« ZurückWeiter »
precision and faithfulness which few will venture to impeach. Guizot, himself a great authority, admires this power of judicious discrimination ; and every one is struck with his watchful penetration, his painstaking industry, and the rich abundance of learning sprinkled over the work almost to profusion. In these respects he is as much superior to Hume as that great historian excelled him in the easy grace with which he tells, his story ; and the result is, that, while Hume is no authority, the verdict of Gibbon is almost decisive in every historical question which he ever undertook to explore.
Though the cold sarcasm which runs through Gibbon's bistory gives an unpleasant impression of the man, he appears to have been kind and affectionate in his intercourse with his friends, steady and faithful in his attachments, and manly and honorable in all the relations of life. No human being could well be less attractive in the outward man. His head enormously large, with no elevation of feature, his mouth a round orifice directly in the centre, his form heavy and unmanageable, partly with corpulence, but still more by a fearful rupture, descending to his knees, but which he seemed unconscious that any one ever saw, and which he never mentioned either to his physician or his attendant till it had brought him nearly to the grave. With all these impediments to personal display, he appears to have taken pains and pride in dress. Colman describes him in company, with a suit of flowered velvet, together with a bag and sword, while Dr. Johnson sat opposite in his coarse black stockings and raiment of rusty brown. This, however, may have been nothing more than the full dress of gentlemen, while the foppery of the great moralist was excessive on the opposite side. His conversation is said to have been of a very high order, though somewhat formal and labored ; his remarks appeared as if studied, and even his wit had the air of careful preparation ; but he was ready in argument, full of information, and pleasant in manner, though not exempt from affectation. He had the oppressive consciousness of a great reputation to sustain, which is never favorable to the true social manner, nor indeed to the best display of the powers. Madame du Deffand believed him to be very learned, but was not sure that he was very clever ; while Suard speaks of his conversation as full and animated. On the whole, he appears to have borne in social life and conversation a part not unequal to his literary
It is honorable to Gibbon that he was able to secure and retain so many friends, arnong whom the most confidential was Lord Sheffield, a man of sense and honor, whose infirmity was, that he could not refrain from writing pamphlets which Lord Brougham pronounces unreadably dry. When in England, Gibbon was domesticated in his house, and he with his family made visits to the historian at Lausanne. When his Lordship suffered under the loss of his wife, the heaviest of domestic sorrows, he at once, though disabled by infirmity, set out on a long, painful, and dangerous journey, to comfort his mourning friend. He was not at the time aware that he was returning to die in his native land. But soon after his return, he found it necessary to consult physicians, who relieved him for the time by a surgical operation; but the difficulty returned, and a second operation was more painful and less beneficial than the first. The evening before he died, he was conversing with his friends about the probable duration of his life, which he fixed at ten, and possibly twenty, years. That night he was taken more ill, and shortly after noon on the next day he expired.
The transition from Gibbon to Sir Joseph Banks bears some resemblance to a decline and fall ; and yet the latter was useful and distinguished in his day and generation, though his renown will not be likely to sail far beyond it. Very great credit is due to those who, having the means of living in luxury and self-indulgence, rise above the temptations of their position, and feel so strong a determination toward the walks of science, that they cannot be content to spend life in lazy epicureanism, or an empty fashionable display. Even if they do not make any great discoveries, nor extend the boundaries of science, then selves, their aid and influence are of service to those who do ; and under their circumstances, to possess such a taste implies a certain degree of superiority, which entitles them to a place in the general estimation far higher than that of intelligent and cultivated persons who live entirely for themselves. He certainly is no common man who loves knowledge for its own sake, looking to no other recompense than the enjoyment of the pursuit, delighting in his own intimacy with nature, and contentedly leaving it to others to write their names where they will shine in the eyes
of men. Not much is known of the history of his childhood, save that he was born with the prospect of wealth, his family - NO. 134.
being ancient and respectable, and having recruited their means by one of those marriages with an heiress which city and country so often arrange, to their mutual profit and satisfaction. He went early to a public school, where he manifested kindness and good-nature, together with an extreme aversion to all sorts of study, the latter being an encouraging promise in which those schools are apt to abound. As the prevailing idea is, that rich youths have no more occasion to study than the prosperous have need to pray, he was not much afflicted with discipline and instruction which he did not welcome. But, in his fourteenth year, his own impulse did for him what education would not have effected to the end of time ; for, walking one evening among flowers, the question started up in his mind, why he should be drilled in dead languages which his soul abhorred, while the book of nature with its expressive language and beautiful illustrations lay unread, beneath his feet. At least, such was the substance of his meditations ; for we would not give the impression, that he, whose life was plain English prose, ever stated the subject to himself in any poetical form. He reduced this thought to action by employing women to gather plants, and paying druggists, at the rate of sixpence a fact, for all the information which they afforded him. He thus formed a collection of plants, and at the same time gathered insects for his cabinet ; while Greek and Latin could not boast that he ever paid them any very flattering regard. There is some reason, too, to fear that he never cultivated the other studies which must be learned in youth, if ever ; it is said that he never was in the good graces of the Muse of spelling, and that the mutual indifference lasted till his dying day.
