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some doubt as to the method of equal altitudes employed in finding the
time at Port Royal, they do not appear to have been of opinion that the
first voyage was conclusive. In 1763 an act passed, by which, firstly,
no other person could become entitled to the reward until Harrison’s
claim was settled; and, secondly, 5,000_l._ was awarded to him on his
discovery of the structure of the instrument. But the Commissioners not
agreeing about the payment, another voyage was resolved on, and Mr.
William Harrison sailed again for Barbadoes, with Dr. Maskelyne,
afterwards the Astronomer Royal. The result was yet more satisfactory
than before; and in 1765 a new act was passed, awarding to Harrison the
whole sum of 20,000_l._: the first moiety upon the discovery of his
construction; the second, so soon as it should be found that others
could be made like it. In this act it is stated that the watch did not
lose more than ten miles of the longitude. But Harrison had by this time
been rendered unduly suspicious of the intentions of the Commissioners.
He imagined that Dr. Maskelyne had treated him unfairly, and was
desirous of having no method of finding the longitude except that of
lunar observations. An account of the subsequent proceedings, of which
the following is an abstract, was printed in self-defence by the
Commissioners:—

May 28, 1765, Mr. Harrison’s son informs the Commissioners that he is
ready to deliver the drawings and explanations, and expects a
certificate that he is entitled to receive the first moiety of the
reward. The Commissioners are unanimously of opinion that verbal
explanations and experiments, in the presence of such persons as they
may appoint, will be necessary. May 30, Mr. Harrison attends in person,
and consents to the additional explanation; and certain men of science,
as well as watchmakers, are instructed to receive them. June 13, Mr.
Harrison, being present, is informed that the Board is ready to fix a
time to proceed, on which he denies ever having given his assent, and
refers to a letter which he had delivered at the last meeting. The
letter had not, says the Commissioners’ Minute, been delivered, but had
been left upon the table, unnoticed by any one. It was to the effect
that Harrison was willing to give further verbal explanation, but
requires to know to whom it must be given; “for,” says he, “I will never
attempt to explain it to the satisfaction of the Commissioners, and who
they may appoint; nor will I ever come under the directions of men of
theory.” He further refuses to make any experimental exhibition, and
ends by complaining of the usage he has received. He was then told by
the Board that he would only be asked for experiments in cases where
there were operations which could not be fully explained by words, such,
for instance, as the tempering of the springs; on which he left the
Board abruptly, declaring, “that he never would consent to it, as long
as he had a drop of English blood in his body.” The Commissioners
thereupon declined further dealing with him.

The reason of the above absurd conduct we suspect to have been, that
Harrison desired, in addition to the large reward claimed by him, to
have a monopoly of the manufacture of his watches, such as would have
necessarily been created for his benefit, had he been allowed to keep
his actual methods of working a secret. For he offered, _upon receiving
the reward_, “to employ a sufficient number of hands, so as with all
possible speed to furnish his Majesty’s navy, &c. &c., not doubting but
the public will consider the charge of the outset of the undertaking.”
We quote here from the Biographia Britannica, in the last volume of
which, published in 1766, is an account of him, from materials avowedly
furnished by himself, and plainly written by a partisan. It is the only
instance we can find in which a memoir of a living person has been
inserted in that work.

The next circumstance we find, (for there is no connected history of
this discussion, which exists only in a number of detached pamphlets,)
is the delivery of the watch to Dr. Maskelyne, at the Royal Observatory,
in May, 1766, that its rate of going might there be tried. The Report of
the Astronomer Royal states, that it could not be depended upon within a
degree of longitude in a voyage of six weeks; and a very angry pamphlet,
published by Harrison in the following year, accuses Maskelyne of having
treated the instrument unfairly. Many circumstances are stated which now
appear ludicrous, and some which, if true, would have reflected
discredit on the Commissioners. But nothing can be inferred, after the
refusal of Harrison to accede to the very reasonable demand of the
Commissioners, except that he was most probably as wrong in his
suspicions as he had been foolish in his dealings. The end of this
dispute was, that in 1767 Harrison complied with the conditions insisted
upon; and, it having been found that his improvements were such as
admitted of execution by another person, he received the whole sum
awarded to him by the Act of Parliament.

