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that score, may be fairly held as compensated in the history of the world for the last two oy the voluntary advances of value to a much hundred years ? above all, what useful lessons greater extent, though referring to an earlier could be learned, for people or for rulers, from period.
a mere series of events presented in detail, But, in truth, there never was any such without any other information as to their debt or engagement on the part of Sir James: causes or consequences, than might be inAnd the public was, and continues, the only ferred from the sequence in which they apdebtor on the transaction, for whatever it may peared ? To us it appears that a mere record have received of service or instruction at his of the different places of the stars, and their hand. We have expressed elsewhere our successive changes of position, would be as estimate of the greatness of this debt; and of good a system of Astronomy, as such a set of the value especially of the Histories' he has annals would be of History; and that it would left behind him. We have, to be sure, since be about as reasonable to sneer at Newton been some sneering remarks on the dulness and La Place for seeking to supersede the and uselessness of these works; and an at- honest old star-gazers, by their philosophical tempt made to hold them up to ridicule, under histories of the heavens, as to speak in the the appellation of Philosophical histories. We same tone, of what Voltaire and Montesquieu are not aware that such a name was ever ap- and Mackintosh have attempted to do for our plied to them by their author or their admirers. lower world. We have named these three, But if they really deserve it, we are at a loss as having attended more peculiarly, and more to conceive how it should be taken for a name impartially, than any others, at least in modern of reproach; and it will scarcely be pretended times, to this highest part of their duty. But, that their execution is such as to justify its in truth, all eminent historians have attended application in the way of derision. We do to it—from the time of Thucydides downnot perceive, indeed, that this is pretended; wards;--the ancients putting the necessary and, strange as it may appear, the objection explanations more frequently into the shape seems really to be, rather to the kind of wri- of imaginary orations and the moderns into ting in general, than to the defects of its exe- that of remark and dissertation. The very cution in this particular instance—the objector first, perhaps, of Hume's many excellences having a singular notion that history should consists in these philosophical summaries of consist of narrative only; and that nothing the reasons and considerations by which he can be so tiresome and useless as any addition supposes parties to have been actuated in of explanation or remark.
great political movements; which are more We have no longer room to expose, as it completely abstracted from the mere story, deserves, the strange misconceptions of the and very frequently less careful and complete, objects and uses of history, which we humbly than the parallel explanations of Sir James conceive to be implied in such an opinion; Mackintosh. For, with all his unrivalled saand shall therefore content ourselves with gacity, it is true, as Sir James has himself asking, whether any man really imagines that somewhere remarked, that Hume was too the modern history of any considerable State, little of an antiquary to be always able to with its complicated system of foreign rela- estimate the effect of motives in distant ages; tions, and the play of its domestic parties, and by referring too confidently to the princicould be written in the manner of Herodotus? ples of human nature as developed in our own -or be made intelligible (much less instruct- times, has often represented our ancestors as ive) by the naked recital of transactions and more reasonable, and much more argumentaoccurrences? These, in fact, are but the crude tive, than they really were. materials from which history should be con- That there may be, and have often been, structed; the mere alphabet out of which its abuses of this best part of history, is a reason lessons are afterwards to be spelled. If every only for valuing more highly what is exempt reader had indeed the talents of an accom- from such abuses; and those who feel most plished Historian,—that knowledge of human veneration and gratitude for the lights afforded nature, that large acquaintance with all col- by a truly philosophical historian, will be sure lateral facts, and that force of understanding to look with most aversion on a counterfeit. which are implied in such a name—and, at No one, we suppose, will stand up for the inthe same time, that leisure and love for the troduction of ignorant conjecture, shallow dogsubject which would be necessary for this matism, mawkish morality, or factious injustice particular application of such gifts, the mere into the pages of history-or deny that the detail of facts, if full and impartial, might be shortest and simplest annals are greatly prefersufficient for his purposes. But to every other able to such a perversion. As to political class of readers, we will venture to say, that partiality, however, it is a great mistake to one half of such a history would be an in- suppose that it could be in any degree exsoluble enigma; and the other half the source cluded by confining history to a mere chroniof the most gross misconceptions.
