« ZurückWeiter »
performance of his duties. As some complaint had been made of his conduct, and it seemed proper that such an officer should reside in London, a law to that effect was passed which induced him to resign. Some of his friends resented what they thought injurious treatment; and there followed a war in the camp, for the ostensible purpose of avenging Dr. Hutton's wrongs, but really to place Dr. Horsley in the chair, which he was equally unfit and ambitious to fill. The contest was long and bitter ; but the victory inclined to the side of Sir Joseph Banks, and his Lordship considers it matter of sufficient congratulation, that it settled the pretensions of the restless divine, and secured the office, with its influence, in the hands of one who had held it with integrity and honor, showing the greatest kindness to all men of science, and lending his money and credit without reserve, whenever any private service could be done, or any public object answered.
When the tempest had blown over, carrying with it the cloud-compeller, Dr. Horsley, who had been the means of raising it, Sir Joseph Banks kept peaceful possession of his throne, with much enjoyment to himself and equal benefit to the scientific world. He wrote and published nothing of any importance, conscious that his strength did not lie in that direction. But he had influence with George the Third, though always independent in his political action, — influence which he exerted in favor of the great objects which he had at heart. During the war at the close of the last century, there were many opportunities to render service to scientific
It was owing to him that the English government issued orders in favor of the unfortunate La Perouse ; when D’Entrecasteaux was sent in search of him, and Billardière's collections were captured and brought to England, he had them restored to the owner without opening, that no one might use the information which they contained.
On ten several occasions, he procured the restoration of collections addressed to the Jardin des Plantes, which had fallen into possession of the English cruisers. He gave most liberal aid and sympathy to foreigners outcast from their home ; and when the vile and childish tyranny of Napoleon detained so many English travellers in France, he procured an order for the release of men of science, the benefit of which he and his colleagues in Paris extended to many who had never known
any thing of the charm and blessing of science, except on that occasion. It is well known that our countryman Ledyard, when in trouble, drew a bill on Sir Joseph, which was readily honored. But it is needless to give examples of that open-hearted public spirit which no one ever denied. He pursued the same honorable course to the end of his long life, which was terminated by the gout, at the age of seventyeight years. His history was uneventful, but as no satisfactory attempt to write it had ever been made, Lord Brougham was right in undertaking it, and assigning to him the rank and the applause which he deserves.
There is not much in Sir Joseph Banks to suggest the idea of D'Alembert, who comes next in succession ; nor did their provinces of scientific action lie, as Mrs. Mala prop says, contagious to each other. But Lord Brougham appears to have taken the latter as an example of the peace of mind and repose of the passions which a lise devoted to the severer sciences tends, more than any other, to secure. Adain Smith has pointed out their happy exemption from those disturbing forces which perpetually affect the serenity of artists and literary men, and, indeed, of all who are dependent on the public taste either for subsistence or applause. The difficulties which the mathematician contends with are of a kind which it is inspiring to encounter, and glorious to overcome ; he stands in calm reliance on his own powers; no doubt or self-distrust oppresses bim; fully persuaded that his results are established by arguments that cannot be shaken, he knows that no light suggestion, no wanton ridicule, and not even the most bitter resistance, can prevent their making their way, and he submits them with comparative unconcern to the judgment of mankind. His pursuits also furnish a subject of never-failing interest, which always engages his thoughts, but is never painfully exciting ; and as vacancy of mind occasions much of the restless irritability of life, the mathematician is thus spared the vexation of spirit which troubles other men. In days of heaviness and sorrow, he can more readily turn from his grief in this peaceful direction than in any other; so that whoever gives himself in good faith to these studies has certainly chosen a good part, so far as happiness is concerned. But there is no Arcadia in this lower world ; men of science, like the men of Loo Choo, will be found, if examined nearly, to have their jealousies and wars ; their swords are not yet beaten into ploughshares, for some sort of controversy with pens or swords seems inseparable from human nature. Even the religious penitent, as soon as he has professed himself a follower of the Prince of Peace, will fasten tooth and nail upon his neighbour for believing a little more or less than he.
Ď'Alembert made his first appearance in the world as a foundling, exposed by his mother in a winter night, but rescued, when almost dead, by the humanity of strangers. His father was M. Destouches, a poet and commissary of artillery, who soon came forward and made provision for his support. His mother was Madame de Tencin, so well known to the readers of Marmontel, who represents her as the witty and accomplished centre of a brilliant circle. When he afterwards became distinguished, she was desirous to have him come and live with her, and be acknowledged as her son, which would not have injured her reputation in the Paris of that day. But he declined the honor, having already had enough of her maternal affection; and for forty years he lived in the cottage of the poor woman who had rescued him from the fate which his mother's love assigned him. When his health compelled him to leave those humble lodgings, he continued to supply her wants from his own narrow income till she died. His whole conduct in that relation was humane, affectionate, and honorable in the highest degree.
