Images de page
PDF
ePub

philosophy of the mind, abstracting entirely from that pre-eminence which belongs to it in consequence of its practical applications, may claim a distinguished rank among those preparatory disciplines, which another writer of equal talents has happily compared to “the crops which are raised, not for the sake of the harvest, but to be ploughed in as a dressing to theʻland.” *

SECTION III.

Conclusion of the Narrative.

The three works to which the foregoing remarks refer, together with the Essay on Quantity, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, and a short but masterly Analysis of Aristotle's Logic, which forms an appendix to the third volume of Lord Kaimes's Sketches, comprehend the whole of Dr. Reid's publications. The interval between the datés of the first and last of these amounts to no less than forty years, although he had attained to the age of thirty-eight before he ventured to appear as an author.

With the Essays on the Active Powers of Man, he closed his literary career; but he continued, notwithstanding, to prosecute his studies with unabated ardor and activity. The more modern improvements in chemistry attracted his particular notice; and he applied himself, with his wonted diligence and success, to the study of its new theories and new nomenclature. He amused himself also, at times, in preparing for a philosophical society, of which he was a member, short essays on particular topics, which happened to interest his curiosity, and on which he thought he might derive useful hints from friendly discussion. The most important of these were, An Examination of Priestley's Opinions concerning Matter and Mind; Observations on the Utopia of

Bishop Berkeley's Querist.

Sir Thomas More; and Physiological Reflections on Muscular Motion. This last essay appears to have been written in the eighty-sixth year of his age, and was read by the author to his associates, a few months before his death. “ His thoughts were led to the speculations it contains," as he himself mentions in the conclusion, “by the experience of some of the effects which old age produces on the muscular motions.”

“ As they were occasioned, therefore,” he adds, “ by the infirmities of age, they will, I hope be heard with the greater indulgence.”

Among the various occupations with which he thus enlivened his retirement, the mathematical pursuits of his earlier years held a distinguished place. He delighted to converse about them with his friends; and often exercised his skill in the investigation of particular problems. : His knowledge of ancient geometry had not probably been, at any time, very extensive ; but he had cultivated diligently those parts of mathematical science which are subservient to the study of Sir Isaac Newton's Works. He had a predilection, more particularly, for researches requiring the aid of arithmetical calculation, in the practice of which he possessed uncommon expertness and address. I think, I have sometimes observed in him a slight and amiable vanity connected with this accomplishment.

The revival, at this period of Dr. Reid's life, of his first scientific propensity, has often recalled to me a remark of Mr. Smith's, that of all the amusements of old age, the most grateful and soothing is a renewal of acquaintance with the favorite studies, and favorite authors of our youth ; a remark which, in his own case, seemed to be more particularly exemplified, while he was re-perusing, with the enthusiasm of a student, the tragic poets of ancient Greece. I heard him at least, repeat the observation more than once, while Sophocles or Euripides lay open on his table.

In the case of Dr. Reid, other motives, perhaps, conspired with the influence of the agreeable associations, to which Mr. Smith probably alluded. His attention was always fixed on the state of his intellectual faculties; and

for counteracting the effects of time on these, mathematical studies seem to be fitted in a peculiar degree. They are fortunately, too, within the reach of many individuals, after a decay of memory disqualifies them for inquiries which involve a multiplicity of details. Such detached problems, more especially, as Dr. Reid commonly selected for his consideration; problems where all the data are brought at once under the eye, and where a connected train of thinking is not to be carried on from day to day; will be found, as I have witnessed with pleasure in several instances, by those who are capable of such a recreation, a valuable addition to the scanty resources of a life protracted beyond the ordina

ry limit.

While he was thus enjoying an old age, happy in some respects beyond the usual lot of humanity, his domestic comfort suffered a deep and incurable wound by the death of Mrs. Reid. He had had the misfortune, too, of surviving, for many years, a numerous family of promising children; four of whom, two sons and two daughters, died after they attained to maturity. One daughter only was left to him when he lost his wife; and of her affectionate good offices he could not always avail himself, in consequence of the attentions which her own husband's infirmities required. Of this lady, who is still alive, the widow of Patrick Carmichael, M. D.,* I shall have occasion again to introduce the name, before I conclude this narrative.