cle of facts—the truth being, that it is chiefly Without some explanation of the views and in the statement of facts that this partiality motives of the prime agents in great transac- displays itself; and that it is more frequently tions of the origin and state of opposite inte exposed to detection than assisted, by the arrests and opinions in large bodies of the people guments and explanations, which are supposed --and of their tendencies respectively to as to be its best resources. We shall not resume cendency or decline-what intelligible account what we have said in another place as to the could be given of any thing worth knowing merit of the Histories which are now in question; but we fear not to put this on record, as periods, they would be listened to with impa our deliberate, and we think impartial, judg. tience. It is at such times, too, that the inment—that they are the most candid, the telligent part of the lower and middling, most judicious, and the most pregnant with classes look anxiously through such publica. thought, and moral and political wisdom, of tions as treat intelligibly of the subjects to any in which our domestic story has ever yet which their attention is directed; and are thus been recorded.
led, while seeking only for reasons to justify But even if we should discount his Histo- their previous inclinings, to imbibe principles ries, and his Ethical Dissertation, we should and digest arguments which are impressed on still be of opinion, that Sir James Mackintosh their understandings for ever, and may fruchad not died indebted to his country for the tify in the end to far more important concluuse he had made of his talents. In the vol- sions. It is, no doubt, true, that in this way, unies before us, he seems to us to have left the full exposition of the truth will often be them a rich legacy, and given abundant proofs sacrificed for the sake of its temporary appliof the industry with which he sought to the cation; and it will not unfrequently happen last to qualify himself for their instruction, that, in order to favour that application, the and the honourable place which his name exposition will not be made with absolute must ever hold, as the associate and successor fairness. But still the principle is brought of Romilly in the great and humane work of into view; the criterion of true judgment is ameliorating our criminal law, might alone laid before the public; and the disputes of suffice to protect him from the imputation of ad parties will speedily settle the correct having done less than was required of him, in or debatable rule of its application. the course of his unsettled life. But, without For our own parts we have long been of dwelling upon the part he took in Parliament, opinion, that a man of powerful understandon these and many other important questions ing and popular talents, who should, at such both of domestic and foreign policy, we must a season, devote himself to the task of anbe permitted to say, that they judge ill of the nouncing such principles, and rendering such relative value of men's contributions to the discussions familiar, in the way and by the cause of general improvement, who make means we have mentioned, would probably small account of the influence which one of do more to direct and accelerate the rectifica. high reputation for judgment and honesty may tion of public opinion upon all practical ques. exercise, by his mere presence and conversa- tions, than by any other use he could possibly tion, in the higher classes of society,—and still make of his faculties. His name, indeed, more by such occasional publications as he might not go down to a remote posterity in may find leisure to make, in Journals of wide connection with any work of celebrity; and circulation,—like this on which the reader is the greater part even of his contemporaries now looking—we trust with his accustomed might be ignorant of the very existence of indulgence.
their benefactor. But the benefits conferred It is now admitted, that the mature and en- would not be the less real; nor the conscious. lightened opinion of the public must ultimately ness of conferring them less delightful; nor rule the country; and we really know no other the gratitude of the judicious less ardent and way in which this opinion can be so effectu- sincere. So far, then, from regretting that ally matured and enlightened. It is not by Sir James Mackintosh did not forego all other every man studying elaborate treatises and occupations, and devote himself exclusively systems for himself, that the face of the world to the compilation of the two great works he is changed, with the change of opinion, and had projected, or from thinking that his coun. the progress of conviction in those who must try has been deprived of any services it might ultimately lead it. It is by the mastery which otherwise have received from him, by the strong minds have over weak, in the daily in course which he actually pursued, we firmly tercourse of society; and by the gradual and believe that, by constantly maintaining hualmost imperceptible infusion which such mane and generous opinions, in the most enminds are constantly effecting, of the practical gaging manner and with the greatest possible results and manageable summaries of their ability, in the highest and most influencing preceding studies, into the minds immediately circles of society, — by acting as the respected below them, that this great process is carried adviser of many youths of great promise and on. The first discovery of a great truth, or ambition, and as the bosom counsellor of many practical principle, may often require much practical statesmen, as well as by the timely labour; but when once discovered, it is gene- publication of many admirable papers, in this rally easy not only to convince others of its and in other Journals, on such branches of importance, but to enable them to defend and politics, history, or philosophy as the course maintain it, by plain and irrefragable argu- of events had rendered peculiarly interesting ments; and this conviction, and this practical or important, -he did far more to enlighten knowledge, it will generally be most easy to the public mind in his own day, and to insure communicate, when men's minds are excited its farther improvement in the days that are to inquiry, by the pursuit of some immediate to follow, than could possibly have been ef. interest, to which such general truths may fected by the most successful completion of appear to be subservient. It is at such times the works he had undertaken. that important principles are familiarly started Such great works acquire for their authors in conversation; and disquisitions eagerly pur- a deserved reputation with the studious few; sued, in societies, where, in more tranquil land are the treasuries and armories from