The same taste continued when he went to Oxford, in his eighteenth year ; but he found that the chair of botany was held by one of those eminently useful professors whose duty it is to give no lectures. Happily this learned doctor was not jealous of his prerogative, and, at Banks's request, graciously consented that a lecturer should be employed, and paid by those whom he instructed. As Oxford could not supply a competent person, one was imported from Cambridge, and he proved well qualified to inspire enthusiasm for the science which he taught. As his pupils did not regard prosody as the chief end of man, they were not greatly respected in the University. “ Banks knows nothing of
Greek,” was the sentence of his condemnation; but there were occasions which showed that a knowledge of things might be useful, even though it did not compare in importance with the knowledge of words ; so that he and others like him gained some consideration, scholars though they might not be.
When Sir Joseph Banks became of age, he was put in possession of a large estate, his father having died three years before. He had no ambition to enter parliament, neither was he attracted by fashionable circles ; but as soon as the opportunity came, he took a voyage to Newfoundland, returning by the way of Lisbon, which served as a preparation for the enterprises which were soon to be undertaken on a more extended scale. The Earl of Bute, whom it is so customary to abuse that one can hardly think of any good thing coming out of the Nazareth of his administration, was desirous, for the sake of knowledge, not of conquest, to gain information respecting the islands in the Pacific, then just discovered. There was also an astronomical object to be gained by observing the transit of Venus, Dr. Halley having shown what an exact measure of the sun's parallax that phenomenon would afford. This had been attempted in 1761, when the observers were disappointed by the unfavorable state of the weather ; but a second transit was to take place in 1769, and the various governments of Europe were anxious to secure the honor of aiding the cause of science ; - well for them, if they could always content themselves with so harmless and useful an ambition !
This was precisely the enterprise in which Banks was desirous to engage ; vot so much with a view to astronomy, as for the opportunity to study natural history in new regions which such an expedition would afford. He offered his services, which were accepted, and made his preparations on a liberal and extensive scale, engaging Dr. Solander, a favorite pupil of Linnæus, to accompany him, together with a number of draughtsmen. The charge of the expedition was given to Captain Cook, a self-made man, who had shown great capacity on other occasions, having risen by his own merit from the condition of apprentice in a collier to the command of a ship of war. The Endeavour sailed in 1768, and the first land they touched at was Terra del Fuego, where they came near closing their labors in a wintry grave. In an attempt to ascend the mountains, three of their attendants perished from the severity of the cold ; and Dr. Solander, though accustomed to severe exposure in high northern latitudes, and so well aware of the danger of sleeping that he was perpetually warning his companions, insisted on being suffered to lie down, and was rescued only by the strength and determination of his younger friend. Sir Joseph Banks often described this desire to sleep as irresistible ; it seemed the greatest suffering to keep awake and active, and a luxury to lie down, though they were well aware that they should never rise on earth again. After they reached the Sandwich Islands, he soon established a great influence over the islanders by his commanding presence, his kindness of manner, and his resolute firmness of purpose. When the quadrant was stolen, he alor was able to recover it, though the loss would have defeated the whole object of the expedition. During the voyage in quest of the Southern continent, which had long been supposed to exist as a balance to the northern polar regions, they were exposed to great danger, both from shipwreck and disease ; but when they at last returned in safety, their adventures excited the highest interest, and the contributions to science, which Banks had been the means of securing, gained him, from all who could estimate such services, unbounded gratitude and applause,
After a similar expedition to Iceland, Sir Joseph Banks established himself in London, and when Sir John Pringle resigned, was elected President of the Royal Society. But he soon found that the South Sea islanders were less savage than men of science once arrayed in parties ; for when he attempted to restrict the freedom with which the secretaries admitted their own friends and favorites, with a generous disregard to all manner of qualifications, those potentates vigorously resisted the attempt to deprive them of their powers and glories. Dr. Horsley, a divine well known for his intolerance, who appears to have considered himself a highpriest in the temple of science, chose to lead the opposition, under the pretext of zeal in favor of mathematical science, which it was very liberal in him to uphold upon so slight an acquaintance as he had with it, according to Lord Brougham. Dr. Hutton, an eminent mathematician, then residing at Woolwich, was the secretary for foreign correspondence; and as the revenue of the office was but twenty pounds, he spent more than his salary in hiring a place in London for the