Harrison was not a well-educated man, and was deficient in the power of
expressing his meaning clearly. It was easier for him, no doubt, to make
two watches than to explain one; and hence, perhaps, his aversion to
“men of theory,” who troubled him for descriptions and explanations.

He died in 1776, at his house in Red Lion Square, having been engaged
during the latter years of his life in bringing his improvements still
nearer to perfection. His last work, which was tried in 1772, was found
to have erred only four seconds and a half in ten weeks.

In his younger days, some church-bells, which were out of tune, set him
upon examining the musical scale, with a view to correct them. He
communicated his ideas on the subject to Dr. Smith, who confirmed and
extended them in his well-known work on Harmonics. In the Preface it is
stated that Harrison made the interval of the major-third bear to that
of the octave the proportion of the diameter of a circle to its
circumference. This, he said, he did on the authority of a friend, who
assured him it would give the best scale. Harrison himself wrote a
treatise on the scale, but we do not know whether it was published.

He is, on the whole, a fine instance of the union of originality with
perseverance. The inventions, of which it takes so short a space to tell
the history, were the work of fifty years of labour, and to them the art
of constructing chronometers, and consequently the science of
navigation, is indebted for much of its present advanced state.

[Illustration:

_Engraved by C. E. Wagstaff._

MONTAIGNE.

_From an original Picture at Paris, in the “Dépot des Archives du
Royaume.”_

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

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




[Illustration]

MONTAIGNE.


Michel, Seigneur, or Lord, of MONTAIGNE, a feudal estate in the province
of Perigord, near the river Dordogne, was born February 28, 1533, of a
family said to have been originally from England. He was a younger son;
but, by the death of his elder brother, inherited the estate by the
title of which he is known. His father, a blunt feudal noble, who had
served in the wars of Francis I., placed him out at nurse in a village
of his domain, and directed that he should be treated in the same manner
as the children of the peasants. As soon as he could speak, he was
placed under the care of a German tutor, selected for his ignorance of
the French, and intimate acquaintance with the Greek and Latin
languages. All Montaigne’s intercourse with his preceptor was carried on
in Latin; and even his parents made a rule never to address him except
in that language, of which they picked up a sufficient number of words
for common purposes. The attendants were enjoined to follow the same
practice. “They all became latinized,” says Montaigne himself, “and even
the villagers around learnt words in that language, some of which took
root in the country, and became of common use among the people.” Thus,
without any formal course of scholastic teaching, Montaigne spoke Latin
long before he could speak French, which he was afterwards obliged to
learn as if it had been a foreign language. When, at a mature age, he
was writing his Essays, he professed to be still ignorant of grammar,
having learnt various languages by practice, and not knowing yet the
meaning of adjective, conjunctive, or ablative, (Essais, b. i. c. 48.)
This last assertion probably is not to be taken strictly to the letter.
He studied Greek also by way of pastime, rather than as a task. The
object of his father was to make him learn without constraint and from
his own wish; and, as an instance of the old soldier’s whimsical notions
on education, he caused his son to be awakened in the morning to the
sound of music, that his nervous system might not be injured by any
sudden shock. At six years old Montaigne was sent to the College of
Guienne, at Bordeaux, an establishment which then enjoyed a very high
reputation. He soon made his way to the higher classes; and at thirteen
years of age had completed his college education. Having no taste for
military life, which was then the usual career of young noblemen, he
studied the law; and in 1554 was made Councillor (or Judge) in the
Parliament of Bordeaux, in which capacity he acted for several years. He
went several times to Court, and enjoyed the favour of Henry II., by
whom, or as some say, by Charles IX., he was made a Gentleman of the
King’s Chamber, and Knight of the Order of St. Michel. Among his brother
councillors at Bordeaux there was a young man of distinguished merit,
called La Boëtie, for whom Montaigne conceived a feeling of the most
romantic friendship, which soon became reciprocal. The sentiments and
opinions of the two seem to have sympathized in an extraordinary degree.
La Boëtie died young, but his friend’s affection survived: a chapter of
the Essays is devoted to his memory, and in other parts of Montaigne’s
writings we find frequent recurrence to the same subject.

