and they 
were afterwards published among her posthumous 
works. | Her ' Institutes de Physique' were published in 
1740, and contain a very accurate account of the New- 
tonian system; and as it is clear, from Voltaire's 
Correspondence, that the work was written before the 
beginning of that year, it can admit of no doubt that 
she was acquainted with the Newtonian philosophy at 
the time he was writing his ' Elements ;' the printing* of 
which began early in 1737, and continued nearly two 
years. He therefore derived all the benefit that his 
knowledge of the subject enabled him to receive from 
Clairault ; and Koenig lived at Cirey the whole of the 
years 1738 and 1739, so as to make the revision of the 
book by him very possible while it passed through the 
press. He admits Madame du Chatelet's share in the 
work, in express terms, to Frederick II.J The access 
to these helps, however, does not materially lessen his 

* They were Minimes, and not Jesuits as they are always called. 

f Voltaire (Memoires, QEuv., i. 219) erroneously ascribes this to 
Madame du Chatelet herself, and says it was revised by Clairault. 
The ' Memoires' abound in error. Thus they make the journey to 
Luneville in 1749, instead of 1748. 

| Cor. avec les Souverains, i. 60. 


merits. Indeed he had the benefit of Pemberton's 
' General View,' which was published as early as 1728, 
and is more than once referred to by him. Maclaurin's 
was not published till 1748. 

That Voltaire had, or in consequence of sympathy 
with Madame du Chatelet acquired, some taste for the 
mathematics is certain. He even prosecuted the study 
with considerable assiduity. After making some 
progress he consulted Clairault, and asked him if he 
could conscientiously advise him to persevere in the 
pursuit to go on with the cultivation of a science 
which is commonly supposed to require an undivided 
homage from its votaries, though D'Alembert's example 
negatives the assumption. We are not informed of 
the grounds upon which Clairault candidly gave his 
opinion that the science of number and quantity was 
not Voltaire's vocation ; whether he found him ill 
grounded in a branch of knowledge which he had 
studied late, or saw in any attempts at origiifal inves- 
tigation that his genius lay not that way. It is, how- 
ever, to be lamented that his advice was either given so 
generally, or so generally construed and followed, as 
to make no exception in favour of experimental 
philosophy, in which I am strongly inclined to think, 
and shall presently explain why, his acuteness, his 
industry, his sagacity, above all his brave contempt of 
received opinions, and his deep-rooted habit of judging 
every proposition by its own merits, would in all pro- 
bability have ranked him among the discoverers of 
the age. 

The ' Elemens ' is a work of a much higher order 
than the * Letters,' and does great credit both to his in- 


dustry and his accuracy. It is indeed so free from 
errors, although it is by no means a superficial account 
of the Newtonian philosophy, that, with the limited 
knowledge of mathematics which Voltaire possessed, 
we can hardly conceive his having avoided mistakes, 
and must therefore suppose that either 'Sgravesande, 
with whom he passed some time at Ley den, while the 
work was in the press, or Koenig, who was then living 
at Cirey, must have gone over and revised it. There 
is no greater mistake than theirs who call the e Ele- 
ments' a flimsy or superficial work. The design of it 
is not to enter minutely into the profound investiga- 
tions of the c Principia,' or to follow all the exqui- 
site inductive processes of the ' Optics,' but to give 
the great truths unfolded in both these immortal 
works, with a certain portion of the evidence on which 
they rest, so that the reader unacquainted with the 
mathematics beyond the mere definitions, and perhaps 
one or two of the elementary propositions in geo- 
metry, may be able to form an accurate notion of the 
reasoning that supports the mighty system. The 
design is this ; that design is executed ; and the power 
of explaining an abstract subject in easy and accurate 
language, language not in any way beneath the dig- 
nity of science, though quite suited to the comprehen- 
sion of uninformed persons, is unquestionably shown 
in a manner which only makes it a matter of regret 
that the singularly gifted author did not carry his 
torch into all the recesses of natural philosophy. It 
must be added, that, beside explaining the discoveries 
of Newton, he has given an equally clear view of the 
science as it stood before those great changes were 


effected. The Cartesian system is fully explained, and 
the outline of optical science, independent of New- 
ton's researches, is more extended and more elaborate 
than the account of those researches. The second part 
relates to the nature and action of light ; the third to 
the system of the world ; and the first part enters at 
some length into the general doctrines of mind, mat- 
ter, force, and motion, even dealing with the doctrines 
of natural religion. 

Whoever reads the work attentively, allowing it 
the full praise so justly its due, will find it wholly in- 
capable of furnishing any proof that the author had 
ever read either the ' Principia ' or the ' Optics/ There 
is no reference to those writings which at all shows 
that he had ever seen a line of them. In the contro- 
versy with the Cartesians, which he carried on after 
the * Elements ' were published, he cites the 96th 
proposition (meaning of the first book of the ' Prin- 
cipia,' although he does not mention the book) ; but it 
is only to speak of optical matters. He also refers to 
the Scholium Generate ; but that has been constantly 
cited, and for the most part at second hand, by those 
who never read any other part of the work. It is 
further to be observed, that no account whatever is 
given, nor even any mention made, of the Second Book, 
concerning motion in resisting media ; indeed there 
are indications more positive of his not having drunk 
at the pure source itself. If he had been acquainted 
with the ' Optics,' in describing the induction by which 
the composition of white light is proved, he never 
surely would have omitted the experimentum crucis. 
He gives (Part ii. chap. 10) the composition of the 



spectral rays by means of a lens, and their forming 
white in the focus ; but he leaves entirely out the 
decisive experiment of stopping different portions of 
the spectrum, and then finding that the focus is no 
longer white, but of the colour, or mixture of colours, 
suffered to pass onward. It is perhaps a proof of the 
same kind, that he states what he certainly never could 
have learnt in the ' Optics,' the blue colour of the sky 
as caused by the great attenuation of the vapours aris- 
ing in the atmosphere (Part ii. chap. 12). Nor could 
any one who had studied the same admirable work 
have confined himself almost entirely to one portion 
of it, and give scarcely any account, except the most 
general, and indeed meagre, of the colours of thin 
plates, and none at all of the colours of thick plates. 

With respect to the ' Principia/ he gives with con- 
siderable fulness the doctrine of equal areas in equal 
times ; and indeed, from his account, the demonstration 
as well as the fundamental proposition itself may be 
gathered. But then comes this very summary state- 
ment of the planetary law : " Enfin Newton a prouve 
que si la courbe decrite autour du centre est une ellipse, 
la force attractive est en raison inverse du carre des 
distances" (Part iii. chap. 4). He indeed leaves us here 
to infer, quite contrary to the truth, that the same 
proportion is peculiar to motion in an ellipse ; and he 
makes no mention whatever of the inverse problem, 
the deducing the curve from the force the more im- 
portant of the two. 

There is a profound view given of the irregularity in 
the moon's motion caused by disturbance (Part iii. 
chap. 6) , and one or two other parts of the treatise 


deserve the same praise. A possibility exists of these 
having been written by another hand. It seems diffi- 
cult to suppose the same very accurate writer could be 
the author of such passages as we meet with in the de- 
fences of the work against the Cartesians. Thus, in the 
1 Courte Reponse aux longs Discours d'un Docteur Alle- 
mand,' we find him saying he had expected repose, but 
now discovered that " la racine carre du cube des revo- 
lutions des planetes et les carres de leurs distances 
fesaient encore des ennemis ;" in which allusion there 
are three capital blunders ; the square root of the cube 
is taken for the cube, the revolutions for the distances, 
and the squares for the cubes. 

In 1 737 both Voltaire and Madame du Chatelet were 
competitors for the prize of the Academy of Science. 
The subject was, " The nature of fire and its propaga- 
tion." Neither paper was successful, but both were 
honourably mentioned by the committee of examina- 
tion, and both were printed as a mark of approval. 
When it is added that the illustrious Euler gained the 
prize, surely we may well be permitted to say that no 
discredit could result from being surpassed by such a 
rival. But Voltaire's paper is of great merit. He 
takes bold and original views, and describes experi- 
ments which, had he pursued them with more pa- 
tience, would probably have enrolled his name among 
the greatest discoverers of his age. It is impossible 
to have made a more happy conjecture than he 
does upon the weight acquired by metals when cal- 
cined. After describing an experiment made by him 
with melted iron, " II est tres possible," says he, " que 
cette augmentation de poid soit venue de la matiere 



repandue dans 1'atmosphere : done dans toutes les autres 
operations par lesquelles les matieres calcinees acqui- 
rent du poids, cette augmentation de substance pourrait 
aussi leur etre venue de la meme cause, et non de 
la matiere ignee." About half a century later this 
conjecture was verified, when the composition of the 
atmosphere was discovered. Had Voltaire followed up 
his felicitous conjecture by one or two experiments, he 
would very probably have discovered both the nature 
of oxygen and the process of oxydation, which last, in- 
deed, he had in general terms described. 

Again, how near does he approach to the true 
theory of fluidity, and even to the discovery of latent 
heat, when, speaking of the effects on the thermometer 
of mixing ammonia and vinegar, he says, " II y a cer- 
tainement du feu dans ces deux liqueurs, sans quoi elles 
ne seraient point fluides ;" and afterwards speaking of 
the connection between heat and permanent or gaseous 
elasticity, he says, " N'est-ce pas que 1'air n'a plus alors 
la quantite de feu necessaire pour faire jouir toutes ses 
parties, et pour le degager de 1'atmosphere engourdie 
qui le renferme?" The experiments which he made 
on the heat of fluids mixed together, of different tem- 
peratures before their mixture, led him to remark the 
difference of the temperature when mixed from what 
might have been expected by combining the separate 
temperatures before mixture. Need I add that this is 
precisely the course of experiment and observation 
which led Black to his celebrated discovery of latent 
heat a quarter of a century later ? 

It was in these studies that the time passed at 


Cirey, in these various pursuits of philosophy, of his- 
tory, of poetry. But some important incidents in 
Voltaire's life, beside his literary successes, happened 
during his intimacy with the Du Chatelets, His only 
sister, of whom he appears to have been fond, had 
died while he was in England, leaving a son and two 
daughters. Of these, now grown up, he took a parental 
care, and exerted himself to marry them suitably. 
One, in 1737, married M. Denis, a captain in the 
Regiment de Champagne, who died some years after 
(1744), and his widow ultimately came to live with 
her uncle, and passed nearly thirty years under his 
roof. Her sister married, some years later, a M. de 
Fontaine. During the same period of his residence 
at Cirey, the Prince Royal of Prussia, afterwards 
Frederick II., courted his acquaintance by letter, and 
began a correspondence of mutual compliment and 
even veneration, which lasted till he became king at 
his father's death, in 1 740. At that time he made a 
fruitless attempt to make Voltaire fix his residence at 
Berlin, and would have almost let him dictate his 
own terms ; but as long as Madame du Chatelet 
lived, these offers were frankly and peremptorily re- 
fused. Voltaire being near Brussels, the King, who 
happened to be in that neighbourhood soon after his 
accession, proposed coming to wait upon the poet ; but, 
being prevented by a severe ague, Voltaire went to 
him, and had his first interview while the fit was upon 
the royal patient in bed. He undertook to publish for 
him his first work, the ' Anti-Machiavel.' But unfor- 
tunately, while it was passing through the press, the 
death of Charles VI. left his daughter Maria Theresa 


in a condition of such weakness as exposed the royal 
combatant of Machiavel's principles to an irresistible 
temptation, and he made upon her province of Silesia 
one of the most unprovoked and unjustifiable attacks 
of which history has left any record. It is singular 
enough that, in the history which he afterwards wrote 
of the war, he in plain terms had stated as the cause 
of it, his possessing a fine army, and great treasure, 
which his father's recent death had left him, and his 
inability to resist the temptation of her weakness. 
Voltaire, on revising the work, struck this singular 
passage out of it ; but, having kept a copy, he has given 
it in his 'Memoirs/* 

The favour which he was known to enjoy with 
Frederick induced the French ministry, three years 
after, to employ him in a secret mission, which he ap- 
pears to have fulfilled with much success. He went 
to Berlin under cover of visiting his royal and literary 
correspondent, and obtained from him the assurance, 
that a declaration of war by France against England, 
then taking the Empress- Queen's part, would be fol- 

* The passage thus erased and thus preserved is extremely curious, 
and for honesty or impudence has no parallel in the history of 
warriors : 

" Que Ton joigne a ces considerations, des troupes toujours pretes 
d'agir, mon epargne bien remplie, et la vivacite de mon caractere, 
c'etait les raisons que j'avais de faire la guerre a Marie Therese, 
Reine de Bohemie et de Hongrie, 1'ambition, Tinteret, le desir de 
faire parler de moi, 1'importerent ; et la guerre fut resolue." (Mem. 
238.) If every man who enters upon a voluntary war would speak 
out, we should have the same commentary on the lives of all the 
butchers who disgrace and afflict our species. Nothing, certainly, 
can more eloquently describe their cold-blooded wickedness than 
these words of Frederick. 


lowed by an immediate co-operation with France on 
his part. The favour which Voltaire thus ob- 
tained not only with the ministry, but with Madame 
de Pompadour, then all-powerful, produced an im- 
pression which all his fine writings had failed to make. 
He was allowed to enter the Academy, from which 
court influence had before excluded him ; he was 
named gentleman of the King's chamber ; and he re- 
ceived a pension of 2000 francs a year. 

The tranquil pleasures of letters and of friendship, 
which form so much the burthen of his song during 
his residence at Cirey, were in the mean time suffer- 
ing constant interruption, as he would represent, from 
the libels of persons every way below his notice, but, 
in reality, from his own irritable temper. The ve- 
hemence of the language in which he describes those 
attacks, makes the reader believe that the charges 
against him were of a heinous kind, and that the ac- 
cusers were persons of importance ; when both are 
examined, they generally turn out to be equally insig- 
nificant. One attack only, which absurdly accuses 
him of having failed to account for subscriptions to 
the ' Henriade,' he did right in requiring a friend to 
refute, who was personally acquainted with the whole 
matter, having devoted to his own use part of the 
money so received. He seems to have had some ground 
for complaining that this gentleman, a M. Theiriot, 
was slow in vindicating him ; but his principal griev- 
ance is that Theiriot refused to attack the slander 
in his own person, and to repeat in public what he 
had so often written privately, that the accuser was 
the author of other libels against them both, and was 


the Abbe des Fontaines, a man of some reputation for 
ability, but leading a life of scandalous libelling, and 
whose ingratitude to Voltaire was sufficient to stamp 
him with infamy, as to his kind exertions had been ow- 
ing the Abbe's escape from a charge of the most detest- 
able nature. It is, however, a stain scarcely less deep 
on Voltaire's own memory, that although he firmly be- 
lieved in the man's innocence, as indeed every one else 
did, he was no sooner enraged by the ungrateful re- 
turn his services received, than he recurred to the 
false charges in all his letters nay, even by a plain 
allusion in more than one passage of his poems, of 
which we have already seen an instance in the ' Dis- 
cours sur 1'Homme.' He took a more legitimate course 
of punishing him by prosecuting the libel (a satire 
entitled Voltairemanie'), and compelled the vile and 
abandoned slanderer to sign a public denial of it, and 
a complete disbelief of its contents. 

Under the vexation which such attacks gave him, 
he was comforted not only by the friendship which he 
found always in his home at Cirey, but by the un- 
varying kindness of M. le Cidville, a respectable 
magistrate of Rouen, fond of literature ; by the steady 
friendship of M. le Comte d'Argental, a man of large 
fortune, and owner of the Isles de Rhe and Aix, off 
the west coast, and his wife ; by the unbroken attach- 
ment of M. d'Argenson, Secretary of State, his 
brother, the War Minister, and the Due de Richelieu. 
It should seem as if Voltaire was, in his familiar 
intercourse, the better for being kept under some re- 
straint by the superior rank, or other preponderating 
qualities, of his friends. Some such calming influ- 


ence was necessary for his irritable nature. Jealousy 
formed no part of his character; he had a rooted 
horror of envy, as mean and degrading ; he was 
always well disposed to encourage rising merit and 
enjoy the success of his friends, perhaps all the more 
readily when he aided them by his patronage and 
counsels ; but he was easily offended, ready to believe 
that any one had attacked him, prone to take alarm 
at intended insult or apprehended combination against 
him ; and as his nature was fundamentally satirical, 
he was unable to resist the indulgence of the very 
humour of which he could so ill bear being himself 


made the subject. Those who were at all dependent 
on him, his Theiriots and his publishers, found much 
less magnanimity than kindness in his temper. With 
his equals he rarely continued very long on cordial 
terms. Maupertuis, indeed, had no excuse for his 
proceedings ; but the extravagances of J. J. Rousseau's 
crazy nature might well have been overlooked, and 
never should have been made the subjects of such deadly 
warfare as Voltaire waged against him. The other 
Rousseau's enmity he owed entirely to himself, as we 
have seen ; it is extremely probable that Des Fon- 
taines was set against him by hearing of his sarcasms 
on a subject to which all reference was proscribed ; 
and his persevering attacks on Le Franc de Pom- 
pignan arose from no cause beyond some general 
reflections on philosophers in his inaugural discourse 
at the Academy ; nor was he ever just enough to allow 
the singular merit of some, at leastj of the Abbe's 
poetry.* It is certainly one, and a principal, cause of 

* It might be absurd enough in Mirabeau (the elder) to exalt him 


the constant disputes, the hot water he lived in, that 
he was always writing, generally writing something 
offensive of somebody ; and almost as generally wri- 
ting something which was likely to call down the 
indignation of the constituted authorities in Church 
and State. But had he kept his writings to him- 
self, or only published them anonymously without 
any confidants, his pen would have less frequently 
disturbed his repose. Instead of this, he generally 
began by showing his compositions, often by suffering 
copies to be taken ; sometimes these were published 
without his leave ; but often he allowed them to be 
printed, and straightway complained when the author- 
ship was discovered. His denials then knew no 
bounds, either for repetition or for solemnity ; and we 
have seen in the instance of the ' Letters on England' 
how little scrupulous he was in what manner he 
confirmed his asseverations, by laying the blame upon 
others. To this double source of the difficulties into 
which his writings brought him with the govern- 
ment, and of the individual resentment which they 
occasioned, may very many of his quarrels and anxieties 
be traced. 

But another circumstance must be mentioned, as 
throwing light upon his personal altercations with 
the friends he at various times esteemed. His nature 
was open and ardent ; he had the irritability which 
oftentimes accompanies genius, but he had the warm 
temperament, the generous self-abandonment, the 
uncalculating effusion of sentiment, which is also its 

into the first of modern poets, as our Locke did Bfeckmore ; yet few 
passages in Voltaire's own writings can compare with the famous 
simile of the Egyptians, and their sacrilegious abuse of the Sun. 


attendant, and which sixty years' living in the world 
never cured hardly mitigated in Voltaire. His ex- 
pressions were, no doubt, stronger than his feelings ; 
but we know that this strength of expression has a 
certain re-action, and excites the feelings in its turn; 
certainly is ever taken into the account when its object 
makes a bad or a cold requital, and irritates the minds 
from which it had proceeded, if in no other way, at 
least by wounding their pride. Nothing can be more 
extravagant than the technology of Voltaire's affec- 
tions : " My dearest friend" is too cold to be almost 
ever used ; it is " My dear and adorable friend ;" " My 
guardian angel ;" " My adorable friend ;" and often to 
the Argentals especially the union of both, "My 
adorable angels." All philosophers are Newtons ; all 
poets Virgils ; all historians Sallusts ; all marshals 
Csesars. The work of the President Henault is not 
certainly " son" but " votre charmante, votre immortel 
ouvrage :" being the most dry and least charming 
history that ever was penned, and which never would 
be read but as a convenient chronicle. The ex- 
pressions of affection, of eternal, warm, even passion- 
ate affection, are lavished constantly and indifferently. 
Nay, to one friend, a Marshal and Duke (Richelieu), 
he says, addressing him as Monseigneur, " II y a dans 
Paris force vieilles et illustres catins, a qui vous avez 
fait passer de joyeux moments, mais il n'y en a point 
qui vous aime plus de moi."* With all this vehemence 
of feeling and facility of effusion, as well as of exag- 
geration, there was joined an irritability that brought 

* Corr. Gen. iv. 193. 


on cold fits occasionally, and then the snow, or rather 
the hail, fell as easily and abundantly as the tepid 
showers had before descended. Nothing can exceed 
his affection for his nieces, especially for Madame 
Denis ; but he must have outraged her feelings se- 
verely, to draw from her such a letter as she wrote in 
1754 : " Ne me forcez pas a vous hair" " Vous etes le 
dernier des homines par le coeur " " Je cacherai autant 
que je pourrais les vices de votre coeur" are ex- 
pressions used principally on account, not of his heart, 
which was sound, but his temper, which was uncon- 
trolled, and they were used to him while lying on a 
sick bed at Colmar, which he had not quitted for six 
months. I shall have occasion afterwards to speak 
more particularly of his quarrels with Maupertuis, 
Frederick II., and Rousseau ; in the first of which, 
the chief fault lay with the mathematician ; in the 
second, the great king claims the whole blame ; and in 
the third, Voltaire was most censurable. At present, 
I have only entered upon the topics which arise dur- 
ing his residence at Cirey. 

The same exaggeration that pervades his expressions 
towards others, is observable in all that he writes re- 
specting himself, whether upon the sufferings of his 
mind or those, somewhat more real, of his body. He 
had, unhappily, a feeble constitution, and having 
taken little care of it in early life, he was a confirmed 
invalid for the rest of his days ; but especially between 
forty and sixty. He suffered from both bladder com- 
plaints and those of the alimentary canal ; and his sur- 
gical maladies, beside the pain and irritation which 
they directly occasioned, gave him all the sufferings 


and inconveniences of a bad digestion. There was 
therefore a sufficient foundation for frequent recourse 
to the state of his health. But he writes as if he was 
not merely in constant danger : he is generally at the 
point of death ; and it is observable that the more 
deeply he is engaged in any vexatious dispute, and the 
more he has, or thinks he has, occasion to complain of 
maltreatment, the more regularly and the more vehe- 
mently does he describe his alarming, nay, his dying 
condition. In such circumstances it is a figure never 
wanting to round a period, or to fill up the measure 
of his own wrongs, and his adversary's oppressions. 
It is singular that a man of his genius, one especially 
who had so well studied the human heart, and painted 
so strikingly the dignity of our nature, should inva- 
riably, and even with the least worthy antagonist, 
prefer being plaintiff to being powerful, and rather 
delight in being the object of compassion than of 

After above fourteen years had passed in the manner 
which has been described, accidental circumstances 
led to the formation of an intimacy between the 
family of M. du Chatelet and Stanislaus Leczinski, 
formerly King of Poland, and father of the reigning 
Queen of France. He resided at Luneville, where 
he kept an hospitable mansion as a great noble, rather 
than held his court as a Prince. He was fond of letters, 
and, though exceedingly devout, never departed from 
the principles of toleration, or the feelings of charity. 
In February, 1748, the Du Chatelets, accompanied by 
Voltaire, went to visit the King, and were so pleased 
with the reception which they received for some weeks, 


that after a few days passed at Cirey, they returned to 
Luneville ; and this Court, small, cheerful, divested 
of all troublesome ceremony and cumbrous pomp, and 
presenting the best instance ever known of letters 
united with grandeur, and literary men patronised 
without being degraded, became their residence until 
the fatal event which, in the beginning of September 
in the following year, severed for ever the connexion of 
the parties. The Marchioness continued her studies, 
and laboured with unwearried zeal in superintending 
the publication of her translation of Newton. The 
manuscript had been so far finished in the latter part 
of 1747, that the printing had begun early in 1748 ; 
but there were many additions and corrections to 
make, and she worked on it with a degree of industry 
which is supposed to have seriously injured her during 
her pregnancy, extending from the month of Decem- 
ber in the latter year. On the 4th of September, 
1749, while engaged in an investigation connected 
with the ' Principia,' she was so suddenly taken in 
labour that a girl was born before she could be put to 
bed. In the course of a few days she was no more ; 
and the Marquis and Voltaire having retired to Cirey, 
very soon quitted a place now gloomy with the most 
painful associations, and went to Paris, where Madame 
Denis, his niece, came to live with the poet. He con- 
tinued to occupy the house in which the Marquis and 
he had before lived together as their town residence, 
when they occasionally quitted Cirey for the capital ; 
and it was now, he said, endeared to him by its melan- 
choly recollections. His niece endeavoured to distract 
his attention from the dreadful loss which he had sus- 


tained. It is needless to add how difficult a task this 
proved. For some weeks he appears to have lost the 
power of fixing his attention upon the occupations in 
which he attempted to engage. The first thing which 
tended to divert his mind from his affliction, was the 
interest he took in a comedy written by Madame 
Denis, ' La Coquette punie.' He admitted the talents 
which it showed, but was apprehensive about its success ; 
and after much consideration he was found to be right 
in his reluctance to have it produced in public. In 
the course of two or three months his active mind 
recovered its elasticity, and he was occupied with the 
representation of the ' Orestes/ which, partly, as is sup- 
posed, through the cabals of Crebillon, met with a 
reception at first most stormy, but afterwards was suf- 
fered to obtain some share of success. 

Many conjectures have, of course, been raised, as at 
the time much scandal was circulated, respecting the 
nature of the attachment between Voltaire and the 
accomplished friend whom he thus lost. There seems 
upon the whole no sufficient reason to question its 
having been Platonic. The conduct of the husband, a 
respectable and honourable man, the character of 
the lady herself, but above all the open manner in 
which their intimacy was avowed, and the constant 
recognition of it by persons so respectable as the Ar- 
gentals and Argensons, so punctilious as the Deffands 
and the Henaults, seem to justify this conclusion. It is 
well known that, both in former times and in our own, 
the laws of French society are exceedingly rigorous, 
not indeed to the exclusion of the realities, but to the 
saving of the appearances " Les convenances avant 
tout" is the rule. It is never permitted, where a grave 


suspicion exists of a criminal intercourse, that the 
slightest appearance of intimacy should be seen in public 
between the parties. Voltaire's letters to all his corre- 
spondents, in which he speaks of Emily to some, of 
Madame la Marquise to others, of Chatelet-Newton 
to others, giving her remembrances to them, and him- 
self inviting them to the chateau, all seems wholly in- 
consistent with the rules of social intercourse observed 
by our neighbours, on the supposition of her having been 
his mistress. Perhaps we may add to this the proof af- 
forded by Frederick II. always acknowledging her, and 
constantly sending his regards to her. It may be re- 
collected that when the French king's mistress, Pom- 
padour, ventured, with many apologies, to send him a 
respectful, even humble message, his good brother of 
Prussia shortly and drily said, " Je ne la connais pas."* 
As soon as the King of Prussia learnt Madame du 
Chatelet's death, he lost no time in desiring Voltaire 
to come and live in Berlin, now that the only obstacle 
to this plan was removed ; but at first he could not as 
yet listen to any such proposition. In the course, 
however, of the next six months he began to feel the 
former thraldom of the French government and clergy ; 
he was once more plagued with the slanders of the 
press, which did not even spare Madame du Chatelet's 
memory ; he formed to himself the picture of happi- 

* An expression which occurs in Voltaire's letter to Madame du 
Deffand, announcing the Marchioness's death, seems strange. Though 
it clearly proves nothing, yet it was an extraordinary thing to say 
at such a moment. He asks to be allowed to weep with her for one 
" qui avec ses faiblesses avait un ame respectable." (Cor. Gen., iii. 
365.) In all probability this referred to her violent temper, of 
which Madame du D. might have heard him complain, as he cer- 
tainly suffered much under it. 


ness under a sovereign who protected letters, cultivated 
them himself, refused all countenance to persecutions 
of any sort, and had long expressed for him the 
warmest friendship. He believed he should at length 
be able to lead a tranquil life of literary occupation ; 
he hoped to enjoy the otium and forgot the dignitas ; 
and he set out for Berlin, where he arrived about 
the end of July, 1750. 

The arrangements which Frederick II., enchanted 
with this splendid acquisition, immediately made, were 
of a sufficiently liberal kind. A pension of 20,000 
francs a year, with 4000 for his niece should she join 
him and then survive him ; the rank of chamberlain ; 
the higher order of knighthood, and apartments at the 
palace of Potsdam, where the monarch lived ten 
months in the year seemed an ample establishment, 
especially when added to an income already larger by a 
great deal than any other literary man ever enjoyed, for 
he possessed from his own funds 80,000 francs, or above 
3000/., a year. The work to be done for this remune- 
ration was to read and correct the king's writings, to be 
his companion at his leisure hours, and, above all, to 
attend his suppers, the meal at which he chiefly loved 
to take his relaxation after the fatigues of the day. 
That the society of this singularly gifted prince was 
captivating we cannot have any doubt. He had a 
great variety of information, abounded in playful and 
original wit, somewhat of Voltaire's own kind, was 
of the most easy and unceremonious manners, and 
had such equal spirits as cast an air of gaiety over his 
whole society. It is not a matter of wonder that the 
man whom he chiefly delighted to honour should have 



been enchanted with this intercourse, seasoned as it 
was with boundless admiration of his own genius never 
very coldly expressed, though always cleverly and 
variously, more especially when we bear in mind the 
fundamental fact that this host and master, who chose 
to make himself the poet's playfellow, was a powerful 
monarch, and covered with the laurels of a conqueror, 
as well as sustained by the troops and treasures of a 

Twelve months glided away in this pleasing dream ; 
for dream after all it proved to be. That which his 
philosophers never forgot, it appeared that he himself, 
the philosopher king, forgot as little, his kingly station ; 
and the freaks of the royal temperament, suppressed for 
a while, broke out on the first convenient opportunity, 
changing at once the whole aspect of Voltaire's position, 
and reducing his relation with his " royal friend" to 
the ordinary standard, which retains the " royal" and 
converts "friend" into master. 

Immediately after his arrival an incident had 
occurred which might have opened his eyes to the 
claw that lurked beneath its velvet covering. Madame 
de Pompadour had, as has been mentioned, with many 
roundabout phrases, and with many humble and 
trembling apologies for such a liberty, ventured to 
offer her dutiful respects to his Majesty through 
Voltaire. The very unexpected answer, from one, 
too, whom oily words cost so little, was " / dont 
/mow her." The unfortunate messenger would have 
done better to revolve this in his mind rather than 
very falsely write a report to the lady, in which 
Achilles was represented as receiving courteously the 


compliments of Venus. But he had not been four 
months at Potsdam when he had a fresh illustration 
of his great friend's character, and one all the more 
important for his own government that it related to 
Frederick's treatment of his dependents whom he most 
favoured with his professions of esteem. M. Darget's 
wife died ; the king wrote him a letter, " touching, 
pathetic, even highly Christian," on the sad occur- 
rence; and on the same day amused himself with writing 
an epigram abusing the deceased. That accounts of the 
dissolute life secretly led by the philosophic sovereign 
had reached the poet cannot be doubted, as he plainly 
avows that had he lived in the court of Pasiphae he 
would not have troubled himself about her amours.* 
He afterwards entered fully into this most nauseous 
subject in his ' Memoirs.' Be the account there given 
of other parties of Frederick's day exaggerated or exact, 
this is plain, for here Voltaire speaks as an eye- 
witness, and speaks against himself: the suppers of 
Sans Souci (the nodes ccenceque Deuni), so much the 
subject of jealousy among the scientific and literary 
men of the court, were disgraced by the exhibition of 
such brutal indecencies in the ornaments of the royal 
table, that it requires no small courage in any one to 
confess having been present a second time after once 
witnessing those enormities. 

But after about thirteen months had elapsed of 
what appears to have been uninterrupted enjoyment 
in spite of these wrongs and these drawbacks, an 
enjoyment not broken by the indications he perceived 

* Cor. Gen., iii. 443 (17 Nov., 1750). 



of the great jealousy which his fame excited among 
his learned brethren, it came to Voltaire's ears that 
his informant, La Metherie, a clever, agreeable, half- 
crazy physician about court, having mentioned to 
Frederick how great this jealousy was, the philosophic 
king replied, " 1 shall want him for a year longer at 
most ; and then one throws away the rind after suck- 
ing the orange " From that moment Voltaire began 
to feel, as well he might, his footing insecure ; and he 
soon found proofs of the extravagant phrases, which 
he had believed were exclusively applied to himself, 
being freely and habitually used by the king towards 
persons of whom he was known to have a very mean 
opinion. Nevertheless the enchantment continued, 
and would, in all probability, have lasted until he was 
actually dismissed, had not a quarrel, in which the 
intriguing, jealous spirit of JVIaupertuis involved him, 
led to a resolution that he would leave Berlin as soon 
as he could withdraw the funds which he had placed 
in the country. 

Maupertuis was a man of some mathematical ac- 
quirements, but little depth, and no genius. He had 
originally been a captain of horse, and had, on leaving the 
army, cultivated science. Having acquired some repu- 
tation, he was sent, as has already been mentioned, at the 
head of the commission to measure a degree of the meri- 
dian in Lapland. Clairault was one of the party, and, 
being a very young man, was, of course, placed under 
Maupertuis, then much past the middle age. The suc- 
cessful performance of this service, a matter requiring 
care and patience, but nothing more, confirmed the 
theory of the earth being an oblate spheroid, flattened 


towards the poles ; and so puffed up was the philosopher 
with this poor triumph, that, after publishing a book 
recording the history of the expedition, in which he 
carefully suppressed all merit but his own, he actually 
had himself represented in a picture, with his hands 
on a globe, in the act of flattening it at the two poles. 
Frederick, who was wholly ignorant of physical 
science, was deceived by the noise which this person's 
name, or his tongue, made in the world, and urged 
him to live at Berlin, where he was named President 
of the Academy which the king had founded. It is a 
striking proof how perilous royal meddling in scientific 
matters is, that the illustrious Euler was one of the 
strangers whom his liberalities had attracted, and 
that over his head was placed the flattener of the poles 
and the flatterer of the king. 

Such a personage was sure to be jealous of Vol- 
taire, whose arrival occurred long after his own place 
had been taken. Accordingly, we find that he gave 
indications of this immediately. A month after he 
came, Voltaire describes him as having become unso- 
ciable,* referring doubtless to his very different be- 
haviour when he lived for months his fellow-guest 
at Cirey ; and before four months had elapsed, we 
find him painted drolly enough " as taking the poet's 
dimensions harshly with his quadrant," and " allow- 
ing some portion of envy to enter into his problems." 
In the course of the next year this envy broke out. 
Of the most intriguing disposition, he used his access 
to the king for the base purpose of bearing tales 

* Cor. Gen., iii. 411, 438. 


against Voltaire. A profligate adventurer, called La 
Beaumelle, who had been driven from Copenhagen, 
where he was a popular preacher, who then came under 
false colours to Berlin, who had indeed originally 
committed a theft of Madame Maintenon's letters, and 
printed them, was taken up by Maupertuis, and both 
libelled Voltaire, pirated his works, and propagated 
stories of his having slandered the king. Then came 
a statement by Koenig, now professor in Holland, but 
a member of the Berlin Academy, refuting Maupertuis' 
favourite doctrine of the principle of least action, and 
affirming, on the authority of letters from Leibnitz, 
that it was no new discovery. In truth, Leibnitz had 
refuted it, as he well might, for it rests upon an im- 
perfect induction chiefly on the reflection of light, and 
is at variance with many other phenomena, and even 
with the reflected motion of all bodies except light, 
inasmuch as no other body being perfectly elastic, the 
reflected line never can be the shortest possible be- 
tween the point of impact and any given plane. The 
Courtier-President was enraged; he summoned his 
academicians ; he had his case laid before them ; he 
remained absent from the sitting, while an adherent- 
proposed the expulsion of Koenig, on the ground of 
his having forged the letters of Leibnitz, because the 
death of the person from whom he had obtained the 
copies prevented him from producing the originals. 
Nothing can well be conceived more outrageous than 
this proceeding on the part of a scientific body, all the 
members of which were paid their salaries according 
to the discretion of the President, and so were more 
or less dependent upon him. But there was yet a lower 
meanness behind. Maupertuis having caused Koenig's 


expulsion, affected to solicit of the Academy his par- 
don and restitution. But this the honest Switzer's 
just indignation prevented ; for he insisted on retiring, 
having indeed sent his resignation from Holland be- 
fore he could hear of the Academy's first vote. It was 
another, and an infamous act of this President, to em- 
ploy his influence with the Princess of Orange for the 
purpose of depriving Kcenig of his place of librarian to 
that lady. 

It was always an honourable distinction of Voltaire 
that he instinctively planted himself as a champion in 
the front of all who were the victims of persecution or 
injustice, whatever form it assumed. His feelings 
towards Maupertuis, whom he had formerly all but 
idolized, and now heartily disliked, certainly contri- 
buted to make him take Kcenig's part with extraordi- 
nary zeal, and display great bitterness against his 
oppressor. But we have no right to doubt that he 
would at all events have been found strongly on his side, 
the rather from having lived for so long a time under 
the same roof with him at Cirey. Maupertuis had, as 
if deprived of reason, recently published some specula- 
tions full of the most revolting absurdities, such as a 
proposal for penetrating to the earth's centre, and for 
examining the nature of the human faculties by dis- 
secting the brains of various races of men. The field 
thus aiforded for satire, what witty enemy could for- 
bear to enter? Least of all, certainly, could one like 
Voltaire refrain. His defence of Kcenig consisted in 
part of a bitter satire on the President, which soon 
made the round of the European literary circles, was 
greedily devoured on account of a superscription the 


fittest of the age to give it currency, and was relished 
far more from the gratification its scurrility afforded 
to malice, than from any intrinsic merit which it pos- 
sessed. It is among the poorest and the most tedious 
of its author's pieces ; and when it is said to have de- 
stroyed Maupertuis' reputation, whoever reads it must 
feel satisfied of its utter impotence to injure any one 
but its author, had that reputation rested upon a solid 
foundation. Unfortunately for Maupertuis, he had 
been placed high, without any pretensions at all ; he 
had exposed himself to just censure by his treatment 
of a modest, an able, and a learned man ; he had 
covered himself with ridicule by writings which seemed 
to argue a deprivation of reason ; and it required not 
the ' Diatribe of Dr. Akakia' to hurl him from the place 
which he usurped.* 

Frederick committed on this occasion his second 
error respecting this unfortunate person ; but it was a 
far more fatal one than the former. He chose to enter 
himself into the strife as a combatant, and he was 
wholly unprovided with resources. He published a 
pamphlet against Kcenig and Voltaire, in which he 
betrayed, as might be expected, entire ignorance of the 
subject. All scientific Europe took Kcenig's part, 
though it is painful to reflect that the man at the head 
of it sided with the King and his President ; but 
though that man was Euler, he was one of the Aca- 
demy who had been drawn into the shameful sentence 

* It is generally said that he had at one time the misfortune to be 
confined in a lunatic asylum ; his latter conduct certainly seems to 
countenance the report. 


of condemnation. His authority, how venerable soever, 
proved of no avail ; the universal voice of the scientific 
world was against the whole proceedings of the con- 
federates ; and the king was reduced to the humili- 
ation of appealing from the reason of his readers to 
the authority of his prerogative. He had the incredi- 
ble folly of causing Voltaire's pamphlet to be burnt by 
the hands of the hangman. 

It was now clear that the tempest had both set in 
and was unappeasable. The royal disputant had re- 
ceived additional offence from a law-suit in which 
Voltaire had been obliged to arrest the Court broker, 
a Jew, for debt. All explanations were unavailing ; 
he sent back his chamberlain's key and his order of 
knighthood, and resigned his pension. He wrote a kind 
of love verses with them : they were returned to him. He 
humbled himself in the very dust with protestations of 
his innocence, when charged with having libelled the 
King ; and, among other jests at his cost, had likened his 
office of correcting the royal French to the functions 
of the laundress with the royal linen. His protes- 
tations, and his extravagant demonstrations of sorrow, 
were quite enough to disgrace the one party, but they 
failed to appease the other. A haughty and imperious 
answer alone was given, that " he was astonished 
at Voltaire's having the effrontery to deny facts as 
clear as the sun, instead of confessing his guilt; 
and that, if his works merited statues, his con- 
duct deserved a gaol." No spark of pride, or even 
of ordinary dignity, was raised by this intolerable 
treatment, but only endless wailings as of one 
literally dying of a broken heart, mingled with protes- 


tations of duty, gratitude, attachment, and pitiful 
appeals to the compassion of his tender and benevolent 

Miserable as this picture of Voltaire's weakness is, 
we may be permitted to doubt if it is not surpassed in 
baseness by the flattery with which he so long fed his 
royal friend. He, no doubt, corrected his bad French, 
and often objected to his poetical errors, or the sins of 
his compositions against good taste. These acts of 
friendship, these real services, it is probable Frederick 
had enough of the royal author to dislike ; and possibly 
some such feeling may have led to the exclamation 
respecting oranges. But assuredly he had far less 
right to complain, than Voltaire had to blush, at the 
shameful excess of adulation which could make him 
desire his own ' History of Louis XIV.' to be " placed 
under Frederick's Memoirs of the House of Branden- 
burgh, as the servant below the master" (Cor. avec les 
Souverains, i. 756) ; and after sitting up all night to 
read it, exclaiming, " Mon Dieu ! que tout cela est 
net, elegante, precis, et surtout philosophique ; on 
voit une genie toujours au-dessus son sujet (thus sub- 
jecting the owner himself of that genius) : 1'histoire des 
moeurs, du gouvernement, de la religion, est un chef- 
d'oeuvre" (ib. 740). And all this about the worst history 
that ever was written tawdry, rambling, conceited, 
inflated in a style about as near Livy's or Voltaire's 
own as that of Ossian's poems. 

After a delay of two months the King's resentment 
appears to have cooled, or to have yielded to his pru- 
dence. The leave to depart was granted, and he 
desired to see Voltaire before he went. A long 


interview took place, and a reconciliation ; in the course 
of which it is positively asserted that the king sealed 
the treaty by joining, or rather originating, several 
sallies against Maupertuis. During the week that 
followed before his departure Voltaire supped every 
night at the royal table, and on the 26th of March, 
1753, he set out. After passing a month at the Court 
of Saxe Gotha he arrived at Francfort on the Maine, 
where his niece, Madame Denis, met him. Here they 
were both unexpectedly and rudely arrested at the 
instance of a Prussian agent, who demanded, by the 
King's authority, the delivery of the key, the ribbon, 
and a volume of his Majesty's poetry. This volume 
was a privately printed collection ; only a few copies had 
been struck off; and it contained a poem 'Le Palla- 
dium,' in the style of the 'Pucelle,' but attacking 
living characters. As Voltaire's baggage had gone by 
another route to Paris, both the uncle and niece 
were detained for some time till the book was re- 
covered ; and they were then, and apparently without 
any pretence of authority, seized, upon leaving Francfort, 
at the instance of another of the Prussian authorities. 
They were now imprisoned, under a guard, for twelve 
days, with every circumstance of insult, to the extent 
of Madame Denis being forced to sleep the whole time 
of their imprisonment in a room with four soldiers 
standing sentinel round her bed, and without any 
female attendant. It must be observed that the King 
had written a letter desiring these effects to be returned 
to him two months before Voltaire left Berlin ; 
but the reconcilement which had afterwards taken 
place naturally enough led to the belief that this 


requisition was countermanded. The exactions to 
which he was exposed during this detention, and the 
sums taken from his trunks, are stated by him as 
amounting to the whole money which he had received 
during all his service at Berlin. This treatment made, 
and naturally made, an impression upon his mind 
which no time seems ever to have removed.* Had he 
remained near the King, the same resentment would 
not have kept possession of him ; but he was now 
beyond the reach both of the royal seductions and the 
royal power ; and he vented his indignation in that 
scandalous chronicle of Frederick's life and manners, 
which was plainly his main object in the autobio- 
graphy, composed as soon as he quitted Francfort, and 
not destroyed after the second reconcilement, which 
took place in 1757. 

The style of the correspondence afterwards, when 
Frederick had him not in his power, and when distance 
enabled him to see with more impartial eyes the 
character of his royal friend, affords a contrast to all 
that preceded, quite refreshing to the admirers of 
genius. We at last have Voltaire writing like a man, 
and no longer either fawning like a courtier parasite, 
or whining like a child in his addresses to the king. 
Frederick, on his part, never forgets his alleged 
grievances ; he constantly refers to them, but he does 
full justice to the merits of his illustrious corre- 
spondent, in whom he at length finds the more dignified 
qualities of an independent mind. As to Maupertuis, 
stung to madness by the merited contempt into which 

* See Cor. Gen., v. 67 (1757), but it breaks out often afterwards. 


he had fallen through his own folly and misconduct, 
and discovering how little the alliance of a monarch 
can avail the party to philosophical controversy, he 
vented his spleen in a challenge, which he sent after 
Voltaire, who received it at Leipzig, and returned it such 
an answer as it deserved ; though no sarcasm could 
now make the poor man more ridiculous than he had 
made himself. There seems no ground for believing 
the random charge thrown out by Collini, Voltaire's 
secretary, in his ' Memoirs,' that Maupertuis had a hand 
in the shameful transaction of Francfort. Indeed the 
blame of that appears to fall much rather upon the low- 
agents employed than even upon Frederick himself, 
though he grossly neglected his duty in not bringing 
them to condign punishment. 

Madame Denis left her uncle and returned to Paris 
as soon as he was safe in Alsace, where he had a 
mortgage or rent charge on the Duke of Wirtemberg's 
estates ; and he remained at Colmar for several months, 
which he chiefly passed in bed, suffering very much 
under a complication of diseases. He had no difficulty 
in going to Paris, had he been so disposed ; for there 
was not any prohibition ; the king had overlooked his 
going to Berlin, and had even continued his pension 
and his situation in the household, though he had 
taken away the place of historiographer. But it 
seemed as if the cabals he so much dreaded were still 
at work ; and feeling that he could not be sure of a 
quiet as well as a distinguished reception in the capital 
and at court, where he had put forth several feelers, 
and been ready enough to worship Madame Pompa- 
dour, he remained in Alsace for nearly two years, only 


going for a few weeks to the waters of Plombieres, 
where his niece and the Argentals came to meet him. 
He also went to Lyons, where Cardinal Tencin, the 
archbishop, saw him, and considered himself under the 
necessity of avoiding his society, notwithstanding his 
being uncle of Voltaire's dearest friend, M. Argental's 
wife. The people, however, took another view of the 
matter, and held festivals in honour of the great poet 
and wit, by inviting him to their theatre and playing 
his tragedies before him with the most enthusiastic 
acclamations. He was now ordered to try the waters 
of Aix in Savoy, and for this purpose he must pass 
through Geneva. There he consulted the famous 
Dr. Tronchin, who at once forbade that mineral, and 
he purchased sixty acres of land near the town, where 
he was made to pay twice as much as it would have 
cost him near Paris. He afterwards bought the villa of 
Tournay, since called Ferney, in the French territory, 
and about a league from Geneva. In summer he went 
to a house which he purchased near Lausanne, called 
Monnier; and in these retreats, agreeable for their 
scenery in summer, but subject to the curse of a 
rigorous climate in winter, he spent the remaining 
portion of his life. 

Frederick was reconciled to him in 1757. He wrote 
him a kind letter in August of that year, when he had, 
in consequence of his disaster at Kolin on the 18th of 
June, been reduced to great straits. This renewed 
their correspondence. In September he was so much 
more desperate that he wrote to Voltaire, declaring his 
resolution to kill himself should he lose another 
battle ; and he said the same thing in the poem which 


he addressed to M. d'Argens, then in his employ. He 
became more resigned after this, and resolved to brave 
all dangers. He says, in one of his poems addressed to 
Voltaire, 9th October, 

" Je dois, en affrontant 1'orage, 
Penser, ecrire, et mourir en Roi." 

Immediately after (5th November) he gained the battle 
of Rosbach, in which the French army under vSoubise 
were seized with a panic and fled disgracefully. But 
aware of his difficulties, he wished to renew the nego- 
tiations for peace which he had two months before in 
vain attempted to open with the Due de Richelieu, 
then commanding in Westphalia. The Cardinal 
Tencin, still a minister, though superseded in active 
influence by the Abbe, afterwards Cardinal Bernis, 
had always been averse to the Austrian alliance, which 
Madame Pompadour, from personal resentment towards 
Frederick, mainly aided in bringing about ; and he 
employed Voltaire's intimacy with the Margravine of 
Baireuth, Frederick's sister, to open a negotiation. The 
letters passed through Voltaire and that princess. 
Frederick readily acceded to the suggestion. The 
letter from the margravine on her brother's part was 
sent in this manner to the cardinal, who wrote, en- 
closing it, to the king of France. He received a dry 
answer, that the Secretary for Foreign Affairs would 
communicate his intentions. That secretary, the Abbe 
Bernis, did so ; he dictated to the cardinal an answer 
to the margravine, refusing to negotiate, and the car- 
dinal is represented by Voltaire (Mem., (Euv., i. 295) 
as having died of mortification in a fortnight. The 
sudden change of tone in Frederick towards Voltaire, 


happening at so peculiar a moment, the very fortnight 
before he endeavoured to draw M. de Richelieu into a 
negotiation, leaves no doubt that he intended to avail 
himself of the poet's known intimacy with the General 
in furtherance of this scheme. Voltaire had, some 
days before this revival of friendly relations, been 
writing of him as he usually did. On the 6th of 
August, 1757, he had, in one of his letters, said, 
" L'ennemi publique est pris de tous cotes. Vive 
Marie Th6r&e !" (Cor. G6n., v. 21.)* 

During the two years of his residence in Alsace 
Voltaire had done little more than correct his works, 
and publish the * Annales de 1'Empire/ a history 
undertaken at the request of the Grand Duchess of 
Saxe Gotha, and upon the plan of the President 
Renault's dull work. But at Berlin he finished his 
' Siecle de Louis XIV.,' the materials of which he had 
brought with him from Paris. He also began at that 
time his correspondence with Diderot and D'Alembert, 
then engaged in editing the famous ' Encyclopedic/ 
the effects of which he very early foresaw, and to 
encourage it gave his best efforts, both while at Berlin 
and after his establishment near Geneva. Whatever we 
may deem respecting the tendency of the work (on its 
merits there cannot be two opinions), it is impossible 
not to have our admiration excited as well as to take 
a lively interest in the zeal and untiring activity 
which the aged philosopher displayed in encouraging 

* It is the humour of Voltaire and his Parisian correspondents 
to call Frederick always " Luc." This was probably the name of 
some noted knave at the time. The term is plainly used dyslogis- 


his young correspondents. On this remarkable occa- 
sion he put forth all those qualities which form a party 
chief and gain over the warm support of his followers 
ardour, good humour, patience, courage, tolerance, 
activity, knowledge, skill. The ' Encyclopedic,' as 
is well known, was, after a few years, no longer suf- 
fered to appear openly in France. In 1751, and the 
following years, the first seven volumes appeared at Paris 
under Diderot and D'Alembert ; in 1758 it was stopped, 
at a time when its sale had reached no less than 3000 
(' Cor. Gen.,' v. 127), and the remaining ten volumes 
were published in 1765 at Neufchatel under Diderot 
alone. The four volumes of Supplement were published 
in 1776 and 1777 at Amsterdam. All the eleven 
volumes of plates were published at Paris between 1762 
and 177*2, and the supplemental volume of plates in 
1777. The whole of this great work thus consisted of 
thirty-three folio volumes. Some of Voltaire's articles 
are clever, and abound with good reflections. The 
greater number of them are too light, having the 
fault which he certainly imputes to many of the 
other contributors in his ' Letters,' when he observes 
that they are fitter for a magazine than an ency- 

The quarrel with Frederick appears to have raised 
in Voltaire's mind the admiration with which, while 
in England, he had been smitten for Swift's writings, 
especially his immortal ' Gulliver/ He had, while at 
Cirey, written the * Voyage de Scarmentado,' and the 
' Zadig.' ' Micromegas' was added soon after his 
return to France. A careful revision of all these 
was the fruit of this revived taste for the philosophi 



cal and satirical romance. Soon after his establish- 
ment at Geneva he finished his great historical work, 
of all his writings the most valuable, and perhaps the 
most original, the ' Essai sur les Moeurs des Nations ;' 
and he then produced the composition which in origi- 
nality comes next to it, and in genius is the most per- 
fect of all his performances, the celebrated * Candide.' 
The * Essai ' had been in great part written at Cirey, 
but being printed much later, it was first published in 
1757,* the 'Candide' early in 1759. The former, of 
course, was avowed, but the latter was studiously de- 
nied even to the Theiriots and Thibouvilles, his most 
familiar friends, though Frederick II. appears to have 
been intrusted with the secret at the very date of these 

The two master-pieces which I have now mentioned 
in one respect differed materially : the design of the 
History was quite original ; of the Romance there 
had been examples before. But in the execution 
both possessed a very high merit, and a merit of the 
very same kind the truth with which great principles 
were seized, and the admirable lightness of the touches 
by which both the opinions and the comments upon 
them were presented to the mind. 

* It was the fate of many writings left by Voltaire at Cirey, and 
among others, of some critical dissertations and translations for the 
Essay, to be burnt by the base fanaticism or low jealousy of the 
Marquess's brother, after Madame du Chatelet's death. The 
' General Dissertation on History' was written in 1764, and pub- 
lished the year after. Voltaire, in the advertisement prefixed to it 
in an edition of his works, erroneously mentions it as written at 

f Cor. avec les Souv., i. 796. Cor. Gen., v. 225, 329. 


Before Voltaire's, there was no history which did 
not confine itself to the record, more or less chronolo- 
gical, more or less detailed, of wars and treaties, con- 
quests or surrenders ; the succession, by death, or usurp- 
ation, or marriage, of princes ; and the great public 
calamities, as plague, or inundation, or fire, which 
afflicted mankind from natural causes. The proceed- 
ings of councils, or synods, or parliaments, were re- 
ferred to, but chiefly as connected with the wars of the 
countries in which they met, or the succession or the 
deposition of the sovereigns that ruled over them. 
No measure or proportion was observed between the 
events thus chronicled, in respect of their various de- 
grees of importance, still less was their influence upon 
the condition of the people described, or even noted. 
To deliver the facts, to describe the scenes and the 
actors, relating the events, and giving an estimate of 
their characters, with perhaps a few moral reflections 
or inferences occasionally suggested by the narrative 
was deemed the proper, and the only office of history. 
The ancients, our masters in this as in all other walks 
of literature, painted both scenes and men with a vivid 
pencil ; they gave, too, chiefly in the form of speeches, 
supposed to have been made by the personages whose 
actions were related, their own reflections upon events, 
or the sentiments of those personages which actuated 
their conduct. The same thing was done by modern 
historians more formally, as dissertations interspersed 
with the story. But in all these writings there was 
one common cardinal defect, one omission equally to be 
lamented. First, the same particularity of detail, which 
was desirable when important transactions or interest- 

H 2 


ing occurrences were to be recorded, became tedious, 
and only loaded the memory with useless facts, when 
matters of usual occurrence, or of inferior interest, 
were to be related ; yet the historian's duty was under- 
stood to require that none should be left out. Next, 
there was no account given of the manners and habits 
of the people, the bearing of events upon their con- 
dition, the influence of men's character upon their 
fortunes ; it was even very rare to find the conduct of 
nations described, unless in so far as it might be con- 
nected with the conduct of some distinguished indivi- 
duals ; and generally speaking, all that happened to a 
people while enjoying the blessings of peace their 
arts, their commerce, their education, their wealth, 
their prosperity or decline, their civilization all was 
either wholly neglected, or passed with scarcely any 
notice, while the most careful attention was given to 
every detail of battles, and sieges, and individual ex- 
ploits in arms, of which the importance was often 
wholly insignificant, and the interest died with the re- 
lation. There had at all times, indeed, been some 
pictures, or rather descriptions, expressly devoted to 
figuring forth the manners and customs of a particular 
people. Caesar had thus described, in a portion of his 
' Commentaries,' both the Germans and the Britons : 
Tacitus had written a work expressly on the German 
manners and character. But these were either works 
apart from history, or episodes in its course ; the his- 
tory of a nation was never considered to be anything 
but the story of its wars and its rulers ; and, what is 
still more material, these works, excellent and valuable 
as they are, only give a description, and not a narrative ; 


only a picture without any motion ; only the representa- 
tion of a people's manners and condition at a given 
time, and not the history of the changes which those 
manners undergo, and the varying and progressive 
alteration in that condition. 

Voltaire, whose daring genius was never trammelled 
by the precedents of former times, or the works of pre- 
ceding writers, at once saw how grievous was the error 
thus committed in both its branches ; and he resolved 
to remedy it by writing a history of nations, giving, in 
his narrative of events, their spirit and their tendency 
rather than their details. For we shall greatly err if 
we suppose that he only supplied the second defect now 
pointed out, and joined with ordinary history the 
account of the manners and condition of nations at dif- 
ferent stated periods of their progress. He undertook to 
banish the servile presentation of all events in all their 
details, according to their succession in order of time ; 
to separate the wheat from the chaff, and the ore from 
the dross ; to seize on the salient points, the really im- 
portant parts of each period, giving as it were the cream 
only, and preserving the true spirit of history ; and with 
all this to give, at every step and in every relation, whe- 
ther of particular occurrences or of general subjects in 
any one country, a comparative view of similar occur- 
rences and similar subjects in other countries, or the 
contrasts which the analogous history of these other 
countries presents to the view of the philosophical his- 
torian. This last characteristic of the work is, in some 
respects, the most distinguishing and the most remark- 
able of the whole ; for it should seem as if the author 
never deals with any subject in the history of any one 


country but he has present to his mind, by the extraor- 
dinary reach of his memory, the history of every other 
which stands in any relation, whether of resemblance or 
of diversity, to the matter immediately under review. 

This work has thus become the true history of hu- 
man society, indeed of the human race. He limits 
himself, no doubt, in time, beginning with the age of 
Charlemagne ; but he fixes no bounds of space to his 
survey. From that period, the middle of the eighth 
century, to the middle of the seventeenth, upwards of 
nine centuries, he traverses the whole globe, to gather 
in each quarter, at each time, all the changes that 
have taken place in society all the events that have 
happened among men the story of all the eminent 
individuals that have flourished all the revolutions 
that have affected the fortunes of nations or of princes ; 
and neglecting everywhere the trivial matters, how- 
ever authentically vouched, he fixes our attention only 
on the things which deserve to be remembered as having 
exerted a sensible influence upon the destinies of the 
world. In proportion to the real intrinsic importance 
of each event, or to the interest which it is calculated 
to excite, is the minuteness with which its circum- 
stances are detailed. But no event is given in detail 
merely because it is fitted to excite a vulgar and igno- 
rant wonder ; while those things are recorded which 
are of real moment, although their particulars may 
seem to create little interest. To the work was pre- 
fixed a treatise on the ' Philosophy of History,' but the 
whole book might justly be designated by that name. 

Such was the design ; the execution of it has already 
been characterised as marked by the peculiar felicity of 


the author in seizing upon the more remarkable fea- 
tures of each subject, and conveying both the accounts 
of events or of individuals, and the reflections to which 
they justly lead, at once with great brevity and with 
striking effect. But it is also to be remarked that in 
the two great qualities of the historian he eminently 
excels his diligence and his impartiality. To take an 
example of the former, we may observe that it would 
not be easy anywhere to find a more accurate account 
of the Council of Trent than in the 172nd chapter ; 
and there are, in various other parts of the work, marks 
to be perceived of his having consulted even the least 
commonly-known writers and authorities for the ma- 
terials of his narrative or subjects of his reflections. A 
testimony of the greatest value was, indeed, borne to his 
learning and accuracy by no less an authority than 
Robertson, himself the most faithful of historians, ac- 
cording to Gibbon's description. Speaking of "that ex- 
traordinary man whose genius no less enterprising than 
universal has attempted almost every species of literary 
composition, in many excelled, and in all, save where 
he touches religion, is instructive and agreeable ;" the 
great historian adds that had Voltaire only given his 
authorities, " many of his readers who only consider 
him as an entertaining and lively writer, would have 
found that he is a learned and well-informed his- 

Voltaire in no part of his work disguises his peculiar 
opinions, but in none can he fairly be charged with 
making his representation of the facts bend to them. 
It would not be easy to imagine subjects upon which 
he was more likely to be warped by those opinions than 


in relating the conduct of Luther and Calvin, in de- 
scribing Leo X. and the other Popes ; yet full justice 
is rendered to the character and the accomplishments of 
Leo, as well as to his coarse and repulsive antagonists : 
and with all the natural prejudice against a tyrannical 
Pontiff, a fiery zealot, and a gloomy religious perse- 
cutor, we find him praising the attractive parts of the 
Pope's character, the amiable qualities of the apostle's, 
and the rigid disinterestedness of the intolerant re- 
former's, as warmly as if the former had never domi- 
neered in the Vatican, and the latter had not out- 
raged, the one all taste and decorum by his language, 
the other all humanity by his cruelty. 

But it is a merit of as high an order, and one which 
distinguishes all Voltaire's historical writings, that he 
exercises an unremitting caution in receiving impro- 
bable relations, whether supported by the authority of 
particular historians or vouched by the general belief 
of mankind. Here his sagacity never fails him here 
his scepticism is never hurtful. The admirable tract 
in which he assembled a large body of his critical 
doubts under the appropriate title of 4 Le Pyrrhonisme 
de 1'Histoire,' is only a concentrated sample of the 
bold spirit in which he examined all the startling nar- 
ratives to which our assent is so frequently asked, and 
which used, before the age of Voltaire, to be as unthink- 
ingly yielded. In the article ' History' of the ' Encyclo- 
pedic,' we find much of what is now the general faith 
upon the early history of Rome, but in those days was 
never dreamt of. The same unflinching boldness and 
the same unfailing acuteness pervade all the work of 
which we have now been discoursing. We may safely 


affirm that no historical treatise was ever given to 
the world more full of solid and useful instruction. 
That there should have crept into the execution of 
so vast a design, perhaps the most magnificent that 
ever was conceived, errors of detail, is of no conse- 
quence whatever to its general usefulness, any more 
than the petty inequalities on the surface of a mirror 
are sufficient to destroy its reflecting, and, if concave, 
its magnifying power ; because we read the book not 
for its minute details, but for its general views, and are 
not injured by these faults any more than the astro- 
nomer is by the irregularities of the speculum which 
might impede the course of an insect, as these inac- 
curacies might the study of one who was groping for 
details when he should have been looking for great 
principles. But whoever has studied history as it 
ought to be studied, will confess his obligations to this 
work, holding himself indebted to it for the lamp by 
which the annals of the world are to be viewed. 

The example so happily set by the ' Essai ' was soon 
followed by the other great writers of the age. It had 
the most important and salutary effect upon the great 
sera of historical composition which now opened. 
Hume's first volume, ' The Stuarts from the Accession 
of James I. to the Death of Charles I.,' had been published 
in 1754, and had contained a most able appendix, 
giving a general account of the government, and man- 
ners, and condition of the country at James's death. 
Whether he had seen the imperfect and partial copies 
of the ( Essai' which had been surreptitiously printed as 
early as the winter of 1753, some months before his own 
was published, or the still more imperfect publications 
of many chapters in the ' Mercure de France' several 


years earlier, we have no means of ascertaining. Voltaire 
himself, in a panegyrical notice of Hume's plan (' Re- 
marques sur 1'Essai No. 3,' in vol. v. of the work, p. 
355), assumes that he had adopted his plan of writing 
history ; and, in fact, the ' Siecle de Louis XIV.,' of 
which nearly one-fourth is written on the plan of 
Hume's appendix, had been published as far back as 
1751, and was in such universal circulation as to have 
been repeatedly pirated. But there can be no doubt 
that Robertson's celebrated view of society (forming 
the first volume of Charles V.) was suggested by the 
* Essai,' for he intimates that the occasion for his 
work would have been superseded by the ' Essai ' had 
Voltaire's authorities for the facts been referred to. 
That Gibbon, Henry, Watson, Rulhieres, all adopted 
the new system is clear. 

On his other histories we need not dwell ; they are 
in every respect performances of an ordinary merit. 
The 'Charles XII.' is the best; the 'Peter the 
Great ' the worst. The former has the great merit of 
a clear, equable, and interesting narrative, apparently 
collected from good sources, and given with impar- 
tiality. The latter, beside its flimsy texture, was written 
in too close communication with the Russian court to 
be very trustworthy ; and it is not only glaringly par- 
tial on points which, while independent and unbiassed, 
he had treated with honesty, but it falls into the 
most vulgar errors on the merits of Peter's proceed- 
ings.* The ' Siecle de Louis XIV.' holds a middle rank 

* A contemptuous denial of the charge of poisoning his son, and 
an elaborate vindication of the Czar's conduct (part ii. chap. 10), is 
at complete variance with the ' Anecdotes ' previously published. 
He had also in his ' Charles XII., } written in 1727, thirty years before 


between the two, and it has some of the merits of the 
general or philosophical history. But how far it can 
he relied on for perfect fairness is another matter. 
He himself admits that it was necessary to write at a 
distance from France, a work which treated of men's 
conduct whose near relations still lived in the society 
which he frequented at Paris. " To what," he asks, 
" should I have been exposed at home ? Thirty diffe- 
rent correspondences even here have I been obliged to 
carry on after my first edition was published, all owing 
to the difficulty of satisfying the distant cousins of 
those whose history I had been relating." But if any 
proof were wanting that his distance did not wholly 
protect him from bias and, indeed, every one must see 
that he was likely to feel such motives if he did not 
mean his banishment from Paris to be perpetual we 
have the evidence in such letters as that in which he 
complains that such a one is not satisfied, but has made 
remonstrances, and says that of another applicant's 
ancestor he has not been able to speak so favourably as 
was desired, but yet that he had gone a good deal out 
of his way to embellish them (ewjoliver) as was 

his correspondence with the Empresses Elizabeth and Catherine, 
described the Czar as " cutting off heads in a drunken debauch to 
show his dexterity " (liv. i.). In both the ' Charles XII.' and 
' Peter I.' we find nearly the same unaccountable credulity as to 
the wonders related of his studies his learning watchmaking, sur- 
gery (to be able to dress wounds in the field), handicrafts, mathe- 
matics all at the same time ; and Voltaire, who would, in any other 
case, have been the first to ridicule these articles of popular belief, 
and to expose the folly of a sovereign learning such things to fit him 
for reigning, falls headlong into all the common errors on this sub- 
ject. Peter's quarrels with his clergy, and his subduing their autho- 
rity, had some hand in producing such errors by captivating Vol- 
taire's esteem ; but he adopts them far more implicitly after his inter- 
course had begun with the Court of Petersburgh. 


desired.* His admiration of Louis XIV. was no doubt 
very sincere, and it was not perhaps necessary, in the 
pursuit of court favour under his successor, to soften 
the harsher features of his character. Yet there is some 
partiality to him shown throughout the work. Thus 
the atrocious butchery and havoc in the Palatinate could 
not be passed over, and, if mentioned, must be blamed ; 
but the historian censures it as slightly as possible 
when he says, that at a distance, and in the midst of 
his pleasures, the king only saw " an exercise of his 
power and his belligerent rights, while, had he been 
on the spot, he would only have seen the horrors of 
the spectacle," (Ch. xvi.) 

The best of the Romances are ' Zadig/ one beautiful 
chapter of which our Parnell has versified and im- 
proved in his ' Hermit ;' the e Ingenu ;' and, above all, 
' Candide.' Some are disposed to place this last at the 
head of all his works ; and even Dr. Johnson, with all 
his extreme prejudices against a Frenchman, an 
unbeliever, and a leveller, never spoke of it without 
unstinted admiration, professing that had he seen it, 
he should not have written ' Rasselas.'f It is indeed a 
most extraordinary performance ; and while it has such 

* Cor. Gen., iv. 113. " Je ne ferai pas certainement de Valen- 
court un grand homme ; il etait excessivement mediocre ; mais j'enjoli- 
verai son article pour vous plaire." It appears (ib. 44) that his 
first publication was a most imperfect sketch, and written when he 
was without sufficient materials. These afterwards poured in from 
all quarters, and he extended the next edition a third. But how 
much matter must have been sent to him of a more than suspicious 
quality ! 

f There was an interval of several months, as my learned friend 
Mr. Croker has clearly ascertained, between the two works ; but 
Johnson had never seen ' Candide ' when he came by a singular coin- 
cidence on the very same ground. 


a charm that its repeated perusal never wearies, we are 
left in doubt whether most to admire the plain, sound 
sense, above all cant, of some parts, or the rich fancy 
of others ; the singular felicity of the design for the 
purposes it is intended to serve, or the natural yet 
striking graces of the execution. The lightness of the 
touch with which all the effects are produced the 
constant affluence of the most playful wit the humour 
wherever it is wanted, abundant, and never overdone 
the truth and accuracy of each blow that falls, always 
on the head of the right nail the quickness and yet 
the ease of the transitions the lucid clearness of the 
language, pure, simple, entirely natural the perfect 
conciseness of diction as well as brevity of composition, 
so that there is not a line, or even a word, that seems 
ever to be superfluous, and a point, a single phrase, 
sometimes a single word, produces the whole effect 
intended ; these are qualities that we shall in vain look 
for in any other work of the same description, per- 
haps in any other work of fancy. That there is a cari- 
cature throughout, no one denies ; but the design is to 
caricature, and the doctrines ridiculed are themselves 
a gross and intolerable exaggeration. That there occur 
here and there irreverent expressions is equally true ; but 
that there is anything irreligious in the ridicule of a 
doctrine which is in itself directly at variance with all 
religion, at least with all the hopes of a future state, 
the most valuable portion of every religious system, 
may most confidently be denied. We have already 
seen Voltaire's sober and enlightened view of this 
subject in his moral poems, and those views agree with 
the opinions of the most pious Christians, as well as 
the most enlightened philosophers, who, unable to 


doubt the existence of evil in this world, or to account 
for its inconsistency with the Divine goodness, await 
with patient resignation the light which will dawn 
upon them in another state of being, and by which all 
these difficulties will be explained.* 

The residence of Voltaire, first at the Delices, near 
Geneva, and, when the Calvinist metropolis obliged 
him to part with that place at a heavy loss, at Fer- 
ney within the French frontier, was for the remainder 
of his life far more tranquil and agreeable than during 
the more passionate and irritable period which pre- 
ceded. His literary occupation was as incessant as 
ever ; and, beside some of his lesser poems, the greater 
portion of his philosophical and critical works were 
written during this latter time.f His relaxation was 

* He appears to have disavowed this admirable work even more 
carefully than any of his far more exceptionable productions. To 
his most familiar friends we find him exceeding all the fair limits of 
denial within which authors writing anonymously should confine 
themselves. To M. Vernes, pastor at Geneva, with whom he was 
intimate, he writes, " J'ai lu enfin ' Candide ;' il faut avoir perdu 
le sens pour m'attribuer cette co'ionnerie : j'ai, Dieu merci ! demeil- 
leurs occupations" (Cor. Gen., v. 229). To Thibouville he says, 
" J'ai lu enfin ce ' Candide,' dont vous m'avez parle ; et plus il m'a 
fait rire, plus je suis fache qu'on me 1'attribue" (ib. 258). Even 
to his confidant and tool Theiriot he says " Dieu me garde d'avoir 
eu la moindre part a cet ouvrage !" (ib. 258). 

f About twenty-eight of his works, beside some of the romances 
and some of the minor poems, were written and published after 
the year 1758; of the 'Dictionary,' eight volumes; of the ' Philo- 
sophy' all the six, except half a volume ; of the ' Melanges Litte- 
raires,' more than one ; of the ' Melanges Historiques,' two ; 
' Dialogues,' two ; * History of the Parliaments of Paris,' one ; nearly 
all the volumes of ; Faceties ;' all but half a volume of the three on 
4 Politics and Legislation,' including his writings on the cases of 


the society of his friends and the amusements of the 
stage, a small theatre being formed in the chateau, 
and his niece, and occasionally himself, acting in the 
different pieces represented. Madame Denis had some 
talents for the stage, but he greatly exaggerated her 
merit, and even amused Marmontel, who relates the 
anecdote in his ' Memoirs,' with telling him on one oc- 
casion how much she had excelled Clairon. " J'avoue," 
says he, " j'ai trouve cela un peu fort." Voltaire him- 
self had very humble pretensions as an actor, and 
laughs at himself, with much good humour, in his 
letters for these exhibitions. The Genevese purists 
were scandalised at the near neighbourhood of private 
theatricals, but they occasionally formed part of 'the 
audience in spite of Rousseau's exhortations against 
the stage. They also visited Voltaire without scruple 
at Ferney. He kept a hospitable house, befitting his 
affluent circumstances and generous disposition ; he 
received strangers who were properly introduced, and 
it may well be imagined that the inexhaustible resources 
of his learning and his wit, as varied as it was original, 
gave extraordinary delight to his guests. He was fond 
of assisting persons in distress, but chiefly young persons 
of ability struggling with difficult circumstances: thus 
the niece of Corneille, left in a destitute condition, was 
invited, about the year 1760, to Ferney, where she 

Galas and Debarre ; nearly the whole of the three volumes of 
* Commentaries on Dramatic Works.' Beside these volumes there 
are eight or more thick volumes of his Correspondence ; and beside 
finishing and correcting some of his other historical works, he wrote 
the < Peter the Great* and the < Age of Louis XV.' during the 
same last twenty years of his life ; so that he wrote forty volumes 
during that period of iiis old age. 


remained for several years, and received her education. 
But, above all, he was the protector of the oppressed, 
whether by political or ecclesiastical tyranny, His 
fame rests on an imperishable foundation as a great 
writer certainly the greatest of a highly polite and 
cultivated age ; but these claims to our respect are 
mingled with sad regrets at the pernicious tendency 
of no small portion of his works. As the champion 
of injured virtue, the avenger of enormous public 
crimes, he claims a veneration which embalms his 
memory in the hearts of all good men ; and this part of 
his character untarnished by any stain, enfeebled by 
no failing, is justly to be set up against the charges to 
which other passages of his story are exposed, redeeming 
those passages from the dislike or the contempt which 
they are calculated to inspire towards their author. 

During the winter of 1761-62, a scene of mingled 
judicial bigotry, ignorance, and cruelty was enacted in 
Languedoc, the account of which reached Ferney, 
where the unhappy family of its victims sought refuge. 
A young man, twenty-eight years of age, Marc 
Antoine Galas, the son of a respectable old Calvinist, 
was found dead, having, it appears, hanged himself. 
There arose a suspicion nearly amounting to insanity 
in the mind of a fanatical magistrate of the name of 
David, that the young man had been hanged by the 
father to prevent him from becoming a Catholic. 
There was another son already converted, and whom 
the father, so far from repudiating, supplied with a hand- 
some allowance. There was a visitor of the family, a 
youth of nineteen years old, present at the time when the 
murder was supposed to have been committed ; as were 

VOLTAIKE. 1 ] 3 

the mother -and brothers of the deceased, all of whom 
must have concurred in the diabolical act. The father 
had for some time, beside his age of sixty-nine, been 
reduced to great weakness by a paralytic complaint. 
The deceased was one of the most powerful men in 
the country, and nearly six feet high. He was also of 
dissolute habits, involved in pecuniary difficulties, and 
possessing and fond of reading books that defended 
suicide. Finally, it was certainly known that the notion 
of his wishing to become a Catholic was a pure fiction, 
and that he had never given the least intimation of such 
a desire. In the face of all this, amounting to proof ol 
the magistrate's fancy being an absolute impossibility, he 
ordered the whole family to be cast into prison together 
with the father, as accomplices in the supposed murder. 
The populace immediately took up the subject thus sug- 
gested to them by authority, and considered the deceased 
as a martyr. The brotherhood of the White Penitents 
(Voltaire says at the desire of the magistrate) cele- 
brated a mass for his soul, exhibiting his figure with 
a palm-branch in one hand as the emblem of martyr- 
dom, and a pen in the other, the instrument where- 
with, as was represented, he intended to have signed his 
recantation of Calvinism. A report was industriously 
spread abroad that the Protestants regard the murder 
of children by their parents as a duty when they are 
minded to abjure the reformed faith ; but that, for the 
sake of greater certainty, and to prevent the escape of the 
convert, the sect assembles in a secret place, and elects 
at stated times a public executioner to perform this 
office. The court before whom the case was brought, 



at first was disposed to put the whole family to the 
torture, never doubting that the murder would be 
confessed by one or other of them ; but they ended 
by only condemning the father to be broke alive upon 
the wheel. The Parliament of Toulouse, by a narrow 
majority, confirmed this atrocious sentence; and the 
wretched old man died in torments, declaring his per- 
fect innocence with his latest breath. The rest of the 
family were acquitted an absurdity the most glaring, 
inasmuch as they were all his accomplices of absolute 
necessity if he was guilty. 

Loaded with grief, and suffering under the additional 
pangs of their blasted reputation, the wretched family 
came to Geneva, the head-quarters of their sect, and 
immediately applied to Voltaire. He at once devoted 
himself to their defence, and to obtaining the reversal 
of perhaps the most iniquitous sentence that ever a 
court professing or profaning the name of justice 
pronounced. He was nobly seconded by the Due de 
Choiseul, then Minister. The case was remitted to a 
Special Court of Judges appointed to investigate the 
whole matter. The preparation of memorials, the 
examination of evidence, a long correspondence with 
the authorities, were not the philosopher's only 
labours in this good cause : he revised all the pleadings 
of the advocates, made important additions to them, 
and infused a spirit into the whole proceedings the 
fruit of his genius, and worthy of his pious design. 
In 1765 the decree was reversed ; Galas was declared 
innocent, and his memory restored (rehabilite) ; and 
the Minister afforded to the family an ample pecuniary 


compensation, as far as any sum could repair such 
cruel wrongs.* This took place in the spring of 
1766. The Parliament of Languedoc was, unfor- 
tunately, not compelled to recognise the justice of the 
act which reversed its decree, and it had the wretched 
meanness to refuse obstinately the only reparation it 
could make indeed, the only step by which its own 
honour could be saved. 

When we hear considerable persons, as we used 
to hear Mr. Windham, argue from the example of 
the French tribunals that judicial places may safely 
be sold, let the case of Galas not be forgotten. 
No men who had risen to the Bench by their pro- 
fessional talents ever could have joined the ferocious 
David in committing this judicial murder. For 
him a signal and a just retribution was reserved. 
The reversal of the sentence either stung him with 
remorse, or, covering him with shame, affected his 
reason, and he died soon after in a mad-house. The 
efforts of Voltaire, crowned with success, gained him 
universal applause. Since the revocation of the Edict 
of Nantz, the Huguenots had never felt any security 
against persecution. They now felt that they had 
a champion equally zealous, honest, and powerful. 
Indeed, the zeal which he displayed knew no rest ; 
his whole soul was in the cause. He was wont to say, 
that during the three years that the proceedings lasted 
he never smiled without feeling that he had com- 

* 36,000 francs was bestowed by the King, on the represent- 
ation of the Court which reversed the abominable sentence. (CEuv. 
de Pol. et Leg., i. 315.) 

i 2 


mitted a crime. The country never forgot it. When, 
during the last days of his life, in the spring of 1778, 
he was one day on the Pont Royal, and some person 
asked the name of " that man whom the crowd 
followed?"" Ne savez vous pas" (answered a common 
woman) " que c'est le sauveur des Galas ?" It is said 
that he was more touched with this simple tribute to 
his fame than with all the adoration they lavished 
upon him.* 

About the same time with this memorable event of 
Galas, there was an attempt made by the same fana- 
tical party in Languedoc to charge a respectable 
couple, of the name of Sirven, with the murder of 
their daughter, a young woman who had been con- 
fined in a monastery, under a lettre de cachet, obtained 
by the priests, and, having suffered from cruel treatment, 
and made her escape, was found in a well drowned. 
Sirven and his wife escaped upon hearing of the 
charge : he was sentenced to death par contumace ; 
she died upon the journey, and he took refuge in 
Geneva. Voltaire exerted himself as before ; and 
though it was necessary that the party should expose 
himself to the risk of an unjust condemnation by 
appearing to answer the accusation in the Court of 

* Some unreflecting person has lately been endeavouring to 
reverse the public judgment in favour of Galas and of Voltaire, by 
examining the records of the Courts in Languedoc ; and has pub- 
lished an assertion, that the original sentence on Calas was right. 
"Was any one silly enough to suppose that these Courts would pre- 
serve any evidence of their own delinquency ? 


Toulouse, so much were men's minds improved since 
the former tragedy, that the great efforts of the advo- 
cates, acting under Voltaire's instructions and with 
his help, succeeded in obtaining a complete acquittal. 

This happened in the year 1762. The year after 
another horrid tragedy was acted in the north, 
although here Voltaire's great exertions failed in 
obtaining any justice against the overwhelming weight 
of the Parliament of Paris, which basely countenanced 
the iniquity of the court below. A crucifix was found 
to have been insulted in the night, on the bridge of 
Abbeville. Two young men, D'Etallonde and the 
Chevalier La Barre, were accused of this offence on mere 
vague suspicion, by the spite of a tradesman who owed 
them some grudge. The former made his escape ; the 
latter, a youth of seventeen, and highly connected, ven- 
tured to stand his trial. Other charges were coupled 
with the main accusation, all resolving themselves into 
alleged irreverent behaviour at taverns, and in other 
private societies. The court pronounced La Barre 
guilty, and sentenced him to suffer the rack, to have his 
tongue torn out, and then to be beheaded. This infernal 
sentence was executed upon the miserable youth. The 
courage shown by Voltaire in exerting himself for La 
Barre was the more to be admired, that one of the 
charges against the Chevalier was the having a work 
of his own in his possession, and treating it with 
peculiar veneration. This proved, however, to be a 
groundless suggestion. It was infinitely to Frederick's 
honour, that when Voltaire asked his countenance 
and protection for the other young gentleman who 
had fled and been condemned par cotitumace, he gave 


him a company, promoted him as an engineer, settled 
a pension upon him, and afterwards made his fortune 
in the Prussian army.* 

It would be gratifying could we assert with truth, 
that the same love of liberty and justice marked every 
part of his conduct during the latter years of his 
illustrious life. One great exception is to be found in 
the correspondence with Frederick and the Empress 
Catherine of Russia, at the period of their execrable 
partition of Poland in 1772. He treats that foul 
crime not only with no reprobation, but even with 
flattering approval; and, in one of his letters, he 
describes the Empress's share in it as " noble and use- 
ful, and consistent with strict justice/'-f 

We have examined the history of his two celebrated 
quarrels, those with Frederick and Maupertuis ; and 
have now contemplated his humane and charitable exer- 
tion for the Galas, the Sirvens, and the La Barres : but 
his other quarrel reflects less honour on him. His 
behaviour towards Rousseau cannot be said to do much 
credit either to his temper or his humanity. Rousseau, 
younger by eighteen years than Voltaire, and dazzled 

* In addition to the other atrocities of this case, was the incom- 
petency of the Abbeville tribunal. Of the three judges, one was 
connected with the prosecutor ; another had quitted the profession 
and become a dealer in cattle, had a sentence against him, and was 
afterwards declared incapable of holding any office. 

t See his verses about kings dividing their cake (Cor. avec les Souv., 
ii. 92), and his rejoicing in having lived to see " the great event" 
(93). To Catherine he says, she has, by her " parti noble et utile, 
rendu a chacun ce que chacun croit lui appartenir, en commencant 
par elle-meme" (ib. ii. 618). Again he says, " Le dernier acte de 
votre grande trag&iie parait bien beau." (ib. 627.) 


by his brilliant reputation, had paid him a court by no 
means niggardly, yet not subject to the charge of 
flattery. Voltaire had returned his civilities, as was 
his wont, with good interest. Rousseau, on the Lisbon 
poem appearing, wrote an answer in a long, eloquent, 
and ill-reasoned letter to Voltaire, which he never 
made public, but it came into print by some accident 
yet unaccounted for. Voltaire had, in a note, half 
jocose and quite kind, declined the controversy, as he 
had before declined to discuss the benefits of civilization 
and learning with the same antagonist. Rousseau had, 
previously to the letter appearing, written an attack 
upon the Theatre, and was supposed by Voltaire to have 
stirred up the people of Geneva against him, partly on 
that account, and partly because of his infidel opinions. 
Rousseau now, in 1760, addressed a letter to him full 
of bitter complaints, laying to his door the moral 
destruction, as he calls it, of Geneva (meaning by the 
Ferney theatricals), his own proscription there, and 
his banishment from his native country, rendered 
insupportable by the neighbourhood of Ferney (Con- 
fessions, Part ii., book x.). To this letter Voltaire very 
properly returned no answer ; he treats it as the 
effusion of a distempered mind, in all the allusions to 
it which we find among his letters. But he always 
asserted, that the charge of injuring the writer of it 
was so far from being well founded, that he had 
uniformly supported him among his bigoted country- 
men. Be this as it may, we find ever after the most 
unmeasured and unmerciful abuse of Rousseau as often 
as he is mentioned ; and the dull but malignant poem 
' Guerre civile de Geneve,' contains a more fierce and 


cruel attack upon this poor man than is to be found 
upon any other person in that or any of Voltaire's 
satires. It is not to be forgotten that the constant 
undervaluing of Rousseau's genius can scarcely be 
ascribed to anything but jealousy, if not of his talents, 
yet of his success. He can see no merit whatever in 
any of these writings, except the ' Profession de Foi,' 
in the ' Emile ;' and of that he only speaks as an excep- 
tion to their general worthlessness ; whereas we know 
that he felt the greatest jealousy of the courage which 
it displayed in attacking religion openly, while he 
had himself never ventured upon any but covert, anony- 
mous assaults, always disavowed as soon as repelled or 
reprobated. Rousseau's conduct towards Voltaire was 
a great contrast to this. To the end of his life he 
avowed the most unrestrained admiration of that great 
genius ; he subscribed to his statue erected at Lyons 
an act which Voltaire was silly enough to resent, 
affecting to think that the Due de Choiseul, whose 
name was at the head of the subscription, might not 
like being in such company. Finally, when c Irene/ 
his last composition, was represented a few weeks 
before his death, Rousseau generously declared, on some 
one mentioning the decline of genius which it indicated, 
that it would be equally inhuman and ungrateful in 
the public to observe such a thing, even if it were un- 
questionably true. 

