Anonymous.

The Gallery of Portraits: with Memoirs. Vol 5 (of 7) online

. (page 14 of 21)
Online LibraryAnonymousThe Gallery of Portraits: with Memoirs. Vol 5 (of 7) → online text (page 14 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Compendious or Brief Examination of certayne Ordinary Complaints of
divers of our Countrymen in these our Days, &c., by William Shakspeare,
Gentleman;’ the signature to which, in the original edition of 1581, was
“W. S., Gent.;” and Dr. Farmer has clearly proved the initials to mean
“William Stafford, Gent.” Another and more impudent forgery was
attempted by Ireland, who published in 1795 a volume, entitled
‘Shakspeare’s Manuscripts.’ The fraud met with partial success, and the
tragedy of ‘Vortigern’ was performed as one of Shakspeare’s, to the
great disgust, it is said, of John Kemble, who had to act in it much
against his will. Malone exposed the imposition in 1796, and Ireland
himself ultimately acknowledged it. With respect to the probable
character of Shakspeare’s prose compositions, it is needless to
speculate on it, as we have no reason to believe that he ever wrote any
prose, except for the stage.

Some interesting criticisms of Mrs. Siddons on the chief female
characters of Shakspeare will be found in the life of that eminent
actress in this volume. We may here introduce another observation of
hers on Constance in ‘King John.’ She said that the intuition of
Shakspeare in delineating that character struck her as all but
supernatural: she could scarcely conceive the possibility of any man
possessing himself so thoroughly with the most intense and most inward
feelings of the other sex: had Shakspeare been a woman and a mother, he
must have felt neither less nor more than as he wrote.

The two first folio editions are in great request among book-collectors,
and, owing to their scarcity, fetch high prices at auctions. They have
nothing to recommend them either as to accuracy or elegance of
typography, but are really valuable for the various readings which they
contain. The best modern editions are those of Johnson and Steevens, and
Malone. The last edition is the posthumous one of Malone, edited by
Boswell, and little room is left for any farther elucidation of our
great dramatist, as far as verbal criticism is concerned. But for the
higher branches of criticism, the works of such a poet are as
inexhaustible as those of Homer; and if his fame be equally immortal,
its fate is more singular. However ardent may be the admiration of Homer
on the part of modern scholars, and however profound their investigation
of his merits, far from pretending to discoveries unknown to the Grecian
critics and philosophers, they support their own views by constant
references to the ancients; but Shakspeare has found his most elaborate,
and with certain drawbacks, his best critics, among foreigners. In
England Shakspeare is the idol of those who read either for the
amusement of the imagination, or as students not of poetical or
metaphysical, but of every-day nature; and his English editors have
rather criticised down to the level of such readers, than aimed at
ripening their taste, or elevating their conceptions. We find eminent
men among them, such as Pope, Warburton, and Johnson, yet none well
qualified to perform the highest functions of a commentator. Johnson’s
Preface is highly valued for the justness of his general criticism, and
his vindication of the poet on the score of the unities is triumphantly
conclusive. But his remarks at the end of each play are so jejune and
superficial, that short as they are, no reader perhaps ever wished them
longer. One cannot help wondering that the acute, and in many instances
profound, though sometimes partial, critic of Cowley, Milton, Dryden,
Pope and Gray, should have skimmed so lightly over the surface of
Shakspeare. Not so his German translators and critics. No sooner did the
Germans take up the study of English literature, than they selected
Shakspeare on whom to try their powers; and they are thought to have
dived deeper into his mind than have his own countrymen, with their
apparently better opportunities. Nor is this wonderful: for they have
regarded the poet not merely as the minister of amusement to an admiring
audience, but as a metaphysical philosopher of nature’s forming,
possessed of deepest insight into the complex motives which move the
hearts, and stimulate the actions of mankind. And seeking with a
reverent attention to trace the workings of the _maker’s_ mind (for in
this instance there is a peculiar propriety in translating the Greek
word _poet_) they have succeeded in furnishing profound and satisfactory
explanations of much that less intellectual critics had treated as
instances of the author’s irregular and capricious genius. In this, as
in other branches of German literature, Goëthe stands pre-eminent: and
the translation of his ‘Wilhelm Meister’ has placed within the reach of
all readers a series of original and masterly criticisms, especially on
that stumbling-block of commentators, the character of Hamlet. We may
quote as a specimen his exposition of the principle upon which the
anomalies of the Prince of Denmark’s conduct are to be solved. “It is
clear to me that Shakspeare’s intention was to exhibit the effects of a
great action, imposed as a duty upon a mind too feeble for its
accomplishment. In this case I find the character consistent throughout.
Here is an oak tree planted in a china vase, proper only to receive the
most delicate flowers. The roots strike out and the vessel flies to
pieces. A pure, noble, highly moral disposition, but without that energy
of soul which constitutes the hero, sinks under a load which it can
neither support nor endure to abandon altogether. _All_ his obligations
are sacred to him; but this alone is above his powers! An impossibility
is required at his hands; not an impossibility in itself, but that which
is so to him. Observe, how he turns, shifts, hesitates, advances, and
recedes;—how he is continually reminded and reminding himself of his
real commission, which he nevertheless in the end seems almost entirely
to lose sight of, and this without ever recovering his former
tranquillity!” How different this from the praise of _variety_ allowed
to this tragedy by Johnson, to “the pretended madness, causing mirth,”
without any adequate cause for feigning it, and the objection that
through the whole piece he is “rather an instrument than an agent!”

