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tion; but we fear not to put this on record, as | periods, they would be listened to with impaour 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 their previous inclinings, to imbibe principles and digest arguments which are impressed on their understandings for ever, and may fruetify in the end to far more important conclusions. It is, no doubt, true, that in this way, the full exposition of the truth will often be sacrificed for the sake of its temporary application; and it will not unfrequently happen that, in order to favour that application, the exposition will not be made with absolute fairness. But still the principle is brought into view; the criterion of true judgment is laid before the public; and the disputes of adverse parties will speedily settle the correct or debatable rule of its application.
For our own parts we have long been of opinion, that a man of powerful understanding and popular talents, who should, at such a season, devote himself to the task of announcing such principles, and rendering such discussions familiar, in the way and by the means we have mentioned, would probably do more to direct and accelerate the rectification of public opinion upon all practical ques tions, than by any other use he could possibly make of his faculties. His name, indeed, might not go down to a remote posterity in connection with any work of celebrity; and the greater part even of his contemporaries might be ignorant of the very existence of their benefactor. But the benefits conferred would not be the less real; nor the consciousness of conferring them less delightful; nor the gratitude of the judicious less ardent and sincere. So far, then, from regretting that Sir James Mackintosh did not forego all other occupations, and devote himself exclusively to the compilation of the two great works he had projected, or from thinking that his country has been deprived of any services it might otherwise have received from him, by the course which he actually pursued, we firmly believe that, by constantly maintaining humane and generous opinions, in the most engaging manner and with the greatest possible ability, in the highest and most influencing circles of society,-by acting as the respected adviser of many youths of great promise and ambition, and as the bosom counsellor of many practical statesmen, as well as by the timely publication of many admirable papers, in this and in other Journals, on such branches of politics, history, or philosophy as the course of events had rendered peculiarly interesting or important, he did far more to enlighten the public mind in his own day, and to insure its farther improvement in the days that are to follow, than could possibly have been effected by the most successful completion of the works he had undertaken.
But even if we should discount his Histories, and his Ethical Dissertation, we should still be of opinion, that Sir James Mackintosh had not died indebted to his country for the use he had made of his talents. In the volumes before us, he seems to us to have left them a rich legacy, and given abundant proofs of the industry with which he sought to the last to qualify himself for their instruction, and the honourable place which his name must ever hold, as the associate and successor of Romilly in the great and humane work of ameliorating our criminal law, might alone suffice to protect him from the imputation of having done less than was required of him, in the course of his unsettled life. But, without dwelling upon the part he took in Parliament, on these and many other important questions both of domestic and foreign policy, we must be permitted to say, that they judge ill of the relative value of men's contributions to the cause of general improvement, who make small account of the influence which one of high reputation for judgment and honesty may exercise, by his mere presence and conversation, in the higher classes of society, and still more by such occasional publications as he may find leisure to make, in Journals of wide circulation,-like this on which the reader is now looking-we trust with his accustomed indulgence.
It is now admitted, that the mature and enlightened opinion of the public must ultimately rule the country; and we really know no other way in which this opinion can be so effectually matured and enlightened. It is not by every man studying elaborate treatises and systems for himself, that the face of the world is changed, with the change of opinion, and the progress of conviction in those who must ultimately lead it. It is by the mastery which strong minds have over weak, in the daily intercourse of society; and by the gradual and almost imperceptible infusion which such minds are constantly effecting, of the practical results and manageable summaries of their preceding studies, into the minds immediately below them, that this great process is carried on. The first discovery of a great truth, or practical principle, may often require much labour; but when once discovered, it is generally easy not only to convince others of its importance, but to enable them to defend and maintain it, by plain and irrefragable arguments; and this conviction, and this practical knowledge, it will generally be most easy to communicate, when men's minds are excited to inquiry, by the pursuit of some immediate interest, to which such general truths may appear to be subservient. It is at such times that important principles are familiarly started in conversation; and disquisitions eagerly pursued, in societies, where, in more tranquil
Such great works acquire for their authors a deserved reputation with the studious few; and 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 defending it. But, in order to be so effective, the arms and the treasures must be taken forth from their well-ordered repositories, and disseminated and applied where they are needed and required. It is by the tongue, at last, and not by the pen, that multitudes, or the individuals composing multitudes, are ever really persuaded or converted, by conversation and not by harangues-or by such short and occasional writings as come in aid of conversation, and require little more study or continued attention than men capable of conversation are generally willing to bestow. If a man, therefore, who is capable of writing such a book, is also eminently qualified to disseminate and render popular its most important doctrines, by conversation and by such lighter publications, is he to be blamed if, when the times are urgent, he intermits the severer study, and applies himself, with caution and candour, to give an earlier popularity to that which can never be useful till it is truly popular? To us it appears, that he fulfils the higher duty; and that to act otherwise would be to act like a general who should starve his troops on the eve of battle, in order to replenish his magazines for a future campaign-or like a farmer who should cut off the rills from his parching crops, that he may have a fuller reservoir against the possible drought of another year.