That the genius of the poet had in some degree 
suffered by the lapse of so many years, who can doubt ? 
Yet the ' Irene,' finished two months before his death, 
and the ' Agathocles,' which he had not finished when 
he died, contain passages of great splendour and beauty ; 


nor was there ever, it may truly be asserted, a poet at 
the age of eighty- four capable of so signal an exertion. 
It is, indeed, only one of the many proofs which remain 
of the inextinguishable activity of his great mind. He 
added a passage to the introductory chapters of his 
' Louis XIV,,' which shows that it was written a few 
weeks before his decease, for it gives an account of 
Hook's publication which appeared in 1778.* 

After an absence of above seven and twenty years 
he revisited Paris with his niece, who, at the beginning 
of 1778, wished to accompany thither a young lady, 
recently married to M. Vilette. Voltaire had just 
finished ' Irene,' and had a desire to see its represen- 
tation. The reception he met with in every quarter 
was enthusiastic. He had outlived all his enemies, 
all his detractors, all his quarrels. The Academy, 
which had, under the influence of court intrigues, now 
long forgotten, delayed his admission till his fifty- 
second year, seemed now anxious to repair its fault, 
and received him with honours due rather to the great 
chief than to a fellow-citizen in the commonwealth of 
letters. All that was most eminent in station or most 
distinguished in talents all that most shone in 
society or most ruled at court, seemed to bend before 
him. The homage of every class and of every rank 
was tendered to him, and it seemed as if one universal 
feeling prevailed, the desire of having it hereafter to 
say " I saw Voltaire." But, in a peculiar manner, 
his triumphant return was celebrated at the theatre. 
Present at the third night of ' Irene,' all eyes were 

* Siecle cle Louis XIV., i. p. 25. 


turned from the stage to the poet, whose looks, not 
those of the actors, were watched from the rising to 
the falling of the curtain. Then his bust was seen 
on the stage ; it was crowned with chaplets, amidst the 
shouts and the tears of the audience. He left the 
house, and hundreds pressed forward to aid his feeble 
steps as he retired to his carriage. No one was suffered 
to sustain him above an instant all must enjoy the 
honour of having once supported Voltaire's arm. 
Countless multitudes attended him to his apartments, 
and as he entered they knelt to kiss his garments. 
The cries of " Five Voltaire T " Vive la Henrlade /" 
" Vive Zaire /" rent the air. The aged poet's heart 
was moved with tenderness. " On veut " (he feebly 
cried) " on veut me faire mourir de plaisir ! On 
m'etouffe de roses !" 

Franklin was in Paris on Voltaire's arrival, as envoy 
from the revolted colonies, and was soon presented to 
him. Voltaire had long ceased to speak our language, 
but he for some time made the attempt, and added, 
" Je n'ai pu resister au desir de parler un moment la 
langue de M. Franklin." The philosopher presented 
his grandson, and asked a blessing : " God and liberty," 
said Voltaire, " is the only one fitting for Franklin's 
children." These two great men met again at a public 
sitting of the Academy, and when they took their 
places side by side, and shook hands together, a 
burst of applause involuntarily rose from the whole 

During his short stay at Paris Voltaire showed his 
unwearied activity of mind, increased, if possible, by 
the transports with which his fellow-citizens every- 


where received him. He planned an antidote to the 
errors which the admitted probity as well as the rare 
opportunities of the Due de St. Simon were calculated 
to propagate in his ' Memoirs/ still kept secret, but 
destined soon to see the light. He worked at his 
' Agathocles ;' he corrected many parts of his historical 
works; and he prevailed upon the Academic Fran- 
aise to prepare its ' Dictionary ' upon the novel 
plan of following each word in the different senses 
given it at successive periods, and illustrating each 
by choice passages from contemporary authors. 
He proposed that each academician should take a 
letter, and he began himself strenuously to work upon 
letter A. These labours, and the excitement of the 
reception at the theatre, proved too much for his 
remaining strength, and he was seized with a spitting 
of blood. A new exertion, made in the hope of obvi- 
ating certain objections taken at the Academy to his 
plan of the ' Dictionary/ brought on sleeplessness, 
and he took opium in too considerable doses. Con- 
dorcet says that a servant mistook one of the doses, 
and that the mistake was the immediate cause of his 
death, which happened on the 30th of May, 1778. 
He was in the eighty-fifth year of his age. 

We have preserved, and in his own hand, the few 
lines he wrote to Lally Tolendal, four days before 
his death, that he died happy, on hearing the reversal 
of the iniquitous sentence against his father, in whose 
cause he had exerted himself twelve years before with 'i 
his wonted zeal and perseverance. Some very good 
verses, addressed ten days before to the Abbe de 1'At- 


teignant, in the same measure in which he had written 
some verses to Voltaire, attest the extraordinary vigour 
in which his faculties remained to the last.* 

While in his last illness the clergy had come round 
him ; and as all the philosophers of that period appear 
to have felt particularly anxious that no public stigma 
should be cast upon them by a refusal of Christian 
burial, they persuaded him to undergo confession and 
absolution. He had a few weeks before submitted to 
this ceremony, and professed to die in the Catholic 
faith, in whih he was born a ceremony which M. 
Condorcet may well say gave less edification to the 
devout than it did scandal to the free-thinkers. The 
cure (rector) of St. Sulpice had, on this being related, 
made inquiry, and found the formula too general ; he 
required the Abbe Gauthier, who had performed the 
office, to insist upon a more detailed profession of faith, 
else he should withhold the burial certificate. While 
this dispute was going on, the dying man recovered, 
and put an end to it. On what proved his real death- 
bed, the cure came and insisted on a ful] confession. 
When the dying man had gone a certain length, he 
was required to subscribe to the doctrine of our Sa- 
viour's divinity. This roused his indignation, and he 
gave vent to it in an exclamation which at once put 
to flight all the doubts of the pious, and reconciled the 
infidels to their patriarch. The certificate was refused, 
and he was buried in a somewhat clandestine, certainly 
a hasty manner, at the monastery of Scellieres, of 

* Cor. Geii., xi. 627, 628. 


which, his nephew was abbot. The bishop of the 
diocese (Troyes) hearing of the abbe's intention, dis- 
patched a positive prohibition ; but it arrived the day 
after the ceremony had taken place. 

The notion which some have taken that Voltaire 
was ignorant of, or at least imperfectly acquainted with 
the English language, and into which an accomplished 
though somewhat prejudiced critic has among others 
been betrayed, is purely fanciful : he had as thorough 
a knowledge of it as could be acquired by a foreigner ; 
perhaps a greater familiarity and easier use of it than 
any other ever had. He wrote it with ease, and with 
perfect correctness, in the earlier part of his life, hardly 
making any mistakes certainly none which a little care 
would not have prevented. I have lately seen a letter 
of his, thanking an author for the present of his book, 
probably Sir H. Sloane ; and there is but one word, 
lectors for readers, wrong ; nor is there the very least 
restraint in the style, which is also quite idiomatic, as 
when he speaks of his " crazy constitution." Ills for 
maux, meaning complaints, has the authority of Shak- 
speare, if indeed any authority were required to justify 
this use of %e word. The Gallicism or mistake Electors 
proves that he himself wrote this letter, and sent it with- 
out any one re vising it. While visiting England, in 1727, 
he published an essay on the ' Civil Wars of France/ 
with remarks on the ' Epic Poetry of all Ages,' a small 
octavo, or large duodecimo volume, intended to illus- 
trate the ' Henriade,' of which, as has been observed, 
an edition was published at that time by subscription. 
The English is perfectly correct, and the diction quite 
easy and natural. There is a copy in the British Mu- 
seum, with these words on the title-page, in his own 


hand " To Sir Hanslone (Hans Sloane), from his 
obedient servant, Voltaire." In his latter years he 
spoke English with great difficulty, and seldom at- 
tempted it ; but that he retained his familiarity with 
the language, and could easily write it, we have the 
clearest evidence in two excellent lines which he 
wrote when in his eightieth year to Dr. Cradock, who 
had sent him a copy of his drama, ' Zobeide,' chiefly 
borrowed from Voltaire's * Scythes :' 

" Thanks to your muse, a foreign copper shines, 
Turn'd into gold, and coin'd in sterling lines." 

Nor is our admiration of this facility of English dic- 
tion lessened by the consideration that the idea is in 
some degree imitated from Roscommon. H. Walpole 
has indeed said, with a gross exaggeration, respecting his 
letter to Lord Lyttelton, that not one word of it is 
tolerable English ; but he may late in life have lost 
the facility of writing in a language not acquired while 
a child, as we know that both with Lord Loughborough 
and Lord Erskine the Scottish accent returned in old 
age, though they had got entirely rid of it during the 
middle period of life. 

After the details of his life, and the full considera- 
tion of his various works, it would be a very super- 
fluous task to attempt summing up the character of 
Voltaire, either as regards his intellectual or his moral 
qualities. The judgment to be pronounced on these 
must depend upon the details of fact and the particular 
opinions already given, and no general reflections 
could alter the impression which these must already 
have produced. 

One part only of his composition has had no place, 
and derived no illustration from the preceding pages 


his convivial qualities, or colloquial powers. These 
are on all hands represented as having been admirable. 
He was of a humour peculiarly gay and lively ; he 
had no impatience of temper in society ; his irritability 
was reserved for the closet, and his gall flowed only 
through the pen. Then his vast information on all 
subjects, and his ready wit, never failing, but never 
tiring, added to his having none of the fastidious taste 
which prevents many great men from enjoying the 
humours of society themselves, while it casts a damp 
and a shade over the cheerful hours of others all 
must have conspired to render his company a treat of 
the highest order. His odd and unexpected turns 
gave his wit a zest that probably never belonged to 
any other man's, His writings give us some taste of 
this ; and there are anecdotes on record, or at least 
preserved by tradition, of jokes of which they who read 
his works at once recognise him as the author. When 
the Dijon academicians presented him with the place 
of an honorary member, observing that tlieir academy 
was a daughter of the Parisian body" Eh ! oui :" 
said he, " eh ! et une bonne fille, je vous en reponds, 
qui ne fera jamais parler d'elle." When at some family 
party the guests were passing the evening in telling 
stories of robbers, and it came to his turn " Once 
upon a time (he began) Jadis, il y avoit, un fermier- 

general ma foi, Messieurs, j'ai oublie le reste." 

When St. Ange, who plumed himself on the refined 
delicacy of his flattery, said, on arriving at Ferney, 
" To-day I have seen Homer ; to-morrow I shall see 
Sophocles and Euripides, then Tacitus, then Livy :" 
" Ah ! Monsieur," said his ancient host, alarmed at the 


outline of a long visit, which he seemed fated to see 
filled up, " Ah, Monsieur ! je suis horriblement vieux. 
Ne pourriez vous pas tacher les voir tous le meme jour ?" 
The sketch probably was left unfinished by this inter- 
ruption. So when an English traveller who had been 
to see Haller, heard Voltaire speak loudly in his praise, 
and expressed admiration of this candour, saying 
Haller spoke not so well of him : "Helas !" was the ad- 
mirable answer, " il se peut bien que nous avons tort, tous 
les deux." A graver rebuke was administered by him 
to an old lady who expressed her horror at finding 
herself under the same roof with a declared enemy of 
the Supreme Being, as she was pleased to term Vol- 
taire : " Sachez, madame, que j'ai dit plus de bien de 
Dieu dans un seul de mes vers que vous n'en penserez de 
votre etre." 

A striking picture of his powers of conversation is 
given by Goldsmith, who passed an evening in his 
company about the year 1754. He describes it, after 
saying generally that no man whom he had ever seen 
exceeded him ; and Goldsmith had lived with the most 
famous wits of the world, especially of his own country 
with Burke, Windham, Johnson, Beauclerk, Fox. 
There arose a dispute in the party upon the English 
taste and literature. Diderot was the first to join 
battle with Fontenelle, who defeated him easily, the 
knowledge of the former being very limited on the 
subject of the controversy. " Voltaire," says Gold- 
smith, " remained silent and passive for a long while, 
as if he wished to bear no part in the argument which 
was going on. At last, about midnight, he began, and 
spoke for nearly three hours, but in a manner not to 


be forgotten his whole frame was animated what 
eloquence, mixed with spirit the finest strokes of 
raillery the greatest elegance of language the 
utmost sensibility of manner ! Never was I so much 
charmed, nor ever was so absolute a victory as he 

To enter further on any general description, when 
all the particulars have been gone over, would be absurd. 
It is, however, fit to remark that the odium which has 
cast a shadow on a name that must otherwise have 
shone forth with pure and surpassing lustre, is partly 
at least owing to the little care taken to conceal his 
unpopular opinions, which is no sufficient ground of 
blame. But in part, it is owing to that which is exceed- 
ingly blameable, the unsparing bitterness of his invective 
on all the honest prejudices (as even he must have 
deemed them) of believers, and the unceasing ribaldry 
of his attacks on those opinions, which, whether he 
thought them true or not, had at any rate the sanction 
of ages, the support of established institutions, and the 
cordial assent of the vast majority of mankind. The 
last twenty years of his life were devoted to a constant 
warfare with these sentiments. Had he confined him- 
self to discussion, had he only brought the resources 
of his universal learning and acute reasoning to bear 
upon the religious belief of his contemporaries, no one 
would have had a right to complain, and no rational 
Christian would ever have complained, if the twenty 
volumes which he thus wrote had been multiplied 
twenty fold, or even so as " that all the earth could not 

* Prior's Edition of O. Goldsmith's Works, iii. 223. 



have held the books which should have been written." 
But there is a perpetual appeal from the calm reason of 
the reflecting few to the laugh of the thoughtless many ; 
a substitution often, generally an addition, of sneer, 
and gibe, and coarse ridicule, to argumentation ; a 
determination to cry down and laugh down the dogmas 
which, with his learning and his reason, he was also 
assaulting in lawful combat. And the consequence 
has been, that although nothing can be more inaccurate 
than the notion that he never argues, never produces 
any proofs which make their appeal to the understand- 
ing, yet he passes with the bulk of mankind for a profane 
scoffer, and little more. The belief of D'Alembert 
was exactly the same with his own ; he has left 
abundance of letters which show that he had as much 
zeal against religion as his master, and entered with 
as much delight into all his endless ribaldry at the 
expense of the faith and the faithful ;* but because he 
never publicly joined in the assault, we find even those 
who most thoroughly knew his opinions, nay, bishops 
themselves, concurring in the chant of his praises, as the 

* See especially such letters as that in which he speaks of the 
6 Dictionnaire Philosophique,' calling it the Dictionnaire de Satan : 
" Si j'avais des connaissances a rimprimerie de Belzebuth, je m'em- 
presserai de m'en procurer un exemplaire ; car cette lecture m j a fait 
un plaisir de tous les diables." He says he has swallowed it, 
" Gloutonnement, en mettant les morceaux en double ;" and adds 
" Assurement si 1'auteur va dans les etats de celui qui a fait impri- 
mer cet ouvrage infernal, il sera au moms son premier ministre : per- 
sonne ne lui a rendu des services plus importans." (Cor. d'AL, 274.) 
The flippancy of this work, which threw D'Alembert into such rap- 
tures, is nearly equal to its great learning and ability. Thus, vol. vi. 
p. 274 : " Bon jour, mon ami Job ! tu es un des plus grands ori- 
ginaux," &c. &c. 


most inoffensive, and even moral of men ; while Voltaire, 
who never said worse than D'Alembert freely but pri- 
vately wrote, raises in their minds the idea of an ema- 
nation from the father of all evil. It may be hard to 
define the bounds which should contain the free dis- 
cussion of sacred subjects. Those who are the most 
firmly convinced of religious truth are, generally speak- 
ing, the most careless to what extent the liberty of as- 
sailing it, in examining its grounds, shall be carried ; 
but without attempting to lay down any such rule, 
we may safely admit that Voltaire offended, and 
offended grievously, by the manner in which he de- 
voted himself to crying down the sacred things of his 
country, whether we regard the interests of society at 
large, or the interests of the particular system which 
he desired to establish. 

But though it would be exceedingly wrong to pass 
over this great and prevailing fault without severe re- 
probation, it would be equally unjust, nay, ungrateful, 
ever to forget the immense obligations under which 
Voltaire has laid mankind by his writings, the pleasure 
derived from his fancy and his wit, the amusement 
which his singular and original humour bestows, even 
the copious instruction with which his historical 
works are pregnant, and the vast improvement in the 
manner of writing history which we owe to him. Yet 
great as these services are among the greatest that 
can be rendered by a man of letters they are really of 
far inferior value to the benefits which have resulted 
from his long and arduous struggle against oppression, 
especially against tyranny in the worst form which it 
can assume, the persecution of opinion, the infraction of 



the sacred right to exercise the reason upon all subjects, 
unfettered by prejudice, uncontrolled by authority, 
whether of great names or of temporal power. I That 
he combated many important truths which he found 
enveloped in a cloud of errors, and could not patiently 
sift, so as to separate the right from the wrong, is un- 
deniably true ; that he carried on his conflict, whether 
with error or with truth, in an offensive manner, and 
by the use of unlawful weapons, has been freely ad- 
mitted. But we owe to him the habit of scrutinizing, 
both in sacred matters and in profane, the merits of 
whatever is presented for our belief, of examining 
boldly the foundations of received opinions, of making 
probability a part of the consideration in all that is re- 
lated, of calling in plain reason and common sense to 
assist in our councils when grave matters are under dis- 
cussion ; nor can any one since the days of Luther be 
named, to whom the spirit of free inquiry, nay, the 
emancipation of the human mind from spiritual ty- 
ranny, owes a more lasting debt of gratitude. No one 
beyond the pale of the Romish church ever denies his 
obligation to the great Reformer, whom he thanks and 
all but reveres for having broken the chains of her 
spiritual thraldom. All his coarseness, all his low 
ribaldry, all that makes the reading of his works in 
many places disgusting, in not a few offensive to com- 
mon decency,* and even to the decorum proper to the 

* See particularly his abominable sermon at Wittenberg, on mar- 
riage, actually preached, and of so immoral a tendency, as well as 
couched in such indelicate language, that it can only be referred to 
without translation, by Bishop Bossuet and others ; also his ' Table- 
talk/ in those parts where he treats of women, and describes with 


handling of pious topics, all his assaults upon things 
which should have been sacred from rude touch, as 
well as his adherence with unrestrained zeal to some 
of the most erroneous tenets of the Romish faith all 
are forgiven, nay, forgotten, in contemplating the man 
of whom we can say "He broke our chains." Un- 
happily the bad parts of Voltaire's writings are not 
only placed as it were in a setting by the graces of 
his style, so that we unwillingly cast them aside, but 
embalmed for conservation in the spirit of his immor- 
tal wit. But if ever the time shall arrive when men, 
intent solely on graver matters, and bending their 
whole minds to things of solid importance, shall be 
careless of such light accomplishments, and the writ- 
ings which now have so great a relish, more or less 
openly tasted, shall pass into oblivion, then the im- 
pression which this great genius has left will remain ; 
and while his failings are forgotten, and the influence 
of his faults corrected, the world, wiser and better 
because he lived, will continue still to celebrate his 

ribaldry the most filthy his conflicts against the devil. Nothing in 
Eabelais is more coarse. Indeed these are passages unexampled in any 
printed book ; but the original sermon must be consulted, for no 
translator would soil his page with them, and accordingly Audin 
and others give them only by allusion and circumlocution. ' Titzen- 
Rede/ p. 306 and 464, must itself be resorted to if we would see 
how the great Reformer wrote and spoke. His allowing the Land- 
grave of Hesse to marry a second wife while the first was living, 
and the grounds of the permission, are well known ; and the attempt 
to deny this passage of his life is an entire failure. 

* The edition of Voltaire referred to in this < Life' is that of 
Baudouin, at Paris, 1828, in 75 volumes. 



IT would be improper to dismiss the subject of Voltaire with- 
out adverting to the somewhat ambitious work which Condorcet 
has written under the somewhat inaccurate title of his ' Life.' 
This is a defence and panegyric throughout; no admission of 
blame, or even error, is ever made ; and there is a scorn of all 
details, facts, dates, which takes from the book its whole value 
as a biographical, while its unremitting partiality deprives it 
of all merit as a philosophical composition. Considering the 
importance of the subject, and the resources of the writer for 
either recording facts or giving a commentary, it may safely 
be asserted that there is no greater failure than this work, 
appealed to as it so often is, out of mere deference to the 
respectable name it bears. Condorcet was a man of science, 
no doubt, a good mathematician ; but he was in other respects 
of a middling understanding and violent feelings. In the 
revolution they called him " le mouton enrage," by way of 
describing his feeble fury. He belonged to the class of lite- 
rary men in France whose intolerance was fully equal to that 
of their pious adversaries those denouncing as superstition all 
belief, these holding all doubt to be impious. E-ather ena- 
moured of Voltaire's irreligion than dazzled with his wit or 
his fine sense, he makes no distinction between his good and 
his bad writings in point of moral worth, nor indeed ever 
seems to admit that in point of merit one is or can be inferior 
to another. Witness his panegyric of the f Pucelle,' which, 
after some passages were erased, he pronounces to be " a work 
for which the author of ' Mahomet' and ' Louis XIV.' had no 
longer any reason to blush" (Vie de Voltaire, 100). His 
credulity on material things is at least equal to his unbelief on 
spiritual. He gravely relates that hopes were held out from 
the court of Madame de Pompadour of a cardinal's hat for 
Voltaire when he was instructed to translate some psalms, a 
task which he performed with such admirable address, though 
in perfect good faith, that they excited a general horror, and 


were condemned to be burnt. It is none of the least absurd 
parts of Condorcet's work, that he, being so well versed in 
physical and mathematical science, passes without any parti- 
cular observation the writings of Voltaire on physical subjects, 
when he was so competent to pronounce an opinion upon their 
merits. But the strangest part of the matter is, that the au- 
thor of Voltaire's 'Life' should apparently never have read 
his voluminous and various correspondence, from which 
alone the real materials for such a work are to be obtained. 
He might as well have undertaken the ( Life ' of Rousseau 
without reading the ' Confessions.' 

The publication in 1820 of Madame de Grafigny's ' Letters/ 
while residing for six months at Cirey, entitled, not accurately, 
'Vie privee de Voltaire et de Madame du Chatelet/ adds 
some curious particulars to our former knowledge of Madame 
du Chatelet and of her household, always supposing that we 
can entirely rely on the testimony of a woman whose own 
character was very far from respectable, and who professedly 
acted the very unworthy part of an eaves- dropper for so con- 
siderable a time, pleading only as her excuse the extreme 
penury from which the hospitality that she violated afforded 
her a shelter. On Voltaire's character it casts no new light 
whatever, except that it tends to raise our admiration of his 
talents, if that be possible, and also of his kindly disposition. 
Of Madame du Chatelet it gives a far less amiable picture. 


I HAVE been favoured, by the great kindness of Mr. Stanford, 
F.R.S., with part of a series of letters which Voltaire wrote 
to the Duchess Louisa of Saxe Gotha, grandmother of the 
late Duke, and of which his Serene Highness was graciously 
pleased to allow him to make a copy. By Mr. Stanford's per- 


mission I am enabled to add some of them; and I have 
selected the six following, which are now for the first time 
made public. They will be found very interesting. 

No. I. 

MADAME A Swetzingen, pres de Manheim, 1754. 

Je m'approche du midy a pas lents en regrettant cette 
Turinge que votre Altesse Serenissime embelissait a mes yeux, 
et on elle faisait naitre de si beau jours, qu'il semble que vos 
bontez aient donne : j'ai trouve a la cour de Manheim une 
image de ces bontez, dont j'ai ete comble a Gotha : cela ne sert 
qu'a redoubler mes regrets ; je les porterai partout. II faut enfin 
aller a Plombieres suivant les ordres des medecins et des rois, 
deux especes tres respectables, avec lesquelles on pretend 
que la vie humaine est quelquefois en danger ; mais je supplie 
votre Altesse Serenissime de considerer combien je luy suis 
fidele : il n'y a point d'ancien chevalier errant qui ait si con- 
stamment tenu sa promesse. J'ai acheve Charles Quint tantot 
a Mayence, tantot a Manheim; j'ai ete jusqu'au ChimisteRo- 
dolphe Second ; j'ai songe de cour en cour, de cabaret en ca- 
baret, que j'avais des ordres de Madame la Duchesse de 
Gotha; je voiage avec des livres comme les heroines de 
roman voiageaient avec des diamants et du linge sale ; je 
trouverai a Strasbourg des secours pour achever ce que mon 
obeissance a vos ordres a commence ; mais, Madame, qu'il sera 
dur de vous obeir de si loin ! 

Je ne ferai jamais qu'une seule priere a Dieu : je luy diray, 
Donnez moy la sante pour que je retourne a Gotha. Je me 
flatte que la Grande Maitresse des Cceurs me conserve tou- 
jours ses bontez; qu'elle me protege toujours aupres de 
votre Altesse Serenissime. Je me mets a vos pieds, Madame, 
avec quarante Empereurs, preferant assurement la vie heu- 
reuse de Gotha a toutes leurs aventures. Je serai attache le 
reste de ma vie a votre Altesse Serenissime, avec le plus 
profond respect, et une reconnaissance inalterable. Permettez 
moy, Madame, de presenter les meme sentimens a Mon- 
seigneur le Due et a votre auguste famille. 


No. II. 
MADAME, A Colmar, 30 Juillet, 1754. 

. . . . Ce que votre Altesse Serenissime me dit d'une certaine 
personne* qui se sert du mot de " rappeler " ne me convient 
gueres \ ce n*est qu'aupres de vous, Madame, que je peuve 
jamais etre appele par mon coeur ; il est vray que c'est la ce 
qui m'avait conduit aupres de la personne en question; je luy 
ay sacrifie mon temps et ma fortune ; jeluy ay servi de maitre 
pendant trois ans ; je luy ay donne des lemons de bouche et 
par ecrit tous les jours dans les choses de mon metier. Un 
Tartare, un Arabe du desert, ne m'auroit pas donne une si 
cruelle recompense. Ma pauvre niece, qui est encor malade 
des atrocitez qu'elle a essuiees, est un temoignage bien funeste 
contre luy. II est inoui qu'on ait jamais traitte ainsi la fille d'un 
gentilhomme, et la veuve d'un gentilhomme, d'un officier des 
armees du Roy de France ; et j'ose le dire une femmetres re- 
spectable par elle-meme, et qui a dans FEurope des amis. Si 
le Roy de Prusse connaissait la veritable gloire, il aurait 
repare 1'action infame qu'on a faitte en son nom. Je demande 
pardonne a votre Altesse Serenissime de luy parler de cette 
triste affaire ; mais la bonte qu'elle a de s'interesser au sort de 
ma niece me rappelle tout ce qu'elle a soufert. Je m'ima- 
gine que votre Altesse Serenissime est actuellement dans son 
palais d'Altembourg avec Monseigneur et les princes ses en- 
fans : je me mets a vos pieds et aux leurs. 

On m'a envoye de Berlin une relation moitie vers et moitie 
prose du voyage de Maupertuis et d'un nomme Cogolin : ce 
n'est pas un chef-d'oeuvre. 

Recevez, Madame, mes profonds respects et ma vive recon- 
naissance. V. 

No. III. 
MADAME, Aux Delices, 23 Aotit, 1758. 

L'optimisme et le tout est bien recoivent en Suede de 
terribles echecs : on se bat sur mer, on se menace" sur terre ; 

* Frederick IL 


heureuse encor un fois la terre promise de Gotha, ou Ton est 
tranquille et heureux sous les auspices de votre Altesse 
Serenissime. Elle a done lu les lettres de cette femme sin-" 
guliere, veuve d'un poete burlesque et d'un grand Roy, 
qui naquit Protestante, et qui contribua a la revocation de 
TEdit de Nantes : qui fut devote, et qui fit 1'amour. Je ne sqais, 
Madame, si vous aurez trouve beaucoup de lettres interes- 
santes. A I'e'gard des memoires de La Beaumelle, c'est Pouvrage 
d'un imposteur insense, qui a quelque fois de Tesprit, mais qui 
en a toujours mal-a-propos ; ses calomnies viennent de le faire 
enfermer a la Bastille pour la seconde fois : c'etait un chien 
enrage qu'on ne pouvoit plus laisser dans les rues : c'est une 
etrange fatalite que ce soit un pareil homme qui ait ete 
cause de ce qu'on appelle mon malheur a la cour de Berlin. 
Pour moy, Madame, je ne connais d'autre malheur que d'etre 
loin de votre Altesse Serenissime. On est grand nouveliste 
dans le pays que j'habite. On pretend qu'il y a dans une partie 
de I'Allemagne des orages prets a crever : heureusement ils 
sont loin de vos tats. Je n'ose, Madame, vous demander si 
votre Altesse Serenissime pense qu'il y ait guerre cette annee : 
il ne m'appartient pas de faire des questions, mais je sgais 
que votre Altesse Serenissime voit les choses d'un coup d'ceil 
bien juste ; son opinion deciderait en plus d'une conjoncture 
de ce qu'on doit penser ; plus d'un particulier est interesse aux 
affaires generates. Qu'elle me pardonne de lui en parler, et 
qu'elle daigne recevoir avec sa bonte ordinaire mon profond 
respect. V. 

[In another letter it is stated that the greater part of La 
Beaumelle's publication of Madame Maintenon's letters re- 
ferred to in No. III. proved to be a fabrication.] 

No. IV. 
MADAME, Aux D61ices. 

J'ai egalement me plaindre de la guerre et de la 
nature : Tune et 1'autre conspirent a me priver du bonheur 
de faire ma cour a votre Altesse Serenissime. La vieillesse, 
les maladies, et les houzards sont de cruels ennemis: j'ay 


bien peur, Madame, que ces houzards ne demandent un peu 
de fourrage a vos etats, et qu'ils payent fort mal leur diner 
et celuy de leurs chevaux. Du moms, Madame, votre beau 
Duche, reste d'un Duche encore plus beau, n'aura rien a 
reprocher a la cavalerie Franc,aise : je crois que depuis Rosbach 
elle a perdue Fidee de venir prendre respectueusement du 
foin dans vos quartiers. II me parait que le Roy de Prusse, 
qui, attaquant & droit et a gauche autrefois, comme le belier 
de la vision de Daniel, est totalement sur la defensive : pour 
nous, nous sommes sur Tespectative ; et Paris est sur 
1'indifference la plus gaie ; jamais on ne s'est tant rejoui 
jamais on n'a invente tant de plaisanteries, tant de nouveaux 
amusements. Je ne scjais rien de si sage que ce peuple 
de Paris, accuse d'etre frivole : quand il a vu les malheurs 
accumulez sur terre et sur mer, il s'est mis a se rejouir, et 
a fort bien fait ; voyla la vraie philosophic. Je suis un vieillard 
tres indulgent : il faut en plaignant les malheureux applaudir 
a ceux qui ignorent leurs malheurs. 

Je renouvelle mes remerciments tres humbles a votre 
Altesse Serenissime : sa protection au sujet des paperasses 
touchant le Czar fait ma consolation. Je me mets a ses pieds 
avec le plus profond respect : je suis, &c. 

No. V. 

MADAME, Au Chateau de Tourney, par Geneve, 21 Fevrier, 1760. 

La nature nous fait payer bien cher la faveur qu'elle 
nous fait de changer Fhiver en printemps. Votre Altesse Sere- 
nissime a ete malade, et la Princesse sa fille a ete attaquee de 
la petite verole : ce qui est encore tres cruel, c'est qu'on est un 
mois entier dans la crainte, avant de recevoir une nouvelle con- 
solante. Vous daignez, Madame, me mander du 10 Fevrier que 
j'ay a trembler pour votre sante et pour celle de la Princesse ; 
mais quand daignerez vous rassurer le cceur qui est le plus sen- 
sible a vos bontez, et le plus attache a votre bien-etre ? Quand 
apprendrai-je que la petite verole a respecte la vie et labeaute 
d'une Princesse nee pour vous ressembler, et que votre Altesse 


Serenissime a recouvre cette belle sante que je luy ai connue, cet 
air de fraicheur et de felicite? Madame, ily faut renoncer jusqu'a 
la paix. J'apprends, et Dieu veuille qu'on me trompe, qu'on 
foule encore vos etats, et qu'on exige des fournitures pour aller 
faire ailleurs des malheureux. II faut avouer les Princes 
chretiens et les peuples de cette partie de 1'Europe sont bien a 
plaindre ; on met en campagne quatre fois plus de trouppes 
pour disputer une petite province que le Grand Turc n'en 
a pour conserver ses vastes etats. Les causes de vos guerres 
sont to uj ours tres minces, et les effets abominables : vous etes 
le contraire de la nature, chez qui 1'efFet est toujours propor- 
tione a la cause. On ruine cent villes, on engage cent mille 
homines, et qu'en resulte-t-il ? rien. La guerre de 1 74 1 a laisse 
les choses comme elles etaient : il en sera de meme de celle-cy : 
on fait, on aime, le mal pour le mal, a 1'imitation d'un plus grand 
Seigneur que les R-ois, qui s'appelle le Diable. On dit que nos 
Suisses sont sages : leur pays est en paix. Oui ! mais ils vont 
tuer et se faire tuer pour quatre ecus par mois, au lieu de cul- 
tiver leur champs et leur vignes. Le Roy de Frusse vient 
de m'envoier deux cent vers de sa fa^on, tandis qu'il se pre- 
pare a deux cent mille meurtres ; mais que dire des Jesuittes, 
Messieurs E.. de Matos et Jeronimo Emmanuel, qui ont fait 
assassiner le Roi de Portugal au nom de la Vierge Marie et 
de St. Antoine. 

Profond respect et inquietude sur la sante de votre Altesse 
Serenissime. V. 

Je crois que la Grande Maitresse des Cceurs n'a guere 

No. VI. 

MADAME, A Ferney, 22 Juillet, 1762. 

C'en est trop ; votre generosite est trop grande, mais 
il faut avouer que votre Altesse Serenissime ne pouvoit mieux 
placer ses bienfaits que sur cette famille infortunee :* il n'en a 

* The family of Sirven, for whom Voltaire was then exerting 
himself in every direction, and for whom he appears to have asked 
the Grand Duchess's charity. 


presque rien coute pour 1'opprimer, pour luy ravir les aliments, 
et pour faire expirer la vertueuse mere, presque dans mes 
bras, et il en coute de tres fortes sommes avant qu'on se soit 
mis seulement en etat de lui faire obtenir une ombre de jus- 
tice : on fait meme mille chicanes au genereux Le Beaumont 
pour 1'empecher de publier 1'excellent memoire qu'il a com- 
pose en faveur de 1'innocence. On persecute a la fois par le 
fer, par la corde, et par les flammes, la religion et la philoso- 
phic ; cinq jeunes gens ont ete condamnes au bucher pour 
ii'avoir pas ote leur chapeau en voyant passer une procession 
a trente pas ! Est-il possible, Madame, qu'une nation qui 
passe pour si gaye et si polie soit en effet si barbare ? 

L'Allemagne n'a jamais vu de pareille horreurs : elle sait 
conserver sa liberte, et respecter 1'humanite. Notre religion 
est prechee en France par des bourreaux. Que ne puis-je venir 
achever a vos pieds, le peu de jours qui me restent a vivre, loin 
d'une si indigne patrie ? C'est moy qui suis le tresorier de ces 
pauvres Sirvens : on peut tout m'envoyer pour eux que votre 
ame si belle leur destine. Madame, qu'elle me console de toutes 
les abominations dontje suis temoin! Mon cceur est penetre 
de la bonte du votre. Daignez agreer mon admiration, mon 
attachement, mon respect pour vos Altesses Serenissimes. 

Je n'oublierai jamais la Grande Maitresse des Coeurs. 



THE following singular anecdote has never, it is understood, 
been made public, and it comes from a respectable quarter 
entitled to credit. Nothing can more strongly illustrate Vol- 
taire's peculiar humour: the contrast between his habitual 
reverence for the Deity, and his habit of scoffing at the sacred 
things of Religion, is here presented in a remarkable manner : 

" Une matinee du mois de Mai, M. de Voltaire fait demander 
au jeune M. le Comte de Latour s'il veut etre de sa promenade 
(3 heures du matin sonnaient). E tonne de cette fantasie, 


M. de L. croyait achever un reve, quand un second message 
vint confirmer la verite du premier. II ne hesite pas a se rendre 
dans le cabinet du Patriarche, qui, vetu de son habit de cere- 
monie, habit et veste mordores, et culotte d'un petit gris tendre, 
se disposait a partir. 'Mon cher Comte/ lui dit-il, ' je sors 
pour voir un peu le lever du soleil ; cette Profession de Foi d'un 
Vicaire Savoyard m'en a donne en vie . . . voyons si Rousseau 
a dit vrai.' 

" Us partent par le temps le plus noir ; ils s'acheminent ; 
un guide les eclairait avec sa lanterne, meuble assez sin- 
gulier pour chercher le soleil ! Enfin, apres deux heures 
d'excursion fatigante, le jour commence a peindre. Voltaire 
frappe ses mains avec un veritable joie d'enfant Ils etaient 
alors dans un creux. Ils grimpent assez peniblement vers les 
hauteurs : les 8 1 ans du philosophe pesant sur lui, on n'avan- 
^ait guere, et la clarte arrivait vite ; deja quelques teintes vives 
et rougeatres se projetait a 1'horizon. Yoltaire s'accroche au 
bras du guide, se soutient sur M. de Latour, et les contempla- 
teurs s'arretent sur la sommet d'une petite montagne. De la 
le spectacle etait magnifique ! les roches peres du Jura, les 
sapins verts, se decoupant sur le bleu du ciel dans les cimes, 
ou sur le jaune chaud et apre des terres ; au loin des prairies, 
des ruisseaux ; les milles accidents de ce suave passage qui 
precede la Suisse, et 1'annonce si bien, et enfin la vue se pro- 
longe encore dans un horizon sans bornes, un immense cercle 
de feu empourprant tout le ciel. Devant cette sublimite de 
la nature, Voltaire est saisi de respect : il se decouvre, se 
prosterne, et quand il peut parler ses paroles sont un hymne ! 
' Je crois, je crois en Toil' s'ecriat-il avec enthousiasme ; 
puis decrivant, avec son genie de poete,, et la force de son 
ame, le tableau que reveillait en lui tant d' emotions, au but de 
chacun des veritables strophes qu'il improvisait, ' Dieu 
puissant ! je crois !' repetait-il encore. Mais tout-a-coup se 
relevant, il remit son chapeau, secoua la poussiere de ses 
genoux, reprit sa figure plissee, et regardant le ciel comme il 
regardait quelquefois le Marquis de Villette lorsque ce dernier 
disait une naivete, il ajoute vivement, ' Quand ii Monsieur le 
Fils, et a Madame sa Mere, c'est une autre affaire.' " 

: A.UL 

( 143 ) 


THE- life of Rousseau neither requires so full a con- 
sideration as that of Voltaire, nor affords the materials 
for it. Mankind are not divided upon his character 
and his merits, nor ever were. That he was a person 
of rare genius within limited, nay, somewhat confined, 
bounds, of a lively imagination, wholly deficient in 
judgment, capable of great vices as well as virtues, and 
of a mind so diseased that it may possibly be doubtful if 
he was accountable for his actions, is the opinion which 
his contemporaries formed of him during his life, 
which has ever since prevailed, and which, indeed, was 
confirmed by his own testimony, produced after his 
decease, and calculated to show that he would not 
have either dissented from the sentence or have hesi- 
tated to join in pronouncing it. His history and his 
writings are of a kind that unavoidably interest us ; 
but the one affords too few events, the other too little 
variety, to detain us very long in examining either. 

Jean Jacques Rousseau was born at Geneva, on the 
28th of June, 1712. His father was a watchmaker; 
his mother the daughter of M. Bertrand, a Protestant 
minister; and her brother, an engineer, married the 

* The edition of Rousseau referred to in the text is that of 
Lefevre, Paris, 1839, in eight large volumes. 


sister of old Rousseau, who appears to have been a 
man of exemplary virtue, of considerable abilities, 
some information, and of a very feeling heart. He 
had gone to Constantinople about seven years after the 
birth of his eldest and then his only son, but he returned 
on being apprized by his wife that she was beset by 
the attentions of the French Resident, to whom she 
had given every possible repulse. This gentleman, 
M. de la Closure, showed, at a distance of thirty years, 
some kindness to the son, and was moved to tears in 
speaking of his mother, who died when she had given 
him birth, ten months after her husband's return 
from the East. His grief was excessive ; and he used 
for some years after to take a mournful pleasure in 
speaking of her, and weeping over her memory with 
his child. He read with him all her books, which 
were chiefly novels and romances, and in devouring 
these they would frequently sit up whole nights. The 
stock being exhausted, they betook themselves to a 
more wholesome food ; the library of her father 
having, on his death, come to them, and containing 
historical and other useful books. An extraordinary 
enthusiasm for the Greek and Roman characters, and 
especially the eager perusal of ' Plutarch's Lives/ and 
the Roman history, was the consequence of this new 
course of reading. Young Rousseau could not abstain 
from the subject, and one day alarmed the family at 
dinner, while he was relating the fable of Scsevola, by 
running to the chafing-dish and holding his hand on 
it. When he was eight or nine years old, his father 
had a quarrel with a French officer, and to avoid 
being cast into prison, left Geneva and settled at 


Lausanne, where he afterwards married a second wife 
advanced in years, and had no children by her. His 
eldest son, seven or eight years older than Jean 
Jacques, had never been the favourite, though bred to 
his father's business ; he took a dissipated course, left 
the place, and went into Germany. Little pains were 
taken to stop or to trace him ; he never wrote to any 
one after his flight, and what became of him is not 
known. In all probability, he died before his bro- 
ther's name became well known, else he probably 
would have discovered himself. 

Beside the love of modern romances and of ancient 
history, accident gave him a fondness for music, which, 
with the other passion, accompanied him through life. 
His aunt, who took care of him, sang a great number 
of simple airs, chiefly popular ones, with a sweet small 
voice, which, aided by his attachment to her, made a 
deep impression upon him, and formed his taste in 
song as well as imbued him with a sensibility to its. 
charms. After his father's departure for Lausanne, 
he was left to the care of his uncle Bertrand, who 
sent him for two years to Boissy, near Geneva, where 
he remained under the tuition of M. Lambercier, a 
pastor, and appears to have learnt a little Latin ; but 
when the Abbe Gouvon, in whose service he afterwards 
was, at Turin, treated him rather as a secretary than 
a footman, and read Latin with him, he was found 
to be very ill grounded, and wholly unable to construe 
Virgil. He acknowledges, indeed, that he never was 
tolerably acquainted with the language, though he 
repeatedly attempted to gain it. His statement to this 
effect, twelve years after he had translated the first 


book of Tacitus's ' History,' and translated it exceed- 
ingly well, in most passages correctly, in some % with 
great felicity, is one of the exaggerations in which he 
indulges both of his merits and his defects. But he 
learnt whatever he knew comparatively late. Nothing 
could possibly be worse than the education of a man 
who made it a principle through life to cry down 
learning, not because he never possessed it, but because 
he found it was hurtful to the character and incon- 
sistent with sound wisdom and true virtue. 

After quitting the school at Boissy, he was appren- 
ticed to an engraver, who seems to have treated him 
harshly. But his conduct was already bad. He had 
a habit of lying on all occasions, whether moved by fear 
to conceal some misconduct, or incited by some appetite 
he wished to gratify, or actuated by some other equally 
sordid motive. A strong disposition to thieving was 
likewise among his propensities, and this continued to 
abide by him long after he grew up, and even when 
he lived in society he never could entirely shake it off. 
His temperament, too, was vehement, and his timidity 
and shyness equally strong. The indulgences into 
which he was thus seduced, he has himself described ; 
but to embellish such subjects, or even to veil them so 
as to hide their disgusting aspect, would require the 
magic of that diction in which he has clothed his own 
story, and of which he never seems to have been a 
master in any of his other writings. After serving 
through half his apprenticeship, he was surprised one 
Sunday evening in an excursion with his companions, 
out of the town, by the shutting of the gates ; and 
there wanted no more to make him elope. He went 


to the parsonage of a Savoyard cure (rector) at 
Carouges, two leagues from Geneva, who received him 
hospitably in the hopes of converting him, and gave 
him letters of introduction* to Madame de Warens, a 
Swiss lady, who having left her husband, had become 
a Catholic, and lived on a pension from the devout 
King of Sardinia. She received him kindly, and sent 
him to Turin, where he was entertained at the semi- 
nary of Catechists, established for converting heretics. 
In this religious establishment he found manners of 
the most dissolute and even abominable kind ; he was 
feebly reasoned with by the brethren on the errors of 
his belief; he does not seem in reality to have been 
convinced ; but a provision in the Church had been 
placed before his eyes as the probable reward of his 
apostacy, and he embraced publicly the Catholic religion. 
It was, however, soon discovered by the officers of the 
Inquisition that he was not sufficiently orthodox in 
his faith, for he would not avow his belief that his 
mother had been numbered among the damned. He 
was, therefore, turned out of the seminary, with a 
present of twenty francs from the sum collected at the 
exhibition of his abjuration. 

After living obscurely in Turin in a lodging-house 
for common people at half a sous a night, he now en- 
tered as a footman the service of the Countess de Ver- 
cellis, and wore livery with the rest of the servants. In 
the course of a few months this lady died, and the 
servants were of course dismissed. It was found that 

* The common accounts say that the Bishop of Annecy gave 
him this introduction. It was M. de Pontverre, Komish cure, 
in Savoy. 

L 2 


a ribbon had been stolen ; all were interrogated, and 
Rousseau, in whose possession it was found, and who 
was in fact the thief, had the wickedness to charge it 
upon an innocent girl ; he persisted in averring that she 
had stolen it to give him, there having been some little 
love-making between them. The ruin of this poor girl 
was the consequence, and he describes the bitter agonies 
of remorse which he ever after endured in reflecting 
upon the crime thus committed. He endeavours to 
explain it in a refined, absurd, and false manner, by 
saying that his love for Marian caused it all, because 
he had stolen it to give her, and this put it into his 
head to think of accusing her of the same intention. 
But the truth is, that his cowardice, the parent of lies, 
caused it all. He never would have dared charge a 
man with the offence. He thought he could escape 
exposure and perhaps punishment (though he affects to 
say he dreaded not that) by laying the blame on an 
innocent young girl who had shown a liking for him 
which he returned. He also tries to represent himself 
as only a child then,* and, writing in 1766 or 1767, 
speaks of forty years having elapsed. But this is not 
true. He came to Annecy in 1728, sixteen years old, 
having left Geneva in July or August, and after several 
months' residence in Turin and the seminary, and 
three in the Countess's house, he must have been seven- 
teen when she died, instead of fourteen or fifteen, which 
his calculation of forty years would make him. He 
expressly says that he had attained the age of sixteen 
before he ran away from his master, and he was born 

* " La faute d'un enfant." (Conf., part i. liv. 2.) 


on the 28th of June. Indeed, if he remained in his 
next place less than a year, as he was uncertain when 
he left it, he must have been eighteen when he com- 
mitted the offence. Nothing therefore like an excuse, 
or extenuation from his youth, can be urged on this 

He was now to prove himself as foolish as he had 
been found wicked. Received as footman in the great 
family of Solar, an accident showed him to be superior 
in reading to the other servants, and one of the house, 
the Abbe de Gouvon, a man of great accomplishments 
and of a kindly disposition, made him a sort of secre- 
tary, taking much pains also with his education ; so 
that, though he could not master Latin, he became a 
good Italian scholar. Suddenly the fancy seized him of 
quarrelling with the good people, and returning on foot 
to Geneva with a good-for-nothing young rake from that 
town, named Bacler, whose acquaintance he had made, 
and whose low buffoonery he could not refrain from re- 
lishing, and even envying, as he uniformly did whatever 
qualities he observed to attract the admiration of the 
multitude. He showed the utmost insolence and in- 
gratitude to the Solars, and was all but kicked out of 
their palace, where he had been cherished as a child of 
the family, and had been offered the sure means of mak- 
ing his fortune. A plaything, which in his extreme 
ignorance he calls fontame d'heron, but which is well 
known as the fountain of Hiero (fontaine d'Hieron), had 
been given him by his patron. His childish delight in 
this bauble was unbounded, and he expected by show- 
ing it off on the road to make his way for nothing, a 
journey of ninety leagues. With this ridiculous pro- 


ject he set out, and with his warm attachment for his 
new acquaintance ; but as he came near Annecy, and 
once more hoped to be received into Madame de 
Warens' house, he felt he could not take Bacler 
with him, and so he began to affect a great coldness, 
that he might shake him off. This he soon contrived 
to do, and he was kindly taken into her hospitable 
family, where he became domesticated. 

By the account of her, which exposes all her failings 
with great minuteness, as a reward for her undeviating 
kindness towards him, Madame de Warens appears to 
have been a woman of some accomplishments, of con- 
siderable personal charms, of attractive manners, of a 
most kind and charitable disposition, and of very loose 
principles. This latter particular he endeavours to 
gloss over by insisting on her peculiar notions of what 
was fit and allowable. One of her peculiarities was to 
make herself uniformly the mistress of all her men 
servants, beside having occasionally deviations into a 
superior rank of life. To be sure, he maintains that 
she only adopted this course as the means of attaching 
these domestics the more to her service ; arid he holds it 
quite clear that she neither sought nor found any gra- 
tification whatever in this odd kind of family inter- 
course. Nevertheless he records that his own succes- 
sor was a tall, ignorant, ill-bred young man of the 
lowest rank, a hairdresser's apprentice, who domineered 
over the household, maltreated her shamefully, and 
brought her to ruin by his extravagance. Her con- 
stant and most delicate kindness to Rousseau himself 
was repaid by much ingratitude, of which the worst 
part is his committing to paper every detail of his con- 


nexion with her. He desired, indeed, that the book 
should not be published before 1800, and it was given 
to the world by a breach of trust in 1788. But the 
lady's family were still alive, had it been withheld the 
full period prescribed, and her memory was something, 
or should have been something, in the estimation of a 
pure sentimentalist, of one who was preparing his own 
history for the very purpose of gratifying a perverted, 
unnatural love of posthumous distinction by publishing 
his weakness and his shame to the scorn of future ages. 
He could hardly conceive that any other person than 
himself had a similar propensity for self-slander. But 
even he himself would not easily have borne to be 
slandered by any pen but his own. 

Madame de Warens endeavoured to procure for him 
orders in the church, and sent him with a pension 
given by the Bishop of Annecy to the seminary, where 
after some months it was found impossible to make 
him learn Latin enough for a priest. She then made 
a M. le Maitre, the director of the cathedral music, 
take him as a pupil and helper. He passed near a year 
with him, and was treated with the utmost kindness. 
A profligate, unprincipled young man from Provence, 
called Venture de Villeneuve, came to Annecy, and 
from his cleverness, his skill in music, and his excessive 
impudence, made some sensation in the society of that 
place. He soon captivated Rousseau for that reason, 
and to save him from so ruinous an association, as well 
as to assist Le Maitre, who had quarrelled with the 
chapter, he was desired to accompany him to Lyons. 
Thither he went, and was still most kindly treated by 
Le Maitre, whose only fault seems to have been his 


misfortunes, and his being subject to epileptic fits. 
Rousseau took the opportunity one day, when he fell 
down in the street, of leaving him to his fate, and 
escaping in the crowd. Such was his return for the 
favours received from a kind master. He stole back to 
Annecy, and found Madame de Warens had left the 
place on a secret expedition, which proved to be a resi- 
dence of some time at Paris. 

He now wandered about Switzerland, and at one 
time he settled in Lausanne as a music master. He 
must needs call himself Vaussure de Villeneuve,* in 
imitation of the creature he was last taken with ; and 
as it should seem, in a fit of insanity, being wholly in- 
capable of composing, he wrote a concerto which was 
given before a large company at a law professor's house, 
he himself directing the orchestra. The hideous discords 
and absolutely incoherent nonsense of the piece created, 
of course, unbounded and universal ridicule. His scho- 
lars soon dropped off ; indeed he was fain now to con- 
fess himself an impostor, and to own that he had under- 
taken to teach what he was himself profoundly ignorant 
of. He began, however, to learn music, and had made 
some progress when another impostor like himself came 
to Lausanne, and induced him to go as his secretary 
and interpreter. This was a man pretending to be an 
Archimandrite of the Greek church, come to beg aid 
for repairing the holy sepulchre. He accompanied 
this knave, and on one occasion made a speech for him 
to the senate of Bern, who bestowed a considerable sum 
on the unworthy pair. The French ambassador, who 

* Vaussure was a kind of anagram of Roussear. 


had been in the East, discovered the trick, and Rousseau 
was employed by him on a mission to Paris ; from 
whence he returned, and passing through Chambery, 
found Madame de Warens, or Maman as he always 
called her, established there. 

Received again kindly, again he committed his ordi- 
nary follies. Madame de Warens obtained for him a 
comfortable place in a public office (the Cadastre). He 
kept it two years, and then resigned in order to be a 
music-master. His skill was fortunately become consi- 
derable, and he had a number of scholars. His patroness 
now promoted him to the rank of lover, but without 
discarding the servant Claude A net, who also took care 
of her botanical as well as her amorous concerns ; he was 
a man of considerable merit and great conduct, and 
became a kind of governor to Rousseau, who more than 
any child of six years old stood in need of a master. 
He was succeeded by a young hairdresser's apprentice, 
as Rousseau found on his return from a few months 
passed at Montpelier for his health ; the young man 
supplanted both Claude Anet and Jean Jacques, and 
continued with this kind-hearted but imprudent 
woman until, ruined by his extravagance and her own 
projects, she died in a state of wretchedness over which 
Rousseau has drawn a veil. He saw her, after an ab- 
sence of fifteen years, in 1754, at Chailly ; and she 
came to see him for the last time near Geneva soon 
after. He had helped her with such sums as he could 
spare. She now, in receiving a small pittance, showed 
her constitutional tenderness of heart and that gene- 
rosity of disposition which no penury could eradicate ; 
she took off her finger a ring, her only remaining 


trinket, and pressed it upon the woman through whom 
the money had been sent. Rousseau charges himself 
with black ingratitude for not having gone with her 
and saved her from wretchedness ; he could not quit 
a new attachment which he had formed, and he declares 
that the reflection on his conduct had haunted him with 
remorse greater than any other passage of his life could 

But we have anticipated in the narrative. From 
Chambery he removed to Lyons, where his kind pro- 
tectress obtained for him an employment as preceptor 
in M. Mabillon's family. Soon he, as usual, left this 
place, returned to Chambery, found he could no longer 
be comfortable in Madame de Warens' house, and set 
out to seek his fortune in Paris with a ' Discourse on a 
new Theory of Music,' or rather Musical Notation, 
which he had written. It had some success at the 
Academy, where it was read ; he became introduced to 
many persons of note ; he accepted the place of secre- 
tary to Count de Montaigue, ambassador at Venice, and 
was on his arrival, as he represents, made secretary of 
the embassy. Here his conduct was, for the first time in 
his life, prudent, and he reaped the fruits of it in the re- 
spectability which he enjoyed. He remained performing 
with satisfaction all the duties of his station, which the 
utter incapacity of the ambassador made heavier than 
they otherwise would have been ; and after a variety of 
the meanest attempts on his Excellency's part to share 
his perquisites, and repeated acts of maltreatment, at last 
amounting to the insolence and fury of a madman, this 
ambassador compelled him to resign. The madness 
had, however, some method, for the salary was with- 


held, and in lieu of it the most absurd charges were 
brought against him. The senate, the council, all the 
French inhabitants, and all the diplomatists took his 
part, and he returned to Paris, where he never could get 
even an answer to his just complaints, being told that a 
foreigner, like him, could not be regarded when charg- 
ing a French functionary with injustice ; for the 
government very consistently forgot that if foreigners 
are to be employed in the public service, their not 
being natives affords no defence whatever to those who 
maltreat them, and obstruct them in the performance of 
their official duties. 

On his return to Paris he went to live at an inferior 
hotel, or rather lodging-house, near the Luxembourg, 
and there dining at the table with the family, he be- 
came acquainted with a female servant, a girl from 
Orleans, where her father had held a place in the 
mint and her mother had been a shopkeeper, but both 
were reduced to distress. Their name was Le Vasseur, 
and the girl's Theresa. She was about twenty- three, 
of modest demeanour, and so much without education 
that even after living with him for many years she 
never could read the figures on the dial-plate of a 
clock, or tell in what order the months succeeded each 
other.* He became attached to her ; she cohabited 
with him, and bore him five children, all of which he 
sent one after the other to the Foundling Hospital, 
regardless of the poor mother's tears; and after 
twenty-five years of this intercourse he married her. 
The mother, a vulgar and affected woman, lived with 
them ; and the father, whom she could not endure, but 

* Conf., part ii. liv. 7. 


of whom Theresa was very fond, was, on pretext of 
economy, sent at the age of 80 to the workhouse, where 
the disgrace of this treatment immediately broke his 

After the battle of Fontenoy, in 1745, the Court 
gave several theatrical entertainments, and Voltaire 
contributed the * Princesse de Navarre/ of which the 
famous Rameau had composed the music ; it was now 
changed into the ' Fete de Ramire,' and Rousseau be- 
ing employed to complete the adaptation, which re- 
quired considerable alteration both of words and airs, 
Voltaire was extremely pleased with his work and with 
his flattering letter respecting it. Rousseau composed 
his own opera of ' Les Muses Galantes' the same year ; 
but after one or two rehearsals, apprehensive of its 
fate, he withdrew it. The death of his father enabled 
him to obtain a small sum which belonged to his 
mother, and which the father had enjoyed for his life. 
A small portion, which he sent to Chambery, was at 
once devoured by the knaves who surrounded Madame 
de Warens, and lived by pillaging her. 

The kindness of his steady friend M. Francueil, Re- 
ceiver-General of Finance, placed him in the office of 
his cashier (caissier), one of great trust, which he 
dreaded, and of considerable emolument, which, be- 
cause he was starving and complained of being forced 
to send his children to the Hospital, he altogether con- 
temned. He resigned it in a few weeks, on the ground 
that its duties were irksome, and prevented him from 
fully enjoying himself as he liked, at a time when he 
believed he had only a few months to live. Self-indul- 
gence appears to have been erected by him into a kind 


of principle, or rule of conduct. He therefore betook 
himself to copying music, which he did very carelessly, 
and very ill. 

In 1749 he wrote his ' Essay on the Mischiefs of 
Science,' the subject proposed by the Academy of Dijon, 
as if on purpose to frustrate Voltaire's remark already 
mentioned in his ' Life ;' for assuredly it was a slip in a 
scientific body to make it a question whether science 
corrupted or improved the morals of mankind. Next 
year it obtained the prize. He justly thought very 
meanly of its arrangement and reasoning, nor did he 
himself think highly of its composition ; yet partly 
by the brilliancy and power of the declamation, and 
partly by the boldness of the paradoxes, it attracted the 
greatest notice, both made converts and raised adver- 
saries against its doctrines. He has described his 
manner of writing it : he lay in bed with his eyes 
closed, revolving and finishing his periods, which he 
always did very slowly and with much difficulty. He 
slept little, and on rising in the morning the act of 
dressing would drive the greater part of what he had 
composed out of his head. He therefore used to make 
Theresa's mother come and write under his dictation. 
The success of his ' Essay' was followed by one more 
brilliant still. He composed the little opera of the 
' Devin du Village ' in about six weeks, and it was per- 
formed with prodigious success before the King, in 
his private theatre at Fontainebleau, in 1751. A mes- 
sage was sent next morning to desire his attendance, 
and it was confidently believed about Court that a pen- 
sion was to have been granted him ; but he was far 
too much alarmed, and had far too little command of 


himself, or power of crossing his inclinations, to un- 
dergo this scene, and he very indecorously as well as 
very foolishly ran away to Paris early in the morning. 
From the Court, however, and the musical engravers, 
he received between two and three hundred louis, as 
much as the c Emile ' afterwards brought him, for the 
fruit of twenty years' labour. The piece deserved its 
success. Nothing can be more light and gay than both 
the simple plan, the pretty songs, and the lively, graceful 
airs. It seems to have all the excellence that a perform- 
ance of this inferior class can well attain. Next year 
his * Narcissus,' a drama, was given at the * Fran^ais ;' 
and though borne for two nights, he was himself 
so tired of it, and so convinced of its failure, that 
he could not remain to the end of the performance, 
but came out, ran to a coffee-house, and announced 
its certain fate, avowing himself at the same time 
to be the author, a circumstance which had been 
carefully concealed. In 1753-4 he wrote a second 
c Essay on the Inequality of Human Conditions/ also 
for the Dijon Academy. It had the faults of the first, 
with more of paradox, and also better composition ; 
but its want of novelty, and its inferior eloquence, pre- 
vented it from succeeding. 

In the summer of 1754 he was, with Theresa, taken 
by a friend, M. Gauffecourt, a tour to Geneva, where 
he remained some months. He went by Chambery, to 
see Madame de Warens, and he was received with 
great distinction by all the families whom he had 
known ; but as he approached Geneva he felt the an- 
noyance to which he was subjected by having lost his 
civic rights, in consequence of his quitting the Protes- 


tant Church. He soon resolved to remove this only 
obstacle which stood in the way of his regaining them ; 
and abjuring Romanism with as much reflection and 
as much disinterestedness as he had formerly Calvinism, 
he was once more a Protestant, and became a citizen 
of Geneva. Among the reasons which chiefly influ- 
enced him in not retiring thither for the rest of his life 
was the near neighbourhood of Voltaire, whom he re- 
garded as destroying the place by corrupting its inha- 
bitants.* This was in 1754 ; while to all outward ap- 
pearance he was bowing to the idol of the day, and 
expressing his entire admiration of his genius. 

On the establishment of the l Encyclopedic/ D'Alem- 
bert and Diderot, with whom he was acquainted, en- 
gaged him to write some articles ; and this increased 
his intimacy with Diderot, whose habits were loose, 
as well as introduced him to Diderot's friend Grimm, 
a man of letters, in the service of the Duke of Saxe 
Gotha, and employed by him for many years as a 
kind of literary and philosophical Resident at Paris. 
The letters which he wrote in that capacity, his de- 
spatches, as it were, have been since published, and are 
well known. When he came to Paris, being a man 
of wit as well as letters, he was successful in society, 
and became dissipated and even profligate in his man- 
ners ; but he does not appear either to have indulged 
in any vulgar excesses, or to have offended against the 
conventional laws of honour which bind the polite 
world. Rousseau always represents himself as his in- 
troducer into the Parisian circles, and as having been 

* Conf., part ii. liv. 8. 


supplanted there by his superior address and habits of 
the world. Among others he had presented him to 
the family of M. d'Epinay, Fermier-General, who 
kept a very hospitable house, where the Encyclopedists 
were familiar, as they were still more at the Baron 
d'Holbach's. Grimm became the professed lover of 
Madame d'Epinay, whose sister-in-law, Madame 
d'Houdetot, made a still deeper impression on the 
heart of Rousseau ; but her avowed lover was his 
friend St. Lambert. The Epinays had a country house, 
Chenettes, in the fine valley of Montmorency ; and 
Rousseau, when visiting there, was greatly taken with 
the retirement of a cottage and garden called the 
Hermitage, in its neighbourhood, and likewise belong- 
ing to the family. Hither he transferred his resi- 
dence, in the spring of 1756, and it was his home for 
the next six years of his life.* Theresa's mother came 
with him as well as herself, and nothing can be more 
disgusting than the details of her mean, sordid, double- 
dealing conduct, to obtain money and other things from 
him, through the agency of her daughter. But she 
was of some use in the management of his house, for 
which her daughter was as unfit as himself. 

At the Hermitage, for the first year or two of his resi- 
dence, he seems to have suffered for want of the society 
which he had quitted, though this is the last thing he 
will confess. He admits that his imagination was excited 

* It is only another instance of his inattention to dates that he 
totally omits the several years passed at Neufchatel, when he speaks 
of Montmorency as his constant residence, and represents it as such 
after his visit to England in 1766. 


by the recollection of past scenes of enjoyment in a 
more sensual kind ; and the void left by these gratifica- 
tions, now past, or only existing in his memory, he 
filled up with creations of his fancy, embodying beings 
of a lovely and excellent nature, and placing them in 
situations of lively interest, which, if his own experi- 
ence and recollections failed to suggest, it cost his 
imagination, sometimes sentimental, sometimes pruri- 
ent, nothing to invent. This was the origin of the 
'Nouvelle Heloise/ of all his works the most re- 
nowned, and of all, except his posthumous ' Memoirs/ 
the best, though certainly very greatly overrated both by 
the public opinion and by his own. He describes the 
delight he had in composing it as approaching to an 
actual enjoyment, though it only consisted in the plea- 
sures of an indulged fancy. He wandered all day in the 
forest of Montmorency ; he had his pencil and note- 
book with him ; Theresa walked calmly by. In the 
afternoon returning home, he wrote what had occurred 
on the finest paper, sanded with gold and blue dust, 
bound with bright-coloured ribbons ; and he read at 
night the produce of the day to the mother, who 
entered not into it with any comprehension, much less 
tasted it with any relish, but said "Monsieur, cela est bien 
beau ;" and to the daughter, who entered not into it at 
all, but sighed and sobbed when she saw him appear 
to be moved. 

To deny the great merit of this work would be 
absurd ; the degree in which it has been overrated, 
owing chiefly to its immorality, and in part also to its 
vices of taste, not unnaturally leads to its depreciation 
when the critic soberly and calmly exercises his stern and 


ungrateful office. But the conception of the piece is, 
for its simplicity and nature, happy, with the excep- 
tion which may be taken especially to the unnatural 
situations of the lovers on meeting after Julie's mar- 
riage, to the extravagant as well as dull deathbed scene, 
and to the episode, the adventures of the English Lord. 
The descriptions of natural scenery are admirable far 
superior to the moral painting ; for Rousseau's taste in 
landscape was excellent, while with his moral taste, 
his perverted sentiments, so wide from truth and 
nature, always interfered. The interest of the story 
is quite well sustained, and the turns in it are well 
represented by the successive letters. The passions are 
vividly painted, and as by one who had felt their force, 
though they are not touched with a delicate pencil. 
The feelings are ill rendered, partly because they are 
mixed with the perverted sentiments of the ill-regu- 
lated, and even diseased mind, in which they are 
hatched into life, partly because they are given in the 
diction of rhetoric, and not of nature. The love which 
he plumes himself on exhibiting beyond all his prede- 
cessors, nay, as if he first had portrayed, and almost 
alone had felt it, is a mixture of the sensual and the 
declamatory, with something of the grossness of the 
one, much of the other's exaggeration. As this is the 
main object of the book, therefore, the book must be 
allowed to be a failure. It charmed many ; it en- 
chanted both the Bishops Warburton and Hurd, as 
we see in their published correspondence ; it still holds 
a high place among the works which prudent mothers 
withhold from their daughters, and which many daugh- 
ters contrive to enjoy in secret ; it makes a deep im- 


pression on hearts as yet little acquainted with real 
passion, and heads inexperienced in the social relations ; 
it assuredly has no great charms either for the experi- 
enced or the wise, and is alike condemned by a severe 
taste in composition and a strict judgment in morals. 

It would be endless to support these remarks by 
examples ; but let us only take, as the fairest test by 
which to judge the ' Nouvelle Heloise,' its author's 
own favourite piece, the ' Elysee' and the ' Voyage on 
the Lake,' at the end of Part iv. They are Letters 
xi. and xvii. of that part ; and he denounces a woe 
upon whosoever can read them without feeling his 
heart melt in tenderness.* 

Now the greater part of the first (Letter xi.) is mere 
description of place ; it is landscape painting, not 
history painting; and, with the exception of an ex- 
tremely unnatural reprimand, given by M. de Wolmar 
to St. Preux, for speaking of the shrubbery where he 
and Julie used to ramble, and into which since her 
marriage she never went, there is really not one touch 
of sentiment in the whole : unless, indeed, it can be 
reckoned such, that on revisiting the Elysee next 
morning, when he expected to be melted with seeing 
the walks she had made and used, the flowers she 
had planted, &c., he recollects the terrible reprimand 
of the evening before, and no longer can think of any 
thing except the happiness of a future state. All this 
is well written, but it is mere rhetoric ; the sen- 

* " Quiconque, en lisant ces deux lettres, ne sent pas amollir, et se 
fonder son cceur dans 1'attendrissement qui me les dictat, doit fermer 
le livre ; il n'est pas fait pour juger les choses de sentiment." 
(Conf., part ii. liv. 9.) 


timents are cold, they are unnatural ; the reprimand 
of yesterday never would have stifled the passion of 
to-day. The last effect that this letter, filled with 
admirable description of a garden and an aviary, could 
ever produce, is assuredly that of melting the heart in 
tenderness ; and as far as this first letter goes, the woe 
denounced in the * Confessions' must attach on all who 
read it. 

The other (Letter xvii.) is of a much more ambitious 
character ; but, with one single exception, it is liable 
to the remark to which every part of the ' Nouvelle 
Helo'ise' justly gives rise that it is rhetoric, not elo- 
quence; it is declamation, not true expression of 
sentiment. The most laboured passage, beyond all 
doubt, is the speech which St. Preux addresses to 
Julie on taking her to the grove and the rocks 
where he had passed his time when separated from 
her, and when only thinking of her and writing to 
her ; it is a very long speech, full of set phrases, and 
describing the icicles on rocks, and snow festoons on 
trees, and the cold only made bearable by the fire in 
his heart ; touching also on ornithology, as well as 
meteorology : " le vorace epervier ; le corbeau funebre ; 
1'aigle terrible des Alpes" (a phrase, by the way, which 
no one living among the Alps would ever use) ; and 
then ending in a rant of "Fille trop constamment 
aimee ! Oh toi pour qui j'^tais ne !" &c. She interrupts 
him with " Allons nous en ; 1'air de ce lieu n'est pas 
bon pour moi." Now this is certainly better than the 
speech, but it is as certainly not pathetic. What 
follows in the boat is much finer ; and is both well 
conceived, excepting at first, and well executed. He 


feels his situation so bitterly, that he is tempted 
for a moment to plunge into the water, dragging her 
after him ; but he rushes away from her side, and 
weeps violently in the prow. All this is nothing; 
and indeed the violence of the scene is revolting ; but 
we are recompensed by what follows and closes it. 
He comes and sits down again by her ; " Elle tenait 
son mouchoir ; je le sentis fort mouille. Ah ! lui dis-je 
tout bas, je vois que nos coeurs n'ont jamais cesse *de 
s'entendre !" She admits it in a faltering voice, and 
desires their hearts may never more so commune. 
They then speak calmly, and he afterwards observes, 
on landing and coming to the light, that she had 
been weeping her eyes were red and inflamed. This 
is finely done ; but with two great faults, the worst 
which such painting can have a piece of wit and an 
overdone and a needless description. An epigram, almost 
a pleasantry, is introduced, when he says and it is the 
working up of the whole that their hearts had plainly 
never ceased to hear or to understand each other ; she 
answers with a repartee. Instead of stopping at " II est 
vrai," or saying nothing, being unable to speak, which 
would have been better, she goes on, " Ma is que ce 
soit la derniere fois." Even there she might have 
ended, giving the moral rebuke ; but she goes on, 
" Mais que ce soit la derniere fois qu'ils auront parle 
sur ce ton." Then what reason was there for his 
" J'apergus a la lumiere, qu'elle avait les yeux rouges et 
forte gonfles, et elle ne dut pas trouver les miens en meil- 
leur etat," after the wet handkerchief and faltering 
voice in the boat, and his own agony in the prow ? Such 
scenes as these require the very greatest care and the 


most rigid abstinence in the moral artist. Particulars, 
details, circumstances, must be given, and given when 
the moral excitement is at its pitch ; but the selection 
is of infinite moment, and there must be no superfluity, 
no ornament, nothing flowery, nothing, no, absolutely 
nothing, introduced of an opposite, an inconsistent 
character. The superfluity surfeits, and sickens, and 
weakens all effect ; the foreign substance inserted causes, 
as it were, a fermentation to cast the intruder forth. 

The less delicate and more vehement portions of the 
work are certainly very inferior, faulty as even the best 
parts are. Nothing can be less refined, nothing, 
indeed, more vulgar, than a lover writing to his 
mistress at all about his transports on obtaining 
possession of her. But St. Preux begins, "from the 
first kiss of love," to hold up her weakness in her own 
face, and that happens no later in the piece than the 
fourteenth letter. He holds her conduct up, too, in 
coarse terms, by way of making the offence less out- 
rageous : " Je suis ivre mes sens sont troubles par ce 
baiser mortel." " Un doux fremissement." " Ta 
bouche de roses la bouche de Julie se poser sur la 
mienne, et mon corps serre dans tes bras."* This may 
not possibly be the only instance of an innocent girl 
suffering such a liberty for the first time in her life 
without resistance, nay, meeting her lover more than 
half-way ; but assuredly it is the only instance of his 
telling her in plain terms what a forward, abandoned 
wanton she proved. After this, we are well pre- 
pared for a letter, in which she says that all difficulties 

* Part I., let. xix. : (Euv. ii. 5. 


only give her more spirit and boldness, and that if his 
courage is equal to her own, he may come in the 
night, when she will " acquitter ses promesses, et 
payer d'une seule fois toutes les dettes de 1'amour." 
She then exclaims, " Non, mon doux ami ! non ! nous 
ne quitterons pas cette courte vie sans avoir un 
instant goute du bonheur ;" and to leave no doubt of 
the kind of happiness she had in her eye, she adds, 
" Viens avouer, meme au sein des plaisirs, que c'est du 
sein des coeurs qu'ils prirent leur plus grand charme ;" 
of which very bold avowal the chasteness of the diction 
is on a par with the purity of the morals : for " ame 
de mon coeur" and " vie de ma vie" are, especially the 
former, expressions of a moderate correctness. Then 
follow the two very celebrated letters in consequence 
of the lady's invitation being accepted. One is written 
in the ante-room of Julie's bed-chamber, and is of 
an incomparable absurdity in the design, for which no 
felicity in the execution could ever compensate. But 
is the execution less bad than the conception in such 
lines as these? "O desirs ! O crainte ! O palpitations 
cruelles ! On ouvre ! on entre ! C'est elle, c'est elle ! 
Mon faible coeur, tu succombes ! Ah ! cherchez des 
forces pour supporter la felicite qui t'accable."* Of 
the other letter the following day, absolutely insulting 
to the poor girl, little needs be said. The scheme of 
writing it is revolting enough; but less so, perhaps, 
than the language its execution is couched in. He 
actually speaks of "ces baisers qu'une voluptueuse lan- 
gueur nous faisaient lentement savourer, et ces ge- 

* Part I., Let. liv. : CEuv. ii. 127. 


missemens si tendres durant lesquels tu pressais sur 
ton coeur, ce coeur fait pour s'unir a lui."* He calls 
her " divine Julie." It certainly was another epithet 
originally ; I remember to have first read it " incon- 
cevable Julie," and to have thought it the best word 
in the whole book. 

There is no concealing the truth that a volume of 
love-letters must naturally be tiresome to the very 
verge of not being readable. Their interest to the 
parties is only exceeded by their indifference in all 
other eyes. Hence the ' Nouvelle Heloise,' which pro- 
fesses chiefly to consist of this kind of material in its 
most interesting portions, must have been dull, had 
there been no digressions to relieve it. The marriage 
of Julie, and the Parisian sojourn of St. Preux, his 
return to La Meillerie, and Julie's death, afford those 
varieties, and enable the book to proceed through its 
very considerable length. 

At 1'Ermitage he very soon fell in love with Ma- 
dame d'Houdetot, M. d'Epinay's sister, and he de- 
clares that this was the only love he ever felt in 
his life. How often the same thing had been avowed 
to others by the man of pure heart, who deemed 
sincerity as above all other virtues, who could excuse all 
vices save the want of perfect simplicity and honesty, 
we have no means of judging. That he had before 
been on such terms with some seven or eight women 
as must have led to similar declarations of attachment, 
unless he avowed that he treated them as brutes, as 

* Part L, Let. lv.: GEuv., ii. 127. 


mere instruments of sensual pleasure, is certain from 
his own account. But lie declares, with perfect so- 
lemnity, that this passion was " la premiere et 1'unique 
de toute sa vie."* The lady treated him with kindness, 
apparently as a child ; his friend St. Lambert did not 
much relish the matter, being unable to adopt his sin- 
gular habit of several lovers at one and the same time 
intimate with one mistress ; and she became in conse- 
quence reserved and distant. An open quarrel took 
place with Madame d'Epinay, her sister-in-law, like 
many of Rousseau's quarrels, without any intelligible 
ground, except his taking offence at something which 
he had imagined, and then writing abusive letters. 
He wrote to say he should leave 1'Ermitage ; she 
answered that if he chose to do so he was welcome. 
He replied that after such a hint he could not remain 
a week. He removed to another house near Mont- 
morency, and there he remained, taking very properly 
the opportunity of this removal to get rid of Madame le 
Vasseur, whom no entreaties of her daughter could 
induce him to keep about him any longer. With 
Grimm and Diderot he quarrelled irreconcileably ; and 
his book is filled with attacks upon them both, but 
especially upon Grimm. He charges them, as usual, 
with a conspiracy, the overt acts of which were 
their sometimes seeing and conversing with Theresa's 
mother, the improper purpose of which he never could 
describe, or even inform us what he suspected it to be. He 
had some vague, half-crazy notion that they wanted to 
direct and guide him, and to injure his fame and to 

* Conf., part ii. let. 9 : CEuv., i. p. 423. 


make him do foolish things, as if they could have 
any conceivable interest in his degradation, or could 
possibly drive him to do more foolish things than he 
perpetually did of his own accord. Next to his quarrel 
with Hume, nothing so betokened a diseased mind as 
his suspicions of these two friends. One letter which 
he received from Grimm he says contained an avowal 
of hating him, or at least a throwing off of his friend- 
ship ; but he says he never read more than the beginning 
of it, and that he sent it back with a violent answer.* 
But, unfortunately, Madame d'Epinay in her ' Memoirs' 
published the letter, and it contains nothing like 
what Rousseau complained of till the very end. 
Nothing, therefore, can be more inconsistent than his 
account of the whole transaction ; and indeed his 
furious passion at other letters of the most indifferent 
kind, which he cites in his ' Confessions,' shows suf- 
ficiently that his mind laboured under morbid delu- 
sions in all this epistolary intercourse. 

In his new residence he wrote the letter to D'Alem- 
bert on the article ' Geneve,' of the ' Encyclopedic/ 
the subject of which is an attack upon theatrical enter- 
tainments. He says he composed it in three weeks of 
a severe winter, sitting in an open summer-house at 
the end of the garden, without fire or shelter. It had 
very great success, and it is written with much power. 
The sale of this work, with that of the ' Nouvelle He- 
loise,' published in 1759, gave him 3000 francs to 
spare. The latter work had been printing in Holland 
above two years, and had frequently been read in 

* Conf., part ii. liv. 9 : (Euv.; i. p. 467. 


manuscript to persons of distinction, such as the 
Marechal de Luxembourg, and the Marechale who 
now had the Chateau de Montmorency, and with whom 
he formed a great intimacy, insomuch that they 
gave him a convenient summer-house, near their 
orangery, where he lived occasionally. The avidity 
with which the work was at first rea'd may be judged of 
from this, that it was lent out by the booksellers at 
twelve sous an hour ; and instances are cited of prin- 
cesses ordering their carriages at night to attend an 
opera or ball, and being found absorbed in the book at 
two in the morning so as to send their carriages away. 
The ' Emile' was published in the spring of 176*2, 
and the ' Central Social' a few weeks before it. The 
' Contrat,' which he appears, with the wonted soundness 
of an author's judgment on himself, to have valued be- 
yond all his other works, and to have elaborated the 
most, is an irrefragable proof of his unfitness for all poli- 
tical discussion, as his ' Discourse on Political Economy' 
for the ' Encyclopedic' proves his equal unfitness for 
economical studies. It is not that he bewilders him- 
self in all the errors and inconsistencies of an original 
compact, for JLocke and Somers had done so before 
him, though he flounders in the mire very differently 
from Locke ; but he, who pretends to write in 
modern times upon government, denies all virtue 
to the great improvement of modern policy, the repre- 
sentative system, declaring that the people are slaves, 
and the state is near its ruin, when the rights and 
duties of rulers are performed by any but the whole 
body of the citizens (lib. iii. ch. 15); that the Eng- 
lish "are slaves, are nothing, except a few days in 


six or seven years."* His capacity of defining with 
logical precision is shown by his reckoning an elective 
aristocracy as one form of that polity, and of course 
preferring it to either a natural or an hereditary aristo- 
cracy, nay, apparently to any other kind of government, 
without perceiving that it is nothing like an aristocracy 
at all, but is, in truth, a form of the representative 
government which he condemns (Lib. iii. ch. 5) . His 
power of dealing with particular constitutions is seen 
in his comments on that of Poland, the subject of a 
separate treatise which he published in 177*2. He 
considers the radical vice of the Polish government to 
be the extent of the country, and recommends either a 
federal union or the abandonment to neighbouring 
powers of some part of its dominions a plan which 
those powers full soon caused to be adopted. The 
election of the sovereign he holds to be a good princi- 
ple, under wise restrictions ; and the one which he 
proposes is the selection by the whole people of one 
from among the noblemen of the first class, to be 
chosen by lot, an absurdity unexampled in political 
reveries. (' Considerations surle Gouvernementde Po- 
logne,' ch. v. xiv.) 