Malone’s “attempt to ascertain the order in which the plays of
Shakspeare were written” occupies 180 pages. Where so many words are
necessary, the arrangement to be justified may not be very certain; but
that of Malone is generally received. It runs thus: The First Part of
King Henry VI., 1589. Second and Third Parts, Two Gentlemen of Verona,
1591. Comedy of Errors, 1592. King Richard II. and III., 1593. Love’s
Labour’s Lost, Merchant of Venice, Midsummer Night’s Dream, 1594. Taming
of the Shrew, Romeo and Juliet, King John, 1596. First Part of King
Henry IV., 1597. Second Part, All’s well that ends well, 1598. King
Henry V., As You like it, 1599. Much ado about Nothing, Hamlet, 1600.
Merry Wives of Windsor, 1601. Troilus and Cressida, 1602. Measure for
Measure, King Henry VIII., 1603. Othello, 1604. King Lear, 1605.
Macbeth, 1606. Twelfth Night, Julius Cæsar, 1607. Antony and Cleopatra,
1608. Cymbeline, 1609. Coriolanus, Timon of Athens, 1610. Winter’s Tale,
1611. Tempest, 1612. Except the placing of the historical plays in
separate succession, the order of Malone’s edition follows the above
dates. Previous editions arranged the plays as comedies, histories, and
tragedies, beginning with the Tempest, the last written, and ending with
Othello. We must add to the list of plays ascribed to Shakspeare, and
included in the editions of his works, Pericles and Titus Andronicus,
which are now acknowledged not to be the composition of Shakspeare,
though perhaps retouched by him. The Yorkshire Tragedy, Lord Cromwell,
and others, have still less right to bear the honour of his name.

[Illustration: [Shakspeare’s Monument at Stratford-upon-Avon.]]

[Illustration:

_Engraved by B. Holl._

EULER.

_From a Picture by A. Lorgna in the Collection of the Institute of
France._

Under the Superintendance of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Knowledge.

_London, Published by Charles Knight, Ludgate Street._
]




[Illustration]

EULER.