of great interest and importance. If he got over the first illusion, however, and took the view we have done of the real utility of his exertions, we cannot believe that this would have weighed very heavily on a mind like Sir James Mackintosh's; and while we cannot but regret that his declining years should have been occasionally darkened by these shadows of a self-reproach for which we think there was no real foundation, we trust that he is not to be added to the many instances of men who have embittered their existence by a mistaken sense of the obligation of some rash vow made in early life, for the performance of some laborious and perhaps impracticable task.
But we must cut this short. If we are at all right in the views we have now taken, Sir James Mackintosh must have been wrong in the regret and self-reproach with which he certainly seems to have looked back on the unaccomplished projects of his earlier years: -And we humbly think that he was wrong. He had failed, no doubt, to perform all that he had once intended, and had been drawn aside from the task he had set himself, by other pursuits. But he had performed things as important, which were not originally intended; and been drawn aside by pursuits not less worthy than those to which he had tasked himself. In blaming himself-not for this idleness, but for this change of occupation- - we think he was misled, in part at least, by one very common error-we mean that of thinking, that, because the use he actually made of his intellect was more agreeable than that which he had intended to make, it was therefore less meritorious. We need not say, that there cannot be a worse criterion of merit: But tender consciences are apt to fall into such illusions. Another cause of regret may have been a little, though we really think but a little, more substantial. By the course he followed, he probably felt, that his name would be less illustrious, and his reputation less enduring, than if he had fairly taken
Cases of this kind we believe to be more common than is generally imagined. An ambitious young man is dazzled with the notion of filling up some blank in the literature of his country, by the execution of a great and important work-reads with a view to it, and allows himself to be referred to as engaged in its preparation. By degrees he finds it more irksome than he had expected; and is tempted by other studies, altogether as suitable and less charged with responsibility, into long fits of intermission. Then the very expectation that has been excited by this protracted incubation makes him more ashamed of having done so little, and more dissatisfied with the little he has done! And so his life is passed, in a melancholy alternation of distasteful, and of course unsuccessful attempts; and long fits of bitter, but really groundless, self-reproach, for not having made those attempts with more energy and perseverance: and at last he dies, -not only without doing what he could not attempt without pain and mortification, but prevented by this imaginary engagement from doing many other things which he could have done with success and alacrity-some one of which it is probable, and all of which it is nearly certain, would have done him more credit, and been of more service to the world, than any constrained and distressful completion he could in any case have given to the other. For our own parts we have already said that we do not think that any man, whatever his gifts and attainments may be, is really bound in duty to leave an excellent Book to posterity; or is liable to any reproach for not having chosen to be an author. But, at all events, we are quite confident that he can be under no obligation to make himself unhappy in trying to make such a book: And that as soon as he finds the endeavour painful and depressing, he will do well, both for himself and for others, to give up the undertaking, and let his talents and sense of duty take a course more likely to promote, both his own 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. first year of his age, the Honourable Henry Erskine, second son of the late Henry David, Earl of Buchan.
As a politician, he was eminently distinguished for the two great virtues of inflexible steadiness to his principles, and invariable gentleness and urbanity in his manner of asserting them. Such indeed was the habitual sweetness of his temper, and the fascination of his manners, that, though placed by his rank and talents in the obnoxious station of a Leader of opposition, at a period when political animosities were carried to a lamentable height, no individual, it is believed, was ever known to speak or to think of him with any thing approaching to personal hostility. In return, it may be said, with equal correctness, that, though baffled in some of his pursuits and not quite handsomely disappointed of some of the honours to which his claim was universally admitted, he never allowed the slightest shade of discontent to rest upon his mind, nor the least drop of bitterness to mingle with his blood. He was so utterly incapable of rancour, that even the rancorous felt that he ought not to be made its victim.
Mr. Erskine was called to the Scottish Bar, of which he was long the brightest ornament, in the year 1768, and was for several years Dean of the Faculty of Advocates: He was twice appointed Lord Advocate,-in 1782 and in 1806, under the Rockingham and the Grenville administrations. During the years 1806 and 1807 he sat in Parliament for the Dunbar and Dumfries district of boroughs.
