« PrécédentContinuer »
calculated to remove the unfavorable impressions which the papers already referred to may have produced.
As the whole was the hasty production of a few days (which I could ill spare from other occupations), I must entreat the indulgence of my readers to the careless style in which it is written, and to those defects of arrangement which may probably be observable in some parts of my argument. For the correctness of my details, and the fairness of my reasonings, which to my own judgment appear sound and conclusive, I consider myself as fully responsible.
DUGALD STEWART. College of Edinburgh, May 15, 1805.
A SHORT STATEMENT, &c.
The University of Edinburgh having (on the 30th of January last) been deprived of one of its ablest supporters and brightest ornaments, by the death of the late Dr. John Robison, a very general solicitude was felt, not only by his colleagues, but by all who take an interest in the prosperity of this city, as a seat of learning, that his place should be supplied by some person qualified to succeed to such a predecessor, and to the other eminent men who had filled the same station since the commencement of the preceding century.* The right of election is vested in the Lord Provost, Magistrates, and Town Council of Edinburgh ; and, in no former instance, (I may venture to assert with confidence,) was it exercised in a manner more creditable to the Patrons, or more congenial to the wishes of the public, than on this last memorable occasion. Without any solicitation on the part of Mr. Playfair, the vacant chair was offered to that gentleman by the Lord Provost with the unanimous approbation of the Magistrates and Council; and he was accordingly (on the 6th of February) removed from the Professorship of Mathematics to that of Natural Philosophy. The advantage of the change, in point of emolument, is doubtful; but the duties of his new office were more agreeable to Mr. Playfair, as they opened a more enlarged and varied field to his academical labors.
In justice to the numerous and very respectable candidates who aspired to the vacant chair, I think it proper to add, that the solicitations which they address
* Sir Robert Stewart, Sir John Stewart, (son to the former), Dr. Adam Ferguson, and Mr. Russel. VOL. VII.
ed to the Patrons of the University were very generally, if not universally, accompanied with a tribute to the literary merits and public services of Mr. Playfair, equally honorable to all the parties concerned. A wish, if I am not misinformed, was in every instance expressed, that Mr. Playfair's views should, in the first place, be consulted, and that the competition should be understood to be confined to that office which he should consider as the least eligible of the two.
The Patrons of the University, in the mean time, having, in compliance with the wishes of the most competent judges, so faithfully discharged this part of their duty, resolved to proceed with all possible deliberation in the execution of the other. A sufficient opportunity was afforded for candidates in every part of the island to bring forward their pretensions; and a determination was openly announced by the Chief Magistrate,* to be guided in his choice by no consideration but the comparative merits of the competitors, and the weight of recommendation which they should severally produce in support of their claims.
Upon the death of Mr. Robison, the first candidate who appeared was the Reverend Thomas Macknight, one of the ministers of Edinburgh; a gentleman who, though unknown to the world as an author, was understood to have cultivated, very successfully, the sciences both of mathematics and of physics ; and who, for a considerable time past, had been occasionally employed as assistant to Mr. Robison, when laid aside by indisposition.
At a very early period of the business, he did me the honor to communicate to me his views; and I then expressed to himself, as I have on all occasions done to others, the favorable opinion which I entertained of his abilities and acquirements. With respect, however, to the office in question, I declined to come under any engagements till I should know who were to be his competitors; adding, in the most explicit terms, that if he should succeed in his canvass, the interests of the
* Sir William Fettes of Wamphray, Baronet.
University seemed to me to require that he should resign his ecclesiastical living; and that I trusted that our honorable patrons would make this an essential condition, in the event of his appointment. The truth is, that my advice and my good wishes were all that I ever had to offer in the disposal of an academical office; and that although I have more than once been honored with the form of a consultation, I cannot boast that the slightest attention was, in any one former case, paid to my opinion.
In the course of this conversation with Mr. Macknight, he appeared to acquiesce in the general principle I had stated; mentioning his perfect willingness, to relinquish his parochial charge, if the object of his ambition could not be obtained without such a sacrifice.
I soon however learned, through other channels, that a very different language was held by Mr. Macknight's ecclesiastical friends. Unwilling to break through a practice which, from their success in some late instances, they considered as likely to be soon established into a general rule, they openly avowed their determination, that Mr. Macknight should either enjoy both offices, or should give up all thoughts of the professorship. The alarm, which I felt on this occasion, in common with many others of my colleagues, was not a little increased, when we understood that the opinion of these gentlemen was sanctioned by that of Mr. Ranken,* late Convener of the Trades, and now one of the Trades-Counsellors; a person whose political weight has, for many years past, been perfectly known to all the citizens of Edinburgh. In compliance with the judgment of these advisers, Mr. Macknight is supposed to have departed from that more moderate plan of advancement, to which, immediately after Mr. Robison's death, he appeared, from his conversations both with myself and others, to have limited his hopes.
Under these circumstances, I resolved to address myself directly to the Chief Magistrate. I had the honor of being slightly known to him, and all that I had heard of
* Tailor to his Majesty.
his character conspired to impress me with favorable sentiments of his independence and public spirit. But these prepossessions fell far short of the meritorious conduct which he has actually exhibited in the sequel of this business.
The following copy of my letter to the Lord Provost will explain sufficiently the motives by which I was influenced in taking a step so repugnant to all my
usual habits, as a passive spectator of the occurrences of the day. Nothing, in truth, but my complete conviction, that the ruin of the University was threatened by the measures which were avowedly in contemplation among a party of the Edinburgh Clergy, could have led me to think of it. The contents of my letter will, at the same time, show, that I was actuated by no wish to exclude from our Universities those ministers of the church of Scotland, whose literary attainments, or taste for the sciences, might lead them to prefer the duties of an academical life to those connected with the exercise of their clerical functions.
Edinburgh, 12th February 1805. “ MY LORD, “I did myself the honor of calling upon your Lordship on Saturday, and intended to have repeated my visit yesterday or to-day ; but a sore throat, which has confined me to my bed-chamber since Sunday afternoon, lays me under the necessity of troubling your Lordship with a letter.
“ After having done the duty of a professor in this University for more than thirty years, (not to mention my hereditary connexion with it for nearly twice that period), I flatter myself I stand in no need of an apology with your Lordship, for presuming to offer my opinion on a subject which I conceive to be deeply interesting to its future prosperity. I have no favor to ask for myself, or any other individual; nor can I be suspected of any motives but such as it is my pride to avow to the public.
“The single point to which I am anxious to draw your Lordship's attention, is the expediency of uniting