Images de page

books and manuscripts, with a fund for establishing a salary to a librarian.

Alexander Reid, the third son, was physician to King Charles I., and published several books on surgery and medicine. The fortune he acquired in the course of his practice was considerable, and enabled him, besides many legacies to his relations and friends, to leave various lasting and honorable memorials, both of his benevolence, and of his attachment to letters.

A fourth son, whose name was Adam, translated into English, Buchanan's History of Scotland. Of this translation, which was never published, there is a manuscript copy in the possession of the university of Glasgow.

A grandson of Robert, the eldest of these sons, was the third minister of Banchory after the Reformation, and was great-grandfather of Thomas Reid, the subject of this memoir.*

The particulars hitherto mentioned, are stated on the authority of some short memorandums written by Dr. Reid a few weeks before his death. In consequence of a suggestion of his friend Dr. Gregory, he had resolved to amuse himself with collecting such facts as his papers or memory could supply, with respect to his life, and the progress of his studies; but, unfortunately, before he had fairly entered on the task, his design was interrupted by his last illness. If he had lived to complete it, I might have entertained hopes of presenting to the public some details with respect to the history of his opinions and speculations on those important subjects to which he dedicated his talents; the most interesting of all articles in the biography of a philosopher, and of which it is to be lamented, that so few authentic records are to be found in the annals of letters. All the information, however, which I have derived from these notes, is exhausted in the foregoing pages; and I must content myself, in the continuation of my narrative, with those indirect aids which tradition, and the recollection of a few old acquaintance, afford; added to what I

[blocks in formation]

myself have learned from Dr. Reid's conversation, or collected from a careful perusal of his writings.

His mother, Margaret Gregory, was a daughter of David Gregory, Esq. of Kinnairdie, in Banffshire; elder brother of James Gregory, the inventor of the reflecting telescope, and the antagonist of Huyghens. She was one of twenty-nine children; the most remarkable of whom was David Gregory, Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford, and an intimate friend of Sir Isaac Newton. Two of her younger brothers were at the same time professors of mathematics; the one at St. Andrew's, the other at Edinburgh; and were the first persons who taught the Newtonian philosophy in our northern universities. The hereditary worth and genius which have so long distinguished, and which still distinguish, the descendants of this memorable family, are well known to all who have turned their attention to Scottish biography; but it is not known so generally, that in the female line, the same characteristical endowments have been conspicuous in various instances; and that to the other monuments which illustrate the race of the Gregories, is to be added the Philosophy of Reid.

With respect to the earlier part of Dr. Reid's life, all that I have been able to learn, amounts to this; that after two years spent at the parish school of Kincardine, he was sent to Aberdeen, where he had the advantage of prosecuting his classical studies under an able and diligent teacher; that about the age of twelve or thirteen, he was entered as a student in Marischal college ; and that his master in philosophy, for three years, was Dr. George Turnbull, who afterward attracted some degree of notice as an author; particularly, by a book, entitled, “Principles of Moral Philosophy," and by a voluminous treatise, long ago forgotten, on Ancient Painting.* The sessions of the college were, at that time, very short, and the education, according to Dr. Reid's own account, slight and superficial.

It does not appear from the information which I have received, that he gave any early indications of future eminence. His industry, however, and modesty, were conspicuous from his childhood; and it was foretold of him, by the parish schoolmaster, who initiated him in the first principles of learning, “ that he would turn out to be a man of good and well-wearing parts ;” a prediction which, although it implied no flattering hopes of those more brilliant endowments which are commonly regarded as the constituents of genius, touched, not unhappily, on that capacity of “patient thought,” which contributed so powerfully to the success of his philosophical researches.*

* Note (B.)

His residence at the university was prolonged beyond the usual term, in consequence of his appointment to the office of librarian, which had been endowed by one of his ancestors about a century before. The situation was acceptable to him, as it afforded an opportunity of indulging his passion for study, and united the charms of a learned society, with the quiet of an academical retreat.