Leonard Euler[7] was born at Basle, April 15, 1707. His father was the
clergyman of Reichen, near Basle, and had himself been a pupil of James
Bernouilli. He intended his son for his own profession, and after having
been himself his first instructor in mathematics, sent him to the
university of Basle. John Bernouilli was at this time Professor, and his
sons, Nicolas and Daniel, two more of the _eight_ Bernouillis known to
the history of science, were under him. With the sons Euler contracted
an intimate friendship; and obtained such a degree of favour even with
their father, that the latter gave him a private lesson weekly, upon
points more advanced than those treated in the public course. This was a
strong mark of favour from John Bernouilli, who was of an unamiable
disposition, jealous of his brother, of his son, and finally of almost
every one who displayed a superior talent for mathematics. Euler at
first turned his attention to theology, in accordance with the wishes of
his father, but this was not of long continuance. At the age of
nineteen, besides obtaining a degree from his University, he had merited
the notice of the Academy of Sciences for a memoir on some points of
naval architecture. In the same year, he was an unsuccessful candidate
for a Professorship at Basle, an unlucky event, M. Condorcet observes,
for his country, inasmuch as a few days afterwards he left it for
Russia, and never returned. His friends the Bernouillis (Nicolas and
Daniel) had, two years before, accepted invitations from the Empress
Catherine; and he followed them in hopes of obtaining employment and
subsistence at St. Petersburgh. But by the time he arrived, both Nicolas
Bernouilli and the Empress were dead, the Academy of St. Petersburgh was
left without a patron, and Euler, a nameless stranger, could not for a
long time obtain any settled avocation. How he maintained himself we are
not told; but he was upon the point of entering the Russian service as a
sailor, when his prospects brightened, and he obtained the place of
Professor of Natural Philosophy. In 1733 he succeeded Daniel Bernouilli,
who returned to his own country, as Professor of Mathematics. In the
same year he married a young lady named Gsell, the daughter of an artist
of Basle, who had emigrated to Russia in the reign of Peter the Great.

Footnote 7:

We have followed the _éloge_ of Condorcet as to facts and dates. We
should have preferred that of M. Fuss, but have not had the
opportunity of seeing it. The mere biographical details of Euler’s
life are, however, of the simplest character.

The despotism of the Russian government could not please the republican
born; but circumstances obliged him to endure it till 1741, when he
quitted Petersburgh for Berlin on the invitation of Frederic the Great.
To the necessity for continual reserve and government of the tongue
which was necessary in the Russian capital has been attributed his love
of silence and study, which exceeded all that is related of any of his
contemporaries. The mother of Frederic, who was as much attached to the
conversation of distinguished men as the King himself, could never
obtain more than a few syllables from Euler at any one time. On her
asking the reason why he would not speak, he is said to have replied,
“Madam, I have lived in a country where men who speak are hanged.”

Euler remained at Berlin till 1766. In 1761 he lost his mother, who had
resided with him for eleven years. During this time he was not
considered as having abandoned his Russian engagements, and a part of
his salary was regularly paid. When the Russians invaded Brandenburg in
1760, a farm belonging to him was destroyed, but he was immediately more
than reimbursed, by the order of the Empress Elizabeth. On the
invitation of that princess he consented to return to Petersburgh in
1766. He had for some years suffered from weakness in the eyes; and not
long after his return to Russia he became so nearly blind, that he could
distinguish nothing except very large letters marked with chalk on a
slate. In this state he continued for the remainder of his life; and by
constant exercise he acquired a power of recollection, whether of
mathematical formulæ or figures, which would be totally incredible, if
it were not supported by strong evidence. He formed in his head, and
retained in his memory, a table of the first six powers of all numbers
up to 100, containing about 3000 figures. Two of his pupils had summed
seventeen terms of a converging series, and differed by a unit in the
fiftieth decimal of the result; Euler decided between them correctly by
a mental calculation[8]. His chief amusement during his deprivation was
the formation of artificial magnets, and the instruction of one of his
grandchildren in mathematics. His studies were in no degree relaxed by
it. In 1771 Euler’s house was destroyed by fire, together with a
considerable part of the city. He was himself saved by a
fellow-countryman named Grimm, and his manuscripts were also rescued. In
1776 he married the aunt of his first wife. No other event worthy of
special notice occurred before his death, which took place suddenly,
September 7, 1783. He had been employed in calculating the laws of the
ascent of balloons, which were then newly introduced; he afterwards
dined with his family and M. Lexell, his pupil, conversed with them on
the newly-discovered planet of Herschel, and was amusing himself with
one of his grandchildren; suddenly the pipe which he held in his hand
dropped on the ground, and it was found that[9] “life and calculation
were at an end.” He had thirteen children, of whom only three survived
him; one of them, John Albert Euler, was known as a mathematician.

