Thomas Reid.

The works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters online

. (page 10 of 114)
Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 10 of 114)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

with Bishop Butler, an author whom Tie
held in the highest estimation. A very
careful abstract of the treatise entitled
" Analogy," drawn up by Dr Reid, many
years ago, for his own use, still exists
among his manuscripts ; and the short
" Dissertation on Virtue" which Butler has
annexed to that work, together with the
" Discourses on Human Nature" published
in his volume of Sermons, he used always
to recommend as the most satisfactory ac-
count that has yet appeared of the funda-
mental principles of Morals : nor could he
conceal his regret, that the profound philo-
sophy which these Discourses contain
should of late have been so generally sup-
planted in England by the speculations of
some other moralists, who, while they pro-
fess to idolize the memory of Locke,
" approve little or nothing in his writings,
but his errors. "+

Deeply impressed, however, as he was
with Ins own principles, he possessed the
most perfect liberality towards all whom he
believed to be honestly and conscientiously
devoted to the search of truth. With one
very distinguished character, the late Lord
Karnes, he lived in the most cordial and
affectionate friendship, notwithstanding the
avowed opposition of their sentiments on
some moral questions to which he attached
the greatest importance. Both of them,
however, were the friends of virtue and of
mankind ; and both were able to temper the
warmth of free discussion with the for-
bearance and good humour founded on re-
ciprocal esteem. No two men, certainly,
ever exhibited a more striking contrast in
their conversation, or in their constitutional
tempers : — the one, slow and cautious in

* Collection of Papers which passed between Leib.
nitt and Clarke. See Dr Clarke's Dedication.

t I have adopted here, the words which Dr Clarkl
applied to some of Mr Locke's earlier followers.
They are still more applicable to many-writers of thf
present times See Clarke's First Reply to Leib.
nit*. v



his decisions, even on those topics which
he had most diligently studied ; reserved
and silent in promiscuous society ; and re-
taining, after all his literary eminence, the
same simple and unassuming manners which
he brought from his country residence :
the other, lively, rapid, and communicative ;
accustomed, by his professional pursuits,
to wield with address the weapons of con-
troversy, and not averse to a trial of his
powers on questions the most foreign to his
ordinary habits of inquiry. But these cha-
racteristical differences, while to their com-
mon friends they lent an additional charm
to the distinguishing merits of each, served
only to enliven their social intercourse, and
to cement their mutual attachment.

I recollect few, if any anecdotes of Dr
Reid, which appear to me calculated to
throw additional light on his character ;
and I suspect strongly, that many of those
which are to be met with in biographical
publications are more likely to mislead
than to inform. A trifling incident, it is
true, may sometimes paint a peculiar fea-
ture better than the most elaborate descrip-
tion ; but a selection of incidents really
characteristical, presupposes, in the ob-
server, a rare capacity to discriminate and
to generalize ; and where this capacity is
wanting, a biographer, with the most scru-
^ pulous attention to the veracity of his de-
tails, may yet convey a very false concep-
tion of the individual he would describe.
As, in the present instance, my subject
afforded no materials for such a choice, I
have attempted, to the best of my abilities,
(instead of retailing detached fragments of
conversations, or recording insulated and
unmeaning occurrences,) to communicate
to others the general impressions which Dr
Reid's character has left on my own mind.
In this attempt I am far from being confi-
dent that I have succeeded ; but, how barren
soever I may have thus rendered my pages
in the estimation of those who consider
biography merely in the light of an amusing
tale, I have, at least, the satisfaction to
think, that my picture, though faint in the
colouring, does not present a distorted re-
semblance of the original.

The confidential correspondence of an
individual with his friends, affords to the
student of human nature, materials of far
greater authenticity and importance; more
particularly, the correspondence of a man
like Dr Reid, who will not be suspected by
those who knew him, of accommodating his
letters (as has been alleged of Cicero) to
the humo rs and principles of those whom
he addressed. I am far, at the same time,
from thinking that the correspondence of
Dr Reid would be generally interesting;
or even that he excelled in this species of
writing : but few men, I sincerely believe,

who have written so much, have left be-
hind them such unblemished memorials of
their virtue.

At present, I shall only transcribe two
letters, which I select from a considerable
number now lying before me, as they seem
to accord, more than the others, with the
general design of this Memoir. The first
(which is dated January 13, 1779) is ad-
dressed to the Rev. William Gregory,
(now Rector of St Andrew's, Canterbury,)
then an undergraduate in Balliol College,
Oxford. It relates to a remarkable pecu-
liarity in, Dr Reid's physical temperament,-
connected with the subject of dreaming ;
and is farther interesting as a genuine re-
cord of some particulars in his early habits,
in which it is easy to perceive the openings
of a superior mind.