During this period he formed an intimacy with John Stewart, afterward professor of mathematics in Marischal college, and author of a Commentary on Newton's Quadrature of Curves. His predilection for mathematical pursuits, was confirmed and strengthened by this connexion. I have often heard him mention it with much pleasure, while he recollected the ardor with which they both prosecuted these fascinating studies, and the lights which they imparted mutually to each other in their first perusal of the Principia, at a time when a knowledge of the Newtonian discoveries was to be acquired only in the writings of their illustrious author.

In 1736, Dr. Reid resigned his office of librarian, and accompanied Mr. Stewart on an excursion to England. They visited together London, Oxford, and Cambridge, and were introduced to the acquaintance of many persons of the first literary eminence. His relation to Dr. David Gregory procured him a ready access to Martin

*“ If I have done the public any service, it is due to nothing bụt industry and patient thought.” Sir Isaac Newton's First letter to Dr. Bentley.

Folkes, whose house concentrated the most interesting objects which the metropolis had to offer to his curiosity. At Cambridge he saw Dr. Bentley, who delighted him with his learning, and amused him with his vanity; and enjoyed repeatedly the conversation of the blind mathematician, Saunderson ; a phenomenon in the history of the human mind, to which he has referred more than once, in his philosophical speculations.

With the learned and amiable man who was his companion on this journey, he maintained an uninterrupted friendship till 1766, when Mr. Stewart died of a malignant fever. His death was accompanied with circumstances deeply afflicting to Dr. Reid's sensibility; the same disorder proving fatal to his wife and daughter, both of whom were buried with him in one grave.

In 1737, Dr. Reid was presented, by the King's college of Aberdeen, to the living of New Machar in the same county ; but the circumstances in which he entered on his preferment were far from auspicious. The intemperate zeal of one of his predecessors, and an aversion to the law of patronage, had so inflamed the minds of his parishioners against him, that, in the first discharge of his clerical functions, he had not only to encounter the most violent opposition, but was exposed to personal danger. His unwearied attention, however, to the duties of his office, the mildness and forbearance of his temper, and the active spirit of his humanity, soon overcame all these prejudices; and, not many years afterward, when he was called to a different situation, the same persons who had suffered themselves to be so far misled, as to take a share in the outrages against him, followed him on his departure with their blessings and tears.

Dr. Reid's popularity at New Machar, as I am informed by the respectable clergyman* who now holds that living, increased greatly after his marriage, in 1740, with Elizabeth, daughter of his uncle, Dr. George Reid, physician in London. The accommodating manners of this excellent woman, and her good offices among the sick and neccesitous, are still remembered with gratitude, and so endeared the family to the neighbourhood, that its removal was regarded as a general misfortune. The simple and affecting language in which some old men expressed themselves on this subject, in conversing with the present minister, deserves to be recorded. “We fought against Dr. Reid, when he came, and would have fought for him when he went away.

* The Rev. William Stronach.

In some notes relative to the earlief part of his history, which have been kindly communicated to me by the Rev. Mr. Davidson, minister of Rayne, it is mentioned as a proof of his uncommon modesty and diffidence, that long after he became minister of New Machar, he was accustomed, from a distrust in his own powers, to preach the 'sermons of Dr. Tillotson, and of Dr. Evans. I have heard also, through other channels, that, in his youth, he had cultivated the art of composition with less assiduity than might have been expected from his studious habits. The fact is curious, when contrasted with that ease, perspicuity, and purity of style, which he afterwards attained. From some information, however, which has been lately transmitted to me by one of his nearest relations, I have reason to believe, that the number of original discourses which he wrote while a country clergyman, was not inconsiderable.

The satisfaction of his own mind was probably, in this stage of his inquiries, a more powerful incentive to his philosophical speculations, than the hope of being able to instruct the world as an author. But whatever his views were, one thing is certain, that during his residence at New Machar, the greater part of his time was spent in the most intense study ; more particularly in a careful examination of the laws of external perception, and of the other principles which form the groundwork of human knowledge. His chief relaxations were gardening and botany, to both of which pursuits he retained his attachment even in old age.

A A paper which he published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, for the year 1748, affords some light with respect to the gress

of his studies at the time when it was written. It is entitled, “ An Essay on Quantity, occasioned by read


« PrécédentContinuer »