The merits of the ' Emile ' are of a much higher 
order ; for together with wild theories, mere fantastical 
dreams of education, it contains a great deal of striking, 
though certainly not pure, composition, sometimes of a 

* " Le peuple Anglais pense etre libre : il se trompe fort ; il ne 
Test que durant 1'election des membres du Parlement ; si tot ils ont 
&u, il est esclave, il n'est rien. Dans les courts momens de sa 
liberte, 1'usage qu'il en fait merite bien qu'il la perde " (liv. iii. 
ch. 15). 


sentimental, sometimes of a declamatory kind ; and 
it abounds in remarks, the result of personal expe- 
rience or actual observation, and so entitled to much 
attention. The religious portion, the ' Profession de 
Foi d'un Vicaire Savoyard,' is that which naturally 
excited most attention at the time of its publication, 
and which still possesses the most interest. His long 
letter in the ' Nouvelle Helo'ise' (Liv. v., Let. 3) contains 
his thoughts on the subject of education, powerfully 
though more concisely given ; but nothing of an infidel 
cast was given before the ' Emile.' It is true Wolmar, 
a perfect character, is made first an atheist, and then a 
sceptic, owing to his contempt for the ceremonies of the 
Greek and Romish churches ; and that Julie's religion 
is rather pure, exalted, impassioned theism, than Christ- 
ianity (Liv. vi., Let. 5 ; Liv. xvi., Let. 7, 8), yet the 
Scriptures are spoken of with Christian reverence 
(CEuv., ii., p. 622) ; and both Julie dies a Christian 
death, and Wolmar is, in consequence, about to be con- 
verted when the curtain falls. But the ' Emile' at once 
declares against Revelation ; it does not indeed substi- 
tute, for the Christian scheme dogmatically rejected, a 
dogmatical theism, but it denies the credibility of the 
Gospel dispensation as recorded in the Scriptures, and 
it substitutes a moderate but humble scepticism. There 
is no sarcasm, no dogmatism, no ribaldry, no abuse ; 
the feelings of the Christian reader are consulted, and 
not outraged ; the weapons of attack are reasoning and 
sentiment, not ridicule ; the author's errors are to every 
candid reader his misfortune, not his fault ; and he gives 
the impression to a charitable mind of having wished 
to be a believer, and failed. 


Nevertheless a storm ensued upon the publication of 
the book. M. de Malesherbes, first President of the 
Cour des Aides, and at the head of the Censorship 
(Librairie), had given it his official sanction, and it had 
in consequence been published at Paris and Amsterdam 
about the same time. But the Courts of Law interfered, 
and a decree of arrest was issued. Rousseau had notice 
through the kindness of his excellent friends the Lux- 
embourgs, and by their aid he escaped to Neufchatel, 
where Lord Marischal (Keith), the Prussian governor, 
protected and befriended him. Theresa followed, 
and appears to have in no degree increased the com- 
forts of his residence. She soon grew tired of the 
solitude in which they lived the manners of the 
inhabitants would not tolerate kept women ; and there 
is every reason to think, that after feeding his suspicious 
mind with alarms, and making him believe that his 
life was in danger from the bigotry of the people, she 
strengthened her exhortations by pretending that his 
house was one night during the fair attacked by the 
mob. He gives a minute account of the " quarry of 
stones" found in the house next morning, alleging that 
they were thrown through the windows. But M. 
Servan (' Reflexions sur les Confessions') states his 
having been particularly informed, by a respectable 
person who saw the house the same day, that the holes 
in the windows were smaller than the stones found on 
the floor ; and Comte d'Eschery, a passionate admirer 
of Rousseau, and who doubled the prize offered by the 
Academic Franchise, in 1790, for his ' Eloge,' affirms, 
in his 'Melanges de Litterature' (vol. iii., p. 35 and 
154), not only that Theresa, who had made herself 


detested by her violent and slanderous tongue, was the 
principal author of the trick, but that Rousseau him- 
self must have been her accomplice, in the hope of 
giving an excuse, and a colour of persecution, to his 
departure from Neufchatel. The whole was reduced on 
examination to " a single pane of glass broken by a 
stone thrown from the outside in the night." The 
Count gives other anecdotes showing how completely 
Rousseau was the dupe of his own fancies. One is, 
that when they passed a night together in the moun- 
tains, lying on some new-mown hay, and asked one 
another how they had slept, Jean Jacques said " he 
never slept;" and Col. de Pury, one of the party, 
stopped him by saying he had envied him the whole 
night, as he lay awake, owing to the fermenting of the 
hay beneath him, while the sleepless philosopher 
snored without any intermission. Of Theresa the 
Count speaks with constant scorn and dislike, as 
of a most silly, vulgar, and mischievous person, having 
only the one accomplishment of being a very good cook. 
But Rousseau never suffered her to sit at table, though 
he was continually taking the most ignorant and stupid 
things she said for proofs of her natural sense. 

It seems here the place to observe that Rousseau 
distinctly admits his never having felt for a moment the 
least love for this poor creature (Confessions, Part ii., liv. 
ix. : QEuv., i., 378) " la moindre etincelle d'amour." 
Whatever she may have felt for him, he tells us 
had become nearly extinguished long before 1768, when 
he married her ; indeed his treatment of her, as well 
by forming other attachments as by tearing her five 
infants from her on their birth, and while she was 


in the first weakness of childbearing, was quite enough 
to make her weary of him, if his temper had been far 
less irritable than a diseased bladder, bad stomach, and 
half crazy brain, allowed it to be. That he had a 
great contempt for her understanding, and no confi- 
dence in her virtue or her disposition, is quite plain 
from a letter which he wrote her in 1769, and which is 
preserved. Her complaints of the tiresome life they led, 
and her constant threats of leaving him, appear to have 
given rise to this letter, together with a complaint of 
a less delicate kind to which he adverts in plain terms 
enough, but which no other pen can well touch upon. 
Her conduct in England gave the greatest offence to 
Mr. Davenport ; and, among other tricks to which she 
resorted for the purpose of making Rousseau suspect 
everybody, and thus resolve to quit Wootton, of which 
she as easily tired as she did of Switzerland, she broke 
open his letters, and made him fancy that his enemies 
had done it. 

After they quitted Neufchatel, in 1765, they went to 
live for a few months in the Isle St. Pierre, an islet 
in the Lac de Bienne, belonging to the hospital of 
Bern. Here he indulged in his botanical pursuits, 
and fancied that he led a quiet wild life, as in a state 
of nature. The invitation sent through Madame de 
Boufflers, from David Hume, to visit England, brought 
him from his solitude, and he accompanied the phi- 
losopher thither. Mr. Davenport soon afterwards 
invited him to inhabit his convenient mansion of 
Wootton in Derbyshire. A pension of 100 a-year 
was obtained for him through Mr. Hume's influence 
with the Conway family, and it appears to have been 


the only overt act of the conspiracy in which he soon 
believed Mr. Hume had joined to ruin his character for 
ever. Another suspicion proved quite as groundless. 
Horace Walpole having written a jeu d'esprit which 
amused the Parisian circles a letter from Frederick 
inviting him to Berlin, but warning him that he never 
would gratify him by any of the persecution he so 
greatly delighted in Rousseau fancied Hume had 
written this, in which he had no hand whatever. 

That actual insanity had now undermined his rea- 
son, was become quite apparent. The most indifferent 
things were converted into proofs of a conspiracy, the 
object of which was, if possible, more utterly incompre- 
hensible than that of Grimm and Diderot. In the 
'Confessions' he refers to this English plot, and says, 
that ' ' he sees marching towards its execution, without 
any resistance, the most black, the most frightful con- 
spiracy that ever was devised against a man's memory," 
(Conf., part ii., lib. xi. ; (Euv., i. 550.) He also fancied 
that the government, a party to it by granting the pen- 
sion, was preventing him from leaving the country ; 
nay, he wrote to General Con way, then Secretary of 
State, that he was aware his departure never could be 
suffered. That letter, indeed, is as completely the 
production of a madman as any that ever was penned 
within the walls of Bedlam. He wrote it from Dover, 
whither he had gone by a rapid journey from Spald- 
ing, in Lincolnshire, having first gone to Spalding 
from Wootton, to escape his enemies and the agents 
of government. After living ten months in England, 
he came over to France, changing his name to Renou, 
and went to Amiens, where, though he was received 



with high distinction by every one, and even by the 
authorities of the place, he still felt suspicious and un- 
easy. In autumn, 1767, he went to Trye le Chateau, 
a place of Prince de Conti's, where he remained a 
year in the same irritable and suspicious state of mind. 
It must be added to these undoubted symptoms of 
mental disease, that, some years after, and when his 
mind had regained composure, he really admitted his 
having been so affected. No man confesses madness 
in terms, even after it has ceased. We find George 
III., in a letter to Lord Eldon, in which, after his 
recovery (1804), he refused to have his mad doctor 
still about him, only says, that " patients in a ' nervous 
fever,' when well, cannot bear the presence of those who 
had the care of them in their illness." (Twiss's Life, 
vol. i., p. 382.) So Rousseau softened his admission, 
when conversing with Bernardin de St. Pierre : " J'ai 
mis trop d'humeur dans mes querelles avec M. Hume ; 
mais le climat d'Angleterre, la situation de ma fortune, 
et les persecutions que je venais d'essuyer, tout me je- 
tait dans la melancolie." (L'Arcadie, Preambule.) 

When he quitted Trye, in June, 1768, he went 
to Grenoble, and soon after to Bougoin, in the 
Lyonnais. That vanity was at the bottom of his 
malady, no one could doubt, even did no proof exist 
under his hand. But he scrawled, when passing through 
Lyons, a number of sentences on the door of his bed- 
room, and afterwards sent a copy of them to a lady 
there : they show that he considered the whole world 
as occupied with him, and all but kings, bishops, and 
the higher nobility, as his bitter enemies. (Cor., ii. 
380.) From Bougoin he went to Monguin, a village 


in the neighbourhood, at the beginning of ] 769, and 
there chose to fall acquainted with a retired officer, M. 
St. Germain, on whom he forced his most confidential 
friendship, and who told him plainly, that, seeing the 
disordered state of his fancy, he preferred his own 
plain sense to all his philosophy. This worthy man, 
however, though very religious, and as different from 
him as possible in his character, conceived that warm 
friendship which so many people felt for him, chiefly 
from the pity which his weakness and misery inspired, 
partly from the infantine openness of his heart. His 
letters at this time are all dated in a cypher, like those 
of the Quakers ;* and he begins each letter with four bad 
verses, about men being poor creatures. Nothing can 
be more dull than his correspondence during the two 
years which he spent in this neighbourhood. He 
could, however, no longer refrain from the food which 
Paris offered to his vanity ; and after resolving to 
visit Chambery, partly, he said, to weep over the re- 
collection of Madame de Warens, who had died while 
he was at Neufehatel, partly to discomfit his enemies, 
because they would not know he was there, he all at 
once says, " Ne parlous plus de Chambery : 1'honneur 
et le devoir crient, et je n'entends plus que leur voix." 
So away he goes to Paris, where he creates, by his arri- 
val, some sensation, and more by his reading the ' Con- 
fessions' in select circles ; and this is all the explanation 
ever given of what he meant by the calls of honour and 
duty. From July, 1770, when he returned, to March, 
1778, when he removed to Ermenonville, he remained at 

* Thus for 15th January, 1769, VT 1769. 



Paris. With M. St. Germain he never had a minute's 
difference of any kind; yet he entirely gave over 
writing to him for the last seven years of his life. 
With all his former friends he quarrelled; and half 
a year before his death he wrote and sent a circu- 
lar, representing himself and his wife as so much re- 
duced that they could no longer live out of a work- 
house, and begging to be sent to some hospital, where 
their little income might be used for their support. It 
is plain that he would have greatly wished some friend, 
some of the supposed conspirators, to send him there 
without his asking it ; but as no one thought of doing 
so, the circular was issued. It was all a pretence. 
At Ermenonville, he immediately became so much 
pleased with the place, that he began writing, and 
seemed as contented as his nature would allow him 
to be. Two friends, much attached to him, and 
alarmed by the tone of the circular, ascertained that it 
was all a trick there is no other word to give it a 
trick to attract pity, and make his persecutions be cre- 
dited. Nor can any one doubt, that had he been 
taken at his word, he would have proclaimed the 
grand plot as having reached its consummation. He 
died suddenly, on the 2d of July, 1778, apparently of 
apoplexy, having immediately before come home ill 
from a walk, and complained of a pain in the head. 
He had only been at Ermenonville six weeks. He was 
buried, at his own request, on the island in the lake 
there. The report of his suicide was utterly without 
foundation, though Madame de Stael, in her clever 
'Essay' on his genius, gives it countenance. It has 
been again and again completely disproved. 


In 1790 the National Assembly bestowed a pension 
of 1200 francs on his widow, which the Convention, 
in 1793, increased to 1500, ordering also a statue to 
his memory. The following year his remains were 
transferred to the Pantheon, with those of Voltaire, 
and others of the great men to whom the simple and 
striking inscription of that noble edifice refers.* The 
example of Paris was followed in the other towns which 
he had at any time honoured with his residence. His 
statue was erected at Geneva ; and at Lyons, Grenoble, 
Montpelier, almost wherever he had dwelt, celebra- 
tions in honour of his memory were had. 

The pension, and the interest of considerable funds 
(nearly 40,000 francs) which the different publishers 
owed her husband, amply provided for his widow. But 
that worthless creature, immediately after his death, 
formed a connexion with an Irishman, a groom of 
M. Girardin, owner of Ermenonville. With him she 
lived until he had spent all her money, and she was 
in her old age reduced to beggary. In that state she 
used to take her stand and beg at the door of the 
theatre. She died in 1801, at the age of 80. 

All Rousseau's works, except his posthumous me- 
moirs, the ' Confessions/ we have had occasion already 
to consider. But that is, beyond any question, and very 
much beyond any comparison, his masterpiece. There 
is no work in the French language of which the style 
is more racy, and, indeed, more classically pure. But 
its diction is idiomatical as well as pure. As if he had 
lived long enough away from Geneva to lose not only 

* Aux Grands Hommes, la Patrie Reconnaissante. 


all the provincialisms of that place, but also to lose all 
its pedantry and precision, he writes both with the 
accuracy and elegance of a Frenchman, and with the 
freedom of wit and of genius, even of humour and 
drollery yes, even of humour and drollery ; for the 
picture of the vulgar young man who supplanted him 
with Madame de Warens shows no mean power of 
caricature ; and the sketches of his own ludicrous situ- 
ations, as at the concert he gave in the Professor's 
house at Lausanne, show the impartiality with which 
he could exert this power at his own proper cost and 
charge. The subject is often tiresome ; it is almost 
always his own sufferings, and genius, and feelings ; al- 
ways, of course, but of that no complaint can be justly 
made, of his own adventures ; yet we are carried irre- 
sistibly along, first of all by the manifest truth and 
sincerity of the narrative which the fulness of the hu- 
miliating confessions at every step attests, and then, 
and chiefly, by the magical diction, a diction so idio- 
matical and yet so classical so full of nature and yet 
so refined by art so x exquisitely graphic without any 
effort, and so accommodated to its subject without any 
baseness, that there hardly exists another example of 
the miracles which composition can perform. The 
subject is not only wearisome from its sameness, but, 
from the absurdities of the author's conduct, and 
opinions, and feelings, it is revolting ; yet on we 
go, enchained and incapable of leaving it, how often 
soever we may feel irritated and all but enraged. 
The subject is not only wearisome generally, revolting 
frequently, but it is oftentimes low, vulgar, grovelling, 
fitted to turn us away from the contemplation with 


aversion, even with disgust ; yet the diction of the 
great magician is our master ; he can impart elegance 
to the most ordinary and mean things, in his descrip- 
tion of them ; he can elevate the lowest, even the most 
nasty ideas, into dignity by the witchery of his lan- 
guage. We stand aghast after pausing, when we can 
take breath, and can see over what filthy ground we 
have been led, but we feel the extraordinary power of 
the hand that has led us along. It is one of Homer's 
great praises, that he ennobles the most low and homely 
details of the most vulgar life, as when he brings 
Ulysses into the swineherd's company, and paints the 
domestic economy of that unadorned and ignoble pea- 
sant. No doubt the diction is sweet in which he 
warbles those ordinary strains ; yet the subject, how 
humble soever, is pure unsophisticated nature, with no 
taint of the far more insufferable pollution derived 
from vice. Not so Rousseau's subject: he sings of 
vices, and of vices the most revolting and the most 
base of vices which song never before came near to 
elevate ; and he sings of the ludicrous and the offensive 
as well as the hateful and the repulsive, yet he sings 
without impurity, and contrives to entrance us in 
admiration. No triumph so great was ever won by 
diction. The work in this respect stands alone ; it is 
reasonable to wish that it may have no imitators. 

But is it as faithful in all particulars as it is striking 
and attractive as scrupulously faithful as the awful 
eloquence of its commencement ought to have kept it 
throughout? In the great majority of instances, it 
certainly is entitled to this praise; but exceptions, 


it must be admitted, there are. One has been noted 
respecting his age when he committed the great crime 
against his fellow-servant at Turin; though this is 
rather apparent than real, inasmuch as he himself has 
furnished the means of detection. But the ' Corre- 
spondence' frequently indicates suppressions in the ' Con- 
fessions/ especially his letter 1732 to his father, and 
1735 to his aunt; for he there speaks of grave faults 
which he had committed, and of which the ' Confes- 
sions' give no intimation. It is also certain both that 
his friends represent his manner of living with Theresa 
differently from himself, and that his letter to her 
after their marriage gives an idea of her wholly differ- 
ent from that conveyed by the 'Memoirs.' The story 
of the attack upon his house at Neufchatel, too, is 
quite a fiction, and must have been, by the evidence of 
1'Eschery, a wilful one. The account of his bold and 
resolute conduct towards Count de Montaigue, at 
Venice, is probably much exaggerated. Nothing can be 
more unlike the rest of his life ; and his letters to the 
Foreign Department omit every portion of it, though 
they are very full on all the other circumstances.* 
The letter he wrote to Voltaire, too, in 1765, saying 
he was " an impudent liar" if he represented him as 
having been a servant instead of Secretary of Embassy 
at Venice, seems somewhat too strong, when we find 
him, in his own letters to the Foreign Department, 
plainly calling himself, over and over again, a "domes- 

* Compare Conf., Part ii., lib. vii. (CEuv., i. 299), and Corresp., 
i. (GEuv., vii.) 


tique," and though sometimes a secretary, yet speaking 
of the relations between master and domestique in 
plain terms.* He drew the distinction between do- 
mestique and valet, indeed ; but surely he could not 
after this complain of any one doubting whether he ever 
had been Secretary of Embassy. It is another great 
discrepancy between his book and his ' Correspond- 
ence/ that while he complains to the Foreign Office 
of being left penniless at Venice, and without the means 
of returning home, he states, in his 'Confessions/ 
that at the Consul's, where he dined the day he quitted 
the Embassy, "every purse at table was opened to 
him," and he accepted a sum which he mentions, forty 
sequins, for the necessary expenses of his journey ; and 
he also gives the names of the two persons who lent 
him the money.f The remark seems quite fair, too, 
as well as obvious, that from the moment when he 
first formed the plan of reading his book to select 
circles, we lose the entire confidence inspired by the 
earlier parts of the book ; and though he may not, till 
after he grew tired of England, and returned to 
Bougoin, have intended to give these readings at 
Paris, he probably had, for some time before, an idea 
that he should at one period or other read or show, if 
not publish, them. 

Of his character it is almost as easy to speak with 
confidence as of his writings. It seems certain that 
so much genius never was in any other man united to 

* Compare Cor., ii. (CEuv., viii., p. 71) and i. (OEuv., vii. 53, p. 

f Conf. and Cor., ib. 


so much weakness. The fruits of an education ex- 
ceedingly neglected, nay, in his earlier years very ill 
directed, were gathered from his youth upwards at 
each stage of his progress ; but many men have been 
as much neglected, and many more spoilt in their 
childhood and boyhood, without ever becoming what 
he was. We are to add, therefore, to the causes of his 
misery, perhaps of his misconduct, an hereditary dis- 
position to melancholy, to brooding sadly over realities, 
and to indulging in the sad miseries of the imagination. 
Nor was this all: he formed a kind of system or 
principle for himself of the most unsound nature and 
dangerous consequences. He seems to have thought 
that the free indulgence of the feelings was a duty as 
well as a privilege, and never to have doubted that 
those feelings which naturally arise in the breast are 
therefore innocent and right. The only evil which 
he could perceive was in their restraint ; and as even 
to regulate them is to restrain, he not only regarded 
such self-government as superfluous, but as hurtful. 
The current was in his view pure and harmless ; the 
obstacles which broke its course, the dykes which con- 
fined it, the canals which guided it, were the only ob- 
jects of aversion and of blame. It is obvious to ask if 
he who had undertaken to write upon education a work 
of much length and elaboration, had ever observed the 
workings of our nature in infants, in very young chil- 
dren. It is a branch of the subject which he seems 
never to have studied ; else he must have seen how 
the mere animal predominates at that age. At first 
pure selfishness prevails, and indulgence of every ap- 
petite is the rule. Next succeeds, with nearly equal 


selfishness, fear as soon as any restraint is applied, and 
fear invariably gives rise to the protection of falsehood. 
All natural propensities are eagerly indulged ; all re- 
straint is distasteful. Among others, the love of truth 
is a restraint imposed by tuition, and like all restraints, 
it is a violence to natural propensities. Now Rousseau 
erected into his rule of conduct the self-indulgence 
which the rules of reason and virtue proscribe alike. 
The divinity he worshipped was sentiment, feeling, 
often amiable, often reasonable, sometimes contrary to 
reason, sometimes inconsistent with virtue ; and always, 
when indulged in excess, offending against reason, and 
leading to offences against virtue. Whoever reads his 
' Confessions' must perceive that he never could conceive 
he was acting wrong when he was following the bent 
of his feelings ; scarcely that he was acting imprudently 
when he was sacrificing to them his own plainest and 
highest interests. To such a pitch was his folly on 
this point, this cardinal point, carried, that we find 
him unable to conceive how any one could ever re- 
proach a man with his worst crimes after he had once 
openly avowed them, or rather after he had allowed 
certain things to be wrong ; for, having admitted in 
the ' Emile ' that whoever under any pretext or from 
any motive whatever withdrew from the performance 
of his parental duties, must expect ever after to weep 
bitterly over his fault (sa faute), he declares that it 
" was surprising any person after such an avowal could 
ever have the courage to reproach him with the fault " 
(faute) of sending his five infants to the Foundling 
Hospital. He altogether forgets that the courage of 
making such confessions, even had they been much more 


full and specific, instead of being any defence to ward 
off the punishment of universal reprobation, was a vir- 
tue of an equivocal kind, and might be taken as easily 
for callous impudence as for sincere penitence. 

The natural result of the system on which his moral 
feelings were built, was that the most undeviating self- 
ishness took possession of his whole soul. Self- 
indulgence was his rule self-restraint his abhorrence. 
The sophistry with which he so constantly seeks to 
cover over this vice is pitiable when it is not ridiculous. 
For many years he had almost ceased even to write to 
Madame de Warens ; and for above two years after his 
removal to Neufchatel, the last years of her miserable 
life, she was, as he too well knew, plunged in the 
depths of misery she who had supported him while 
she had a farthing to give she to whom he owed his 
whole existence for the first ten years and the most des- 
titute of his life she for whom he had so often avowed, 
and also felt, the most tender affection, and who had 
ever treated him like an anxious mother not only did 
he remain for those two years a day's journey from her 
residence without ever repairing to see and to console, 
if he could not relieve and reclaim her, but he never 
gave her the comfort of a letter to show he still bore 
her image in his heart and why ? " because he feared 
to sadden her heart (contrister son cceur) with the 
story of his disasters !"* As if she had not real disas- 
ters of her own as if the straw on which she was 
perishing of want offered not wherewithal to touch 
her more nearly than the tale of his fancied wrongs 

* Conf. and Cor., 600. 


and trumpery persecutions! The least sagacity is 
enough, to pierce through this flimsy veil of hypocriti- 
cal cant. Every one sees that he was unwilling to in- 
terrupt his own enjoyments by the sight of her misery, 
and therefore did not repair to Chambery that he 
was unwilling to interrupt his walks, or his readings, 
or his writings, or his musings, and therefore did not 
write letters that might have led to asking assistance 
which he did not choose to give. 

The sentiment of religion, if not its principles, was 
deeply impressed on his mind ; he never could endure 
the infidelity of the d'Holbach circle, nor even the 
modified infidelity of Voltaire. It is indeed made the 
main ground of his charges against him. Though he 
himself aimed deadly blows, and with malice afore- 
thought, at Revelation, he was as intolerant of Vol- 
taire's sneers and scoffs as if he had been the most pious 
of men ; and as if of too pure eyes to behold such ini- 
quity, he refused even to read ' Candide,' though he says 
it was written in answer to his own ' Letter on Evil/ 
To trifle with so sacred a subject, therefore, was in 
his eyes a crime of a deep dye. To shelter himself 
from temporal power by spiritual, to make a gain by 
belief, was to him a vice of a more vile and sordid 
aspect still. Yet did he, with his eyes open and his 
understanding uncontrolled, change his religion twice 
becoming a Catholic for the hope of an income, a 
Protestant for the rank of a burgess, when probably he 
neither at the one change nor the other was a Christian 
at all ; and at a subsequent period, long after he had 
proclaimed his unbelief to the world, he went through 
the mockery of taking the sacrament in the hope of 


screening himself from annoyances or of reconciling 
himself to the favour of the Calvinists at Geneva. No 
more selfish and unprincipled conduct can be easily cited 
of any man who had Rousseau's deep feelings of the im- 
portance properly attached to all religious subjects. 

The crime of his life which is most dwelt upon, and 
can never be held up to sufficient execration, has been 
already more than once referred to ; it was entirely the 
result of the same selfish disposition, the same confirmed 
incapacity to see or feel any other existence than his own. 
What incurable folly to suppose that any one could be 
duped, or that he was himself duped, by the pretence 
of his having an insufficient income, and being unwill- 
ing that his children should be brought up in penury ! 
How could a man of ordinary reflection avoid perceiv- 
ing a refutation of his defence each time that he swal- 
lowed a morsel more palatable than bread and water ? 
How could a man of ordinary feeling avoid tasting in 
each such morsel the bitterness of an asp's gall ? But 
his circumstances mended he became possessed of 
money did he endeavour to repair the mischief he 
had done? He hardly allowed Madame de Luxem- 
bourg to make inquiry as to one of his exposed chil- 
dren, and after none of them did he himself ever in- 
quire. He was determined to lead his own life of 
misery, and vanity, and self-indulgence, uninterrupted 
by the cries or the claims of a family, the bringing of 
whom into the world was his own act, also an act of 

A part of this his moral nature, and a material part 
of it, was his vanity, perhaps greater than ever had 
dominion over a highly gifted mind. That this was 


the point, as not unfrequently happens, upon which 
the insanity turned which clouded some of his later 
years, is certain ; but no less certainly may we perceive 
its malignant influence through the whole of his 
course. He laboured under a great delusion upon this 
subject ; for he actually conceived that he had less 
vanity than any other person that ever existed ; and 
he has given expression to this notion. The ground 
of the delusion plainly was, that he often forgot this 
indulgence in pursuit of others ; and also, that he had 
less shame than other men in unveiling his faults and 
frailties, when their disclosure ministered to any ruling 
propensity, not seldom when it fed that same vanity 
itself. But no one can read his account of the fancies 
he took in his early years, and not perceive how strik- 
ingly the love of distinction prevailed in him even 
then, and while his existence was perfectly obscure. 
The displays that captivated him, excited his envy, and 
even led to his uncouth attempts at imitation, were not 
the solid qualities or valuable acquirements of those he 
saw at Annecy or at Turin, but the base tricks and 
superficial accomplishments of a Bacler and a Venture, 
performers of the lowest order, but who, he perceived, 
were followed by public applause. Later in life he 
seems to have been almost insensible to any existence 
but his own, or when he could believe in that of exter- 
nal objects, it was always in reference to himself; and 
at last this feeling reached the morbid temperature of 
fancying that he and his concerns were the only thing 
about which all other men cared, and with which 
all were occupying themselves ; thus absorbing in self- 


contemplation all the faculties and all the feelings of 
his own mind.* 

That with all his failings and all his faults, he could 
win his way to many hearts, is easily to be understood ; 
for, beside the genius, and latterly the fame, which 
dazzled beholders, some of his weaknesses were of a 
kind that interested benevolent natures, partly through 
compassion, partly from the openness and infantine 
simplicity with which they were attended ; and as long 
as he did not conceive the suspicions which generally 
broke out sooner or later, none of those weaknesses 
were of a kind which offended others. The interest 
which not only kindly natures, like that of the Lux- 
embourgs, and such good-humoured companions as 
David Hume, but such stern personages as St. Lambert, 
St. Germain, Lord Mareschal, took in him and his 
fortunes, is a sufficient illustration of these remarks ; 
but it may be doubted if that interest could have sur- 
vived such a full disclosure as we now have of his 
defects since his death. 

In society he must have been, when his mind was 
sound and his irritability calmed, and his painful con- 
stitutional maladies soothed or intermitted, f a very 

* Perhaps the most extraordinary creation of fancy in which his 
morbid vanity indulged, was his believing that he perceived a marked 
increase of Hume's popularity at Paris in consequence of his having 
asked Rousseau's company on his journey to London (CEuv., viii. 
166, and again in his crazy letter to Hume himself, ib. 186), and 
this while he was complaining of having no supporters, and of all 
men being his enemies ! 

f He had not only a bladder complaint and a hemorrhoidal ma- 
lady, but was for years supposed to have the stone. On his being 


pleasing mixture, possibly a delightful companion. He 
greatly underrates himself in this particular. It is true, 
as he frequently says, that his shyness often made him 
appear dull, often gave birth to absurd sayings, and 
even grotesque conduct ; it is also possibly true that 
he was not ready in repartee, which he expressed by 
saying " Qu'il avait 1'esprit un quart d'heure apres 
tout le monde." Yet we have a strong testimony to 
the charms of his conversation in the words of a re- 
spectable witness, M. Dussaulx, who, speaking of a 
party he gave to Rousseau, among others, in 1771, ex- 
claims " A quelque nuages pres, mon Dieu, qu'il fut 
aimable ce jour la ! tantot enjoue, tantot sublime. 
Avant le diner il nous donnait a quelquesuns les plus 
innocentes anecdotes consignees dans les ' Confessions/ 
Plusieurs d'entre nous les connaissaient deja ; mais il 
sut leur donner une physiognomie nouvelle, et plus de 
mouvement encore que dans son livre. J'ose dire qu'il ne 
se connaissait pas lui-meme lorsqu'il pretendait que 
la nature lui avait refuse le don de la parole. La soli- 
tude sans doute avait concentre ce talent en lui-meme ; 
mais dans ces moments d'abandon, et lorsque rien ne 
I'offusquait, il debordait comme un torrent impetueux 
que rien ne resiste."* 

It is never permitted to vindicate, or even to palli- 
ate, crimes by citing the defects of physical tempera- 
ment ; no course can be more dangerous to virtue ; and 
where the reason is only undermined by indulgence, 

sounded, in 1 762, this was found to be a mistake : he was, however, 
found to have a scirrhous prostate gland. 

* De mes Rapports avec J. J. Rousseau, p. 99. 



by weaknesses which exertion and self-restraint might 
in time have extirpated or counteracted, the excuse 
which is sometimes made of mental disease likewise 
fails. Rousseau's malady was probably of this descrip- 
tion ; but weaknesses are to be palliated, if not pitied, 
by a view of bodily sufferings such as he certainly en- 
dured ; and as far as irritable temper and restless dis- 
position are concerned, let no one severely blame them, 
or even look down too proudly on the conduct which 
they prompted, without reflecting charitably and com- 
passionately upon the diseased state in which much of 
his life was passed, and considering in common fair- 
ness how much less impatient and irritable he would 
himself have proved under the same infliction. 


IT appears from the whole correspondence with M. de St. 
Germain, which I have seen, that two or three letters not 
published were written to him by Rousseau after his arrival 
in Paris, 1770 and 1771. From that time to his death, in 
1778, none appear. 

The following epitaph on Voltaire by Rousseau has not, as 
it seems, ever before been published. It may appear some- 
what to qualify the praise bestowed on the latter for his treat- 
ment of that great man; and though written with spirit, is ex- 
tremely unjust. 

a Plus bel esprit que grand ge"nie, 
Sans loi, sans moeurs, et sans vertu ; 
II est mort comme il a vecu, 
Couvert de gloire et d'infamie." 

o 'j'j i ;: .1 . 

JSuvwudE 1'tt 'ir. //.>// 


C i 

-y/// %> 



( 195 ) 


GREATLY distinguished as the people of Great Britain 
had ever been for their achievements in all the other 
walks of literature and science, it is certain that there 
never had appeared among them any historian of emi- 
nence before the middle of the eighteenth century. The 
country of Bacon, of Newton, of Locke, of Napier 
the country of Milton, of Shakspeare, and Buchanan 
of Dryden, Swift, Bolingbroke had as yet nothing 
more to produce as the rival of ancient historical fame 
than the crude and partial annals of Buchanan, 
great only as a poet, and the far more classical and less 
prejudiced political Memoirs rather than ' History ' of 
Clarendon. While Italy had her Davila and 
Guicciardini, and France her Thuanus (Du Thou), 
this island was nearly unknown for any native annals, 
and a Frenchman (Rapin de Thoyras) had provided 
the only ' History of England ' which any one could 
find readable, nor in reading that could he affect to 
find pleasure. It was reserved for two natives of 
Scotland to remove such an unhappy peculiarity, and 
to place our fame in this important walk of literature 
upon a level with our eminence in all its other depart- 
ments. Mr. Hume first entered the field ; and though 
his is by no means the work on which the historical 

o 2 

196 HUME. 

merit of the country mainly rests (for he had neither 
the impartiality nor the patience of the historical 
office), yet he is decidedly to be praised as having been 
the first to enter the field with the talents of a fine 
writer, and the habits of a philosophic inquirer. 

David Hume was born at Edinburgh, in April, 
1711. He was the younger son of Mr. Hume of 
Ninewells, in the county of Berwick, and related to 
Earl Hume's, or Home's, family ; his mother was the 
daughter of Sir David Falconer, Lord President, arid 
niece of Lord Halkerston, one of the Judges, of the Court 
of Session. His father dying soon after his birth, his 
guardians intended him for the bar ; but he tells us that 
while " he was supposed to be poring over Voet and Vin- 
ning, he was secretly devouring the pages of Cicero and 
Virgil." He neglected Greek in his early years, and had 
to make up for this deficiency, with some labour, in after 

The fortune of his father, to which his eldest bro- 
ther Joseph succeeded, was inconsiderable ; and his own 
portion being necessarily very small, it was deemed expe- 
dient, as he refused to be a lawyer, that he should exert 
himself in some other way to provide for his support. 
He was therefore sent to a mercantile house at Bristol, 
in 1734 ; but he found the drudgery of this employ- 
ment intolerable, and he retired to Rheims, in the 
north of France, determined, while he prosecuted his 
favourite studies, to supply, by rigorous economy and 
a life of abstinence, the want of fortune. From 
Rheims he removed to La Fleche, in Anjou, and there 
wrote his 'Treatise on Human Nature/ It was pub- 
lished in 1737, and fell, as he says, still-born from the 

HUME. 197 

press. He afterwards distributed it into separate 
' Essays/ which, with additions, he published in 1742, 
and it had more success. 

After his first publication he retired to his bro- 
ther's house, and lived so happily there among his 
books that he afterwards says, in a letter to Dr. Robert- 
son, that he should never have left it, had not his 
brother's marriage made a change in the family. 
Although he appears to have felt much more and 
much earlier than Robertson the love of literary fame, 
his first work having been published when he was only 
26, while the ' History of Scotland ' only appeared in 
the author's 38th year, yet manifestly the same love of 
literary pursuits for their own sake, the desire of 
knowledge, the indulgence of a speculative turn, and 
meditating on the events of past times and on the sys- 
tems of former inquirers, appears to have been the 
mainspring of both their movements ; and Hume was 
happy in being allowed to gratify these strong pro- 
pensities of his nature. 

The last Marquess of Annandale was a person of 
weak intellect. Though neither insane nor idiotic, he 
required the company of a friend, as his imbecility ex- 
cluded him from society, and he was not ill enough to 
require the care of a keeper. Mr. Hume, in 1745, ac- 
cepted this situation, as a large salary was very natu- 
rally given to induce him. But after a year's resi- 
dence, finding, as we see from the late publication of 
some querulous letters very little like his ordinary cor- 
respondence, that he could no longer submit to such a 
life, he left this occupation, and was fortunate enough to 
receive an invitation immediately after of a very different 

198 HUME. 

kind. It was to attend, as private secretary, General 
St. Clair (uncle of Lord Loughborough, and great- 
uncle of the late Lord Rosslyn), whose family has 
always been honourably distinguished by their love of 
literary society. The General was appointed to com- 
mand an expedition, at first destined for the conquest 
of Canada, but afterwards very unwisely, and with no 
result any more than any rational design, diverted to 
the folly of making an incursion on the coast of 
France. The following year, 1747, he accompanied 
the General on his embassy to the courts of Vienna 
and Turin. This mission was of a military nature, 
and the philosopher tells us that he was not only 
Secretary, but Aide-de-camp, with two military men 
Captain, afterwards General, Grant, and Sir Henry 
Erskine, afterwards a General officer also, and who mar- 
ried the Ambassador's sister. These two years, 1746 
and 1747, formed the only interruption ever given to 
his studies ; but they appear to have satisfied him in 
one important particular ; for, "not only," he says, " I 
passed this period of time agreeably and in good com- 
pany, but my appointments with frugality had made 
me reach a fortune which I called independent, though 
most of my friends were incited to smile when I said 
so ; in short, I was now master of near a thousand 

While he was at Turin, his ' Inquiry concerning the 
Human Understanding' was published in London. It 
was the ' Treatise on Human Nature' presented in a new 
form, and was not much more successful than its pre- 
decessor ; but he nevertheless began to perceive symp- 
toms of his books coming into notice ; " for," says he, 

HUME. 199 

" I found, by Dr. Wai-burton's railing, that they are 
beginning to be esteemed in good company." Return- 
ing to Scotland, he again resided with his brother, 
and wrote his ' Political Discourses/ which were 
published in 1752, and immediately excited much 
attention. " The work was/' he says, " well received 
both at home and abroad." But he published, the 
same year, the ' Inquiry concerning the Principles of 
Morals/ which " came/' he says, " unnoticed and unob- 
served into the world ;" though he adds, that " in his 
own opinion it is incomparably the best of all his 
writings, historical, philosophical, or literary." It is 
plain, then, that neither in their original forms of trea- 
tises, forms three times varied, nor when broken down 
into separate essays, did his metaphysical and theo- 
logical speculations succeed so far as even to obtain 
any attention. This is the more surprising, that 
beside the great ingenuity and novelty of some 
theories which they contain, they are tinged through- 
out with an excessive scepticism upon all subjects of a 
religious nature, and upon some with an openly pro- 
fessed unbelief, which might have been expected to ex- 
cite indignation, and so rescue the writings from 
neglect. The ' Essays, Moral and Metaphysical/ are 
the form in which we now read these speculations, 
and a life of Hume which should not speak of their 
merits would be imperfect, as they certainly have 
long obtained the full share of celebrity which was at 
first denied them. 

To refuse these well-known Essays the praise of 
great subtilty, much clever argument, some successful 
sarcasm, and very considerable originality, is impos- 

200 HUME. 

sible ; but a love of singularity, an aversion to agree 
with other men, and particularly with the bulk of the 
people, prevails very manifestly throughout the work ; 
and we may recollect that it is the author's earliest pro- 
duction, the 'Treatise on Human Nature/ which formed 
the basis of the whole, having been written before 
his six and twentieth year, at an age when the distinc- 
tion of differing with the world, the boldness of 
attacking opinions held sacred by mankind at large, is 
apt to have most charms for vain and ambitious minds. 
Accordingly, he finds all wrong in the opinions 
which men generally entertained, whether upon mo- 
ral, metaphysical, or theological subjects, and he 
pushes his theories to an extreme point in almost 
every instance. Thus, that we only know the con- 
nexion between events by their succession one to ano- 
ther in point of time, and that what we term causa- 
tion, the relation of cause and effect, is really only the 
constant precedence of one event, act, or thing to 
another, is now admitted by all reasoners; and we 
owe to Mr. Hume the discovery, it may be well called, 
of this important truth. But he will not stop here : 
he must deny that there can be such a thing as 
one act, or effect, or event causing another : he must 
hold that there can be no such thing as causation, no 
such thing as power ; he must discard from our 
belief those ideas which all men in all ages have 
held so distinctly, and so universally, as to have given 
them names, specific appellations, in all languages. 
He denies all connexion, all influence, all power, and 
holds it impossible that any such things should be 
that any rational meaning should belong to such words. 

HUME. 201 

In like manner, every one is ready to admit the 
solidity of the distinction which he takes between 
the impressions of memory and those of imagination. 
But this won't satisfy him ; he will have all belief to con- 
sist merely in this difference, and that we only believe or 
disbelieve any thing or any event according as our 
minds have a more or less vivid idea of it from 
memory, or from sensation, than from imagination. In 
like manner, while no objection could be taken to his 
holding that a miracle is, prima facie, to be regarded 
incredible, because it is much more likely, and much 
more according to the laws of nature, that human tes- 
timony should deceive us, even that men's senses should 
delude them, than that those laws should be sud- 
denly and violently suspended, yet he will not be 
satisfied unless we go a great step farther, and admit 
not merely the improbability but the impossibility of 
miracles, as if the weight of testimony never could 
be so accumulated as to make it more unlikely, more a 
miracle, that it should be false, than that the alleged 
deviation from the laws of nature should have taken 
place.* Indeed, had he lived to see the late discoveries in 
Fossil Ostelogy, he would have been placed in a complete 
dilemma ; for these plainly show, that at one remote 
period in the history of the globe there was such an in- 
terposition of creative power as could alone form man 
and other animals not previously existing ; and thus he 
must either have distrusted the evidence of thousands 

* In the first part of the ' Essay ' this qualification is introduced, 
but the second part roundly asserts the absolute impossibility, on 
the ground of the laws of nature being broken. 

202 HUME. 

now alive, and even of his own senses, the phenomenon 
being visible daily, or he must have admitted the miracle 
of creation ; that is, the interposition of a being powerful to 
suspend the existing order of things, and make a new one. 
It is by no means correct to affirm, as some do, and 
Mr. Hume himself among the number, that his writ- 
ings are only sceptical. Many of them amount merely 
to doubts ; but some, under the mask of doubts, are 
essentially dogmatical. Indeed, some of his specula- 
tions are upon subjects which cannot be treated scepti- 
cally ; for the question in these cases being whether 
we have evidence or not of the position, whoever 
maintains the negative denies the position. Thus, to 
take the most important example of all, the argument 
upon Providence and a Future State is of this very 
character. The question, and none other equal in im- 
portance can exercise the human faculties, is, whether 
we have or not, by the light of nature, sufficient evi- 
dence to make us believe in a Deity and the Soul's 
Immortality. His argument is, not that there is any 
doubt on the subject, but that we have no such evi- 
dence; consequently his position must be that there 
is no ground for believing in a God or a Future State. 
It is easy to say Mr. Hume was not an atheist ; and 
that neither he nor any man can in one sense of the 
word be an atheist is certain. If by denying a God we 
mean believing that his non-existence is proved, there 
neither is nor can be an atheist, because there cannot 
possibly be conceived any demonstration of that nega- 
tive proposition. To prove that a man asserted to be 
in existence, exists not, we must either show that he 
once existed, and has ceased to exist, or that he never 

HUME. 203 

existed, but more certainly the former than the latter, 
because the former alone can be considered to leave 
the proposition quite certain. Now, clearly this kind 
of proof is inconceivable as to a Deity ; consequently 
no man in this sense can be an atheist, if his under- 
standing be sound. But we really mean by atheist as 
contradistinguished from sceptic, one who holds that 
there exists no evidence of a Deity, as contradistin- 
guished from him who only entertains doubts on the 
subject doubts whether there be evidence or no. 
Mr. Hume's argument, if solid, shows that there is no 
evidence, and not that there are doubts : consequently 
the inference from his argument is, not that we have 
reason for doubting whether or not there is proof, but 
that we have no proof, and, therefore, if consistent 
with ourselves, admitting his argument, we must not 
believe; that is, we must disbelieve. In the ordinary 
sense of the word, and as far as it is possible for the 
thing to exist, this is atheism, not scepticism. On 
miracles, no one has ever contended that the author's 
doctrine amounted only to scepticism. He does not doubt 
at all he denies, and not only denies negatively that 
any miracle was ever proved by evidence, but affirms 
positively that none ever can be so proved. His whole 
argument goes to this ; and between the impossibility 
of a miracle ever having been performed, and the total 
want of evidence of a Deity by the light of nature, we 
are left not to doubt, but to deny both providence and 
a future state. The one argument shows supernatural 
evidence to be impossible ; it shuts out light from 
above : the other shows natural evidence to be non- 
existent; it shuts out light from the world around 

204 HUME. 

us. The two together amount to plain and practical 
atheism, as far as such a belief is compatible with 
sanity of mind. 

Of the * Political Discourses* it would be difficult 
to speak in terms of too great commendation. They 
combine almost every excellence which can belong to 
such a performance. The reasoning is clear, and unin- 
cumbered with more words or more illustrations than 
are necessary for bringing out the doctrine. The 
learning is extensive, accurate, and profound, not only 
as to systems of philosophy, but as to history, whether 
modern or ancient. The subjects are most happily 
chosen ; the language is elegant, precise, and vigo- 
rous ; and so admirably are the topics selected, that 
there is as little of dryness in these fine essays as if 
the subject were not scientific ; and we rise from their 
perusal scarce able to believe that it is a work of phi- 
losophy we have been reading, having all the while 
thought it a book of curiosity and entertainment. 
The great merit, however, of these discourses, is their 
originality, and the new system of politics and politi- 
cal economy which they unfold. Mr. Hume is, beyond 
all doubt, the author of the modern doctrines which 
now rule the world of science, which are to a great 
extent the guide of practical statesmen, and are only 
prevented from being applied in their fullest extent to 
the affairs of nations, by the clashing interests and the 
ignorant prejudices of certain powerful classes ; for no 
one deserving the name of legislator pretends to doubt 
the soundness of the theory, although many hold that 
the errors of our predecessors require a slow recourse to 
right principle in conducting the practical business of 

HUME. 205 

the world. The peculiar felicity of the author in distri- 
buting his doctrines as the subjects of separate essays, 
whereby he avoided the repulsive forms of a treatise, 
and yet moulding these separate treatises into one 
body and one harmonious system, cannot be too much 
admired. We read them as different and as short 
works on various subjects ; but we perceive at each 
step that we are guided by the same genius, that one 
spirit of inquiry pervades the whole one view of 
human society and of national interests is taken 
throughout one sagacious unfolder of truth, one 
accurate and bold discoverer of popular error, is at 
work in each discourse ; and it is certain that Dr. 
Smith's celebrated work, with all its great merits, is 
less of a regular system than the detached essays of 
Mr. Hume. The originality of the latter's opinions is 
wholly undeniable : they were published full fourteen 
years before the ' Wealth of Nations.' 

As for his 'Inquiry concerning the Principles of 
Morals,' of which he had himself formed so high an 
estimate, this is indeed a very excellent work, and ap- 
pears well to deserve the opinion pronounced upon it 
by the author, although his 'Political Discourses* 
may be superior in the originality and importance of 
their views. But the composition of the ' Inquiry ' is 
more careful and better elaborated than that of his 
other philosophical writings, at the same time that 
it loses none of the ease or grace by which his man- 
ner is always so remarkably distinguished. There is 
in this treatise a copiousness and felicity of illus- 
tration rarely anywhere else to be found ; and it is 
full of learned allusions and references, showing 

206 HUME. 

the various and extensive reading in which he 
had indulged. Nor is it the least remarkable fea- 
ture of the work, that though preferred by him 
before all the other productions of his genius, it 
contains nothing at all even bordering upon scep- 
tical opinions. On the contrary, he reprobates the 
selfish system of morals, and is a strenuous advocate of 
that which recognises the benevolent feelings, and 
traces human conduct to a desire of enjoying their 
gratification. Of utility he largely states the importance, 
but rather as one leading motive than as the sole source 
of either our actions or our judgments upon them ; and 
assuredly both in this and the other branches of the 
argument a wider departure from the commonly 
received standard of morals may be seen in the philo- 
sophy of Paley than in that of the ' Inquiry/ 

In the same year that he published the c Poli- 
tical Essays,' 1752, he was appointed their libra- 
rian by the Faculty of Advocates. He obtained this 
place after a very severe contest, in which the ut- 
most force of the party opposed to his known opinions 
was brought to bear in favour of his antagonist. The 
emoluments of the office were not above fifty pounds 
a-year ; but the violence of the parties was propor- 
tioned to their zeal for and against the principles of 
the candidates ; and I find in his unpublished letters 
curious indications of his anxiety for success, and of his 
delight at the victory which he gained, chiefly, he says, 
through the assistance of the younger members of the 
Scottish bar and of the ladies of Edinburgh. " There 
is nothing," he says, in a letter to his intimate friend 
Dr. Clephane, then a physician in London, " since the 

HUME. 207 

rebellion (1745), that ever so much drew the attention 
of this town, except Provost Stuart's trial ; and there is 
scarce a man whose friendship or acquaintance I could 
desire, who has not given me undoubted proofs of his 
concern and regard." His adversary was Mr. Kenneth 
Mackenzie, professor of civil law in the University of 

Although the salary of the office which he thus ob- 
tained was inconsiderable, the situation for a literary 
man was very desirable. He thus had constant and easy 
access to an excellent library. This induced him to 
undertake a work which he thought much wanted, a 
classical history of England ; but he was afraid of at- 
tempting it on so extensive a scale as to begin at the 
earliest period, and continue it for seventeen cen- 
turies ; and he therefore confined himself at first to 
the Stuarts, commencing with the accession of James I., 
and closing with the expulsion of his grandson 
James II., at the revolution of 1688. This work made 
two volumes, of which one was published in 1754, and 
another in 1756. He entertained a sanguine expecta- 
tion that his first volume, containing the reigns of 
James I. and Charles I., would have met with a favour- 
able reception ; and we find the grounds of his con- 
fidence stated in one of his letters to Dr. Clephane. 
His election was in February, 1752, and in the follow- 
ing January he must have made great progress ; for he 
thus describes his having already consulted his friends 

* It is singular that a contest and a victory which once so much 
occupied him, and which he regarded as the battle and the triumph 
of his free opinions over bigotry, is not even glanced at in his ' Life* 
of himself. 

208 HUME. 

upon his performance : " As there is no happiness," 
he says, " without occupation, I have begun a work 
which will employ me several years, and which yields 
me much satisfaction. Tis a history of Britain, from 
the union of the crowns to the present time. I have 
already printed the reign of King James. My friends 
flatter me (by this I mean that they do not flatter me) 
that I have succeeded. You know that there is no 
path of honour on the English Parnassus more vacant 
than that of history. Style, judgment, impartiality, 
ease, every thing is wanting to our historians ; 
and even Rapin, during his latter period, is ex- 
tremely deficient. I make my work very concise, 
after the manner of the ancients. It divides into 
three very moderate volumes one to end with the 
death of Charles I., the second at the Revolution, the 
third at the Accession, 1714; for I dare come no 
nearer the present times. The work will neither 
please the Duke of Bedford nor James Frazer, but I 
hope it will please you and posterity." " I was, I 
own," he says in his account of his life, " sanguine in 
my expectations of the success of this work. I thought 
I was the only historian that had at once neglected 
present power, interest, and authority, and the cry of 
popular prejudices ; and as the subject was suited to 
my capacity, I expected proportionate success." 

But whatever might be the want of such a work, 
and how much soever he relied on his superior qualifi- 
cations for the task, he was doomed to a bitter dis- 
appointment. " I was assaulted," says he, " by one 
cry of reproach, disapprobation, and even detestation. 
English, Scotch, and Irish, Whig and Tory, church- 

HUME. 209 

man and sectary, freethinker and religionist, patriot 
and courtier, united against the man who had pre- 
sumed to shed a generous tear for the fate of Charles I. 
and the Earl of Strafford." But the singularity of 
the case, and the great mortification of the author, 
was this : that with all the universal clamour, all the 
storm did not save him from neglect ; it subsided 
as quickly as it had been raised, and the ' History' sunk 
into oblivion. In a year's time, only five and forty 
copies were sold, at least in London ; and although he 
tells us in another letter, that " at Edinburgh no 
book was ever more bought, or furnished more 
subject of conversation," yet in London it was other- 
wise. The author's discouragement was great; he 
was disgusted with belonging to a country so subject 
to the tyranny of faction and the clamours of the mob, 
while it boasted so constantly, and blustered so loud- 
ly, about its liberties: he even entertained serious 
thoughts of leaving it for ever, changing his name, 
and passing the rest of his days in some French pro- 
vincial town, far from those braggarts and intolerant 
brawlers. Nor does he appear to have been deterred 
from this project, excepting by the obstacles to its 
execution which the war, breaking out immediately 
after, interposed. The only encouragement which 
he received under his disappointment was from the 
two Primates, Herring and Stone, who approved of 
the book, and sent him messages, bidding him not to 
be cast down by the temporary failure. 

During the interval between the first and second 
volume appeared his 'Natural History of Religion,' 
which so far attracted notice, that Bishop Hurd wrote 

210 HUME. 

an answer to it ; and about as elegantly feeble as might 
be expected from that moderate prelate, unless that 
some part of it came from the more haughty and 
vigorous pen of his patron Warburton, and redeemed 
the tract from the imputation of candour, toleration, and 
temper. The second volume of the ' Stuarts ' " hap- 
pened to give less offence to the Whigs than the first," he 
says, " and being therefore somewhat better received, 
helped to buoy up its unfortunate brother." Three years 
after he published the ' House of Tudor,' which con- 
taining his account of ecclesiastical matters in Eliza- 
beth's reign, and of Queen Mary's conduct, revived the 
clamour raised against the first volume, and, like that, 
was soon neglected and forgotten. In 1761 he 
finished the work by publishing the two volumes con- 
taining the earlier history : " they had," he says, " tole- 
rable, and but tolerable, success." It is, however, also 
stated by him, as an indication of growing popularity, 
that all the clamour and all the neglect did not prevent 
the booksellers from giving him more money when 
they purchased the copyrights than had ever before 
been paid in England ; so that, with his sober habits 
and moderate desires, he was become not only inde- 
pendent, but opulent. It is to be observed that, for his 
' History of Scotland,' Dr. Robertson had only received 
600/., the publishers having cleared 600Q/. For 
' Charles V.' he received 3,600/., and for ' America* 
2,400Z. (being in the same proportion), while, no 
doubt, 50,000/. at the least must have been realised by 
those works. 

In considering the merits of the c History of Eng- 
land/ we must first of all observe upon the great 

HUME. 211 

difference which appears between the pains bestowed 
upon this celebrated work and those which the rival 
historian was wont to bestow upon his writings. Dr. 
Robertson's ' Scotland/ consisting of about a volume 
and a half (for the rest of the second volume is com- 
posed of original documents printed as an appendix), 
occupied his almost undivided attention for above six 
years.* Hume's first volume could not have been the 
work of above a year or fifteen months ; for it was 
begun when he went to the Advocates' Library early 
in 1752, and it was published in 1754. The second 
volume succeeded in 1756, but he had written half 
of it when the first was published ; and in 1755 there 
appeared also his ' Natural History of Religion.' Con- 
sequently we are positively certain that he wrote more 
of his 'History' in less than two years than Dr. 
Robertson wrote of his in above six ; and that his whole 
' History of the Stuarts ' could not have taken above 
three years to prepare and to write. It is impossible 
to doubt that this mode of writing history must leave 
no room for a full investigation of facts and weighing 
of authorities. He had no right to number "care" 
among the items of superiority to his predecessors, 
upon which he had plumed himself in his letter to 
Dr. Clephane. The transactions of James's time com- 
prised perhaps the most important period of our 
constitutional history, because the struggle between 

* Though by his letter to Lord Hailes he seems only to have 
begun it in 1742, yet I have heard his eldest sister often say that 
he had a whole room full of books to read or consult for some time 
before at Gladsmuir, where she lived with him. 


212 HUME. 

the Crown and the Commons then began, and occu- 
pied the greater part of his reign. It was impossible 
to examine the period too closely, or in too minute 
detail. The struggle continued in Charles's time, and 
ended in the quarrel between the King and the people, 
in the usurpations of the Parliament, and in the over- 
throw of the Monarchy. The Commonwealth then 
followed, and the Cromwell usurpation. Now there 
is hardly one passage in all this history, from 1600 to 
1650, which is not the subject of vehement controversy 
among parties of conflicting principles, and among 
inquiring men of various opinions ; yet all this was 
examined by Mr. Hume in less than two years, and 
his history of it was actually composed, as well as 
his materials collected and his authorities investigated 
and compared and weighed, within that short period 
of time. No one can be surprised if, in so short a time 
allotted to the whole work, far more attention was 
given to the composition of the narrative than to the 
preparation of the materials. It was altogether im- 
possible that, in so short a period, the duty of the 
historian should be diligently performed. The execution 
of the work answers to the mode of its performance. 

But if the ' History ' be not diligently prepared, is it 
faithfully written? There are numberless proofs of 
the contrary ; but we have the most express evidence 
in the author's own statement to prove this position. 
The temper in which his work was written upon all 
the constantly recurring points in contest between the 
two opposing parties may be judged of with accuracy, 
and towards himself with perfect justice, by the avowal 
which he makes respecting the alterations introduced 

HUME. 213 

after the first publication. " Though I had been 
taught," he says> " that the Whig party were in pos- 
session of bestowing all places, both in the State and 
in literature, I was so little inclined to yield to their 
senseless clamour, that in above a hundred alterations, 
which further study, reading, or reflection, engaged 
me to make in the reigns of the two first Stuarts, I 
have made all of them invariably to the Tory side." 
We have here indeed a double confession. To the first 
volume is confined the reign of the first two Stuarts, 
and to that consequently is this remarkable admission 
limited. Now, if that volume had been written with 
any " care," could subsequent reading and reflection have 
suggested above a hundred alterations, all admitted to 
be material, by the statement that they affected the 
complexion of the political opinions conveyed in those 
passages ? But again, if the author's mind was in 
a state of impartiality when he thus finally com- 
posed his book, how could it happen that every one of 
his corrections should be on one side, and not a single 
correction on the other, unless he had written the 
work originally with a strong bias towards the Whig 
side, instead of which his bias is, on all hands, allowed 
to have been strongly the other way ? 

The ' History of the Tudors' has the same cardinal 
imperfection of carelessness and haste, but in a lesser 
degree, because he had fewer controverted points to con- 
sider, and a smaller mass of authorities to examine. He 
had also less temptation to give his narrative and reflec- 
tions a bias from the leaning of his opinions, because, 
excepting the questions relating to Mary Queen of 
Scots, there are few passages from Henry VII. to 

214 HUME. 

Elizabeth subject to much controversy between the 
Whig and the Tory parties. The earlier period before 
the Conquest, and from the Conquest to Richard III., 
is wholly free from questions of this description ; but 
also it must be observed that the historian's diligence 
did not increase as he approached the termination of 
his labours ; the Anglo-Saxon history is in every 
respect the most meagre and superficial part of the 
whole work. We shall afterwards see how his friends 
explained this inferiority (Life of Robertson). 

The bias of Mr. Hume's mind, from which his chief 
partialities proceed, was the prejudice which he had 
conceived against Whig, and generally against popular, 
principles. This arose, in great part, from his con- 
tempt of vulgar errors, and his distrust of the more 
numerous and ignorant classes of the community, whom 
those errors chiefly may be supposed to affect. His 
acquaintance with antiquity, too, had not tended to 
lessen his belief of the giddiness and violence of mul- 
titudes when they interfere directly in the conduct of 
affairs. To these considerations must certainly be 
added the connexion between the Whig party in the 
State and the fanatical party in the Church. The 
Roundheads were religious bigots in his eyes, and 
were, in fact, deeply tinged with superstition ; and 
they were the original of the Whigs both in England 
and in Scotland. The Cavaliers held cheap all such ob- 
servances, regarding religious enthusiasm with mingled 
dislike and derision ; and from them came the Tories 
in both parts of the island. Nor was the connexion 
merely genealogical or historical. As late as the 
times of Addison and Bolingbroke, we find the friends 

HUME. 215 

of the Hanoverian succession distinguished by their 
respect for religion, and the Jacobites chiefly giving in 
to the fashionable deism, or the latitudinarian princi- 
ples, of Catholic countries in modern times. 

A contempt of popular rights, a leaning towards 
power, a proneness to find all institutions already 
established worthy of support, a suspicion of all mea- 
sures tending towards change, is thus to be seen pre- 
vailing through Mr. Hume's reflections, and influencing 
both his faith in historical evidence and his manner of 
conducting the narration of facts. A bias of the like 
kind is plainly perceptible in his remarks and in his 
recital, wherever the Church, the sects are concerned, 
and generally wherever religion forms the subject of 
either. Independent of the testimony which he has un- 
wittingly borne against himself, in respect of his Tory 
partialities, the proofs of his perverting facts, especially 
in the last two volumes of his work, have been multiplied 
by the industry of succeeding historians, till the discre- 
dit of the book, as a history, has become no longer a 
matter of any doubt. It is of no avail that he himself 
and his admirers cite the disrepute and even odium into 
which his account of the Stuarts fell with the Jacobites, 
as much as with the Whigs, from its first appearance. 
That party's unreasonable demands upon our faith would 
be satisfied with nothing short of absolutely acquitting 
all the Stuarts of all guilt and of all indiscretion ; and 
they probably felt more disappointed, because they were 
certainly more injured, by the admissions of one mani- 
festly ranged on their side, when he was compelled to 
stop short of their pure and perfect creed. Afterwards 
the Tudor history completed their discontent ; but it 

216 HUME. 

affords no proof whatever of his impartiality. He had, 
of course, far too much sense and too penetrating a saga- 
city to doubt the guilt of Queen Mary during the Scot- 
tish portion of her life, admitted as the greater part of the 
charges against her were, by her own conduct in the 
open profligacy of her connexion with her husband's 
murderer ; and the prejudice which this unavoidable 
conviction raised in his mind, extended itself to the 
more doubtful question of her accession to Babing- 
ton's conspiracy, a question which he appears to 
have examined with much less patience of research, 
though it belonged to his own subject, than he had 
applied to the Scottish transactions of the queen, which, 
in their detail at least, had far less connexion with his 

If patient investigation of the subject be a merit 
and next to fidelity it is the chief merit of history 
Mr. Hume's work is here most defective. The time 
taken to compose it sufficiently proves this, as has 
already been shown ; but there is continual proof that 
he took what he found set down in former works 
without weighing the relative value of conflicting au- 
thorities, and generally resorted to the most acces- 
sible sources of information. There have been in- 
stances without number adduced of his inaccuracy in 
citing even the authorities to which he confined his 

Nor can we acquit him on another charge not rarely 
brought against him, and partaking of the two former 
neglect or carelessness about the truth, and infidelity 
in relating it. He loved effect in his narrative, and 
studied it. Unmindful of the ancient critic's golden 

HUME. 217 

rule, " Historia tanto robustior quanto verier,"* he oc- 
casionally adorned and enlivened his page by excursions 
into the field, to the historian forbidden, of fancy; 
and either perverted or forgot the facts of the true 
story. Sometimes he overlooked inconsistencies in 
matters within his own knowledge, as when he made 
Charles I. be disturbed in his sleep by the erection of 
the scaffolding for his execution, when he is proved to 
have known that Charles suffered by cold in the walk 
across the park from St. James's, where he really slept. J" 
As for his picturesque description of sudden deaths and 
female miscarriages being occasioned by the execution, 
and of equally violent effects produced by the Restora- 
tion, these appear to be mere fancy pieces, no authority 
whatever being cited to support them. 

If from the cardinal virtues of fidelity, research, and 
accuracy, we turn to the great but secondary accom- 
plishments of the historian, we can scarcely find ex- 
pressions too strong to delineate the merit of Mr. 
Hume. His style is altogether to be admired. It is 
not surpassed by Livy himself. There is no pedantry 
or affectation, nothing forced or far-fetched. It flows 
smoothly and rapidly, according to the maxim of the 
critic, " Currere debet et ferri." J It seems to have the 
" lactea ubertas " of Livy, with the " immortalis 
velocitas "|| of Sallust. Nothing can be more narra- 

* Quinct. ii. 4, 2. 

\ His marks are upon Lord Herbert's narrative in the Advocates* 
Library at Edinburgh ; but he prefers citing Walker's l History of 
the Independents,' which contains the false statement, although the 
very next page mentions his coming from St. James's. 

t Quinct. ix. 4, 18. Ib. x. 1, 32. || Ib. x. 1, 102. 

218 HUME. 

tive ; the story is unbroken, it is clear, all its parts dis- 
tinct, and all succeeding in natural order ; nor is any 
reflection omitted where it should occur, or introduced 
where it would encumber or interrupt. In both his 
narrative and his descriptions there is nothing petty, or 
detailed more than is fit or needful ; there is nothing 
of what painters call spotty all is breadth and bold 
relief. His persons are finely grouped, and his subjects 
boldly massed. His story is no more like a chronicle, 
or his views like a catalogue of particulars, than a fine 
picture is like a map of the country or a copy of the subject. 
His language is more beautiful and powerful than cor- 
rect. He has no little tendency to Gallicisms. He has 
many very inaccurate, some ungrammatical phrases. In 
this respect he is far behind Robertson. The general 
effect, however, of his diction is unequalled. He cannot 
be said to write idiomatic English, being indeed a 
foreigner in that sense ; but his language is often, nay, 
generally, racy, and he avails himself of the expressions, 
both the terms and the phrases, which he finds in 
older writers, transferring them to his own page. In 
this he enjoys a great advantage over Robertson, who, 
resorting necessarily to Latin, or to foreign or pro- 
vincial authors, could not manage such transfers, and 
was obliged to make all undergo the digestive and 
assimilating process, converting the whole into his own 
beautiful, correct, and uniform style. Another reach 
of art Hume has attained, and better than any writer 
in our language : he has given either a new sense to 
expressions, or revived an old, so as never to offend us 
by the neology of the one process or by the archaism 
of the other. With this style, sustained by his pro- 

HUME. 219 

found philosophy, there can be nothing more beau- 
tiful than some of his descriptions of personal charac- 
ter, or of public feeling, or of manners, or of individual 
suffering ; and, like all great masters of composition, 
he produces his effect suddenly, and, as it were, with a 
single blow. 

Who that has read can ever forget his account, 
fanciful though it be, of the effects produced on the 
people by Charles's death and his son's return? Or his 
picture of the French Ambassador at his first audi- 
ence of Elizabeth, after the massacre of St. Bartho- 
lomew, proceeding " through the palace, silence, 
as in the dead of night, reigning through all the 
chambers, and sorrow sitting on every face the 
courtiers and ladies clad in deep mourning, ranged on 
each side, and allowing him to pass without affording 
him one salute or favourable look :" Or Cromwell's 
state of mind when " society terrified him, surrounded 
by numerous, unknown, implacable enemies ; solitude 
astonished him by withdrawing the protection neces- 
sary for his security :"f Or the groups of great men 
who subverted the monarchy, when " was celebrated 
the sagacity of Pym, more fitted for use than orna- 
ment ; matured, not chilled by age " when " was 
displayed the mighty ambition of Hampden, taught 
disguise, not moderation, from former constraint ; sus- 
tained by courage, conducted by prudence, embellished 
by modesty" when "were known the dark, ardent, 
and dangerous character of St. John, the impetuous 
spirit of Hollis, violent, open, and entire in his enmities 

* Chap. xl. t Cha P- lxii - 

220 HUME. 

and in his friendships ; the enthusiastic genius of young 
Vane, extravagant in the ends which he proposed, 
sagacious and profound in the means which he em- 
ployed, incited by the appearances of religion, negli- 
gent of the duties of morality."* These are the strokes 
of a master's pencil, and beauties such as these would 
make this the first of histories, if the grace of form 
could atone for the defect of substance ; if the trans- 
gressions against fidelity and the want of diligence 
could be covered over by the magical power of diction. 
The sagacious reflections and spirit of profound phi- 
losophy must not be passed over ; they are another praise 
of this work. These rarely fail the author, whether in 
judging of the connexion and the influence of events ; 
or in estimating the value of conflicting accounts, where 
he will give himself the trouble of comparison ; or in 
noting the errors and the merits of the policy pursued 
by statesmen. It is to be observed, however, that as 
in treating of ecclesiastical affairs he generally suffers 
his peculiar religious opinions to be superseded by the 
received principles of those rulers whose conduct he 
describes, and of their subjects ; so does he not often 
obtrude his sound and enlightened views of public 
policy, especially of economical science, upon his reader, 
rather conforming himself to the vulgar errors on the 
subject, as when he speaks of the balance being for or 
against a commercial state. Perhaps, too, in ranking 
Galileo above Bacon he made the same kind of sacri- 
fice, though certainly his disrespectful remarks on 
Shakspeare run counter to the critical faith commonly 

* Chap. lix. 

HUME. 221 

received in England ; and the contempt with which he 
treats the political writings of Locke and Sidney in his 
concluding chapter is a sacrifice of his own taste as 
well as of his reader's feelings to the prejudices of his 
party. It must be added because great mistakes 
have been committed in this matter that though the 
whole work was written in too short a time to give an 
opportunity for investigating the subject, yet the com- 
position was exceedingly careful, and anything rather 
than hasty. He is represented as having written with 
such ease that he hardly ever corrected. Even Mr. 
Stewart has fallen into the error ;* and Mr. Gibbon 
commends as a thing admitted the "careless, inimi- 
table beauties " of Hume's style. It was exactly the 
reverse, of which evidence remains admitting of no 
doubt and no appeal. The manuscript of his reign 
before that of Henry VI., written after the c History 
of the Stuarts and the Tudors,' is still extant, and bears 
marks of composition anxiously laboured, words being 
written and scored out, and even several times changed, 
until he could find the expression to his mind. The 
manuscript of his ' Dialogues ' also remains, and is 
written in the same manner. Nay, his very letters 
appear by this test to have been the result of care and 
labour. The rnaxim of Quinctilian " Quseramus op- 
timum, nee protinus offerentibus gaudeamus" seems 
always to have been his rule as to words ; and his own 
testimony to the same effect is to be found in a letter 
which I have obtained. f Certainly it would have been 
well if he had not adopted the opposite principle as to 

* Life of A. Smith. f See Appendix. 

222 HUME. 

facts and authorities. It is remarkable, however, that he 
hesitated much as to the subject he should choose for his 
historical labours, and more strange still that he should 
have balanced between England and the Church. 
From this he was dissuaded chiefly by the strong 
recommendations of Adam Smith and Sir Gilbert 
Elliott. I have this fact upon the authority of Dr. 
Robertson, who, in relating it to the late Lord 
Meadowbank, added, "It would, at any rate, have 
suited me had he adhered to the plan he himself pro- 
posed, as the ' History of England ' would have thus 
been left open, which fell in with an early plan of my 


After the publication of his ' History' was closed in 
1761, being now fifty years old, and possessed of an 
ample competency, Mr. Hume resolved, he tells us, 
" never more to set his foot out of his native country, 
enjoying the satisfaction of never having asked a 
favour, or made advances to any great man's acquaint- 
ance/' In less than two years, however, a great 
man's repeated solicitation to him changed his plan 
of life ; and he accompanied Lord Hertford, the 
British Ambassador, to Paris, with the immediate 
prospect of being appointed Secretary of Embassy. 
This was realized ; and in 1765, when the Ambas- 
sador went to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, the phi- 
losopher was for part of the year charge d'affaires. 
His station, his agreeable manners, but above all his 
philosophical, including his irreligious, fame, were 
well suited to make a deep impression upon the society 
of the Paris circles. He was as popular among the 
wits, the philosophers, the coteries, and the women, 

HUME. 223 

.as Franklin was at a later period, when his name was 
given to articles of fashionable attire. One of his let- 
ters gives an amusing account of the Dauphin, after- 
wards Louis XVI., then a child, having paid him 
court at his presentation, by speaking familiarly of his 
works, and of his younger brother, afterwards Louis 
XVIIL, having followed in the same complimentary 
strain. The charms, however, of such society as 
Paris then presented, the elegance of the manners, 
the easy good humour of the inhabitants, the freedom 
from all coarse dissipation, and, above all, from fac- 
tious brawls, naturally made a pleasing contrast with 
that which he had left behind him at home. There 
certainly was nothing in this country more alien to 
his nature, and less suited to his taste, than our poli- 
tical violence ; and the intolerance of our religious 
feelings, as well as the rudeness of our manners, he 
had some right to complain of, when a man like Dr. 
Johnson could be found to roar out " No, Sir !" in his 
presence, on being asked by a common friend to let 
him present the Historian to the Moralist. Upon a 
subsequent occasion the same intolerant believer be- 
haved with personal insolence and vulgar rudeness to 
Dr. Smith,* as good a Christian as himself, and a man 
of purer moral life, merely because he had, while 
afflicted with Mr. Hume's recent death, vented his 
grief in a touching panegyric upon his undoubtedly 
profound wisdom, and his virtue free from all re- 

* Mr. Smith came to a company, of which Professor Millar, the 
relater of the fact, was one, and seemed to be much disturbed. It 
turned out that Dr. Johnson had just said to him, before another 
company, with great rudeness, " You lie.' 1 

221 HUME. 

proach. This model of bigotry and rudeness had, 
notwithstanding, met at dinner, with perfect satisfac- 
tion, and conversed for hours, with Wilkes, whose life 
was as abandoned as his faith was scanty, who had 
been convicted of blasphemy and obscenity in a court 
of justice, and who held in bitter scorn every one of 
the sturdy moralist's religious and political principles. 
But Wilkes was English, Hume Scotch. From the 
country of the Johnsons, the latter deemed that he 
had made a happy escape, when he found himself 
among the gay, the polite, the tolerant French ; and 
he remained there happy, and respected, and beloved, 
till 1766, when he was diverted from his project of 
settling in Paris for the rest of his life, by being 
appointed Under-Secretary of State in General Con- 
way's ministry, who was Lord Hertford's brother. 
He held that office for about two years, and in 1769 
returned to Edinburgh with an income of a thousand 
a-year, the produce of his own honest industry, 
" healthy," as he says, " but somewhat stricken in 
years, with the prospect before him of long enjoying 
his ease, and of seeing his reputation increase/' 

During the first few months of his residence at 
Paris he was not Private Secretary, as he tells one of 
his correspondents whom he chides for making that 
mistake, as will be seen in the Appendix ; and he adds 
that he performed all the duties of the Secretary of 
Embassy, Sir Charles Bunbury, who was the brother- 
in-law of Lord Holland and the Duke of Richmond, 
and who, being thus protected, did nothing beyond 
receiving the salary. Lord Hertford, however, ex- 
erted his influence to obtain Mr. Hume's appoint- 

HUME. 225 

ment in the room of Sir Charles ; and Marshal Con way 
being Secretary for Foreign Affairs, he prevailed over 
Sir Charles's family interest. Mr. Hume was appointed 
2d July, 1765 ; and, on Lord Hertford's immediately 
after being removed to Ireland as Lord-Lieutenant, he 
became Charge d'Affaires until the Duke of Richmond's 
arrival as Ambassador in the month of October. By 
Lord Aberdeen's kindness I have been allowed to 
examine the correspondence of the Embassy with Mar- 
shal Conway during these four months ; and it is 
highly creditable to the philosopher's business-like 
talents, and his capacity for affairs. The negotiations of 
which he had the sole conduct related to the impor- 
tant and interesting discussions of Canada ; matters 
arising out of the cession by the Peace of Paris ; and to 
the demolition of the works at Dunkirk, also stipulated 
by that treaty. His dispatches, some of them of great 
length, most of them in his own hand, are clearly and 
ably written. The course which he describes himself 
as pursuing with the very slippery and evasive minis- 
ters against whom he had to contend, particularly the 
Due de Praslin, appears to have been marked by firm- 
ness and temper, as well as by quickness and sagacity. 
His memorials, of which two or three are given, 
show a perfect familiarity with diplomatic modes and 
habits, and they are both well written and ably 
reasoned. His information must have been correct ; 
for he obtained a knowledge of the secret proceedings of 
the Assembly of Clergy, which, though convoked for 
the purpose of obtaining the usual don gratuit, chose 
to enter upon the discussion of all the clerical griev- 
ances, while they kept their deliberations carefully 


226 HUME. 

secret, and were opposed by the Parliament of Paris as 
soon as their proceedings became known. Mr. Hume 
obtained a very early though somewhat exaggerated 
account of these things through two of the foreign 
ambassadors ; and when he communicated it to the 
Bishop of Senlis, he was treated with contempt, as if 
nothing could be so wild, and as if some enemy of the 
Church had invented the fable to discredit her. Mar- 
shal Con way appears by his dispatches (which are also 
excellent) to have rested his hopes of these differ- 
ences passing off on the prevailing irreligious spirit in 
France, where " the Dauphin alone," he says, " has any 
care for such matters ; and he has of late taken a mili- 
tary turn." In a short time the whole ferment was 
allayed by the prudent and able conduct of Brienne, 
Archbishop of Toulouse ; the don gratuit was voted ; 
and the Assembly was prorogued to the following 
May. Mr. Hume praises Brienne very highly on this, 
as indeed he did on all occasions. In John Home's 
Journal of his excursion with the historian to Bath, 
in his last illness (1776), we find the same opinion 
expressed ; Hume considering him as the only man in 
France fit to be minister, and relating several instances 
of his great ability. 1 * It was the same prelate, thus 
highly commended, who proved so insufficient to meet 
the tempest of the Revolution, when, twelve years later, 
he was placed in the situation for which the partiality 
of the historian had early predicted his exclusive fit- 
ness. -\ 

* Mackenzie's Life of John Home, p. 170. 

f One writer has taken upon him to decide against Mr. Hume's 

HUME. 227 

While Mr. Hume lived in Paris, he was applied to by 
some friends of Rousseau, who had become tired of his 
fantastic plans of solitude in Switzerland, and who was 
doubtful of his reception in French society, as others 
naturally were of his power to demean himself so as 
to make himself bearable in it ; and intending shortly 
to remove from France, and settle in England, he ex- 
pressed his readiness to take charge of the "interest- 
ing solitary," as he was called, whose writings he ad- 
mired in common with the rest of the world. He 
wrote to Rousseau, and offered to take him over to 
England ; the offer was immediately accepted, with the 
warmest expressions of gratitude. He came to Paris, on 
a permission of the Government to pass through France, 
notwithstanding the decree of arrest still in force against 
him. On his arrival, in December, 1765, he chose to 
parade himself daily in the neighbourhood of his hotel, 
in his ridiculous Armenian dress. The insolence of 
this proceeding in a person only by sufferance at large, 
made the police intimate that he must leave the coun- 
try ; and he accompanied Mr. Hume to London, at the 
beginning of January. He does not deny that he was 

talents for public business, certainly in perfect ignorance of the sub- 
ject. After saying that it would be superfluous to inquire in what 
manner he executed the duties of his office as Under Secretary, 
he adds, ll Certain it is that the state papers of those times evince 
no extraordinary marks of splendid abilities " (Ritchie's Life of 
Hume, p. 281) ; as if the Under Secretary of State had any con- 
nexion with these papers or as if this writer had carefully exa- 
mined them, when he had just said the inquiry would be super- 
fluous ! But he who so discharged the similar nay, the same duties 
of Ambassador, must have acted with equal ability as Foreign Under 


228 HUME. 

treated with the utmost kindness, and that every thing 
was done which friendship could devise to render his 
stay in London and its neighbourhood agreeable. Mr. 
Hume then, finding that he was resolved to live at a 
distance from society, and had intended going into 
Wales, introduced him to Mr. Davenport,* who kindly 
offered him the use of his house at Wootton, in 
Derbyshire. The silly, misplaced pride of the poor 
man would not suffer him to accept this without pay- 
ing an equivalent ; and he was allowed to sit at an 
almost nominal rent of thirty pounds. 

He went to Wootton about the 20th of March, 
1766. His letters to Mr. Hume, of the 22nd and 
29th, are full of gratitude and affection, though he 
had seen three weeks before the supposed letter of 
Frederick II. ; for he speaks of it to his friend De 
Peyron, llth March; and he says, that on asking 
Hume if it was Horace Walpole's, "he neither said 
yes nor no," a silence afterwards made one of his 
charges against Hume. On the 5th of April he 
writes to Madame de Bouffiers, still full of gratitude to 
Mr. Hume, who, he says, had obtained for him the 
comfort and pleasure of his retreat in Derbyshire. 
Two days after, 7th April, he writes to a friend not 
named, and sends a contradiction of Frederick's letter to 
a newspaper : Rousseau's letter speaks of secret enemies, 
under the " mask of perfidious friendship, seeking to 
dishonour him ;" and on the 9th he writes his ac- 
cusation of Mr. Hume to Madame de Boufflers, so that it 
is clear he had all at once, between the 5th and 7th, 

* Grandfather of Lady Williams, wife of Mr. Justice Williams. 

HUME. 229 

by exciting his warm and feverish imagination, sud- 
denly broke with his benefactor and " dear patron," as 
he before called him. His proofs of the conspiracy, and 
of Mr. Hume's secret enmity, are truly the workings of 
a sick brain, and sick with vanity ; as appears, among 
other symptoms, from his declaring how happy it 
made him to observe the popularity Hume had gained 
at Paris by his kindness to Rousseau ; and as also ap- 
pears, by his roundly asserting that his own popu- 
larity and following in England was extraordinary, 
until this plot was concocted to decry him. The let- 
ter is at the bottom of it all.* He at once pronounced 
that he knew it from its style to be D'Alembert's, and 
was enraged when told that it was certainly written 
by Horace Walpole " as if," said he, " it were pos- 
sible I could mistake D'Alembert's style, and imagine 
an Englishman's French to be his." Then D'Alem- 
bert was a friend of Hume's ; and though D'Alembert 
had no more to do with the joke than Rousseau him- 
self, this was made the foundation of a quarrel ; for 
not only was D'Alembert Hume's friend, but a M. 
Tronchin was Hume's landlord, whose father had 
slandered Rousseau at Geneva ; and others of his ene- 
mies, real or supposed, turned out to be Hume's friends 
also. This was, he gravely asserts, a clear case of 
conspiracy made out against Hume, who must have in- 
veigled him over to England in order to ruin his repu- 
tation. One of the overt acts of this plot was the 
obtaining, through General Conway, a pension for him 
who was starving, of a hundred a-year. But it is to 

* See these letters in CEuv., vol. vii., p. 138, 139, 148 et seq. 

230 HUME. 

be remarked, that the only part of the whole statement 
which he at once willingly disbelieved, although it was 
the only part that had a real foundation, was Hume's 
helping him to the pension. Therefore, having in the 
heroics of his first indignation thrown it up, he at once 
offered afterwards to take it back, and complained of 
the whole arrears not having been paid. 

Mr. Hume hearing that this frantic creature was 
writing constantly to Paris complaints of being de- 
ceived and persecuted by him, wrote to desire he would 
specify his grounds ; and then came a letter, full of the 
most ridiculous charges, ascribing to Mr. Hume's most 
indifferent acts, even to his looks, the most black de- 
signs; a letter plainly proving that the writer was 
deranged in one region of his mind, and that vanity 
was, if not the main cause of his malady, certainly the 
pivot on which it turned. No one can read that let- 
ter without a feeling of indignation ; for it shows 
throughout quite reason enough to make its writer 
answerable for his pure selfishness and his unbearable 
suspicions. It is a source, too, of irritation to the reader, 
that of the many persons whom he called in as arbi- 
trators, by sending them copies of his favourite pro- 
duction, not any one appears to have had the manly 
firmness, the true and rational friendship for Rousseau 
himself, of at once plainly declaring, what all of them 
must needs have felt when they read it, that the 
whole was a fiction of the man's own brain. Lord 
Marischal seems, indeed, to have perceived that any 
communication with such a creature was unsafe; and 
he let him know that henceforth they must no 
longer correspond. But for this notice, he no doubt 

HUME. 231 

would have been the plotter of the next conspiracy ; 
for Rousseau had for some years desired to consider 
him as a father, and always addressed him, a steady 
old soldier and political intriguer, wholly void of any 
sentiment beyond those of heat and cold, hunger and 
thirst, by that endearing and ridiculous title. 