which the actual and future apostles of the his place as the author of some finished work truth derive the means of propagating and de- of great interest and importance. If he got fending it. But, in order to be so effective, over the first illusion, however, and took the the arms and the treasures must be taken forth view we have done of the real utility of his from their well-ordered repositories, and dis- exertions, we cannot believe that this would seminated and applied where they are needed have weighed very heavily on a mind like and required. It is by the tongue, at last, and Sir James Mackintosh's; and while we cannot by the pen, that multitudes, or the indi- not but regret that his declining years should viduals composing multitudes, are ever really have been occasionally darkened by these persuaded or converted, by conversation and shadows of a self-reproach for which we think not by harangues-or by such short and oc- there was no real foundation, we trust that he casional writings as come in aid of conversa- is not to be added to the many instances of tion, and require little more study or continued men who have embittered their existence by attention than men capable of conversation a mistaken sense of the obligation of some are generally willing to bestow. If a man, rash vow made in early life, for the performtherefore, who is capable of writing such a ance of some laborious and perhaps impractibook, is also eminently qualified to dissemi- cable task. nate and render popular its most important Cases of this kind we believe to be more doctrines, by conversation and by such lighter common than is generally imagined. An ampublications, is he to be blamed'if, when the bitious young man is dazzled with the notion times are urgent, he intermits the severer of filling up some blank in the literature of study, and applies himself, with caution and his country, by the execution of a great and candour, to give an earlier popularity to that important work-reads with a view to it, and which can never be useful till it is truly allows himself to be referred to as engaged in popular? To us it appears, that he fulfils the its preparation. By degrees he finds it more higher duty; and that to act otherwise would irksome than he had expected; and is temptbe to act like a general who should starve his ed by other studies, altogether as suitable and troops on the eve of battle, in order to replen- less charged with responsibility, into long fits ish his magazines for a future campaign-or of intermission. Then the very expectation like a farmer who should cut off the rills from that has been excited by this protracted incuhis parching crops, that he may have a fuller bation makes him more ashamed of having reservoir against the possible drought of an- done so little, and more dissatisfied with the
little he has done! And so his life is passed, But we must cut this short. If we are at in a melancholy alternation of distasteful, and all right in the views we have now taken, Sir of course unsuccessful attempts; and long fits James Mackintosh must have been wrong in of bitter, but really groundless, self-reproach, the regret and self-reproach with which he for not having made those attempts with more certainly seems to have looked back on the energy and perseverance: and at last he dies, unaccomplished projects of his earlier years : -not only without doing what he could not -And we humbly think that he was wrong. attempt without pain and mortification, but He had failed, no doubt, to perform all that prevented by this imaginary engagement from he had once intended, and had been drawn doing many other things which he could have aside from the task he had set himself, by done with success and alacrity-some one of other pursuits. But he had performed things which it is probable, and all of which it is as important, which were not originally in- nearly certain, would have done him more tended; and been drawn aside by pursuits credit, and been of more service to the world, not less worthy than those to which he had than any constrained and distressful completasked himself. In blaming himself—not for tion he could in any case have given to the this idleness, but for this change of occupa- other. For our own parts we have already tion we think he was misled, in part at said that we do not think that any man, whatleast, by one very common error-we mean ever his gifts and attainments may be, is really that of ihinking, that, because the use he ac- bound in duty to leave an excellent Book to tually made of his intellect was more agree- posterity; or is liable to any reproach for not able than that which he had intended to make, having chosen to be an author. But, at all it was therefore less meritorious. We need events, we are quite confident that he can be not say;
that there cannot be a worse criterion under no obligation to make himself unhappy of merit: But tender consciences are apt to in trying to make such a book : And that as fall into such illusions. Another cause of soon as he finds the endeavour painful and regret may have been a little, though we really depressing, he will do well, both for himself think but a little, more substantial. By the and for others, to give up the undertaking, course he followed, he probably felt, that his and let his talents and sense of duty take a name would be less illustrious, and his repu- course more likely to promote, both his own tation less enduring, than if he had fairly taken I enjoyment and their ultimate reputation.