Footnote 8:

We suspect some mistake in this account, which is constantly given. A
very surprising story ought to be consistent: now it is difficult to
believe that any series which was actually employed in practice (and
people do not sum series to fifty places for amusement) would converge
so quickly, as to give fifty places in seventeen terms. The well-known
series for the base of Napier’s logarithms is called a rapidly
converging series, and gives about fifteen places in seventeen terms.
We cannot help thinking, either that Euler settled one disputed term
only, or that there is some mistake about the number of figures.

Footnote 9:

Il cessa de calculer et de vivre.—CONDORCET.

Of the scientific character of Euler it is impossible to speak in
detail, since even the _resumé_ of M. Condorcet, which is much longer
than any account we can here insert, is meagre in the extreme; and we
imagine that the reader would form no idea whatsoever of the man we are
describing, from any brief enumeration of discoveries for which we
should be able to allow room. In more than fifty years of incessant
thought, Euler wrote thirty separate works and more than seven hundred
memoirs: which could not altogether be contained in forty large quarto
volumes. These writings embrace every existing branch of mathematics,
and almost every conceivable application of them, to such an extent,
that there is no one among mathematicians, past or present, who can be
placed near to Euler in the enormous variety of the subjects which he
treated. And the contents of these volumes are without exception the
original fruit of his own brain; seeing that he left no subject as he
found it. He is not a diffuse writer, except in giving a large number of
examples, and this renders him in some respects the most instructive of
all writers. His works are full of the most original thoughts developed
in the most original manner; so that they have been a mine of
information for his successors, which is even now far from being
exhausted. Let a student be employed upon any subject connected with
mathematics, however remotely, and he has discovered but little if he
has not found out that Euler was there before him.

Of all mathematical writers, Euler is one of the most simple, and this
in a manner which renders his writings not by any means a sound
preparation for future investigations. Difficulties seem to have
disappeared in the progress, or never to have been encountered; and the
student is rather made to feel that Euler could take him anywhere, than
furnished with the means of providing for himself, when his guide shall
have left him. Hence the writings of others, in every way inferior to
Euler in elegance and simplicity, are to be preferred, and have been
preferred, for the formation of mathematical power.

Euler is to be measured by the assistance which he gave to his immediate
successors, and here it is well known that he paved the way for the
research of others in a more effectual manner than any of his
contemporaries. The incessant repetition of his name in later authors is
sufficient authority for this assertion. His writings are the first in
which the modern analysis is uniformly the instrument of investigation.
His predecessors, James and John Bernouilli, had perhaps the largest
share in bringing the infinitesimal analysis of Newton and Leibnitz to
the state of power required for extensive application. To Euler (besides
important extensions) belongs the distinct merit of showing how to apply
it to physical investigations, in conjunction with D’Alembert, who ran a
splendid and contemporary career of a similar character in this respect.
But though it would be perhaps admitted that there are individual
results of the latter which exceed anything done by the former, in
generality of application, there is no comparison whatsoever between the
extent of the labours of the two.

Euler was a man of a simple, reserved, and benevolent mind; with a
strong sense of devotion, and a decided religious habit, according to
the Calvinism of the Established Church of his country. At the court of
Frederic, he himself conducted the devotions of his family every
evening; a practice which then and there implied much moral courage, and
insensibility to ridicule. But he possessed humour, for when he was
asked to calculate the horoscope of one of the Russian princes, he
quietly suggested that it was the official duty of the astronomer, and
imposed the duty upon a colleague, who doubtless did not feel very much
flattered by the application.

There are few men whom the usual biographical formulæ as to moral
character and habits would better fit than Euler, according to every
account which has appeared of him. But such praises are no distinction;
and it will be more to the purpose to state that the only occasion in
which he was betrayed into printing a word which his eulogists have
regretted, was in the dispute between Maupertuis and himself against
others on the principle known by the name of _least action_, one of the
warmest and most angry discussions which ever took place.

Perhaps it is to the quiet abstraction of his life that he owed the
perpetuity of his tenure of investigation. Many eminent mathematical
discoverers have run the brilliant part of their career while
comparatively young. Euler “ceased to calculate and to live” at once.
But it may be that this was a part of his natural constitution, and a
distinct feature of his mind. The nature of his writings rather confirms
the latter supposition. There is the same difference between them and
those of others, that there is between conversation and oratory. He
seems to be moving in his natural element, where others are swimming for
their lives.