It is known that Rousseau, a year or two after his 
return to France, admitted that the foggy climate of 
England had produced in him a mental affection, and 
that he had been to blame in his quarrel with Hume ;* 
but he never had the common fairness and gratitude 
to address this confession to his benefactor, or to any 
of those whose ears he had sought to poison with his 
malignant slanders. 

Contrary to his invariable practice, when attacked 
for his writings, Mr. Hume very unadvisedly gave 
himself the trouble, and underwent the anxiety, of 
writing an answer to this silly and malignant indi- 
vidual. He published a short but detailed statement 
of all that had passed between them, This step he 
took contrary to the earnest advice of Adam Smith, 
whose letter remains, strongly dissuading him from 
taking any notice of Rousseau's slanders. He ap- 
pears to have been overpowered by D'Alembert and 
D'Holbach, who, living in the gossip and slander- 
loving credulity of Paris society, were afraid lest Rous- 
seau's constant letter -writing might produce an effect 

* See Bernardin de St. Pierre's statement of his conversation 
(L'Arcadie, Preambule), or Appendix aux Confessions, CEuv., vol.i., 
p. 642. The passage is given in the Life of Rousseau, which imme- 
diately precedes the present piece. 

232 HUME. 

unfavourable to their friend. Certain it is, that 
Hume's publication, wholly superfluous to all men of 
ordinary sense and common candour, was insufficient 
to convince such ill-natured and silly people as the 
Deffands and their flatterers, who were anxious to 
have a pretext for levelling their malice at the Eng- 
lishman and the philosopher; and though despising 
Rousseau from the bottom of their hearts, were willing 
enough to make his fancied grievances a cloak for their 
attacks upon Mr. Hume. It seems plain that his own 
subsequent reflection upon the matter brought him over 
to Mr. Smith's opinion : for in the sketch which he 
has left of his own life, he makes not the least allusion 
to his quarrel with Rousseau, although, in his pam- 
phlet, he says that it gave him more trouble and annoy- 
ance than any thing that had ever happened to him. 

Mr. Hume returned to Edinburgh in 1766, but 
early next year he was appointed Under-Secretary of 
State under Marshal Conway, and held that office 
above a year. In 1769, some time after he resigned 
it, he returned to Edinburgh, and took a house in 
the only part of the new town then built, St. An- 
drew's Square. With the exception of a journey to 
Harrowgate for his health, and another to Bath the 
year he died, he lived in his native country during 
the remainder of his life, enjoying the constant society 
of his old friends ; and himself the delight of their 
circles by his abundant spirits, his never-failing good- 
humour, and even temper, and the kindness as well 
as the uprightness of his character. In the spring 
of 1775, he tells us, he was seized with a disease in 
his bowels. " At first," he says, " it gave me no 

HUME. 233 

alarm, but has since, as I apprehend it, become mor- 
tal and incurable. I now," adds the philosopher, 
reckon on a speedy dissolution. I have suffered 
very little pain from my disorder, and what is more 
strange, have, notwithstanding the great decline of 
my person, never suffered a moment's abatement of 
my spirits ; insomuch that, were I to name the period 
of my life which I should most choose to pass over 
again, I might be tempted to point to this latter 
period. I possess the same ardour as ever in study, 
and the same gaiety in company, I consider, besides, 
that a man of sixty-five, by dying, cuts off only a few 
years of infirmities ; and though I see many symptoms 
of my literary reputation breaking out at last with 
additional lustre, I could have but few years to enjoy 
it. It is difficult to be more detached from life than 
I am at present." 

While he continued to decline by a gradual ex- 
haustion, he continued to see his friends about him as 
usual, and his gaiety was never clouded by the pros- 
pect before him now drawing to a close. A few weeks 
before his death, when there were dining with him 
two or three of his intimate companions, one of them, 
Dr. Smith, happening to complain of the world as 
spiteful and ill-natured, "No, no," said Mr. Hume, 
" here am I, who have written on all sorts of subjects 
calculated to excite hostility, moral, political, and 
religious, and yet I have no enemies ; except, indeed, 
all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians.'* 

When his strength gradually failed, he was un- 
able to remain so long as before in the company of 
his friends. By degrees he became confined to his 

234 HUME. 

room the greater part of the day, and at last alto- 
gether. But his intellect and his calmness continued 
to the last. A letter to Madame de Bouftlers remains, 
written only five days before his death, and occasioned 
by the decease of the Prince de Conti, her great friend. 
" I am," he says, " certainly within a few weeks, and 
perhaps a few days, of my own death ; yet I cannot 
help being struck with the Prince's, as a great loss in 
every particular/' "I see death," he adds, "approach- 
ing gradually, without anxiety or regret. I salute you 
with great affection and regard, for the last time." 
This was written on the 20th of August ; on the 25th 
he was no more. On that day he gently expired, with- 
out a struggle, in the sixty-fifth year of his age. He 
was buried in the cemetery on the Calton Hill, where 
a conspicuous monument is erected to his memory. 

He had shown a feverish anxiety for the publication 
of one work, his ' Dialogues on Natural Religion ;' 
and he left this with his other manuscripts to Dr. 
Smith ; but giving positive injunctions to publish this 
work, and allowing no discretion whatever upon the 
subject. Nay, he left a legacy of two hundred pounds, 
to be paid on the publication, though all the other 
legacies were made payable at the first term after his 
death : that is, Whitsuntide or Martinmas, according 
to the prevailing habit of the Scotch in their money 
arrangements. Smith refused to publish them ; and 
there exists a curious correspondence between him and 
Mr. Hume of Ninewells, the philosopher's brother, on 
the subject. Smith, about the same time, stopped a 
publication of all the ' Essays,' which included one on 
the * Immortality of the Soul,' and another, both be- 

HUME. 235 

lieved to be spurious. The ' Dialogues' were so con- 
stantly corrected in his own hand, that they appear as 
if wholly re-written : a specimen of this is given in 
the Appendix. His nephew, afterwards Mr. Baron 
Hume, published them in 1779. 

Having spoken of his writings at large, it remains to 
add that, though respecting these men may form various 
opinions, and especially respecting his philosophical 
works, of his character as a man there never was, nor 
could there be, but one. His great capacity all admit ; 
his genius for metaphysical inquiries, those who most 
differ with him, even those who most lament the use 
to which he directed it, confess to have been of the 
highest order at once bold, penetrating, original. 
His talents for political speculation were of as brilliant 
a description, and were so admirably and so usefully 
applied, that his works are as yet unrivalled in that 
most important department of practical science ; and 
he may justly be deemed the father of the liberal, 
enlightened, and rational system of national polity 
which has the general approval of statesmen, and 
would be everywhere adopted but for conflicting 
interests, and popular ignorance. 

But universal as is the assent to these positions, the 
judgment is no less unanimous which must be pro- 
nounced upon his character as a member of society, 
unless we reject all the testimony of all his contem- 
poraries, supported as it is by the tone and spirit of 
all his correspondence which has come down to us. 
He was a man of perfectly honest and single heart, 
of the kindest nature, of unequalled good-humour in 
the intercourse of society, carrying the same placid 

236 HUME. 

disposition into those controversies which are most 
apt to ruffle or to sour the temper ; and even under 
disappointments which would have embittered the 
existence of most men, and disheartened almost all, 
neither losing his general good will towards others, 
nor suffering himself to be cast down. The party 
violence and delusions to which the failure of his 
' History' was in part owing, he often has exposed, 
but certainly in no other terms than he would have 
used had his work succeeded : for he employed the 
same language in writing the portion first published 
at a time when he made sure of its success ; and he 
never afterwards troubled himself with doing more 
than uttering a good-humoured exclamation, or, per- 
haps, passing a joke at the expense of those who make 
themselves the tools of others by being the slaves to 
their own factious prejudices or propensities. But the re- 
ception of the < History' was not his only disappoint- 
ment, though it was the most severe. It would not be 
easy to find any instance of conduct more truly worthy 
of a philosopher than his bearing up against the repeated 
failures of the works he most esteemed, and the 
mortifying neglect which at first all his writings ex- 
perienced, with but one exception. He looked steadily 
forward, with a confidence truly surprising and amply 
justified by the event, to the time when, probably after 
his course was run, his fame would shine out with 
surpassing lustre. Even in his latter hours, when he 
had, in some measure, seen the failure of the injustice 
under which he originally suffered, he retained a 
confident belief that his renown had not yet nearly 
reached its highest pitch ; and that most admirable 

HUME. 237 

passage above cited from his 'Life,' written a few weeks 
before his death, makes a touching reference to the 
prospects which then cheered him, but which he 
knew were never, while he lived, to be realized. They 
were the only prospects, unhappily for him, which 
shed light around his dying couch ; yet such was the 
truly admirable temper of his mind, that no believer 
could possess his spirit in more tranquil peace, in con- 
templation of the end which he saw fast approaching, 
nor meet his last hour with more cheerful resignation. 
It is to be observed that the charges made against 
Mr. Hume for his sceptical writings, and for the irre- 
ligious doctrines which he published to the world, are 
in almost every respect ill-founded. He never had re- 
course to ribaldry, hardly ever invoked the aid even of 
wit to his argument. He had well examined the subject 
of his inquiries. He had, with some bias in favour of the 
singularity or the originality of the conclusions to which 
they led, been conducted thither by reasoning, and 
firmly believed all he wrote. It may be a question, 
whether his duty required him to make public the re- 
sults of his speculations, when these tended to unsettle 
established faith, and might destroy one system of belief 
without putting another in its place. Yet if we suppose 
him to have been sincerely convinced that men were 
living in error and in darkness, it is not very easy to deny 
even the duty of endeavouring to enlighten them, and to 
reclaim. But it is impossible to doubt that, with his 
opinions, even if justified in suppressing them, he never 
would have stood excused had he done anything to 
countenance and uphold what he firmly believed to be 
errors on the most important of all questions. Nor is 

238 HUME. 

it less manifest that lie was justified in giving his own 
opinions to the world on those questions if he chose, 
provided he handled them with decorum, and with the 
respect due from all good citizens to the religious opi- 
nions of the State. There are but one or two passages 
in them all, chiefly in the ' Essay on Miracles,' which 
do not preserve the most unbroken gravity, and all 
the seriousness befitting the subject. 

In his familiar correspondence he was a little less 
precise, though even here he was very far from resem- 
bling the Voltaire school. In his conversation he 
seldom alluded to the subject, but occasionally his 
opinions were perceivable. Thus, when one of the 
University, the late Mr. John Bruce, professor of 
logic, asked him to revise the syllabus of his lectures, 
he went over the proof-sheets with him ; and on 
coming to the section entitled ' Proofs of the Exist- 
ence of the Deity/ Mr. Hume said, " Right ; very 
well." But the next section was entitled ' Proof of 
the Unity of the Deity/ and then he cried out, " Stop, 
John, stop : who told you whether there were ane or 
mair?" The same professor met him one day on 
the staircase of the College Library, where the in- 
scription " Christo et Musis has cedes sacrarunt ewes 
Edinenses" drew from the unbeliever an irreverent 
observation on the junction which the piety rather 
than the classical purity of the good town had made 
between the worship of the heathen and our own. 

That his conversation, however, was habitually free 
from all irreverent allusion, there can be no more 
complete proof than his uninterrupted intimacy with 
a man who never would have tolerated the least devia- 

HUME. 239 

tion from perfect decorum in that particular, Dr. Ro- 
bertson. The reflection which naturally arises from 
their friendship is, first, that so venerable an authority 
has pronounced in favour of his friend's conduct ; that 
he never deemed his writings an offence against even 
the ecclesiastical laws of his country, much less against 
good morals ; that he regarded those speculations which 
he the least approved and the most lamented, as justi- 
fied by their author's honest sincerity of purpose ; and 
that he considered the conduct of his argument as 
liable to no reprobation even from himself, a sincere 
believer, a pious Christian, a leading Presbyter of a 
Church whose discipline is peculiarly strict, a man 
above almost all other men regardful of decorum in 
his own demeanour, professional and private. It is 
another reflection, suggested by the same fact, that such 
bigots as Dr. Johnson are exposed to our reprobation, 
almost to our contempt, for being unable to bear the 
presence of a man with whom Robertson deigned, and 
even loved, to associate. Assuredly the English lay- 
man had not a more pious disposition than the Scottish 
divine ; the historian of the Reformation had rendered 
as valuable service to the cause of religion as the essay- 
ist. The man who had passed his nights with Savage 
in the haunts of dissipation, and whom a dinner could 
tempt to sit for hours by Wilkes, might well submit to 
the society of a man through his whole life as pure in 
morals, as blameless in conduct, as those others were 
profligate, and abandoned. But Robertson's faith was 
founded on reason and inquiry, not built upon the 
blind devotion to established usages ; and his piety, 
while charity tempered it, was warmed at the genial 

240 HUME. 

fire of a learned and inquiring philosophy, and pro- 
ceeded from his reason, not, like the dogmatical zeal of 
Johnson, inspired by fierce passions, matured by hypo- 
chondriacal temperament, stimulated by nervous fears. 
The one could give a reason for the faith that was in 
him the other believed upon trust ; the one believed 
because he could argue the other because he was 
afraid ; the one grounded his religion upon his learn- 
ing the other upon his wishes and his temper. The 
intolerant layman seemed to betray in his demeanour 
his soreness, in his horror of discussion a lurking sus- 
picion that all was not sound in the groundwork of his 
system. The tolerant and philosophic divine showed 
a manly confidence in the solidity of the altar at 
which he ministered. While Johnson was enraged at 
the foundations of his ill-understood, unexamined belief 
being scrutinized for fear they should be shaken, Robert- 
son, who well comprehended on what his faith rested, 
defied the utmost inquiry and most active efforts of his 
adversaries, well assured that out of the conflict, how- 
ever fiercely sustained, the system to which he was at- 
tached, because he understood it, must come with new 
claims to universal acceptation. 

( 241 ) 


I HAVE been favoured with some unpublished letters of Mr. 
Hume by the kindness of my learned kinsman Lord Meadow- 
bank and other friends. By the following part of a letter to Dr. 
Clephane, we may perceive that he had once, at least, gone out 
of his line, and attempted something purely fanciful, apparently 
in verse. From the sample of his imaginative writing in the 
Essays, the e Epicurean' especially, little room is left for lament- 
ing that he did not further pursue this deviation from his ap- 
pointed walk. The letter is dated 18th February, 1751. His 
low estimate of Shakspeare breaks out in this letter ; but he 
became convinced in the sequel, that his kinsman's tragedy, 
'Douglas,' to which he alludes, deserved the success which he 
justly predicts ; for we find him afterwards, to the same friend, 
giving his opinion, after reading the tragedy, and he terms it 
" a singular as well as fine performance, steering clear of the 
spirit of the English theatre, not devoid of Attic and French 
elegance." He seems to have formed a very low estimate of the 
English genius in those days ; for, speaking of Lord Ly ttelton's 
' Henry III.,' which he hears is to be in three quarto volumes, 
he exclaims, " O magnum, horribile, et sacrum libellum ! 
the last epithet probably applicable to it in more senses than 
one" and adds, " however, it cannot well fail to be readable, 
which is a great deal for an English book now-a-days." 

"Ninewells, near Berwick, 18th February, 1751. 
..." But since I am in the humour of displaying my wit, 
I must tell you that lately, at our idle hours, I wrote a sheet 
called the c Bellman's Petition,' wherein (if I be not partial, 

242 HUME. 

which I certainly am) there was great pleasantry and satire. 
The printers in Edinburgh refused to print it (a good sign, 
you'll say, of my prudence and discretion). Mr. Mure, the 
member, has a copy of it : ask it of him if you meet with him, 
or bid the Colonel, who sees him every day in the house, ask 
it; and, if you like it, read it to the General, and then return 
it. I will not boast, for I have no manner of vanity. But 
when I think of the present dulness of London, I cannot 
forbear exclaiming, ( Rome n'est pas dans Rome : c'est par- 
tout oil je suis.' 

" A namesake of mine has wrote a tragedy, which he ex- 
pects to come on this winter. I have not seen it, but some 
people commend it much. It is very likely to meet with 
success, and not to deserve it ; for the author tells me he is a 
great admirer of Shakspeare, and never read Racine. 

(t If you answer this any time within the twelvemonth, it is 
sufficient ; and I promise not to answer your next at less than 
six months' interval. And so, as the Germans say, ' Je me 
recomante a fos craces.' 

" Yours, 


The following, to the same correspondent, gives an account 
of his establishment after his election as librarian : 

" Edinburgh, 5th February, 1752. 

" I must now set you an example and speak of myself; by 
this I mean that you are to speak to me of yourself. I shall 
exult and triumph to you a little that I have now at last, being 
turned of forty, to my honour,, to that of learning, and to that of 
the present age, arrived at the dignity of being a householder. 
About seven months ago I got a house of my own, and com- 
pleted a regular family, consisting of a head, viz. myself, and 
two inferior members, a maid and a cat. My sister has since 
joined me, and keeps me company. With frugality I can 
reach, I find, cleanliness, warmth, light, plenty, and content- 
ment. What would you have more ? Independence ? I 
have it in a supreme degree. Honour ? That is not altogether 
wanting. Grace ? That will come in time. A wife ? That 

HUME. 243 

is none of the indispensable requisites of life. Books? That 
is one of them, and I have more than I can use. In short, I 
cannot find any blessing of consequence that I am not pos- 
sessed of in a greater or less degree ; and without any great 
effort of philosophy, I may be easy and satisfied. 

"As there is no happiness without occupation, I have 
begun a work which will employ me several years, and which 
yields me much satisfaction." 

The following is his letter introducing the future Chancellor, 
then a young man of twenty, going for the first time to 
London, which he visited before he was admitted an advocate 
in Scotland : 

" DEAR DOCTOR, " Edinburgh, 6th March, 1753. 

(t This is delivered to you by my friend Mr. Wedder- 
burn, who makes a jaunt to London, partly with a view to 
study, partly to entertainment. I thought I could not do him 
a better office, nor more suitable to both these purposes, than 
to recommend him to the friendship and acquaintance of a 
man of learning and conversation. He is young ; 

* Mais dans les ames bien nees 
La vertu n'attend point le nombre des annees.' 

" It will be a great obligation both to him and me if you give 
him encouragement to see you frequently ; and after that, I 
doubt not but you will think that you owe me an obligation, 
' Ha in giovanile corpo senile senno.' 

But I will say no more of him, lest my letter fall into the same 
fault which may be remarked in his behaviour and his conduct 
in life the only fault which has been remarked in them 
that of promising so much that it will be difficult for him to 
support it. You will allow that he must have been guilty of 
some error of this kind when I tell you, that the man with 
whose friendship and company I have thought myself very 
much favoured, and whom I recommend to you as a friend 
and a companion, is just twenty. 

et I am, dear Doctor, 

" Your affectionate friend and servant, 
" Dr. Clephane." " DAVID HUME. 

R 2 

244 HUME. 

There is a long letter to Dr. Clephane anxiously desiring 
his opinion upon the true causes of his l History ' having so 
entirely failed, and indicating his own notion that this was 
owing to his freedom in treating religious and ecclesiastical 
subjects, but expressing his surprise that such a tone should 
not rather have recommended his book to the favour of one 
class and the hostility of another, than have made it sink into 
oblivion and neglect. In a letter to Colonel Edmonstone he 
treats the same disappointment in a more jocose manner, 
indicating what he conceives to be the taste of the public, and 
their fondness for worthless writings. 

" Edinburgh, 25th September, 1757. 

" I am engaged in writing a new volume of history from 
the beginning of Henry VII. till the accession of James I. 
It will probably be published in the winter after next. I 
believe I shall write no more history, but proceed directly to 
attack the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, and 
the Single Catechism, and to recommend suicide and adultery, 
and persist until it shall please the Lord to take me to 
himself. " Yours ever, 

"D. H." 

To ANDREW MILLAR, the Bookseller. 

" 12th April, 1755. 

" The second volume of my ' History' I can easily find a 
way of conveying to you, when finished, and corrected, and 
fairly copied. Perhaps I may be in London myself about 
that time. I have always said to all my acquaintance, that if 
the first volume bore a little of a Tory aspect, the second 
would probably be as grateful to the opposite party. The 
two first princes of the House of Stuart were certainly more 
excusable than the two second. The constitution was in their 
time very ambiguous and undetermined, and their parliaments 
were in many respects refractory and obdurate. But Charles 
the Second knew that he had succeeded to a very limited 
monarchy. His Long Parliament was indulgent to him, and 
even consisted almost entirely of Royalists, yet he could not 
be quiet nor contented with a legal authority. I need not 

HUME. 245 

mention the oppressions in Scotland, nor the absurd conduct 
of King James the Second: these are obvious and glaring 
points. Upon the whole, I wish the two volumes had been 
published together ; neither one party nor the other would in 
that case have had the least pretext for reproaching me with 

' ' I shall give no further umbrage to the godly ; though I am 
far from thinking that my liberties on that head have been the 
real cause of checking the sale of the first volume : they might 
afford a pretence for decrying it to those -who were resolved, 
on other accounts, to lay hold of pretexts. 

" Pray tell Dr. Birch, if you have occasion to see him, that his 
story of the warrant for Lord Loudon's execution, though at 
first I thought it highly improbable, appears to me at present 
a great deal more likely. I find the same story in Scotstarvel's 
' Staggering State,' which was published here a few months 
ago. The same story, coming from different channels, with- 
out any dependence on each other, bears a strong air of pro- 
bability. I have spoke to Duke Hamilton, who says I shall 
be very welcome to peruse all his papers. I shall take the 
first opportunity of going to the bottom of that affair ; and if 
I find any confirmation of the suspicion, will be sure to 
inform Dr. Birch. I own it is the strongest instance of any 
which history affords of King Charles's arbitrary principles. 

" I have made a trial of * Plutarch,' and find that I take 
pleasure in it, but cannot yet form so just a notion of the time 
and pains which it will require, as to tell you what sum of 
money I would think an equivalent. But I shall be sure to 
inform you as soon as I come to a resolution. The notes 
requisite will not be numerous, nor so many as in the former 
edition. I think so bulky a book ought to be swelled as little 
as possible, and nothing added but what is absolutely requi- 
site. The little trial I have made convinces me that the 
undertaking will require time. My manner of composing is 
slow, and I have great difficulty to satisfy myself." 

The conclusion of this letter is extremely interesting, 
as proving the truth of the assertion in the ' Life' respect- 

246 HUME. 

ing his careful and deliberate manner of composing. This 
Appendix gives further proofs from the MS. of his Works. 


" Edinburgh, 22nd September, 1756. 

<( Mr. Strachan in a few days will have finished the 
printing this volume ; and I hope you will find leisure before 
the hurry of winter to peruse it, and to write me your remarks 
on it. I fancy you will publish about the middle of November. 
I must desire you to take the trouble of distributing a few 
copies to my friends in London, and of sending me a few 
copies here ; the whole will be fifteen copies. 

" Notwithstanding Mr. Mallet's impertinence in not answering 
my letter (for it deserves no better a name),, if you can engage 
him, from yourself, to mark, on the perusal, such slips of lan- 
guage as he thinks I have fallen into in this volume, it will 
be a great obligation to me : I mean that I shall lie under an 
obligation to you ; for I would not willingly owe any to him. 
" I am, dear Sir, 

te Your most humble Servant, 


DEAR SIR, 1758 or 1759. 

" I am very glad that Mr. Robertson is .entering on 
terms with you. It was, indeed, my advice to him, when he 
set out for London, that he should think of no other body ; 
and I ventured to assure him that he would find your way of 
dealing frank, and open, and generous. He read me part of 
his ' History ;' and I had an opportunity of reading another 
part of it in manuscript about a twelvemonth ago. Upon the 
whole, my expectations, both from what I saw, and from my 
knowledge of the author, are very much raised, and I consider 
it as a work of uncommon merit. I know that he has em- 
ployed himself with great diligence and care in collecting the 
facts. His style is lively and entertaining, and he judges 
with temper and candour. He is a man generally known and 
esteemed in this country ; and we look upon him very 

HUME. 247 

deservedly as inferior to nobody in capacity and learning. 
Hamilton and Balfour have offered him a very unusual price, 
no less than five hundred pounds for an edition of two thou- 
sand ; but I own that I should be better pleased to see him in 
your hands. I only inform you of the fact, that you may see 
.how high the general expectations are of Mr. Robertson's 
performance. It will have a quick sale in this country, from 
the character of the author ; and in England, from the merit 
of the work, as soon as it is known. 

" Some part of the subject is common with mine ; but as his 
work is a History of Scotland, mine of England, we do not 
interfere ; and it will rather be an amusement to the reader 
to compare our method of treating the same subject. I give 
you thanks, however, for your attention in asking my 

It is not without some reluctance that I add the following 
letter, because it is likely to give an unfavourable and also an 
unfair impression of the writer's principles. But let it be re- 
membered that he sincerely believed in the unhappy dogmas 
of infidelity, and consequently held the whole subject of reli- 
gious opinions cheap. To have done so in public would 
have been exceedingly blameable ; in private, it seemed to his 
mind a necessary consequence of his indifference or contempt, 
that he should fall into the lax morality of the ancients on 
this point, and give an exoterical conformity to what he eso- 
terically disbelieved. In my very clear opinion this course 
is wholly repugnant to sound morals ; and is to be reprobated, 
whether in the excess to which Mr. Hume carried it, or in 
the lesser degree to which such reasoners as Dr. Paley have 
adopted it. The suppression of such a letter would have ap- 
peared inconsistent with the plan of writing Mr. Hume's life" 
historically, and not merely composing a panegyric upon 

" DEAR EDMONSTONE, Not dated, but supposed, 1764. 

" I was just projecting to write a long letter to you, and 
another to Mr. V., when your last obliging epistle came to 

248 HUME. 

hand. I immediately put pen to paper to assure you that the 
report is entirely groundless, and that I have not lost, nor 
ever could have lost, a shilling by Fairholm's bankruptcy. 
Poor John Adams is very deeply engaged with him ; but I 
had a letter last post from Dr. Blair which informs me that 
he will yet be able to save fifteen or sixteen thousand pounds. 
I am glad to give you also this piece of intelligence. 

" What do you know that Lord Bute is again all-powerful? 
or rather that he was always so, but is now acknowledged 
for such by all the world ? Let this be a new motive for Mr. 
V. to adhere to the ecclesiastical profession, in which he may 
have so good a patron, for civil employments for men of letters 
can scarcely be found. All is occupied by men of business, 
or by Parliamentary interest. It is putting too great a respect 
on the vulgar, and on their superstitions, to pique oneself on 
sincerity with regard to them. Did ever one make it a point 
of honour to speak truth to children or madmen ? If the 
thing were worthy being treated gravely, I should tell him 
that the Pythian oracle, with the approbation of Xenophon, 
advised every one to worship the Gods vo/txo; 9roXews-. I wish it 
were still in my power to be a hypocrite in this parti- 
cular. The common duties of society usually require it; 
and the ecclesiastical profession only adds a little more to an 
innocent dissimulation, or rather simulation, without which it 
is impossible to pass through the world. Am I a liar because 
I order my servant to say I am not at home when I do not 
desire to see company ? 

" How could you imagine that I was under- secretary to 
Lord Hertford, or that I would ever be prevailed on to accept 
such a character ? I am not secretary at all, but do the busi- 
ness of secretary to the embassy without any character. Bun- 
^>ury has the commission and appointment a young man of 
three or four and twenty, somewhat vain and ignorant, whom 
Lord Hertford refused to accept of, as thinking he would be 
of no use to him. The King gave me a pension of 200/. 
a-year for life to engage me to attend his Lordship. My Lord 
is very impatient to have me secretary to the embassy, and 
writes very earnest letters to that purpose to the ministers 
and among the rest to Lord Bute. He engaged me somewhat 

HUME. 249 

against my will to write also to such of my friends as had credit 
with that favourite, Oswald, Elliot, Sir Harry Erskine, and 
John Hume of Douglas. The King has promised that my 
Lord Hertford shall soon be satisfied in this particular ; and 
yet I know not how, I suspect that some obstacle will yet in- 
terpose, though nothing can be more scandalous than for a 
man to enjoy the revenue of an office which is exercised by 
another. Mr. Bunbury has great interest, being married to 
a sister of the Duke of Richmond, and sister-in-law to Lord 
Holland. The appointments of this office are above 1000Z. 
a- year, and the expense attending it nothing ; and it leads to 
all the great employments. I wait the issue with patience, 
and even with indifference . At my years, and with my for- 
tune, a man with a little common sense, without philosophy, 
may be indifferent about what happens. 

" I am, dear Edmonstone, 

" Yours sincerely, 


The following fac-simile extracts from the MS. of the ' His- 
tory' prove two things : First, that Hume carefully composed 
and diligently corrected his composition; but secondly, that 
the finer passages having more occupied his attention, he had, 
before committing them to paper, more attentively elaborated 
and more nearly finished them. The characters of Alfred 
and of Edward III. are of this description, so is the earlier 
part of the magnificent description of the E-omish Interdict's 
operation. The MS. of the ' Dialogues ' affords an example of 
his repeated correction in his more ordinary passages. In the 
second edition of his works he again and again corrected ; and 
even his familiar letters appear to have been laboured with 
similar care : 

merit in private 

" The personal bo" character of this Prince, both personal 

& public A may with advantage be set in opposition to 

that whioh that of any Monarch or citizen, which the Annals 

250 HUME. 

of any age or any Nation, can present to us. He seems 
indeed to 4ta- be the compleat model of that perfect character, 
which, under the denomination of a Sage or Wiseman, the 

been fond of delineating 
Philosophers have ever ^^ framed, rather as a fiction of 

their imagination, than with the hopes of over seeing it 

reduc'd to Practice : so happily were all his virtues temper'd 


together : so nicely were they blended : and so powerfully 
did each prevent the other from exceeding its proper Bounds. 
He knew how to conciliate the boldest enterprize with the 
coolest moderation: the most obstinate Perseverance with 
the easiest Flexibility : the most severe justice with the greatest 

greatest affability of 

lenity : the most rigorous command with the most affable 

and inclination science 

deportment : the highest capacity A for -knowledge- with the 
most shining talents for action. His civil and his military 
virtues are almost equally the objects of our admiration: 


except A only, that the former, being more rare among 
princes, as well as more useful seem chiefly to challenge 
our applause. Nature also, as if desirous, that so bright a 
production of her skill shoud be set in the fairest light, 
him bestowed on him 

had endowed A with A all bodily accomplishments, vigour 
of limbs, Dignity of shap and air, and a pleasant, engaging, 
and open countenance. Fortune, alone, by throwing him into 
that barbarous age, deprived him of historians worthy to 
transmit his Fame to Posterity: and we wish to see him 
painted delineated in more lively strokes colours, and with 

particular strokes 

more lively colours, that we may at least -see- see- perceive 
some of those small Specks and Blemishes, from which, as a 
man, it is impossible he coud be entirely free exempted." 

" The sentence of Interdict was at that time the great 
instrument of Vengeance and Policy employd by the Court 
of Rome : was pronounc'd against sovereigns for the lightest 
offences: and for the guilt of one pcroon made the guilt 

HUME. 251 

of one person involve the Ruin of Millions, even in their 
spiritual and eternal Welfare. The execution of it was 
artificially calculated to strike the senses in the highest 

with irresistable force 

degree, and to operate A on the superstitious minds. The 
Nation was of a sudden deprivd of all exterior exercise of 
its religion. The altars were despoild of fr their orna- 
ments. The crosses, the relicts, the images, the statues of 
the saints were laid on the ground, and as if the air itself 
were profan'd and might pollute them by its contact, the 
priests carefully cover'd them up, even from their own 
approach and veneration.. The use of bells entirely ceas'd 
in all the churches. The bells themselves were removd 
from the steeples and laid on the ground with the other 

* B59% churches 
sacred utensils. Mass was celebrated in tho church with 

admitted to 

shut doors, and none but the priests were allowed to attend 

The laity partook of no religious rite ^ 

except baptism to new born infants, and the communion to 
the dying. The dead were not allowed to bo interred in 
consecrated ground. They were thrown into ditches, and 
bury'd in common fields : and the obsequies were not attended 
with prayers or any hallow'd ceremony. Marriage was cele- 

brated in A churchyards, and that fio- every action in life 

might bear marks of this dreadful situation, the people were 


forbid the use of meat, as in lent or tfe-. times of the highest 
penance, were debarrd from all pleasures and entertainments, 
and were forbid even to salute each other, or so much as to 
shave their beards and give any decent attention to their 

carryd the symptoms 

person and apparel. Every circumstance Jjorc_thc marks of 


the deepest distress, and of the most dreadful expectation 
apprehensions of divine vengeance and indignation." 

* Illegible. 

252 HUME. 

" I reckon not among the violations of the great charter 


some practices A Exertions of Prerogative, which Henry's 

without producing any discontents 

necessities oblig'd him to practice, and which A were uniformly 


practiced by all his successors till the last century. As the par- 

that -somctimco in a manner somewhat 
liament often refusd him supplies, and A often in a very rude 

and indecent-rfteamer-, he obliged his opulent subjects, parti- 
cularly the citizens of London, to grant him loans of money : 

want of economy 

and it is natural to imagine, that the same necessities- which 

reduced him to the necessity of borrowing him from 

obliged him to borrow, would prevent -btrfr being very regular 

He demanded benevolences, or pretended voluntary 

their contributions from his nobility & prelates. 

in 4ke payment of his dobtc A He was the first King of 
England since the Conquest who could be fairly said to 


lye under the restraint of law : and he was A the first who 
practicd the dispensing power, and employ'd the famous 

clause of non obstante in his grants and charters. The Princes 

notwithstanding the great power of the monarchs, 

both of the Saxon & Norman line own country 

of Wales A still preserved authority in their mountains ; and 

had often -fead been constraind to pay tribute 
tho' they oontinuod to do homage to the crown of England, 

in subordination or even in peace 

they were with difficulty retaind in oubj action, and almost 
4a- every reign since the conquest had infested the English 

frontiers with petty incursions and sudden inourciono, which 

-dooonrod to bo mentioned merited to have place 
seldom merited to havo place in a general history." 

" The behaviour of John show'd him not unworthy of 

- gcncrouo courteous never 

this A treatment. His present abject fortune A made him 
never forget a moment that he was a King. More sensible 


to hio the Princes generosity than to his own calamities, he 

HTJME. 253 

confess'd, that, notwithstanding his Defeat and Captivity, his 
Honour was still unimpair'd : and that, if he yielded the 
victory, it was at least gain'd by a Prince of such consummate 
Valour and Humanity." 


" The prisoners were everywhere treated with Humanity and 
were soon after dismissd on paying moderate Ransoms to the 
Persons into whose hands they had fallen. The extent of their 
fortunes was consider'd, and no more was exacted of them, 
that* what woud still leave them sufficient to enable them 
for the future, to take the field in a manner suitable to their 


rank & atation. Yet so numerous -and ouch a- were the 
noble Prisoners, that these Ransoms woro sufficient to onri 

join'd to the spoils of the -Battle- were sufficient to enrich 

the Princes army : and as they had sufferd very little in the 

joy & exultation 

action, their triumph was complete." 


" Now Cleanthes said Philo, with an air of Alacrity & 
Triumph Mark the consequence. First By this Method of 

Reasoning, you renounce all Pretensions to Infinity in any of 

the attributes of the Deity. For as the Cause ought only to be 
proportion'd to the Effect, and the Effect so far as it falls under 

you will , upon your supposition 
our cognisance : what Pretensions youll oay have we to ascribe 

Attribute You will still resist that, by 

that Epithet- to the Divine Being ? A > : &? removing him so 


4>y th give into the most arbitrary cuppoiritionc & at the same time weaken 
much from all similarity to human creatures, we A destroy all 
Proofs of his Existence. 


254 HUME. 

" This Theory, I own, replyd Cleanthes, has never before 
occurd to me, tho* a pretty natural one; and I cannot 
readily deliver any opinion abcut it upon so short an exami- 

deliver any opinion wilh regard to it 
nation & reflection * You are very scrupulous indeed, said 

Were examine 

Philo : and .woie I to start objections and diffieultief to- any 

system of yours, I should not have acted with half that 
in starting objections & difficulties to it 

caution and reserve * . However, if any thing occur to you, 

youH* oblige us by proposing it. 

" I allow of your comparison bctwist the Stoics & Sceptics, 

-ae just) replyd Philo. But you anuet observe, at the same 

time, that the mind cannot in Stoicism, support the highest 
Flights of Philosophy, yet even when it sinks lower, it 
still retains somewhat of its former Disposition; & the 

The Stoics -the Stoioo 

his The Cloic kis- will his 

effects of 4tfr A Reasoning A appear in A 4fcs- conduct in common 

thro' his 

Life, and A the whole Tenor of 4fe- actions. The Antient 

that of 
A schools, particularly that of A Zeno, produced examples of 

Virtue & Constancy which seem astonishing to present 

It is necessary to correct a very gross misstatement into 
which some idle or ill-intentioned person has betrayed an in- 
genious and learned critic respecting the papers of Mr. Hume 
still remaining and in Edinburgh. " Those who have exa- 
mined the Hume papers, which we know only from report, 
speak highly of their interest, but add that they furnish pain- 
ful disclosures concerning the opinions then prevailing among 
the clergy of the northern metropolis ; distinguished ministers 
of the Gospel encouraging the scoffs of their familiar friend, 
the author of the ' Essay on Miracles/ and echoing the blas- 
phemies of their associate the author of the * Essay on Sui- 
cide.' " These Edinburgh clergymen are then called " be- 

HUME. 255 

trayers of their Lord," and much more is added of a like kind.* 
Now this heavy charge against some of the most pious and 
most virtuous men who ever adorned any church, Dr. Robert- 
son, Dr. Blair, Dr. Jardine, Dr. Drysdale, and others, seemed 
eminently unlikely to be well founded. I have caused 
minute search to be made ; and on fully examining all that 
collection, the result is to give the most unqualified and 
peremptory contradiction to this scandalous report. It is in- 
conceivable how such a rumour should have arisen in any 

A severe, and we may well be permitted to add, a singularly 
absurd observation of Archbishop Magee is cited in the same 
criticism. f His Grace describes Hume's heterodox writings as 
1 ' standing memorials of a heart as wicked and a head as weak as 
ever pretended to the character of philosopher and moralist." 

Now I have no right to complain of the Most Reverend 
Prelate for forming so low an estimate of Mr. Hume's under- 
standing, and entertaining so bad an opinion of his heart ; an 
estimate and an opinion not confined by his Grace to one class 
of his writings, though undeserved by any. Yet it does appear 
somewhat strange that merely because one of the most able 
men that ever lived, and one of the most virtuous, unhappily 
entertained religious opinions very different from those of the 
Archbishop, therefore he must be proclaimed both a dunce and 
a knave. It may also be permitted us to wish that the disciples 
of the religion in which " the greatest of these things is 
charity," and in which erring mortals are forbidden " to judge 
lest they be judged," should emulate the candour and the 
charity of unbelievers ; for assuredly if Mr. Hume had lived to 
read the Archbishop's work on the 'Atonement/ though he 
might not have been converted by it, he would freely have 
confessed the great talents and the unspotted virtue of its 

* Quarterly Review, vol. Ixxiii. p. 556. f ^*> 



JOINED in friendship and in fame with the great 
man whose life and writings we have been contem- 
plating, and, equally with him, founder of the repu- 
tation of our country for excellence in historical com- 
position, was William Robertson, also a native of 
Scotland. His father, a learned, pious, and eloquent 
divine, was settled for several years as minister of the 
Scotch church in London Wall, but had returned to 
Scotland before his marriage with Miss Pitcairn of 
Dreghorn, in the county of Edinburgh, and was settled 
at Borthwick, in the same county, at the time of the 
historian's birth, on the 19th of September, 1721. I 
have been curious to ascertain the kind of genius which 
distinguished his father beside his talent for drawing, 
of which I possess a specimen showing some skill,* 
and by the kindness of a kinsman I have had the great 

* It is a miniature in Indian ink of James, Earl of Seafield, one 
of the forfeited Lords, to whom he was believed to be distantly re- 
lated. A tradition prevailed in the family that they descended 
from John Knox. The historian professed himself quite unac- 
quainted with the reasons of this rumour which connected him with 
" the rustic Apostle," whose character and conduct he has described 
most faithfully and strikingly. 


satisfaction of receiving a copy of the only sermon which 
he ever published, as well as of two or three hymns, 
translations, and paraphrases from the Hebrew of the 
Old Testament. The sermon is able, judicious, cor- 
rectly composed, both for accuracy of diction and se- 
verity of taste, and contains passages of great beauty and 
effect. It resembles what in England would be called 
an Ordination Sermon or Charge, being delivered at 
the opening of the Metropolitan Synod in May, 1737, 
and is a full description of the duties of ministers, the 
title of it being that " they should please God rather 
than men." The poetry is elegant and classical. 
Both productions plainly show that good taste, as well 
as strong but sober reason, came to the great historian 
by descent as well as by study. But that his father 
held opinions more strict on some subjects than the 
relaxed rigour of the Presbyterian rule prescribed half 
a century later, may be seen from his requiring his 
son's promise never to enter a play-house. This was 
stated by him in reference to his father, when debating 
the question of John Home's having written the play 
of ' Douglas/ It is needless to add that, however 
much he differed with his father on this subject, he 
strictly adhered through life to the promise thus given, 
insomuch that when Garrick and Henderson at dif- 
ferent times visited him, they entertained and interested 
him by exhibiting to him in private specimens of the 
art in which both so eminently excelled. The tra- 
ditional character of the venerable person whom I 
have mentioned, in his family, was anything rather 
than sour or stern, how severe and unbending soever 
may have been his moral feelings. For the sweetness 



of his placid temper, and the cheerfulness of his kindly 
disposition, I have heard him spoken of in terms of 
the warmest enthusiasm by such of his children as 
were old enough at the time of his decease to recollect 
him distinctly. The idea of again meeting him in 
another state was ever present to my grandmother's 
mind, (who was his eldest daughter,) and especially 
when stricken with any illness. It was with her a 
common source of argument for a future state, as 
proved by the light of nature, and in her pious mind a 
confirmation of the truth of Christianity, that, believ- 
ing in the Divine goodness, she could not conceive 
the extinction of so much angelical purity as adorned 
her parent, and so fine an understanding as he pos- 
sessed. Their mother was a woman of great ability 
and force of character ; but like many of that cast, 
women especially, she was more stern, and even severe, 
than amiable ; and this contrast, unfavourable to the 
one, redounded to the augmented love of the other. 
It cannot be doubted that the son's character derived 
a strong tincture from both parents, but that while he 
was mild and gentle in his temper, and of an engaging 
demeanour, his firmness and decision, nay, his inclina- 
tion towards the Stoical system of morals, and even to 
a certain degree of Stoical feeling too, was derived from 
his mother. 

The death of these two excellent persons was singu- 
larly melancholy, and served to impress on the minds of 
their family a mournful recollection of their virtues. 
Mr. Robertson had been removed to the Old Grey Friars 
Church of Edinburgh in 1733 ; and ten years after- 
wards, both he and his wife, seized with putrid fever, 


died within a few days of one another, leaving eight 
children, six daughters and two sons, of whom Wil- 
liam was the elder. He had been educated first at the 
school of Dalkeith, under a very able teacher of the 
name of Leslie, a gentleman at that time of the great- 
est eminence in his profession. On his father's removal 
to Edinburgh, he was taken thither and placed at the 
University, though only twelve years old. His dili- 
gence in study was unremitting, and he pursued 
his education at the different classes for eight years 
with indefatigable zeal. He had laid down for himself 
a strict plan of reading ; and of the notes which he 
took there remain a number of books, beginning when 
he was only fourteen, all bearing the sentence as a 
motto which so characterised his love of learning, indi- 
cating that he delighted in it abstractedly, and for its 
own sake, without regarding the uses to which it might 
be turned " Vita sine litteris mors." I give this gloss 
upon the motto or text advisedly. His whole life was 
spent in study. I well remember his constant habit of 
quitting the drawing-room both after dinner and again 
after tea, and remaining shut up in his library. The 
period of time when I saw this was after the ' History 
of America' had been published, and before Major Ren- 
nell's map and memoir appeared, which he tells us 
first suggested the ' Disquisition on Ancient India/ 
Consequently, for above ten years he was in the course 
of constant study, engaged in extending his inform- 
ation, examining and revolving the facts of history, 
contemplating ethical and theological truths, amus- 
ing his fancy with the strains of Greek and Roman 
poetry, or warming it at the fire of ancient eloquence 


so congenial to his mind, at once argumentative and 
rhetorical ; and all this study produced not one written 
line, though thus unremittingly carried on. The same 
may be said of the ten years he passed in constant 
study from 1743, the beginning of his residence in a 
small parish, of very little clerical duty, to 1752, when 
we know from his letter to Lord Hailes he began his 
first work. But, indeed, the composition of his three 
great works, spread over a period of nearly thirty years, 
clearly evinces that during this long time his studies 
must have been much more subservient to his own grati- 
fication than to the preparation of his writings, which 
never could have required one half that number of years 
for their completion. 

Translations from the classics, and especially from 
the Greek, of which he was a perfect master, formed a 
considerable part of his labour. He considered this 
exercise as well calculated to give an accurate know- 
ledge of our own language, by obliging us to weigh 
the shades of difference between words or phrases, and 
to find the expression, whether by the selection of the 
terms or the turning of the idiom, which is required 
for a given meaning ; whereas, when composing origi- 
nally, the idea may be varied in order to suit the dic- 
tion which most easily presents itself, of which the 
influence produced manifestly by rhymes, in moulding 
the sense as well as suggesting it, affords a striking and 
familiar example.* His translationshowever, were not 
wholly confined to their purpose of teaching composi- 

* I may mention that both he and his son, the Judge, prescribed 
this exercise to me, and, among others, made me translate all the 
4 History ' of Floras. 


tion ; he appears to have at the same time indus- 
triously completed the work of rendering some ancient 
treatises, which peculiarly interested him. He had even 
prepared for the press a translation of Antoninus's ' Me- 
ditations/* having thus early felt a strong leaning 
towards the Stoical philosophy. The appearance of a 
very poor translation at Glasgow prevented the execu- 
tion of this design, but the work remains : I have it 
now in my possession, and shall give one or two pas- 
sages in the Appendix. In elocution he acquired faci- 
lity and correctness by attending a society which met 
weekly to debate literary and philosophical questions. 
This society gave rise many years later to another, 
which was frequented by the men who in after life 
proved the most distinguished of their countrymen : 
Hume, Smith (neither of whom ever took part in de- 
bate), Wedderburn (afterwards Chancellor), Fergu- 
son, Home (Lord Kames), were of the number. But 
his thirst of knowledge was not confined to these its 
more easy and more inviting walks. He had deeply 
studied some branches of the severer sciences. It is 
not, therefore, without good cause that he speaks of 
mathematical subjects (in his preface to the work on 
India) as having been embraced in his course of study, 
though not having been carried so far as a discussion 
of the Brahminical astronomy might require. 

In 1741, according to the constitution of the Scotch 
Church, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Edin- 
burgh to preach ; orders being only conferred upon a 

* Marc. Aurel. : 1W EIQ iavrov. 


presentation to a living or Kirk. Two years after, he 
was appointed minister of Gladsmuir, a country parish 
in East Lothian ; and this event happened fortunately 
on the eve of the irreparable loss sustained by the 
family in the death of both their parents, which left his 
brother and his sisters wholly without provision. He 
immediately took the care of them upon himself, and 
would form no connexion in marriage until he had seen 


them placed in situations of independence. He thus 
remained single for eight years, during which his eldest 
and favourite sister superintended his family. In her 
sound judgment he always placed the greatest con- 
fidence ; for he knew that to great beauty she added a 
calm and a firm temper, inherited from their mother, 
but with greater sweetness of disposition. An instance 
of her fortitude and presence of mind was sometimes 
mentioned by him, though never alluded to by herself, 
that a swarm of bees having settled on her head and 
shoulders while sitting in the garden, she remained 
motionless until they took wing, thus saving her life, 
which was in imminent jeopardy. She was married in 
1750, and the year after he married his cousin, Miss 

While at Gladsmuir, where he remained fifteen 
years, his life was passed in constant study, and in the 
duties of his sacred profession. He rose very early, 
and devoted the whole morning to his books. Later 
in the day he had ample time for visiting the sick and 
the poor generally ; and he gave great attention to the 
important duty of examining and catechising the young 
people under his care. But nothing can be more 
absurd than the statement in some of the lives which 


have been published, as if his whole time after break- 
fast was devoted to these duties. It would have been 
utterly impossible to find subjects for his visits in 
that small country parish, not containing two hundred 

It is remarkable that, with all the love of study 
which formed so striking a feature of his character, nay, 
with the contemplative disposition which his thirst of 
knowledge for its own sake plainly indicates, he should 
have joined an extraordinary fitness for the less 
speculative pursuits of active life, and a manifest 
willingness to bear a part in them. The rebellion of 
1745 afforded an occasion on which he conceived that 
the dangers surrounding civil and religious liberty 
called for the exertions of all good citizens in its 
defence. On the news of the rebels marching towards 
Edinburgh he quitted his parsonage (manse) and joined 
the volunteers of the capital. How far they marched 
is not known ; but that they must have proceeded 
towards the Highlands, and for some time remained 
under arms, is certain from this, that he always men- 
tioned the effect of the first coal fire on his head after 
he had been for some time accustomed to burn peat 
only. When Edinburgh was surrendered he joined a 
small body of persons from the city, who offered their 
services at Haddington to the Commander-in-Chief. 

Soon after his marriage he was returned as a member 
to the General Assembly, and again his capacity and 
his inclination for active life , appeared. He devoted 
himself assiduously to the business of that body ; and, 
having a very strong and clear opinion in favour of lay 
patronage, the great question which divided the Church 


of Scotland in that day, as, in truth, it again does in 
our own, he assumed the lead of its advocates. At first 
they formed a small minority of the Assembly ; but, 
by degrees, reason enforced by eloquence had its course, 
and he gained ultimately a complete victory over his 

The persecution of John Home, by the fanatical 
party, for writing the moral and innocent and even 
pious tragedy of ' Douglas/ gave another occasion to 
show Dr. Robertson's liberal and rational sentiments. 
Such of the clergy as had attended the theatre to 
witness the representation were involved in the same 
bigoted outcry. Home himself bent to the storm, and 
resigned his living ; Robertson's judicious but spirited 
defence saved the rest from more than a rebuke to 
some, and a few weeks' suspension to others. He man- 
fully explained why he had never attended himself, say- 
ing, that it was only owing to the promise already men- ' 
tioned ; but he avowed that he saw no harm in the at- 
tendance of his brethren whom no such promise bound. 

He was now looked up to as the acknowledged 
leader of the moderate party ; and, as they soon after 
became the ruling body in the Church, he must be 
considered as the leading minister of that venerable 
body during all the time he continued in the Assembly. 
Of the lustre with which his talents now shone forth 
all men are agreed in giving the same account. I have 
frequently conversed with those who could well re- 
member his conduct as a great party chief, and their 
uniform observation was upon the manifest capacity 
which he displayed for affairs. " That he was not in 
his right place when only a clerical leader or a literary 


man, but was plainly designed by nature, as well as 
formed by study, for a great practical statesman and 
orator," is the remark which seems to have struck all 
who observed his course. His eloquence was bold and 
masculine ; his diction, which flowed with perfect ease, 
resembled that of his writings, but of course became 
suited to the exigencies of extemporaneous speech. He 
had the happy faculty of conveying an argument in a 
statement, and would more than half answer his 
adversary by describing his propositions and his reason- 
ings. He showed the greatest presence of mind in 
debate ; and, as nothing could ruffle the calmness of his 
temper, it was quite impossible to find him getting into 
a difficulty, or to take him at a disadvantage. He knew 
precisely the proper time of coming forward to debate, 
and the time when, repairing other men's errors, 
supplying their deficiencies, and repelling the adverse 
assaults, he could make sure of most advantageously 
influencing the result of the conflict, to which he ever 
steadily looked, and not to display. If his habitual 
command of temper averted anger and made him loved, 
his undeviating dignity both of demeanour and of con- 
duct secured him respect. The purity of his blameless 
life, and the rigid decorum of his manners, made all 
personal attacks upon him hopeless ; and, in the 
management of party concerns, he was so far above 
any thing like manoeuvre or stratagem, that he achieved 
the triumph so rare, and for a party chief so hard to 
win, of making his influence seem always to rest on 
reason and principle, and his success in carrying his 
measures to arise from their wisdom, and not from his 
own power. 

They relate one instance of his being thrown some- 


what off his guard, and showing a feeling of great 
displeasure, if not of anger, in a severe remark upon a 
young member. But the provocation was wholly out 
of the ordinary course of things, and it might well 
have excused, nay, called for, a much more unsparing 
visitation than his remark, which really poured oil 
into the wound it made. Mr. Cullen, afterwards 
Lord Cullen, was celebrated for his unrivalled talent 
of mimicry, and Dr. Robertson, who was one of his 
favourite subjects, had left the Assembly to dine, 
meaning to return. As the aisle of the old church, 
consecrated to the Assembly meetings, was at that late 
hour extremely dark, the artist took his opportunity of 
rising in the Principal's place and delivering a short 
speech in his character, an evolution which he accom- 
plished without detection. The true chief returned 
soon after ; and, at the proper time for his interposition, 
rose to address the house. The venerable Assembly 
was convulsed with laughter, for he seemed to be 
repeating what he had said before, so happy had the 
imitation been. He was astonished and vexed when 
some one explained the mystery opened as it were the 
dark passage where Mr. Cullen had been acting. He 
said he saw how it was, and hoped that a gentleman 
who could well speak in his own person would at 
length begin to act the character which properly 
belonged to him.* 

That great additional weight accrued to him as ruler 

* A somewhat similar scene occurred in the House of Commons 
on the publication of Mr. Tickell's celebrated jeu d'esprit, ' Anti- 
cipation/ It only appeared on the morning of the day when the 
session opened, and some of the speakers who had not read it 
verified it, to the no small amusement of those who had. 


of the Church, from the lustre of his literary fame, 
cannot be doubted ; and that the circumstance of his 
connexion with the University always securing him a 
seat in the Assembly, while others went out in rotation, 
tended greatly to consolidate his influence, is equally 
clear. But these accidents, as they are with respect to 
the General Assembly, would have availed him little, 
had not his intrinsic qualities as a great practical 
statesman secured his power. He may be said to have 
directed the ecclesiastical affairs of Scotland for more 
than a quarter of a century with unexampled success, 
and without any compromise of his own opinions, or 
modification of his views of church policy ; and he 
quitted the scene of his brilliant career while in the 
full vigour of his faculties, and the untarnished lustre 
of his fame. 

At the latter end of George II/s reign, that Prince, 
or his advisers, deemed it expedient to make a proposal, 
having for its object the elevation of this eminent 
person to a high rank in the English Church. The 
particulars are not known ; but Mr. Stewart, who 
probably had some intimation of them, says that the 
offer was met with " a rejection, in terms which 
effectually prevented a repetition of the attempt." 
Probably he considered it as, in substance, an insult to 
his character for sincerity as well as independence ; 
for though no man was less tainted by narrow-minded 
bigotry, and none probably could regard less than he 
did the differences, rather political than religious, 
which separate the two churches as matters of con- 
science, he yet had declared his aversion to Episcopacy 
on grounds not to be shaken, at any rate not to be 
shaken by a proposal accompanied with temporal 


advantage, and lie would have deemed his entertaining 
it for an instant a corrupt sacrifice of his principles to 
the gratification of his ambition. 

While the conflict was raging in the Church Courts 
on Patronage, he had given to theworld his first pub- 
lished works his historical articles contributed to a 
periodical work established by Smith, Wedderburn 
(afterwards Chancellor), Jardine, Blair, Russell, and 
others, under the name, since become more famous, of the 
Edinburgh Review, and a sermon preached before the 
Society for promoting Christian Knowledge, in January 
1755. The Review contained many able and learned 
papers, and reached a second number, when its con- 
ductors were obliged to give it up, in consequence 
of the fanatical outcry raised against a most justly 
severe criticism upon a wretched production of theolo- 
gical bigotry and intolerance which had just disgraced 
the extreme party in the Church.* The subject of 
the sermon is one peculiarly suited to his habits of 
inquiry the situation of the world at the time of our 
Saviour's appearance as connected with the success of 
his mission. The merits of this piece, as a sermon, 
are very great ; and it is admirable, as an historical 
composition, in that department which Voltaire first 
extended to all the records of past times. It was 

* This criticism was from the elegant pen of Dr. Jardine, one of 
the most pious ministers of the Church, and a very intimate friend of 
the Principal. The papers of the latter appear to have been chiefly 
written on subjects which he had occasion to consider as incidental to 
his historical researches, and he does not seem to have put forth his 
strength in their composition. They are slight as compared with Adam 
Smith's review of Johnson's Dictionary, and his excellent letter to 
the editors on the General State of Literature, recommending an en- 
largement of their plan, which was confined to Scottish publications. 


written and published before the appearance of the 
1 Essai sur les Moeurs ;' though, as has been already 
said,* detached portions of that work had appeared in 
a Paris periodical work. 

As a preacher he was most successful. His lan- 
guage, of course, was pure, his composition graceful, 
his reasoning cogent, his manner impressive. He spoke 
according to the custom of the Scottish Church, hav- 
ing only notes to assist his memory. His notions of 
usefulness, and his wish to avoid the fanaticism of the 
High Church party (what with us would be called the 
Low Church, or Evangelical), led him generally to 
prefer moral to theological or Gospel subjects. Yet 
he mingled also three themes essential to the duties of a 
Christian pastor. He loved to dwell on the goodness 
of the Deity, as shown forth not only in the monu- 
ments of creation, but the work of love in the redemp- 
tion of mankind. He delighted to expatiate on the 
fate of man in a future state of being, and to contrast 
the darkness of the views which the wisest of the heathen 
had, with the perfect light of the new dispensation. He 
oftentimes would expound the Scriptures, taking, as is 
the usage of the Kirk, a portion of some chapter for 
the subject of what is called lecture as contradis- 
tinguished from sermon ; and in these discourses, the 
richness of his learning, the remarkable clearness of his 
explanation, the felicity of his illustration, shone forth, 
as well as the cogency and elegance of his practical 
application to our duties in life, the end and aim of all 
his teaching. I have heard him repeatedly, occupying 
as he did from 1759 to his death the pulpit of the Old 

* Life of Voltaire. 


Grey Friars, where his father had been minister before 
him. But one sermon, though I was very young at the 
time, I never can forget. The occasion was the celeb ra- 
tion (5th November, 1T88) of the centenary of the Revo- 
lution, and his sister, considering that to have heard 
such a man discourse on such a subject was a thing to 
be remembered by any one through life ever after, took 
me to hear him. It was of singular and striking inte- 
rest, for the extreme earnestness, the youthful fervour 
with which it was delivered. But it was in some pas- 
sages upon a revolution which he expected and saw 
approaching, if not begun, as well as upon the one 
which was long past, and almost faded from the 
memory in the more absorbing interest of present 
affairs, I well remember his referring to the events 
now going on on the Continent, as the forerunners of 
far greater ones which he saw casting their shadows 
before. He certainly had no apprehensions of mischief, 
but he was full of hope for the future, and his exult- 
ation was boundless in contemplating the deliverance 
of " so many millions of so great a nation from the 
fetters of arbitrary government." His sister and I 
often afterwards reflected on this extraordinary dis- 
course with wonder, and I feel almost certain of some 
such expressions as these having been used, and of his 
foretelling that our neighbours would one day have to 
celebrate such an event as had now called us together. 
We dined with him the same day on leaving the 
church, for it was the afternoon service that he had 
performed. His eldest son, afterwards Lord Robert- 
son, was of the company ; and when the Principal 
expressed his satisfaction at having had his presence at 
church (a thing by no means of weekly occurrence), 


the answer was, " Aye, sir, if you'll always give us such, 
sermons, you may make it worth our while." " Ah," 
answered he, "you would like it, as the boys say," 
referring to a vulgar school taunt. I have again and 
again asked my learned kinsman to show me the ser- 
mon, which he admitted he possessed among his 
father's papers, fairly written out. His answer was 
that he wished to avoid giving it publicity, because, in 
the violence of the times, the author of it would be 
set down for a Jacobin, how innocent soever he was 
at the day of its being preached. Those times have hap- 
pily long since passed away. I cannot believe that any 
one has ventured to destroy this remarkable produc- 
tion, though hitherto it has not been found.* I return 
to the course of his life. 

From 1752 to 1758 he had been diligently occu- 
pied with the ' History of Scotland ;' in 1759 it ap- 
peared. The success of this admirable work was as 
immediate and as universal as it was deserved. The 
whole edition, though of two quarto volumes, was ex- 
hausted in less than a month. There was but one 
voice in every part of the country, and among all 
ranks and descriptions of men, both upon its pure and 
beautiful composition, its interesting narrative, and 
its anxious and conscientious accuracy. A murmur 
was heard from the Jacobite party, who in Scotland 

* My kinsman, executor of Lord Robertson, has at length, after 
many a fruitless search, succeeded in finding the sermon, and it 
now lies before me, written in his own hand. I can see the places 
where he added remarks made on the inspiration of the moment, 
particularly the one above cited, of which I am the more certain 
from the subsequent conversations of his sister, who heard it with me. 


were more wild and romantic, and more unreasoning, 
than in the southern parts of the island. Not satis- 
fied with the far less harsh view of Mary's conduct 
which he had taken compared with Hume's, partial as 
Hume was to the Stuarts, it was the fashion of this 
little set of enthusiasts to say that he had " cut her 
with a razor dipped in oil." It was no little conces- 
sion to have acquitted her of all part in Babington's 
conspiracy, to have left her share in Darnley's murder 
hanging in doubt, to have pronounced a decisive judg- 
ment against Elizabeth, for her whole conduct both 
towards the Scots and their Queen. These silly per- 
sons would not be appeased unless, in the face of all 
her own conduct and her own words, she was ac- 
quitted of the outrage on common decency of wed- 
ding her husband's murderer, and screening his accom- 
plices from punishment. But the clamour, though it 
produced a book or two in support of this most des- 
perate cause, spread very little even in Scotland ; and 
the national vanity was inexpressibly gratified by this 
great triumph in the most important and most popu- 
lar of all the walks of polite learning. The delight of 
his friends was of course still more lively. Aware of 
his merits, as they always had been, and somewhat 
impatient of the length of time which he had suffered 
his known capacity to remain barren, now that they 
saw the abundant fruits crowning his works, they 
exulted as if they gathered in the rich harvest in 
common, and confessed that the postponement had not 
stunted the growth, but, like a fallow, made it more 
plenteous and more rich. Ill truth, the discipline of 
so many years' study to which he had subjected him- 
self, the long delay which he had interposed, though 


all the while thoroughly versed in all the arts of com- 
position, had the salutary effect of making his first 
work as mature as his latest production. This is per- 
haps a singular instance of one who had from his early 
youth been studying diction, who had been constantly 
writing, and had for long years been almost as expert as 
he ever became, withholding himself from employing 
the faculty which he had acquired, except to render 
himself still more dexterous in its use, and continuing 
four and twenty years ere he appeared before the 
world, nay, eighteen years before he even began 
to write the work which should lay the foundation 
of his fame. He was eight and thirty when he 
published it. But then it is another singularity 
as great, that considerable doubt remains if any 
of his subsequent works surpassed this first pro- 

Among his exulting friends, David Hume deserve 
to be singled out for the heartiness of his disinterested 
joy. Far from not bearing a brother near the 
throne, he entirely rejoiced in his rival's success, and 
even in the uniting of all testimonies to his merits, so 
strongly contrasted with the universal clamour for 
some years raised against his own 'History/ and the 
niggard praise which, even after five years, that work 
received. Among other kind acts, he encouraged 
some literary men at Paris to translate the new l His- 
tory ;' and he thus jocosely touches upon the loss of 
his undivided superiority as an historian : " I warn 
you, however, this is the last time I shall ever speak 
the least good of it. A plague take you ! Here I sat 



near the historical summit of Parnassus, immediately 
under Dr. Smollett,* and you have the impudence to 
squeeze yourself past me, and place yourself directly un- 
der his feet! Do you imagine that this can be agree- 
able to me ? and must not I be guilty of great simpli- 
city to contribute by my endeavours to your thrusting 
me out of my place both at Paris and in London ? 
But I give you warning that you will find the matter 
somewhat difficult, at least in the former city. A 
friend of mine who is there, writes home to his father 
the strangest accounts of that kind, which my modesty 
will not allow me to repeat, but which it allowed me 
very deliciously to swallow." 

Just before the ' History ' was published, the author 
visited London for the first time ; and his merit hav- 
ing been made known to some persons of eminence 
and of good taste, who had been allowed to peruse por- 
tions, at least, of the proof sheets, his reception was of 
a distinguished kind. I have now before me some letters 
of his to his bosom friend, and steady coadjutor in 
ecclesiastical politics, Dr. Jardine, and it is pleasing 
to mark the natural expression of his satisfaction with 
his visit. 

The first letter which I shall give begins with 
a good deal of narrative upon the success of John 
Home's c Agis/ At that time the violence and folly of 
the fanatical party made the subject of this elegant 
and amiable writer's dramas doubly interesting to his 
friends. The tragedy, so successful at first, chiefly be- 

* He of course had the lowest opinion of this writer's parts as 
an historian. 


cause of its predecessor, ' Douglas,'* having succeeded 
through merit, and partly because of high patronage, 
is a very middling performance, and, like all Mr. 
Home's plays, except ' Douglas,' has long since sunk 
into deserved oblivion. Dr. Robertson's amiable zeal 
for his friend, and his exultation at the success of his 
piece, is very striking in this letter. 

" MY DEAR SlB, " Thursday, March 16th. 

" When I wrote you the history of ' Agis,' I certainly 
foresaw some of the purposes for which it would serve, and 
that you would naturally employ it for an use of mortification 
to the wicked, as well as of comfort to the pious. I could not, 
however, have any presage either of the absurdity of the 
players, or of the malice and credulity of Home's enemies, 
which rendered my account doubly seasonable. I now put 
it in your power to mortify them with still fuller accounts 
of the triumphs of ' Agis.' Never were there more crowded 
houses than during the whole run of the play. The Prince 
of Wales was present no less than three different nights, one 
of which a benefit night. Such honourable distinction was 
never formerly bestowed upon any new piece. The snarlers 
and small critics are somewhat enraged at this, and every one 
against Lord Bute ; though I can assure you, the frequency of 
the Prince's attendance was his own proper motion, and pro- 
ceeded from his admiration of ' Agis.' But what is still more 
honourable for Home, since the ninth night, ' Agis' has been 
acted twice, and both times the house was more crowded (if 
possible), and the applause louder than ever. There has ap- 

* * Douglas' was the second in date of composition, though the first 
performed. Garrick had rejected it peremptorily; and it was 
brought out with great success at Edinburgh. Garrick had also 
rejected all Home's other pieces ; until Lord Bute and other persons 
of distinction patronised the poet, when the manager, following his 
ignoble nature, suddenly became the zealous and forward patron of 
all he wrote, and joined those noble supporters in fencing the very 
poor tragedy of < Agis' on the public. 

T 2 


peared a critic on 'Agis,' one Henerden. I am persuaded 
Home has hired him, and given him a crown to write such 
execrable stuff. Every body laughs at it ; and, in the wicked 
language of this town, it is called a d d tame piece of non- 
sense. Wedderburn makes all the progress we could wish : 
even the door-keeper of the House of Peers tells me that ' he 

is a d d clever fellow, and speaks devilish good English.' 

This very morning he was retained in a Plantation cause 
before the Privy Council, which is a thing altogether extra- 
ordinary for so young a man. You cannot imagine what odd 
fellows his rivals are, and how far and how fast he is likely 
to go. 

" I can't say so much about my own progress. I unluckily 
have but one copy of my ' History/ otherwise I might advance 
with more rapidity. I have been with Horace Walpole, a son 
of Sir Robert's, a very clever man, and of great leading among 
the literary people of fashion. We had much conversation about 
Mary. He is one of the greatest critics I ever met with, as 
to the facts in the period. Our notions jumped perfectly. 
Part of my papers are in his hands ; the Duke of Argyle has 
another ; Scott, who was preceptor to the Prince of Wales, a 
third ; and Lord Royston a fourth. I have got from this last 
a vast collection of original papers ; many of them are curious. 
I am advised by several people to transcribe as many as will 
swell the book to a guinea price. The taste of this town is 
such, that such an addition will be esteemed very meritorious ; 
and though it cost me little but having an amanuensis, it will 
add to the price in proportion to the increase of bulk. You 
see I begin to learn the craft of authorship. I have hitherto 
industriously avoided meeting with booksellers, but shall soon 
begin my operations with them. I have had a great offer 
from Hamilton and Balfour, which you'll probably have heard 
of. I can scarcely believe that even the effrontery of 

W r's roguery could have seriously set his face to such a 

scheme as that you mention. I scarce think it necessary, 
upon such a surmise, to write to Lord Milton ; but I shall 
drop a line to Mrs. Wedderburn or Miss Hepburn, in order 
to prevent any such foolish measure being heard with patience. 
I have not yet seen either Dr. Chandler or the Lions. All the 


other scenes you recommend to me I have seen. I have 
heard the Bishops of Salisbury and Oxford. There was some 
elegance, a spice of drollery, and not a little buffoonery in 
the sermon of the latter ; and his audience admired and 
laughed, and were edified. Blair is but a ninny of an orator ; 
he makes his hearers serious, and sets them a- crying; but 
here they go to heaven, laughing as they go. You cannot 
imagine what strange characters I have met with, which I 
cannot now take off. I am a sort of domestic with Dr. 
Campbell, the best of all the authors I have seen.* I am often 
with Tucker of Bristol. I dined and drank claret with Douglas, 
the murderer of Bower." " There were nine other persons in 
company (at another dinner), all of them retainers to the author 
or bookseller ; and I will draw you such a picture of that night, 
that you shall say the seeing of it alone was worth my coming 
to London. I wrote Bruce a long letter about news some 
days ago : you would probably meet with him and hear its 
contents. The Hanoverians are still making progress, as you 
will read more at large in the ' Chronicle/ The only thing 
which engrosses the talk of politicians is the flight of Bonneville. 
He was the officer who dissuaded the landing at Rochefort, 
and who, before the court-martial, gave evidence directly 
opposite to Clerk's. He went over to Holland ; was seen often 
at d'Affry's, the French Ambassador's : he told him, ' Sir, 
I do possess some merit; I saved one town to France, 
and three generals to England.' His evidence acquitted 
Mordant, &c. From Holland he went over to France. You 
may believe Pitf and Colonel Clerk, &c., enjoy this adventure, 
which is indeed a remarkable one. Last day I was in the 
House of Commons, of which I am made free by "- 

Unfortunately the MS. breaks off just as he was about 
to describe the debate. 

* The able author of the fine historical pieces in the edition 
1740 of Harris's * Voyages.' Dr. R. always used to mention his 
Presbyterian horror of the " profane expletives " which he found 
formed a part of all English colloquial discourse in those days. 

t Sic. 


The following letter gives a further account of 
the historian's progress in preparing for the publica- 
tion of his work. It is written to the same friend, 
Dr. Jardine : 

MY DEAR JOHN, " London, 20th April, 1759. 

i( I write this in the British Coffee-House,* in the middle 
of a company playing at cards and drinking claret. After this 
preamble, you are not to expect either a very long or a very 
distinct epistle. As to your letter, I postponed writing an 
answer to it, in expectation of hearing some account of the 
transactions of the Haddington Presbytery ; but as that has 
not come to hand, I must proceed to write without it. I am 
as much interested as you can possibly be in preventing the 
intended elevation of Turnstill to the Moderator's chair. But 
how could it possibly enter into the head of such a politician as 
you are, and one who has seen London too, that there was any 
method of engaging our laymen here to take part in a ques- 
tion about which they (laymen) are totally indifferent ? At 
the same time, I am earnest in giving opposition, and I think 
it may be made with great probability of success ; but I 
should be apt to imagine that neither Dick nor Hamilton are 
the proper candidates. You know neither of them stand well 
with Lord Milton ; j and if either you or I should give our 
interest or solicit for them, you know what a handle might 
be made of it. If Morrison, or some such grave, inoffensive, 
ecclesiastical personage could be set up, I join you with all my 
vigour. You must make the choice as well as you can. 
Why may you not stand yourself ? At any rate, fix upon some 
feasible man. Write a few letters, and endeavour to raise the 
jealousy of the brethren against a perpetual moderator, and 
I don't doubt of our defeating the Doctor. If we can dis- 
comfit him by our own strength, this will render him incon- 
siderable : all other methods of doing so would be ineffectual. 

* Much frequented then, as it still is, by Scotchmen. The gentle- 
woman who at that time kept it was sister to Bishop Douglas, and a 
person of excellent manners and abilities. 

| Then a kind of minister for Scotland, being Lord Bute's uncle. 


" I have now brought my offers to a conclusion with An- 
drew Millar. After viewing the town, and considering the 
irresistible power of a combination of booksellers, I have 
agreed to sell him the property for 600. This, you see, is 
the sum I originally fixed upon as the full price of my work, 
and is more than was ever given for any book except David 
Hume's. You cannot imagine how much it has astonished 
all the London authors, nor how much Andrew Millar was 
astonished at the encomiums of my book which he got from 
people of rank. I have got some of the best puffers of 
England on my side. Mr. Doddington, Horace Walpole, 
Lady Hervey, and the Speaker are my sworn friends ; and 
you will wonder, even in this great place, how I have got Mary 
Queen of Scots to be a subject of conversation. Every body 
here approves of the bargain I have made with Millar, and I 
am fully satisfied of the prudence of my own conduct ; but 
of this I shall have full leisure to talk with you soon. The 
exploits which Carlyle and I have performed among the Dis- 
senters are beyond belief. Poor Dr. Chandler is humbled to 
the dust, and he feels it as much as other quack doctors feel 
their mortification. This day I signed my contract with 
Andrew Millar, and am, according to your advice, to be 
a Doctor of Divinity within six months, so that I shall take 
place immediately after Dr. Blair, as he taketh place immedi- 
ately after Dr. Turnstill. What great things have I to say of 
Mr. Pit,* who yesterday brought all the Tories to approve of 
continental measures as the only thing for the good of old 
England ! Yesterday I dined with Mr. Garrick, in spite of 
John Hyndmanf and the Presbytery of Dalkeith. To- 
morrow I go to Portsmouth, to wait on Admiral Hawke and 
see the E-oyal George. How much have I to tell you ! I ever 
am yours, 

W M . E." 

The rank of the ' History of Scotland ' stands very 
high indeed among the most eminent of historical 
compositions. The philosophical spirit which per- 

* Sic. | A leader among the fanatical party in the Kirk. 


vades it, the enlarged views of polity in which it 
abounds, the sober and rational, but bold speculations 
with which it is variegated, and the constant references 
to authorities which accompany it, place it above the 
works of antiquity, deficient in all these particulars, 
altogether wanting in some of them. The skilful and 
striking delineations of individual character which are 
mingled with the narrative, but never overlaying it, and 
the reference to the histories of other countries which 
is introduced wherever it became necessary or in- 
structive, forms another high merit of the work. But 
it is as a history, and a history of Scotland, that its 
execution must mainly be regarded, and in this it is 
truly a great performance. It is difficult to admire 
sufficiently the graphic power which the historian 
displays in bringing before us the rude and stormy 
period he has chosen to describe the strange mixture 
of simple barbaric manners in some classes with arti- 
ficial refinement in others of poverty in the country 
with splendour at court, and among the chiefs of 
great crimes with striking virtues the morality of 
unprincipled and ferocious men with the vehement 
religious opinions of fanatics the spectacle of a nation 
hardly half-civilized, barely emerging from a rude state, 
conducted by rulers, and disputed by factious leaders, 
with all the refinements and corruption of statesmen 
bred in the Italian courts. In the great staple of all 
historical excellence, the narrative, it has certainly 
never been surpassed. There is nothing obscure or 
vague, nothing affected or epigrammatic, nor is any 
sacrifice made of the sense to the phrase ; the diction 
is simple and pure, and soberly, if at all, adorned ; but 


it is also striking ; the things described are presented 
in the clearest light, and with the most vivid, natural, 
and unambitious colouring, without exaggeration, ap- 
parently without effort ; like the figures of Raphael, 
which, for this reason, never captivate us so much on the 
first view as after we have repeatedly gazed upon them 
with still increasing wonder. The even flow of the story, 
the last perfection and the most difficult which the nar- 
rative art attains, is likewise complete. If not overlaid 
with ornament, nor disfigured by declamation, nor 
studded with points and other feats of speech, so neither 
is it broken by abrupt transitions and unseemly pauses, 
but holds its clear, simple, majestic course unin- 
terrupted and untroubled. The story of Livy does 
not more differ from that of Tacitus in all these essen- 
tials than the simple but striking narration of the 
Scotch historian from the tinsel, the epigram, the 
word-catching of Gibbon. 

For examples to illustrate the high merits of this 
narrative, we need not have recourse to a curious selec- 
tion of remarkable scenes or events, because the texture 
of the ' History ' in the ordinary portions of its fabric 
where the mere common annals are related, would be 
sufficient. There may, however, be no harm in not- 
ing the singular effect *of the story when Rizzio's 
murder is related, or Gowrie's conspiracy, or Mary's 
execution. The artistlike selection of particulars is to 
be marked in all these cases ; as in the first, Ruthven's 
figure clad in armour, and ghastly pale from his late 
illness ; in the second, the trembling of the mysterious 
armed man with a dagger near him, and a sword in 
the small study whither the Earl had led the King, 


closing the doors behind them, and up a staircase ; in 
the third, the Queen's majestic air and noble dress, the 
pomander chain of her Agnus Dei round her neck, the 
beads at her girdle, the crucifix of ivory in her hand. 
By all these skilful selections we are made to see, as it 
were, the things represented to us, and the pen of the 
great historian produces the effect of the great artist's 
pencil, while its pictures are not subject to the destroy- 
ing influence of time.* 

There seems considerable reason to lament that an 
intimate acquaintance with the great scenes and cele- 
brated characters of history, in all ages, should have 
made the historian too familiar with the crimes on a 
great scale of importance, and therefore of wickedness, 
perpetrated by persons in exalted stations, so that he 
suppresses in recounting or in citing them the feelings 
of severe reprobation to which a more pure morality, 
a more strict justice, would certainly have given vent. 
It is painful to see him fall into the vulgar and perni- 
cious delusion which secures for the worst enemies of 
their species the praise and the increase of worldly 
greatness. It is equally painful to see the worst crimes, 
even of a more ordinary description, passed over in 
silence when they sully the illustrious culprit. J^et us 

* Hume, as well as Robertson, has given this scene of Mary's 
death ; the latter with by far greater effect. But it is singular that 
he should have left out her noble remonstrance with the commis- 
sioners when refused the assistance of her servants. It has a great 
effect in Hume. The observations of the latter on the trial are 
really beneath contempt. The gross errors into which he falls on 
the principles of evidence seem hardly credible, and arise from his 
careless habits, and from his undertaking rashly to deal with matters 
of which he was ignorant. 


only, by way of example, and for explanation, survey 
the highly-wrought and indeed admirably composed 
character of Queen Elizabeth. It opens with enrolling 
Henry V. and Edward III. among " the monarchs 
who merit the people's gratitude ;" nay, it singles them 
out from among the list on which William III., Ed- 
ward I., and Alfred himself stand enrolled, and holds 
them up as the most gratefully admired of all for the 
" blessings and splendour of their reigns." Yet the 
wars of Henry V. are the only, and of Edward III. 
almost the only deeds by which we can know them ; 
or if any benefit accrued to our constitution by these 
princes, it was in consequence of the pecuniary diffi- 
culties into which those wars plunged them, but 
plunged their kingdoms too, so that our liberties made 
some gain from the dreadful expense of blood and of 
treasure by which those conquerors exhausted their 
dominions. Then Elizabeth is described as " still 
adored in England ;" and though her " dissimulation 
without necessity, and her severity beyond example," 
are recorded as making her treatment of Mary an 
exception to the rest of her reign, it is not stated that 
her whole life was one tissue of the same gross false- 
hood whenever she deemed it for her interest, or felt it 
suited her caprices, to practise artifices as pitiful as they 
were clumsy. But a graver charge than dissimulation 
and severity as regards her connexion with the history of 
Mary is entirely suppressed, and yet the foul crime is 
described in the same work. It is undeniable that 
Elizabeth did not cause her to be executed until she had 
repeatedly endeavoured to make Sir Amyas Paulett and 
Sir Drue Drury, who had the custody of her person, 


take her off by assassination. When those two gallant 
cavaliers rejected the infamous proposition with indigna- 
tion and with scorn, she attacked them as " dainty " and 
" precise fellows/' " men promising much and perform- 
ing nothing ;" nay, she was with difficulty dissuaded 
from displacing them, and employing one Wingfield in 
their stead, " who had both courage and inclination to 
strike the blow." Then finding she could not commit 
murder, she signed the warrant for Mary's execution ; 
and immediately perpetrated a crime only less foul than 
murder, treacherously denying her handwriting, and 
destroying by heavy fine and long imprisonment the 
Secretary of State whom she had herself employed to 
issue the fatal warrant. History, fertile in its records of 
royal crimes, offers to our execration few such characters 
as that of this great, successful, and popular princess. 
An assassin in her heart, nay, in her councils and her 
orders ; an oppressor of the most unrelenting cruelty 
in her whole conduct ; a hypocritical dissembler, to 
whom falsehood was habitual, honest frankness strange 
such is the light in which she ought to be ever held 
up, as long as humanity and truth shall bear any value 
in the eyes of men. That she rendered great services 
to her subjects ; that she possessed extraordinary firm- 
ness of character as a sovereign, with despicable weak- 
ness as an individual ; that she governed her dominions 
with admirable prudence, and guided her course 
through as great difficulties in the affairs of the state, 
and still more in those of the church, as beset the path 
of any who ever ruled is equally incontrovertible; 
but there is no such thing as " right of set-off" in the 
judgments which impartial history has to pronounce 


no doctrine of compensation in the code of public 
morals ; and he who undertakes to record the actions 
of princes, and to paint their characters, is not at 
liberty to cast a veil over undeniable imperfections, or 
suffer himself like the giddy vulgar to be so dazzled by 
vulgar glory that his eyes are blind to crime.* 

A few months previous to the publication of his 
' History,' Dr. Robertson, who had before received the 
degree of Doctor in Divinity from the University of 
Edinburgh, removed to that city, being presented to 
the kirk of the Old Grey Friars. In 1759 he was 
made one of the chaplains royal, a sinecure in the 
Scotch Church ; in 1762 he was appointed Principal 
of the University, and a proposition was now made, pro- 
ceeding from the King through his favourite minister, 
Lord Bute, who communicated it to Lord Cathcart, and 
he to the Principal, that if he would undertake to write 
the History of England, every source of information 
which the government could command would be laid 
open to his researches, and such provision settled upon 
him as might enable him to bestow his whole attention 
and time upon this important work without the inter- 
ruptions occasioned by his professional duties. This 
plan was so far favourably received that he expressed 
his willingness now to undertake the subject, as he could 

* Hume's highly-wrought character of Elizabeth, perhaps the 
finest of all his historical portraits, is liable to the same grave ob- 
jection ; somewhat mitigated by the circumstance that he seemed to 
lend less implicit credence to Davidson's testimony against her than 
Robertson does. It is remarkable that neither historian has remarked 
in Mary's vindication the undoubted right she had, without commit- 
ting an offence against the law or against morals, to join in any mea- 
sures of hostility against Elizabeth, who held her in an illegal custody. 


not any longer come into conflict with his friend Mr. 
Hume, whose work would have been all published 
many years before the new ' History' could appear. His 
former objection of Mr. Hume's ' History' being then in 
progress when a similar plan was pressed upon him by 
the booksellers had thus been removed ; and though he 
declined on any account to lay down his clerical cha- 
racter, and withdraw from his station in the church, he 
had yet no objection, if he could still retain his con- 
nexion with that venerated establishment, to be relieved 
from the parochial labours connected with the cure of 
souls ; and provided Edinburgh should continue to be his 
place of residence, he purposed passing each year two 
or three months in London for the benefit of the 
collections offered to be placed at his service. It is 
probable that the retirement of Lord Bute from office, 
which happened soon after, put an end to this import- 
ant negotiation ; important in a very high degree to 
the literature, and, indeed, to the constitutional inte- 
rests of the country. Nothing more seems to have 
resulted from the correspondence except the reviving 
in his favour the place of historiographer for Scotland, 
to which he was appointed in 1764. But who that 
values the accuracy of historical narration, and sets a 
right estimate upon the benefits derived to our political 
system from a thorough investigation of the records 
and the events of former times, during which our 
mixed government was slowly formed and gradually 
matured, can avoid deeply lamenting that the subject 
of English history had not fallen into the hands of 
him who was, by a competent judge, though a rival 
author, justly called " the most diligent and most 


faithful of penmen?" We should then have possessed 
a work of which the brilliant outside gloss being sus- 
tained by the intrinsic value of the coin, it would no 
longer have been necessary for the student to read one 
narrative for its dramatic effect, while he sought in 
another the real facts of the story, and to refuse giving 
the first praise of an historian to the first master of 
historical composition. Nor would the acquisition of 
an English history, at once readable and credible, have 
been purchased by the sacrifice of the other works with 
which this great writer, after the failure of the treaty, 
enriched our literature. It was part of the conditions 
which he imposed that he should first be allowed to finish 
his ' Charles V. ;' and when we reflect on ten years having 
elapsed after he finished his 'America,' without resuming 
his pen, there seems no reason to doubt that he could have 
written this and the English history also during the pe- 
riod between 1769, when ' Charles ' was published, and 
1789, when he began the ' Disquisition on Ancient 
India/ The failure of the treaty, therefore, is a matter 
of unmingled regret ; and is one of the worst of the 
many mischiefs which we owe to the English plan of 
conducting government by the conflict of adverse 
parties, with the consequence inevitably flowing from 
it, of all the principles, and all the measures, and all the 
designs of one ministry becoming, as a matter of course, 
an object of suspicion, and even of dislike, to their 

It is probable that he did not begin his second work 
for some little time after the publication of the first ; 
but from the correspondence just now referred to, we 
learn that in July, 1762, a third part of it was finished, 


and that he reckoned two years more sufficient for its 
completion. In this he was deceived, whether it he that 
he underrated the labour required by the portion of his 
task still before him, or that he was interrupted in it (as 
has been supposed) by the fierce dissensions which during 
that period raged in the Scottish Church, and which 
must no doubt have occupied some portion of his leisure, 
though with so severe an economist of his time, and a 
mind so little liable to be disturbed, there seems little 
reason to think that these proceedings could seriously 
distract his attention from his studies for any consi- 
derable portion of the year. At length the public im- 
patience was gratified by the appearance of the work 
in 1769, exactly ten years after his ' Scotland/ Its 
success was not a matter of doubt, and it fully an- 
swered the expectations which had naturally been 
formed. The prevailing opinion places this work at 
the head of his writings ; and certainly, if the extent 
and importance of the subject be regarded, and the 
great value be considered of a clear and distinct narra- 
tive, embracing the history of Europe during the 
period when its different states assumed the position 
with relation to each other in which they now stand, 
and most of them also adopted the political system 
which is established for the government of their several 
affairs, there can be no comparison between this and 
any other of his works ; to which must doubtless be 
added, the far greater difficulty of executing so vast a 
plan, tracing the complicated parts of the great Euro- 
pean commonwealth in their connexion with each 
other, and drawing, as Mr. Stewart has happily ex- 
pressed it, a meridian line through modern history, to 


which all the branches of separate annals may be re- 
ferred. But though the same felicitous narrative is in 
this work to be always found, and though the first 
book contains the most perfect example of general or 
philosophical history anywhere to be seen, yet I hesi- 
tate greatly in preferring it as an historical composition 
to either its predecessor or its immediate successor. 
There are more remarkable beauties of a purely histo- 
rical kind in both of these, according to my humble 
judgment. As a whole, as a history of a country for 
a given period, I am much disposed to place his * Scot- 
land' first; while I conceive that the ' America' pre- 
sents particular passages, feats of narrative excel- 
lence, unrivalled by anything in either of the other 
works, perhaps not to be matched, and certainly not 
exceeded, by any other historical composition of 
any age. 