A short extract from a letter addressed to myself by Dr. Reid, not many weeks after his wife's death, will, I am persuaded, be acceptable to many, as an interesting relic of the writer.

By the loss of my bosom-friend, with whom I lived fifty-two years, I am brought into a kind of new world, at a time of life when old habits are not easily forgot, or new ones acquired. But every world is God's world, and I am thankful for the comforts he has left me.

Mrs.

* A learned and worthy physician, who, after a long residence in Holland, where he practised medicine, retired to Glasgow. He was a younger son of Professor Gerschom Carmichael, who published about the year 1720, an edition of Puffendorf, De Officio Hominis et Civis, and who is pronounced by Dr. Hutcheson, " by far the best commentator on that book.” .VOL. VII.

35

Carmichael has now the care of two old deaf men, and does every thing in her power to please them; and both are very sensible of her goodness. I have more health than at my time of life I had any reason to expect. I walk about; entertain myself with reading what I soon forget; can converse with one person, if he articulates distinctly, and is within ten inches of my left ear; go to church without hearing one word of what is said. You know, I never had any pretensions to vivacity, but I am still free from languor and ennui.

“If you are weary of this detail, impute it to the anxiety you express to know the state of my health. I wish you may have no more uneasiness at my age; being yours most affectionately."

About four years after this event, he was prevailed on by his friend and relation, Dr. Gregory, to pass a few weeks, during the summer of 1796, at Edinburgh. He was accompanied by Mrs. Carmichael, who lived with him in Dr. Gregory's house; a situation which united, under the same roof, every advantage of medical care, of tender attachment, and of philosophical intercourse. As Dr. Gregory's professional engagements, however, necessarily interfered much with his attentions to his guest, I enjoyed more of Dr. Reid's society, than might otherwise have fallen to my share. I had the pleasure, accordingly, of spending some hours with him daily, and of attending him in his walking excursions, which frequently extended to the distance of three or four miles. His faculties, excepting his memory which was considerably impaired, appeared as vigorous as ever; and, although his deafness prevented him from taking any share in general conversation, he was still able to enjoy the company of a friend. · Mr. Playfair and myself were both witnesses of the acuteness which he displayed on one occasion, in detecting a mistake, by no means obvious, in a manuscript of his kinsman David Gregory, on the subject of Prime and Ultimate Ratios. Nor had his temper suffered from the hand of time, either in point of gentleness or of gayety. “ Instead of repining at the enjoyments of the young, he delighted in promoting them; and, after all the losses he had sustained in his own family, he continued to treat children with such condescension and benignity, that some very young ones noticed the peculiar kindness of his eye.” * In apparent soundness and activity of body, he resembled more a man of sixty than of eighty-seven.

He returned to Glasgow in his usual health and spirits; and continued, for some weeks, to devote, as formerly, a regular portion of his time to the exercise both of body and of mind. It appears, from a letter of Dr. Cleghorn's to Dr. Gregory, that he was still able to work with his own hands in his garden; and he was found by Dr. Brown, occupied in the solution of an algebraical problem of considerable difficulty, in which, after the labor of a day or two, he at last succeeded. It was in the course of the same short interval, that he committed to writing those particulars concerning his ancestors, which I have already mentioned.

This active and useful life was now, however, drawing to a conclusion. A violent disorder attacked him about the end of September; but does not seem to have occasioned much alarm to those about him, till he was visited by Dr. Cleghorn, who soon after communicated his apprehensions in a letter to Dr. Gregory. Among other symptoms, he mentioned particularly, “ that alteration of voice and features, which, though not easily described, is so well known to all who have opportunities of seeing life close.” Dr. Reid's own opinion of his case was probably the same with that of his physician ; as he expressed to him on his first visit, his hope that he was “soon to get his dismission.” After a severe struggle, attended with repeated strokes of palsy, he died on the 7th of October following. Dr. Gregory had the melancholy satisfaction of visiting his venerable friend on his death-bed, and of paying him this unavailing mark of attachment, before his powers of recollection were entirely gone.

The only surviving descendant of Dr. Reid is Mrs.

*I have borrowed this sentence from a just and elegant character of Dr. Reid, which appeared a few days after his death, in one of the Glasgow Journals. I had occasion frequently to verify the truth of the observation during his last visit to Edinburgh.

« PrécédentContinuer »