Montaigne married Françoise de la Chassaigne when he was thirty-three
years of age; and this he did, as he says, in consequence of external
persuasions, and in order to please his friends rather than himself, for
he was not inclined to a married life; “but once married, although he
had been till then considered a licentious man, he observed the conjugal
laws more strictly than he had himself expected.” On succeeding to the
family estate, on which he generally resided, he took the management of
it into his own hands; and although his father, judging from his habits
of abstraction and seeming carelessness of worldly objects, had foretold
that he would ruin his patrimony, Montaigne, at his death, left the
property if not much better, certainly not worse than he found it. He
was not rich, for we are told, by Balzac, that his income did not exceed
6000 livres, which was no great revenue for a country gentleman even at
that time. In 1569 he translated into French a Latin work of Sebonde or
Sebon, in defence of the mysteries and doctrines of the Church of Rome,
against Luther and other Protestant writers. France was at that time
desolated by civil and religious war. Montaigne, although he evidently
disapproved of the conduct of the Court towards the Protestants, yet
remained loyal to the King. He lived in retirement, and took no part in
public affairs, except by exhorting both parties to moderation and
mutual charity. By this conduct he became, as it generally happens,
obnoxious to both factions, and he incurred some danger in consequence.
The massacre of St. Bartholomew plunged him into a deep melancholy. He
detested cruelty and the shedding of blood, and in several passages of
his Essays has animadverted in strong terms upon the atrocities
committed against the Protestants. It was about this dismal epoch of
1572, when, solitude and melancholy urging him to the task, he began to
write that celebrated work, of which we shall presently speak more at
length. It was first published in March, 1580; and had great success.
After some time, Montaigne printed a new edition of it, with additions;
but without making any alterations in the part which had appeared
before. The popularity of the book was such that in a few years there
was hardly a man of education in France who had not a copy of it.

Soon after the first publication of his Essays, Montaigne undertook a
journey for the sake of his health. He went to Germany, Switzerland,
and, lastly, to Italy. He visited several bathing-places, among others,
Baden, and the baths of Lucca in Tuscany. He proceeded to Rome, where he
was well received by several Cardinals and other persons of distinction,
and was introduced to Pope Gregory XIII. Montaigne was delighted with
Rome; he found himself at home among those localities and monuments
which were connected with his earliest studies, and with the first
impressions of his childhood. His remarks on what he saw in the course
of his journey are those of a man of penetration, sincere and plain
spoken, and written in his peculiar antique style. His MS. journal,
after lying forgotten for nearly two centuries, was discovered in an old
chest in the château of his family, and published in 1775, by M. de
Querlon, under the following title, ‘Journal du Voyage de Michel de
Montaigne en Italie, par la Suisse et l’Allemagne, en 1580–1.’ It is one
of the earliest descriptions of Italy in a modern language. In this
journey, Montaigne received the freedom of the city of Rome, by a
special bull of the Pope, which he valued as the proudest distinction of
his life.

While he was abroad, he was elected mayor of Bordeaux by the votes of
the citizens; an honour which he would have declined, but that the king,
Henry III., insisted on his accepting of it. This was a mere honorary
office, no emolument being attached to it. The appointment was for two
years; but Montaigne was re-elected at the expiration of that period,
which was a mark of public favour of rare occurrence.

On retiring from his office, Montaigne returned to his estate. The
country was then ravaged by the war of the League. He had great
difficulty in saving his family and property in the midst of the
contending parties, and once narrowly escaped assassination in his
château. To add to the miseries of civil war, the plague broke out in
his neighbourhood in 1586; and he then, with his family, left his home
and became a wanderer, residing successively at several friends’ houses
in other parts of the country. He was at Paris in 1588, busy about a new
edition of his Essays. It appears from De Thou, that about this time he
was employed in negotiation with a view to mediate peace between Henry
of Navarre, afterwards Henry IV., and the Duke of Guise. At Paris, he
made the acquaintance of Mademoiselle de Gournay, a young lady, who had
conceived a kind of sentimental affection for him by reading his book.
In company with her mother, she visited and introduced herself to him,
and from that time he called her his “fille d’alliance,” or adopted
daughter, a title which she retained for the rest of her life, as she
never married. This attachment, which, though warm and reciprocal, has
every appearance of being of a purely platonic nature, is one of the
remarkable circumstances of Montaigne’s life. At the time of his death,
Mademoiselle de Gournay and her mother crossed one-half of France, in
spite of the civil troubles and the insecurity of the roads, to mix
their tears with those of his widow and daughter.