In his long and splendid career at the bar, Mr. Erskine was distinguished not only by the peculiar brilliancy of his wit, and the gracefulness, ease, and vivacity of his eloquence, but by the still rarer power of keeping those seducing qualities in perfect subordination to his judgment. By their assistance he could not only make the most repulsive subject agreeable, but the most abstruse easy and intelligible. In his profession, indeed, all his wit was argument; and each of his delightful illustrations a material step in his reasoning. To himself, indeed, it seemed always as if they were recommended rather for their use than their beauty; and unquestionably they often enabled him to state a fine argument, or a nice distinction, not only in a more striking and pleasing way, but actually with greater precision than could have been attained by the severer forms of reasoning.
In this extraordinary talent, as well as in the charming facility of his eloquence, and the constant radiance of good humour and gaiety which encircled his manner of debate, he had no rival in his own times, and as yet has had
From the "Endinburgh Courant" Newspaper
of the 16th of October, 1817.
He possessed, in an eminent degree, that deep sense of revealed religion, and that zealous attachment to the Presbyterian establishment, which had long been hereditary in his family. His habits were always strictly moral and temperate, and in the latter part of his life even abstemious. Though the life and ornament of every society into which he entered, he was always most happy and most delightful at home; where the buoyancy of his spirit and the kindness of his heart found all that they required of exercise or enjoyment; and though without taste for expensive pleasures in his own person, he was ever most indulgent and munificent to his children, and a liberal benefactor to all who depended on his bounty.
He finally retired from the exercise of that profession, the highest honours of which he had at least deserved, about the year 1812, and spent the remainder of his days in domestic retirement, at that beautiful villa which had been formed by his own taste, and in the improvement and adornment of which he found his latest occupation. Passing thus at once from all the bustle and excitement of a public life to a scene of comparative inactivity, he never felt one moment of ennui or dejec-!
tion; but retained unimpaired, till within a day or two of his death, not only all his intellectual activity and social affections, but, when not under the immediate affliction of a painful and incurable disease, all that gaiety of spirit, and all that playful and kindly sympathy with innocent enjoyment, which made him the idol of the young, and the object of cordial attachment and unenvying admiration to his friends of all ages.
NOTICE AND CHARACTER
OF Mr. Playfair's scientific attainments, of his proficiency in those studies to which he was peculiarly devoted, we are but slenderly qualified to judge: But, we believe we hazard nothing in saying that he was one of the most learned Mathematicians of his age, and among the first, if not the very first, who introduced the beautiful discoveries of the later continental geometers to the knowledge of his countrymen; and gave their just value and true place, in the scheme of European knowledge, to those important improvements by which the whole aspect of the abstract sciences has been renovated since the days of our il-accomplished. lustrious Newton. If he did not signalise himself by any brilliant or original invention, he must, at least, be allowed to have been a most generous and intelligent judge of the achievements of others; as well as the most eloquent expounder of that great and magnificent system of knowledge which has been gradually evolved by the successive labours of so many gifted individuals. He possessed, indeed, in the highest degree, all the characteristics both of a fine and a powerful understanding,―at once penetrating and vigilant, but more distinguished, perhaps, for the caution and sureness of its march, than for the brilliancy or rapidity of its movements, and guided and adorned through all its progress, by the most genuine enthusiasm for all that is grand, and the justest taste for all that is 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 to 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.
Mr. Playfair, however, was not merely a teacher; and has fortunately left behind him a variety of works, from which other generations may be enabled to judge of some of those qualifications which so powerfully recommended and endeared him to his contemporaries. It is, perhaps, to be regretted that so much of his time, and so large a proportion of his publications, should have been devoted to the subjects of the Indian Astronomy, and the Huttonian Theory of the Earth: And though it is impossible to think too highly of the ingenuity, the vigour, and the eloquence of those publications, we are of opinion that a juster estimate of his talent, and a truer picture of his genius and understanding, is to be found in his other writings;-in the papers, both biographical and scientific, with which he has
Originally printed in an Edinburgh newspaper of August, 1819. A few introductory sentences are now omitted.