The following brief notices, of three lamented and honoured Friends, certainly were not contributed to the Edinburgh Review: But, as I am not likely ever to appear again as an author, I have been tempted to include them in this publication-chiefly, I fear, from a fond desire, to associate my humble name with those of persons so amiable and distinguished:But partly also, from an opinion, which has been frequently confirmed to me by those most competent to judge—that, imperfect as these sketches are, they give a truer and more graphic view of the manners, dispositions, and personal characters of the eminent individuals concerned—than is yet to be found—or now likely to be furnished, from any other quarter.
THE HONOURABLE HENRY ERSKINE.*
Died, at his seat of Ammondell, Linlith- | no successor. That part of eloquence is now gowshire, on the 8th instant, in the seventy- mute—that honour in abeyance. tirst year of his age, the Honourable Henry As a politician, he was eminently distinErskine, second son of the late Henry David, guished for the two great virtues of inflexible Earl of Buchan.
steadiness to his principles, and invariable Mr. Erskine was called to the Scottish Bar, gentleness and urbanity in his manner of as. of which he was long the brightest ornament, serting them. Such indeed was the habitual in the year 1768, and was for several years sweetness of his temper, and the fascination Dean of the Faculty of Advocates: He was of his manners, that, though placed by his twice appointed Lord Advocate,-in 1782 and rank and talents in the obnoxious station of a in 1806, under the Rockingham and the Gren Leader of opposition, at a period when politiville alministrations. During the years 1806 cal animosities were carried to a lamentable and 1807 he sat in Parliament for the Dunbar height, no individual, it is believed, was ever ard Dumfries district of boroughs.
known to speak or to think of him with any In his long and splendid career at the bar, thing approaching to personal hostility. In Mr. Erskine was distinguished not only by the return, it may be said, with equal correctness, peculiar brilliancy of his wit, and the grace- that, though bafiled in some of his pursuits fulness, ease, and vivacity of his eloquence, and not quite handsomely disappointed of but by the still rarer power of keeping those some of the honours to which his claim was seducing qualities in perfect subordination to universally admitted, he never allowed the his judgment. By their assistance he could slightest shade of discontent to rest upon his not only make the most repulsive subject mind, nor the least drop of bitterness io minagreeable, but the most abstruse easy and gle with his blood. He was so utterly incaintelligible. In his profession, indeed, all his pable of rancour, that even the rancorous felt wit was argument; and each of his delightful that he ought not to be made its victim. illustrations a material step in his reasoning. He possessed, in an eminent degree, that To himself, indeed, it seemed always as if , deep sense of revealed religion, and ibat zeal. they were recommended rather for their use ous attachment to the Presbyterian establishthan their beauty; and unquestionably they ment, which had long been hereditary in his often enabled him to state a fine argument, or family. His habits were always strictly moral a nice distinction, not only in a more striking and temperate, and in the latter pari of his and pleasing way, but actually with greater life even abstémious. Though the lile and precision than could have been attained by ornament of every society into which he enihe severer forms of reasoning.
tered, he was always most happy and most In this extraordinary talent, as well as in the delightful at home, where the buoyancy of charming facility of his eloquence, and the his spirit and the kindness of his heart found constant radiance of good humour and gaiety all that they required of exercise or enjoy. which encircled his manner of debate, he had ment; and though without taste for expensive no rival in his own times, and as yet has had pleasures in his own person, he was ever most
indulgent and munificent to his children, and * From the “ Endinburgh Courant” Newspaper a liberal benefactor to all who depended on tis of the 16th of October, 1817.