In proof of this last position I will refer to the fasci- 
nating account of Cortez's arrival at Mexico, and of 
his subsequent bold and masterly, though most cruel 
and profligate measures ; to the romantic history of 
Pedro de la Gasca's quelling by his individual wisdom 
and firmness the great rebellion of Peru ; but, above 
all, to the grand event, the most important recorded in 
the annals of our race, the discovery of the New World 
by Columbus. The skill with which this last narra- 
tive is managed, and the conduct of the story, may 
truly be pronounced matchless. I am now speaking 
merely of the composition. The dramatic effect of the 
whole is extraordinary. We are at first interested in 
Columbus's sagacity, and boldness, and science, by 
which he was led, through a course of private study 



and contemplation, to form the adventurous and novel 
opinion that the East Indies was to be reached by 
steering a westerly course from Europe across the At- 
lantic. His difficulties in obtaining the assent of his 
contemporaries to so strange a doctrine are then de- 
scribed, and our interest in his theory is increased. 
But the successive obstacles which he had to encounter 
in his efforts to obtain the assistance of various sove- 
reigns, that he might be enabled to test his theory by 
navigating the unknown and pathless ocean, wind up 
our anxiety to the highest pitch. We follow him to 
the Genoese senate, to the court of Portugal, to Eng- 
land, whither he had dispatched his brother, whose 
strange adventures among pirates and his utter indi- 
gence in London so as to make it necessary he should 
subsist by selling maps till he could scrape together 
enough to purchase decent clothes wherein he might 
appear before Henry VIII., form a striking episode in 
the narrative. Finally, we have his own arrival in Spain, 
and his constant repulses for twelve long years in all his 
attempts to make that country the richest and most 
glorious on the face of the earth. All these wander- 
ings and disappointments for so vast a portion of this 
great man's life create a breathless impatience for his 
success, when our wishes are at length crowned by the 
warm support of his steady patroness Isabella ; and he 
finally sets sail on the 3rd of August, 1 492. Such is 
the man whose fortunes we are to follow, now far past 
the middle age, for he was in his fifty-sixth year, of 
which above twenty had been spent in preparing for 
his magnificent enterprise ; but full of the vigour of 
youth, in the height of his powerful faculties, and in- 


spired with the sanguine temper which enables genius 
to work its wonders. 

The voyage is related with absolute clearness as re- 
gards all its nautical details, which are given so as to 
fix our attention without wearying it, and elucidate the 
narrative without encumbering it. But in the inci- 
dents of the passage we take the greatest interest, 
placed, as we feel ourselves to be, in the position of the 
navigators, to whom every occurrence was of moment, 
because everything was of necessity new. Their con- 
duct and their feelings, however, occupy us still more, 
for beside our sympathy with them, upon them the fate 
of the great enterprise depends. 

But one figure ever stands out from the group ; it is 
the great Captain who guides the voyage through the 
unknown ocean, and whom, beside his past history, 
we all the while feel by anticipation to be piercing 
through the night of ages to bring into acquaintance 
with each other the old world and the new. Upon 
his steady courage, undismayed by the dark uncertainty 
of all his steps, upon his fortitude which no peril can 
shake, his temper unruffled by all opposition, upon his 
copious resources under every difficulty, we dwell with 
the most profound attention ; sometimes hardly ven- 
turing to hope for his successful conquest over so 
many difficulties. The voyage meanwhile proceeds, 
and the distance from any known portion of the world 
becomes tremendous, while nothing but sea and air is 
on all hands to be discerned. At length some slight 
indications of approach to land begin to be perceived ; 
but so slight that universal despondency creates a 
general resistance, breaking out into actual mutiny. 



Our anxiety for the result, and our interest in the great 
admiral, is now wound up to the highest pitch, when 
he obtains a promise of his crew persevering, " watch- 
ing with him " yet three days. The indications of land 
being not far off now become less doubtful ; and from 
among them are selected the more striking, closing 
with this picturesque passage : " The sailors aboard 
the Nina took up the branch of a tree with red berries, 
perfectly fresh. The clouds around the setting sun 
assumed a new appearance ; the air was more mild and 
warm, and during the night the wind became unequal 
and variable." When we are thus in painful suspense, 
comes the crowning victory at once of the great navi- 
gator who has happily traced the unknown ocean, and 
of the great historian who has strictly pursued his path, 
but so as to give the well-known truth all the interest 
and all the novelty of a romantic tale now first told. 

I beg any one who thinks these remarks overrate 
his merit, to mark the exquisite texture of the 
following sentences, in which the grand result, the 
development of the whole, is given ; and to mark the 
careful simplicity of the diction, the self- concealed art 
of the master, and his admirable selection of particu- 
lars, by which we, as it were, descend and perch upon 
the deck of the great admiral : " From all these symp- 
toms Columbus was so confident of being near land, 
that on the evening of the 1 1th of October, after public 
prayers for success, he ordered the sails to be furled, 
and the ships to lie- to, keeping strict watch, lest they 
should be driven on shore in the night. During this 
interval of suspense and expectation no man shut his 
eyes; all kept upon deck, gazing intently towards that 


quarter whence they expected to discern the land 
which had been so long the object of their wishes." 
It is a judicious thing, though it seems trivial, that he 
here breaks off j as it were, and begins a new paragraph ; 
and mark well its structure : 

" About two hours before midnight Columbus, stand- 
ing on the forecastle, observed a light at a distance, and 
privately pointed it out to Pedro Guttierez, a page of the 
queen's wardrobe. Guttierez perceived it, and calling 
to Salcedo, comptroller of the fleet, all three saw it in 
motion, as if it were carried from place to place. A 
little after midnight the joyful sound si Land! Land I 
was heard from the Pinta, which kept always ahead of 
the other ships. But having been so often deceived by 
fallacious appearances, every man now became slow of 
belief, and waited in all the anguish of uncertainty 
and impatience for the return of day. As soon as 
the morning dawned, all doubts and fears were dis- 
pelled. From every ship an island was seen about two 
leagues to the north, whose flat and verdant fields, 
well stored with wood, and watered with many rivulets, *>> 
presented the aspect of a delightful country. The t 
crew of the Pinta instantly began the Te Deum, as a 
hymn of thanksgiving to God, and were joined by 
those of the other ships, with tears of joy and trans- 
ports of congratulation. This office of gratitude to 
Heaven was followed by an act of justice to their com- 
mander. They threw themselves at the feet of Co- 
lumbus with feelings of self-condemnation mingled 
with remorse. They implored him to pardon their 
ignorance, incredulity, and injustice, which had created 
him so much unnecessary disquiet, and had so often ob- 


structed the execution of his well-concerted plan ; and 
passing in the warmth of their admiration from one 
extreme to another, they now pronounced the man 
whom they had so lately reviled and threatened, to be a 
person inspired by Heaven with sagacity and fortitude 
more than human in order to accomplish a design so far 
beyond the ideas and conception of all former ages." 

In like manner is the landing and the meeting 
with the natives painted rather than described. The 
impression made, for instance, by the Spaniards on the 
minds of these simple folk shows that the great writer 
can place himself in the position of the savage as well 
as the sage. " The vast machines in which they had 
traversed the ocean, that seemed to move upon the 
waters with wings, and uttered a dreadful sound like 
thunder, accompanied with lightning and smoke, 
struck them with such terror, that they began to 
respect their new guests as a superior order of beings, 
and concluded that they were children of the sun, who 
had descended to visit the earth." 

The simple language of these passages, to make but 
one observation, is remarkable ; and their dignity is 
with this perfect plainness perfectly sustained. It is 
always in such language that a master of diction will 
make his impression ; and the near approach of any 
catastrophe, whether awful or pathetic, may always 
be suspected when the language becomes very simple, 
and the particulars begin to abound. There is but 
one word above the most homely style of the most 
ordinary conversation in all that I have cited. The 
fields are " verdant," not green ; and this word is cor- 
rectly chosen for the rhythm, which would not allow 


a monosyllable. Possibly " descend " was unnecessary ; 
" come down " would have been sufficiently sustained. 
The technical words "lie-to "and "ahead" were in 
like manner necessary, because there is ridicule attached 
to speaking of a ship " stopping," or one being before 
another, as on the road ; besides that these phrases have 
been imported from nautical language, and are now 
naturalised on shore. 

The effect which the passage adverted to is calcu- 
lated to produce on readers of understanding and of 
feeling was once remarkably seen by me, when I made 
my illustrious and venerated friend Lord Wellesley 
attend to it. He told me next day that he had never 
been so much moved by any modern writing ; that he 
had shed tears while he read it, and that it had broken 
his rest at night. 

If the word dramatic has been applied to this nar- 
rative, it has been advisedly chosen ; because no one 
can doubt that, with the most scrupulous regard to the 
truth, and even to the minute accuracy of history, this 
composition has all the beauties of a striking poem. To 
judge of its merits in this respect, I will not compare 
or rather contrast it with the Histories of Oviedo, or 
Herrera, or Ferdinand Columbus, or even with the 
far better composition of Dr. Campbell, or whoever 
wrote the history of the discovery in Harris's ' Bibli- 
otheca Itinerantium,'* nor yet with the ambitious but 

* This work, in two folio volumes, contains some admirable his- 
torical pieces. Burke's 'European Settlements' is very much 
taken from it. I refer to the edition of 1740, by Dr. Campbell, 
whose acquaintance Dr. Robertson appears by his ' Letters ' above 
cited to have had great pleasure in making when he visited London. 


worse written narrative of Mr. Washington Irvine, in 
his 'Life and Voyages of Columbus;'* but I will 
refer to a poetical work written purely for effect, and 

* It is no part of my intention to underrate the merits of this very 
popular author ; but I speak of the manner in which he has treated the 
subject ; and coming after so great a master, it was not judicious in him 
to try aftereffect, instead of studying the chaste simplicity of his pre- 
decessor. These are a few of his expressions : The ships " were 
ploughing the waves ;" Columbus was " wrapped in the shades of 
night ;" he " maintained an intense watch ;" he " ranged his eye along 
the dusky horizon ;" he beheld " suddenly a glimmering light." Ro- 
bertson had never thought of saying " suddenly," as knowing that 
light must of necessity be sudden. Then the light has " passing 
gleams ;" his feelings " must have been tumultuous and intense," con- 
trary to the fact, and to the character of the man ; " the great mystery 
of the ocean was revealed ;" " what a bewildering crowd of conjectures 
thronged on his mind !" All this speculation of the writer to insure 
the effect, Dr. Robertson rejects as fatal to effect, and gives only what 
actually happened. Finally, he was possibly to find " the morning 
dawn upon spicy groves, and glittering fanes, and gilded cities." 
Surely no one can hesitate which of the two pictures to prefer. If the 
one is not absolutely tawdry, the other is assuredly more chaste. To 
compare the two pieces of workmanship is a good lesson, and may tend 
to cure a vitiated taste (Book iii. chap. 3). To take only one in- 
stance : " About two hours before midnight, Columbus, standing 
on the forecastle, observed a light at a distance, and presently pointed 
it out to Pedro," &c. Thus Robertson. Irvine says, " Wrapped 
from observation in the shades of night, he maintained an intense 
and unremitting watch, ranging his eye along the dusky horizon. 
Suddenly, about ten o'clock, he thought he beheld a light glimmer- 
ing at a distance." Can any one doubt which of the two passages 
is the most striking the chaste and severe, or the ornamented and 
gaudy and meretricious? The account of Robertson makes the 
ships lie-to all night. Irvine either makes them lie-to, and after- 
wards go on sailing rapidly, or the lying-to was the night before, and 
they sailed quicker the nearer they came to land, and in the dusk. 
The one makes them only see the shore after dawn ; the other makes 
them see it two leagues off, in a dark night, at two in the morning, 
within the tropics. 


of which the author was at full liberty to indulge his 
fancy in selecting, or indeed in imagining the facts and 
the scenes he represented. That author, too, is a poet of 
no mean fame, the late Mr. Southey, who has sung 
the discovery of America by Madoc ; and his verse is 
much less fine, and as a poem, than the history which 
I have been asking the reader to contemplate. The 
poet leaves out all the most picturesque matters, the 
truly poetical matters ; and instead of them all, after a 
mutiny he raises a storm, which so cripples the ships 
that the seamen cannot sail back if they would. All 
he says of the discovery is, that the commander 
watched upon deck till dawn, and then saw the distant 
land arise like a grey cloud from the ocean. He also 
makes the sea shallow, though at such distance as that 
the land looks like a cloud. It really should seem 
as if he had refrained from looking at Robertson's 
' History ' because he was to write a poem on the sub- 
ject, as he tells us he did from reading Voltaire's poem 
before, and, indeed, also after he wrote ' Joan of Arc.' 
There is one reflection which arises very naturally 
on examining the rare excellence of such narratives as 
that of Pedro de la Gasca and Columbus's voyage. 
The subject of the latter is altogether free from warlike 
interest ; of the former, nearly so ; and of neither scene 
is the effect at all heightened by the vices or the ex- 
cesses of the actors. Then who can find any more 
interesting narrative of events where great crimes are 
the subject, and who can doubt that the same pen 
which could so admirably paint the scenes, peaceful and 
guiltless, which compose the subject of such historical 
pictures, could in like manner have lent an interest 


to others of a like kind, without exalting, at the expense 
of public virtue, the merits of wicked men? But 
if it be said that the quieting a great republic, or dis- 
covering a new hemisphere, are acts of such interest as 
lend themselves to the historian's pen, and are easily 
made to rivet our attention, surely the same pen which 
described them can represent even the wars that deso- 
late the earth, and the crimes that disgrace humanity, in 
such colours as shall at once make us see the things per- 
petrated, and yet lament the wretchedness of the events, 
and execrate the cruelties or scorn the perfidies of the 
criminals, instead of making us, with a preposterous 
joy and a guilty admiration, exult in the occurrence of 
the one, and revere the memory of the other. Refer- 
ence has been made already to the Plantagenet Prince 
and the Tudor Princess, so much the theme of admir- 
ation with historians for great capacity, crowned with 
dazzling success. But why could not the diction of 
Hume and of Robertson have been employed for the 
far more worthy purpose of causing men to despise the 
intrigues and execrate the wars of such rulers ? The 
same events had then studded their page, the same 
picturesque details given it striking effect, the same 
graphic colours added life to it, and yet the right 
feelings of the reader would have been exerted and 
cherished ; nor would the historians have made them- 
selves accomplices with the vulgar in the criminal 
award of applause and of fame, by which the wicked 
actions of past times are rewarded, and the repeti- 
tion of the same offences encouraged. 

Historians, too, are capricious and uncertain in their 
panegyrics. Some princes of undoubted genius, of great 


courage, of singular skill in conquest and in government, 
nay, even who have rendered services to mankind, not- 
withstanding their vices, are set apart to be loaded 
with obloquy quite just in their instance, but incon- 
sistent enough with the suppression of all reprobation 
in other cases of less atrocity, indeed, yet of deep 
shades of guilt. The Borgia family are proverbial for 
profligacy and cruelty ; yet both father and son showed 
talents of the highest order, to which the latter added 
great bravery, while the family were generous protect- 
ors of learning, especially of the study of jurisprudence, 
and do not seem to have misgoverned the people of 
their states more than others of the same age and coun- 
try, their violence being exhausted on foreign princes 
and on their own feudal barons.* Of them, however, all 
anecdotes without evidence are believed. So the least 
credible stories of our Richard III. are easily received 
without proof, and he is universally regarded as a 
monster living in the habitual commission of murder ; 
yet his capacity and his courage were universally ad- 
mitted to be of the very highest order, and his reign 
conferred great advantages on the jurisprudence of 
England, while the nobles only, and not the com- 
munity at large, suffered from his tyranny. Is it not 
somewhat inconsistent in the same historians who are 
so hostile to these great bad men that they can discover 
no merit in them, to be so dazzled by the battles of the 
Plantagenets and the policy of the Tudors that they 
can discover no blame in the sanguinary ambition of 

* Livy's character of Hannibal has been, and not unjustly, 
likened by Hume to Guicciardini's account of Alexander VI. 


the one and the tyranny and perfidy of the other ? 
Henry VIII., indeed, by his cruelty to his wives, has 
been deprived of much palliation which otherwise his 
abilities and his accomplishments would have obtained 
for his despotic life, his numerous judicial murders 
actually perpetrated, as well as his plot for an ordinary 
assassination, that of Cardinal Beaton, only prevented 
by his own decease. But his daughter, who was as 
tyrannical to the full, and only restrained by the reli- 
gious difficulties of her position, who was a model of 
falsehood in all its more hateful and despicable 
forms, who had all the guilt of murder on her head, 
and was only saved from its actual perpetration by hav- 
ing a Paulett for her agent, whom she would fain 
have suborned to commit it, instead of a Tyrrel, is 
loaded with the praise due to the most pure and vir- 
tuous of sovereigns, because she had talents and firm- 
ness and ruled successfully in difficult times. 

It is not, however, merely by abstaining from 
indiscriminate praise, or. by dwelling with dispro- 
portioned earnestness upon the great qualities, and 
passing lightly over the bad ones, of eminent men, 
and thus leaving a false general impression of their 
conduct, that historians err, and pervert the opinions 
and feelings of mankind. Even if they were to give a 
careful estimate of each character, and pronounce just 
judgment upon the whole, they would still leave by 
far the most important part of their duty unperformed, 
unless they also framed their narrative so as to excite 
our interest in the worthy of past times ; to make us 
dwell with delight on the scenes of human improve- 
ment ; to lessen the pleasure too naturally felt in con- 


templating successful courage or skill, whensoever these 
are directed towards the injury of mankind ; to call 
forth our scorn of perfidious actions, however successful ; 
our detestation of cruel and bloodthirsty propensities, 
however powerful the talents by which their indul- 
gence was secured. Instead of holding up to our 
admiration the " pride, pomp, and circumstance of 
glorious war," it is the historian's duty to make 
us regard with unceasing delight the ease, worth, and 
happiness of blessed peace ; he must remember that 

" Peace hath her victories, 
No less renown'd than War :"* 

and to celebrate these triumphs, the progress of science 
and of art, the extension and security of freedom, the 
improvement of national institutions, the diffusion of 
general prosperity exhausting on such pure and 
wholesome themes all the resources of his philo- 
sophy, all the graces of his style, giving honour to 
whom honour is due, withholding all incentives to 
misplaced interest and vicious admiration, and not 
merely by general remarks on men and on events, but 
by the manner of describing the one and recording the 
other, causing us to entertain the proper sentiments, 
whether of respect or of interest, or of aversion or of 
indifference, for the various subjects of the narration. 

It is not to be denied, that history written in this 
spirit must differ materially from any of which we 
have as yet the experience : it is only to be lamented 
that those great masters, whose writings we have been 
contemplating, did not consecrate their mighty talents 

* Milton. 


to so good a work. To the historians of all ages 
joining with the vulgar, and, indeed, writing as if 
they belonged themselves either to the class of am- 
bitious warriors and intriguing statesmen, or to the 
herd of ordinary men whom successful crimes de- 
frauded at once of their rights and their praises, 
may be ascribed by far the greater part of the en- 
couragement held out to profligate conduct in those 
who have the destinies of nations in their hands. At 
all events, this is certain : if they could not eradicate 
the natural propensity in the human mind towards 
these errors when unrefined, they might have en- 
lightened it, and have gradually diffused a sounder 
and better feeling. 

So deeply have I always felt the duty of attempting 
some such reformation in the historical character and 
practice, that I had begun to undertake the reigns of 
Henry V., of Elizabeth, and of Alfred, upon these 
great principles. A deep sense of the inadequate 
powers which I brought to this hard task, would 
probably have so far grown upon me as its execution 
advanced, that I should have abandoned it to abler 
hands ; but professional, and afterwards judicial, duties 
put an end to the attempt before it had made any 
considerable progress. Nevertheless, I found no 
small reason to be satisfied of success being attainable, 
when I came narrowly to examine the interesting 
facts connected with national improvement and vir- 
tuous conduct ; and I am sure, that whoever may 
repeat the attempt will gather encouragement from 
the proof, which I have drawn from the master-piece 
we have been contemplating, that the events and 


characters of past times lend themselves to an affecting 
narrative, conducted on right principles. 

The last work of Dr. Robertson, and which he 
published little more than two years before his death, 
was his ' Disquisition concerning India/ It is an 
able and most learned inquiry, critical and historical, 
into the knowledge of India possessed by the ancient 
nations who dwelt on the Mediterranean Sea. No- 
thing can be more unjust than the notion that this 
work is so incorrect, or grounded on information so 
imperfect, as to have been superseded by more full and 
accurate books since published. There is no doubt 
that the account of the native customs and manners 
given in the Appendix has been rendered less useful 
by the more copious details since obtained, and that 
some dispute has been made of the views which the 
author occasionally takes in that Appendix ; but the 
Disquisition itself remains perfectly untouched by any 
controversy ; and so far is it from having been super- 
seded, that no other work has ever been since given 
to the world on the same subject. It is, from its 
accuracy, its knowledge of the ancient writings, its 
judicious reasoning and remarks, as well as its admi- 
rable composition, quite worthy of a place by the 
author's former and more celebrated writings ; and it 
proves his great faculties to have continued in their 
entire vigour to the latest period of his life. 

It remains to speak of Robertson's style. No one 
ever doubted of its great excellence, but it has some- 
times been objected to as less idiomatic and more 
laboured than is consistent with the perfection of com- 
position. The want of purely idiomatic expressions 


is the almost unavoidable consequence of provincial 
education and habits. Many forms of speech which 
are English, are almost entirely unknown in the 
remote parts of the kingdom ; many which are per- 
fectly pure and classical, a person living in Scotland 
would fear to use as doubting their correctness. That 
Robertson, however, had carefully studied the best 
writers, with a view to acquire genuine Anglicism, 
cannot be doubted. He was intimately acquainted 
with Swift's writings ; indeed, he regarded him as 
eminently skilled in the narrative art. He had the 
same familiarity with Defoe, and had formed the same 
high estimate of his historical powers. I know, that 
when a Professor in another University consulted him 
on the best discipline for acquiring a good narrative 
style, previous to drawing up John Bell of Antermony 's 
'Travels across Russia to Tartary and the Chinese 
Wall,' the remarkable advice he gave him was to read 
f Robinson Crusoe' carefully ; and when the Professor 
was astonished, and supposed it was a jest, the his- 
torian said he was quite serious : but if ' Robinson 
Crusoe' would not help him, or he was above studying 
Defoe, then he recommended ' Gulliver's Travels.' 

The works of Dr. Robertson involved him, as was 
to be expected, in some controversy of considerable 
violence ; but as all men have done ample justice to his 
diligence in consulting his authorities, and as all candid 
men have testified to his strict impartiality, the attacks 
which were made upon him, and to which he never 
would offer any answer, proceeded from two unworthy 
sources the bitter zeal of party, and the still more 
bitter enmity of personal spleen. The Jacobites have 


ever regarded Queen Mary's honour as an integral 
part of their political faith ; and they could not forgive 
any one who, with whatever leaning towards a prin- 
cess the victim of such cruel treatment, and the 
sufferer under misfortunes so long and so heavy, and 
with whatever disposition to free her from any charges 
unsupported by evidence, had yet performed faithfully 
his duty as an historian and as a moralist, of condemn- 
ing profligate conduct, and exposing gross imprudence 
amounting to absolute infatuation even if guilt be 
denied. Nothing could have satisfied the blind zeal 
of this faction, neither respectable from number, nor 
distinguished for ability, but acquitting Mary of every 
charge that she did not herself confess, and then 
approving of her marriage with the murderer of her 
husband within three months of his assassination. 
By far the ablest of the writings which the contro- 
versy produced, was the f Inquiry' of Mr. Tytler, a 
lawyer by profession, a man of strong prejudices, but 
equally strong understanding, and a very diligent and 
accurate investigator of particular facts. The most 
learned, but the most repulsive from its dogmatism 
and its overbearing tone, was the 'Vindication' of 
Mr. Whittaker, a clergyman of the Church of Eng- 
land, settled in Cornwall, and remarkable for his 
industrious study of ancient British antiquities. With 
Mr. Hume Dr. Robertson likewise differed, but it 
was in an opposite direction : he could not yield 
to that able writer's arguments in proof of Mary's 
having been accessary to the Babington conspiracy ; 
and though he minutely considered both the new 



evidence supposed to be printed in Murdin's ' State 
Papers' since the ( History of Scotland' was composed, 
and also carefully examined again all his authorities 
on the points on which he had been assailed by the 
Jacobite forces, yet, with the exception of a few unim- 
portant errors or oversights, which he corrected, he 
adhered to his original statements, well weighed and 
maturely framed as they had, in all instances, been. 

The personal resentment of an able but unprincipled 
man was the cause of the most unworthy and un- 
measured attacks, both on his ' Scottish History' and 
on his subsequent publications. Gilbert Stuart was a 
person of undoubted parts, but of idle and dissipated 
habits. An able and learned work which he had 
published at a very early age, on the t History of the 
British Constitution,' made the University of Edin- 
burgh give him the degree of Doctor of Laws, when 
little more than one and twenty ; and he soon after 
published his ' View of Society in Europe/ being an 
historical inquiry concerning laws, manners, and go- 
vernment. Immediately after this he was a candidate 
for the Professorship of Public Law, in the University, 
and he fancied that he owed his rejection to the in- 
fluence of the Principal. Nothing could be more fitting 
than that such should be the case; for the life of 
Stuart was known to be that of habitual dissipation, 
in the intervals only of which he had paroxysms of 
study. To exclude such a person from the professor's 
chair would have been a duty incumbent upon the 
head of any university in Christendom, whatever, in 
other respects, might be his merits ; but no admission 


was ever made by the Principal's friends that he had 
interfered, or indeed that the opinions and inclinations 
of the magistrates, who are the patrons, rendered any 
such interference necessary. But the disappointed 
candidate had no doubt upon the subject, and he set no 
bounds to his thirst of revenge. He repaired to Lon- 
don, where he became a writer in reviews, and made 
all the literary men of Edinburgh the subjects of his 
envious and malignant attacks, from 1768 to 1773 ; 
the editors of these journals, as is usual with persons 
in their really responsible situation, but who think 
they can throw the responsibility upon their unknown 
contributors, never inquiring whether the criticisms 
which they published proceeded from the honest judg- 
ment or the personal spite of the writers. He returned 
to Edinburgh, and set up a magazine and review, of 
which the scurrility, dictated by private resentments, 
was so unremitting that it brought the work to a close 
in less than three years, when he returned to London, 
and recommenced his anonymous vituperation of Scot- 
tish authors through the periodical press. He also 
published in 1779, 1780, and 1782, three works : one 
on the * Constitutional History of Scotland/ being an 
attack on Dr. Robertson's first book ; another on 
the ' History of the Reformation in Scotland ;' and the 
third on the 'History of Queen Mary,' being also an 
elaborate attack upon the Principal. The ability and 
the learning of these works, and their lively and even 
engaging style, has not saved them from the oblivion 
to which they were justly consigned by the manifest 
indications prevailing throughout them all, of splenetic 
temper, of personal violence, and of a constant disturb- 



ance of the judgment by these vile, unworthy passions.* 
The same hostility towards the person of the Princi- 
pal even involved this reckless man in a quarrel with 
his eldest son ; it led to a duel, in which neither party 
was hurt. An accommodation having taken place on 
the field, I have heard Stuart's second say that he was 
obliged, knowing his friend's intemperate habits, to 
oppose the proposal which he made with his usual 
want of conduct, and indeed of right feeling, that all 
the parties should dine together on quitting the field. 
That second, an able and an honourable man, always 
admitted Stuart's unjustifiable conduct towards the 
historian, one of whose nieces he (the second) after- 
wards married. Stuart's dissipation continued un- 
broken, excepting by his occasional literary work, and 
he died of a dropsy, in 1786, at the early age of forty. 
Others, far more deserving of attention, have raised 
an objection to the * History of America,' from which 
it is difficult to defend it. There is induced by the 
narrative, in the mind of the reader, far too great 
sympathy with the conquerors of the New World. 

* Next to the Principal no one was more bitterly assailed than my 
late venerated friend and master, Dr. Adam, rector of the High 
School. His admirable ' Grammar' was received universally by the 
literary and didactic world (by the scholar as well as the teacher) 
with the approbation which it so well deserved. But it had one 
fault it was on a subject on which Stuart's cousin, Ruddirnan, had 
published a book. This was enough to enlist Stuart's ferocity against 
both the work and the writer. He published anonymous reviews 
without end, and he also published, under the name of Busby, a 
bitter attack upon the personal peculiarities of Dr. Adam. Every 
one felt unmingled disgust at such base and unprincipled proceed- 
ings, and the Rector, like the Principal, gave the unworthy author 
the mortification of leaving his assaults unanswered. 


This may in part be palliated by the feeling so diffi- 
cult for any historian to avoid, and which leads him 
to paint in interesting, if not in attractive colours, 
the deeds and the heroes of his story. But the atro- 
cious crimes of those Spanish invaders, who, with a 
combination of fanatical violence and sordid avarice, 
subjugated or extirpated unoffending millions because 
of their pagan ignorance and their precious mines, 
those bigoted furies who poured out the blood of men 
like water, in order to establish the Gospel of peace 
and good will towards man, those monsters of cruelty, 
who, after wearying themselves with massacre, racked 
their invention for tortures, which might either glut 
their savage propensities or slake their execrable thirst 
of gold, all ought to have called for reprobation, far 
more severe than any which the historian of their 
guilt has denounced against them. This is a great 
stain upon the work, and it can only be palliated by 
the excuse already offered, an excuse by which the 
stain never can be wiped out. 

After the Principal's publication of ' Charles V.,' and 
while he was writing the 'America,' no event of im- 
portance occurred in his life, which was tranquil and 
dignified, occupied only with his duties as head of the 
University, where the habitual deference of his col- 
leagues rendered the administration of its concerns 
easy and prosperous, diversified also with his conduct 
of the Scottish church, now under his guidance, un- 
opposed by any rival. He occasionally visited London, 
where he was received by all the more distinguished 


characters, whether statesmen or men of letters, with 
the highest distinction ; and the charms of his con- 
versation, at once easy, lively, good-humoured, and yet 
perfectly dignified as became his sacred profession and 
his elevated position, added greatly to the interest that 
naturally arose from his literary renown. 

In 1778, the concessions to the English and Irish 
Roman Catholics, by repealing the most oppressive parts 
of the penal laws, suggested to those of Scotland the 
obtaining a similar boon, or rather a similar act of jus- 
tice. The Principal approved and supported their claims. 
An alarm was excited, and the Puritanical party in 
the General Assembly urged the adoption of a remon- 
strance against the proposed measure, but the Princi- 
pal's salutary interference occasioned its rejection. The 
alarm was, however, stimulated by all the means to 
which the unscrupulous fury of religious faction has 
recourse ; and so great a dread of violence was excited, 
that the Catholics at once abandoned their attempt. 
Their concessions, however, came too late to allay the 
popular ferment which the Puritans had raised ; and a 
fanatical mob attacking the Protestant chapels at 
Edinburgh, burnt one and pulled down another, then, 
proceeding to the college, were about to assail the 
Principal's house, which they beleaguered, with the 
most savage imprecations against him, but having had 
notice of their approach he had withdrawn his family, 
and a body of soldiers stationed there saved the build- 
ing and the rest of the university. At the next 
Assembly in 1780 he made a speech of singular elo- 
quence, declaring his unaltered opinion on the justice 
of the measure, but adding that before the riots he 


had been disposed to recommend a postponement of it 
until time should be given to enlighten the public 
mind, and free it from the gross delusions under which 
it had been brought through the acts of unprincipled 
men. This speech is given with tolerable fulness in the 
Scotch Magazine for that year, and it fully justifies 
the exalted opinion traditionally entertained of the 
Principal's oratory. He declared on this memorable 
occasion his intention to withdraw from public life, 
and stated that his friends well knew this resolution 
had been taken some time before the late controversy. 

Nothing memorable occurred to this eminent and 
virtuous person after the period to which reference 
has now been made. A matrimonial alliance between 
his eldest daughter and Mr. Brydone, the celebrated 
traveller, a gentleman, too, known for his scientific 
pursuits, as well as distinguished for his amiable 
manners and kindness of disposition, had contributed 
materially to her father's happiness ; and he liked to 
pass a few weeks in the summer or autumn at the de- 
lightful residence of Lennel on the southern border, 
where that excellent person lived, and where as late as 
1814 he ended his days. 

In the autumn of 1791 the Principal's health first 
began to fail; and a jaundice, proceeding from an 
affection of the liver, brought him early in 1793 to a 
state of weakness which left no hope of his recovery. 
He bore his infirmity with entire patience, and beheld 
the prospect of death, which was for many months 
before him, with unshaken fortitude. A month or two 
previous to his decease, he was removed to Grange 
House, in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. Profes- 


sor Stewart there saw him more than once ; and far 
from avoiding the subject, he said it would be satisfac- 
tory to him that his friend should write the account 
of his life it being, according to the usage of the 
Royal Society (of Edinburgh), customary to give in their 
' Transactions' the lives of deceased members who have 
attained distinction by their works. On another occa- 
sion an observation was made on the fruit-trees then in 
blossom ; and he alluded, with cheerful composure, to 
the event which must happen before they came to 
their maturity, and prevent him who now looked upon 
the flower from seeing the fruit. His strength of 
body gradually declining, though his mind remained 
quite entire, he died on the llth June, 1793, in the 
72nd year of his age. His funeral in the Grey Friars 
church-yard was attended by the professors, the magis- 
trates of the city, the heads of the law, and many 
of the other respectable inhabitants of Edinburgh. 
It was, as I can testify, a scene peculiarly impressive 
to all who witnessed it, from the sterling virtue as 
well as the great celebrity and intrinsic merits of the 
illustrious deceased. 

The history of the author is the history of the indi- 
vidual, excepting as regards his private life and his 
personal habits : these were in the most perfect de- 
gree dignified and pure. Without anything of harshness 
or fanaticism, he was rationally pious and blamelessly 
moral. His conduct, both as a Christian minister, as 
a member of society, as a relation, and as a friend, was 
wholly without a stain. His affections were warm, 
they were ever under control, and therefore equal and 
steady. His feelings might pass for being less strong 


and lively than they were, partly because he had an 
insuperable aversion to extremes in all things, partly 
because, for fear of any semblance of pretension, to 
which he was yet more averse, he preferred appearing 
less moved than he really was, in order to avoid the 
possibility of feeling less than he externally showed. 
But he was of opinions respecting conduct which led 
to keeping the feelings under curb, and never giving 
way to them ; he leant in this towards the philosophy 
and discipline of the Stoics ; and he also held, which 
was apt to beget the same mistake as to the warmth of 
his heart, that exhibitions of sorrow, any more than of 
boisterous mirth, were unfit to be made ; that such 
emotions should as far as possible be reduced to mode- 
ration, even in private ; but that in society they were 
altogether misplaced and mistimed. He considered, 
and rightly considered, that if a person labouring under 
any afflictive feelings be well enough at ease to go 
into company, he gives a sort of pledge that he is so 
far recovered of his wound, or at least can so far con- 
ceal his pains, as to behave like the rest of the circle. 
He held, and rightly held, that men frequent society, 
not to pour forth their sorrows, or indulge their un- 
wieldy joys, but to instruct, or improve, or amuse each 
other, by rational and cheerful conversation. For 
himself, when he left his study, leaving behind him, 
with the dust of his books, the anxious look, the 
wrinkled brow, the disturbed or absent thoughts, he 
also expected others to greet his arrival with the like 
freedom from cares of all sorts, and especially he dis- 
liked to have his hours of relaxation saddened with 
tales of misery, interesting to no one, unless, which is 


never the object of such narratives, there be a purpose 
of obtaining relief. 

His conversation was cheerful, and it was varied. Vast 
information, copious anecdote, perfect appositeness of 
illustration, narration or description wholly free from 
pedantry or stiffness, but as felicitous and as striking 
as might be expected from such a master great liveli- 
ness, and often wit and often humour, with a full dis- 
position to enjoy the merriment of the hour, but the 
most scrupulous absence of everything like coarseness 
of any description these formed the staples of his 
talk. One thing he never tolerated any more than he 
did the least breach of decorum ; it was among the 
few matters which seemed to try his temper he could 
not bear evil speaking, or want of charity. No one was 
likely ever to wrangle with another before him ; but he 
always put down at once any attempt to assail the ab- 
sent. His own nature was singularly charitable and 
kindly ; he always viewed the conduct of others in the 
least unfavourable light ; and when he heard any ob- 
jections urged, he would suggest something that at 
least left the blame mitigated when it could not be 
warded off or made doubtful. Of course, this remark 
applies to cases where the matter was ambiguous, and 
the general character and conduct were good. No man 
ever expressed a greater abhorrence of anything plainly 
bad, or a nobler scorn of anything mean ; and his sen- 
tence went forth in such cases with an awful and an 
overpowering force. 

His very decided opinions on all subjects of public 
interest, civil and religious, never interrupted his 
friendly and familiar intercourse with those who held 


different principles. With his colleague, Dr. Erskine, 
leader of his antagonists in the Church, he lived upon 
terms of uninterrupted friendship, as that great pres- 
byter feelingly testified on preaching his funeral 
sermon. With Mr. Hume his intimacy is well 
known. His political principles were those of a mo- 
derate Whig, a Whig of 1688, as he used to express 
it ; but no man held in greater contempt the petty 
manoeuvres of party. Horace Walpole has thought 
lit to record a dialogue as having passed between them, 
in which he makes the Principal say, " You must 
know, sir, that I am a moderate Whig;" and himself 
answer, " Yes, Doctor, a very moderate Whig, I'll 
engage for it" a sneer not likely to have been risked 
by such an amateur with such an artist. What the 
great historian intended by using the word " moderate'* 
plainly was to guard himself against being supposed 
to enter into the squabbles of faction, and partake of 
its blind fury in a degree unsuited to his station. 
On religious matters he ever expressed himself with 
solemnity and warmth. While he was wishing well 
to liberty in France, before the excesses that profaned 
its name, and indeed before the revolution broke out, 
he was deploring the irreligious tone of French litera- 
ture : " Really," said he, " one would think we were 
living under a new dispensation." Of American 
independence he was the warm friend ; but Washing- 
ton's character was far more to his mind than 
Franklin's, of whose violence and contempt of revealed 
religion he had formed a very unfavourable opinion. 

His manner was not graceful in little matters, though 
his demeanour was dignified on the whole. In public 


it was unimpassioned till some great burst came from 
him ; then it partook of the fire of the moment, and 
soon relapsed into dignified composure. In private it 
had some little awkwardnesses, not very perceptible 
except to a near and minute observer. His language 
was correct and purely English, avoiding both learned 
words and foreign phraseology and Scottish expres- 
sions, but his speech was strongly tinged with the 
Scottish accent. His voice I well remember, nor was 
it easy to forget it ; nothing could be more pleasing. 
It was full and it was calm, but it had a tone of 
heartiness and sincerity which I hardly ever knew in 
any other. He was in person above the middle size 
his features were strongly marked his forehead was 
high and open the expression of his mouth was that 
of repose, of meditation, and of sweetness at the same 
time. The portrait, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, is a strik- 
ing likeness, and it is the one which is engraved. I 
never knew an instance, I should say, of so strong a 
resemblance as that which his eldest daughter, Mrs. 
Brydone, bore him. In her latter years, too, the sound 
of her voice was nearly his own. The only particulars 
of his manners and person which I recollect are his 
cocked hat, which he always wore, even in the country ; 
his stately gait, particularly in a walk which he loved 
to frequent in the woods at Brougham, where I at- 
tended him once while he visited there, and in which 
he slowly recited sometimes Latin verses, sometimes 
Greek ; a very slight guttural accent in his speech, 
which gave it a peculiar fulness ; and his retaining 
some old-fashioned modes of address, as using the word 
" madam" at full length ; and, when he drank wine 


with any woman, adding, " My humble service to you." 
When in the country he liked to be left entirely to 
himself in the morning, either to read or to walk or to 
drive about ; and he said that one of his great enjoy- 
ments at Lennel was Mr. Brydone and himself doing 
precisely each as he chose, and being each as if the 
other were not in the same house. 

To give any notion of the anecdotes, simple, racy, 
unpretending, which he would introduce when per- 
fectly apposite to the subject matter, would not be 
easy. Good nature and good humour prevailed through 
his conversation, in which there was nothing ambitious 
or forced, or any thing to show a desire of display. 
It always seemed as if he merely wished to enjoy him- 
self, and contribute his share to the enjoyment of 
others. The late Lord Meadowbank, a kinsman of 
his, and indeed his ward, when preparing his Lectures 
on General History, of which he was Professor, asked 
him if he had ever remarked how very superficial Mr. 
Hume's Anglo-Saxon period is, more so than the 
other parts, though the last written, of his 'History?' 
" Why, yes, I have," said the Principal ; " but the 
truth is, David (so he always called him) had the 
most unfortunate thing happen to him that can 'befall 
an author he was paid for it before he wrote it." 

( 318 ) 




"From very humble beginnings the University of 
Edinburgh has attained to such eminence as entitles it to be 
ranked among the most celebrated seminaries of learning. 
Indebted to the bounty of several of our sovereigns ; distin- 
guished, particularly, by the gracious prince now seated on 
the British throne, whom, with gratitude, we reckon amongst 
the most munificent of our royal benefactors ; and cherished 
by the continued attention and good offices of our honourable 
patrons,* this University can now boast of the number and 
variety of its institutions for the instruction of youth in all 
the branches of literature and science. 

" With what integrity and discernment persons have been 
chosen to preside in each of these departments, the character 
of my learned colleagues affords the most satisfying evidence. 
From confidence in their abilities and assiduity in discharg- 
ing the duties of their respective offices, the University of 
Edinburgh has not only become a seat of education to youth 
in every part of the British dominions, but, to the honour of 
our country, students have been attracted to it from almost 
every nation in Europe, and every state in America. 

" One thing still was wanting. The apartments appropriated 
for the accommodation of professors and students were so ex- 
tremely unsuitable to the flourishing state of the University, 
that it had long been the general wish to have buildings more 
decent and convenient erected. What your Lordship has 
now done gives a near prospect of having this wish accom- 

* The magistrates of the city. 


plished ; and we consider it as a most auspicious circumstance 
that the foundation stone of this new mansion of science is 
laid by your Lordship, who, among your ancestors, reckon a 
man whose original and inventive genius places him high 
among the illustrious persons who have contributed most 
eminently to enlarge the boundaries of human knowledge. 

"Permit me to add what I regard as my own peculiar feli- 
city, that, by having remained in my present station much 
longer than any of my predecessors, I have lived to witness 
an event so beneficial to this University, the prosperity of 
which is near to my heart, and has ever been the object of my 
warmest wishes. 

" May the Almighty God, without the invocation of whom 
no action of importance should be begun, bless this undertak- 
ing, and enable us to carry it on with success : may He con- 
tinue to protect our University, the object of whose insti- 
tutions is to instil into the minds of youth principles of sound 
knowledge, to inspire them with the love of religion and 
virtue, and to prepare them for filling the various stations in 
society with honour to themselves, and with benefit to their 
country. All this we ask in the name of Christ ; and unto 
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, we ascribe the 
kingdom, power, and glory. Amen." 



" MY DEAR LORD, " St. Andrew's, Nov. 24th, 1814. 

" I have received your letter, enclosing the two copies 
of the inscription on your father's monument, one for Mr. 
Dempster, which I have delivered, and know his sense of 
your kind remembrance, as well as my own of the honour 
you have done me. In these acknowledgments I am afraid 
you will think me all too slow ; but this is now the mode of 
my existence, and ill qualified to change it. 


" It has enabled me to communicate with some of the learned 
here, who join me in applauding the elegance and the appro- 
priate terms of that composition. 

" The authority of Dr. Gregory has no need of such sup- 
ports ; but I am fond to mention it. 

" I thought your father's birth and mine had been more 
nearly dated ; but I see that his preceded mine by two whole 
years, although I have survived so long to become my own 
monument perishing you will say, but only more so, or less 
permanent, than some other grave-stones. I remember to 
have seen in Italy miles and leagues of ancient highways, 
strewed on right and left with continual vestiges of monu- 
ments, now destroyed or in ruins, with scarce a name to mark 
for whom they were intended ; but your father's memory is 
independent of any such materials. More fortunate than 
Tacitus or Livy, his works entire remain for ages indefinite, 
to show that in his time the British style in able hands was 
fit to emulate or cope with theirs. It were too much vanity 
for me to think the opportunity will then exist of giving judg- 
ment how little I had profited by the example which he set me, 
of literary talents and intellectual eminence. My way is now 
directed to the trackless grave, and there my course should 
terminate, but for the happy thought that there is somewhat 
after death to which this nursery and school of human life is 
no more than a preparation or a prelude. Meantime, however, 
I remain, with just esteem and gratitude for kind attentions, 
" Your most obliged and most humble servant, 


" The Right Honourable Lord Robertson, 

The translation, of which the following forms the first two 
pages of the Principal's MS., was made, as appears by the 
date January 21, 1742, when he was about twenty he hav- 
ing been born 19th September, 1721. The whole is carefully 
and admirably executed, combining clearness with elegance. 


The other translations which I have seen of the ( Meditations/ 
will bear no comparison with this ; Gataker's ( 1 692) in Latin 
seems the best, but it is not good. To give an example, take 
the first paragraph : TO xaXoyjOss- is rendered by the translation of 
1 692 " to be gentle and meek ;" by Mr. Graves's, of 1 792, " vir- 
tuous disposition of mind." aopyojrov, by the former " to refrain 
from all anger and passion ;" by the latter ' ' habitual command 
of my temper." Robertson gives both together clearly and 
elegantly, " to be of a complaisant and dispassionate temper of 
mind." xaXo-yjQs* is a word only found in Antoninus. Ste- 
phanus renders it " qui pulcra indole probus honestus ;" 
the late editors of Passow, in their excellent work (Messrs. 
Liddell and Scott), have rendered it " well disposed :" Gataker 
(1692), lf moris candidi." Robertson's version seems prefer- 
able, though not widely different. In the second paragraph 
we have ai$w/j.w rendered, unhappily enough, by the edi- 
tion of 1692, " shamefacedness," as a^tpevtxov is " manly be- 
haviour ;" while Graves gives both prolixly " modesty and 
manly firmness on all occasions." In paragraph 16 we find 
Ttyxepov xat ^evsrixov oKjaXsvrajf, the first word of which the 
edition of 1692 gives as " meekness ;" the edition of 1792, 
" mild condescension," which is a fanciful version ; the Ox- 
ford Greek-Latin edition of 1704, (t mansuetudinem ;" and 
Robertson, " mild disposition." 


"Jan. 21, 1742. 

'' I. From my grandfather, Verus, I learned to be of a 
complaisant and dispassionate temper of mind. 

"II. By the fame and reputation of my father I was taught 
to be modest, and yet at the same time to form steady and 
manly resolutions. 

"III. By my mother I was taught to be of a religious turn 
of mind ; and not only to abstain from all evil actions, but 
from every inclination towards them ; to study simplicity in 
my diet, and keep at a distance from all the vain pomp of 


" IV. By my great grandfather I was advised not to fre- 
quent the public schools of declaimers ; but to hear the best 
masters in private, and to spare no expense in procuring 

" V. By my governor I was taught to take no side in those 
factions which divide the Circus and Theatre ; to be patient 
of labour, to be content with little, and to be able to work 
with my own hands ; not to meddle in other men's matters, 
and to discourage all informers. 

"VI. By Diognetus I was taught not to amuse myself with 
empty, trifling studies, not to give credit to the marvellous 
stories related of wizards, enchanters, and the exorcising of 
daemons ; not to spend my time in the breeding of quails and 
such like trifles ; to endure it patiently when men speak 
freely of me, and to apply myself wholly to the study of philo- 
sophy. By his advice I heard Bacchius, Tyndarides, and 
Marcianus, and, when very young, employed myself in com- 
posing dialogues ; used a mean bed, covered only with a 
skin ; and in every other thing emulated the manners of the 
Grecian philosophers. 

" VII. To Rupheus I am indebted for my resolution of re- 
forming and watching over my own morals, and that I did 
not fall into an imitation of the pride of the Sophists ; that I 
did not write upon merely speculative points, or compose 
quaint and finical exhortations to virtue ; that my exercises 
were not calculated to strike the fancy, and to carry with 
them an air of importance and austerity; that I applied my- 
self neither to rhetoric nor poetry, nor studied any affected 
elegance in my expressions ; that I did not wear the stola 
while within doors, and shunned all extravagant pride in my 
dress. By him I was taught to write my letters in a sim- 
ple style, after the model of those he sent from Sinuessa ; to 
show myself of a placable disposition towards those who have 
injured and offended me, and ready to be reconciled to them 
whenever they desire to return to my favour ; to read with 
accuracy, not to be content with a superficial consideration 
of things, and not rashly to give ear to great talkers. To 
him, likewise, I owe my acquaintance with the Commentaries 
of Epictetus, which he furnished me with. 


" VIII. From Apollonius I learned to be at the same time 
free, and yet without any fluctuating uncertainty in my reso- 
lutions ; to have a regard to nothing beside reason, even in 
things of the smallest moment ; to preserve an equal mind 
under the most acute pain, upon the death of a child, and 
during the most lingering diseases ; and by a living example 
in himself, he showed me that it was possible for the same 
person to be upon occasion rigid or humane ; that we should 
instruct others with mildness and gentleness, and look upon 
our erudition and dexterity in delivering speculative truths as 
among the meanest of qualifications. By him also I was taught 
in what manner to receive presents from my friends, so as 
neither to appear too highly indebted to their favour, nor yet 
to dismiss them with cold indifference." 

Y 2 

( 324 ) 

B L A C 1C, 

THE physical sciences have few more illustrious names 
to boast than that of Joseph Black. With all the 
habits and the disciplined faculties of a true philoso- 
pher, with the temper as well as the capacity of a 
sage, he possessed that happy union of strong but 
disciplined imagination, powers of close undivided 
attention, and ample resources of reasoning, which 
forms original genius in scientific pursuits ; arid, as all 
these qualities may be combined in an individual 
without his happening to signalise his investigations 
of nature by any discovery, we must add that his life 
was crowned with the good fortune of opening to 
mankind new paths in which both himself and his 
followers successfully trod, enlarging to an incalculable 
extent the bounds of human knowledge. The modesty 
of his nature making him averse to publish his specu- 
lations, and the genuine devotion to the investigation 
of truth, for its own sake, rendering him most open in 
his communications with all who were engaged in the 
same pursuits, his incontestable claim to be regarded as 
the founder of modern chemistry has been oftentimes 
overlooked ; and, while some have endeavoured more 
or less obscurely to mingle themselves with his dis- 
coveries, others have thought it becoming to post-date 



BLACK. 325 

the new system, that it might seem the produce of a 
somewhat later age. The interests of truth and justice 
therefore require that we should minutely examine the 
facts of the case ; and, happily, the evidence is so clear 
that it only requires an attentive consideration to 
remove all doubt from the subject. I feel it a duty 
imperatively cast upon me to undertake a task from 
which, did I not regard it as less difficult than sacred, 
I might shrink. But I had the great happiness of 
being taught by himself, having attended one of the 
last courses of lectures which he delivered ; and the 
knowledge thus gained cannot be turned to a better 
use than in recording the glory and in vindicating the 
fame of my illustrious master. 

The story of a philosopher's life is soon told. Black 
was born, in 1721, at Bordeaux, where his father, a 
native of Belfast, was settled as a merchant : he was, 
however, a Scotchman, and his wife too was of a Scot- 
tish family, that of Gordon of Hillhead, in Aberdeen- 
shire, settled like Mr. Black at Bordeaux. The latter 
was a person of extraordinary virtues, and a most amiable 
disposition. The celebrated Montesquieu honoured 
him with his especial regard ; and his son preserved, as 
titles of honour in his family, the many letters of the 
President to his parent. In one of them he laments 
the intended removal of the Black family as a thing 
he could not reconcile himself to, for his greatest plea- 
sure was seeing them often, and living himself in their 
society. Though Mr. Black sent his son, at the age 
of twelve, for some years to a school in Ireland, he 
was removed to the College of Glasgow in the year 
1746, and ever after lived in that which was, properly 

326 BLACK. 

speaking, his native country. At that college he 
studied under the celebrated Cullen, then Professor of 
Anatomy and Lecturer on Chemistry ; and, having 
removed in 1750 to Edinburgh for the benefit of that 
famous medical school, he took his degree there in 
1754. In 1756 he was appointed to succeed Dr. 
Cullen in the chair of anatomy and chemistry at Glas- 
gow, and he continued to teach there for ten years, 
when he was appointed to the chemistry professorship 
at Edinburgh. He then lectured for thirty years to 
numerous classes, and retiring in 1796 lived till 1799, 
and died on the 26th of November in that year. His 
health never was robust ; it was indeed precarious at all 
times from a weakness in the bronchia and chest, but 
he prolonged life by a system of the strictest absti- 
nence, frequently subsisting for days together on water 
gruel and diluted milk. He never was married ; but 
he cherished with unvarying affection his near relatives, 
who well deserved his care. His favourite niece, Miss 
Burnet, a person of great sense and amiable temper, 
was married to his friend and second cousin, Professor 
Ferguson, the historian and moral philosopher. Dr. 
Black lived in a select circle of friends, the most illus- 
trious men of the times in science and in letters, 
Watt, Hutton, Hume, Robertson, Smith, and after- 
wards with the succeeding generation of Scottish 
worthies, Robison, Playfair, Stewart. Delighting 
to commune, to speculate, and to investigate with them, 
he was careless of the fame which however he could 
not but be sensible his labours must achieve. He was 
extremely averse to publication, contemning the im- 
patience with which so many men of science hurry 

BLACK. 327 

to the press, often while their speculations are crude, 
and their inquiries not finished. Nor could the reason 
often urged in defence of this find much favour with 
one who seemed never to regard the being anticipated 
by his fellow-labourers as any very serious evil, so the 
progress of science was secured. Except two papers, 
one in the 'London Philosophical Transactions' for 
1775 on the freezing of boiled water ; the other, in the 
second volume of the ( Edinburgh Transactions,' on 
the Iceland hot springs ; he never published any work 
after that of which we are now to speak, in 1755, 
and which, but for the accidental occasion that gave 
rise to it, would possibly, like his other original 
speculations, never have been given by himself to the 

Upon taking his degree at Edinburgh College he 
wrote and published a Latin Thesis, after the manner 
of that as well as the foreign universities. The subject 
was 'Magnesia, and the Acid produced by Food in the 
Stomach' (De Acido e Cibis orto ; et de Magnesia), and 
it contained the outline of his discoveries already made. 
Having sent some copies of this Thesis to his father 
at Bordeaux, one was given to Montesquieu, who at 
once saw the vast importance of the truths which it 
unfolded. He called a few days after and said to Mr. 
Black, " I rejoice with you, my very good friend : your 
son will be the honour of your name and of your 
family." But though the discoveries were sketched 
distinctly enough in this writing, they were only 
given at large the following year in his celebrated 
work, 'Experiments on Magnesia, Quicklime, and 
other Alkaline Substances,' incontestably the most 

328 BLACK. 

beautiful example of strict inductive investigation since 
the ' Optics' of Sir Isaac Newton. His fervent ad- 
miration of that masterly work was indicated by his 
giving it to Professor Robison, then a student, and 
desiring him to " make it the model of all his studies," 
recommending him at the same time a careful study of 
the mathematics. It appears that this important 
inquiry concerning the alkaline earths, the results 
of which were destined to change the face of chemical 
science, was suggested by the attempts then making to 
find a solvent for the stone. I distinctly recollect Dr. 
Black, in his lectures, prefacing the admirable and 
most interesting account which he gave of his dis- 
coveries, with the statement that the hopes of finding 
a solvent which should not, like the caustic alkalies, 
destroy the substance of the bladder in melting the 
stone, first led him to this investigation. Professor 
Robison has given a note from his memorandum-book 
indicating that he had at first fallen into the notion of 
alkalies, when treated with quicklime, deriving from 
it their caustic quality; the common belief (which 
gave rise to the term caustic) being that lime obtained 
from the fire the quality of growing extremely hot, 
even to ignition when united with water. But expe- 
riment soon corrected this idea ; for, having exposed 
the caustic or quicklime to the air till it became mild, 
he says, " Nothing escapes (meaning no fire or heat) ; 
the cup rises considerably by absorbing air." Another 
observation on the comparative loss of weight sustained 
by chalk when calcined (in the fire), and when dis- 
solved in an acid, is followed by the account of a 
medical case, which the Professor knew to have 

BLACK. 329 

occurred in 1752. A third note follows, and proves 
him to have now become possessed of the true theory of 
causticity, namely, the expulsion of air, and of mildness, 
namely, its absorption. The discovery was therefore 
made as early as 1752 it was published generally in 
1754 it was given in its fullest details in 1755. At 
this time M. Lavoisier was a boy at school nine 
years old when the discovery was made eleven when 
it was published twelve when it was as fully given 
to the world as its author ever delivered it. No pos- 
sibility therefore existed of that great man finding out 
when he composed his great work that it was a 
discovery of his own, as he did not scruple to describe 
oxygen, though Dr. Priestley had first communicated it 
to him in the year 1774 ; or that Black and he dis- 
covered it about the same time, as he was in the habit 
of stating with respect to other gases, with a con- 
venient degree of ambiguity just sufficient for self- 
defence, should he be charged with unfair appropriation. 
Who that reflects on the noble part which this great 
philosopher acted, both in his life and in his death, can 
avoid lamenting that he did not rest satisfied with the 
fame really his due, of applying the discoveries of others, 
in which he had no kind of share, to the investigation 
of scientific truths, as entirely the result of his 
extraordinary faculty of generalization, and genius for 
philosophical research, as those discoveries, the mate- 
rials of his induction, were the undivided property of 
others ! 

The capital discovery of Black, thus early made, and 
to any share in which no one has ever pretended, was 
that the causticity, as it was formerly termed upon a 

330 BLACK. 

false theory, of the alkalis and alkaline earths, was 
owing to the loss of a substance with which they had 
been combined, and that their reunion with this sub- 
stance again rendered them mild. But the nature of 
this substance was likewise ascertained by him, and its 
detection forms by far the most important part of the 
discovery, for it laid the foundation of chemical science. 
He found that it was a permanently elastic fluid, like 
air in some of its mechanical qualities, those of being 
transparent or invisible, and incondensable, but differ- 
ing entirely from the air of our atmosphere in its 
chemical properties. It was separated from alkaline 
substances by heat, and by the application of acids, 
which, having a stronger elective affinity for them, 
caused it to be precipitated, or to escape in the aeriform 
state ; it was heavier than common air, and it gave a 
slight acidulous flavour to water on being absorbed by it; 
hence the inference that it was an acid itself. A short 
time afterwards (in 1757) he discovered that this peculiar 
air is the same with that produced by the fermentation 
of vegetable substances. This he ascertained by the 
simple experiment of partially emptying in a brewer's 
vat, where the fermenting process was going on, the 
contents of a phial filled with lime-water. On shaking 
the liquid that remained with the air that had entered, 
he found it become turbid, from the lime having 
entered into union with the air, and become chalk. 
The same day he discovered by an experiment, equally 
simple and equally decisive, that the air which comes 
from burning charcoal is of the same kind. He fixed a 
piece of charcoal in the broad end of a bellows nozzle, 
unscrewed ; and putting that in the fire, he inserted 

BLACK. 331 

the other end in a vessel filled with lime-water. 
The air that was driven through the liquid again pre- 
cipitated the lime in the form of chalk. Finally, he 
ascertained by breathing through a syphon filled with 
lime-water, and finding the lime again precipitated, that 
animals, by breathing, evolve air of this description. 

The great step was now made, therefore, that the 
air of the atmosphere is not the only permanently 
elastic body, but that others exist, having perfectly 
different qualities from the atmospheric air, and capa- 
ble of losing their elasticity by entering into chemi- 
cal union with solid or with liquid substances, from 
which being afterwards separated, they regain the 
elastic or aeriform state. He gave to this body the 
name of fixed air, to denote only that it was found 
fixed in bodies, as well as elastic and separate. He 
used the term " air" only to denote its mechanical re- 
semblance to the atmospheric air, and not at all to 
imply that it was of the same nature. No one ever 
could confound the two substances together ; and ac- 
cordingly M. Morveau, in explaining some years after- 
wards the reluctance of chemists to adopt the new 
theory of causticity, gives as their excuse, that although 
this doctrine " admirably tallies with all the pheno- 
mena, yet it ascribes to fixed air properties which 
really make it a new body or existence" (" forment 
reellement un nouvel etre").* 

In order to estimate the importance of this dis- 
covery, and at the same time to show how entirely it 

* Supplement to the * Encyclopedic,' vol. ii. p. 274, published 
in 1777. 

332 BLACK. 

altered the whole face of chemical science, and how 
completely the doctrine was original, we must now 
examine the state of knowledge which philosophers 
had previously attained upon the subject. 

It has often been remarked that no great discovery was 
ever made at once, except perhaps that of logarithms ; 
all have been preceded by steps which conducted the dis- 
coverer's predecessors nearly, though not quite, to the 
same point. Some may possibly think that Black's dis- 
covery of fixed air affords no second exception to this 
rule ; for it is said that Van Helmont, who flourished 
at the end of the sixteenth and beginning of the seven- 
teenth century, had observed its evolution during fer- 
mentation, and given it the name of gas silvestre, spirit 
from wood, remarking that it caused the phenomena 
of the Grotto del Cane, near Naples. But though he 
as well as others had observed an aeriform substance 
to be evolved in fermentation and in effervescence, 
there is no reason for affirming that they considered it 
as differing from atmospheric air, except by having 
absorbed, or become mixed with, certain impurities. 
Accordingly, a century later than Van Helmont, Hales, 
who made more experiments on air than any other of 
the old chemists, adopts the commonly received opinion 
that all elastic fluids were only different combinations 
of the atmospheric air with various exhalations or 
impurities ;* and this was the universal belief upon 
the subject, both of philosophers and of the vulgar. 

* It may safely be affirmed that Van Helmont's observation, 
which lay for a century and a half barren, threw no light of any 
value upon the subject. No one questions Newton's title to the 
discovery of the different refrangibility of light, and the true theory 

BLACK. 333 

It is now fit that we see in what manner the subject 
was treated by scientific men at the period immediately 
preceding Black's discoveries. The article ' Air' in the 
French 'Encyclopedic' was published in 1751, and 
written by D'Alembert himself. It is, as might be 
expected, able, clear, elaborate. He assumes the sub- 
stance of the atmosphere to be alone entitled to the 
name of air, and to be the foundation of all other per- 
manently elastic bodies : " L/air elementaire, ou 1'air 
proprement dit," he says. He describes it as " homo- 
gene/' and terms it "1'ingredient fondamental de tout 
1'air de 1'atmosphere, et qui lui donne son nom." 
Other substances or exhalations mix with it, he says, 
but these he terms " passageres," passing vapours, and 
not permanent : the air alone (that is, the atmo- 
spheric air) he calls " permanent," or permanently 
elastic (vol. i. p. 225). So little attention had the ob- 
servation of Van Helmont respecting the Grotto del 

of the rainbow; yet at the beginning of the 17th century, Antonio de 
Dominis, Archbishop of Spalatro, had really made an ingenious and 
well-grounded experiment on the similarity of the rainbow colours 
with those formed by the sun's rays refracted twice and reflected once 
in a globe filled with water. The doctrine of universal gravitation 
was known to both Kepler and Galileo ; arid Boulland (Astronomia 
Philolaica, lib. i., 1645) distinctly stated his belief or conjecture 
that it acted inversely as the squares of the distances. The famous 
proposition of equal areas in equal times was known to Kepler. 
The nearest approach to the Fluxional Calculus had been made by 
Harriott and Roberval and Fermat ; and to take but one other ex- 
ample, the electrical explosion of the Leyden jar, discovered in 1747, 
obtained the name of the coup-foudroyant, and was by Abbe Nollet 
conjectured to be identical with lightning, Franklin's celebrated 
experiment being only made in 1752. 

334 BLACK. 

Cane excited, that we find a conjecture hazarded in the 
article ' Grotte' (vol. vii. p. 968), which appeared in 
1756, "peut-etre respirent ils (les chiens), ail lieu 
d'air, des vapeurs minerales ;" but this was some time 
after Black's discovery had taught us to distinguish such 
permanently elastic vapours from atmospheric air. In 
the article ' Fermentation' (vol. vi. p. 523) we find 
Van Helmont's doctrines of the connexion between 
fermentation and digestion treated with ridicule, and 
those who adopted them jocularly called the " fermen- 

A few years later, however, the face of things 
changed. In the ' Supplement,' published in 1776, we 
find an article on ' Fixed Air/ and a reference to Dr. 
Black's discovery ; but nothing can be more indistinct 
than the author, M. Morveau's, ideas respecting it; 
for he leaves us in doubt whether it be the atmospheric 
air or a separate substance, and yet he states that the 
phenomena of fermentation and putrefaction are ex- 
plained by the evolution or absorption of this air, and 
that mineral waters derive from its presence their fla- 
vour. An abstract of M. Venel's book had in 1765, 
under the head of ' Mineral Waters,' given this explana- 
tion ; but instead of representing the air combined with 
the water as a different substance, he calls it " veritable 
air et meme tres pure." We have, however, seen that, 
in the following year (1777), M. Morveau's ideas were 
perfectly distinct on the subject ; for he treats it as a 
new substance, wholly different from atmospheric air. 
The slowness with which Black's doctrine made its 
way in France may be presumed from Morveau's re- 
mark on causticity, already cited, and also from this, 

BLACK. 335 

that the article on 'Magnesia,' published in 1765, dog- 
matically asserts Black to be in error when he de- 
scribes Epsom salts as yielding that earth, " because," 
says the author, " those salts are purely Seidlitian," 
"entierement Seidlitiens" (vol. x. p. 858). In fact, Ep- 
som salts, magnesia, limestone, and sea-water are the 
great sources from which all magnesia is obtained. 
The first of these substances is in truth only a com- 
bination of magnesia with sulphuric acid. 

The other discoveries to which Black's led were as 
slowly disseminated as his own. Oxygen gas had been 
discovered, in August, 1774, by Priestley, and soon 
after by Scheele without any knowledge of Priestley's 
previous discovery ; yet in 1777 Morveau, who wrote the 
chemical articles in the ' Supplement,' never mentions 
that discovery, nor the almost equally important dis- 
covery of Scheele, chlorine, made in 1774, nor that of 
azote, discovered .by Rutherford in 1772, nor hydro- 
gen gas, the properties of which had been fully inves- 
tigated by Cavendish as early as 1766. Lavoisier's 
important doctrine, well entitled to be called a dis- 
covery, of the true nature of combustion, had likewise 
been published in 1774 in his ' Opuscules,' yet Mor- 
veau doggedly adheres to his own absurd theory of 
the air only being necessary to maintain those oscilla- 
tions in which he holds combustion to consist ; and 
finding that the increase of weight is always the result 
of calcination as well as combustion, he satisfies him- 
self with making a gratuitous addition to the hypo- 
thesis of phlogiston, and supposes that this imaginary 
substance is endowed with positive levity ; nor does he 
allude to the experiments of Lavoisier on gases, on 

336 BLACK. 

combustion, and on oxidation, further than to say that 
he had for a considerable time been engaged in these 
inquiries. It was not indeed till 1 787 that he became 
a convert to the sound and rational doctrine, and 
abandoned the fanciful hypothesis, simple and inge- 
nious though it be, of Stahl. Berthollet, the earliest 
convert, had come over to the truth two years be- 
fore. Thus, discoveries had been made which laid the 
foundation of a new science, and on which the atten- 
tion of all philosophers was bent ; yet the greatest 
scientific work of the age made no more mention 
of them than if Black, Cavendish, Priestley, and 
Scheele had not been. The conjecture may be allowed 
to us, that if any of these great things had been done 
in France, M. Morveau would not have been suffered 
to preserve the same unbroken silence respecting them, 
even if his invincible prejudices in favour of the doc- 
trine of phlogiston had disposed him to a course so 
unworthy of a philosopher. 

The detail into which I have entered, sufficiently 
proves that the discovery of fixed air laid at once the 
foundation of the great events in the chemical world 
to which reference has just been made, because the 
step was of incalculable importance by which we are 
led to the fact that atmospheric air is only one of a 
class of permanently elastic fluids. When D'Alem- 
bert wrote the article ' Air,' in 1751, he gave the doc- 
trine then universally received, that all the other kinds 
of air were only impure atmospheric air, and that this 
fluid alone was permanently elastic, all other vapours 
being only, like steam, temporarily aeriform. Once 
the truth was made known that there are other gases 

BLACK. 337 

in nature, only careful observation was required to 
find them out. Inflammable air was the next which 
became the subject of examination, because, though it 
had long been known, before Black's discovery it had 
been supposed only to be common air mixed with unc- 
tuous particles. His discovery at once showed that it 
was, like fixed air, a separate aeriform fluid, wholly 
distinct from the air of the atmosphere. The other 
gases were discovered somewhat later. But it is a very 
great mistake to suppose that none of these were known 
to Black, or that he supposed fixed air to be the only 
gas different from the atmospheric. The nature of 
hydrogen gas was perfectly known to him, and both 
its qualities of being inflammable and of being so much 
lighter than atmospheric air; for as early as 1766 
he invented the air balloon, showing a party of his 
friends the ascent of a bladder filled with inflammable 
air. Mr. Cavendish only more precisely ascertained 
its specific gravity, and showed what Black could not 
have been ignorant of, that it is the same, from what- 
ever substance it is obtained. 

But great as was the discovery of fixed air, and 
important as were its consequences, the world was 
indebted to its illustrious author for another scarcely 
less remarkable, both from being so unexpected, and 
from producing such lasting effects upon physical 
science. About the year 1763 he meditated closely upon 
the fact, that on the melting of ice more heat seems 
to disappear than the thermometer indicates, and also 
that on the condensation of steam an unexpected pro- 
portion of heat becomes perceptible. An observation 
of Fahrenheit, on the cooling of water below the tern- 

338 BLACK. 

perature of ice until it is disturbed, when it gives out 
heat and freezes at once, appears also to have attracted 
his careful consideration. He contrived a set of simple 
but decisive experiments to investigate the cause of 
these appearances, and was led to the discovery of 
latent heat, or the absorption of heat upon bodies 
passing from the solid to the fluid state, and from 
the fluid to the aeriform, the heat having no effect on 
surrounding bodies, and being therefore insensible to 
the hand or to the thermometer, and only by its 
absorption maintaining the body in the state which it 
has assumed, and which it retains until, the absorbed 
heat being given out, and becoming again sensible, the 
state of the body is changed back again from fluid 
to solid, from aeriform to fluid. He never published 
any account of this discovery, but he explained it fully 
in his Lectures, both at Glasgow and Edinburgh, 
and he referred to it in the paper already mentioned, 
which was printed in the < Philosophical Transactions * 
for 1775. Well, then, may we marvel that no mention 
whatever of latent heat is made in the celebrated * Ency- 
clopedic,' which owed its chemical contributions to no 
less a writer and experimentalist than Morveau. 
The doctrine of latent heat, however, was immediately 
applied by all philosophers to the production of the 
different airs which were successively discovered. They 
were found to owe their permanently elastic state to 
the heat absorbed in their production from solid or 
fluid substances, and to regain their fluid or solid state 
by combining either together or with those sub- 
stances, and in the act of union giving out in a 
sensible form the heat which, while absorbed and 

BLACK. 339 

latent, had kept them in the state of elastic and in- 
visible fluids.* 

The third great discovery of Black was that which 
has since been called the doctrine of specific heat, but 
which he called the capacity of bodies for heat. Dif- 
ferent bodies contain different quantities of heat in the 
same bulk or weight ; and different quantities of heat 
are required to raise different bodies to the same sen- 
sible temperature. Thus, by Black's experiment, it 
was found that a pound of gold being heated to 150, 
and added to a pound of water at 50, the temperature 
of both became not 100, the mean between the two, 
but 55, the gold losing 95, and the water gaining 5, 
because the capacity of water for heat is nineteen times 
that of gold. So twice as much heat is required to 
raise water to any given point of sensible heat as to 
raise mercury, the volumes of the two fluids compared 
being equal. 

The true doctrine of combustion, calcination of 
metals, and respiration of animals, which Lavoisier 
deduced from the experiments of Priestley and Scheele 
upon oxygen gas, and of Cavendish on hydrogen gas, 
and which has changed the whole aspect of chemical 
science, was founded mainly upon the doctrines of 
latent and specific heat. It was thus the singular 
felicity of Black to have furnished both the pillars 
upon which modern chemistry reposes, and to have 

* It is by no means impossible that one day we may be able to 
reduce the phenomenon of light within the theory of latent heat. It 
may be that this body when absorbed, that is, fixed in substances, 
gives out heat ; as, while passing through diaphanous substances and 
remaining unfixed, its heat is not sensible. 

z 2 

340 BLACK. 

furnished them so long before any one attempted to 
erect the superstructure, that no doubt could by any 
possibility arise respecting the source of our increased 
knowledge, the quarter to which our gratitude should 
be directed. Fixed air was discovered in 1752, and 
fully explained to the world in 1754 and 1755. 
Latent heat was yearly, from 1763, explained to nu- 
merous classes of students, before whom the experi- 
ments that prove it were performed by the author's 
own hands. Cavendish made his experiments on in- 
flammable air in 1766 ; Priestley began his in 1768, 
first publishing in 1 772 ; and he discovered oxygen in 
1774, in which year the nature of combustion was first 
explained by Lavoisier, a boy at school when fixed air 
was discovered, and having made no experiments nor 
written any one line upon chemical subjects for seven 
years after latent heat was discovered. 

But we shall form a more striking idea to ourselves 
of the revolution which Black thus effected in che- 
mistry, if we attend a little to the state of that science 
in general before he began his labours, We have 
already seen the low condition of the knowledge then 
possessed respecting aeriform fluids ; the general con- 
dition of the science was in the same proportion 

The celebrated ' Preliminary Discourse' to the ' En- 
cyclopedic' makes hardly any mention of chemistry 
among the sciences; and in the ' Arbre Encyclopedique,' 
on which the authors (D'Alembert and Diderot) plume 
themselves much, we find it not very distinctly repre- 
sented, or in very good company. It is termed the 
science of interior and occult qualities of bodies, its 

BLACK. 341 

objects being to imitate and rival nature, by decom- 
posing, reviving, and transferring substances. It is 
represented as holding among the sciences the place 
which poetry occupies among other branches of litera- 
ture. Its fruits are said to be alchemy, metallurgy, 
natural magic, and chemistry properly so called, 
which is stated to consist of pyrotechny and dyeing. 
Strange to tell, pharmacy is not given as one of its 
fruits, being referred wholly to the branch of medical 

But the state of chemistry is better understood by 
the article itself in the ' Encyclopedic/ the elaborate 
work of M. Venel of Montpelier, well known for his 
researches concerning mineral springs, and author of 
most of the chemical articles in the original work, 
as M. Morveau was of those in the ' Supplement/ 
and whose mistakes on the subject of magnesia, aris- 
ing from prejudice, have already been mentioned. This 
article begins with lamenting the lo\v condition of 
his favourite science : " Elle est peu cultivee parmi nous. 
Cette science n'est que tres mediocrement repandue, 
meme parmi les savans, malgre la pretention a 1'uni- 
versalite des connaissances qui font aujourd'hui le gout 
dominant. Les chimistes forment un peuple distinct, 
tres-peu nombreux, ayant sa langue, ses mysteres, ses 
loix, et vivent presque isoles au milieu d'un grand 
peuple peu curieux de sa connaissance, n'entendant 
presque rien de son industrie." He then goes on to 
show that this " incuriosite, soit reelle, soit simulee," 
is yet extremely unphilosophical, inasmuch as it leads to 
a rash condemnation ; and that those who know any 
subject superficially may possibly be deceived in their 

342 BLACK. 

own judgment upon it, " the consequence of which has 
been," he adds, "that owing to the prejudices enter- 
tained against the nature and reach of the science, it 
becomes a matter of no small difficulty or slight con- 
troversy to say clearly and precisely what chemistry is. 
Some make no distinction between the chemist and 
the quack who seeks after the philosopher's stone 
(souffleur) ; others think any one a chemist who has 
a still for preparing perfumes or colours. Many con- 
sider the compounding of drugs as containing the 
whole of the art. Even men of science know scarcely 
any thing about the chemists." " What natural phi- 
losopher," he asks, " so much as ever names Becker or 
Stahl? Whereas those who, having other scientific 
illustrations, as John Bernouilli and Boerhaave, have 
written chemical works, or rather works on chemical 
subjects, are very differently thought of; so that the for- 
mer's work on ' Fermentation,' and the latter's on 'Fire,' 
are known, cited, and praised, while the far greater 
views of Stahl on the same subjects only exist for a few 
chemists." He then goes on to cite other proofs of the 
low estimate formed of the science, and even the pre- 
vailing impression of chemists being mere workmen ; 
and concludes, that " the revolution which should raise 
chemistry to the rank it merits, and place it on a level 
with natural philosophy, can only be accomplished by 
a great, an enthusiastic, and a bold genius." While 
waiting for the advent of this new Paracelsus, he says, 
it must be his task to present chemistry in a light 
which may show it worthy the notice of philosophers, 
and capable of becoming something in their hands. 
If we go back to an earlier period, we shall find 

BLACK. 343 

that Lord Bacon, although he quite clearly perceived 
that chemistry might one day be advanced to the rank 
of a science (De Dig. et Aug. iii.), yet always treats the 
chemistry of his day as merely empirical (Nov. Org. 
s. Ixiv. Ixxiii.*). But I have preferred taking the 
account of chemical science from the ' Encyclopedic/ 
first, because it gives, if not the opinion or the testi- 
mony of the learned body at large who prepared that 
work, yet certainly an opinion and a testimony which 
had the sanction of its more eminent members ; and, 
secondly, because its date is at the eve of the great 
revolution in natural science of which we are speaking. 

* " Itaque talis philosophia (in paucorum experimentorum ar- 
gutiis et obscuritate fundata) illis qui in hujusmodi experimentis 
quotidie versantur atque ex ipsis phantasmatis contaminarunt, pro- 
babilis videtur, et quasi certa ; caeteris incredibilis et vana, cujus 
exemplar notabile est in chemicis eorumque dogmatibus." 

It must be added that beside the injustice here done to Van Hel- 
mont, he goes on to rank Gilbert in the same empirical class, as he 
elsewhere does a most incorrect view of Gilbert's induction, the 
most perfect by far of any before Lord Bacon's age, and, though 
mixed with some hypothetical reasoning, hardly in strictness ex- 
celled by any philosopher of after times. I cannot come so near 
the remarkable sixty-fifth section of the c Novum Organum' without 
digressing so far from my subject as to cite the prophetic warning 
given to some zealots without knowledge of our own times against 
the " apotheosis errorum," the " pestis intellectus, si vanis accedat 
veneratio." " Huic autem vanitati (adds the pious and truly Chris- 
tian sage) nonnulli ex modernis summa levitate ita indulserunt ut in 
primo capitulo Geneseos et in libro Job et aliis scriptures locis phi- 
losophiam naturalem fundari conati sunt ; inter mortua quserentes 
viva ;" a folly the more to be deprecated, he says, because " ex 
divinarum et humanarum malesana admistione non solum educitur 
philosophia phantastica, sed etiam religio haeretica." His practical 
conclusion, therefore, is to render unto faith the things alone which 
are faith's : " Admodum salutare, si mente sobria, fidei tantum dentur 
quse fidei sunt." 