The best works of Euler for a young mathematician to read, in order to
get an idea of his style and methods, are the ‘_Analysis Infinitorum_,’
and the ‘_Treatise on the Integral Calculus_.’




[Illustration]

SIR W. JONES.


William Jones, the most accomplished Oriental scholar of the last
century, an upright magistrate, and eminent benefactor of the native
subjects of our Indian dominions, was born in London on Michaelmas Eve,
1746. His father, a man esteemed by his contemporaries, a skilful
mathematician, and the friend of Newton, died in July, 1749. His mother
then devoted herself entirely to the education of this her only
surviving son; and to her careful and judicious culture of his infant
years, bestowed indeed upon a happy soil, is to be ascribed the early
development of that thirst for learning and faculty of profitable
application, which enabled Jones to accumulate in a short and busy life
a quantity and variety of abstruse knowledge, such as the same age does
not often see equalled. To the end of her life he acknowledged and
repaid her care and affection by ardent love and unchanging filial
respect. When only seven years old, he was sent to Harrow. His progress,
slow at first, afterwards became most rapid; and the head master, Dr.
Thackeray, a man not given to praise, spoke of him as “a boy of so
active a mind, that if he were left naked and friendless on Salisbury
Plain he would find the way to fame and riches.”

At the time of his quitting school, besides a much deeper acquaintance
with the classical languages than usually falls to the lot of a
schoolboy, Jones had acquired the French and Italian languages, had
commenced the study of Hebrew, and (a thing only worth mention as
indicative of his tastes) had made himself acquainted with the Arabic
letters. Botany, the collection of fossils, and composition in English
verse, were his favourite amusements at this period. March 16, 1764, he
was entered as a student of University College, Oxford. He was elected a
scholar on the Bennett foundation, October 30, 1764; and fellow on the
same foundation, August 7, 1766, before he was of standing to proceed to
the degree of B.A., which he took in 1768. At an early period of his
residence he applied in earnest

[Illustration:

_Engraved by J. Posselwhite._

SIR WILLIAM JONES.

_From the Picture in the Hall of University College, Oxford._

Under the Superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Knowledge.

_London, Published by Charles Knight, Ludgate Street._
]

to the study of Arabic; and his zeal was such, that, though habitually
self-denying, and anxious not to trespass on his mother’s slender
income, he maintained at Oxford, at his own expense, a Syrian, with whom
he had become acquainted in London, for the benefit to be derived from
his instruction. From the Arabic he proceeded to learn the Persian
language.

His residence was varied, though his favourite studies do not appear to
have been interrupted, by an invitation to undertake the care of the
late Lord Spencer, then a boy of seven years old. This was in 1765. The
next five years he spent with his pupil chiefly at Harrow, and
occasionally at Althorp, or in London, or on the continent. It appears
from the college books that he resided at Oxford very little in the
years 1766, 1767, and 1768. Wherever he was, his time was diligently
employed, not only in his severer studies, but in the pursuit of
personal accomplishments and the cultivation of valuable acquaintances,
especially with those who, like himself, were attached to the
investigation of Eastern languages and science. In 1768 he received a
high, but an unprofitable compliment, in being selected to render into
French a Persian Life of Nadir Shah, transmitted to the English
government by the King of Denmark for the purpose of translation. To
this performance, which was printed in 1770, Mr. Jones added a ‘Treatise
on Oriental Poetry,’ in which several of the odes of Hafiz are
translated into verse. This also was written in French; and it has
justly been observed by a French writer in the ‘Biographie Universelle,’
that the occurrence of some imperfections of style ought not to
interfere with our forming a high estimate of the talents of a man who,
at the age of twenty-two, possessed the varied qualifications and
recondite acquirements displayed in this work. By the end of the same
year, 1770, the author finished his ‘Commentaries on Asiatic Poetry,’ a
Latin treatise, which for its style is commended by the competent
authority of Dr. Parr; and which has also obtained high praise for the
taste and judgment displayed in selecting and translating the passages
by which the text is illustrated. It was not printed till 1774.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 14 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryAnonymousThe Gallery of Portraits: with Memoirs. Vol 5 (of 7) → online text (page 14 of 21)