On his return from Paris, in the latter part of 1588, Montaigne stopped
at Blois, with De Thou, Pasquier, and other friends. The famous
States-General were then assembled in that city, where the murder of the
Duke of Guise, and of his brother, the Cardinal, soon after took place
(23d and 24th December, 1588). Montaigne had long foreseen that the
civil dissensions could only terminate with the death of one of the
great party leaders; and he also said to De Thou that Henry of Navarre
was inclined to embrace the Catholic faith, were he not afraid of being
forsaken by his party; and that, on the other side, Guise himself would
not have been averse from adopting the Protestant religion, if he could
thereby have promoted his ambitious views. After these events, Montaigne
returned to his château. In the following year, he became acquainted
with Pierre Charron, a theological writer of considerable reputation. An
intimate friendship ensued between the two authors; and Charron, in his
book ‘De la Sagesse,’ borrowed many thoughts from the Essays, which he
held in high estimation. Montaigne, by his will, empowered Charron to
assume the coat of arms of his family, as he himself had no male issue.

Montaigne’s health had been declining for some time; he was afflicted
with gravel and cholic, and he was obstinately resolved against
consulting physicians. In September, 1592, he fell ill of a malignant
quinsy, which kept him speechless for three days, during which he had
recourse to his pen to signify to his wife his last intentions. He
desired that several gentlemen of the neighbourhood should be requested
to come and take leave of him. When they were assembled in his room, a
priest said mass, and at the elevation of the host, Montaigne half
raised himself on his bed, with his hands joined together, and in that
attitude expired, September 13, 1592, in the sixtieth year of his age.
His body was buried at Bordeaux, in the church of the Feuillans, where a
monument was erected to him by his widow. He left an only daughter,
heiress of his property.

Montaigne’s Essays have been the subject of much and very conflicting
criticism. If we consider the age and the intellectual condition of the
country in which the author was born, we must pronounce them a very
extraordinary work, not so much on account of the learning contained in
them, as for the philosophical spirit and the frank, independent,
liberal tone that pervades their pages. Civilization and literature were
then at a low ebb in France; the language was hardly formed, the country
was still torn by the rude turbulence, and subject to the oppression, of
feudal lords and feudal laws; and was, moreover, distracted by ignorant
fanaticism, by deadly intolerance, and by civil factions, rendered more
fierce by religious feuds. It is very remarkable that, in a remote
province of a country so situated, a country gentleman, himself
belonging to the feudal aristocracy, should have composed a work full of
moral maxims and precepts, conceived in the spirit of the philosophers
of Greece and Rome, and founded, not on the sanctions of revealed
religion, but on a sort of natural system of ethics, on the beauty of
virtue, on the innate sense of justice, on the lessons of history. It is
almost more remarkable that such a book should have been read with
avidity amidst the turmoil of factions, the din of civil war, the knell
of persecution and massacre.