344 BLACK. 

The last passage which has been cited from that 
worK strikingly illustrates the low ebb at which 
chemical science then was. It is certain that after 
the discoveries of Black had opened vast and new 
views of nature, both as regards the operations of 
heat, the most powerful and universal of all agents, 
and as regards the constitution of elastic fluids, the 
most unknown of the four elements, no natural philo- 
sopher would have had the hardihood to doubt if che- 
mistry was an important branch of his science, and 
no chemist would have performed the superfluous task 
of vindicating its claim to the title. 

We have now gone through the whole of this in- 
teresting subject, rather occupied in contemplating the 
foundations of a new science than in tracing the exten- 
sion of the boundaries which confine an old one. The 
universal operation of heat, and the agency which it 
exerts by its absorption and its evolution on the struc- 
ture of all bodies, renders the discovery of its nature 
and action in these respects, next to that of gravitation, 
the most important step which has been made in the 
progress of physical science. The new field opened to 
philosophical inquiry by the discovery of the gaseous 
bodies is only second to the former step in the import- 
ance of its consequences. It is as objects of pure 
science, the mere contemplation of scientific truth, 
that we have been considering these great discoveries ; 
yet they have amply contributed also to the advance- 
ment of the arts. The illustrious improver of the steam 
engine was too young to have joined in the experiments 
on fixed air ; but in the course of those by which latent 
heat was discovered, he had a constant and confidential 

BLACK. 345 

intercourse with Black, one of his earliest patrons ; 
and although it is as certain that he did not owe to that 
philosopher's suggestions any of the steps by which his 
inventions were compassed, as it is that he had him- 
self no share in Black's great discovery, it cannot be 
doubted that the knowledge thus acquired of the true 
nature of heat, of steam, of evaporation, and of con- 
densation, contributed most essentially to his mighty 
improvements. As for the gases, it would be difficult 
to name the branch of art which has not in some 
manner and to some extent gained by their discovery. 
So that the great man whose history we are contem- 
plating, had the satisfaction of seeing the triumphs of 
his youth bear fruit in every direction, exalting the 
power and increasing the comforts of mankind as well 
as extending the bounds of their knowledge and enlarg- 
ing the range of their industry. He was but twenty- 
four years old when he made his first discovery, and 
thirty-four when his second was added. He lived to 
nearly fourscore. 

It remains to consider him as a teacher ; and cer- 
tainly nothing could be more admirable than the 
manner in which for forty years he performed this use- 
ful and dignified office. His style of lecturing was as 
nearly perfect as can well be conceived ; for it had all 
the simplicity which is so entirely suited to scientific 
discourse, while it partook largely of the elegance 
which characterized all he said or did. The publica- 
tion of his lectures has conveyed an accurate idea of the 
purely analytical order in which he deemed it best to 
handle the subject with a view to instruction, consider- 
ing this as most likely to draw and to fix the learner's 

346 BLACK. 

attention, to impress his memory, and to show him 
both the connexion of the theory with the facts, and 
the steps by which the principles were originally ascer- 
tained. The scheme of the lectures may thence be ap- 
prehended the execution imperfectly ; for the diction 
was evidently, in many instances, extemporaneous, the 
notes before the teacher furnishing him with little 
more than the substance, especially of those portions 
which were connected with experiments. But still 
less can the reader rise from the perusal to any con- 
ception of the manner. Nothing could be more 
suited to the occasion ; it was perfect philosophical 
calmness ; there was no effort ; it was an easy and a 
graceful conversation. The voice was low, but per- 
fectly distinct and audible through the whole of a large 
hall crowded in every part with mutely attentive lis- 
teners ; it was never forced at all any more than were the 
motions of the hands, but it was anything rather than 
monotonous. Perfect elegance as well as repose was the 
phrase by which every hearer and spectator naturally,, 
and as if by common consent, described the whole de- 
livery. The accidental circumstance of the great 
teacher's aspect, I hope I may be pardoned for stopping 
to note, while endeavouring to convey the idea of a phi- 
losophic discoverer. His features were singularly grace- 
ful, full of intelligence, but calm as suited his manner 
and his speech. His high forehead and sharp temples 
were slightly covered, when I knew him, with hair of a 
snow-white hue, and his mouth gave a kindly as well 
as most intelligent expression to his whole features. In 
one department of his lecture he exceeded any I have 
ever known, the neatness and unvarying success with 

BLACK. 347 

which all the manipulations of his experiments were 
performed. His correct eye and steady hand contri- 
buted to the one ; his admirable precautions, foreseeing 
and providing for every emergency, secured the other. 
I have seen him pour boiling water or boiling acid 
from a vessel that had no spout into a tube, holding it 
at such a distance as made the stream's diameter small, 
and so vertical that not a drop was spilt. While he 
poured he would mention this adaptation of the height 
to the diameter as a necessary condition of success. I 
have seen him mix two substances in a receiver into 
which a gas, as chlorine, had been introduced, the effect 
of the combustion being perhaps to produce a com- 
pound inflammable in its nascent state, and the mixture 
being effected by drawing some string or wire working 
through the receiver's sides in an air-tight socket. The 
long table on which the different processes had been 
carried on was as clean at the end of the lecture as it 
had been before the apparatus was planted upon it. 
Not a drop of liquid, not a grain of dust remained. 

The reader who has known the pleasures of science 
will forgive me if at the distance of half a century I 
love to linger over these recollections, and to dwell 
on the delight which I well remember thrilled me 
as we heard this illustrious sage detail, after the 
manner I have feebly attempted to pourtfay, the steps 
by which he made his discoveries, illustrating them 
with anecdotes sometimes recalled to his mind by 
the passages of the moment, and giving their de- 
monstration by performing before us the many expe- 
riments which had revealed to him first the most 
important secrets of nature. Next to the delight of 

348 BLACK. 

having actually stood by him when his victory was 
gained, we found the exquisite gratification of hear- 
ing him simply, most gracefully, in the most calm 
spirit of philosophy, with the most perfect modesty, 
recount his difficulties, and how they were overcome ; 
open to us the steps by which he had successfully ad- 
vanced from one part to another of his brilliant course ; 
go over the same ground, as it were, in our presence 
which he had for the first time trod so many long years 
before ; hold up perhaps the very instruments he had 
then used, and act over again the same part before our 
eyes which had laid the deep and broad foundations of 
his imperishable renown. Not a little of this extreme 
interest certainly belonged to the accident that he had 
so long survived the period of his success that we 
knew there sat in our presence the man now in his old 
age reposing under the laurels won in his early youth. 
But take it altogether, the effect was such as cannot 
well be conceived. I have heard the greatest under- 
standings of the age giving forth their efforts in its 
most eloquent tongues have heard the commanding 
periods of Pitt's majestic oratory the vehemence of 
Fox's burning declamation have followed the close- 
compacted chain of Grant's pure reasoning been 
carried away by the mingled fancy, epigram, and 
argumentation of Plunket; but I should without 
hesitation prefer, for mere intellectual gratification 
(though aware how much of it is derived from asso- 
ciation), to be once more allowed the privilege which 
I in those days enjoyed of being present while the first 
philosopher of his age was the historian of his own 
discoveries, and be an eye-witness of those experiments 

BLACK. 349 

by which he had formerly made them, once more per- 
formed with his own hands. 

The qualities which distinguished him as an inquirer 
and as a teacher followed him into all the ordinary affairs 
of life. He was a person whose opinions on every 
subject were marked by calmness and sagacity, wholly 
free from both passion and prejudice, while affectation 
was only known to him from the comedies he might 
have read. His temper in all the circumstances of life 
was unruffled. This was perceived in his lectures when 
he had occasion to mention any narrow prejudice or any 
unworthy proceeding of other philosophers. One ex- 
ception there certainly was, possibly the only one in his 
life ; he seemed to have felt hurt at the objections 
urged by a German chemist called Meyer to his 
doctrine of causticity, which that person explained by 
supposing an acid, called by him acidum pingue, to 
be the cause of alkaline mildness. The unsparing 
severity of the lecture in which Black exposed the ig- 
norance and dogmatism of this foolish reasoner cannot 
well be forgotten by his hearers, who both wondered 
that so ill-matched an antagonist should have succeeded 
where so many crosses had failed in discomposing the 
sage, and observed how well fitted he was, should 
occasion be offered, for a kind of exertion exceedingly 
different from all the efforts that at other times he was 
wont to make. 

The soundness of his judgment on all matters, 
whether of literature or of a more ordinary description, 
was described by Adam Smith, who said, he "had 
less nonsense in his head than any man living/* The 
elegance of his taste, which has been observed upon as 

350 BLACK. 

shown in his lectures, was also seen in the efforts of 
his pencil, which Professor Robison compares to that 
of Woollett. The neatness of his manipulations was 
not confined to his experiments when investigating or 
when lecturing. I have heard one who happened to 
see him at his toilette describe the operations as per- 
formed with exquisite neatness by a number of 
contrivances happily adapted to the saving of trouble 
and avoiding uneasiness. His perfect equanimity has 
been adverted to, and it did not proceed from coldness 
of disposition, for he was affectionately attached to his 
friends. Having no family of his own, he may be said 
to have fallen into those precise and regular habits 
which sometimes raise, in happier individuals a smile, 
I stop not to inquire whether of envy or contempt, for 
the single state. It was sometimes said, too, that his 
habits were penurious. That the expenses of one who 
had no love of pleasure and no fancy for ostentation 
to gratify, must have been moderate, is certain ; but he 
lived in the style and manner suited t one possessing 
an ample income. The ground of the charge was, I 
believe, that he was said to have a scale by him when 
he received the fees of his students. I can answer for 
the truth of this statement, for I well remember the 
small brass instrument ; but I also recollect that he 
said it became necessary from the quantity of light 
gold which he used at first to receive unsuspected from 
one class, particularly, of his pupils. There was 
certainly no reason why he should pay a sum of forty or 
fifty pounds yearly out of his income on this account. 
Both Professor Ferguson and Professor Robison have 
positively denied the charge of avarice, and have given 

BLACK. 351 

ample testimony even to his generous nature. While 
he lived at Glasgow he lost three-fourths of his fortune 
by the failure of a house in which it was invested ; and 
though he had foreseen the catastrophe for two years, 
he neither attempted to withdraw his funds, nor 
altered in any respect his kind demeanour towards the 
head of the firm, whom he knew. At Edinburgh he 
more than once incurred great risks to help friends in 

The gradual decay of his strength brought about the 
extinction of life without pain and without any discom- 
posure. Professor Robison told me that he was sure 
nothing could be more agreeable to his illustrious 
friend's wishes than this end, as nothing was more 
likely to vex and annoy him than the unavoidable ac- 
companiments of a protracted illness and a sick-bed. He 
often indeed expressed a wish that he might be spared 
this suffering, and that wish was fully gratified. It 
seemed, said the Professor, as if he waited calmly until 
the last stroke of his pulse should be given. It is cer- 
tain that he passed from this life so quietly as not to 
spill a cup of milk and water (a customary dinner with 
him) which he at the moment was holding in his hand, 
and which rested on his knee. His attendants saw him 
in this posture, and left the room supposing him still 
alive. On returning soon after they saw him exactly 
sitting as before, and found that he had expired. 

( 352 ) 


THE intimacy of Mr. Watt with Dr. Black from his 
earliest years has been already mentioned. When the 
latter was a Professor at the University of Glasgow, 
Watt, then a young man, was employed as mathe- 
matical instrument maker to the Natural Philosophy 
class, and was in daily communication with the Pro- 
fessor while his experiments on heat, evaporation, and 
condensation were carried on. I well remember him 
afterwards, in his lectures at Edinburgh, mentioning 
that his young coadjutor employed himself at the same 
time in researches upon the nature of steam ; and it is 
certain that his subsequent inventions were greatly 
aided by the discoveries of Black respecting heat. To 
the inquiries out of which these inventions arose, he 
appears to have been led by the accident of having a 
model of an engine to repair for the Professor of 
Natural Philosophy. But, before examining the 
foundations upon which his great and well-earned fame 
rests, it is fit that we should first consider the state in 
which he found the engine, which he almost created 
anew. This is following the same course which has 
been pursued with respect to the discoveries of Dr. 

The power of steam is far too generally perceived in 
the ordinary affairs of life to have wholly escaped the 


/.,//,/,'//, />//>//..-///,/ /'i t'ii,irl,-.i Ji/ii,i/iJ i C" Ludgate Strut 


WATT. 353 

observations of men at any period. The ancients 
accordingly were so far acquainted with it as to have 
constructed an instrument, the seolipile, composed of a 
metallic ball, which, having some water in its bottom, 
was placed in the fire, and the steam, issuing through a 
small orifice or tube with great force, could, they con- 
ceived, blow a fire or even turn the vanes of a mill. No 
use, however, seems ever to have been made of this philo- 
sophical toy ; nor does any attention appear to have been 
paid to steam, as an agent, until 1615, when Salomon de 
Caus, a French engineer, published a work on ' Moving 
Forces/ in which he describes a method of raising water 
by partially heating it, that is, converting a portion of it 
into steam, and, by its expansive force, driving the rest of 
the fluid through the tube connected with the reser- 
voir or chamber.* In 1663 the Marquis of Worcester 
(known in our political history as Earl of Glamorgan, 
and as having been employed by Charles I. in 1646 to 
negotiate with the Irish Catholics) published his 
' Century of the Names and Scantlings of Inventions/ 
of which Mr. Hume, in his ' History' (vol. vii., note o), 
has been pleased to say that it is "a ridiculous com- 
pound of lies, chimeras, and impossibilities, showing 
what might be expected from such a man/' The better 

* M. Arago is not entitled to complain of English writers for 
having " aimed at expunging every French name from this important 
chapter in the history of science." He says they at once gave up 
Lord Worcester's claims on discovering that Salomon de Caus had 
preceded him. Now both Mr. Farey and Mr. Stuart have done 
ample justice to Caus in their works on the steam engine. As for 
Lord Worcester, Mr. Stuart (whose history is far from accurate on 
this point) has both attacked and defended his claims in his several 

2 A 

354 WATT. 

opinion seems to be, that the historian had never read 
the book he thus describes ; but being anxious to 
relieve Charles I. from the blame of his Ambassador's 
negotiation, which proved the source of much outcry 
against the King, he states the low opinion which the 
latter entertained of Worcester's judgment as a proof 
that he never would authorise him to act in so delicate a 
matter as religious concessions without the privity of the 
Lord- Lieutenant, and he is very ready to strengthen 
this view by showing that the opinion was well founded. 
Be this, however, as it may, the ignorance and error 
is all on Hume's side, for the work is highly creditable 
to its author's learning and ingenuity, and it un- 
doubtedly contains a proof that he had made one step 
in advance of Caus towards the use of steam-power. 
His Sixty-eighth Invention is entitled " an admirable 
and most forcible way to drive up water by fire." He 
describes his having made a " constant fountain stream 
of water, raised in the proportion of forty times the 
quantity of that which he converted into steam ;" and 
he states that the height to which he raised it was forty 
feet, clearly showing that it was not on the principle 
of the sucking-pump, which can only raise water 
thirty-three feet. He expressly says that, while the 
atmospheric pressure by which the sucking-pump acts 
is limited in its operation, the force of steam which he 
employed " hath no other boundary than the strength 
of the vessel which contains it." Finally, he seems 
to have used a cannon as his boiler, which indicates his 
having tried the experiment on a large scale. The 
great doubt expressed by M. Arago whether or not 
Lord Worcester ever executed the design more or less 

WATT. 355 

clearly described in his book appears to me to have no 
foundation. The inference arising from the descrip- 
tion seems to remove that doubt ; but we have external 
evidence more precise and satisfactory still.* The 
travels in England of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, 
Cosmo de' Medicis, were written by his Secretary, 
Magalotti, a man of some scientific eminence ; and a 
translation into English was published in 1821. The 
visit to London took place in the year 1 669 ; and it 
appears that the Grand Duke " went to see, at Vaux- 
hall, an engine or hydraulic machine invented by the 
Marquis of Worcester," and the account which he 
gives of it tallies with Lord Worcester's description of 
his " stupendous water-commanding engine." 

The account of Lord Worcester is far from being 
clear and distinct, and nothing appears to have resulted 
from his suggestions. In 1690, Papin, an eminent and 
able French engineer, settled in London, and author 
of the digester which goes under his name, pub- 
lished a work in which he showed that he had made 
two most important steps in the use of steam. Caus 
and Worcester had applied the force directly to the 
body which it was intended to move ; and it was 
evident that, while that was a condition of its use, 
very limited bounds must confine the operation. 
But Papin, observing the use of the piston in a com- 
mon sucking-pump, applied this to the steam machine, 
making it work in the cylinder, and be the medium of 

* See also the Marchioness of Worcester's correspondence with 
her Confessor, communicated by the Beaufort family to Mr. Par- 
tington for his edition of the < Century/ 

2 A 2 

356 WATT. 

communicating motion to other apparatus. Next, he 
applied steam directly as the agent, to raise the piston ; 
and making a vacuum by the condensation of the 
steam, he thus caused the atmosphere to press down 
the piston. Guericke, the inventor of the air-pump, 
had half a century earlier used the vacuum, made 
by his machine in the same manner, as a mechanical 
power, by the help of a piston and rod ;* and he 
invented the valve, without which the vacuum could 
not be produced. The application of the same 
principle and of the same contrivance to steam was 
Papin's ; and its importance, and his merit, are not 
diminished by considering the source from which he 
borrowed it.f Indeed the action of the air in the 
sucking-pump is another form of the same experiment. 
It must be added that to Papin also we owe the im- 
portant invention of the safety-valve, although he did 
not apply it to the steam engine. He introduced it as 
a part of his digester, but suggesting that it was appli- 
cable to the steam engine. 

It is, however, certain that the most rude and cum- 
brous part of the former invention was continued by 
Papin. The fire was applied to the water, and when it 
had filled the cylinder with steam, the condensation 
was only effected by withdrawing or extinguishing the 
fire. Savery about the year 1 698 made considerable 

* See the distinct figure in his plate xiv., p. 109, of l Experi- 
menta nova Magdeburgica de Vacuo Spatio.' Amstelodami, 1672. 

| Acta Eruditorum, 1688. The paper has an excellent and 
clear figure. Nothing can be more groundless than Mr. Stuart's 
statement that Baptista Porta had anticipated Papin in this impor- 
tant step. The passage refers only to the rise of water in a vacuum. 
See * I tre Libri dei Spiritali,' 1606. 

WATT. 357 

improvements on the apparatus ; and though he did not 
use the vacuum as Papin had done, but only as it is 
used in the sucking-pump, he yet produced it by apply- 
ing cold water to the outside of the cylinder. The 
machines made by him were so manageable that they 
were brought into use for raising water in many 
country houses. D'Alesme exhibited a machine before 
1705 (as appears by the ' Histoire de 1' Academic des 
Sciences' for that year, p. 1 37), in which water was made 
to spout to a great height by the force of steam alone. 
It is extremely doubtful if Papin ever erected any 
steam engine, either upon his own or upon any other 
principle. It is certain that he did not adhere to the 
two great propositions which he had brought forward, 
the operating by a piston, and the operating by the 
pressure of the atmosphere ; he recurred to the old 
plan of making the steam act directly upon the weight 
to be raised. In 1711 Newcomen, an iron-master of 
Dartmouth, and Galley, or Cawley, a glazier of the 
same town, constructed an engine upon Papin's principle 
of a piston and a condensing process, using, however, 
Savery's mode of creating a vacuum by cold affusion, 
for which they were led by an accident to substitute 
the method of throwing a jet or stream of cold water 
into the cylinder. This important improvement saved, 
in a considerable degree, the waste of heat occasioned 
by Savery's method of condensing. Their engine 
could be applied with advantage to raise water from 
mines, which Savery's was wholly incapable of effect- 
ing, its power being limited to that of the sucking- 
pump. Newcomen's engine, as it is generally called, 
made no use at all of the direct force of steam ; it 

358 WAIT. 

worked entirely by means of the vacuum ; and hence it 
is sometimes and justly termed the atmospheric engine, 
as its moving force is the pressure of the atmosphere. 
Desaguliers, who has given the best description 
of Newcomen and Cawley's engine, about the year 
1717 or 1718 made several of those engines, in which 
he executed Papin's suggestion of using the safety- 
valve. In the same year Beighton perfected the me- 
chanism whereby the engine itself shut and opened the 
valves, by which the supply of steam to the cylinder 
and of water to the boiler is regulated ; and Smeaton 
subsequently made some other mechanical improve- 
ments. With these exceptions the steam engine con- 
tinued exactly in the same state from the time of New- 
comen to that of Watt, above half a century later. 

We have thus seen how very slowly this great 
invention was brought to the state in which Mr. Watt 
found it, and how considerable a number of persons con- 
tributed each a small share to its progress. Let us enu- 
merate these steps : they are at least six in number. S. 
de Caus made steam act to raise water ; Worcester per- 
formed this operation in a more regular and mechanical 
manner ; Papin used the condensation of steam, and 
through that the atmospheric pressure, as well as the 
direct expansive force, and he worked the engine by a 
piston ; Savery condensed by refrigeration instead of the 
mere absence of fire, but did not use the atmosphere ; 
Newcomen used the jet for condensing and the atmo- 
sphere for pressure, but did not use the direct force of 
steam ; Desaguliers introduced the safety-valve ; Beigh- 
ton and Smeaton improved the mechanism ; D'Alesme 
needs not be mentioned, as we are not informed what 

WATT. 359 

plan he executed, but he certainly made no step himself. 
If the direct force of steam, as well as atmospheric 
pressure, had been both employed, with the jet of cold 
water, the safety-valve, and the contrivance for regu- 
lating the supply-valves, a far better engine than any 
ever known before the time of Watt would have been 
produced, and yet nothing whatever would have been 
added to the former inventions ; they would only have 
been combined together. The result of the whole is, 
that one of the greatest theoretical steps was made by 
Papin, who was, during a long period, little commemo- 
rated; and that Savery and Newcomen, who have been by 
many called the inventors, were the first of all the inge- 
nious and useful persons whose successive improvements 
we have now recorded, to apply the steam-engine to 
practical purposes. France has thus produced the man 
who, next to Watt, must be regarded as the author of 
the steam-engine : of all Watt's predecessors, Papin 
stands incontestably at the head ; but it is almost cer- 
tain that he never actually constructed an engine. 
Though the engine of Savery was of considerable use 
in pumping to a small height, and indeed has not 
entirely gone out of use even in our own times, and 
though Newcomen's was still more extensively useful 
from being applicable to mines, not only had no 
means ever been found of using the steam power for 
any other purpose than drawing up water, but even in 
that operation it was exceedingly imperfect and very 
expensive, insomuch that a water power was often 
preferred to it, and even a horse power in many cases 
afforded equal advantages. The great consumption of 
fuel which it required was its cardinal defect; the 

360 WATT. 

other imperfection was its loss of all direct benefit from 
the expansive force of the steam itself. That element 
was only used in creating a vacuum, and an air-pump 
might have done as much had it been worked by water 
or by horses. It was, in the strictest sense of the 
word, an air and not a steam engine. 

When Mr. Watt was directed to repair the working 
model for the Professor at Glasgow, he of course exa- 
mined it attentively. He was at that time, 1763, in 
his twenty-eighth year, having been born in 1736 at 
Greenock, where his father was a magistrate, and had 
learnt the business of a mathematical instrument 
maker. He had been prevented by delicate health 
from benefiting much by school instruction ; but he had 
by himself studied both geometry and mechanics, hav- 
ing from his childhood shown a marked taste for those 
pursuits, in which his grandfather and uncle, teachers 
of the mathematics, had been engaged. It is related 
of him that a friend of his father's one day found the 
child stretched on the floor drawing with chalk nume- 
rous lines that intersected each other. He advised the 
sending the young idler, as he supposed him, to school, 
but the father said, " Perhaps you are mistaken ; exa- 
mine first what he is about." They found he was try- 
ing, at six years old, to solve a problem in geometry. 
So his natural turn for mechanics was not long in 
showing itself; and his father indulging it by putting 
tools in his hands, he soon constructed a small elec- 
trical machine, beside making many childish toys. 

He occasionally visited his mother's relations at 
Glasgow, but never attended any lectures there, or 
elsewhere. The ardour of his active mind was su- 

WATT. 361 

perior to all the restraints which the weakness of 
his bodily frame could impose. He devoured every 
kind of learning. Not content with chemistry 
and natural philosophy, he studied anatomy, and was 
one day found carrying home for dissection the 
head of a child that had died of some hidden dis- 
order. His conversation, too, was so rich, so animated, 
that we find, from the relation of Mrs. Campbell, a 
female cousin of his, the complaints made by a lady with 
whom he resided. She spoke of the sleepless nights 
which he made her pass by engaging her in some discus- 
sion or some detail of facts, or some description of phe- 
nomena, till the night was far advanced towards morn- 
ing, and she found it impossible to tear herself away 
from his talk, or to sleep after he had thus excited her. 
In 1755 he placed himself with Mr. Morgan, 
mathematical and nautical instrument maker, of 
Cornhill, and resided with him somewhat less than a 
year, during which he was chiefly employed in the 
preparation and adjustment of sextants, compasses, 
and other nautical instruments. But the same fee- 
ble health which had interrupted his studies at 
Glasgow again oppressed him ; he was obliged to 
leave London, and return to Glasgow. On his 
arrival there he had the intention of setting up as 
an instrument maker, but the Glasgow Body of Arts 
and Trades, one of the sub- corporations in the muni- 
cipal corporation of that city, opposed him as not free 
of their craft or guild, and therefore not entitled to 
exercise his calling within the limits of the charter. 
Attempts were made to obtain their leave for a very 
small workshop, on the humblest scale, but this was 

362 WAIT. 

peremptorily refused. The University therefore came 
to his assistance, granted him a room in their 
own building, and gave him the appointment of their 
mathematical instrument maker. There remain small 
instruments then made by him in this workshop, and 
executed entirely with his own hands ; they are of 
exquisite workmanship. The earliest of his steam- 
engine drawings are likewise preserved, and those 
competent judges who have examined them, particularly 
M. Arago, describe them as " truly remarkable for the 
neatness, the strength, and the accuracy of their 
outline." His manual dexterity and skill, therefore, 
is clear, and he had good cause to plume himself as 
he always did upon it, estimating the same quality in 
others at its just value. 

In the course of a very few years, beside renewing his 
intimacy with Mr. Robison, afterwards Professor there 
and at Edinburgh, he became intimately acquainted with 
the most eminent of the Glasgow Professors, Adam 
Smith, Robert Simson, Robert Dick, and above all, Dr. 
Black. Of these all but Mr. Dick have left the deep im- 
press of their great names upon the scientific history of 
their age ; and he was always described by both Mr. 
Watt and Professor Robison as a person of most admira- 
ble capacity and great attainments, treating natural 
philosophy, too, with singular ability and success, 
nor prevented from acquiring a more extensive and 
lasting reputation by anything save his premature 

While thus occupied and thus befriended by men of 
great names, his own reputation increased daily as a 
successful cultivator of natural science. His work- 

WATT. 363 

shop became the resort of all zealous students and 
enlightened inquirers into physical science, and was 
particularly resorted to by the pupils of the University. 
Professor Robison tells us that though regarding 
himself as a proficient in the mixed mathematics and in 
experimental philosophy, he was somewhat mortified 
at finding Watt so greatly his superior in the same 
favourite departments of study. In truth, it was the 
ordinary practice to consult him as the oracle upon any 
difficulty coming in the way of either students or in- 
quirers. His fixed resolution to be deterred by 
no difficulties was constantly apparent, and one 
example is given by the Professor. The solution of a 
problem which occupied Watt and his friends, seemed 
to require the perusal of Leupold's Theatre of Machines, 
and as it was written in German, he at once learnt that 
language in order to consult the book. Another 
instance of his indomitable perseverance against great 
difficulties apparently irremovable, though not insuper- 
able, may be added. He had no ear at all for music : 
not only was he through life wholly insensible to its 
charms, but he could never distinguish one note from 
another; yet he undertook the construction of an organ ; 
and the instrument which he made not only had every 
mechanical merit from the most ingenious contrivances 
for conducting and regulating the blasts and the move- 
ments of the machine, but produced the most admirable 
harmonic results, so as to delight the best performers. 
He overcame the difficulties which lay in his way, 
partly by the phenomenon of the beats of imperfect 
consonances, a theory then little understood, and only 
contained in a work at once very profound and very 

364 WAIT. 

obscure, Smith's ' Harmonics.' This treatise, of which 
only the first and less perfect edition was then pub- 
lished, must have been read and understood by the 
young engineer. While employed by Dr. Roebuck at 
his W6rks, he made a guitar for his daughter, after- 
wards Mrs. Stuart, which she still possesses, and 
relates the sum given for it to have been five guineas. 

It only remains to add that all the reading and all 
the speculations of Watt were strictly confined to hours 
which did not interfere with his profession or his trade of 
an instrument maker. The whole of the day was devoted 
to his business, only subject to the interruption of the 
discussions raised by those who frequented his workshop 
in search of assistance and information. It was late 
in the evening, or rather in the night, that he prose- 
cuted with zeal and close attention his philosophical 
studies ; for his principle through life was steadily kept 
in view, and uniformly acted on, never to let anything 
whatever interfere with business, the transaction of 
which he regarded as a primary duty to be performed, 
and entitled, as such, to take precedence of all other 

There chanced to be among the apparatus of the 
Natural Philosophy class a model of Newcomen's 
steam-engine, which, from some defect in the construc- 
tion, never could be got to work well ; and Mr. Watt 
was desired to examine and report to the Professor, 
Mr. Anderson, successor of Dr. Dick, and better known 
afterwards as having founded by his will the class in 
which Dr. Birkbeck taught the working men, and 
thus gave rise to Mechanics' Institutes. The construc- 
tion of this working model was found to be exceedingly 

WAIT. 365 

imperfect, but Mr. Watt soon remedied all its defects. 
As far as the kind of engine could answer its purpose, 
the apparatus was found to perform its functions satis- 
factorily, being annually exhibited to the class with 
great success. He had, however, been taught by his 
examination of the model what were the defects of the 
machine itself, and which no care in repairing or ad- 
justing that model could remove. He found first of 
all that the boiler was much too small in proportion to 
the column of water which the steam had to raise, and 
yet it was larger than the boiler used in practice. The 
cylinder was on the scale of two inches diameter, the 
height being half a foot. The vacuum being imper- 
fect from the size of the boiler, he diminished the 
length of the piston rod. He found that the brass of 
which the cylinder was made carried off a great deal 
of heat, and that too large a surface was exposed to the 
steam. These observations set him upon making a 
variety of experiments upon steam, and upon the mode 
of applying it both directly and to produce a vacuum. 
He had, in the year 1759, while a fellow-student with 
Mr. Robison, received from that gentleman a sugges- 
tion of the application of steam to wheel-carriages, as he 
tells us in 1803, long before steam travelling was dreamt 
of.* They had together made experiments on Papin's 
digester, in order to ascertain the expansive force of 
steam ; but these speculations had for several years 

* Mr. Murdock, in 1784, made a working model of a steam- 
carriage, which moved about the room. It was constructed upon 
the principle set forth in Mr. Watt's specification of 1769, Art. iv., 
and this is the very method used at the present day. 

366 WAIT. 

been given up. In 1760 and the two following years 
Watt had been in familiar intercourse with Professor 
Black, had witnessed his experiments on heat, and 
had learnt from him the true cause of evaporation and 
condensation. When, therefore, he began to experi- 
ment upon the mechanical application of steam, its 
expansion, and its condensation, he enjoyed that ines- 
timable advantage of thoroughly knowing the princi- 
ples on which its changes and its action depended. His 
own experiments now put him in possession of the 
causes which determine the rapidity of evaporation, 
the proportion which it bears to the surface exposed to 
the fire, the effects of pressure upon the boiling-point, 
and the quantity of fuel required to convert a given 
quantity of water into steam circumstances which 
had hitherto been only vaguely and generally examined, 
but which he now reduced to mathematical precision. 

The first discovery which he made upon the atmo- 
spheric engine and its waste of fuel, was that the in- 
jection of cold water which condenses the steam also 
cools the cylinder to a degree which requires a great 
expenditure of fuel again to give it the necessary heat 
for keeping the steam expanded to fill it. He found 
that three-fourths of the fuel employed were thus con- 
sumed ; in other words, that if the cylinder could be 
kept at the temperature which it has before the jet is 
thrown in, one-fourth of the fuel would suffice for the 

The next defect of the process was scarcely less im- 
portant. The water injected, coming in contact with 
the steam, was itself heated ; the evolution of the 
latent heat, which Black's discovery showed Watt 

WATT. 367 

necessarily took place on its condensation, had the 
effect, together with the absorption of the steam's 
sensible heat, of converting a portion of the injected 
water itself into steam. Hence the vacuum was very 
far from perfect ; and the resistance which the piston 
thus met with in its descent was found to be equal to 
one-fourth part of the atmospheric pressure, that is to 
say, the working power of the machine was diminished 

From the distinct view thus obtained of the evil 
arose the suggestion of the remedy. The whole mis- 
chief proceeded from the condensation being performed 
in the cylinder, where the steam was thrown and the 
piston worked. It occurred to Watt, that if the con- 
densation could be performed in a separate vessel, com- 
municating with the cylinder, the latter could be kept 
hot while the former was cooled, and the vapour aris- 
ing from the injected water could also be prevented 
from impairing the vacuum. The communication 
could easily be effected by a tube, and the water could 
be pumped out. This is thejirst and the grand inven- 
tion by which he at once saved three-fourths of the fuel, 
and increased the power one-fourth, thus making every 
pound of coal consumed produce five times the force 
formerly obtained from it. But this was not all. He 
found it expedient to remove the air from the upper 
part of the cylinder, as it tended to diminish the heat. 
In effecting this he was, secondly, led to open a com- 
munication with the boiler, and introduce steam above 
the piston while it descended, thus making the upper 
chamber of the cylinder air-tight. The steam thus 
acted in aiding the descent of the piston, instead 

368 WATT. 

of that descent being accomplished merely by the 
atmospheric pressure. Thirdly the counterpoise at 
the pump-rod was done away, as a mere loss 
of power, and the piston was now forced up- 
wards by the steam entering to fill the cylinder. 
These two great additional improvements only required 
a communication to be opened by tubes with the con- 
denser as well as the boiler, and they gave to the 
machinery its right to be called a steam-engine ; for it 
now worked more by steam than by air. The upper 
chamber was kept air-tight by making the piston-rod 
work in a socket of tow saturated with grease, called 
the stuffing-box, which also diminished greatly the 
friction of the rod. 

If Mr. Watt's invention had gone no further than 
this, we may perceive that it not only increased the 
power of the fuel fivefold directly, but obtained from 
the steam as much additional force as could be derived, 
the limit being only the strength of the materials, 
within which limit the safety-valve of Papin always 
enabled the engineer to keep his power. But the three 
particulars which have been described were not the 
whole of this great engineer's improvements upon the 
mechanism of his predecessors. The smooth working 
of the engine, especially if it be applied to other and 
finer operations than those of the miner, depends 
essentially on the accurate position of the piston rod, 
with whatever velocity moving, and against whatever 
weight contending. Its motion must be steadily 
maintained in the same vertical straight line, or 
in the same horizontal line, or in the same 
straight line whatever be its direction, without 

WATT. 369 

shaking or inclining so as to press at all against the 
sides of the cylinder any such lateral pressure occa- 
sioning a loss of time, a jolting motion, a general de- 
rangement of the machinery. The motion of the rod 
and the piston must be perfectly equable, continuous, 
and smooth : it must work, as the engineers sometimes 
say, sweetly, at every instant, in order that the engine 
may well perform its functions. The contrivance for 
producing this motion of the rod so that it shall 
be always in one line, parallel to some supposed line 
whether vertical, as in a mine, or horizontal, or in any 
other direction, is thence called the " Parallel Motion" 
and it is one of Mr. Watt's most exquisite discoveries, 
and one to which scientific principle has the most con- 
duced. If a circle or other curve has its curvature gra- 
dually changed, until from being concave to its axis it 
becomes convex, it will pass through every possible 
position or variation (whence the great refinement 
upon fluxions, the calculus of variations, probably 
derived its name, if not its origin), and at one point 
it will be a straight line, or will coincide with a 
straight line. So if a curve have two branches, one 
concave to the axis, the other convex, as a cubic para- 
bola for example, the point at which its concavity ends 
and its convexity begins, is called for that reason a 
point of contrary flexure. The contrivance of the 
parallel motion consists in making the contrary circu- 
lar motions of arms which bear on the rod always keep 
to the point of contrary flexure and thus give a recti- 
linear motion to the rod, the tendencies to disturb it 
correcting each other. It was long ago shown by Sir 
Isaac Newton, in the ' Principia,' that if a circle moves 

2 B 

370 WATT. 

upon another of twice its diameter, each point describes 
a straight line. This is precisely the principle of the 
parallel motion. Three beams are made to revolve 
round different centres, two of these being moveable in 
the arm of the engine, and one fixed without it. These 
three are connected together and with the piston-rods 
of the cylinder and the pumps, which their revolu- 
tions cause to describe accurately straight lines. 

A fifth invention is the Float, which, placed on the 
surface of the water in the boiler, descends until the 
water is so low as to require a supply ; it then opens a 
valve which lets in the quantity wanted ; for, as soon as 
it rises to a certain height, the valve is shut by the float. 

The most refined contrivance of the whole may now 
be mentioned, in the sixth and last place, the adaptation 
of the Governor, previously used in wind and water 
mills. It is evident that the velocity of the working 
may be increased beyond what is required or con- 
venient without the safety-valve giving any indi- 
cation of the excess, and also that the warning 
given by this valve does little more than point out the 
risk without providing the remedy or preventive. 
The governor is a far more subtle invention. Two 
balls are fixed to the end of arms which are connected 
with the engine by a moveable socket ; this can play 
up and down a vertical rod revolving by a band on the 
axis or spindle of the fly-wheel, and it revolves, there- 
fore, with the velocity of that spindle. The arms are 
perfectly moveable on their centres, which are fixed in 
the socket and on opposite sides of it. Their centrifu- 
gal force, therefore, makes them diverge, more or less, 
in proportion as the rotatory motion of the spindle and 

WATT. 371 

consequently the velocity of the engine increases ; 
their divergence pushes the collar up the spindle, its 
axis, and as it rises, it closes, by means of cranks, a 
valve called the " throttle-valve," in the pipe which 
conveys the steam from the boiler to the cylinder, and 
this lessens the supply of steam : the motion of the 
engine is thus reduced, the centrifugal force is abated, 
the balls approach the spindle again, the collar de- 
scends, the throttle- valve is gradually opened, and the 
supply of steam again slowly increased, but never be- 
yond the quantity required, because as soon as that is 
exceeded, the increase of centrifugal force causes 
the balls to diverge, the collars to rise, and the valve 
to close. Thus the engine itself provides for its con- 
tinuing in the state of perfect adjustment required. As 
long as its motion continues uniform, the balls revolve 
at the mean distance from their axis without either 
receding or approaching, and the supply of steam con- 
tinues the same. As soon as the motion becomes ex- 
cessive, they diverge, and the supply of steam is dimi- 
nished ; as soon as the motion becomes defective, they 
converge, and the supply of steam is increased. But 
further, the balls themselves, by their increased motion, 
absorb part of the force, independent of their action on 
the throttle-valve, and so contribute to the adjustment. 
The sagacious inventor soon satisfied himself that 
he had almost created a new engine of incalculable 
power, universal application, and inestimable value. 
But he had not the funds either to try his invention 
upon an adequate scale so as to bring it into use, or to 
secure his property in it by obtaining a patent. After 
some repulses, he happily met with Dr. Roebuck, a 

2B 2 

372 WAIT. 

man of profound scientific knowledge, and of daring 
spirit as a speculator. He had just founded the 
Carron Iron Works, not far from Glasgow, and was 
lessee, under the Hamilton family, of the Kinneil 
Coal Works. He was the grandfather of the present 
Member for Bath, who, descended from him on the 
one side, and from the Tickells* on the other, may be 
said to unite in himself rare claims to hereditary dis- 
tinction ; but who is probably destined to exalt the 
name of his family still higher by his own virtues. 
Dr. Roebuck, like too many ingenious men, founded 
these Carron and Kinneil Works for the benefit of 
others; and though he agreed to Mr. Watt's terms 
of receiving two thirds of the profit, he was obliged by 
pecuniary embarrassments to retire from the partner- 
ship after a patent had been obtained in 1769, and an 
engine of an eighteen-inch cylinder had been erected 
at Kinneil. The success of this amply proved the 
solidity of the invention, but the inventor was obliged, 
for some years, to abandon the pursuit, and to labour 
in his profession of what is now termed a civil engineer ; 
but the extensive operations of which Scotland soon 
became the scene, gave a much more ample scope 
to his talents. He was actively engaged in the 
surveys, and afterwards in the works, for connecting 
by a canal the Monkland coal-mines with Glasgow. 
He was afterwards employed in preparing the canal 
since completed by Mr. Rennie, across the Isthmus of 

* His maternal grandfather was the author of ' Anticipation/ 
and grandson of Addison's friend, the poet. 

WATT. 373 

Crinan ; in the difficult and laborious investigations 
for the improvement of the harbours of Ayr, Greenock, 
and Glasgow ; in improving the navigation of the 
Forth and the Clyde ; in the Campbelton Canal, and 
in the surveys and plans preliminary to the Grand 
Caledonian Canal; beside several bridges of great 
importance, as those of Hamilton and Rutherglen. At 
Dr. Roebuck's Mr. Watt had early received much 
kindness, and many valuable lessons in chemical 
science. He was here, too, introduced to Dr. Black. 

The various works which have been mentioned occu- 
pied his whole time from the disappointment experienced 
in 1769 respecting the steam engine, of which during 
that long interval he never despaired, to the year 1774, 
when he acceded to the proposal of Mr. Boulton, of 
Soho, near Birmingham, that he shoul be taken in Dr. 
Roebuck's place as partner in the patent, and in 1775 
he settled there in this new business. An extension of 
the patent for twenty-five years from this time was 
obtained from Parliament, in consequence of the 
national importance which all men saw belonged to 
the invention ; and the partners constructed many 
engines upon the terms of receiving one third of the 
fuel saved by the improvements. It is a convenient 
mode of illustrating the effect of the invention in 
saving fuel, to observe what were the gains of the 
partners under this stipulation. On one mine, that 
of Chase water, in Cornwall, the proprietors com- 
pounded for 2400/. a year, instead of paying the third 
of the fuel saved. That saving then must very con- 
siderably have exceeded 72001. a year. But there 
seemed some difficulty in carrying bargains of this kind 

374 WATT. 

into effect ; and the genius of Watt, fertile in resources, 
immediately invented a small clock, called the counter, 
to be moved by the engine, and which accurately re- 
corded every stroke it made. Payment being in propor- 
tion to the number of strokes, the clock was enclosed 
in a box under a double lock, and thus the working 
eould be easily and securely ascertained.* 

The first consequence of this grand invention, and 
the great saving of fuel it occasioned, was the renewed 
working of mines which had become unprofitable 
under the old plan. The next was the opening mines 
which Newcomen's engine could not drain at all. 
The steam-power, too, was no longer confined to 
draining mines. Various contrivances, for which 
Watt took out no less than four patents between 
1781 and 1785, enabled him to communicate a rota- 
tory motion from the piston, so that the engine could 
now work any machinery whatever ; could spin cotton, 
cut 4ron and brass, stamp cloth, grind corn, print 
books, coin money, in short, could perform on any 
scale any kind of work in which human labour was 
either inefficient or expensive ; and while it was seen 
in one place pouring out rivers from the bowels of the 
earth with the arms of a giant, or cleaving rocks of 
granite formation, or clipping huge bars of stubborn 
iron into ribands, it was elsewhere to be found 

* Such an engine could not be made and used secretly, and thus 
piracy was prevented. It is far otherwise with small pieces of 
mechanism, and still more difficult would be the protection of 
patent rights in mere methods, though to these the protection of the 
law should be extended. 

WATT. 375 

weaving or spinning like a quiet and industrious fe- 
male, or turning a small lathe, or forming the fine 
wheels of a watch, or drawing out a thread too fine 
for sight ; when the machine, instead of sawing the 
air aloft, and making the ground tremble around it, 
was placed quietly on a table like a candlestick or an 
inkstand. The latest use of the power, and the most 
important, is steam travelling by land and water. 
Watt himself early perceived this application of his 
engine ; and in 1785 he took out a patent for moving 
carriages by steam, but he does not appear to have 
practically used his method. The attempts had been 
numerous, and from very early times, to propel vessels 
by steam. There seems reason to think that the 
paddle-wheel, the only addition to the steam-engine 
required for navigation, was known in ancient Egypt : 
it certainly was known to the Romans. In the middle 
of the sixteenth century a Spanish engineer exhibited 
a steam-vessel to Charles V. The Marquis of Wor- 
cester appears to have turned his attention to the 
subject from some parts of the work already cited, and 
so superciliously condemned by Hume ; and Jonathan 
Hulls, in 1736, took out a patent for a kind of steam- 
tug. Various similar attempts were afterwards made, 
but with no success, and it was not until the steam- 
engine had been improved and had become generally 
used for all other purposes that it was applied to those 
of locomotion. 

It is truly painful to reflect, that among the rewards 
which this great public benefactor was destined to 
reap for his invaluable services, was the lot of having 
to pass many years of his life in the unenviable situa- 

376 WATT. 

tion of a party to suits at law and in equity, so numerous 
as might well have worn out the patience of any one but 
him, whose unwearied perseverance had already toiled 
successfully against unnumbered difficulties of another 
kind. Such was, at that time, the patent law of this 
country ; such, in some degree, it still is, though much 
improved. Inventive genius is placed between two 
dangers, and it can hardly escape the one without 
falling into the other. If the invention is such that 
it requires some new demand to be created, or some 
novel taste to be introduced, before it can be much 
used, the period of the monopoly expires before any 
gain can be reaped. This is the more likely to 
happen if it comes in competition with things already 
made, and of which, at some expense, a considerable 
stock has been prepared, because a formidable interest 
is combined against the use of that new method which 
must displace the old, and render valueless this col- 
lected stock. I remember sitting on the trial of a 
patent for a new and admirable pianoforte ; the only 
witness to its excellence being a sculptor of distinction 
who had once made such instruments, but had no 
longer any interest in crying down the invention : 
none of the trade could be trusted to give their opinion 
upon oath ; all were, of course, in a combination 
against that improvement, which, if adopted, would 
render unsaleable their pianofortes already made, If, 
on the other hand, the superiority of the invention is 
quite manifest, if the demand for it already exists, if no 
combination can prevent its coming into general use 
for example, the making a new instrument for perform- 
ing a known and necessary operation, or a new substance 

WATT, 377 

for supplying a general want already existing then 
the inventor has to prepare himself for encountering 
piracy in all its forms; capitalists, who would be 
ashamed to violate the law in their own persons, en- 
couraging men of no substance to infringe the patent, 
and omitting to pay the patentee's costs when these 
tools are defeated. My learned and ingenious kins- 
man, Dr. Forsyth, the inventor of the percussion 
lock, passed the fourteen years of his patent right in 
courts of justice, and in every instance prevailed ; but he 
found the pirates pennyless, the costs were to be paid, 
and he never gained one shilling by an invention 
which is, I believe, more universally used all over 
Europe than any other, except, perhaps, Argand's 
lamp. That invention was defeated in court, in con- 
sequence of the imperfect state of the law in those 
days, and of the absurd leaning of the Judges against 
all patentees ; their Lordships displaying the utmost 
ingenuity in discovering flaws, and calling into action 
all the resources of legal astuteness in grinding, as 
they went on, new law for the defeat of the inventor. 
Of this, one instance only needs be given. If a speci- 
fication contained ten good matters or processes, and 
by oversight one was either not original, or did not 
answer the description given in any other respect,* 
the courts held the patent wholly void, and not merely 
void for the erroneously described part, upon the 
subtle and senseless ground that the Crown had been 
deceived in the grant. 

* Turner v. Winter, 6 T. R. ; Rex v. Fuller, 3 B. and A. 
My Acts of 1835 and 1840 have in great part remedied these sad 
defects in the law ; others still remain. 

378 WAIT. 

Mr. Watt had to struggle against this state of the 
law as well as against the shameless frauds, the 
conspiracies of dishonest, unprincipled men. During 
seven years and upwards he was condemned to lead 
the life of litigation ; during seven years his genius 
was withdrawn from his own pursuits to become 
what he, no doubt, had, unfortunately for society, 
full time to make himself, an accomplished and 
learned lawyer; and it was not till five and thirty 
years after his invention had been made, that he was 
finally freed by a decision of the Court of King's 
Bench, in 1799, from a durance which lasted all the 
term of his patent, after all interest in the subject had 
expired by efflux of time. It was proved before a 
committee of the House of Commons in 1834, that 
had his statutory term in the patent only been secured 
to him, he would have been a great loser by the in- 
vention; and that for some years after the Act of 
Parliament had extended the time, he still was out of 
pocket : consequently it follows, that had he never 
taken a patent at all, but trusted entirely to the pre- 
ference which his being the inventor would have 
given him in the market, as a maker of steam-ap- 
paratus, that is, had he taken only this indirect 
benefit instead of the direct gains of the monopoly, he 
would have been better off in a pecuniary point of 
view than he was by means of the grant of the patent 
and its Parliamentary extension. The Act which 
I introduced in 1835, grounded mainly upon that 
evidence, has removed some of the greatest defects in 
the law ; and it has enabled, when coupled with the 
subsequent Act of last Session, an inventor to obtain, 

WATT. 379 

at a very inconsiderable cost, an extension for any 
additional period, not exceeding the duration of the 
original patent.* The expenses of obtaining patents, 
and especially the grievous burden of having to take 
out one for each of the three kingdoms, are the 
principal parts of the grievance which remain to be 

Notwithstanding the serious drawbacks upon his 
gains which Watt thus experienced, he was, on the 
whole, successful in respect of profit, realizing an 
ample fortune, but which all men wished had been 
greater, and which, under a more just law, would have 
been thrice as great. 

We have been contemplating the great achievement 
of Watt, but it would be a mistake to suppose that the 
steam-engine is the only monument of his scientific 
genius or his inventive skill. He was the author of 
the machine in general use for copying letters ; of the 
method extensively used for heating buildings and 
hot-houses by steam ; and of an ingenious mechanism 
for multiplying copies of busts and other sculptures ; 
but he was also, without any doubt, the person who 
first discovered the composition of water. At this 

* The course which a patentee ought to pursue if there be 
no opposition to his claim of extension, is to employ no solicitor 
and no counsel, but to appear in person before the Judicial Com- 
mittee, as my gallant and truly ingenious friend Lord Dundonald 
(better known as Lord Cochrane) lately did. Their Lordships will 
always favour such a course, the rather as they thus obtain the 
advantage of hearing the explanations required from the person best 
able to give them. In opposed cases professional aid is requisite. 

380 WATT. 

most important truth he arrived by a profound ex- 
amination of all the experiments which had been made 
by Warltire, by Macquer, and especially by Priest- 
ley, upon the combustion of hydrogen and oxygen 
gases, then called inflammable, and vital or dephlo- 
gisticated airs. No former reasoner had come even 
near the true theory of the phenomena observed in 
those experiments. All had assumed that water was 
a simple or elementary body ; that it was contained in 
the airs burnt together, and was precipitated by their 
explosion. He, on the contrary, showed that it was 
formed by the union of the two gases, and their 
parting with the latent heat which had held them in 
the elastic or gaseous state, but which being with- 
drawn by their union, left them in a state of liquid or 
aqueous fluidity. 

As early as 1782, his attention had been closely 
directed to the experiments in which air is produced 
from water, and especially to those upon the com- 
bustion of inflammable air. In December of that year 
he had matured his theory, for we find him then an- 
nouncing to De Luc his discovery, that " one element 
must be dismissed from the list ;" water being, ac- 
cording to his doctrine (stated more explicitly to Dr. 
Black, April 1783 r ) " composed of dephlogisticated and 
inflammable airs deprived of a portion of their latent 
heat." To his whole correspondence with that great 
philosopher, with Smeaton, with Priestley, De Luc, and 
others, I have had access, and no trace is to be found 
in it that either he or they had even entertained the 
least suspicion of the same thing having before occurred 


to any one else.* It is to be noted, too, that in 1 784 
Mr. Cavendish, after his celebrated experiment, had 
not attained by any means so clear a notion of the 
true doctrine as Mr. Watt explains in those previous 
letters, f I examined minutely the whole of this 
subject eight years ago, at the request of my dis- 
tinguished colleague M. Arago, then engaged in 
preparing his * Eloge' of Mr. Watt, who had also been 
our fellow-member of the Institute. The reader will 
find my statement of the evidence annexed to this 
account. But I cannot easily suppose that M. Arago 
ever intended, and I know that I never myself intended, 
to insinuate in the slightest degree a suspicion of Mr. 
Cavendish's having borrowed from Mr. Watt. He had, 
in all probability, been led to the same conclusion by his 
own researches, ignorant of Mr. Watt's speculations, 
a little earlier in point of time, just as Priestley when 
claiming, and justly claiming, the important discovery 
of oxygen (called by him, in accordance with the 
doctrine of Stahl, " dephlogisticated air"), never denied 
that Scheele also made the same discovery, calling it 
" empyreal air," without being aware of another having 
preceded him. Priestley, of course, treated the dis- 
creditable proceedings of Lavoisier in respect to this 
gas very differently, and so must all impartial men. 

It must on no account be supposed that Watt cannot 
be considered as having discovered the composition of 
water, merely because he made no new experiments of 
particular moment, like Cavendish, to ascertain that 

* Letters to Gilbert Hamilton of Glasgow, Fry of Bristol, 
Smeaton, De Luc all dated March and April, 1783. 

f See Life of Cavendish for further particulars and explanations. 

382 WATT. 

capital point. No one refuses to Newton the discovery 
of gravitation as the controlling and directing power of 
the solar system ; and yet he made not one of those 
observations upon which his theory rests ; nay, he 
threw it aside for sixteen years when the erroneous 
notion of a degree being only sixty miles appeared by 
its consequences to disprove his proposition, and instead 
of making any further experiments himself, waited 
until Picard's more accurate measurement became 
known to him accidentally in 1682, and enabled him 
to demonstrate his doctrine. In like manner, Lavoi- 
sier, who discovered no gas, and made no original 
experiments of the least value in pneumatic chemistry, 
is universally admitted to have discovered the true 
theory of combustion and calcination, by reasoning 
on the facts which others had ascertained. Watt's 
happy inference from the facts discovered by Warltire 
and Priestley was just as much entitled, and for the 
same reasons, to be regarded as the discovery of the 
composition of water. 

The latter years of Mr. Watt's useful and honour- 
able life were passed in the bosom of his family and 
the society of his friends, although he ever gave the 
due attention to the extensive concerns of the house in 
which he was the principal partner. He had been 
married as early as 1764 to Miss Miller, his cousin, 
and had by her a daughter who predeceased him, leaving 
children, and a son, James, who still survives, inherit- 
ing the scientific tastes, the extensive knowledge, the 
masculine understanding, and the scrupulous integrity 
of his father. With the late Mr. Robinson Boulton 
and Mr. Gregory Watt, he was admitted into the part- 


nership, the concerns of which he extended, and, for 
the last quarter of a century, almost exclusively 
conducted. By his second wife, Miss Macgregor, 
whom he married in 1776, he had one son, Gregory, 
who unfortunately died in October, 1804, at the age 
of twenty- seven, after giving an earnest of brilliant ta- 
lents and accomplishments. This loss was, no doubt, a 
severe blow to his family, and the father shared fully 
in their sorrow. But he bore it like a man : and I 
feel great satisfaction in correcting an error into which 
my illustrious friend and colleague M. Arago has fallen 
through misinformation, when he represents Mr. 
Watt's spirit as so entirely broken by the misfortune 
that he " preserved an almost total silence during the 
latter years of his life." The fact is, that he survived 
his son's death between fourteen and fifteen years, and 
never was more cheerful or enjoyed the pleasures of 
society more heartily than during this period. I can 
speak on the point with absolute certainty, for my own 
acquaintance with him commenced after my friend 
Gregory's decease. A few months after that event, 
he calmly and with his wonted acuteness discussed 
with me the composition of an epitaph to be inscribed 
on his son's tomb. That autumn and winter he was a 
constant attendant at our Friday club, and in all our 
private circles, and was the life of them all. He has, 
moreover, left under his hand an account of the effect 
which the recent loss had produced upon his spirits, 
and a flat contradiction to the notion that it had de- 
pressed them. " I perhaps," he observes, "have said too 
much to you and Mr. Campbell on the state of my 
mind : I therefore think it necessary to say that I am 

384 WATT, 

not low-spirited, and were you here you would find 
me as cheerful in the company of my friends as usual ; 
my feelings for the loss of poor Gregory are not 
passion, but a deep regret that such was his and my 
lot." He then expresses his pious resignation to the 
will of " the Disposer of events." It is true, he adds 
that he had lost one stimulus to exertion, and with it 
his relish for his usual avocations, but he looks to 
time for a remedy, and adds, " meanwhile, I do not 
neglect the means of amusement which are within my 
power." This letter was written in January 1805, only 
a few weeks after the loss of his son. In another letter 
written in April to the same gentleman, his cousin, Mr. 
Muirhead, great uncle of the able and learned translator 
of M. Arago's ( Eloge,' after expressing his confident 
hopes that Gregory had changed this mortal state for 
a far happier existence, he says, as if anxious to avoid all 
suspicion of his giving way to excessive sorrow, " You 
are not to conceive that we give way to grief : on the 
contrary, you will find us as cheerful as we ought to 
be, and as much disposed to enjoy the friends we have 
left as ever. But we should approach to brutes if we 
had no regrets." In this letter he quotes the beautiful 
lines of Catullus, " Nunc it per iter tenebricosum," &c. 
To this evidence at the period of his son's death 
let me add the testimony of Lord Jeffrey, who knew 
him well, and who brings down the account to the 
latest years of his life. " His health, which was deli- 
cate from his youth upwards, seemed to become firmer 
as he advanced in years ; and he possessed, up almost 
to the last moments of his existence, not only the full 
command of his extraordinary intellect, but all the 

WATT. 385 

alacrity of spirit arid the social gaiety which had illu- 
mined his happiest days. His friends in this part of 
the country (Edinburgh) never saw him more full of 
intellectual vigour and colloquial animation, never 
more delightful or more instructive, than in his 
last visit in autumn 1817." It was after this period 
that he invented the machine for copying sculpture. 
He distributed among his friends some specimens of its 
performances, jocularly calling them " the productions 
of a young artist just entering into his eighty-third 

In the summer of the following year, 1819, 1 saw him 
for the last time, and did not observe any change in his 
conversation or in his manner ; but I understand that 
he suffered some inconvenience through the summer ; 
though, until a few weeks before his death, he was not 
seriously indisposed. He soon became aware of the event 
which was approaching, and he seemed only anxious to 
impress upon his sorrowing family the circumstances cal- 
culated to minister consolation under the change which 
must soon take place. He expressed his sincere 
gratitude to Divine Providence for the blessings which 
he had been permitted to enjoy, for his length of days, 
his exemption from the infirmities of age, the calm 
and cheerful evening of his life passed after the useful 
labours of its day had closed. He died on the 25th of 
August, 1819, in his eighty-fourth year. His remains 
lie buried in Handsworth church, near his residence of 
Heath field, and a statue, the work of Chan trey, is there 
erected to his memory by his son ; and the same filial 
piety has presented a statue to the College of Glas- 
gow, in grateful recollection of early patronage. But 
a truly noble monument is raised to him in West- 

2 c 

386 WATT. 

minster Abbey, by the genius of Chantrey, at the 
expense of the Sovereign and of many Peers and 
distinguished Commoners, who held a meeting in 
honour of this illustrious man and great public bene- 
factor. The Ministers of the Crown, and the chiefs 
of the opposition in either House of Parliament, the 
most eminent men of science, the most distinguished 
cultivators of the arts, assembled with this view, and 
the account of their proceedings was made public in an 
authentic form. The Prime Minister, Lord Liver- 
pool, presided ; and it was none of the least remarkable 
passages of that day, that his successor, the present 
Premier, was anxious to declare the obligation under 
which he lay to the genius of him they were comme- 
morating, the fortunes of his family being reared by 
manufacturing industry, founded upon the happy 
inventions of Arkwright and Watt. It has ever 
been reckoned by me one of the chief honours of my 
life, that I was called upon to pen the inscription upon 
the noble monument thus nobly reared. 

The chisel of Chantrey, whose greatest work this 
certainly is, has admirably presented the features of the 
countenance at once deeply meditative and calmly 
placid, but betokening power rather than delicacy and 
refinement. The civilized world is filled with im- 
perishable records of his genius, and the grateful 
recollection of the whole species embalms his memory. 
But for this, the author of the epitaph might well feel 
how inadequately his feeble pen had performed its office 
in attempting to pourtray such excellence : how much 
more inadequately when its lines are traced in most 
disadvantageous contrast with the signal success of the 
sculptor ! He who has ever made the attempt to write 

WATT. 387 

with a chisel in our language, little lapidary as it cer- 
tainly is, will comprehend the extraordinary difficulties 
of the task, and will show mercy to the failure : 
















We have been considering this eminent person as 
yet only in his public capacity, as a benefactor of 
mankind by his fertile genius and indomitable perse- 
verance ; and the best portraiture of his intellectual 
character was to be found in the description of his 
attainments. It is, however, proper to survey him also 
in private life. He was unexceptionable in all its 
relations ; and as his activity was unmeasured, and his 
taste anything rather than fastidious, he both was 
master of every variety of knowledge, and was tolerant 
of discussion on subjects of very subordinate importance 
compared with those on which he most excelled. Not 


388 WATT. 

only all the sciences from the mathematics and astro- 
nomy, down to botany, received his diligent attention, 
but he was tolerably read in the lighter kinds of 
literature, delighting in poetry and other works of 
fiction, full of the stores of ancient literature, and 
readily giving himself up to the critical disquisitions 
of commentators, and to discussions on the fancies of 
etymology. His manners were most attractive from 
their perfect nature and simplicity. His conversation 
was rich in the measure which such stores and such 
easy taste might lead us to expect, and it astonished all 
listeners with its admirable precision, with the extra- 
ordinary memory it displayed, with the distinctness it 
seemed to have, as if his mind had separate niches for 
keeping each particular, and with its complete rejection 
of all worthless and superfluous matter, as if the same 
mind had some fine machine for acting like a fan, 
casting off the chaff and the husk. But it had besides 
a peculiar charm from the pleasure he took in convey- 
ing information where he was peculiarly able to give 
it, and in joining with entire candour whatever 
discussion happened to arise. Even upon matters on 
which he was entitled to pronounce with absolute 
authority, he never laid down the law, but spoke like 
any other partaker of the conversation. You might ob- 
serve him, however, with his pencil in his hand, ready to 
prove what might require explanation, and he was an 
adventurous disputant who would not rather see his in- 
tellect play in illustrations than descend with demon- 
strative force. He was ever in pursuit of truth or the 
gratification of a rational curiosity, and this attempered 
as well as guided his talk. If he seemed occasionally to 
be moved beyond the interest thus excited, it was when 

WATT. 389 

lie perceived any thing uncandid or unfair, or, above 
all, indirect and dishonest. The attempts of one man 
to appropriate another's inventive merit were the things 
that most roused his indignation ; for, regarding dis- 
covery and invention as the most precious of all 
property, he could not bear the sight of its violation, 
and would stop minutely and curiously to ascertain the 
relative shares of different individuals, when any doubt 
was raised upon the distribution. His conversation 
was withal spirited and lively it was easy and concise, 
and without the least of a lecturing formality. His 
voice was deep and low, and if somewhat monotonous, 
it yet seemed in harmony with the weight and the 
beauty of his discourse, through which however there 
also ran a current of a lighter kind ; for he was mirth- 
ful, temperately jocular, nor could anything to more 
advantage set off the living anecdotes of men and 
things, with which the graver texture of his talk was 
interwoven, than his sly and quiet humour, both of 
mind and of look, in recounting them. No one who 
had the happiness of knowing him, no member, more 
especially, of the club in Edinburgh which he frequented 
as often as he visited that capital, can ever forget the 
zest which his society derived from the mixture of such 
various matters as those to which I have referred ; and 
one of its most distinguished founders * has justly 

* Lord Jeffrey. The club was called from the day, Friday, on 
which it met at supper, after the business of the week was over, and 
the half-holiday of Saturday only lightly hanging over the heads of 
the lawyers, who chiefly composed it. Mr. Watt was an honorary 
member. He had for his colleagues no less distinguished men than 
Professor Playfair, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Corehouse, Mr. Homer, 
Mr. Elmsley, Sir W. Drummond, and several who still survive and 
fill exalted places in the State. 

390 WAIT. 

said, that in no other person was there ever observed 
so " fine an expression of reposing strength and unin- 
terrupted self-possession as marked his whole manner." 



THERE can be no doubt whatever, that the experiment of Mr. 
Warltire, related in Dr. Priestley's fifth volume,* gave rise to 
this inquiry, at least in England ; Mr. Cavendish expressly 

* Mr. Warltire's letter is dated Birmingham, 18th April, 1781, 
and was published by Dr. Priestley in the Appendix to the seventh 
volume of his ' Experiments and Observations relating to various 
branches of Natural Philosophy ; with a continuation of the Ob- 
servations on Air,' forming, in fact, the fifth volume of his ' Ex- 
periments and Observations on different kinds of Air ;' printed at 
Birmingham in 1781. 

Mr. Warltire's first experiments were made in a copper ball or 
flask, which held three wine pints, the weight 14 ounces ; and his ob- 
ject was to determine " whether heat is heavy or not." After stating 
his mode of mixing the airs, and of adjusting the balance, he says, 
he " always accurately balanced the flask of common air, then found 
the difference of weight after the inflammable air was introduced, 
that he might be certain he had confined the proper proportion of 
each. The electric spark having passed through them, the flask 
became hot, and was cooled by exposing it to the common air of the 
room : it was then hung up again to the balance, and a loss of weight 
was always found, but not constantly the same ; upon an average it 
was two grains." 

He goes on to say, u I have fired air in glass vessels since I saw 
you (Dr. Priestley) venture to do it, and I have observed, as you 
did, that, though the glass was clean and dry before, yet, after firing 
the air, it became dewy, and was lined with a sooty substance." 


WAIT. 391 

refers to it, as having set him upon making his experiments. 
(Phil. Trans. 1784, p. 126.) The experiment of Mr. Warltire 
consisted in firing, by electricity, a mixture of inflammable 
and common air in a close vessel, and two things were said to 
be observed : first, a sensible loss of weight ; second, a dewy 
deposit on the sides of the vessel. 

Mr. Watt, in a note to p. 332 of his paper, Phil. Trans. 
1784, inadvertently states, that the dewy deposit was first 
observed by Mr. Cavendish; but Mr. Cavendish himself, 
p. 127, expressly states Mr. Warltire to have observed it, and 
cites Dr. Priestley's fifth volume. 

Mr. Cavendish himself could find no loss of weight, and he 
says that Dr. Priestley had also tried the experiment, and 
found none.* But Mr. Cavendish found there was always a 
dewy deposit, without any sooty matter. The result of many 
trials was, that common air and inflammable air being burnt 
together, in the proportion of 1000 measures of the former to 
423 of the latter, " about one-fifth of the common air, and 
nearly all the inflammable air, lose their elasticity, and are 
condensed into the dew which lines the glass." He examined the 
dew, and found it to be pure water. He therefore concludes, 
that " almost all the inflammable air, and about one-sixth of 
the common air, are turned into pure water." 

Mr. Cavendish then burned, in the same way, dephlogisti- 
cated and inflammable airs (oxygen and hydrogen gases), 
and the deposit was always more or less acidulous, accord- 
ingly as the air burnt with the inflammable air was more or 
less phlogisticated. The acid was found to be nitrous. Mr. 
Cavendish states, that " almost the whole of the inflammable 
and dephlogisticated air is converted into pure water ;" and, 
again, that " if these airs could be obtained perfectly pure, the 

It seems evident that neither Mr. Warltire nor Dr. Priestley 
attributed the dew to anything else than a mechanical deposit of 
the moisture suspended in common air. [NOTE BY MR. JAMES 

* Mr. Cavendish's note, p. 127, would seem to imply this; but I 
have not found in any of Dr. Priestley's papers that he has said so. 

392 WATT. 

whole would be condensed." And he accounts for common 
air and inflammable air, when burnt together, not producing 
acid, by supposing that the heat produced is not sufficient. 
He then says that these experiments, with the exception of 
what relates to the acid, were made in the summer of 1781, 
and mentioned to Dr. Priestley ; and adds, that " a friend of 
his (Mr. Cavendish's), last summer (that is, 1783), gave some 
account of them to M. Lavoisier, as well as of the conclu- 
sion drawn from them, that dephlogisticated air is only water 
deprived of its phlogiston ; but, at that time, so far was M. 
Lavoisier from thinking any such opinion warranted, that till 
he was prevailed upon to repeat the experiment himself, he 
found some difficulty in believing that nearly the whole of 
the two airs could be converted into water." The friend is 
known to have been Dr., afterwards Sir Charles Blagden; 
and it is a remarkable circumstance, that this passage of Mr. 
Cavendish's paper appears not to have been in it when ori- 
ginally presented to the Royal Society ; for the paper is appa- 
rently in Mr. Cavendish's hand, and the paragraph, p. 134, 
135, is not found in it, but is added to it, and directed to be 
inserted in that place. It is, moreover, not in Mr. Cavendish's 
hand, but in Sir Charles Blagden's ; and, indeed, the latter 
must have given him the information as to M. Lavoisier, 
with whom it is not said that Mr. Cavendish had any corre- 
spondence. The paper itself was read 15th January, 1784. 
The volume was published about six months afterwards. 

M. Lavoisier's memoir (in the Mem. de I'Academie dcs 
Sciences for 1781) had been read partly in November and 
December 1783, and additions were afterwards made to it. It 
was published in 1784. It contained M. Lavoisier's account 
of his experiments in June 1783, at which, he says, Sir 
Charles Blagden was present ; and it states that he told M. 
Lavoisier of Mr. Cavendish having " already burnt inflamma- 
ble air in close vessels, and obtained a very sensible quantity 
of water." But he, M, Lavoisier, says nothing of Sir Charles 
Blagden having also mentioned Mr. Cavendish's conclusion 
from the experiment. He expressly states, that the weight of 
the water was equal to that of the two airs burnt, unless the 
heat and light which escape are ponderable, w hich he hold 

WATT. 393 

them not to be. His account, therefore, is not reconcilable 
with Sir Charles Blagden's, and the latter was most probably 
written as a contradiction of it, after Mr. Cavendish's paper 
had been read, and when the Memoires of the Academic were 
received in this country. These Memoires were published 
in 1784, and could not, certainly, have arrived when Mr. 
Cavendish's paper was written, nor when it was read to the 
Royal Society. 

But it is farther to be remarked, that this passage of Mr. 
Cavendish's paper in Sir Charles Blagden's handwriting, only 
mentions the experiments having been communicated to Dr. 
Priestley; they were made, says the passage, in 1781, and 
communicated to Dr. Priestley ; it is not said when, nor is it 
said that " the conclusions drawn from them," and which Sir 
Charles Blagden says he communicated to M. Lavoisier in 
summer 1783, were ever communicated to Dr. Priestley; and 
Dr. Priestley, in his paper (referred to in Mr. Cavendish's), 
which was read June 1783, and written before April of that 
year, says nothing of Mr. Cavendish's theory, though he 
mentions his experiment. 

Several propositions then are proved by this statement. 

first. That Mr. Cavendish, in his paper, read 1 5th January, 
1784, relates te capital experiment of burning oxygen and 
hydrogen gases in a close vessel, and finding pure water to be 
the produce of the combustion. 

Secondly, That, in the same paper, he drew from this expe- 
riment the conclusion that the two gases were converted or 
turned into water. 

Thirdly, That Sir Charles Blagden inserted in the same 
paper, with Mr. Cavendish's consent, a statement that the 
experiment had first been made by Mr. Cavendish in summer 
1781, and mentioned to Dr. Priestley, though it is not said 
when, nor is it said that any conclusion was mentioned to Dr. 
Priestley, nor is it said at what time Mr. Cavendish first drew 
that conclusion. A most material omission. 

Fourthly, That in that addition made to the paper by Sir 
Charles Blagden, he conclusion of Mr. Cavendish is stated to 
be, that oxygen gas is water deprived of phlogiston; this 
addition having been made after M. Lavoisier's memoir 
arrived in England. 

394 WAIT. 

It may further be "observed, that in another addition to the 
paper, which is also in Sir C. Blagden's handwriting, and which 
was certainly made after M. Lavoisier's memoir had arrived, 
Mr. Cavendish for the first time distinctly states, as upon M. 
Lavoisier's hypothesis, that water consisted of hydrogen united 
to oxygen gas. There is no substantial difference, perhaps, 
between this and the conclusion stated to have been drawn by 
Mr. Cavendish himself, that oxygen gas is water deprived of 
phlogiston, supposing phlogiston to be synonymous with hy- 
drogen ; but the former proposition is certainly the more dis- 
tinct and unequivocal of the two : and it is to be observed that 
Mr. Cavendish, in the original part of the paper, i. e. the part 
read January 1784, before the arrival of Lavoisier's, considers 
it more just to hold inflammable air to be phlogisticated Avater 
than pure phlogiston (p. 140). 

We are now to see what Mr. Watt did ; and the dates here 
become very material. It appears that he wrote a letter to 
Dr. Priestley on 26th April, 1783, in which he reasons on the 
experiment of burning the two gases in a close vessel, and 
draws the conclusion, " that water is composed of dephlogisti- 
cated air and phlogiston, deprived of part of their latent 
heat."* The letter was received by Dr. Priestley and de- 
livered to Sir Joseph Banks, with a request that it might be 
read to the Royal Society ; but Mr. Watt afterwards desired 
this to be delayed, in order that he might examine some new- 
experiments of Dr. Priestley, so that it was not read until the 
22d April, 1784. In the interval between the delivery of 

* It may with certainty be concluded from Mr. Watt's private 
and unpublished letters, of which the copies taken by his copying- 
machine, then recently invented, are preserved, that his theory of 
the composition of water was already formed in December 1782, 
and probably much earlier. Dr. Priestley, in his paper of 21st April, 
1783, p. 416, states, that Mr. Watt, prior to his (the Doctor's) ex- 
periments, had entertained the idea of the possibility of the conver- 
sion of water or steam into permanent air. And Mr. Watt himself, 
in his paper, Phil. Trans., p. 335, asserts, that for many years he had 
entertained the opinion that air was a modification of water, and he 
enters at some length into the facts and reasoning upon which that 
deduction was founded. ["NOTE BY MR. JAJYJES WATT.] 


this letter to Dr. Priestley, and the reading of it, Mr. Watt 
had addressed another letter to M. de Luc, dated 26th No- 
vember, 1783,* with many further observations and reasonings, 
but almost the whole of the original letter is preserved in this, 
and is distinguished by inverted commas. One of the passages 
thus marked is that which has the important conclusion above 
mentioned ; and that letter is stated, in the subsequent one, 
to have been communicated to several members of the Royal 
Society at the time of its reaching Dr. Priestley, viz. April, 

In Mr. Cavendish's paper as at first read, no allusion is to 
be found to Mr. Watt's theory ; but in an addition made in 
Sir C. Blagden's own hand, after Mr. Watt's paper had been 

* The letter was addressed to M. J. A. de Luc, the well-known 
Genevese philosopher, then a Fellow of the Royal Society, and 
Reader to Queen Charlotte. He was the friend of Mr. Watt, who 
did not then belong to the Society. M. de Luc, following the 
motions of the Court, was not always in London, and seldom at- 
tended the meetings of the Royal Society. He was not present 
when Mr. Cavendish's paper of 15th January, 1784, was read ; but, 
hearing of it from Dr. Blagden, he obtained a loan of it from Mr. 
Cavendish, and writes to Mr. Watt on the 1st March following, to 
apprise him of it, adding that he has perused it, and promising an 
analysis. In the postscript he states, " In short, they expound and 
prove your system, word for word, and say nothing of you." The 
promised analysis is given in another letter of the 4th of the same 
month. Mr. Watt replies on the 6th, with all the feelings which a 
conviction he had been ill-treated was calculated to inspire, and 
makes use of those vivid expressions which M. Arago has quoted ; 
he states his intention of being in London in the ensuing week, and 
his opinion, that the reading of his letter to the Royal Society will 
be the proper step to be taken. He accordingly went there, waited 
upon the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, was re- 
ceived with all the courtesy and just feeling which distinguished 
that most honourable man ; and, it was settled that both the letter 
to Dr. Priestley of 26th April, 1783, and that to M. de Luc of 26th 
November, 1783, should be successively read. The farmer was 
done on the 22d, and the latter on the 29th April, 178,4. [NOTE 

396 WATT. 

read, there is a reference to that theory (Phil. Trans. 1784, 
p. 140), and Mr. Cavendish's reasons are given for not en- 
cumbering his theory with that part of Mr. Watt's which 
regards the evolution of latent heat. It is thus left somewhat 
doubtful, whether Mr. Cavendish had ever seen the letter of 
April 1783, or whether he had seen only the paper (of 26th 
November, 1783) of which that letter formed a part, and 
which was read 29th April, 1784. That the first letter was 
for some time (two months, as appears from the papers of 
Mr. Watt) in the hands of Sir Joseph Banks and other 
members of the Society, during the preceding spring, is 
certain, from the statements in the note to p. 330 ; and that 
Sir Charles Blagden, the Secretary, should not have seen it, 
seems impossible ; for Sir Joseph Banks must have delivered 
it to him at the time when it was intended to be read at one 
of the Society's meetings (Phil. Trans., p. 330, Note), and, as 
the letter itself remains among the Society's Records, in the 
same volume with the paper into which the greater part of it 
was introduced, it must have been in the custody of Sir C. 
Blagden. It is equally difficult to suppose, that the person 
who wrote the remarkable passage already referred to, re- 
specting Mr. Cavendish's conclusions having been communi- 
cated to M. Lavoisier in the summer of 1783 (that is, in 
June), should not have mentioned to Mr. Cavendish that 
Mr. Watt had drawn the same conclusion in the spring of 
1783 (that is, in April at the latest). For the conclusions are 
identical, with the single difference, that Mr. Cavendish calls 
dephlogisticated air, water deprived of its phlogiston, and 
Mr. Watt says that water is composed of dephlogisticated air 
and phlogiston. 

We may remark, there is the same uncertainty or vague- 
ness introduced into Mr. Watt's theory, which we before ob- 
served in Mr. Cavendish's, by the use of the term Phlogiston, 
without exactly defining it. Mr. Cavendish leaves it uncer- 
tain, whether or not he meant by phlogiston simply inflamma- 
ble air, and he inclines rather to call inflammable air, water 
united to phlogiston. Mr. Watt says expressly, even in his 
later paper (of November 1783), and in a passage not to be 
found in the letter of April 1783, that he thinks that inflam- 

WATT. 397 

mable air contains a small quantity of water, and much 
elementary heat. It must be admitted that such expressions 
as these on the part of both of those great men, betoken a 
certain hesitation respecting the theory of the composition of 
water. If they had ever formed to themselves the idea, that 
water is a compound of the two gases deprived of their latent 
heat, that is, of the two gases, with the same distinctive- 
ness which marks M. Lavoisier's statement of the theory, 
such obscurity and uncertainty would have been avoided. 

Several further propositions may now be stated, as the re- 
sult of the facts regarding Mr. Watt. 

First, That there is no evidence of any person having re- 
duced the theory of composition to writing, in a shape which 
now remains, so early as Mr. Watt. 

Secondly, That he states the theory, both in April and No- 
vember 1783, in language somewhat more distinctly referring 
to composition than Mr. Cavendish does in 1784, and that his 
reference to the evolution of latent heat renders it more dis- 
tinct than Mr. Cavendish's. 

Thirdly, That there is no proof, nor even any assertion, of 
Mr. Cavendish's theory (what Sir C. Blagden calls his con- 
clusion) having been communicated to Dr. Priestley before 
Mr. Watt stated his theory in 1783, still less of Mr. Watt 
having heard of it, while his whole letter shows that he never 
had been aware of it, either from Dr. Priestley, or from any 
other quarter. 

Fourthly, That Mr. Watt's theory was well known among 
the members of the Society, some months before Mr. Caven- 
dish's statement appears to have been reduced into writing, 
and eight months before it was presented to the Society. We 
may, indeed, go further, and affirm, as another deduction from 
the facts and dates, that as far as the evidence goes, there is 
proof of Mr. Watt having first drawn the conclusion, at least 
that no proof exists of any one having drawn it so early as 
he is proved to have done. 

Lastly, That a reluctance to give up the doctrine of phlo- 
giston, a kind of timidity on the score of that long-established 
and deeply rooted opinion, prevented both Mr. Watt and Mr. 
Cavendish from doing full justice to their own theory ; while 

398 WATT. 

M. Lavoisier, who had entirely shaken off these trammels, 
first presented the new doctrine in its entire perfection and 

All three may have made the important step nearly at the 
same time, and unknown to each other ; the step, namely, of 
concluding from the experiment, that the two gases entered 
into combination, and that water was the result ; for this, with 
more or less of distinctness, is the inference which all three 

But there is the statement of Sir Charles Blagden, to show 
that M. Lavoisier had heard of Mr. Cavendish's drawing this 
inference before his (M. Lavoisier's) capital experiment was 
made ; and it appears that M. Lavoisier, after Sir C. Blagden's 
statement had been embodied in Mr. Cavendish's paper and 
made public, never gave any contradiction to it in any of 
his subsequent memoirs which are to be found in the Me- 
moires de 1' Academic, though his own account of that ex- 
periment, and of what then passed, is inconsistent with Sir 
Charles Blagden's statement. 

But there is not any assertion at all, even from Sir C. Blag- 
den, zealous for Mr. Cavendish's priority as he was, that Mr. 
Watt had ever heard of Mr. Cavendish's theory before he 
formed his own. 

Whether or not Mr. Cavendish had heard of Mr. Watt's 
theory previous to drawing his conclusions, appears more 
doubtful. The supposition that he had so heard, rests on the 
improbability of his (Sir Charles Blagden's) and many others 
knowing what Mr. Watt had done, and not communicat- 
ing it to Mr. Cavendish, and on the omission of any assertion 
in Mr. Cavendish's paper, even in the part written by Sir C. 
Blagden with the view of claiming priority as against M. 
Lavoisier, that Mr. Cavendish had drawn his conclusion before 
April 1783, although in one of the additions to that paper 
reference is made to Mr. Watt's theory. 

As great obscurity hangs over the material question at what 
time Mr. Cavendish first drew the conclusion from his experi- 
ment, it may be as well to examine what that great man's 
habit was in communicating his discoveries to the Koyal 

WATT. 399 

A Committee of the Royal Society, with. Mr. Gilpin the 
clerk, made a series of experiments on the formation of nitrous 
acid, under Mr. Cavendish's direction, and to satisfy those 
who had doubted his theory of its composition, first given 
accidentally in the paper of January 1784, and afterwards 
more fully in another paper, June 1785. Those experiments 
occupied from the 6th December, 1787, to 19th March, 1788, 
and Mr. Cavendish's paper upon them was read 17th April, 
1788. It was, therefore, written and printed within a month 
of the experiments being concluded. 

Mr. Kirwan answered Mr. Cavendish's paper (of 15th 
January, 1784) on water, in one which was read 5th February, 
1784, and Mr. Cavendish replied in a paper read 4th March, 

Mr. Cavendish's experiments on the density of the earth 
were made from the 5th August, 1797, to the 27th May, 
1798. The paper upon that subject was read 27th June, 1798. 