He finally retired from the exercise of that tion; but retained unimpaired, till within a profession, the highest honours of which he day or two of his death, not only all his intelhad at least deserved, about the year 1812, lectual activity and social affections, but when and spent the remainder of his days in do not under the immediate affliction of a painful mestic retirement, at that beautiful villa which and incurable disease, all that gaiety of spirit, had been formed by his own taste, and in the and all that playful and kindly sympathy with improvement and adornment of which he innocent enjoyment, which made him the idol found his latest occupation. Passing thus at of the young, and the object of cordial attachonce from all the bustle and excitement of a ment and unenvying admiration to his friends public life to a scene of comparative inactivity, of all ages. he never felt one moment of ennui or dejec
NOTICE AND CHARACTER
OF Mr. Playfair's scientific attainments,– methods of inquiry, and to imbue their minds, of his proficiency in those studies to which he from the very commencement of the study, was peculiarly devoted, we are but slenderly with that fine relish for the truths it disclosed, qualified to judge: But, we believe we hazard and that high sense of the majesty with which nothing in saying that he was one of the most they were invested, that predominated in his learned Mathematicians of his age, and among own bosom. While he left nothing unexthe first, if not the very first, who introduced plained or unreduced to its proper place in the the beautiful discoveries of the later conti- system, he took care that they should never nental geometers to the knowledge of his be perplexed by petty difficulties, or bewil. countrymen; and gave their just value and dered in useless details; and formed them true place, in the scheme of European know- betimes to those clear, masculine, and direct ledge, to those important improvements by methods of investigation, by which, with the which the whole aspect of the abstract sciences least labour, the greatest advances might be has been renovated since the days of our il- accomplished. lustrious Newton. If he did not signalise Mr. Playfair, however, was not merely a himself by any brilliant or original invention, teacher; and has fortunately left behind him he must, at least, be allowed to have been a a variety of works, from which other generamost generous and intelligent judge of the tions may be enabled to judge of some of those achievements of others; as well as the most qualifications which so powerfully recomeloquent expounder of that great and magnifi- mended and endeared him to his contempocent system of knowledge which has been raries. It is, perhaps, to be regretted that so gradually evolved by the successive labours much of his time, and so large a proportion of of so many gifted individuals. He possessed, his publications, should have been devoted to indeed, in the highest degree, all the charac- the subjects of the Indian Astronomy, and the teristics both of a fine and a powerful under- Huttonian Theory of the Earth: And though standing, --at once penetrating and vigilant, -- it is impossible to think too highly of the inbut more distinguished, perhaps, for the cau- genuity, the vigour, and the eloquence of those tion and sureness of its march, than for the publications, we are of opinion that a juster brilliancy or rapidity of its movements,—and estimate of his talent, and a truer picture of guided and adorned through all its progress, his genius and understanding, is to be found by the most genuine enthusiasm for all that in his other writings ;—in the papers, both biois grand, and the justest taste for all that is graphical and scientific, with which he has beautiful in the Truth or the Intellectual Ener- enriched the Transactions of our Royal Sociegy with which he was habitually conversant. ty; his account of Laplace, and other articles
To what account these rare qualities might which he contributed to the Edinburgh Rehave been turned, and what more brilliant or view,—the Outlines of his Lectures on Natulasting fruits they might have produced, if his ral Philosophy,—and above all, his Introducwhole life had been dedicated to the solitary tory Discourse to the Supplement 10 the cultivation of science, it is not for us to con- Encyclopædia Brittannica, with the final corjecture; but it cannot be doubted that they rection of which he was occupied up to the added incalculably to his eminence and utility last moments that the progress of his disease as a Teacher; both by enabling him to direct allowed him to dedicate to any intellectual his pupils to the most simple and luminous exertion.
With reference to these works, we do not Originally printed in an Edinburgh newspaper
think we are influenced by any national, or of August, 1819. A few introductory sentences are other partiality, when we say that he was now omitted.
certainly one of the best writers of his age