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O for a soft and gentle wind!
I heard a fair one cry;
And white waves heaving high;
The good ship tight and free-
And merry men are we.
And lightning in yon cloud;
The wind is piping loud;
The lightning flashes free
Our heritage the sea.
My Mary! when each summer flow'r
Is blooming in its pride again, I'll fly to thee, and one sweet hour
Shall pay me for an age of pain.
One look or smile will then suffice
My heart its sorrow smothers;
Than joy in smiles with others.
A cheerless waste, all gloom and night, Thine eye upon its darkness beam'd,
And sunn'd it into life and light. And, as a lone but lovely flow'r,
Which, when all other flow'rs depart, Still blooms within its ruin'd bow'r, Thou bloomest in my lonely heart. And shall I, then, the Rose forget,
Which seem'd in Hope's wreath braided; And, like a Spirit lingers yet,
Now all the rest have faded. Oh, no! the heart, which is the seat
Of love like mine, can never rove; Its faithful pulse may cease to beat,
But never-never cease to love :
And soaring as the Ocean wave :
A never-ending token,
When all save that are broken.
FROM THE BRITISH CRITIC.
The Works of John Playfair, Esq. late Professor of Natural Philo
sophy in the University of Edinburgh, &c. &c. With a Memoir of the Author. Constable & Co. Edinburgh, 1822.
With the usual aversion entertained and professed by critics for the vile art of book-making, we are, notwithstanding, disposed to al. low that this is one of the books which deserved to be made. The most valuable of Mr. Playfair's treatises, the "Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory,” had been many years out of print; and his other essays, biographical and scientific, were only to be found in very expensive collections, such as the Transactions of Philosophical societies, or the equally inaccessible pages of modern Encyclopædias.
Mr. Playfair was the son of a Scotch minister, and was born in 1748. He received his education at St. Andrew's, where, at the
age of sixteen or seventeen, he was selected by Professor Wilkie, who happened to be confined by illness, to read his lectures on natural philosophy. When only in his eighteenth year he stood candidate for the mathematical professorship in the Marischal College of Aberdeen; on which occasion he sustained, with great credit, a compara. tive trial, which continued eleven days, yielding only to the superior attainments of Dr. Trail, the present Chancellor of Down and Conner, in Ireland, and of Dr. Hamilton, the well known author of a very profound work on the national debt, who is at this moment in possession of the chair which called forth so ardent a competition.
The death of his father determined the choice of young Playfair in favour of the ecclesiastical profession: and in due time the charge and emoluments of his native parish were secured to him by the kindness of his patron, Lord Gray. After about ten years' residence in the country, where, we are told, he devoted the chief part of his time to the duties of his cure and the composition of sermons, he found himself induced, by very advantageous offers, to resign his liv. ing, for the purpose of superintending the education of two young men, the sons of a Fifeshire 'squire of considerable fortune. In company with his pupils, who, we find, were Mr. Ferguson, of Raith, and his brother, Sir Ronald Ferguson, the existing M. P. for Kirkcaldy, the rector of Benvie repaired to Edinburgh, to attend the lectures which are annually delivered there, on every subject of human interest or curiosity; and where he soon made himself so well known, by his great abilities and learning, that, in 1785, he was nominated, by the patrons of the college, joint-professor of mathematics, a situation in which he remained about twenty years. In 1805, the death of Professor Robinson led to his preferment, if such it can be called, to the chair of natural philosophy, a position which he held and adorned, with much talent and a large share of popular approbation, till the period of his demise in the year 1819.
There is, appended to the memoir, a sketch of Mr. Playfair's chaVol. I. No. 3.-Museum.
racter, furnished by Mr. Jeffery, the editor of the Edinburgh Review, As this writer, however, is avowedly no competent judge of the works of the Professor, his remarks, as far as they are literary, respect rather the manner of composition and the qualities of style which distinguished Mr. P., than the subjects themselves which engaged his powerful mind : and thus, whilst we admire the eloquence and the affectionate regard which animate this biographical outline, we desiderate, on the part of the author, the scientific knowledge which was ne. cessary to place in a proper light the attainments and performances of his deceased friend. Mr. Playfair, we are told, wrote slowly, his first sketches being usually very slight and imperfect, like the rude chalking of a masterly picture. His chief art and great pleasure was in their revisal and correction : and there was no liinits to the improvement which resulted from this application.