At the age of twelve, he was sent to a Jansenist college, where his early promise was discovered, and attempts were made to enlist his feelings in the feud between his instructers and the Jesuits; they hoped, doubtless, that another Pascal would rise up to throw the great weight of his character and talents on their side. But D'Alembert, though he went so far as to write a commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, was too much engaged by what the pious fathers called, in Fénélon's case,
is the devilish attractions of geometry.” When he left them, he devoted himself entirely to those studies. In order to increase his small income, he made some attempts to study a profession ; but in whatever direction he forced his mind, it was always springing back, like the bended bow, to his favorite pursuits. In this he was not encouraged certainly by his good old nurse, who used to say to him in sorrow,
-0, you will never be any thing more than a philosopher ! and what is a philosopher ? a foolish body, who wearies his life out to be talked of after he is dead!” But he found his studies a great source of satisfaction, apart from any such vision of posthumous renown. He awoke, he says, every morning, with a feeling of gladness in his heart, as he thought of the investigation in which he was employed the day before, and which he was again to pursue. In the evening he sometimes went to the theatre ; but when there, what he enjoyed most was thinking of the next day's labors. Though he was a philosopher, without question, according to the original sense of the word, there was nothing which gave him less concern than the manner in which he should be talked of, either living or dead.
Talked of, however, he was destined to be. A paper which he offered to the Academy of Sciences attracted their favorable attention, and in 1741 he was admitted a member, at the age of twenty-four, younger than any other who had received that honor, except the celebrated Clairaut. Two years after, D'Alembert justified this high compliment by his Traité de Dynamique, which at once established his reputation. For some years he was engaged in following out his principles in their various and extensive applications, till, in 1752, he published an essay on a new theory of the resistance of fluids, which was the subject that principally engaged his attention for many years. Meantime, by way of interlude, he had submitted a memoir on the general theory of the winds, which was crowned by the Royal Academy of Berlin. As his fame extended, his enjoyment of life was less secure, this being one of the severe penalties which men pay for renown. He became somewhat jealous of every invasion of his rights and honors, to which he had been rather indifferent before. Lord Brougham accounts for these feelings, which were not according to his habits or his nature, by ascribing them to the influence of the literary factions and social parties with which he had become connected, as an Encyclopedist, with Diderot, Holbach, and Voltaire, to whom
repose of spirit was as much unknown as peace to the wicked
; but a more general explanation of it may be found in the general tendencies of human nature. Men become avaricious of praise as readily as of money ; and as one who comes across our promising speculations in business is re
garded with feelings not entirely benignant, our charities wax cold toward those who interfere with the ingathering of our harvest of applause.
It would have been well for D'Alembert, if nothing had ever drawn him out from the circle in which he moved in his earlier days; for up to the age of thirty-five his wants were few, his enjoyments simple, his spirit unruffled, and his renown as a man of science fast extending. But when the famous Encyclopædia was established, he became joint editor with Diderot, and supplied many of the most striking portions. His preliminary discourse, on the distribution and progress of the sciences, was greatly admired in its time; but Lord Brougham regards it with little favor. Still, the severity of his censure is rather disarmed by the admission, that Bacon had fallen into the same errors before. When the work, to which this discourse was an introduction, appeared, the church and the government were filled with mutual alarm. The great body of literary men grew jealous of those who thus threatened to eclipse them; the fashionable circles, which exert so much influence in Paris, took sides in the matter, and it seemed as if Æolus had let loose the winds to fan the flame which threatened to consume the wights whose freedom of speech, or rather whose known opinions, had kindled it. There are some who melt away under the influence of this kind of heat ; others, on the contrary, are hardened into petrifactions ; but as D'Alembert was not of this hardy sort, and was disgusted in the extreme with the new state of things, he took occasion, when the government prohibited the work in France, to withdraw from the editorial charge, leaving it in the hands of Diderot, who better loved the sweet music of angry speech, and was perfectly willing to finish his rough journey alone. Having his attention thus directed to literature, D'Alembert wrote several works on various subjects ; one of which, On the Intercourse of Literary Men with the Great, had the effect to change the style in which works were dedicated, which, both in France and England, till a late period, instead of being offered with manly independence, were submitted with the tone in which the veteran beggar acknowledges the donation of sixpence, – praying inmortal blessings upon the Samaritan's head.
In 1752, the king of Prussia invited him to reside in Berlin, with liberal appointments and a salary of five hundred