The account of the eudiometer was communicated at 
apparently a greater interval ; at least the only time men- 
tioned in the account of the experiments is the latter half of 
1781, and the paper was read January 1783. It is, however, 
probable, from the nature of the subject, that he made further 
trials during the year 1782. 

That Mr. Watt formed his theory during the few months 
or weeks immediately preceding April 1783, seems probable.* 
It is certain that he considered the theory as his own, and 
makes no reference to any previous communication from any 
one upon the subject, nor of having ever heard of Mr. 
Cavendish drawing the same conclusion. 

The improbability must also be admitted to be extreme, of 
Sir Charles Blagden ever having heard of Mr. Cavendish's 
theory prior to the date of Mr. Watt's letter, and not mention- 
ing that circumstance in the insertion which he made in Mr. 
Cavendish's paper. 

* That the idea existed in his mind previously, is proved by his 
declarations to Dr. Priestley, cited by the latter ; by his own asser- 
tions, p. 335 of his paper ; and by the existing copies of his letters 
in December 1782.- [NOTE BY MB. JAMES WATT.] 

400 WATT. 

It deserves to be farther mentioned, that Mr. "Watt left the 
correction of the press, and every thing relating to the 
publishing of his paper, to Sir Charles Blagden. A letter 
remains from him to that effect, written to Sir Charles Blag- 
den, and Mr. Watt never saw the paper until it was printed. 

Since M. Arago's learned Eloge was published, with this 
paper as an Appendix, the Eev. W. Vernon Harcourt has 
entered into controversy with us both, or, I should rather say, 
with M. Arago, for he has kindly spared me ; and while I ex- 
press my obligations for this courtesy of my reverend, learned, 
and valued friend, I must express my unqualified admiration of 
his boldness in singling out for his antagonist my illustrious 
colleague, rather than the far weaker combatant against whom 
he might so much more safely have done battle. Whatever 
might have been his fate had he taken the more prudent 
course, I must fairly say (even without waiting until my fellow 
champion seal our adversary's doom), that I have seldom seen 
any two parties more unequally matched, or any disputation in 
which the victory was so complete. The attack on M. Arago 
might have passed well enough at a popular meeting at Bir- 
mingham, before which it was spoken; but as a scientific inquirer, 
it would be a flattery running the risk of seeming ironical to 
weigh the reverend author against the most eminent philo- 
sopher of the day, although upon a question of evidence 
(which this really is, as well as a scientific discussion) I might 
be content to succumb before him. As a strange notion, how- 
ever, seems to pervade this paper, that everything depends 
on the character of Mr. Cavendish, it may be as well to repeat 
the disclaimer already very distinctly made of all intention to 
cast the slightest doubt upon that great man's perfect good 
faith in the whole affair ; I never having supposed that 
he borrowed from Mr. Watt, though M. Arago, Professor 
Robison,* and Sir H. Davy, as well as myself, have always 

* Encyc. Brit., vol. xviii., p. 808. This able and learned article 
enters at length into the proofs of Mr. Watt's claims, and it was 
published in 1797, thirteen years before Mr. Cavendish's death. 

WAIT. 401 

been convinced that Mr. Watt had, unknown to him, antici- 
pated his great discovery. It is also said by Mr. Harcourt 
that the late Dr. Henry having examined Mr. Watt's manu- 
scripts decided against his priority. I have Dr. H.'s letter 
before me of June, 1820, stating most clearly, most fully, and 
most directly, the reverse, and deciding in Mr. Watt's favour. 
I must add, having read the full publication with fac-similes, 
Mr. Harcourt has now clearly proved one thing, and it is 
really of some importance. He has made it appear that in all 
Mr. Cavendish's diaries and notes of his experiments, not an 
intimation occurs of the composition of water having been in- 
ferred by him from those experiments earlier than Mr. Watt's 
paper of spring, 1783. 

2 D 

( 402 ) 


MENTION has already been more than once made of 
Dr. Priestley ; and certainly history would imperfectly 
perform its office of recording the progress of natural 
knowledge should it pass over his important discoveries 
without the large share of attention and of praise which 
they are well entitled to claim. In turning, however, 
to recount the events of his life, we make a somewhat 
painful transition from contemplating in its perfection 
the philosophic character, to follow the course of one 
who united in his own person the part of the experi- 
mental inquirer after physical truth with that of the 
angry polemic and the fiery politician, leading some- 
times the life of a sage, though never perhaps free from 
rooted and perverted prejudice sometimes that of a 
zealot against received creeds and established in- 
stitutions, and in consequence of his intemperance, 
alternately the exciter and the victim of persecution. 
Nevertheless, the services which he rendered in the 
former and better capacity, ought to be held in grate- 
ful remembrance by the cultivators of physical science. 
Nor are we to suppose that even in his polemical ca- 
pacity he was not in pursuit of truth. He may have 
had a tendency to oppose established opinions ; a 
disposition which led him, as he says himself, at the 

by W. Soil. 


Q^? ; /5^^/G>^ ;; ^^^^^^^^^ // f '^w/sSr. 


age of twenty "to embrace what is generally called the 
heterodox side of every question,"* just as he had a 
disposition pertinaciously to keep by the received and 
erroneous chemical theory ; but if he thought for him- 
self, and followed the bent of his convictions, we have 
no right to doubt his conscientious motives, the more 
especially as his heterodox dogmas, always manfully 
avowed, never brought him anything but vexation and 
positive injury in his temporal concerns. The perti- 
nacity with which he defended to the end of his days 
the chemical doctrine of Phlogiston, and the equal 
zeal with which he attacked the theological tenets of 
original sin and the atonement, alike proceeded from 
sincere conviction, and no one has a right to blame 
him for either of these opinions, even if it be quite 
clear that he was wrong in both. 

Joseph Priestley was the son of a cloth- dresser at 
Birstal-Fieldhead, near Leeds, and was born there 
loth of March (old style), 1733. His family appear to 
have been in humble circumstances ; and he was taken 
off their hands after the death of his mother by his 
paternal aunt, with whom he went to live when nine 
years old, ai)d who sent him to a free school at Batley, 
in the neighbourhood. There he learnt something of 
Greek and J^atin, and a dissenting minister taught 
him a little Hebrew in the vacation of the grammar- 
school. To this he adcled some knowledge of other East- 
ern languages connected with Biblical literature ; he 
made a considerable progress in Syriac and Chaldean, 
and began to learn Arabic ; he also had a little instruc- 
tion in the mathematics from a teacher who had been 

* Works. Memoirs, vol. i. part i. p. 25. 

2D 2 


educated under Maclaurin, at Edinburgh. But in this 
science he made very little proficiency.* Indeed his whole 
education was exceedingly imperfect, and excepting in 
Hebrew and in Greek he never afterwards improved 
it by any systematic course of study ; but in both these 
languages he became well versed, and especially used 
always to read the Scriptures in the original tongues. 
Even in chemistry, which of the sciences he best knew 
and in which he made so important a figure, he was 
only half taught ; and he himself acknowledged, after 
having failed to obtain a chemical lectureship, that he 
" never could have acquitted himself properly in it, 
never having given much attention to the common 
routine of the science, and knowing but little of the 
common processes." ' ' When I began my experiments," 
he says, " I knew very little of chemistry, and had in 
a manner no idea of the subject before I attended a 
course of lectures at an academy where I taught." So 
that he was not well-informed, and had never studied 
either the theoretical or the practical parts of it, but 
just got possession of such portions of the subject as 
occasionally came within the scope of the experiments 
he was making, and the doctrines he was discussing at 
the time. His whole writings, which are numberless, 
and without method, or system, or closeness, or indeed 
clearness, bear ample testimony to what we might ex- 
pect would be the result of so very imperfect a found - 

* This is manifest from several parts of his writings, although 
he in one passage of his correspondence speaks of having once been 
very fond of the study ; for in th.e same paper he speaks of Baron 
Maseres' work (' Scriptores Logarithm] ci') as if he had been the 
author, instead of the collector. Mem. i. part ii. p. 490. 


ation as his scanty and rambling education had laid. 
That education, however, far from redounding to his 
discredit, very greatly enhances the merit of the man. 
He presents one of the memorable examples of know- 
ledge pursued, science cultivated, and even its bounds 
extended, by those whose circumstances made their ex- 
ertions a continued struggle against difficulties which 
only virtue and genius like theirs could have overcome. 
He went to study for some years at the dissenting 
academy founded by Mr. Coward, at Daventry, and 
since transferred to London, where it is in a kind 
of union, mutually beneficial, with the University Col- 
lege. Mr. Ash worth had succeeded the learned and 
pious Dr. Doddridge as its principal teacher, and 
under him Priestley remained till 1755. During the 
three years that he studied here, he and his intimate 
friends used to make a point of reading, daily, ten pages 
of Greek, and every week one Greek play, a practice 
which they continued after they left the school, corre- 
sponding with each other on the subject of their studies. 
On quitting Daventry, having taken orders, he was 
appointed minister of a congregation at Needham Mar- 
ket, in Suffolk. He had been brought up by his father 
and aunt in the strictest Calvinistic principles, most 
of which he very soon from conviction abandoned ; 
and so early did his spirit of free inquiry show itself, 
that having before he left his aunt's house desired to 
be admitted as a communicant at the chapel which she 
attended, he was rejected by the minister on his prepa- 
ratory examination, in consequence of doubts expressed 
respecting original sin, and eternal damnation as its 
punishment. He describes the deep distress into which 


he was thrown by feeling that he was unable to ex- 
perience due contrition and repentance for Adam's 
fault ; and the rigid divine who tested the state of his 
mind on this point, withheld the sacred ordinances in 
consequence. At Needham his salary did not exceed 
thirty pounds, indeed it seldom amounted to so much, 
and he could only subsist by the aid which certain dis- 
senting charities afforded to augment this poor stipend. 
His predecessor, Dr. Doddridge, had never received 
above thirty-five pounds a-year, and his board then 
(1723) only cost him ten pounds. Priestley's opinions 
proved distasteful to the congregation, who probably 
regarded the eternity of hell-torments as a peculiar pri- 
vilege rudely invaded by him ; and he removed in 1758 
to Nantwich, in Cheshire, where he obtained some thirty 
pupils, beside a few young ladies and a private tutorship 
in an attorney's family. This increased his income, 
and enabled him, by means of the strictest frugality, to 
purchase a scanty apparatus ; for he had now added a 
little natural philosophy to his favourite theological 
studies, the fruit of which had been already two works, 
one of them against the atonement. I say a little natural 
philosophy ; for he confesses that when nine years later 
he began to write his ' History of Electricity,' he was 
but imperfectly acquainted with the subject. It is a 
careless and superficial work, hastily written, as is 
his ' History of Vision ;' and the original experiments 
afforded no new information of any value. In 1761 
he removed to Warrington Academy, in which he 
succeeded Dr. Aikin as tutor in the belles lettres. 
On settling at Warrington he married the daughter of 
Mr. Wilkinson, a respectable iron master in Wales. 


She was an amiable woman, and endowed with great 
strength of mind, which was destined afterwards to be 
severely tried. By her he had several children, one of 
whom survived them both. 

He appears to have chiefly devoted himself to theo- 
logical studies, and hence the great disproportion which 
his Hebrew and Greek learning bears to his other ac- 
quirements. Metaphysical speculations, next to these, 
engaged his attention ; and the influence produced in 
his mind, and even his conduct, by Dr. Hartley's cele- 
brated work ('Observations on Man'), has been re- 
corded by himself. " I hardly know," he says, 
" whether it more enlightens the understanding or 
improves the heart." He says he also had studied com- 
position, and mainly by the help of writing poetry, of no 
merit, but according to him the best means of learning 
to write good prose. That his taste, however, was some- 
what deficient in this respect we may fairly affirm, 
when we find him pronouncing, many years after, a 
decided opinion that Belsham's ' History' is written 
in a better style than Robertson's or Hume's.* The 
universality of his attempts may be judged from his 
delivering at Warrington a course of lectures on ana- 
tomy. He sought relaxation from music, and learnt 
to play on the flute. He strongly recommends this to 
students, especially, he says with some naivete, such 
as have no fine ear, " for they will be the less annoyed 
by bad music." 

As early as during his education at Daventry he 
had written a work which, however, was not published 
till twenty years later ; it was the ' Institutes of 

* Mem. and Cor. 1796, vol. i. part ii. p. 358. 


Natural and Revealed Religion/ But having once 
begun to publish in 1761, his appeals to the press were 
incessant, and on almost every subject. A ' Theory 
of Language,' books on ' Oratory and Criticism/ on 
' History and General Policy/ on the ' Constitution and 
Laws of England,' on ' Education,' a ' Chart of Bio- 
graphy,' a ' Chart of History ;' these and others were 
all written while he resided at Warrington, from 1761 
to 1769. How well he was qualified to write on 
oratory and on English law, we may easily conjecture, 
from the circumstance that he could never have heard 
any speaking save in the pulpits of meeting-houses, and 
in all probability had never seen a cause tried ; but even 
if he had been present at debates and trials, it is difficult 
to imagine anything more adventurous than the tutor 
of an academy, afflicted with an incurable stutter, and 
who devoted his time to teaching and to theology, pro- 
mulgating rules of eloquence and of jurisprudence to 
the senators and lawyers of his country. That we may 
come without interruption to his really useful studies, 
it may be well here to take notice of his other contro- 
versial writings. In consequence of a disagreement with 
the Warrington trustees in 1767 he removed to Leeds, 
where he became minister of the Mill-Hill chapel, 
and wrote many controversial books and pamphlets 
In after times he wrote 'Letters to a Philosophical 
Institution;' ' An Answer to Gibbon;' 'Disquisitions 
on Matter and Spirit ;' ' Corruptions of Christianity ;' 
' Early Opinions on Christ ;' ' Familiar Letters to the 
Inhabitants of Birmingham ;' ' Two Different Histo- 
ries of the Christian Church ;' ' On Education ;' ' Com- 
parison of Heathen and Christian Philosophy ;' ' Doc- 


trine of Necessity ;' * On the Roman Catholic Claims ;' 
* On the French Revolution ;' ' On the American 
War ;' beside twenty volumes of tracts in favour of 
the Dissenters and their rights. His general works 
fill twenty-five volumes,* of which only five or six are 
on scientific subjects : his publications being in all one 
hundred and forty-one (in one year ten), of which 
only seventeen are on scientific matters. He is one of 
the most voluminous writers of any age or country, 
and probably he is of all voluminous writers the one 
who has the fewest readers. This arises from the circum- 
stance that, though his political opinions are shared 
by many, the bulk of his works are theological and 
metaphysical, but especially theological ; and his re- 
ligious opinions were confined to an extremely small 
class of persons. Indeed it may be questioned if he was 
not in several respects the only person who held his 
peculiar faith upon all points. 

It happened, fortunately, that when he went to 
reside at Leeds in care of the Mill-Hill Chapel, 
his house immediately adjoined a common brewery, 
and this led him to make experiments upon the fixed 
air copiously produced during the process of ferment- 
ation. It must be observed, that long before this time 
the great step had been made by Black, of ascertaining 
that there are other permanently elastic fluids than our 
atmosphere, and which have properties wholly different 
from it. Cavendish, too, had very recently subjected 
both fixed and inflammable airs (carbonic acid and 

* Edited by the affectionate care of an able and worthy man, Mr. 
Towell Rutt. 

410 PllIESTLEY. 

hydrogen gases) to accurate experiments, showing 
their relative specific gravities, and proving that they 
were of the same nature from what bodies soever 
they were obtained. The probability was, that other 
gaseous fluids existed in nature as well as those two 
and common air. The experimenter had, therefore, 
thenceforth, his attention directed to meeting with 
these: and an examination of all the products of 
mixture and of heat, by precipitation or evaporation, 
was now the natural course of experimental inquiry. 
At first, Priestley only tried in what way fixed air 
could be most easily combined with water ; he pub- 
lished in 1772 a pamphlet upon the means of 
effecting this union, and the condensing process which 
he employed is used to this day. He soon after gave 
to the Royal Society his observations on different kinds 
of air, which ascertained the important fact, that at- 
mospheric air, after having been corrupted by the re- 
spiration of animals or by the burning of inflammable 
bodies, is restored to salubrity by the vegetation of 
plants ; and that if the air is exposed to a mixture of 
sulphur and iron filings, as in one of Hales's experi- 
ments, its bulk is diminished between a fourth and 
u fifth, and the residue is both lighter than common 
air and unfit to support life. This residue he called 
1 Phlogistic air ;' afterwards it was called ' Azotic ' or 
' Nitrogen gas ;' and Dr. Rutherford, of Edinburgh, 
as well as Priestley, though unknown to each other, 
discovered it about the same time. For these experi- 
ments the Copley Medal was, in 1773, justly awarded 
to him by the Royal Society. 

The following year was destined to be the period 


of a discovery most important for science, and truly 
glorious for its author. Having exposed red-lead, or 
minium, in a close vessel to the sun's rays concentrated 
by a burning-glass, he found that an aeriform body, 
permanently elastic, was evolved, and that this air had 
the peculiar property of increasing exceedingly the 
intensity of flame. This gas he called ' dephlogisticated 
air/ upon the principle that the matter of heat and 
light, the phlogiston of Stahl, being abstracted from it 
by the return of the calx to its metallic state, which 
phlogiston was supposed by that theory to effect, 
the air had great avidity for phlogiston, and seized it 
from the inflammable bodies it came in contact with. 
This most important discovery, which he thus con- 
nected with an erroneous theory, was made on the 1st 
of August, 1774. He afterwards discovered that its 
absorption by the lungs in the process of respiration 
gives its red colour to arterial blood, as it was proved 
to act through the substance of thin bladder ; and he 
found that when plants grow in close vessels, and 
restore the purity of the air in which a candle has 
burnt or an animal breathed, they do so by evolving 
this pure air. The new nomenclature gave it the 
name of c oxygen gas/ from the belief then generally 
entertained that it was the acidifying principle. Later 
experiments have proved that there is at least one great 
exception to this in chlorine, formerly called 'oxy- 
genated muriatic acid ;' but now found to be wholly 
without oxygen, and yet to have all the properties 
of an acid. But, indeed, water itself, and the atmo- 
spheric air, having neither of them the nature of acids, 
are both contrary to the theory ; and the fixed alkalis 


are found to owe their alkaline state and lose their 
metallic, like other oxides, by uniting with oxygen. 

Priestley is the undoubted discoverer of oxygen. He 
was the first who communicated a knowledge of it to 
Lavoisier, at Paris, soon after he had made the dis- 
covery ; nor can anything be more disingenuous than 
that celebrated person's afterwards affirming that he, 
Priestley, and Scheele, had all discovered it " about 
the same time." He never discovered it until Priestley 
discovered it to him. Bergmann's suppressing in his 
book all knowledge of the experiments of Black and 
Cavendish, the former published twenty and the latter 
eight years before, was bad enough, but not equal to 
Lavoisier's positive assertion contrary to what must 
have been his positive knowledge. 

This great discovery was far from being the last 
of its justly celebrated author. He discovered the 
gases of muriatic, of sulphuric, and of fluoric acids, 
ammonial gas, and nitrous oxide gas. He also dis- 
covered the combination which nitrous gas forms 
suddenly with oxygen; diminishing the volume of 
both in proportion to that combination ; and he thus 
invented the method of eudiometry, or the ascertain- 
ment of the relative purity of different kinds of atmo- 
spheric air. 

It must not be forgotten, in considering the great 
merits of Priestley as an experimentalist, that he had 
almost to create the apparatus by which his processes 
were to be performed. He, for the most part, had to 
construct his instruments with his own hands, or if 
he employed others, he had to make unskilful work- 
men form them under his own immediate direction. 


His apparatus, however, and his contrivances for col- 
lecting, keeping, transferring gaseous bodies, and for 
exposing substances to their action, were simple and 
effectual, and they continue to be still used by chemical 
philosophers without any material improvement. It 
was fortunate in this respect that he began his pneu- 
matic inquiries with seeking for the means of im- 
pregnating water with carbonic acid ; this inquiry 
naturally turned his attention to the contrivance of 
apparatus and generally of manipulations, serviceable in 
the examination of bodies whose invisible form and 
elastic state renders inapplicable to them the machi- 
nery of the old laboratory, calculated only for solids 
and liquids. 

The pertinacity with which Priestley clung to the 
phlogistic theory is marvellous. It might have been 
expected, that the fact of a combustion leaving the 
residue, whether of two gases, or of a gas and an in- 
flammable body, exactly equal in weight to the sum of 
the weights of the bodies burnt and which had disap- 
peared in the process, would have been accepted as a 
proof that these two bodies had entered into an union, 
giving out the latent heat which had previously held 
the gaseous body or bodies in a state of aeriform 
fluidity. It might, in like manner, have been ex- 
pected, that when a metal, by absorbing oxygen gas, 
becomes calcined, and gains in weight precisely the 
weight of the gas which has disappeared, the calcination 
should be ascribed to the gas, and that the reproduction 
of the gas by heat, or by its abstraction by electric 
affinity for some other body, should be allowed to 
restore the metallic state by simply severing that 


union of the gas and the metal which had changed 
it. But nothing could overcome Priestley's repugnance 
to give up phlogiston : he adhered to it while he lived ; 
he never would believe that water was formed of the 
two gaseous bodies whose combustion and disappear- 
ance leaves a weight of liquid equal to their joint 
weights ; he always imagined that water was held in 
suspense by these gases and precipitated on their 
disappearing. He never would believe that metals 
owe their malleability and lustre to any cause other 
than phlogiston, or lose their properties except by 
combining with oxygen, which takes the phlogiston 
from them. He never would believe that combustion 
is anything but the phlogiston leaving the inflammable 
body and joining the oxygen ; or that when an acid 
is formed by the burning, that acid contains the 
oxygen and the combustible base. That his obstinate 
unbelief was perfectly disinterested no one can doubt. 
The discoverer of oxygen, and of the true cause of re- 
spiration, had, of all men, the strongest interest in 
assenting to a theory which was wholly founded upon 
his own discovery, and which made him the imme- 
diate, as Black was the more remote, author of modern 
chemical science made him the philosopher who had 
raised the superstructure upon the foundation which 
his predecessor had laid. 

The merit of Dr. Priestley, as a cultivator of science, 
was the activity with which he made experiments the 
watchful attention with which he observed every 
phenomenon, following the minutest circumstances of 
each process the versatility with which he prosecuted 
each new idea that arose from his trials his diligence 


in recording all the particulars, as if well aware how 
much depends in every branch of inductive philosophy 
upon allowing no fact to escape, when we are con- 
fessedly in search of light, and can never tell how any 
given fact may bear on the unknown conclusion to 
which our analytical process is leading us. As a 
reasoner his powers were far less considerable. He 
possessed not the sound judgment, the large circum- 
spection, which enables men to weigh the relative value 
of either reasons or facts. He was cautious enough and 
drew little from his imagination in feigning hypotheses, 
if it be not the reasons which he invented from time 
to time for the purpose of sustaining the desperate 
fortunes of the phlogistic theory, and making the 
facts bend to it as they successively arose with a force 
capable of shivering it in pieces. But he was also 
deficient in the happy sagacity which pierces through 
apparent dissimilarity, and ranges things apparently 
unlike under the same class he had not that chas- 
tened imagination which can see beyond the fact present 
to the senses in a word, he was much greater as a 
collector of new facts than a reasoner upon them and 
his inductive capacity was inferior to his power of ex* 
perimenting and of contriving the means of observation. 
Perhaps his want of general scientific acquirements, 
and his confined knowledge of chemistry, itself contri- 
buted to the activity and the boldness with which he 
performed novel experiments, while the same defect 
impaired his capacity as an inductive philosopher. It 
is extremely probable that the strict attention to prin- 
ciple, the methodical systematic spirit which prevailed 
over the inquiries of Black and of Cavendish the 


scientific views which directed the contrivance of all 
their processes, never leading them to make any trial 
without some definite object in view., prevented them 
from performing many experiments, from stooping, as 
it were, to try things which Priestley did not disdain 
to try from his more empirical turn of mind what 
Mr. Watt, in a letter, calls "his random haphazarding." 

In 1779, when Captain Cook was preparing to sail 
upon his second voyage, Mr. Banks, who took a great 
interest in it from having been engaged in the first, 
invited Dr. Priestley to accompany the Captain as as- 
tronomer to the expedition. Advantageous terms were 
proposed, including a provision for his family. He 
entertained the proposal, and then agreed to it ; but 
objections were taken by the clerical members of the 
Board of Longitude, not to his ignorance of astronomy 
and of natural history, but to his Socinian principles in 
religion, which one might have supposed could exer- 
cise but a limited influence upon his observations of 
the stars and of plants. I know not if the same 
scientific authorities objected, on like grounds, in the 
council of the Royal Society, to receiving papers upon 
his chemical discoveries. It is certain that a like in- 
fluence prevented Professor Playfair from afterwards 
proceeding to India, where he had designed to prosecute 
his inquiries into the science of the Hindoos. Such 
passages stamp the history of a great nation with 
indelible infamy in the eyes of the whole world. 

In 1773, when his fame had been established by his 
first discoveries, and the Royal Society had crowned his 
paper with their medal, Priestley accepted an invita- 
tion from Lord Shelburne, afterwards first Marquis of 


Lansdowne, to fill the place of librarian and philoso- 
phic companion, with a salary of 250/., reducible to 
150/. for life should he quit the employment. An 
additional allowance of 40 /. a-year was given by this 
truly munificent patron for the expense of apparatus 
and experiments ; homes were provided for his family 
in the neighbourhood both of Lord Shelburne's town 
and country residence ; nor can anything be easily 
conceired more truly gratifying to a man of right 
feelings, and of a noble ambition, than the reflection 
must have been, that the discovery of oxygen was made 
under his roof, and with the funds which his disin- 
terested liberality had provided for his philosophic 
guest. With whatever difference of sentiments states- 
men may at any time view Lansdowne House, the 
lovers of science to the latest ages will gaze with 
veneration on that magnificent pile, careless of its 
architectural beauties, but grateful for the light which 
its illustrious founder caused to beam from thence over 
the whole range of natural knowledge ; and after the 
structure shall have yielded to the fate of all human 
works, the ground on which it once stood, consecrated 
to far other recollections than those of conquest or of 
power, will be visited by the pilgrim of philosophy with 
a deeper fervour than any that fills the bosom near the 
forum or the capitol of ancient Rome. 

In 1780 Priestley settled at Birmingham, where he 
was chosen minister of the principal Dissenting con- 
gregation. He had left Lansdowne House without 
any difference to interrupt the friendship of its inmates ; 
and some years afterwards an offer to return, made on 
the death of Lord Lansdowne's friends, Dunning and 

2 E 


Lee, was declined.* A subscription among his friends 
furnished the means of prosecuting his experimental 
researches ; and he declined an offer to obtain for him 
a pension from the Government. A shade is cast upon 
this passage of his history by the circumstance of the 
pecuniary aid which he thus received being only in a 
small part rendered necessary for his experimental pur- 
suits. Mr. Parker, the eminent optician, furnished him 
for nothing all the instruments made by him, as did Mr. 
Wedgwood all his earthenware utensils. Yet we find in 
his correspondence a painful thankfulness expressed, in 
any thing rather than the language of a philosopher, to 
Mrs. Rayner and Mr. Lee, for " seasonable benefactions." 
The "apology" which he evidently feels required for 
this kind of dependence is not at all confined to the " ex- 
pense of his philosophical and theological studies ;" he 
refers also to the education of his children, and to the 
expenses of housekeeping occasioned by his reputation. f 
It is not invidious to observe that, be a man's celebrity 
ever so great, he is not bound to incur any expenses in 
keeping hospitality, if these, " exceeding twice his own 
income" (and that, with the pension of Lord Lans- 
downe, not an inconsiderable one), can only be met by 
the large " benefactions" of his friends. He names 
fifteen who gave him by subscription a yearly allow- 
ance, all the while he chose to decline an offer made to 

* This offer, and Lord Lansdowne's frank declaration that he never 
had any fault to find with his guest, entitles us to state that no 
quarrel, nor anything like it, had occurred. Nevertheless Priest- 
ley's offer to visit his Lordship when he occasionally came to London 
was politely declined. Political reasons apparently caused this 

f Memoirs, vol. L, part i., page 217. 


procure a pension from the Government, " wishing to 
preserve himself independent of every thing connected 
with the Court." We must on this be content to 
remark, that different men entertain different notions 
of independence. 

Settled at Birmingham, he continued, however, his 
controversial writings, and engaged eagerly in conflict 
with Gibbon upon his celebrated chapters respecting 
the Early History of Christianity, and with Bishop 
Horsley upon the Socinian doctrines. In the latter 
controversy the Episcopal and the Sectarian tempe- 
rature, both high, were not very unequal ; but in the 
former the minister of the Gospel had all the heat to 
himself at least in the layman it was latent, if it 
existed at all. He was desirous of drawing his 
adversary into a controversy, and, failing in this, lost 
his temper, and had the vulgar recourse to calling 
names and imputing motives. Mr. Gibbon may have 
shown some superciliousness in his treatment of this 
angry polemic ; but he certainly had a good right to 
marvel at the intolerance of one whose heterodoxy was 
so universal as to "condemn by circumscribing the 
inspiration of the Evangelists, and to condemn the reli- 
gion of every Christian nation as a fable less innocent, 
not less absurd, than Mahomet's journey to the third 
heaven." How fortunate it was that Priestley lived in 
an age when the use of actual fire is withheld from 
theological disputants, as a mode of argumentation, 
must appear from the wonder he expresses at David 
Hume's monument having been so long suffered to 
offend the pious eyes of the Edinburgh people an ex- 
pression which might seem to convey a hint that he 

2 E 2 


would have taken care to avoid, after lie had himself 
felt the weight of the popular hand when called in to 
settle theological disputes. 

Having taken, as was his wont, an active but not a 
very temperate part in the controversy to which the 
French Revolution gave rise, and having published a 
' Reply' to Mr. Burke' s famous pamphlet, he was early 
in 1791 made a citizen of the French Republic. An 
ironical and somewhat bitter pamphlet against the 
high church party still further excited the feelings of 
the people against him ; and a dinner being given on 
the 14th of July to celebrate the anniversary of 
the attack upon the Bastille, the mob attacked the 
tavern where the party were assembled, Dr . Priestley 
was not present, but his chapel and house were 
immediately after assailed. His library, manuscripts, 
and apparatus were destroyed ; his person and his 
family escaped. The compensation which he ob- 
tained, by an action against the hundred, fell short, 
according to his own account, by 2000/. of his loss. 
As, however, an ample subscription was made for 
him, and as his brother-in-law generously gave him 
10,000/., with an annuity of 200/. for life, he could not 
be other than a large gainer by the execrable violence 
of which he had been the victim ; and as he never 
allowed any of his writings to remain unpublished for 
even the shortest time after they were finished, it is not 
likely that any loss of an irreparable kind was incurred 
by the burning of his papers. He found, however, 
that he could no longer reside with comfort in the 
scene of such outrageous proceedings, and among a 
community which had so shamefully countenanced 


them. He removed to London, and succeeded his 
friend, Dr. Price, as Principal of the Hackney 
Academy. Late in the month of September, 1792, 
he was elected by the department of the Orne a 
member of the National Convention, about to assemble 
after the subversion of the French monarchy. This 
singular honour bestowed on him, as well for his 
philosophical fame as for his political services and the 
persecutions to which they had exposed him, he re- 
spectfully declined, giving as his reason that he was 
not familiar with the French language, and had not 
devoted his time sufficiently to legislative duties. But 
this moderation disarmed not his enemies he was pur- 
sued by the intolerant spirit of the times. He found 
himself shunned by his former associates in science. 
Even the Royal Society did not afford an exception 
to this persecuting loyalty, or a shelter from its effects ; 
and in the spring of 1794 he withdrew to America. 
Here he again suffered considerable disappointment. 
His religion was too much for those who had ceased to 
care for sacred things, and far too scanty for those who 
still were Christians, while his republican opinions 
were exceedingly distasteful because they were tinged 
with a decided admiration of France. He continued, 
however, to inhabit the country, and to prosecute his 
studies, chiefly theological. He received contributions 
regularly from his benefactors in England, Mrs. Rayner 
and the Duke of Grafton ; but these, though acknow- 
ledged by him in the same unpleasant style as eleemo- 
synary (" very acceptable benevolences"), were for the 
most part on a different footing from the English 


charities ; they appear generally to have been required 
for the propagation of their Unitarian opinions, to 
which the parties were all so zealously attached. 

He settled at Northumberland, in an uncleared dis- 
trict, where he purchased three hundred acres of land ; 
and his youngest son, Henry, then a very fine young man 
of eighteen, devoted himself to the clearing and culti- 
vating this woodland spot, working with his labourers 
and sharing their toils. The father himself partook 
of this labour for two or three hours daily. On Sun- 
days he frequently preached, and when he visited 
Philadelphia he always did so. He devoted the rest 
of his time to his works, particularly his ' Church 
History ;' and he wrote answers to Paine and Volney. 
He was much obstructed in his philosophical pursuits 
by the want of proper accommodation for his apparatus, 
and he only wrote three tracts on chemical subjects 
during the ten years of his residence in America ; two 
of which were merely arguments on phlogiston, and the 
third alone had any experiments, written eight years 
before his death. 

At the end of 1795 he suffered a heavy affliction in 
the death of his son Henry, after a few days' illness ; 
and in ten months more he also lost his wife. These 
blows, though he felt their weight, did not at all 
crush him ; his resignation was exemplary ; and his 
steady, enthusiastic faith in Revelation gave him a cer- 
tain hope of meeting before many years should elapse 
with those whom he had lost. Indeed, his letters 
clearly show that he regarded the sundering of these 
ties far less attentively than their restoration. A few 


days after his son's death he writes to his most inti- 
mate friend and constant correspondent, Theophilus 
Lindsay, recounting the particulars of his loss, and he 
adds that he is composing three discourses on Revela- 
tion against modern unbelievers. The letter next year 
announcing his wife's death, begins with saying to the 
same friend how much he stands in need of his sym- 
pathy, and goes on to add, " This day I bury my wife ; 
she died on Saturday after an illness of a fortnight." 
He adds some remarks on his literary occupations, and 
concludes with mentioning a plan he has of travelling 
to distract his mind.* No one who reads his letters 
and memoirs by himself can doubt that this stoical 
firmness is not the result of a callous disposition, but 
the signal triumph of a heartfelt belief in the promises 
of Religion over the weakness of our nature. 

It is, indeed, quite manifest that Religion was as 
much an active principle in him as in any one who 
ever lived. Not only is it always uppermost in his 
thoughts, but he even regards temporal concerns of a 
public nature always in connexion with the Divine 
superintendence, and even with the prophecies of 
Scripture. His letters are full of references to those 
prophecies as bearing on passing events, and he 
plainly says that since his removal to America he 
should care little for European events but for their 
connexion with the Old Testament. He also looked 
for an actual and material second coming of Christ 
upon earth. 

It is not true to affirm that he was little of a poli- 

., vol. i. part ii. p. 328, 354. 


tician, though in declining the seat in the National 
Convention he says* his studies had been little directed 
towards legislation compared with theology and philo- 
sophy; and denies in a letter to William Smith that 
he ever taught or even mentioned politics to his pupils, 
as he had been charged with doing, among the innu- 
merable falsehoods of which he was the subject. Nor 
is the circumstance of his not attending political meet- 
ings at all decisive of his being little of a political agi- 
tator, because his incurable stutter prevented him from 
taking a part in such proceedings. But he wrote in 
1774, at Franklin's request, an address to the people 
on the American disputes, previous to the general 
election. He answered Mr. Burke's * Reflections on 
the French Revolution.' He mixed in the question 
of the Catholic claims ; and he published in all no less 
than eleven political works, almost every one upon the 
topics of the day. It is equally true, however, that 
theological controversy occupied him far more con- 
stantly and engaged his mind far more deeply than 
political matters ; that he was regularly a theologian 
and incidentally a partisan. 

The cast of his political opinions was originally 
little more tending to democracy than those of Whigs 
usually are who have read and discussed more than 
they have reflected and seen. He used, indeed, to 
say that in politics he was a Trinitarian, though a 
Unitarian in religion. It must, however, be confessed 
that he went very much further in the same direction 
after the French Revolution had set fire to the four 

* Mem., vol. i. part ii. p. 190198. 


quarters of the political world, and his admiration of 
republican principles might be measured by his zeal for 
the innovators of France, with the success of whose 
arms he deemed the safety of freedom to be bound up- 
When we read his answer to the offer of a seat in 1792, 
and reflect that it was penned about three weeks after 
the horrible massacres of September, the worst of the 
atrocities which disfigured the Revolution, it moves 
our wonder to find a Christian minister accompanying 
his acknowledgment of the honour proposed, that of 
being enrolled among the authors of the tragedy so 
recently enacted, with no protest against the bloody 
course then pursuing, no exception to the unquali- 
fied admiration expressed of the youthful republic. 

In America we find his leanings are all against the 
Federal party, and his censures of the great Chief of 
the Union little concealed. He felt for the demo- 
cratic party, the French alliance, the enemies of Eng- 
lish partialities, and he regarded Washington as un- 
grateful because he would not, from a recollection of 
the services of France twenty years before to American 
independence, consent to make America dependent 
upon France. The indifferent reception which he met 
with in society was probably owing to this party vio- 
lence full as much as to the dislike of his Unitarian 
opinions. But it must be added, that his temper was 
so mild, and his manners so gentle, as to disarm his 
most prejudiced adversaries whensoever they came into 
his society. Many instances of this are given in his 
correspondence, of which one may be cited. Pie hap- 
pened to visit a friend whose wife received him in her 
husband's absence, but feared to name him before a Cal- 


vinistic divine present. By accident his name was men- 
tioned, and the lady then introduced him. But he of 
the Genevan school drew back, saying, " Dr. Joseph 
Priestley ?" and then added in the American tongue, 
*' I cannot be cordial." Whereupon the Doctor, with 
his usual placid demeanour, said that he and the lady 
might be allowed to converse until their host should 
return. By degrees the conversation became general ; 
the repudiator was won over by curiosity first, then by 
gratification; he remained till a late hour hanging 
upon Priestley's lips ; he took his departure at length, 
and told the host as he quitted the house, that never 
had he passed so delightful an evening, though he ad- 
mitted that he had begun it " by behaving like a fool 
and a brute." One such anecdote (and there are many 
current) is of more force to describe its subject than a 
hundred laboured panegyrics. 

After the loss of his wife and his younger and 
favourite son, he continued with unabated zeal to 
pursue his theological studies, and published several 
works, both controversial and historical, beside 
leaving some which have been given to the world 
since his decease. He endeavoured, too, as far as he 
could, to propagate the tenets of Unitarianism, and to 
collect and extend a congregation at Philadelphia 
attached to that doctrine. At one time, in the sum- 
mer of 1797, entertaining hopes of peace in Europe, 
he had resolved to visit France, where he might 
communicate personally with his English friends ; and 
he even thought of making a purchase in that country 
on which he might reside during a part of each year. 
So nearly did he contemplate this removal, that we 


find him desiring the answers to letters he was 
writing might be sent to the care of Messrs. Perregaux 
at Paris. The revolution of Fructidor, however (4th 
September, 1797), put an end to all prospects of peace, 
and the war soon raged in every quarter with re- 
doubled fury. He seems now to have derived his chief 
comfort from tracing the fancied resemblance between 
the events passing before him and the prophecies in 
Scripture ; though occasionally he felt much puzzled, 
and the book of Daniel, especially, appears to have 
given him trouble and perplexity. When the peace 
came at last, his health was too much broken to 
permit any plans to be executed such as he had four 
years before contemplated. 

In 1802 he became a confirmed invalid, suffer- 
ing from internal, and apparently organic, derange- 
ment. His illness was long and lingering, and he 
suffered great pain with perfect patience for two 
years. The prospect of death which he had before 
him did not relax his application to literary labour, 
his faculties remaining entire to the last. Neither did 
that awful certainty, ever present to his mind, affect 
him with sorrow or dismay. The same unshaken 
belief in a future state, the same confident hope of 
immortal life which had supported him under his 
affliction for the death of others, cheered him while 
contemplating the approach of his own. In this 
happy frame of mind he gently expired on the 6th of 
February, 1804, in the seventy-second year of his age. 

His character is a matter of no doubt, and it is of a 
high order. That he was a most able, most indus- 
trious, most successful student of nature, is clear ; and 


that his name will for ever be held in grateful remem- 
brance by all who cultivate physical science, and 
placed among its most eminent masters, is unques- 
tionable. That he was a perfectly conscientious man 
in all the opinions which he embraced, and sincere 
in all he published respecting other subjects, appears 
equally beyond dispute. He was, also, upright and 
honourable in all his dealings, and justly beloved by 
his family and friends as a man spotless in all the 
relations of life. That he was governed in his public 
conduct by a temper too hot and irritable to be con- 
sistent either with his own dignity, or with an amiable 
deportment, may be freely admitted ; and his want of 
self-command, and want of judgment in the practical 
affairs of life, was manifest above all in his controversial 
history ; for he can be charged with no want of pru- 
dence in the management of his private concerns. His 
violence and irritability, too, seems equally to have 
been confined to his public life, for in private all 
have allowed him the praise of a mild and attractive 
demeanour; and we have just seen its great power 
in disarming the prejudices of his adversaries. 

( 429 ) 


A GREATER contrast between two men of science, both 
eminent benefactors to the same branch of know- 
ledge, can hardly be imagined than Cavendish offers 
to Priestley. He was thoroughly educated in all 
branches of the Mathematics and Natural Philosophy ; 
he studied each systematically ; he lived retired from 
the world among his books and his instruments, never 
meddling with the affairs of active life ; he passed his 
whole time in storing his mind with the knowledge im- 
parted by former inquirers and in extending its bounds. 
Cultivating science for its own sake, he was slow to 
appear before the world as an author ; had reached the 
middle age of life before he gave any work to the 
press ; and though he reached the term of four- 
score, never published a hundred pages. His methods 
of investigation were nearly as opposite as this 
diversity might lead us to expect ; and in all the 
accidental circumstances of rank and wealth the 
same contrast is to be remarked. He was a duke's 
grandson ; he possessed a princely fortune ; his whole 
expenditure was on philosophical pursuits ; his whole 
existence was in his laboratory or his library. If such 
a life presents little variety and few incidents to the 
vulgar observer, it is a matter of most interesting con- 
templation to all who set its just value upon the 
cultivation of science, who reckon its successful pur- 


suit as the greatest privilege, the brightest glory of 
our nature. 

Henry Cavendish was born at Nice, whither his 
mother's health had carried her, the 10th of October, 
1731. He was the son of Lord Charles Cavendish, 
the last Duke of Devonshire's great uncle, by the 
daughter of Henry Grey, Duke of Kent. His 
family, aware of the talents which he early showed, 
were anxious that he should take the part in public 
life which men of his rank are wont to do, and were 
much displeased with his steady refusal to quit the 
studies which he loved. An uncle, disapproving of 
the course pursued towards him, made him his heir ; 
and so ample a fortune came into his possession that he 
left at his death a million and a quarter of money.* 
The Mathematics, and the various branches of Natural 
Philosophy, were the chief subjects of his study, and 
of all these sciences he was a consummate master. 

The discoveries of Black on carbonic acid and 
latent heat, appear to have drawn his attention to the 
cultivation of pneumatic chemistry ; and in 1766 he 
communicated to the Royal Society his experiments 
for ascertaining the properties of carbonic acid and 
hydrogen gas.f He carried his mathematical habits 
into the laboratory ; and not satisfied with showing 
the other qualities which make it clear that these two 

* M. Biot's article in the Biog. Univ. makes him the son of the 
Duke of Devonshire, and states his yearly income at 300,000/. 
sterling-, and yet gives the property he left at only 1,200,000/. so 
that he must have spent 300,000/. a year, and also dissipated five 
millions. Such errors seem incredible. 

f Three papers containing experiments on factitious air. Phil. 
Trans., 1766, p. 141. 


aeriform substances are each sui generis, and the 
same from whatever substances, by whatever pro- 
cesses, they are obtained ; nor satisfied with the mere 
fact that one of them is heavier, and the other much 
lighter, than atmospheric air, he inquired into the 
precise numerical relation of their specific gravities 
with one another and with common air, and first 
showed an example of weighing permanently elastic 
fluids : unless, indeed, Torricelli may be said before 
him to have shown the relative weight of a column of 
air and a column of mercury : or the common pump 
to have long ago compared in this respect air with 
water. It is, however, sufficiently clear, that neither 
of these experiments gave the relative measure of one 
air with another : nor, indeed, could they be said to 
compare common air with either mercury or water, 
although they certainly showed the relative specific 
gravities of the two bodies, taking air for the middle 
term or common measure of their weights. 

The common accounts in chemical and in biogra- 
phical works are materially incorrect respecting the 
manner in which Mr. Cavendish was led to make his 
great experiment upon the composition of water in 
1781 and the following years. It is said, that while 
making his experiments on air in 1765 and 1766, he 
had observed for the first time, that moisture is pro- 
duced by the combustion of inflammable air, and that 
this led him, sixteen or seventeen years later, " to com- 
plete the synthetical formula of water, and to find 
that the moisture that he had before observed was 
simple water."* Nothing can be more erroneous than 

* Penny Cyclopaedia, vol. vi. p. 392. This and other similar 


this whole statement. In Mr. Cavendish's paper, of 
1766, upon fixed and inflammable airs, there is not 
one word said of the moisture formed by the com- 
bustion ; and respecting inflammable air, the experi- 
ments are confined entirely to its burning or exploding, 
to its specific gravity, and to its production. The paper 
of 1784 is, in fact, entitled ' Experiments upon Air,' and 
it commences with stating, not that those experiments 
were undertaken with any view to the water formed 
by burning inflammable air, but that they were made 
" with a view to find out the cause of the diminution 
which common air is well known to suffer by all the 
various ways in which it is phlogisticated, and to 
discover what becomes of the air thus lost or con- 
sumed ;" and the author adds, that besides " determining 
this fact, they also threw light on the constitution 
and means of production of dephlogisticated air." In- 
stead of referring to any former observation of his own 
either in 1766, or subsequently, on the moisture left 
by burning inflammable air, he expressly refers to 
Mr. Warltire's observation of this moisture, as related 
by Dr. Priestley : and both Mr. Warltire's observation 
and Dr. Priestley's publication were made in 1781. 
Upon this observation Mr. Cavendish proceeded to 
further experiments, with the view of ascertaining 
" what becomes of the air lost by phlogistication." 

accounts are plainly given by some persons who never read Mr. 
Cavendish's writings. But a still greater error occurs in them : 
they represent him as having first shown that fixed and inflammable 
airs are separate bodies from common air ; whereas Dr. Black, in his 
Lectures from 1755 downwards, showed this distinctly by his experi- 
ments, proving clearly that these gases have nothing in common 
with the atmospheric air (vol. ii., p. 87, 88). 


For this purpose, he introduced a portion of hydrogen 
gas into a globe or balloon of glass, sufficiently strong 
to resist the expansive force of the combustion which 
had often been observed in mines, and also in experi- 
ments upon a smaller scale, to produce an explosion. 
He adapted to the globe two wires of metal, fixing 
them in air-tight sockets, and bringing their points 
within a short distance of each other in the inside 
of the globe ; so that, by an electrical machine, he 
could send the spark or the shock from the one point 
to the other, through the gases mixed together in the 
globe. He found that the whole of the hydrogen gas 
disappeared by the combustion thus occasioned, and a 
considerable portion also of the common air. Water 
was, as usual, found in small quantity, and an acid was 
also formed. He then weighed accurately the air of 
both kinds which he exposed to the stream of elec- 
tricity, and he afterwards weighed the liquid formed by 
the combustion ; he found that the two weights cor- 
responded with great accuracy. It was difficult to 
resist the inference that the union of the two airs had 
taken place ; and it might further have been inferred 
that the latent heat which held them in an elastic 
state had been given out, forming the flame which 
was produced ; and that water was formed by the 
union of the two airs, having, of course, less latent 
heat than was required to keep them in a gaseous 
state ; but Mr. Cavendish did not approve of this 
manner of stating the conclusion which Mr. Watt 
had adopted, because of doubts which he had respect- 
ing the nature of heat.* The residue of the com- 

* Page 140. 

2 F 


bustion, however, was two-fold: there was an aeriform 
body left in the glass vessel, as well as liquid in the 
bottom. This was much smaller in volume than the 
air which had filled the globe before the combustion, 
because the hydrogen gas and part of the common 
air had disappeared. This aeriform residue was also 
of a different nature from common air ; it was found 
to be the phlogistic air of Priestley ; the azotic air 
of Rutherford : and the air consumed in burning 
the hydrogen gas must, therefore, be the vital air 
or oxygen gas of the atmosphere. By another ex- 
periment he more fully ascertained this : for, burning 
oxygen gas with hydrogen gas, nearly the whole 
aeriform contents of the globe disappeared, and water, 
equal in weight to the two gases taken together, 
remained as the produce of the combustion ; but 
still an acid was formed, unless in some cases, when 
very pure oxygen gas was used. 

Thus was effected the important discovery of the com- 
position of water, which Watt had inferred some time 
before from a careful examination of the similar facts 
collected by former experimentalists ; one of whom, 
Warltire, had even burned the gases in a close vessel, 
and by means of electricity. The conclusion arrived at 
by Mr. Cavendish from his capital experiment was, in 
his own words, that " dephlogisticated air is in reality 
nothing but dephlogisticated water, or water deprived of 
its phlogiston, or in other words, that water consists of 
dephlogisticated air united to phlogiston, and that 
inflammable air is either pure phlogiston, or else water 
united to phlogiston ;" and he then gives his reasons in 
favour of the second inference, namely, that inflammable 
air is water united to phlogiston ; but he repeatedly 


dwells on the preference due to this inference over 
the conclusion that inflammable air is pure phlogiston.* 
This statement of the theory is somewhat less distinct 
than Mr. Watt's, who considered water to be dephlo- 
gisticated air united to inflammable air or pure phlo- 
giston, and both deprived of their latent heat. But he, 
as well as Mr. Cavendish, expresses himself with some 
hesitation, and even, like him, in some passages enter- 
tains the idea of water as united in a small proportion 
with inflammable air. The theory, though nearly 
completed by those great chemists, was perhaps first 
stated with perfect certainty and distinctness by La- 
voisier, f 

In the combustion of hydrogen gas with common 
air, and even with impure oxygen gas, Cavendish had 
observed that the water was slightly tinged with 
acid, though not always when pure oxygen gas 
was used for the operation. He therefore devised 
an experiment which should ascertain the nature 
of this acid, and in what manner it was formed. He 
passed the electric spark through common air with- 
out any hydrogen gas being present ; the air was 
in a receiver over mercury, and the operation was of 
long continuance, on account of the slowness with 
which the combination is formed of th^ two gases 
whereof the atmosphere is composed. He had not 
supposed that the hydrogen had any share m forming 
the acid : his theory being that water, and not acid, is 
the produce of that gas's combustion. He naturally 

* Philosophical Transactions, 1784, p. 137, 140. 
t See Appendix to the Life of Watt. 

2 F 2 


suspected the acid to be the produce of some union 
between the azote and the oxygen of the atmosphere, 
He left the process in the hands of a committee of his 
scientific friends, fellow-members of the Royal Society ; 
and after some weeks of constantly passing the electric 
fluid through a limited portion of air, a small quan- 
tity of liquid was formed, which readily combined 
with a solution of potash in water sent up through 
the mercury. This union was found to be common 
nitre, having all the qualities of that well-known sub- 
stance. It detonated with charcoal ; it sparkled when 
paper impregnated with it was burnt; it gave out 
nitrous fumes when sulphuric acid was poured on it. 
There could, therefore, no doubt whatever now exist 
that nitrous acid is composed of the two airs deprived 
of latent heat, which form our atmosphere; that it is 
a true oxide of azote. 

The undivided merit of this important discovery has 
never been denied to Mr. Cavendish. Even Lavoisier 
could not intrude ; but his avidity to claim a share in 
all discoveries had been exerted respecting the composi- 
tion of water, which he asserts in his ' Elements of 
Chemistry' to have been discovered by himself and Mr. 
Cavendish about the same time. I have shown clearly 
in the Appendix to the Life of Mr. Watt, that the dis- 
covery had been previously communicated to the French 
philosopher ; but it is worth while to consider the ex- 
periment upon which he grounded his claim ; and 
that experiment, when examined, is found wholly 
insufficient to prove the position, even if it had been 
contrived and performed before the communication of 
Watt's and Cavendish's discovery. Of that discovery 


it was plainly a corollary by that discovery it was 
manifestly suggested. 

The former experiments, both those of Cavendish 
and those on which Watt reasoned, were all syn- 
thetical and decisive that of Lavoisier was analytical 
and radically defective. It proved nothing conclusively : 
it was well enough after the experimentum crucls had 
demonstrated the proposition ; to that proposition it was 
a corollary it was nothing like a critical experiment. 
He placed water in a retort exposed to heat ; the vapour 
of the retort, when the water boiled,, was passed through 
a tube (a gun barrel with the breech-pin knocked out 
was generally used) ; the tube, if made of earthenware, 
had iron filings placed in its course ; it was placed 
in a fire ; its further extremity was connected with a 
receiver, in which cold water or mercury rose to fill it 
entirely. As the water slowly boiled there came 
through the tube, and into the glass receiver, a current 
of gas, which, upon examination, was found ta be hy- 
drogen gas, while the iron filings were converted into 
calx or oxide. The weight of the gas produced, added 
to the weight acquired by the gun barrel or by the 
filings during the process, was found to be nearly equal 
to the weight lost by the water in the retort. Hence 
the inference was, that the lost portion of water had 
been decomposed into its two elements, the oxygen gas 
forming the calx of the iron and the hydrogen gas being 
received in the glass vessel. But the adversaries of the 
new doctrine had an answer to this inference far more 
formidable than any that they could urge against the 
conclusion drawn from the synthetical experiment. The 
analytical experiment was liable to all the uncertainty 


of the process called the destructive distillation. The 
substances found might have been the product, and not 
merely the educt of the process. It is known that if coal 
or oleaginous bodies be distilled in close vessels there are 
obtained gases and water and acids which never existed 
in the matters subjected to the action of the fire. The 
component parts of these matters enter into new com- 
binations with one another under the action of heat, just 
as a tallow candle or an oil lamp gives lamp-black and 
water in burning, though no water, but only hydrogen, 
nor of course any lamp-black, exists in the tallow and the 
oil. So, in Lavoisier's experiment, the water might 
contain only oxygen and hydrogen, and the action of 
the hot iron might have separated them from each other, 
But it was also quite possible that the iron gave out 
hydrogen, and that the hot water was partly kept in 
solution by this gas, partly combined with the iron, for 
on that supposition the combined weight of the calcined 
iron and the hydrogen gas would be exactly equal 
to the united weight of the water evaporated, and of 
the iron before calcination. The previous discovery of 
Watt and Cavendish is liable to no such ambiguity ; 
and it has the merit of also removing all ambiguity 
from the experiment of Lavoisier, which it manifestly 

These great discoveries placed Cavendish in the 
highest rank of philosophers. No one doubted of 
nitrous acid ; that he was the undisputed discoverer of 
the composition of water, before Mr. Watt's claim, is 
.equally certain ; nor, even now, is it necessary for 
the defenders of Watt's priority to deny that Cavendish 
made the great step without any previous knowledge 


of Watt's reasoning, while all admit that his expe-> 
rimentum crucis was of the greatest value in com- 
pleting the foundation on which Watt's happy infer- 
ence had been built. Lavoisier's attempt to intrude 
himself was wholly unsuccessful ; it had no effect 
whatever except to tarnish his reputation, already 
injured sufficiently by his similar attempt to share in the 
discovery of oxygen. All men held Cavendish's name 
as enrolled among the greatest discoverers of any age, 
and only lamented that he did not pursue his brilliant 
career with more activity, so as to augment still farther 
the debt of gratitude under which he had laid the 
scientific world. 

The reader, especially the French reader, must not 
suppose that any prejudice respecting Lavoisier has 
dictated the remarks occasionally made in the course of 
this work upon his pretensions as a discoverer. It is 
scarcely possible to estimate too highly the services 
which he rendered to chemical science by his labours. 
The truly philosophic spirit which guided his researches 
had not been found to prevail much before his time in 
the speculations of chemists. He had a most happy 
facility in reducing the knowledge of scattered and 
isolated facts to a system. His talent for generalization 
has not often been surpassed ; and it led him, together 
with his admirable freedom from preconceived preju- 
dice, and his resolute boldness of investigation in 
unfrequented paths, to make some of the most felicitous 
inductions, well deserving the title of discoveries, that 
have ever been made, although the materials of his , 
inferences were obtained from the experiments and' 
observations of his predecessors, and his own experi- 


ments, except on the nature of the diamond, led to no 
material extension of our chemical knowledge. Stript 
of the plumes in which he sought to array himself, re- 
pulsed from the avenues by which he would fain have 
intruded himself among those whose experiments led 
at once to great discoveries, he is now, on all hands, 
allowed to have never made us acquainted with a single 
new gas, or a new substance of any kind, or, except 
as to carbon, with a single new combination of the 
old. He did not, like Black, discover carbonic acid 
or latent heat he did not, like Priestley, discover 
oxygen he did not, like Scheele, discover chlorine 
he did not, like Davy, discover the alkaline metals 
or like Cavendish, by direct experiment, show how 
water and nitrous acid are constituted or, like Ber- 
thollet, explain of what ammonia consists. But it is 
equally confessed that, by sound and happy reasoning 
on the experiments of others, he showed how the 
process of combustion and of calcination takes place, 
and to him and his individual researches we owe the 
important discovery that fixed air, however generated, 
whether by respiration or by combustion or by fermen- 
tation (its three great sources, as proved by Black), is the 
combination of oxygen and carbon. Nor is it any deroga- 
tion from his claims to the title of a discoverer of physical 
truths that his generalization pushed too far made him 
regard oxygen as necessary to all combustion and all 
acidification, whereas it has been found that heat and 
light are abundantly evolved both by the combustion of 
metals and sulphur in close vessels by the combustion 
of hydrogen and azotic gas and by the combination of 
metals with chlorine ; and also that chlorine, an acid 


of the strongest kind, contains no oxygen at all, while 
the alkalis themselves are oxides. The doctrine of 
latent heat was happily applied by him to the union of 
gases with bodies, and if he had only followed that 
doctrine more closely he would have avoided the error 
into which he fell, and perceived that other gases as 
well as oxygen may support flame, and that all, on 
becoming liquid or solid, must part with heat. Against 
his error respecting the constitution of acids may justly 
be set the great merit of his conjecture, that the fixed 
alkalis are oxides of metals ; for this has been since 
proved, and the conjecture is a sufficient evidence that 
he did not doggedly adhere to his theory of the acidi- 
fying principle. 

It does not appear that Mr. Cavendish ever after 
1785, when he discovered the nature of nitrous acid, 
prosecuted his chemical inquiries so as to make 
new discoveries ; but beside making numberless use- 
ful chemical experiments, about ten years later he 
engaged in some important experiments upon the 
force of attraction. It occurred to him that he could 
measure that force, and thereby ascertain the density 
of the earth by accurately observing the action of 
bodies suddenly exhibited in the neighbourhood of a 
horizontal lever nicely balanced, loaded with equal 
leaden balls of a small size at its two ends, and pro- 
tected from all aerial currents by being inclosed in a 
box. In that box a telescope and lamp were placed, 
that the motions of the lever might be carefully ob- 
served. On approaching the external leaden balls made 
use of, whose diameter was eight inches, to the small 
ones inclosed, and near the lever, it was found that a 


horizontal oscillation took place. This was measured ; 
and the oscillation caused by the earth on a pendulum 
being known, as well as the relative specific gravities 
of lead and water, it was found, upon the medium of 
his observations, that the earth's density is to that of 
water as eleven to two, or five-and-a-half times greater. 
Dr. Hutton, who repeated his calculations, made the 
result five three-tenths, or as fifty-three to ten. Maske- 
lyne's experiments at Schehallion made the proportion 
as five to one. Zach's experiment on a smaller hill near 
Marseilles did not give a result materially different. 

A paper on the civil year of the Hindus, connected, 
like Newton's chronological works, with astronomical 
researches, an account of a new eudiometer, and some 
papers on electricity, form the rest of this great philo- 
sopher's works ; and altogether they shrink into a very 
inconsiderable bulk compared with the voluminous 
works of inferior men. In this, as in other respects, 
we trace his resemblance to Black. Indeed the admi- 
rable contrivance of their experiments their circum- 
spect preparation of the ground by previous discussion 
of principles the cautious following of facts, and yet 
the resolute adoption of legitimate consequences in their 
generalizations the elegance of their processes, and the 
conciseness of their descriptions and remarks, with an 
unsparing rejection of every thing superfluous >formsthe 
characteristic of both those illustrious students of nature. 
While, as regards Cavendish's writings, it has been, and 
as regards Black's it might have been, justly said by one 
that every sentence will bear the microscope ; another 
writer, the most eminentof his successors, has, with equal 
truth, described his processes as of so finished a nature, 


so perfected by the hand of a master, as to require no 
correction ; and, though contrived in the infancy of the 
science, yet to remain unsurpassed, perhaps unequalled, 
for accuracy and beauty at the present day. 

The world, even the scientific world, dazzled by the 
brilliancy of those discoveries which we have described, 
is wont to regard Cavendish as a chemist merely. But 
it was not only in chemical science and in a few depart- 
ments of natural philosophy that this great man had 
thoroughly exercised himself ; he was profoundly versed 
in every branch of physics, and was a most complete and 
accomplished mathematician. I have had access to the 
manuscripts which he left behind him ; and it would 
be difficult to name any subject which had not engaged 
his close attention : all had been made the subject not 
only of his study, but of his original investigations. 
The two papers on Electricity which he published in 
the ' Philosophical Transactions ' contain, the one of 
1776, the first distinct statement of the difference be- 
tween animal and common electricity ; the other, in 
1771, twenty-seven propositions upon the action of the 
electric fluid, treated mathematically. They are 
grounded upon the general hypothesis that the par- 
ticles of the fluid repel one another, and attract those 
of other matter with a force inversely as some lesser 
power than the cube of the distance ; and with this 
theory the experiments which he examines are found 
to tally perfectly. But his voluminous unpublished 
papers show how constantly his life was devoted to 
experimental inquiries, and analytical or geometrical 
investigations. Beside ranging over the whole of che- 
mical science, they relate to various branches of optics, 


of physical and of practical astronomy of the theory of 
mathematical and astronomical instruments of me- 
chanical and dynamical sciences, both theoretical and 
practical of pure mathematics in all its branches, geo- 
metry, the integral and differential calculus, the doctrine 
of chances and annuities. He seems in his application 
of mathematics to physics to have disregarded elegance, 
and even simplicity, and to have chosen always the 
shortest and most certain path to his object. Accordingly 
this somewhat surprises the mathematical reader ; as 

when we find him using ^7 (or rather ~r> for he 

always employs the Newtonian notation) for the sub- 
normal, having taken x for some other quantity than 
the abscissa, and using three letters, as a, 2, and a% to 
denote segments of the same line, when perhaps a is 
the whole line, and a x is equal to z. But that 
he had the most familiar and masterly knowledge of 
the calculus is plain throughout all his investigations, 
as it is that his trust in its powers induced him to 
throw himself willingly and habitually upon them. 
In this respect he stands not only at the head of 
chemical philosophers, but alone among them, with 
perhaps one or two exceptions in the French school. 

In giving the history of his labours, and the cha- 
racter of his intellectual capacity, we have written the 
life of Cavendish. His personal history cannot be 
expected to have any striking interest ; yet they who 
have been dwelling on his scientific eminence will not 
be displeased to know somewhat of his ordinary life. 
He was of a most reserved disposition, and peculiarly 
shy habits. This led to some singularity of manner, 


which was further increased by a hesitation or difficulty 
of speech, and a thin shrill voice. He entered diffi- 
dently into any conversation, and seemed to dislike 
being spoken to. He would often leave the place 
where he was addressed, and leave it abruptly, with a 
kind of cry or ejaculation, as if scared and disturbed. 
He lived in a house on Clapham Common, and his 
library, vast in extent, was at another place, because he 
made it accessible to all, and did not wish to be trou- 
bled by those who resorted to it. He allowed friends 
to take books from it, and he himself never took one 
without giving a receipt for it. On the death of his 
librarian he began the practice of himself attending one 
day in the week to give out and take in books. His large 
income was allowed to accumulate ; and when his bank- 
ers, after finding that a very considerable balance was 
always left in their hands, mentioned the circumstance, 
suggesting that it might be invested to some profit, he 
answered with much simplicity, that if the balance was 
an inconvenience to them he could go to another banker. 
Himself a man of no expense, his habits never varied, 
nor did his style of living at all suffer a change on suc- 
ceeding to his uncle's large fortune. His purse was 
ever accessible to the claims of charity, as well as to pro- 
posals for the promotion of scientific pursuits. Having 
formed a high opinion of Dr. (afterwards Sir Charles) 
Blagden's capacity for science, he settled a consider- 
able annuity on him, upon condition that he should 
give up his profession and devote himself to philosophy ; 
with the former portion of which condition the Doctor 
complied, devoting himself to the hopeless pursuit of 
a larger income in the person of Lavoisier's widow, who 


preferred marrying Count Rumford.* Mr. Cavendish 
received no one at his residence ; he ordered his dinner 
daily by a note which he left at a certain hour on the 
hall table, where the housekeeper was to take it, for he 
held no communication with his female domestics, from 
his morbid shyness. It followed, as a matter of course, 
that his servants thought him strange, and his neigh- 
bours deemed him out of his mind. He hardly ever 
went into society. The only exceptions I am aware of 
are an occasional christening at Devonshire or Burling- 
ton House, the meetings of the Royal Society, and Sir 
Joseph Banks' weekly conversaziones. At both the 
latter places I have met him, and recollect the shrill 
cry he uttered as he shuffled quickly from room to room, 
seeming to be annoyed if looked at, but sometimes 
approaching to hear what was passing among others. 
His face was intelligent and mild, though, from the 
nervous irritation which he seemed to feel, the expres- 
sion could hardly be called calm. It is not likely that 
he ever should have been induced to sit for his picture ; 
the result therefore of any such experiment is want- 
ing. His dress was of the oldest fashion, a greyish 
green coat and waistcoat, with flaps, a small cocked 
hat, and his hair dressed like a wig (which possibly it 
was) with a thick clubbed tail. His walk was quick 
and uneasy ; of course he never appeared in London 
unless lying back in the corner of his carriage. He 
probably uttered fewer words in the course of his life 
than any man who ever lived to fourscore years, not 
at all excepting the monks of La Trappe. 

* He left Sir Charles a legacy of 15,000/. ; which was generally 
understood to have fallen much short of his ample expectations. 


Mr. Cavendish died on the 10th of March, 1810, 
after a short illness, probably the first as well as the 
last under which he ever suffered. His habit of curious 
observation continued to the end. He was desirous of 
marking the progress of disease, and the gradual ex- 
tinction of the vital powers. With this view, that he 
might not be disturbed he desired to be left alone. 
His servant returning sooner than he had wished was 
ordered again to leave the chamber of death, and 
when he came back a second time he found his master 
had expired. 

( 448 


SIR HUMPHRY DAVY being now removed beyond the 
reach of such feelings, as he ought always to have 
been above their influence, that may be said without 
offence of which he so disliked the mention : he had 
the honour of raising himself to the highest place 
among the chemical philosophers of the age ; emerging 
by his merit alone from an obscure condition. His 
father was a carver in wood at Penzance, in Corn- 
wall ; a man of some ingenuity in his craft. He pos- 
sessed a small landed property in the village of Varfell, 
near Penzance, and Davy was born there in 1778. 
He received the rudiments of his education at a school 
in Truro, but was very early apprenticed to an apo- 
thecary at Penzance, where, disliking the profession to 
which he had been destined, he occupied himself with 
chemical experiments, ingeniously contriving to make 
the utensils of the shop and the kitchen serve for ap- 
paratus ; and it is remembered of him that he fre- 
quently alarmed the household by his explosions. 
The result of his dislike to the shop was a disagree- 
ment with his master, and he went to another in the 
same place ; but here he continued in the same course. 
Pursuing a plan of study which he had laid down for 


// //<f f//rf/ -Sf'fY 

DAVY. 449 

himself, he became thoroughly acquainted with che- 
mistry, and well versed in other branches of natural 
philosophy, beside making some proficiency in geo- 
metry ; but he never cultivated the mathematical 
sciences, except that I recollect his telling me once, 
late in life, of his intention to resume the study of 
them, as he had begun to make progress in crystallo- 
graphy. He does not appear to have given any early 
indications of superior genius, or even of unusual 
quickness ; but he showed all along, in following the 
bent of his intellectual taste, the perseverance, the 
firm purpose, which is inseparable from a capacity of 
the higher order, and is an indispensable condition, as 
it is a sure pledge, of success in every pursuit. 

It must be observed of the biographers both of Davy 
and Scheele, that they seem to have made too much 
of the difficulties interposed in the path of their early 
studies by the want of apparatus, to which want, and 
to their ingenious contrivances for finding substitutes, 
a good deal of their experimental skill has been ascribed. 
It should be recollected that an apothecary 's shop is 
not by any means so destitute of helps, especially for 
the study of chemistry, as a workshop of almost any 
other description, Crucibles, phials, mortars, galli- 
pots, scales and weights, liquid measures, acids, al- 
kalis, and neutral salts, are all to be found there, even 
if a furnace and still be not a necessary appendage. 
It may be allowed that nothing like an air-pump 
might be there expected, unless cupping chanced to be 
performed by the druggist. Accordingly Davy was 
glad to obtain, in a case of surgical instruments from 
a practitioner on board a French vessel wrecked on 

450 DAVY. 

the Cornish coast, to whom he had done some kind 
service, the means of making some approximation to 
an exhausting engine. 

It happened, fortunately for him, that Gregory 
Watt, youngest son of the great engineer, and whom, 
having had the happiness of knowing him, I have already 
mentioned, came to reside in the house of Davy's 
mother at Penzance, where he was ordered to pass 
the winter for the benefit of his health. Being five 
years older than the young chemist, and eminently 
accomplished both in science and in letters, his con- 
versation and advice was a great advantage, of which 
Davy gladly availed himself. Another accident threw 
him in the way of Mr. Davies Giddy, a cultivator of 
natural as well as mathematical science, and he, find- 
ing that Davy had been devoting himself to chemistry, 
gave him the use of an excellent library, and intro- 
duced him to Dr. Beddoes, who was then engaged in 
forming an establishment called by him the Pneumatic 
Institution, for the medical use of gases, as well as for 
further investigating their properties. At the head of 
this he placed his new friend, who was thus at once 
enabled to pursue his scientific vocation as a profession, 
and did not long delay giving to the world a proof 
of his ingenuity, by the publication of a theory of 
' Light and Heat,' fanciful no doubt, and ill-digested, 
containing much groundless and imaginary, and even 
absurd speculation, but disclosing great information 
arid no inconsiderable cleverness. It was published in 
a periodical work edited by Dr. Beddoeg, called ' Con- 
tributions to Medical and Physical Science ;' and to the 
same work he soon after gave a paper upon the ' Nitrous 

DAVY. 451 

Oxide/ on the respiration of which he had made some 
very curious experiments. The singular circumstances 
which he thus ascertained, gave him considerable re- 
putation as an experimentalist, and he was soon after 
(180*2) chosen first Assistant Lecturer in Chemistry, by 
the Royal Institution of London, and the year follow- 
ing, sole Chemical Professor. Nor must the boldness 
which he had shown in conducting his experiments be 
passed over. He had exposed himself to serious hazard 
in breathing some most deleterious gases, and both in 
his trials of gaseous mixtures, and in his galvanic pro- 
cesses, he had made many narrow escapes from the 
danger of violent explosions. 

It is a singular fact that, although his attention had 
never been confined to his favourite science, for he had 
studied literature, and especially poetry to the extent 
of writing tolerable verses, yet he was of so uncouth an 
exterior and manners, notwithstanding an exceedingly 
handsome and expressive countenance, that Count 
Rumford, a leading director of the Institution, on see- 
ing him for the first time, expressed no little disap- 
pointment, even regretting the part he had taken in 
promoting the engagement. But these feelings were 
of short duration. Davy was soon sufficiently human- 
ized, and even refined, to appear before a London and a 
fashionable audience of both sexes with great advan- 
tage, and his first course of lectures had unbounded 
and unparalleled success. This he owed, certainly, 
to the more superficial accomplishments of good and 
lively language, an agreeable delivery, and, above all, 
an ingenuous enthusiasm for his subject which in- 
formed and quickened his whole discourse. But the 

452 DAVY. 

fame which he thus acquired would have been of 
limited extent and of short duration, had his reliance 
only been upon the fickle multitude whom such quali- 
ties can please. The first consequences of his success 
in the line of mere exhibition were unfavourable, and 
threatened to be fatal ; for he was led away by the 
plaudits of fashion, and must needs join in its frothy, 
feeble current. For a while he is remarked to have 
shown the incongruous combination of science and 
fashion, which form a most imperfect union, and pro- 
duce a compound of no valuable qualities, somewhat 
resembling the nitrous gas on which he experimented 
earlier in life, having an intoxicating effect on the 
party tasting it, and a ludicrous one on all beholders. 
They who have recorded this transformation, while 
they lament the substitution of anything for " the 
natural candour and warmth of feeling which had 
singularly won upon the acquaintance of his early life," 
add most justly that the weakness which they describe 
never " cooled his regard for his family and former 
friends." I can vouch for the change, which was 
merely superficial, being of very short duration ; and 
it is pleasing to add that, even while it lasted, there 
was none of that most offensive of all the effects pro- 
duced by such a transition state to be found in his con- 
versation ; he never for a moment appeared to be 
ashamed of his great vocation, nor to shun the fullest 
discussion of the subject on which he was at home, 
in order to deal with topics to which he was of neces- 
sity a stranger. I am speaking, too, of his habits long 
before his great discoveries ; there would have been 
little ground for praise, any more than for wonder, 

BAVY. 453 

that the discoverer of the alkaline metals should 
be willing to have the conversation roll upon che- 
mistry and galvanism ; but the time to which I 
have been referring was when his fame rested chiefly 
upon the success of his lectures to mixed companies in 
Albemarle Street, and to lovers of agriculture in 
Sackville Street, where the Board had chosen him 
their Chemical Professor. 

If his situation at the Royal Institution had exposed 
him to the risk which we have seen he escaped, it had 
put him in possession of invaluable helps to his pur- 
suits. He had now an ample command of books ; he 
had assistants under him ; above all, he had an un- 
limited power of collecting and of making apparatus ; 
his income was secure ; and his time was at his own 
disposal. He failed not to avail himself diligently of 
these great advantages ; and although he lived a good 
deal in society, where he was always a welcome guest, 
his principal relaxations during the rest of his life con- 
sisted in shooting, and especially in fishing, of which 
he was from his earliest years passionately fond. The 
intercourse he had held with Southey and with Cole- 
ridge had given him not only his taste for poetry, but 
an extraordinary love of rural walks, in the peaceful 
solitude of which I have heard him say, answering the 
ordinary and obvious objections of those who are not 
smitten with the love of the " Angle," the gratifica- 
tions of that propensity very mainly consist. 

In 1801 he made his first important discovery, that 
by which he ascertained the true nature of galvanic 
action. That this was connected with electric or che- 
mical affinity had been generally suspected, though de- 


nied ty Voita, the athor of the pik, and indeed of the 
science which, like the continent of America, has borne 

of a liqmoi copahk of decomposing one or other of the 
both supposed to be equally necessary to the 

of the electric stream. 

which were numerous and admirably devised 
laboriously conducted, now showed that the 
of two metals was not required to pr 
the electricity. One metal,, and one other substance 
paiated firom M^ with a fluid acting upon either the 
metal or the substance; or a metal separating two fluids, 

1 C7 

oar of which acts upon k ; nay, one metal exposed to 
the sMne ftud, but acted upon differently on its diffe- 
ioot sides or Jiifatm by the fluid's strength differing 
on the diflmnt sides ; or one and the same metal 
in difigt pieces plunged into the same fluid, at 
an interval of time were all found to be combina- 
tion which gave the galvanic (or voltaic) shock, the 
one in kind, though varying in _ih. In all 

these cases, and m every production of electricity 
W the roltaic process, the chemical action of a fluid 


Durin: tike fiwe following years Davy continued his 
i; and in the autumn of 1806 he coinniu- 
to the Boyal Society his discovery of the con- 
ends of the electric circle 


and the different component parts of bodies submitted 
to the action of the fluid. Nothing could be more 
singular and unexpected than the laws which he now 
found to regulate this operation, nor anything which 
promised more clearly a rich harvest of new discoveries 
The effect of the current, whether of common or gal- 
vanic electricity, in decomposing substances through 
which it passed, had been before known. Thus water 
had been resolved into its two elements by the passing 
of the fluid through wires whose points were opposite 
to each other at a small distance. Nicholson had first 
made this happy application of the voltaic pile; but 
he and others had been much disturbed by finding 
other substances produced as well as oxygen and hy- 
drogen gases. This perplexing circumstance was care- 
fully investigated by Davy ; and he showed by a mas- 
terly course of experiments, that these substances owed 
their origin entirely to impurities in the water. 
When it was quite pure, they wholly disappeared. 
But he now proceeded farther, and found that when 
the electric current is thus passed, there is always a 
separation operated differently at the negative and at 
the positive part of the current. The oxygen of the 
water, for example, was accumulated round the positive 
wire ; its hydrogen round the negative. So when a 
neutral salt was subjected to the process, its acid was 
evolved round the positive ; its alkaline base round the 
negative wire. The same thing happened when a me- 
tallic oxide was operated upon ; its oxygen went to the 
positive, its metallic base to the negative side. The 
oxygen, or the acid with the oxygen, went to the for- 
mer ; the particles of the base were transferred to the 

456 DAVY. 

latter, along with the hydrogen of the water in which 
the solution was made. But a still more extraordinary 
phenomenon was observed. If there was a liquid in- 
terposed between the two poles and the body to be de- 
composed, the acid, or the oxygen, was found to pass 
through that interposed liquid to the positive pole, the 
hydrogen and the matter of the base to the negative 
pole, and without acting upon the substance of the in- 
terposed liquid. Thus suppose a vegetable colour 
tinging the water in an intermediate cup, acid will 
pass through it without reddening it, and alkali with- 
out making it green. Nay, an acid will pass through 
an alkaline solution, or an alkali through an acid, 
without uniting in either case to form a neutral salt, 
unless the neutral compound is insoluble, for in that 
case it falls to the bottom. But muriatic acid will 
pass through a solution of potash, having been carried 
over from a solution of common sea salt by the electrical 
current, or soda will pass through muriatic acid in the 
same circumstances, without forming in the former 
case nitrate of potash, or in the latter nitrate of soda. 
It was also found that the exception in the case of in- 
soluble compounds arises from the mechanical effect of 
their insolubility, their falling to the bottom ; for if 
supported, as it were, on threads of any convenient 
substance passing through the intermediate liquid in the 
line of the electric current, the acid or alkali will pass 
through that liquid. Thus films of asbestos conduct- 
ing the electric stream, enabled magnesia or lime to 
pass ; and so were the particles of metal carried over 
when separated by the operation from nitrate of 

DAVY. 457 

It thus appeared certain that an indissoluble con- 
nexion exists between chemical and electric action, if 
indeed it was not even proved that chemical affinity 
and electricity are identical. The science of Electro- 
chemistry, at all events, now arose out of Davy's dis- 
coveries, and he is entitled to be regarded as its 

It may easily be conceived that these important 
truths excited generally the anxious attention of philo- 
sophers. The French National Institute, greatly to 
their honour, though the war between the two coun- 
tries never raged more fiercely than now, and France 
never reached a higher pitch of military glory, crowned 
Davy with the first honour founded by Napoleon for 
scientific desert. But it was even more honourable to 
the philosopher, that great as his discoveries had been, 
expectation was high of the still more important results 
which must soon come from the discovery of so new a 
law of electrical and chemical action. I can well re- 
member that we used in discussing the subject to look 
forward with perfect confidence to the analysis of the 
bodies which had hitherto proved the most stubborn, 
and expected soon to find the fixed alkalis, and even 
the alkaline earths, shown to be oxides, as by some 
very imperfect experiments they had at one time been 
supposed to be proved, when it was ascertained that the 
metallic buttons found at the bottom of the crucible in 
which their reduction had been attempted by carbon- 
aceous or phosphoric re-agents, had come from the 
black lead in the pot. Nor must we omit to mention 
the truly candid and magnanimous proceeding of Davy, 
so worthy of a philosopher, in making public, with the 
fullest details, his proceedings, by which it was mani- 

458 DAVY. 

fest he intended still to persevere till he should make 
other discoveries. Any one possessed of a strong bat- 
tery, deeply reflecting on the paper of autumn 1806, 
and perceiving that the positive wire had such a 
strong attraction for oxygen as to take it from metallic 
oxides, reducing them to their reguline state, might 
well have bethought him of subjecting the alkalis to 
his machine ; and he would then have had the fame, 
though, in truth, Davy would have had the merit, of 
the grand discovery. 

That discovery was not long delayed. About a year 
after the former, that is in October 1807, after in vain 
endeavouring to decompose the alkalis when mixed 
with water, for he then only could decompose that 
fluid, he exposed them in the dry state ; that is, made 
liquid by fusion, without any other substance but heat 
to dissolve them and, to his great delight, he found, 
as he had a right to expect, that the process of deoxi- 
dation proceeded by the positive wire attracting the 
oxygen, while globules of a metallic substance were 
found at the negative wire. The great attraction of this 
metal for oxygen made it impossible to keep it either 
in the air or in water. It burnt spontaneously in the 
air and became alkali it decomposed water in like 
manner, and formed an alkaline solution. The two 
fixed alkalis both yielded in this process metallic bases ; 
but that of potash had alone the quality of combustion 
at the temperature of 150, and it was, though a metal, 
lighter than water in the proportion of 97 to 100. 
When thrown into water in the air, it detonates and 
burns with violence, forming a solution of potash. 
The metal from soda is still lighter, being to water as 
86 to 100 ; but it does not so easily unite with oxygen, 

DAVY. 459 

though it decomposes water with a hissing noise, and 
makes with it a solution of soda. To these metals the 
discoverer gave the name of potassium and sodium. The 
glory of having now made the greatest discovery of the 
age was plainly Davy's ; and it was not the result of 
happy accident, but of laborious investigation, conducted 
with a skill and a patience equally admirable, and 
according to the strict rules of the soundest philo- 
sophy. He had indeed begun by discovering the laws 
of electrical action, and had thus formed the means of 
his new discovery, which was the fruit of the science 
he had founded, as Newton's theory of dynamics and 
of astronomy was the fruit of the calculus which he 
had so marvellously discovered when hardly arrived at 
man's estate. 

The wonder excited by the strange bodies with 
which philosophers were thus brought acquainted, was 
of course in part owing to their novel and singular 
properties, which formed no part of the discoverer's 
merits, yet might be reckoned as the perquisites of his 
genius. His praise would have been the same if in- 
stead of at once discovering the alkalis to be oxides, 
and the metal forming the base to be one lighter than 
water, or bees'-wax or box-wood, and the other to burn 
unheated in the open air, he had only shown those 
salts to be oxides of well-known metals. Yet, as his 
investigation had been crowned with the discovery of 
strange substances, metallic, and yet like no other 
metals, we justly admire the more, and the more 
thank him for his double service rendered to science. 