“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, there. fore, 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 good 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 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 wbile 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 harmony and order; and the last added, incorporated, and assimilated with the first as if they had sprang simultaneously from the same happy conception."
There can be no doubt that the style of Professor Playfair was extremely well adapted to scientific discussions. It was clear, natural, and unburdened with unnecessary ornament. Having, on all occasions, a distinct conception of what he meant to say, he used the exact number of words requisite to convey his meaning; and never added a trifling thought, or even repeated an important one, merely to give his sentences the full turn and sonorous termination which, in the opinion of some of his countrymen, seem indispensable to fine writing, Most Scotchmen write English as if it were to them a foreign language ; and thus, however well they may succeed in historical or scientific composition, they never become masters of those graces and felicities of style which arise from the successful application of the more idiomatic arrangement of words and phrases, to which the ear of his southern neighbour is accustomed from his infancy. In grave and solemn performances, it will be admitted, a certaiu departure from the colloquial forms of speech is attended with considerable advantage; and in the departments of theology, for example, as well as in all the higher branches of science, we are warranted in allowing, and even in encouraging, the distinction between a spoken language and a written language. In proportion, then, as literary composition is permitted to differ from the ease of conversa
tion and the freedom of oratory, excellence in it will be more within the reach of those who study our language in books, and write it according to grammatical rules: and there is no doubt that it is on this very account such authors as Mr. Playfair become a sort of model for an elegant philosophical style, intelligible alike to the native Engglishman and to the learned foreigner. The “Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory” have been universally admired as a specimen of fine composition on a philosophical subject. Even the Wernerians, who question the principles and abjure the conclusions of that ingenious treatise, acknowledge it to be a beautiful and most fascinating geological romance.
“ But,” says Mr. Jeffery, “we need dwell no longer'on qualities that may be gathered hereafter from the works he has left behind him. Those who lived with him mourn the most for those which will be traced in no such memorial; and prize, far above those talents which gave 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 perfect gentleman. Nor was this in him the result merely of good sense and of good temper, assisted by an early familiarity with good company, and a consequent knowledge of his own place and that of all around him. His good breeding was of a higher descent, and his powers of pleasing rested on something better than mere companionable qualities. With the greatest kind. ness and generosity of nature he united the most manly firmness and the highest principles of honour, -and the
most cheerful and social dispositions with the gen. tlest and steadiest affections. Towards women he had always the most chivalrous feelings of regard and attention, and was, beyond almost all men, acceptable and agreeable in their society, though without the levity or pretension unbecoming his age or condition. And such, indeed, was the fascination of the most perfect simplicity and mildness of his manners, that the same tone and deportment seemed equally appropriate to all societies, and enabled him to delight the young and the gay
with the same sort of conversation which enabled him to instruct the learned and the grave. There never, indeed, was a man of learning and talent who appeared in society so perfectly free from all sorts of pretension or notion of his own importance, or so little solicitous to distinguish himself, or so sincerely willing to give place to every one else. Even upon subjects which he had thoroughly studied he was never in the least impatient to speak, and spoke at all times without any tone of authority ; while, so far from wishing to set off what he had to say by any brilliancy or emphasis of expression, it seemed, generally, as if he had studied to disguise the weight and originality of his thoughts under the plainest form of speech and the most quiet and indifferent manner; so that the profoundest remarks and subtlest observations were often dropped, not only with no solicitude that their value should be observed, but without any apparent consciousness that they possessed any. Though the most social of human beings, and the most disposed to encourage and to sympathize with the gaiety and the joviality of others, his own spirits were, in general, rather cheerful than gay, or, at least, never rose to any turbulence or tumult of merriment: and while he