methods of inquiry, and to imbue their minds, from the very commencement of the study, with that fine relish for the truths it disclosed, and that high sense of the majesty with which they were invested, that predominated in his own bosom. While he left nothing unexplained or unreduced to its proper place in the system, he took care that they should never be perplexed by petty difficulties, or bewildered in useless details; and formed them betimes to those clear, masculine, and direct methods of investigation, by which, with the least labour, the greatest advances might be
With reference to these works, we do not think we are influenced by any national, or other partiality, when we say that he was certainly one of the best writers of his age;
and even that we do not now recollect any one of his contemporaries who was so great a master of composition. There is a certain mellowness and richness about his style, which adorns, without disguising the weight and nervousness which is its other great characteristic, a sedate gracefulness and manly simplicity in the more level passages, and a mild majesty and considerate enthusiasm where he rises above them, of which we scarcely know where to find any other example. There is great equability, too, and sustained force in every part of his writings. He never exhausts himself in flashes and epigrams, nor languishes into tameness or insipidity: At first sight you would say that plainness and good sense were the predominating qualities; but by and bye, this simplicity is enriched with the delicate and vivid colours of a fine imagination, the free and forcible touches of a most powerful intellect, -and the lights and shades of an unerring and harmonising taste. In comparing it with the styles of his most celebrated contemporaries, we would say that it was more purely and peculiarly a written style,—and, therefore, rejected those ornaments that more properly belong to oratory. It had no impetuosity, hurry, or vehemence,- -no bursts or sudden turns or abruptions, like that of Burke; and though eminently smooth and melodious, it was not modulated to an uniform system of solemn declamation, like that of Johnson, nor spread out in the richer and more voluminous elocution of Stewart; nor, still less, broken into that patchwork of scholastic pedantry and conversational smartness which has found its admirers in Gibbon. It is a style, in short, of great freedom, force, and beauty; but the deliberate style of a man of thought and of learning; and neither that of a wit throwing out his extempores with an affectation of careless grace, nor of a rhetorician thinking more of his manner than his matter, and determined to be admired for his expression, whatever may be fate of his sentiments.
and the singular thing in his case was, not only that he left this most material part of his work to be performed after the whole outline had been finished, but that he could proceed with it to an indefinite extent, and enrich and improve as long as he thought fit, without any risk either of destroying the proportions of that outline, or injuring the harmony and unity of the original design. He was perfectly aware, too, of the possession of this extraor dinary power; and it was partly, we presume, in consequence of it that he was not only at all times ready to go on with any work in which he was engaged, without waiting for favourable moments or hours of greater alacrity, but that he never felt any of those doubts and misgivings as to his being able to get creditably through with his undertaking, to which we believe most authors are occasionally liable. As he never wrote upon any subject of which he was not perfectly master, he was secure against all blunders in the substance of what he had to say; and felt quite assured, that if he was only allowed time enough, he should finally come to say it in the very best way of which he was capable. He had no anxiety, therefore, either in undertaking or proceeding with his tasks; and intermitted and resumed them at his convenience, with the comfortable certainty, that all the time he bestowed on them was turned to account, and that what was left imperfect at one sitting might be finished with equal ease and advantage at another. Being thus perfectly sure both of his end and his means, he experienced, in the course of his compositions, none of that little fever of the spirits with which that operation is so apt to be accompanied. He had no capricious visitings of fancy, which it was necessary to fix on the spot or to lose for ever, -no casual inspirations to invoke and to wait for,—no transitory and evanescent lights to catch before they faded. All that was in his mind was subject to his control, and amenable to his call, though it might not obey at the moment; and while his taste was so sure, that he was in no danger of over-working any thing that he had designed, all his thoughts and sentiments had that unity and congruity, that they fell almost spontaneously into har
His habits of composition were not perhaps exactly what might have been expected from their results. He wrote rather slowly,-and his first sketches were often very slight and imperfect,-like the rude chalking for a mas-mony and order; and the last added, incorterly picture. His chief effort and greatest porated, and assimilated with the first, as if pleasure was in their revisal and correction; they had sprung simultaneously from the same and there were no limits to the improvement happy conception. which resulted from this application. It was not the style merely, nor indeed chiefly, that gained by it: The whole reasoning, and sentiment, and illustration, were enlarged and new modelled in the course of it; and a naked outline became gradually informed with life, colour, and expression. It was not at all like the common finishing and polishing to which careful authors generally subject the first draughts of their compositions, -nor even like the fastidious and tentative alterations with which some more anxious writers assay their choicer passages. It was, in fact, the great filling in of the picture,-the working up of the figured weft, on the naked and meagre woof that had been stretched to receive it;
But we need dwell no longer on qualities that may be gathered hereafter from the works he has left behind him. They who lived with him mourn the most for those which will be traced in no such memorial! And prize far above those talents which gained him his high name in philosophy, that Personal Character which endeared him to his friends, and shed a grace and a dignity over all the society in which he moved. The same admirable taste which is conspicuous in his writings, or rather the higher principles from which that taste was but an emanation, spread a similar charm over his whole life and conversation; and gave to the most learned Philosopher of his day the manners and deportment of the most per