The morality of the Essays has been called, and justly so, a pagan
morality: it is not founded on the faith and the hopes of a Christian;
and its principles are in many respects widely different from those of
the Gospel. Scepticism was the bias of Montaigne’s mind; his philosophy
is, in great measure, that of Seneca, and other ancient writers, whose
books were the first that were put into his hands when a child.
Accordingly, Pascal, Nicole, Leclerc, and other Christian moralists,
while rendering full justice to Montaigne’s talents and the many good
sentiments scattered about the Essays, are very severe upon his ethics,
taken as a system. Yet he was not a determined infidel, for not only in
the Essays, but in the journal of his travels, which was not intended
for publication, he manifests Christian sentiments; and we have seen
that the mode of his death was that of a Christian. In his chapter on
prayers, (Essais, b. i. 56,) he recommends the use of the Lord’s Prayer
in terms evidently sincere; and in a preceding chapter, after speaking
of two sorts of ignorance, the one, that which precedes all instruction,
and the other, that which follows partial instruction, he says, that
“men of simple minds, devoid of curiosity and of learning, are
Christians through reverence and obedience; that minds of middle growth
and moderate capacities are the most prone to error and doubt; but that
higher intellects, more clear-sighted and better grounded in science,
form a superior class of believers, who, through long and religious
investigations, arrive at the fountain of light of the Scriptures, and
feel the mysterious and divine meaning of our ecclesiastical doctrines.
And we see some who reach this last stage, through the second, with
marvellous fruit and confirmation; and who, having attained the extreme
boundary of Christian intelligence, enjoy their success with modesty and
thanksgivings, accompanied by a total reformation of their morals,
unlike those men of another stamp, who, in order to clear themselves of
the suspicion of their past errors, become violent, indiscreet, unjust,
and throw discredit on the cause which they pretend to serve.” (Essais,
b. i. ch. 54.) And a few lines after, he modestly places himself in the
second rank, of those who, disdaining the first state of uninformed
simplicity, have not yet attained the third and last exalted stage, and
who, he says, are thereby rendered “inept, importunate, and troublesome
to society. But I, for my part, endeavour, as much as I can, to fall
back upon my first and natural condition, from which I have idly
attempted to depart.” Although we may not trust implicitly to the
sincerity of this modest admission, yet we clearly see from this and
other passages, that Montaigne’s mind was anything but dogmatical, and
that he felt the insecurity of his own philosophy, which was made up of
impulses and doubts, rather than of argumentation and conviction.

Montaigne has been also censured for several licentious and some cynical
passages of his ‘Essais.’ This licentiousness, however, is rather in the
expressions than in the meaning of the author. He spoke plainly of
things which are not alluded to in a more refined state of society, but
he did so evidently without mischievous intentions, and as a thing of
common occurrence in his days. His early familiarity with the Latin
classics probably contributed to this habit.

Notwithstanding these faults, Montaigne’s Essays are justly admired for
the sound sense, honesty, and beauty which abound in them. ‘The best
parts of them (says a French critic) are those in which he speaks of the
passions and inclinations of men; as for his learning, it is vague, not
methodical, and uncertain; and his philosophical maxims are often
dangerous.’ (Mélanges d’Histoire et de Litterature,’ Rouen, 1699, tom.
i. p. 133.) Montaigne combats most earnestly all the malignant feelings
inherent in man, inhumanity, injustice, oppression, uncharitableness;
cruelty he detests, his whole nature was averse from it. His chapters on
pedantry and on the education of children are remarkably good. He
throws, at times, considerable light on the state of society and manners
in France in his time, which may be considered as the last period of
feudal power in that country. In his chapter on the inequality among
men, he speaks of the independence of the French nobility, especially in
the provinces remote from the Court, as Britanny; where the feudal lords
living on their estates, surrounded by their vassals, their officers and
valets, their household conducted with an almost royal ceremonial, heard
of the king but once a-year as if he were some distant king or Sultan of
Persia, and only remembered him on the score of some distant
relationship, which they hold carefully registered among their ancestral
documents.

Mademoiselle de Gournay edited Montaigne’s ‘Essais’ in 1635, and
dedicated the edition to the Cardinal de Richelieu. She wrote a long
preface to it, which is a zealous apology for Montaigne and his works
against the charges of the earlier critics. An edition of the ‘Essais’
was published by Pierre Coste, 3 vols. 4to. London, 1724, enriched with
valuable notes and several letters of Montaigne at the end of the third
volume. The edition of Paris, 3 vols. 4to. 1725, is, in great measure, a
reprint of that of Coste, except that the publishers have added extracts


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Online LibraryAnonymousThe Gallery of Portraits: with Memoirs. Vol 5 (of 7) → online text (page 17 of 21)