would listen with the kindest indulgence to the more extravagant sallies of his younger friends, and prompt them by his heartiest approbation, his own satisfaction might generally be traced in a slow and temperate smile, gradually mantling over his benevolent and intelligent features, and lighting up the countenance of the sage with the expression of the mildest and most genuine philanthropy. It was wonderful, indeed, considering the measure of his own intellect, and the rigid and undeviating propriety of his own conduct, how tolerant he was of the defects and errors of other men. He was too indulgent, in truth, and favourable to his friends--and made a kind and liberal allowance for the faults of all mankind, except only faults of baseness or of cruelty, against which he never failed to manifest the most open scorn and detestation. Independent, in short, of his high attainments, Mr. Playfair was one of the most amiable and estimable of men; delightful in his manners, inflexi
ble in his principles, and generous in his affections, he had all that charms in so. ciety or attaches in private: and while his friends enjoyed the free and unstudied conversation of an easy and intelligent associate, they had, at all times, the proud and inward assurance that he was a being upon whose perfect honour and generosity they might rely with the most implicit confidence in life and in death,and of whom it was equally impossible that, under any circumstances, he should ever perform a mean, a selfish, or a questionable action, as that his body should cease to gravitate, or his soul to live.”
At the close of the biographical account, we find a "Journal,” containing a short but very entertaining retrospect of a visit which the Professor paid to London in the year 1782, and of his introduction to several of the leading characters, which at that period figured in this metropolis. The first person he mentions is the late Dr. Maskelyne, the astronomer royal, with whom he had formerly spent some time, when engaged in his experiments on the mountain Schehallien in Perthshire; and who gave him so cordial a reception, that he could not allow himself to doubt, that "an acquaintance formed among wilds and mountains is much more likely to be durable than one made up in the bustle of a city.” The astronomer, it seems, had been suspected of sometimes detracting from the discoveries of others, when they interfered with his own; but Mr. Playfair declares he could never perceive any thing of this kind, though he saw him placed in one of those critical situations where envy and jealousy, had they lurked any where within him, could scarcely have failed to make their appearance. The other personages with whom the stranger came chiefly in contact, were Dr. Horsley, Dr. Solander, Mr. Cavendish, Mr. Smeaton, and Drs. Price and Priestley. Of the last mentioned individual, his estimate is so correct and so well expressed, that we take the liberty to quote it at length for the amusement of the reader.
“Mr. Vaughan and his father are both of them Dissenters, and at their house I often found all the chief men of that interest assembled, Dr. Price, Priestley, Kippis, Tours, and a number of others. To be a Scotsman was far, I soon found, from being any recommendation to these gentlemen, and they seemed to look on the members of every established church with contempt or abhorrence. The manners of Dr. Price were the softest by far of any among them, and I found myself easiest in his company. He is certainly a good mathematician, but politics at present occupy all his thoughts.
“Dr. Priestley has made so great a figure in the world that my anxiety to see him was very great: but his conversation has nothing in it very remarkable. When politics are the subject of discourse he has the same violence with his brethren, and savours not much either of soundness of head or extent of information. On the subjects of chemistry and the doctrine of fixed air, he talked indeed with a great deal of acuteness, and like a man that had been long conversant with experimental philosophy. He is very sanguine in the forming of theories, which he does very often without sufficient data, a fault that is perhaps compensated by the facility with which he afterwards abandons them. On the whole, from Dr. Priestley's conversation and from his writings, one is not much disposed to con. sider him as a person of first-rate abilities. The activity, rather than the force of his genius, is the object of admiration. He is indefatigable in making experiments, and he compensates by the number of them for the unskilfulness with which they often are contrived, and the hastiness with which conclusions are drawn from them. Though little skilled in mathematics, he has written on optics with considerable success; and though but moderately versed in chemistry, he has rendered very considerable service to that science. If we view him as a critic, a metaphysician, and a divine, we must confine ourselves to more scanty praise. In his controversy with Dr. Reid, though he said many things that are true, he has shown himself wholly incapable of understanding the principal point in debate; and