The long labour thus ending in so mighty a result, 
and the excitement naturally enough produced in an 
irritable habit, threw him into an illness of a most 

460 DAVY. 

serious complexion. For many days he lay between 
life and death in a low nervous fever, and it was not till 
the following March that he could resume his inquiries 
into the composition of the alkaline earths: It is to 
the credit of chemists that no one deemed himself at 
liberty to interfere with him, as any one might now 
by only following his footsteps have done, and thus 
analysed these earthy bodies. He himself, early in 
the summer following his illness, had reduced lime, 
magnesia, strontites, and barytes. In these experiments 
he was greatly assisted by the ingenious contrivances 
which Gay-Lussac and Thenard had recently used 
for the reduction of the alkaline oxides. The metals 
thus discovered were not any wise light or fusible like 
potassium and sodium ; but they burnt with a bright 
light on being exposed to considerable degrees of heat, 
and they decomposed water ; and either by their com- 
bustion, or their exhibition to water, they reproduced 
the alkaline earths. 

A number of other experimental researches led 
Davy to new and curious observations on the constitu- 
tion and habits of different substances. But we need 
only mention the most important of these, for it was a 
discovery very unexpected both by himself and the 
chemical world at large. The acid hitherto called oxy- 
genated muriatic, or oxymuriatic, on account of its 
powerful acid qualities, had been always from thence 
supposed to contain an excess of oxygen, believed to be 
the acidifying principle. At last Gay-Lussac and 
Thenard, in 1809, concluded from some experimental 
researches, or rather they suspected, that it might be a 
simple and elementary substance ; but they on the whole 
still inclined to think it contained oxygen according to 

DAVY. 461 

the old and received opinion. Davy now found, by a 
course of satisfactory experiments which have fixed the 
opinions of all philosophers on the subject, that the 
suspicion of those eminent men was well founded ; that 
the oxymuriatic acid is a simple substance, containing 
no oxygen ; that it unites with oxygen to form an 
acid, which forms with alkalis the detonating salts 
hitherto called oxymuriates, as being supposed to 
contain oxymuriatic acid combined with alkaline bases ; 
and finally, that with hydrogen it forms the acid long 
and well known as the muriatic or marine. To the 
oxymuriatic acid he gave the name of chlorine from 
its green colour, and to common muriatic acid that of 
hydrochlorine. The union of chlorine and oxygen he 
calls chlorine acid, and its compounds, of course, 
chlorates. This is justly reckoned one of the most im- 
portant of Davy's many brilliant discoveries. 

It remains to make mention of the valuable present 
which this great philosopher offered to humanity his 
safety-lamp. The dreadful ravages made on human 
life by the fire-damp explosions that is, the burning 
of hydrogen gas in mines had often attracted the 
notice of both the mine-owner and the philanthropist. 
Various inventions had been fallen upon to give light 
in those recesses of the earth with so low a degree of 
heat as should be insufficient to explode the gas. One 
of them was a series of flints playing by machinery 
against each other so as to give a dim light ; but this 
had very little success ; it was clumsy, and it was not ef- 
fectual so as to cause its use by miners. The ventilation 
of the galleries by furnaces and even by air-pumps was 
chiefly relied on as a preventive ; but gas would collect 

462 DAVY. 

in spite of all preventives, and the destruction of a 
hundred or more lives was not an unusual calamity. 
Davy about the year 1815 turned his attention to the 
subject, and after fully ascertaining that carburetted 
hydrogen is the cause of the fire-damp, and finding in 
what proportions it must be mixed with air in order to 
explode (between six and fourteen times its bulk), he 
was surprised to observe, in the course of his experi- 
ments made for the purpose of ascertaining how the 
inflammation takes place, that the flames will not pass 
through tubes of a certain length or smallness of bore. 
He then found that if the length be diminished, and the 
bore also reduced, the flames will not pass ; and he fur- 
ther found that by multiplying the number of the tubes, 
their length may safely be diminished to hardly any- 
thing, provided their bore be proportionally lessened. 
Hence it appeared that gauze of wire, whose meshes were 
only one twenty-second of an inch diameter, stopped 
the flame, and prevented the explosion. The candle 
or lamp being wrapt in such gauze, and all access to 
the external air prevented except through the meshes, 
it is found that the lamp may be safely introduced into 
a gallery filled with fire-damp ; a feeble blue flame will 
take place inside the gauze, but no explosion, even if 
the wire be heated nearly red. 

The theory is, but it seems very questionable, that the 
conducting power of the wire carrying off the heat pre- 
vents a sufficient quantity reaching the explosive com- 
pound. Subsequent inquiries seem to prove that 
although in a still atmosphere of explosive gas the lamp 
is a perfect protection, yet it does not prevent a cur- 
rent of gas from penetrating to the flame and exploding. 

DAVY. 463 

It is attempted to guard against this by interposing a 
tin shield or screen ; but a current very often in mining 
operations arises before any notice can be given. Had 
Davy's life and health been prolonged, he might have 
further improved his invention so as to meet this ob- 
jection. He certainly never was fully convinced of its 
force, as I know from having discussed the subject 
with him ; and no doubt the testimony of so great an 
engineer as the late Mr. Buddie, given before a Par- 
liamentary Committee to whom the examination of 
this important subject was referred, deserves great 
attention. He positively affirmed that " having seen 
1000, and sometimes 1500 safety-lamps in daily use, 
and in all possible varieties of explosive mixtures, he 
had never known one solitary instance of an explosion." 
As for the lamentable accidents which continue to 
happen, we can scarcely doubt that they originate in 
the dreadful carelessness of their own and of other 
men's lives, which seems to be engendered in those 
who are habitually exposed to great danger. That 
they themselves are the first to suffer for it, can only 
suppress the outward expression of the feelings which 
recklessness like this is fitted to produce. 

It redounds to the credit of the north country mine- 
owners that in 1817 they invited the inventor of the 
Lamp to a public entertainment, and presented him 
with a service of plate of two thousand pounds value. 
It must be remembered that he had generously given 
to the public the whole benefit of his invention, and thus 
sacrificed the ample profit which a patent must have 
enabled him to acquire for himself. 

Davy had as early as 1806 been chosen a foreign 
associate of the French Institute. In 1812 he received 

464 DAVY. 

from the Regent the honour of knighthood. About 
the same time he married Mrs. Apreece, a lady whose 
ample fortune was by far the least valuable part of her 
accomplishments a person of great virtue, admirable 
talents, and extensive information. Of this marriage 
there has been no issue. In October, 1813, he published 
his ' Elements of Chemical Philosophy,' a hasty and 
even somewhat crude work, but abounding, as what- 
ever he wrote was sure to abound, in important and 
ingenious observations. The following year appeared 
his 'Elements of Agricultural Chemistry,' of which 
the same general character may be given. In 1816 
he was created a baronet. 

Napoleon had, during the war, given him permis- 
sion to visit the extinguished volcanoes in Dauvergne, 
and to pass through France towards Naples, Vesuvius 
being then in a state of eruption. His reception at 
Paris was very warm, hut unfortunately he failed to 
retain the affection of his colleagues in the Institute. 
Their complaint against him for having interfered, as 
they termed it, with their recent discovery of iodine, 
on which, having obtained a specimen, he chose, 
naturally enough, to make experiments, appears incom- 
parably absurd. He had never complained of their in- 
terference, during his illness in 1807, with the process 
of deoxygenation by means of galvanic action ; on the 
contrary, he had availed himself thankfully of the 
lights shed by their ingenuity on his process, and had 
immediately after made new discoveries, at which they 
had failed to arrive. It may be more true that his 
manners were unpleasing ; and, as ever happens when 
a great man is also a shy one, he was charged with 
being supercilious and cold. They who knew him 

DAVY. 465 

will at once acquit him of any such charge ; but he 
was painfully timid by nature when mixing with so- 
ciety ; and hence the mistake of our neighbours, who, 
though great critics in manner, are far from being 
infallible, and are exceedingly susceptible fully as sus- 
ceptible as he was shy. Possibly they looked down 
upon him in consequence of a peculiarity which he no 
doubt had. He was fond of poetry, and an ardent ad- 
mirer of beauty in natural scenery. But of beauty in 
the arts he was nearly insensible. They used to say 
in Paris that on seeing the Louvre, he exclaimed that 
one of its statues was " a beautiful stalactite ;" and it 
is possible that this callousness, or this jest, which- 
ever it might be, excited the scorn or the humour of 
men not more sincere lovers of sculpture than himself, 
or more able judges of its merits, but better disposed to 
conceal their want of taste or want of skill. 

When Sir Joseph Banks terminated his long and 
respectable course in 1820, Davy was unanimously 
chosen to succeed him as President of the Royal So- 
ciety, and continued to fill that distinguished office un- 
til, his health having failed, he resigned it in 1827, and 
was succeeded by his early patron Davies Giddy. To- 
wards the end of 1825 he had an apoplectic seizure, 
which, though slight (if any such attack can be so 
called), left a paralytic weakness behind, and he was 
ordered to go abroad in search of a milder and dryer 
climate. He returned home in the following autumn, 
not very ill, but not much restored in strength, and 
unable to continue his scientific labours. The work 
on fly-fishing called ' Salmoriia ' was the amusement 
of those hours in which, comparatively feeble, his mind 

2 H 

466 DAVY. 

yet exerted what energy remained to it, on the favourite 
pursuit of his leisure. It contains both curious in- 
formation on natural history, and many passages of 
lively and even poetical description. The same may 
be said of many things in his latest work, ' Last Days 
of a Philosopher,' which he wrote in the year after, 
when he again went to the continent in search of 
health. He wintered at Rome, and in May 1829, on 
his arrival at Geneva, after passing the day in excel- 
lent spirits, and dining heartily on fish, he had a fatal 
apoplectic attack in the night, and died early in the 
next morning, 29th May, without a struggle. 

There needs no further remark, no general charac- 
ter, to present a portrait of this eminent individual. 
Whoever has perused the history of his great exploits 
in science, with a due knowledge of the subject, has 
already discerned his place, highest among all the 
great discoverers of his time. Even he who has little 
acquaintance with the subjects of his labours may easily 
perceive how brilliant a reputation he must have en- 
joyed, and how justly ; while he who can draw no 
such inference from the facts would fail to obtain any 
knowledge of Davy's excellence from all the panegyrics 
with which general description could encircle his name.* 

* It may not be impertinent to relate here a singular proof of 
the admiration in which his name was held by his countrymen, and 
how well it became known even among the common people. Re- 
tiring home one evening he observed an ordinary man showing the 
moon and a planet through a telescope placed upon the pavement. 
He went up and paid his pence for a look. But no such thing would 
they permit. " That's Sir Humphry," ran among the people ; and 
the exhibitor, returning his money, said, with an important air which 
exceedingly delighted him, that he could not think of taking any- 
thing from a brother philosopher. 


S I M S N. 

THE wonderful progress that has been made in the 
pure mathematics since the application of algebra to 
geometry, begun by Vieta in the sixteenth, completed 
by Des Cartes in the seventeenth century, and espe- 
cially the still more marvellous extension of analytical 
science by Newton and his followers, since the inven- 
tion of the Calculus, has, for the last hundred years and 
more, cast into the shade the methods of investiga- 
tion which preceded those now in such general use, 
and so well adapted to afford facilities unknown while 
mathematicians only possessed a less perfect instrument 
of investigation. It is nevertheless to be observed 
that the older method possessed qualities of extra- 
ordinary value. It enabled us to investigate some 
kinds of propositions to which algebraic reasoning is 
little applicable ; it always had an elegance peculiarly 
its own ; it exhibited at each step the course which 
the reasoning followed, instead of concealing that 
course till the result came out ; it exercised the facul- 
ties more severely, because it was less mechanical than 
the operations of the analyst. That it afforded evi- 
dence of a higher character, more rigorous in its na- 
ture than that on which algebraic reasoning rests, 

2 H2 

468 SIMSON. 

cannot with any correctness be affirmed ; both are 
equally strict ; indeed if each be mathematical in its 
nature, and consist of a series of identical propositions 
arising one out of another, neither can be less perfect 
than the other, for of certainty there can be no de- 
grees. Nevertheless it must be a matter of regret 
and here the great master and author of modern mathe- 
matics has joined in expressing it that so much less 
attention is now paid to the Ancient Geometry than its 
beauty and clearness deserve ; and if he could justly 
make this complaint a century and a half ago, 
when the old method had but recently, and only in 
part, fallen into neglect and disuse, how much more 
are such regrets natural in our day, when the very 
name of the Ancient Analysis has almost ceased to be 
known, and the beauties of the Greek Geometry are 
entirely veiled from the mathematician's eyes ! It be- 
comes, for this reason, necessary that the life of Sim- 
son, the great restorer of that geometry, should be 
prefaced by some remarks upon the nature of the sci- 
ence, in order that, in giving an account of his works, 
we may say his discoveries, it may not appear that we 
are recording the services of a great man to some sci- 
ence different from the mathematical. 

The analysis of the Greek geometers was a method 
of investigation of peculiar elegance, and of no incon- 
siderable power. It consisted in supposing the thing 
as already done, the problem solved, or the truth of 
the theorem established ; and from thence it reasoned 
until something was found, some point reached, by 
pursuing steps each one of which led to the next, and 
by only assuming things which were already known 

S1MSON. 469 

being ascertained by former discoveries. The thing 
thus found, the point reached, was the discovery of 
something which could by known methods be per- 
formed, or of something which, if not self-evident, was 
already by former discovery proved to be true ; and in 
the one case a construction was thus found by which 
the problem was solved, in the other a proof was ob- 
tained that the theorem was true, because in both cases 
the ultimate point had been reached by strictly legiti- 
mate reasoning, from the assumption that the problem 
had been solved, or the assumption that the theorem 
was true. Thus, if it were required from a given point 
in a straight line given by position, to draw a straight 
line which should be cut by a given circle in segments, 
whose rectangle was equal to that of the segments of 
the diameter perpendicular to the given line the thing 
is supposed to be done ; and the equality of the rect- 
angles gives a proportion between the segments of the 
two lines, such that, joining the point supposed to be 
found, but not found, with the extremity of the dia- 
meter, the angle of that line with the line sought but 
not found, is shown by similar triangles to be a right 
angle, i. e., the angle in a semicircle. Therefore the 
point through which the line must be drawn is the 
point at which the perpendicular cuts the given circle. 
Then, suppose the point given through which the line 
is to be drawn, if we find that the curve in which the 
other points are situate is a circle, we have a local 
theorem, affirming that, if lines be drawn through any 
point to a line perpendicular to the diameter, the rect- 
angle made by the segments of all the lines cutting the 
perpendicular is constant ; and this theorem would be 

470 SIMSON. 

demonstrated by supposing the thing true, and thus 
reasoning till we find that the angle in a semicircle is 
a right angle, a known truth. Lastly, suppose we 
change the hypothesis, and leave out the position of 
the point as given, and inquire after the point in the 
given straight line from which a line being drawn 
through a point to be found in the circle, the seg- 
ments will contain a rectangle equal to the rect- 
angle under the perpendicular segments we find that 
one point answers this condition, but also that the 
problem becomes indeterminate ; for every line drawn 
through that point to every point in the given straight 
line has segments, whose rectangle is equal to that 
under the segments of the perpendicular. The enun- 
ciation of this truth, of this possibility of finding such 
a point in the circle, is a Porism. The Greek geo- 
meters of the more modern school, or lower age, defined 
a Porism to be a proposition differing from a local 
theorem by a defect or defalcation in the hypothesis ; and 
accordingly we find that this porism is derived from the 
local theorem formerly given, by leaving out part of 
the hypothesis. But we shall afterwards have occa- 
sion to observe that this is an illogical and imperfect 
definition, not coextensive with the thing defined ; the 
above proposition, however, answers every definition of 
a Porism. 

The demonstration of the theorem or of the construc- 
tion obtained by investigation in this manner of pro- 
ceeding, is called synthesis, or composition, in opposi- 
tion to the analysis, or the process of investigation ; 
and it is frequently said that Plato imported the whole 
system in the visits which he made, like Thales of 
Miletus and Pythagoras, to study under the Egyptian 

SIMSON. 471 

geometers, and afterwards to converse with Theodoras 
at Gyrene, and the Pythagorean School in Italy. But 
it can hardly be supposed that all the preceding geo- 
meters had worked their problems and theorems at 
random ; that Thales and Pythagoras with their dis- 
ciples, a century and a half before Plato, and Hip- 
pocrates, half a century before his time, had no 
knowledge of the analytical method, and pursued no 
systematic plan in their researches, devoted as their 
age was to geometrical studies. Plato may have im- 
proved and further systematized the method, as he was 
no doubt deeply impressed with the paramount im- 
portance of geometry, and even inscribed upon the gates 
of the Lyceum a prohibition against any one entering 
who was ignorant of it. The same spirit of exaggera- 
tion which ascribes to him the analytical method, has 
also given rise to the notion that he was the discoverer 
of the Conic Sections ; a notion- which is without any 
truth and without the least probability. 

Of the works written by the Greek geometers some 
have come down to us ; some of the most valuable, as 
the ' Elements' and ' Data' of Euclid, and the ' Conies' 
of Apollonius. Others are lost ; but, happily, Pappus, 
a mathematician of some merit, who flourished in the 
Alexandrian school about the end of the fourth cen- 
tury, has left a valuable account of the geometrical 
writings of the elder Greeks. His work is of a mis- 
cellaneous nature, as its name, 'Mathematical Col- 
lections,' implies ; and excepting a few passages, it has 
never been published in the original Greek. Com- 
mandini, of Urbino, made a translation of the whole 
six books then discovered; the first has never been 

472 SIMSON. 

found, but half the second being in the Savilian library 
at Oxford, was translated by Wallis a century later. 
Commandini's translation, with his learned commen- 
tary, was not printed before his death, but the Duke of 
Urbino (Francesco Maria) caused it to be published 
in 1588, at Pisa, and a second edition was published 
at Venice the next year : a fact most honourable to 
that learned and accomplished age, when we recollect 
how many years Newton's immortal work was pub- 
lished before it reached a second edition, and that in 
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries; 

The two first books of Pappus appear to have been 
purely arithmetical, so that their loss is little to be 
lamented. The eighth is on mechanics, and the other 
five are geometrical. The most interesting portion is 
the seventh ; the introduction of which, addressed to 
his son as a guide of his geometrical studies, contains 
a full enumeration of the works written by the Greek 
geometers, and an account of the particular subjects 
which each treated, in some instances giving a summary 
of the propositions themselves with more or less ob- 
scurity, but always with great brevity. Among them 
was a work which excited great interest, and for a 
long time baffled the conjectures of mathematicians, 
Euclid's three books of ' Porisms :' of these we shall 
afterwards have occasion to speak more fully. His 
'Loci ad Superficiem,' apparently treating of curves 
of double curvature, is another, the loss of which was 
greatly lamented, the more because Pappus has given 
no account of its contents. This he had done in the 
case of the ' Loci Plani' of Apollonius. Euclid's four 
books on conic sections are also lost: but of Apol- 

SIMSON. 473 

lonius's eight books on the same subject, the most 
important of the whole series, the ' Elements' excepted, 
four were preserved, and three more were discovered 
in the seventeenth century. His Inclinations, his 
Tactions or Tangencies, his sections of Space and of 
Ratio, and his Determinate section, however curious, 
are of less importance ; all of them are lost. 

For many years Commandini's publication of the 
* Collections' and his commentary did not lead to any 
attempt at restoring the lost works from the general 
account given by Pappus. Albert Girard, in 1634, 
informs us in a note to an edition of Stevinus, that he 
had restored Euclid's * Porisms/ a thing eminently 
unlikely, as he never published any part of his resto- 
ration, and it was not found after his decease. In 
1637, Fermat restored the ' Loci Plani' of Apollonius, 
but in a manner so little according to the ancient 
analysis, that we cannot be said to approach by means 
of his labours the lost book on this subject. In 1615, 
De la Hire, a lover and a successful cultivator of the 
ancient method, published his Conic Sections, but 
synthetically treated ; he added afterwards other works 
on epicycloids and conchoids, treated on the analytical 
plan. L'Hopital, at the end of the seventeenth century, 
published an excellent treatise on Conies, but purely 
algebraical. At the beginning of the eighteenth cen- 
tury, Viviani and Grandi applied themselves to the 
ancient geometry ; and the former gave a conjectural 
restoration (Divinatio) of Aristseus's * Loci Solidi,' the 
curves of the second or Conic order. But all these 
attempts were exceedingly unsuccessful, and the world 
was left in the dark, for the most part, on the 

474 SIMSON. 

highly interesting subject of the Greek geometry. We 
shall presently see that both Fermat and Halley, its 
most successful students, had made but an incon- 
siderable progress in the most difficult branches. 

How entirely the academicians of France were 
either careless of those matters, or ignorant, or both, 
appears by the ' Encyclopedic ; ' the mathematical 
department of which was under no less a geometrician 
than d'Alembert. The definition there given of ana- 
lysis makes it synonymous with algebra : and yet 
mention is made of the ancient writers on analysis, 
and of the introduction to the seventh book of Pappus, 
with only this remark, that those authors differ 
much from the modern analysts. But the article 
' Arithmetic' (vol. i., p. 677) demonstrates this 
ignorance completely ; and that Pappus's celebrated 
introduction had been referred to by one who never 
read it. We there find it said, that Plato is sup- 
posed to have invented the ancient analysis ; that 
Euclid, Apollonius, and others, including Pappus 
himself, studied it, but that we are quite ignorant 
of what it was : only that it is by some conceived to 
have resembled our algebra, as else Archimedes could 
never have made his great geometrical discoveries. It 
is, certainly, quite incredible that such a name as 
d'Alembert's should be found affixed to this statement, 
which the mere reading of any one page of Pappus's 
books must have shown to be wholly erroneous ; and 
our wonder is the greater, inasmuch as Simson's ad- 
mirable restoration of Apollonius's ' Loci Plani' had 
been published five years before the * Encyclopedic ' 

SIMSON. 475 

Again, in the ' Encyclopedic,' the word Analysis, 
as meaning the Greek method, and not algebra, is not 
even to be found. Nor do the words synthesis, or 
composition, inclinations, tactions or tangencies occur 
at all ; and though Porisms are mentioned, it is 
only to show the same ignorance of the subject : for 
that word is said to be synonymous with ' lemma/ 
because it is sometimes used by Pappus in the sense 
of subsidiary proposition. When Clairault wrote 
his inestimable work on curves of double curvature, 
he made no reference whatever to Euclid's ' Loci ad 
Superficiem,' much less did he handle the subject 
after the same manner ; he deals, indeed, with matters 
beyond the reach of the Greek geometry. 

Such was the state of this science when Robert 
Simson first applied to it his genius, equally vigorous 
and undaunted, with the taste which he had early 
imbibed for the beauty, the simplicity, and the close- 
ness of the ancient analysis. 

ROBERT SIMSON was born on the 14th October (O.S.), 
1687, at Kirton Hill, in the parish of Wester Kilbride, 
in Ayrshire. His father, John Simson, was a mer- 
chant in Glasgow : his grandfather, Patrick, was mini- 
ster of Renfrew, and Dean of the Faculties in the Uni- 
versity of Glasgow. Having been deprived at the Re- 
storation, on being reinstated at the Revolution, he 
accompanied Principal Carstairs and a deputation as one 
of the Commissioners from the Kirk of Scotland to ad- 
dress the Sovereigns. Being a man of fine presence, 
it is related that the Queen and her maids of honour 
mistook him for the Principal, till the King set them 

476 SIMSON. 

right by presenting Carstairs to them. The grandson, 
Robert, is said to have been the eldest of seventeen 
children; and the estate of Kirton Hill, which had 
been in the family for several generations, being incon- 
siderable, it was necessary for him, as well as his 
brothers, to be placed in some profession. The asser- 
tion is made in one account, written by a son of 
Professor Millar, and is likely to be correct, that 
he was intended for the medical profession, and 
being sent to Leyden studied under Boerhaave. He 
appears to have been at first intended for the Church, 
and to have changed his plan. Dr. Traill, however, 
says, that he was always intended for the Church, and 
that when the University of St. Andrew's in 1746 
wished to confer on him a degree, they made him a 
Doctor of Medicine, because he had studied botany in 
his youth. Nothing can be more improbable than 
this story ; for to give him a degree they had only to 
make him Doctor of Laws, instead of taking a step 
which for ever threw discredit upon their medical 
honours. Mr. Millar must have heard the truth from 
his father and the other professors, who had the 
honour of knowing Dr. Simson personally, and never 
could have imagined or invented the circumstance of 
his studying under Boerhaave.* 

Of his early years we know little ; but that he was 
always extremely fond of reading is certain ; and he 

* The account which I have seen was in the late Earl of Buchan's 
possession, and was extended by matters collected when he himself 
studied at Glasgow. It seems by the mathematical appearance of it 
to have come from James Millar, himself one of the Professors. 

SIMSON. 477 

must have had a considerable turn for mechanical pur- 
suits if the tradition in the neighbourhood of Kirton 
Hill be well founded, which ascribes to him the mak- 
ing, or at least designing and placing a dial of a curious 
form (which I have seen) on a neatly ornamented pe- 
destal in the garden of his father's house. At the usual 
early age of matriculation in Scotland, he was sent to 
the University of Glasgow, and he had there made con- 
siderable progress in his studies before the love of mathe- 
matical pursuits appeared to possess him. His atten- 
tion was directed to theology, to logic, to Oriental 
learning ; and in the latter he had made such progress, 
that a relation who taught the class having fallen ill, 
Sim son easily supplied his place for part of a session, 
the Scottish academical year. It was while engaged 
in theological studies that the mathematics first seized 
hold of his mind. He used in after life to relate how, 
wearied with the controversies to which his clerical 
studies led him, he would refresh himself with philo- 
sophical reading ; and not seldom finding himself 
there also tossed about by conflicting dogmas, he 
retired for peace and shelter to the certain science of 
necessary truth ; " and then," said he, " I always 
found myself refreshed with rest." 

It happened that no lecture or teaching of any kind 
was given by the professor who filled the mathematical 
chair, receiving its emoluments, and neglecting its 
duties, when Simson went to the University. But 
curiosity, a propensity ever strong in his nature through 
his whole life, made him wish to see what the science 
was, and he borrowed from a friend a copy of Euclid, 
the work which he was destined afterwards to give 

478 SIMSON. 

forth in a perfection that has made all other editions 
of that great classic be forgotten. Over the elements 
of the science he pored assiduously and alone, with 
only the aid of suggestions occasionally given by a 
student some years older than himself; and the study 
falling in with his genius and his taste, he soon made 
himself master of the first six books, comprising plain 
geometry, and the eleventh and twelfth, treating of 
solids, those at least which are bounded by planes or 
by circular arches. But he did not neglect the other 
branches of science taught at the College ; and he 
also gave his attention to the literary parts of educa- 
tion, so well mastering the Latin and Greek languages 
as to become a learned and accurate scholar. It was 
in the mathematics, however, that he chiefly excelled ; 
and his accomplishments in that science becoming 
known to the professorial body (the Senatus Academi- 
cus), in whom is vested the patronage of the mathe- 
matical chair, and an early vacancy being foreseen, 
they offered him the succession in that event. Being 
then in his twenty-second year, he modestly declined 
to undertake so important a charge, but requested a 
year's delay, during which he might repair to London, 
and become more familiar with the science and its cul- 
tivators. We may hence perceive that there could then 
have been no one at all versed in the mathematics at 
Glasgow ; and the allowing so important a branch of 
science to remain for so many years untaught because 
the teacher who received the ample emoluments of the 
chair either could not or would not perform its duties, 
affords a sufficient commentary upon the great abuse 
likely to flow from vesting the patronage of a profes- 

SIMSON. 479 

sorship in the colleagues of the teacher. I have 
known a professor's son appointed to the same chair, 
with few or no mathematical acquirements, because his 
father was much and justly respected among the mem- 
bers of the academical body. The same thing could 
not happen in Edinburgh, where the Crown or the 
magistrates have the patronage of all the professorships 
excepting one, and that is in the representative of the 

Simson repaired accordingly to London, where he be- 
came intimately acquainted, among others, with Jones 
the optician, with Henry Ditton of Christ's Hospital, 
under whose tuition he placed himself, with Carswell, 
above all, with Edmund Halley, then a captain in the 
Navy, afterwards so celebrated as Dr. Halley ; of 
whom he used to assert that " he had never known 
any other man of so acute and penetrating an under- 
standing, and of so pure a taste." From him he re- 
ceived much personal kindness, and what he had 
reason to value still more, the advice to prosecute his 
study of the Ancient Geometry, and attempt restoring 
its lost books. Halley made him a present of his 
copy of Pappus, with notes in his own hand. But 
though these accidental circumstances tended to direct 
his attention towards the scrupulous rigour as well as 
surpassing elegance of the Greek methods, it is a great 
mistake to suppose that he objected to the strictness of 
the modern analysis as inadequate. That he deemed 
its beauty inferior, and that he was right in so deem- 
ing, is certain ; but that he questioned the solidity of 

* Agriculture, in the Pulteney Family. 

480 SIMSON. 

its foundations is wholly untrue. Not only did he always 
explain its principles to his pupils, though in a manner 
peculiar to himself, but he has left behind him a trea- 
tise demonstrating the fundamental laws of the cal- 
culus, and we now possess it in a printed form. Equally 
groundless is the notion that he questioned the sound- 
ness of the Newtonian Philosophy. He was not ena- 
bled to make Sir Isaac's acquaintance during his resi- 
dence in London ; but among those he lived with he 
constantly had seen him viewed with a peculiar ob- 
servance, and Halley in particular regarded him as 
hardly human, and his attainments in science as exalt- 
ing our species, while they ennobled himself, its rarest 
individual. Simson's copy of the ' Principia ' is fully 
noted in the margin with illustrations, showing that 
he entirely assented to the results of the investigations 
in the several propositions, and only wished to substi- 
tute certain steps in the demonstrations. Professor 
Robison has also related (Art. Simson, Encyc. Brit. 
xvii. 505) his constant remark, that the celebrated 
proposition in the ' Principia ' on inverse centripetal 
forces " was the most important ever delivered to man- 
kind in the mixed mathematics." 

While he remained in London the expected vacancy 
occurred in the chair at Glasgow, and he returned 
thither. The professors appear to have thought it 
right that their former neglect of duty should be com- 
pensated by a very superfluous show of more than need- 
ful attention to it on this occasion ; for they required 
Mr. Simson to give proof of his fitness to succeed the 
sinecure incumbent, by solving a geometrical problem, 
of which it is all but absolutely certain that they could 

SIMSON. 481 

have no knowledge, unless the question was so simple as 
to afford no test of the candidate's capacity. He pro- 
duced, however, what they might better understand, 
testimonials from known mathematicians in London, 
a farther proof of there being no cultivators of the 
science then resident in the metropolis of Scottish 

He was thus appointed professor in 1711, and im- 
mediately began the regular course of instruction, 
which he continued for half a century. He taught 
two classes five days a week for seven months every 
year. Though geometry was his own favourite study, 
he was a thorough algebraist also, and so well versed 
in mathematical science at large, that he gave lectures 
on its general history. With astronomy, and the other 
branches of the mixed mathematics, he was no less 
conversant ; and in various departments of physics he 
had made great progress. In botany he was parti- 
cularly expert; it formed his chosen amusement dur- 
ing the walks in which he relaxed from his severer 
studies. His curiosity led him into other paths of 
science. To logic, that of the schools, he had given 
so much attention, that of a tract, composed by him 
upon its principles, some portion remains among his 
papers ; it is said to possess great merit ; and doubtless 
this study was congenial to the one which he mainly 
pursued, nor could it fail to aid his strict and luminous 
method of both defining, demonstrating, and explain- 
ing the truths of geometry. 

Among his colleagues, after he had been professor 
a few years, were some of the most eminent men of 
that, or indeed of any age. Moore, professor of Greek, 
and author of the admirable and elegant 'Grammar;' 

482 SIMSON. 

Hutcheson, and Adam Smith, successively teachers of 
moral philosophy ; Cullen, the celebrated physician ; 
Black, the great founder of modern chemistry all 
taught while Simson flourished ; Millar only became 
professor of law at the close of the brilliant period 
now referred to, and Robison succeeded Black in 1761, 
soon after Simson's resignation. 

But a teacher's influence is nothing in surrounding 
himself with illustrious colleagues: of great pupils 
he may more easily obtain a following. Of these, 
Dr. Simson had some whose names are still honoured 
among mathematicians. Williamson, afterwards his 
assistant in the class, a man of great promise, whose 
early death at the Factory of Lisbon, to which he was 
chaplain, alone prevented him from following with 
distinction his master's footsteps ; Scott, preceptor to 
George III. when Prince of Wales, afterwards a Com- 
missioner of Excise in London, perhaps the most 
accomplished of all amateur mathematicians who 
never gave their works to the world ; Traill, author 
of the excellent elementary treatise of algebra, of a 
very learned and exceedingly ill-written, indeed, hardly 
readable, life of his friend and teacher, but a man of 
great capacity for science, entirely extinguished, to- 
gether with his taste for its pursuits (as Professor 
Playfair used to lament), by the sinecure emoluments 
of the Irish Church ; but above all, Matthew Stewart, 
Simson's favourite pupil, and whose suggestions, and 
indeed contributions, he records in his works with 
appropriate eulogy, as he does on one occasion an in- 
genious theorem of Traill these were among his 
scholars, and were, with Robison, the most dis- 
tinguished of their number. His method of lecturing 

SIMSON. 483 

is, by both of the pupils who have written his history, 
Professor Robison and Dr. Traill, described as singu- 
larly attractive. His explanations were perfectly clear, 
and were delivered with great spirit, as well as with 
the pure taste which presided over all his mathe- 
matical processes. His elocution was distinct and 
natural, his whole manner at once easy and impres- 
sive. He did not confine his tuition to the chair, but 
encouraged his pupils to propound their difficulties in 
private, and was always accessible to their demands of 
assistance and advice. Hence the affectionate zeal with 
which they followed his teaching and ever cherished 
his memory. 

Successful, however, as he proved in the chair, his 
genius was bent to the diligent investigation of truth 
in the science of which he was so great a master. 
The ancient geometry, that of the Greeks of which I 
have spoken, early fixed his attention and occupied his 
mind by its extraordinary elegance, by the lucid clear- 
ness with which its investigations are conducted, by 
the exercise which it affords to the reasoning faculties, 
and above all, by the absolute rigour of its demon- 
strations. He never undervalued modern analysis ; it 
is a great mistake to represent him as either disliking 
its process, or insensible to its vast importance for the 
solution of questions which the Greek analysis is 
wholly incapable of reaching. But he considered it 
as only to be used in its proper sphere: and that 
sphere he held to exclude whatever of geometrical 
investigation can be, with convenience and elegance, 
carried on by purely geometrical methods. The appli- 
cation of algebra to geometry, it would be ridiculous 

2 i 2 

484 SIMSOX. 

to suppose that either he or his celebrated pupil 
Stewart disliked or undervalued. That application 
forms the most valuable service which modern analysis 
has rendered to science. But they did object, and 
most reasonably and consistently, to the introduction 
of algebraic reasoning wherever the investigation 
could, though less easily, yet far more satisfactorily, 
be performed geometrically. They saw, too, that in 
many instances the algebraic solution leads to con- 
structions of the most complex, clumsy, unmanage- 
able kind, and therefore must be, in all these instances, 
reckoned more difficult, and even more prolix than 
the geometrical, from the former being confined to the 
expression of all the relations of space and position, 
by magnitudes, by quantity and number, (even after 
the arithmetic of sines had been introduced,) while 
the latter could avail itself of circles and angles 
directly. They would have equally objected to car- 
rying geometrical reasoning into the fields peculiarly 
appropriate to modern analysis ; and if one of them, 
Stewart, did endeavour to investigate by the ancient 
geometry physical problems supposed to be placed 
beyond its reach as the sun's distance, in which he 
failed, and Kepler's problem, in which he marvel- 
lously succeeded, that of dividing the elliptical area in 
a given ratio by a straight line drawn from one focus 
this is to be taken only as an homage to the undervalued 
potency of the Greek analysis, or at most, as a feat of 
geometrical force, and by no means as an indication of 
any wish to substitute so imperfect, however beautiful, 
an instrument, for the more powerful, though more 
ordinary one of the calculus which " alone can work 

SIMSON. 485 

great marvels." At the same time, and with all the 
necessary confession of the merits of the modern 
method, it is certain that those geometricians would 
have regarded the course taken hy some of its votaries 
in more recent times as exceptionable, whether with a 
view to clearness or to good taste : a course to the full 
as objectionable as would be the banishing of alge- 
braical and substituting of geometrical symbols in the 
investigations of the higher geometry. La Place's great 
work, the ' Mecanique Celeste,' and La Grange's ' Meca- 
nique Analytique,' have treated of the whole science of 
dynamics and of physical astronomy, comprehending 
all the doctrine of trajectories, dealing with geome- 
trical ideas throughout, and ideas so purely geometrical 
that the algebraic symbols, as far as their works are 
concerned, have no possible meaning apart from lines, 
angles, surfaces ; and yet in their whole compass they 
have not one single diagram of any kind. Surely, 

we may ask if 4- v doc- +dy 2 , 7 -, / du \ can pos- 
* dii J dxd ( -?- \ 


sibly bear any other meaning than the tangent 
and the radius of curvature of a curve line : that 
is, a straight line touching a curve, and a circle 
whose curvature is that of another curve where 
they meet ; any meaning, at least, which can make 
it material that they should ever be seen on the 
page of the analyst. These expressions are utterly 
without sense, except in reference to geometrical con- 


486 SIMSON. 

siderations ; for although x and y are so general that 
they express any numbers, any lines, nay, any ideas, 
any rewards or punishments, any thoughts of the mind, 
it is manifest that the square of the differential of a 
thought, or the differential of the differential of a reward 
or punishment, has no meaning ; and so of every thing 
else but of the very tangent or osculating circle's radius : 
consequently the generality of the symbols is wholly 
useless ; the particular case of two lines being the only 
thing to which the expressions can possibly be meant 
to apply. Why, then, all geometrical symbols should 
be so carefully avoided when we are really treating of 
geometrical examples and geometrical ideas, and of 
these alone, seems hard to understand. 

As the exclusive lovers of modern analysis have 
frequently and very erroneously suspected the ancients 
of possessing some such instrument, and concealing 
the use of it by giving their demonstrations synthe- 
tically after reaching their conclusions analytically, so 
some lovers of ancient analysis have supposed that Sir 
Isaac Newton obtained his solutions by algebraic 
investigations, and then covered them with a synthetic 
dress : among others, Dr. Simson leant to this 
opinion respecting the ' Principia.' He used to say 
that he knew this from Halley, by whose urgent advice 
Sir Isaac was induced to adopt the synthetic form of 
demonstration, after having discovered the truths ana- 
lytically. Machin is known to have held the same 
language ; he said that the ' Principia' was algebra in 
disguise. Assuredly, the probability of this is far 
greater than that of the ancients having possessed and 
kept secret the analytical process of modern times. In 
the preface to his ' Loci Plani,' Dr. Simson fully refutes 

SIMSON. 487 

this notion respecting the ancients : a notion which, 
among others, no less a writer than Wallis had 
strongly maintained.* 

Dr. Simson is by some supposed to have had at one 
time the intention of discussing at large the proper 
limits of the ancient and the modern analysis in the 
investigation of mathematical truths. This no doubt 
appears to be the meaning of a passage in his preface to 
the Conic Sections : " In quantum^ autem differat ana- 
lysis geometrica ab ea quse calculo instituitur algebraico, 
atque ubl hcec aut ilia sit usurpanda, alias disseren- 
dum? Professor Robison thought he had seen a por- 
tion of the work ; but he must have been mistaken ; 
for in answer to Mr. Scott's letter urging him to pub- 
lish this, and referring to the preface in the words just 
cited, he expressly says, that though this passage might 
well mislead, he never meant, except by " blundering 
in the expression, anything of the kind, had no paper, 
and never wrote anything about the matter :" and this 
was written in 1764, four years before his death, and 
eleven or twelve years after Professor Robison attended 
his class. Nothing can be more clear than that between 
1764 and his death, in 1768, he never attempted any 
work of moment ; much more any work such as the one in 

* Algebra Prsef. " Hanc Graecos olim habuisse non est quod 
dubitemus ; sed studio celatam, nee temere propalandam. Ejus 
effectus (utut clam celatae) satis conspicui apud Archimedem, 
Apollonium, aliosque." It is strange that any one of ordinary 
reflection should have overlooked the utter impossibility of all the 
geometricians in ancient times keeping the secret of an art which 
must, if it existed, have been universally known in the mathematical 
schools, and at a time when every man of the least learning or even 
of the most ordinary education was taught geometry. 

488 SIMSON. 

question, which we thus have his own authority for say- 
ing he never had previously entertained any intention of 
composing. It is much to be lamented that he never 
did give such a work to the world. His thoughts had 
often been very profoundly directed to the subject ; 
and no one was so well fitted to handle it with the 
learning and with the judgment w r hich its execution 

That he did not undervalue algebra and the calculus 
to which it has given rise, appears from many circum- 
stances among others, from what has already been 
stated ; it appears also from this, that in many of his 
manuscripts there are found algebraical formulas for 
propositions which he had investigated geometrically. 
Maclaurin consulted him on the preparation of his 
admirable work, the ' Fluxions/ and received from him 
copious suggestions and assistance. Indeed, he adopted 
from him the celebrated demonstration of the fluxion (or 
differential) of a rectangle.* But Simson's whole mind, 
when left to its natural bent, was given to the beauties 
of the Greek geometry ; and he had not been many 
months settled in his academical situation when he 
began to follow the advice which Halley had given 
him, as both calculated, he said, to promote his 
own reputation, and to confer a lasting benefit upon 
the science cultivated by them both with an equal de- 
votion. It is even certain that the obscure and most 
difficult subject of Porisms very early occupied his 
thoughts, and was the field of his researches, though to 
the end of his life he never had made such progress in 

* Book i. ch. ii. prop. 3. 

SIMSON. 489 

the investigation as satisfied himself. Before 1715, 
three years after he began his course of teaching, he 
was deeply engaged in this inquiry ; but he only re- 
garded it as one branch of the great and dark subject 
which Halley had recommended to his care. After he 
had completely examined, corrected, and published, 
with most important additions, the Conies of Apollo- 
nius, which happily remain entire, but which, as we 
have seen, had been most inelegantly and indeed alge- 
braically given by De la Hire, L'Hopital, and others, to 
restore the lost books was his great desire, and formed 
the grand achievement which he set before his eyes. 

We have already shown how scanty the light was 
by which his steps in this path must be guided. The 
introduction to the seventh book of Pappus contained 
the whole that had reached our times to let us know 
the contents of the lost works. Some of the sum- 
maries which that valuable discourse contains are suffi- 
ciently explicit, as those of the Loci Plani and the 
Determinate Section. Accordingly, former geometri- 
cians had succeeded in restoring the Loci Plani, or 
those propositions which treat of loci to the circle 
and rectilinear figures. They had, indeed, proceeded 
in a very unsatisfactory manner ; Schooten, a Dutch 
mathematician of great industry and no taste, had 
given purely algebraic solutions and demonstrations. 
Fermat, one of the greatest mathematicians of the 
seventeenth century, had proceeded more according to 
the geometrical rules of the ancients ; but he had kept 
to general solutions, and neither he nor Schooten had 
given the different cases, according as the data in each 
proposition were varied, so that their works were nearly 

490 SIMSON. 

useless in the solution of problems, the great purpose 
of Apollonius, as of all the authors of the TOTTO? 
avaXvojmevov the thirty-three ancient books. As for 
the analysis, it was given by neither, unless, indeed, 
Schooten's algebra is to be so termed : Fermat's de- 
monstrations were all synthetical. His treatise, though 
written as early as 1629, was only published among 
his collected works in 1670. Schooten's was published 
among his ' Exercitationes Mathematicse' in 1657. Of 
the field thus left open Dr. Simson took possession, 
and he most successfully cultivated every corner 
of it. Nothing is left without the most full discus- 
sion ; all the cases of each proposition are thoroughly 
investigated. Many new truths of great importance 
are added to those which had been unfolded by the 
Greek philosopher. The whole is given with the per- 
fect precision and the pure elegance of the ancient 
analysis ; and the universal assent of the scientific 
world has even confessed that there is every reason to 
consider the restored work as greatly superior to the 
lost original. 

The history of this excellent treatise shows in a 
striking manner the cautious and modest nature of its 
author. He had completed it in 1738 ; but, unsatisfied 
with it, he kept it by him for eight years. He could 
not bring himself to think that he had given the 
"ipsissimse propositiones of Apollonius in the very 
order and spirit of the original work." He was then 
persuaded to let the book appear, and it was published 
in 1746. His former scruples and alarms recurred ; 
he stopped the publication ; he bought up the copies 
that had been sold ; he kept them three years longer 

SIMSON. 491 

by him ; and it was only in 1749 that the work really 
appeared. Thus had a geometrician complied with 
the rule prescribed by Horace for those whose writings 
have no standard by which to estimate their merits 
with exactness. 

In the meantime he had extended his researches into 
other parts of the subject. Among the rest he had 
restored and greatly extended the work on Determi- 
nate Section, or the various propositions respecting 
the properties of the squares and rectangles of seg- 
ments of lines passing through given points. There 
is no doubt that the prolixity, however elegant, with 
which the ancients treated this subject, is somewhat 
out of proportion to its importance ; and as it is pecu- 
liarly adapted to the algebraical method, presenting, 
indeed, little difficulty to the analyst, the loss of the 
Pergsean treatise is the less to be deplored, and its re- 
storation was the less to be desired. Apollonius had 
even thought it expedient to give a double set of solu- 
tions ; one by straight lines, the other by semicircles. 
Dr. Simson's restoration is most full, certainly, and 
contains many and large additions of his own. It fills 
above three hundred quarto pages. His predecessors 
had been Snellius, whose attempt, published in 1608, 
was universally allowed to be a failure ; and Anderson, 
a professor of Aberdeen, whose work, in 1612, was 
much better, but confined to a small part only of the 

About the time that Dr. Simson finally published 
the Loci Plani, he began his great labour of giving a 
correct and full edition of the Elements. The manner 
in which this has been accomplished by him is well 

492 SIMSON. 

known. The utmost care was bestowed on the revi- 
sion of the text; no pains were spared in collating 
editions ; all commentaries were consulted ; and the 
elegance and perfect method of the original has been 
so admirably preserved, that no rival has ever yet risen 
up to dispute with Simson's Euclid the possession of 
the schools. The time bestowed on this useful work 
was no less than nine years. It only was published in 
1758. To the second edition, in 1762, he added a 
similarly correct edition of the Data, comprising 
several very valuable original propositions of his own, 
of Mr. Stewart, and of Lord Stanhope, together with 
two excellent problems to illustrate the use of the 
Data in solutions. 

We thus find Dr. Simson employed in these various 
works which he successively gave to the world, elaborated 
with infinite care, and of which the fame and the use 
will remain as long as the mathematics are cultivated, 
some of them delighting students who pursue the 
science for the mere speculative love of contemplating 
abstract truths, and the gratification of following the 
rigorous proofs peculiar to that science ; some for the 
instruction of men in the elements, which are to 
form the foundation of their practical applications of 
geometry. But all the while his mind never could be 
wholly severed from the speculation which had in his 
earliest days riveted his attention by its curious and 
singular nature, and fired his youthful ambition by 
its difficulty, and vanquished all his predecessors in 
their efforts to master it. We have seen that as early 
as 1715 at the latest, probably much earlier, the obscure 
subject of Porisms had engaged his thoughts ; and soon 

SIMSOX. 493 

after, his mind was so entirely absorbed by it that he 
could apply to no other investigation. The extreme 
imperfection of the text of Pappus, the dubious nature 
of his description, his rejection of the definition which 
appeared intelligible, his substituting nothing in its 
place except an account so general that it really con- 
veyed no precise information, the hiatus in the account 
he subjoins of Euclid's three books, so that even with 
the help of the lemmas related to these propositions of 
the lost work, no clear or steady light could be de- 
scjied to guide the inquirer for the first porism of 
the first book alone remained entire, the general 
porism being given wholly truncated (mancum et im- 
perfectum) all seemed to present obstacles wholly 
insurmountable, and after various attempts for years 
he was fain to conclude with Halley that the mystery 
belonged to the number of those which can never be 
penetrated. He lost his rest in the anxiety of this 
inquiry ; sleep forsook his couch ; his appetite was 
gone ; his health was wholly shaken ; he was com- 
pelled to give over the pursuit ; he was " obliged," he 
says, " to resolve steadily that he never more should 
touch the subject,- and as often as it came upon him he 
drove it away from his thoughts."* 

It happened, however, about the month of April, 
1722, that while walking on the banks of the Clyde 
with some friends, he had fallen behind the company ; 
and musing alone, the rejected topic found access to 

* " Firmiter animum induxi hsec nunquam in posterum investi- 
gare. Unde quoties menti occurrebant, f oties eas arcebam." (Op. 
Eel. 320. Prsef. ad Porismata.) 

494 SIMSON. 

his thoughts. After some time a sudden light broke 
in upon him ; it seemed at length as if he could descry 
something of a path, slippery, tangled, interrupted, but 
still practicable, and leading at least in the direction 
towards the object of his research. He eagerly drew 
a figure on the stump of a neighbouring tree with a 
piece of chalk ; he felt - assured that he had now the 
means of solving the great problem ; and although he 
afterwards tells us that he then had not a sufficiently 
clear notion of the subject (eo tempore Porismatum 
naturam non satis compertamhabebam),* yet he accom- 
plished enough to make him communicate a paper 
upon the discovery to the Royal Society, the first 
work he ever published (Phil. Trans, for 1723). He 
was wont in after life to show the spot on which the 
tree, long since decayed, had stood. If peradventure 
it had been preserved, the frequent lover of Greek 
geometry would have been seen making his pilgrimage 
to a spot consecrated by such touching recollections. 
The graphic pen of Montucla, which gave such interest 
to the story of the first observation of the transit of 
Venus by Horrox in Lancashire, and to the Torricellian 
experiment, f is alone wanting to clothe this passage 
in colours as vivid and as unfading. 

This great geometrician continued at all the inter- 
vals of his other labours intently to investigate the 
subject on which he thus first threw a steady light. 

His first care upon having made this discovery was to 
extend the particular propositions until he had obtained 

Op. Rel. 320. | Hist, de Math. vol. i. 

SIMSON. 495 

the general one. A note among his memoranda ap- 
pears to have been made, as was his custom, of the 
date at which he succeeded in any of his investiga- 
tions.* " Hodie hsec de porismatis inveni, R. S., 23 
April 1722." Another note, 27th April, 1722, shows 
that he had then obtained the general proposition ; he 
afterwards communicated this to Maclaurin when he 
passed through Glasgow on his way to France ; and 
on his return he communicated to Dr. Simson with- 
out demonstration a proposition concerning conies 
derived from it, which led his friend to insert some 
important investigations in his Conic Sections. In 
1723 the publication of his paper took place in the 
Philosophical Transactions ; it is extremely short, and 
does not appear to contain all that the author had 
communicated ; for we find this sentence inserted 
before the last portion of the paper : " His adjecit 
clarissimus professor propositiones duas sequentes libri 
primi Porismatum Euclidis, a se quoque restitutas." 
The paper contains the first general proposition and 
its ten cases, and then the second with its cases. No 
general description or definition is given of Porisms ; 
and it is plain that his mind was not then finally made 
up on this obscure subject, although he had obtained a 
clear view of it generally. 

* In one there is this note upon the solution of a problem of 
tactions, " Feb. 9, 1734 : Post horam primam ante meridiem ;" 
and much later in life we find the same particularity in marking 
the time of discovery. His birthday was October 14, and having 
solved a problem on that day, 1764, he says 

HOctobr. 1764. 
Deo Opt. Max. benignissimo Servaton 14 Octobr. 1687. 

Laus et gloria. 77 (sell AnnojEtatis.) 

496 SIMSON. 

At what time his knowledge of the whole became 
matured we are not informed ; but we know that his 
own nature was nice and difficult on the subject of his 
own works ; that he never was satisfied with what he 
had accomplished ; and he probably went on making 
constant additions and improvements to his work. 
Often urged to publish, he as constantly refused ; in- 
deed he would say that he had done nothing, or next 
to nothing, which was in a state to appear before the 
world ; and moreover, he very early began to appre- 
hend a decay of his faculties, from observing his recol- 
lection of recent things to fail, as is very usual with 
all men ; for as early as 1751, we find him giving this 
as a reason for declining to undertake a work on Lord 
Stanhope's recommendation, when he was only in his 
sixty-fifth year. Thus, though he at first used to say 
he had nothing ready for publication, he afterwards 
added, that he was too old to complete his work satis- 
factorily. In his earlier days he used occasionally to 
affect a kind of odd mystery on the subject, and when 
one of his pupils (Dr. Traill) submitted to him some 
propositions, which he regarded as porisms, Dr. Sim- 
son would neither admit nor deny that they were such, 
but said with some pleasantry, " They are propositions." 
One of them, however, he has given in his work as a 
porism, and with a complimentary reference to its 
ingenious and learned author. 

Thus his life wore away without completing this 
great work, at least without putting it in such a con- 
dition as satisfied himself. It was left among his MSS., 
and by the judicious munificence of a noble geometri- 
cian, the liberal friend of scientific men, as well as the 

SIMSON. 497 

successful cultivator of science, Earl Stanhope,* it 
was, after his death, published, with his restoration of 
Apollonius' treatise De Sectione determinata, a short 
paper on Logarithms, and another on the Method of 
Limits geometrically demonstrated, the whole forming 
a very handsome quarto volume; of which the 
Porisms occupies nearly one-half, or 277 pages. 

This work is certainly the master-piece of its distin- 
guished author. The extreme difficulty of the subject 
was increased by the corruptions of the text that re- 
mains in the only passage of the Greek geometers which 
has reached us, the only few sentences in which any 
mention whatever is made of porisms. This passage is 
contained in the preface or introduction to the seventh 
book of Pappus, which we have already had occasion 
to cite. But this was by far the least of the difficul- 
ties which met the inquirer after the hidden treasure, 
the restorer of lost science, though Albert Girard 
thought or said, in 1635, that he had restored the Po- 
risms of Euclid. As we have seen, no trace of his 
labours is left ; and it seems extremely unlikely that 
he should have really performed such a feat and given 
no proofs of it. H alley, the most learned and able of 
Dr. Simson's predecessors, had tried the subject, and 
tried it in vain. He thus records his failure : " Hac- 
tenus Porismatum descriptio nee mihi mtellecta nee 
lectori profutura." These are his words, in a preface 
to a translation which he published of Pappus's 
seventh book, much superior in execution to that of 
Commandini. But this eminent geometrician was 

* Grandfather of the present Earl. 

2 K 

498 SIMSON. 

much more honest than some, and much more safe 
and free from mistake than others who touched upon 
the subject which occupied all students of the ancient 
analysis. He was far from pretending, like Girardus, 
to have discovered that of which all were in quest. But 
neither did he blunder like Pemberton, whom we find, 
the very year of Simson's first publication, actually 
saying in his paper on the Rainbow "For the 
greater brevity I shall deliver them (his propositions) 
in the form of porisms, as, in my opinion, the ancients 
called all propositions treated by analysis only" (Philo- 
sophical Transactions, 1723, p. 148) ; and, truth to 
say, his investigation is not very like ancient analysis 
either. The notion of D'Alembert, somewhat later, 
has been alluded to already ; he imagined porisms to be 
synonymous with lemma, misled by an equivocal use 
of the word in some passages of ancient authors, if 
indeed he had ever studied any of the writers on the 
Greek geometry, which, from what I have stated be- 
fore, seems exceedingly doubtful. But the most extra- 
ordinary, and indeed inexcusable ignorance of the sub- 
ject is to be seen in some who, long after Simson's 
paper had been published, were still in the dark ; and 
though that paper did not fully explain the matter, it 
yet ought to have prevented such errors as these fell 
into. Thus Castillon, in 1761, showed that he con- 
ceived porisms to be merely the constructions of Eu- 
clid's Data. If this were so, there might have been 
some truth in his boast of having solved all the Porisms 
of Euclid ; and he might have been able to perform 
his promise of soon publishing a restoration of those lost 

SIMSON. 499 

It is remarkable enough that before Halley's at- 
tempts and their failure, candidly acknowledged by 
himself, Fermat had made a far nearer approach to a 
solution of the difficulty than any other of Simson's 
predecessors. That great geometrician, after fully 
admitting the difficulty of the subject, and asserting* 
that, in modern times, porisms were known hardly 
even by name, announces somewhat too confidently, 
if not somewhat vaingloriously, that the light had at 
length dawned upon him,')' and that he should soon 
give a full restoration of the whole three lost books of 
Euclid. Now the light had but broke in by a small 
chink, as a mere faint glimmering, and this restora- 
tion was quite impossible, inasmuch as there remained 
no account of what those books contained, except- 
ing a very small portion obscurely mentioned in 
the preface of Pappus, and the lemmas given in the 
course of the seventh book, and given as subservient 
to the resolution of porismatic questions. Never- 
theless Fermat gave a demonstration of five propo- 
sitions, " in order," he says, " to show what a porism 
is, and to what purposes it is subservient." These 
propositions are, indeed, porisms, though their several 
enumerations are not given in the true porismatic 
form. Thus, in the most remarkable of them, the 
fifth, he gives the construction as part of the enuncia- 

* " Intentata ac velut disperata Porismatum Euclideea doctrina. 
Geometric! (sevi recentioris) nee vel de nomine cognovertmt, aut 
quod esset solummodo sunt suspicati." (Var. Opera, p. 166.) 

f " Nobis in tenebris dudum csecutientibus, tandem se (Natura 
Porismatum) clara ad videndum obtulit, et pura per noctem luce 
refulsit.' 1 (Epist. ib.) 


500 SIMSON. 

tion. So far, however, a considerable step was made ; 
but when he comes to show in what manner he dis- 
covered the nature of his porisms, and how he defines 
them, it is plain that he is entirely misled by the 
erroneous definition justly censured in the passage of 
Pappus already referred to. He tells us that his pro- 
positions answer the definition ; he adds that it reveals 
the whole nature of porisms ; he says that by no other 
account but the one contained in the definition, could 
we ever have arrived at a knowledge of the hidden 
value;* and he shows how, in his fifth proposition, 
the porism flows from a locus, or rather he confounds 
porisms with loci, saying porisms generally are loci, 
and so he treats his own fifth proposition as a locus, and 
yet the locus to a circle which he states as that from 
which his proposition flows has no connexion with it, 
according to Dr. Simson's just remark (' Opera Reliqua,' 
p. 345). That the definition on which he relies is 
truly imperfect, appears from this : there could be 
no algebraical porism, were every porism connected 
with a local theorem. But an abundant variety of 
geometrical porisms can be referred to, which have no 
possible connexion with loci. Thus, it has never been 
denied that most of the Propositions in the Higher 
Geometry, which I investigated in 1797, were porisms, 
yet many of them were wholly unconnected with loci ; 
as that affirming the possibility of describing an hyper- 
bola which should cut in a given ratio all the areas 
of the parabolas lying between given straight lines. f 

* Var. Op., p. 118. 
| Phil. Trans., 1798, p. 111. 

SIMSON. 501 

Here the locus has nothing to do with the solution, 
as if the proposition were a kind of a local theorem : 
it is only the line dividing the curvilineal areas, and it 
divides innumerable such areas. Professor Playfair, 
who had thoroughly investigated the whole subject, 
never in considering this proposition doubted for a 
moment its being most strictly a porism. 

Therefore, although Fermat must be allowed to 
have made a considerable step, he was unacquainted 
with the true nature of the porism ; and instead of 
making good his boast that he could restore the lost 
books, he never even attempted to restore the investi- 
gation of the first proposition, the only one that re- 
mains entire. A better proof can hardly be given of 
the difficulty of the whole subject.* 

Indeed it must be confessed that Pappus's account of 
it, our only source of knowledge, is exceedingly obscure, 
all but the panegyrics which, in a somewhat tanta- 
lizing manner, he pronounces upon it. " Collectio," 
says he, " curiosissima multarum rerum spectantium ad 
resolutionem difficiliorum et generaliorurn problema- 
tum" (lib. vii., Proem). His definition already cited 
is, as he himself admits, very inaccurate ; because the 

* The respect due to the great name of Fermat, a venerable 
magistrate and most able geometrician, is not to be questioned. He 
was, indeed, one of the first mathematicians of the age in which he 
flourished, along with the Robervals, the Harriots, the Descartes. 
How near he approached the differential calculus is well known. 
His correspondence with Roberval, Gassendi, Pascal, and others, 
occupies ninety folio pages of his posthumous works, and contains 
many most ingenious, original, and profound observations on va- 
rious branches of science. 

502 SIMSON. 

connexion with a locus is not necessary to the poris- 
matic nature, although it will very often exist, inas- 
much as each point in the curve having the same re- 
lation to certain lines, its description will, in most 
cases, furnish the solution of a problem, whence a 
porism may be deduced. Nor does Pappus, while ad- 
mitting the inaccuracy of the definition, give us one of 
his own. Perhaps we may accurately enough define 
a porism to be the enunciation of the possibility of 
finding that case in which a determinate problem be- 
comes indeterminate, and admits of an infinity of 
solutions, all of which are given by the statement of 
the case. 

For it appears essential to the nature of a porism 
that it should have some connexion with an indetermi- 
nate problem and its solution. I apprehend that the 
poristic case is always one in which the data become 
such that a transition is made from the determinate to 
the indeterminate, from the problem being capable of 
one or two solutions, to its being capable of an infinite 
number. Thus it would be no porism to affirm that 
an ellipse being given, two lines may be found at right 
angles to each other, cutting the curve, and being in a 
proportion to each other which may be found : the two 
lines are the perpendiculars at the centre, and are of 
course the two axes of the ellipse ; and though this 
enunciation is in the outward form of a porism, the 
proposition is no more a porism than any ordinary pro- 
blem ; as that a circle being given a point may be found 
from whence all the lines drawn to the circumference 
are equal, which is merely the finding of the centre. 
But suppose there be given the problem to inflect two 

SIMSON. 503 

lines from two given points to the circumference of an 
ellipse, the sum of which lines shall be equal to a 
given line, the solution will give four lines, two on each 
side of the transverse axis. But in one case there will be 
innumerable lines which answer the conditions, namely, 
when the two points are in the axis, and so situated 
that the distance of each of them from the farthest ex- 
tremity of the axis is equal to the given line, the points 
being the foci of the ellipse. It is, then, a porism to 
affirm that an ellipse being given, two points may be 
found such that if from them be inflected lines to any 
point whatever of the curve, their sum shall be equal 
to a straight line which may be found ; and so of the 
Cassinian curve, in which the rectangle under the in- 
flected lines is given. In like manner if it be sought in 
the cubic hyperbola (y x~=oc a) to inflect from two 
given points in a given straight line, two lines to a 
point in the curve, so that the tangent to that point 
shall, with the two points and the ordinate, cut the 
given line in harmonical ratio ; this, which is only 
capable of one solution in ordinary cases, becomes 
capable of an infinite number when the two points 
are in the axis, one of them the curve's apex, and the 
other at the distance equal to the given line a from 
the apex ; for in that case every tangent that can be 
drawn, and every ordinate, cut the given line har- 
monically with the curve itself and the given point.* 

This curve has many curious and elegant properties : for ex- 
ample All the lines which can be drawn in every direction from 
any point out of the curve are cut harmonically by the tangent, 
the ordinate, and the lines joining the two given points. This 

504 SIMSON. 

Dr. Simson's definition is such that it connects 

itself with an indeterminate case of some problem 

solved, but it is defective, in appearance rather than 

in reality, from seeming to confine itself to one class 

of porisms. This appearance arises from using the 

word "given" (data or datum) in two different senses, 

both as describing the hypothesis and as affirming the 

possibility of finding the construction so as to answer 

the conditions. This double use of the word, indeed, 

runs through the book, and though purely classical, 

is yet very inconvenient ; for it would be much more 

distinct to make one class of things those which are 

assuredly data, and the other, things which may be 

found. Nevertheless, as his definition makes all the 

innumerable things not given have the same relation 

to those which are given, this should seem to be a 

limitation of the definition not necessary to the poristic 

nature. Pappus's definition, or rather that which he 

says the ancients gave, and which is not exposed to 

the objection taken by him to the modern one, is 

really no definition at all ; it is only that a porism is 

something between a theorem and a problem, and in 

which, instead of anything being proposed to be done, or 

to be proved, something is proposed to be investigated. 

might be called the Harmonical Curve, did not another of the 12th 
order rather merit that name, which has its axis divided harmoni- 
cally by the tangent, the normal, the ordinate, and a given point in 

the axis. Its differential equation is 2 d y*+d x*= - -' 


which is reducible, and its integral is an equation of the 12th order. 
There is another Harmonical Curve, also, a transcendental one, in 
which chords vibrate isochronously. 

SIMSON. 505 

This is erroneous, and contrary to the rules of logic 
from its generality ; it is, as the lawyers say, void for 
uncertainty. The modern one objected to by Pappus 
is not uncertain ; it is quite accurate as far as it goes ; 
but it is too confined, and errs against the rules of 
logic by not being coextensive with the thing proposed 
to be defined. 

The difficulty of the subject has been sufficiently 
shown from the extreme conciseness and the many 
omissions, the almost studied obscurity, of the only 
account of it which remains, and to this must cer- 
tainly be added the corruption of the Greek text. 
The success which attended Dr. Simson's labours in 
restoring the lost work, as far as that was possible, and, 
at any rate, in giving a full elucidation of the nature of 
porisms, now, for the first time, disclosed to mathe- 
maticians, is, on account of those great difficulties by 
which his predecessors had been baffled, the more to 
be admired. But there is one thing yet more justly 
a matter of wonder, when we contrast his proceedings 
with theirs. The greater part of his life, a life ex- 
clusively devoted to mathematical study, had been 
passed in these researches. He had very early become 
possessed of the whole mystery, from other eyes so 
long concealed. He had obtained a number of the 
most curious solutions of problems connected with 
porisms, and was constantly adding to his store of 
porisms and of lemmas subservient to their investi- 
gation. For many years before his death, his work 
had attained, certainly the form, if not the size, in 
which we now possess it. Yet he never could so far 
satisfy himself with what has abundantly satisfied 
every one else, as to make it public, and he left it un- 

506 SIMSON. 

published among his papers when he died. Nothing 
can be more unlike those who freely boasted of having 
discovered the secret, and promised to restore the 
whole of Euclid's lost books. It is as certain that 
the secret was never revealed to them as it is that 
neither they nor any man could restore the books. 
But how speedily would the Castillons, the Alberts, 
even the Fermats, have given their works to the 
world had they become possessed of such a treasure as 
Dr. Simson had found ! Yet though ready for the 
press, and with its preface composed, and its title 
given in minute particularity, he never could think 
that he had so far elaborated and finished it as to 
warrant him in finally resolving on its publication. 

There needs no panegyric of this most admirable 
performance. Its great merit is best estimated by the 
view which has been taken of the extraordinary 
difficulties overcome by it. The difficulty of some 
investigations the singular beauty of the propositions, 
a beauty peculiar to the porism from the wonderfully 
general relations which it discloses the simplicity of 
the combinations the perfect elegance of the demon- 
strations render this a treatise in which the lovers of 
geometrical science must ever find the purest delight. 

Beside the general discussions in the preface, and 
in a long and valuable scholium after the sixth propo- 
sition, and an example of algebraical porisms, Dr. Sim- 
son has given in all ninety-one propositions. Of 
these four are problems, ten are loci, forty- three are 
theorems, and the remaining thirty-four are porisms, 
including four suggested by Matthew Stewart, and 
the five of Fermat improved and generalized ; there 
are, besides, four lemmas and one porism suggested 

SIMSON. 507 

by Dr. Traill, when studying under the Professor. 
There may thus be said to be in all ninety-eight pro- 
positions. The four lemmas are propositions ancillary 
to the author's own investigations ; for many of his 
theorems are the lemmas preserved by Pappus as an- 
cillary to the porisms of Euclid. 

In all these investigations the strictness of the 
Greek geometry is preserved almost to an excess ; and 
there cannot well be given a more remarkable illus- 
tration of its extreme rigour than the very outset of 
this great work presents. The porism is, that a point 
may be found in any given circle through which all 
the lines drawn cutting its circumference and meeting 
a given straight line shall have their segments within 
and without the circle in the same ratio. This, 
though a beautiful proposition, is one very easily 
demonstrated, and is, indeed, a corollary to some of 
those in the ' Elements/ But Dr. Simson prefixes a 
lemma : that the line drawn to the right angle of a 
triangle from the middle point of the hypotenuse, is 
equal to half that hypotenuse. Now this follows, 
if the segment containing the right angle be a semi- 
circle, and it might be thought that this should be 
assumed only as a manifest corollary from the pro- 
position, or as the plain converse of the proposition, 
that the angle in a semicircle is a right angle, but 
rather as identical with that proposition ; for if we 
say the semicircle is a right-angled segment, we also 
say that the right-angled segment is a semicircle. 
But then it might be supposed that two semicircles 
could stand on one base : or, which is the same thing, 
that two perpendiculars could be drawn from one 

508 SIMSON. 

point to the same line ; and as these propositions had 
not been in the elements, (though the one follows 
from the definition of the circle, and the other from 
the theorem that the three angles of a triangle are 
equal to two right angles,) and as it might be supposed 
that two or more circles, like two or more ellipses, 
might be drawn on the same axis, therefore the lem- 
ma is demonstrated by a construction into which the 
centre does not enter. Again, in applying this lemma 
to the porism (the proportion of the segments given 
by similar triangles), a right angle is drawn at the 
point of the circumference, to which a line is drawn 
from the extremity of a perpendicular to the given 
line ; and this, though it proves that perpendicular to 
pass through the centre, unless two semicircles could 
stand on the same diameter, is not held sufficient ; but 
the analysis is continued by help of the lemma to show 
that the perpendicular to the given line passes through 
the centre of the given circle, and that therefore the 
point is found. It is probable that the author began 
his work with a simple case and gave it a peculiarly 
rigorous investigation in order to explain, as he im- 
mediately after does clearly in the scholium already 
referred to, the nature of the porism, and to illustrate 
the erroneous definitions of later times (veoreptKoi) of 
which Pappus complains as illogical. 

Of porisms, examples have been now given both in 
plain geometry, in solid, and in the higher : that is, 
in their connexion both with straight lines and 
circles, with conic sections, and with curves of the 
third and higher orders. Of an algebraical porism it 
is easy to give examples from problems becoming inde- 

SIMSON. 509 

terminate ; but these propositions may likewise arise 
from a change in the conditions of determinate pro- 
blems. Thus, if we seek for a number, such that its 
multiple by the sum of two quantities shall be equal 
to its multiple by the difference of these quantities, 
together with twice its multiple by a third given 
quantity, we have the equation ( + 6) x=(a &) x+ 
2co? and 2b^=2ca: ; in which it is evident, that if 
c=b t any number whatever will answer the conditions, 
and thus we have this porism : Two numbers being 
given a third may be found, such that the multiple 
of any number whatever by the sum of the given 
numbers, shall be equal to its multiple by their 
differences, together with half its multiple by the num- 
ber to be found. That number is in the ratio of 4 : 3 
to the lesser given number. 

There are many porisms also in dynamics. One 
relates to the centre of gravity which is the poris- 
matic case of a problem. The porism may be thus 
enunciated ; Any number of points being given, a 
point may be found such, that if any straight line 
whatever be drawn through it, the sum of the per- 
pendiculars to it from the points on one side will 
be equal to the sum of the perpendiculars from the 
points on the other side. That point is consequently 
the centre of gravity : for the system is in equilibrium 
by the proposition. Another is famous in the his- 
tory of the mixed mathematics. Sir Isaac Newton, 
by a train of most profound and ingenious investi- 
gation, reduced the problem of finding a comet's place 
from three observations (a problem of such difficulty, 
that he says of it, " hocce problema longe difficilimum 

510 SIMSON. 

omnimodo aggressus,"*) to the drawing a straight line 
through four lines given by position, and which shall 
be cut by them in three segments having given ratios 
to each other. Now his solution of this problem, the 
corollary to the twenty-seventh lemma of the first 
book, has a porismatic case, that is, a case in which 
any line that can be drawn through the given lines 
will be cut by them in the same proportions, like the 
lines drawn through three harmonicals in the porism 
already given of the harmonical curve. To this Newton 
had not adverted, nor to the unfortunate circumstance 
that the case of comets is actually the case in which 
the problem thus becomes capable of an infinite number 
of solutions. The error was only discovered after 
1739, when it was found that the comet of that year 
was thrown on the wrong side of the sun by the 
Newtonian method. This enormous discrepancy of 
the theory with observation, led to a full consideration 
of the subject, and to a discovery of the porismatic case. 
When the studies of a philosopher, and especially 
of a mathematician, have been described, his discoveries 
recorded, and his writings considered, his history 
has been written. His private life is generally un- 
varied, filled with speculative inquiry, amused by scien- 
tific reading, variegated only by philosophic conversa- 
tion, unless when its repose is broken by controversy, 
an incident scarcely possible in the story of mathe- 
maticians. Dr. Simson loved to amuse his leisure 
hours, and unbend his mind in the relaxation of so- 
ciety ; and from the simplicity of his manners and the 

* Principia, lib. iii. prop. xli. 

SIMSON. 511 

kindliness of his disposition, as well as from his very 
universal information, he was ever a most welcome 
member of the circles which he frequented. He lived 
in his college chambers to the last, but received his 
friends occasionally at a neighbouring tavern, where a 
room was always kept at his disposal. He attended a 
club near the college, and in good weather its mem- 
bers dined every Saturday at Anderston, a suburb of 
Glasgow. In these meetings his chair was always 
reserved for him, being left vacant when he happened 
to be absent. It is also said to have been his habit to 
sit covered. He was fond of playing for an hour or 
two in the evening at whist, and of calculating chances, 
at which he generally failed ; but he was on the whole 
a good player, though he was not very patient of his 
partner's blunders, nor always bore a bad hand of such 
partner with philosophic meekness. He was fond of 
music, and sometimes would sing a Greek ode to a 
modern air. Professor Robison says he twice heard 
him sing in this manner " a Latin hymn to the Divine 
Geometer," and adds, that the tears stood in his eyes 
as he gave it with devotional rapture. His voice was 
fine, says the Professor, and his ear most accurate. 
That he did not always interrupt his geometrical 
meditations in the hours of relaxation is very plain, not 
only from the singular anecdote already related of his 
discovery of porisms, but from the date of " Ander- 
ston " attached to some of his solutions, indicating that 
they had occurred to him while attending the Saturday 
meetings of the club in that suburb. In all his habits 
he was punctual and regular, even measuring the 
exercise which he took by the number of paces he 

512 SIMSON. 

walked. Anecdotes are related of him when inter- 
rupted by some one on his accustomed walk, and after 
hearing what was said, continuing at the number he 
had just before marked, and surprising his acquaint- 
ance by speaking the next number aloud. He was 
exceedingly absent ; and the younger part of the uni- 
versity pupils were wont to play upon this peculiarity. 
It is related that one of the college porters being 
dressed up for the purpose, came to ask charity, and in 
answer to the Professor's questions, gave an account 
of himself closely resembling his own history. When 
he found so great a resemblance, adds the story, he 
cried out, " What's your name ?" and on the answer 
being given, " Robert Simson," he exclaimed with great 
animation, " Why, it must be myself!" when he awoke 
from his trance. Notwithstanding his absent habits, 
he was an exceedingly good man of business ; he filled 
the office of Clerk of the Faculty in the University for 
thirty years, and managed its financial and other 
concerns with great regularity and success. Like all 
minds of a higher order, his not only had no contempt 
for details, but a love of them; and while clerk he 
made a transcript with his own hand of the University 
records, for which he received a vote of thanks from 
the Senatus Academicus. 

In 1758, being turned of threescore and ten, he 
found it necessary to employ an assistant ; when one of 
his favourite pupils, Dr. Williamson, was appointed his 
helper and successor. The University passed a resolu- 
tion stating his merits fully, recording in detail his 
services to the college and to science at large, and pro- 
nouncing a warm but just panegyric upon him. He 

SIMSON. 513 

continued for ten years in the pursuit of his favourite 
studies, and the enjoyment of the same social intercourse 
as before. His health, which through his long life had 
been unbroken, remained entire till within a few weeks 
of its close, and he died on the 1 st of October, 1 768, 
having almost completed his eighty-first year. 

He is represented to have been of a calm and pleas- 
ing presence, of a portly figure, of easy and not un- 
graceful manners. A portrait of him in the college 
library remains, and is said to do him justice. His pupil, 
Dr. Moore, the Greek professor, and author of the cele- 
brated Grammar, also an excellent mathematician and 
great admirer of the ancient geometry, wrote the in- 
scription which appears under it, marking its author's 
own taste in more ways than one : 

" Geometriam sub tyranno barbaro, saeva servitute, diu lan- 
guentem, vindicavit unus." 

His character was lofty and pure : nothing could ex- 
ceed his love of justice, and dislike of anything sordid or 
low ; nor could he ever bear to hear men reviling one 
another, and, least of all, speaking evil of the absent or 
the dead. In this he closely resembled his celebrated 
pupil Mr. Watt. His religious as well as moral feel- 
ings were strong, and they were habitual. No one in his 
presence ever ventured on the least irreverent or inde- 
corous allusion ; and we find the periods of his geome- 
trical discoveries mentioned with the date and the place, 
and generally an addition of " Deo" or " Christo laus," 
an example of which we have above presented. 

He never was married. Of his brothers, one, 
Thomas, was Professor of Medicine at St. Andrew's, 
and author of an ingenious and original work on the 
Brain ; his son succeeded him as professor. Another 

2 L 

514 SIMSON. 

brother was a dissenting minister at Coventry ; and a 
third, also settled there, had a son, Robert, first in the 
army, afterwards in the English Church -Mr. 
Pitt, probably from his love of the mathematics, 
having presented him to a living in the north of Eng- 
land. He was Dr. Simson's heir-at-law, and to him 
the estates were left. He sold them in 1789, as well 
Kirton Hill as Knock Ewart, which had been pur- 
chased by the Professor's father in 1713. A niece of 
Dr. Simson was married to Dr. Moore, the well-known 
novelist, and was mother of the General. That 
illustrious warrior was therefore great nephew of the 
mathematician. Mrs. Moore survived to a recent 
period, and died in extreme old age. 

He bequeathed his mathematical library and manu- 
scripts to the University of Glasgow, with special direc- 
tions touching their disposition, custody, and use. 
They form, it is believed, the most complete collection 
of books and papers in that department of science any- 
where to be seen. 

The extraordinary genius of Dr. Simson for mathe- 
matical pursuits has been fully described in recording his 
achievements in that difficult branch of science. That 
he greatly furthered the progress of mathematical 
knowledge by his excellent publications of the ele- 
mentary works of Euclid and Apollonius cannot be 
denied ; nor can it be doubted that to him AVC owe a 
revival of the taste for the ancient analysis, the pure 
geometry, and the means now afforded of gratifying it. 
At the same time there is some room for lamenting 
that his great powers of mind and his patient industry 
of research were not devoted to the pursuit of more 
useful objects ; and there is good reason to agree in the 

SIMSON. 515 

opinion expressed by one of his most eminent pupils, 
Professor Robison, that he might have better suc- 
ceeded in his favourite object of recovering the purely 
geometrical methods of investigation, had he relaxed 
a little more from their rigour in applying them to the 
present state of science, and shown the ancient analy- 
tical investigation dismembered of its prolixity, relieved 
from its extreme scrupulousness, and subservient to the 
investigations of the problems now become the main sub- 
jects of mathematical inquiry. This has in a great 
measure been performed by the most celebrated of his 
school, Matthew Stewart, who actually has solved 
Kepler's problem, and treated almost the whole doc- 
trine of central forces by means of the ancient method.* 
At the same time we have only to cast our eye upon 
his diagrams to be convinced that though he has solved 
the problems and demonstrated the theorems with a 
most wonderful skill, by means purely geometrical, yet 
he never could have obtained either the solutions or 
the demonstrations had not Newton preceded him, 
" his own analysis carrying the torch before."f The 
most celebrated proposition in all the ' Principia,' the 
general solution of the inverse problem of central 
forces J, (lib. i. prop, xli.) is closely followed by Stewart, 
and the diagrams are nearly the same. 

* His paper on the sun's distance, in which he also employs the 
ancient analysis, has been long since proved erroneous by my friend 
Mr. Dawson of Sedbergh, who wrote anonymously a demonstration 
of the error in 1772. 

f " Sua mathesi facem praeferente." H ALLEY. 

J I am aware of Professor Robison's statement, already cited, of 
Dr. Simson's opinion that the thirty-ninth proposition is the greatest 
of all, but I cannot help suspecting the forty-first to be intended. 

516 SIMSON. 

This, however, is not the only ground of regret ; 
for had it been so, the teacher's defect has been thus 
supplied by the scholar. But good cause remains 
to lament that both of those great masters did not abate 
somewhat of their devotion to the Greek Geometry, 
and instead of being captivated only with the view of its 
incomparable beauty, did not help forward by their 
discoveries those branches of the science which, though 
they may have far less grace, have yet a far wider range 
and far greater usefulness. Surely it is deeply to be 
lamented that such extraordinary powers of original 
investigation as both these great men possessed should, 
especially in the case of Stewart, have been wasted upon 
what Professor Robison's learned wit terms " a super- 
stitious paleeology," and in the overcoming of difficulties 
raised by themselves of reaching the point in view by 
a devious and hard ascent, when a short and an easy 
path lay open before them of doing, and not very well 
doing, by an imperfect though elegant tool, and with 
no help from machinery, the same work which might 
with far better success and greater facility have been 
performed by the most perfect instrument that ever man 
invented ; like the laborious, patient, and ignorant 
Hindu, who with a knife will carve the most beautiful 
ivory trinket, on which he spends a lifetime that might 
have been employed in the most important works by the 
aid of fit implements nay, who might have turned by a 
simple lathe myriads of the same kind of toy, 


London; Printed by WILLIAM CLOWES & SONS, Stamford Street. 


In page 3, line 13 from foot, after and insert it. 

9, ,, 7 from foot,/or guide's read arrondis. 

17, 7, for 1769, read 1762. 

,, 18, ,, 9 from foot, for sixty read a hundred. 

,, 23, ,, 11 from foot, for regne dans 1* read commande en. 

,, 39, ,, 3 from foot, for ses read son. 

46, ,, 13 from foot, for pardonnez read pardonne. 

50 > u 9, /or of the read of this. 

,, 60, ,, 19, after consequence insert and one. 

,, 128, ,, 9, for avons tort read nous trompons. 

,, 163, ,, 3 from foot, for fonder read fondre. 

,, 172, ,, 4 from foot,/or ont read sont. 

290, 18, for Henry VIII. read Henry VII. 

296, lines 1, 27, and 34, for Irvine read Irving. 

,, 316, line 21, for him read to him. 

,,355, ,, 1 8, for settled read living. 

360, ,, 11, after and insert he. 

378, 15,/or 1834 read 1829. 

,,381, ,, 17, before a little insert which were. 

383, ,, 1, after he insert has. 

M __ t n 4 } for he read Mr. Watt. 

I have been favoured with the following Memorandum from the 
Foreign Office. The correspondence of 1763 and 1765 I examined, 
and have alluded to at p. 225. 

" A search has Jbeen made in the offices of the Secretaries of 
State and in the State Paper Office for the correspondence of Mr. 
David Hume when Under-Secretary of State with Marshal Conway ; 
but although letters have been found addressed to Mr. Hume in 
1767-8, no letter signed by Mr. Hume can be found in any of the 
entry books of the period during which Mr. Hume was Under- 
secretary of State ; nor can any such letter be found in the books 
of the same period in the State Paper Office. 

" It would appear from the postscript of a letter from Mr. Carroll, 
dated at Dresden, April 13, 1768, that Mr. Hume's retirement 
had then been spoken of. 

" There are some letters in the State Paper Office in Mr. Hume's 
handwriting while Secretary to the Earl of Hertford, at Paris in 
1763 ; and also his own letters when left as Charge d' Affaires in 
France, from the 28th of July to the 13th of November, 1765. 

"FOREIGN OFFICE, April 8, 1845." 








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