" The fact which your brother the Doctor
desires to be informed of, was as you men-
tion it. As far as I remember the circum-
stances, they were as follow : —

" About the age of fourteen, I was, almost
every night, unhappy in my sleep, from
frightful dreams : sometimes hanging over
a dreadful precipice, and just ready to drop
down ; sometimes pursued for my life, and
stopped by a wall, or by a sudden loss of
all strength ; sometimes ready to be de-
voured by a wild beast. How long I was
plagued with such dreams, I do not now
recollect. I believe it was for a year or
two at least ; and I think they had quite
left me before I was fifteen. 1 n those days,
I was much given to what Mr Addison, in
one of his " Spectators," calls castle-build-
ing ; and, in my evening solitary walk, which
was generally all the exercise I took, my
thoughts would hurry me into some active
scene, where I generally acquitted myself
much to my own satisfaction ; and in these
scenes of imagination I performed many a
gallant exploit. At the same time, in my
dreams I found myself the most arrant
coward that ever was. Not only my cour-
age, but my strength failed me in every
danger ; and I often rose from my bed in
the morning in such a panic that it took
some time to get the better of it. I wished
very much to get free of these uneasy
dreams, which not only made me unhappy
in sleep, but often left a disagreeable im-
pression in my mind for some part of the
following day. I thought it was worth
trying whether it was possible to recollect
that it was all a dream, and that I was in
no real danger. I often went to sleep with
my mind as strongly impressed as I could
with this thought, that I never in my life-
time was in any real danger, and that every
fright I had was a dream. After many
fruitless endeavours to recollect this when
the danger appeared I effected it at last,
and have often, when I was sliding over a



precipice into the abyss, recollected that it
was all a dream, and boldly jumped down.
The effect of this commonly was, that I
immediately awoke. But I awoke calm
and intrepid, which I thought a great ac-
quisition. After this, my dreams were
never very uneasy ; and, in a short time, I
dreamed not at all.

" During all this time I was in perfect
health ; but whether my ceasing to dream
was the effect of the recollection above
mentioned, or of any change in the habit
of my body, which is usual about that
period of life, I cannot tell. I think it may
more probably be imputed to the last.
However, the fact was, that, for at least
forty years after, I dreamed none, to the
best of my remembrance ; and finding, from
the testimony of others, that this is some-
what uncommon, I have often, as soon as
I awoke, endeavoured to recollect, without
being able to recollect, anything that passed
in my sleep. For some years past, I can
sometimes recollect some kind of dreaming
thoughts, but so incoherent that I can
make nothing of them.

" The only distinct dream I ever had
since I was about sixteen, as far as I
remember, was about two years ago. I
had got my head blistered for a fall. A
plaster, which was put upon it after the
blister, pained me excessively for a whole
night. In the morning I slept a little, and
dreamed, very distinctly, that I had fallen
into the hands of a party of Indians, and
was scalped.

" I am apt to think that, as there is a
state of sleep, and a state wherein we are
awake, so there is an intermediate state,
which partakes of the other two. If a
man peremptorily resolves to rise at an
early hour for some interesting purpose, he
will of himself awake at that hour. A sick-
nurse gets the habit of sleeping in such a
manner that she hears the least whisper of
the sick person, and yet is refreshed by
this kind of half sleep. The same is the
case of a nurse who sleeps with a child in
her arms. I have slept on horseback, but
so as to preserve my balance ; and, if the
horse stumbled, I could make the exertion
necessary for saving me from a fall, as if I
was awake.

" I hope the sciences at your good uni-
versity are not in this state. Yet, from so
many learned men, so much at their ease,
one would expect something more than we
hear of."

For the other letter, I am indebted to
one of Dr Reid's most intimate friends, to
whom it was addressed, in the year 1784,
on occasion of the melancholy event to
which it alludes.

" I sympathize with you very sincerely
in the loss of a most amiable wife. I judge

of your feelings by the impression she made
upon my own heart, on a very short ac-
quaintance. But all the blessings of this
world are transient and uncertain ; and it
would be but a melancholy scene if there
were no prospect of another.

" I have often had occasion to admire
the resignation and fortitude of young per-
sons, even of the weaker sex, in the views
of death, when their imagination is filled
with all the gay prospects which the world
presents at that period. I have been wit-
ness to instances of this kind, which I

thought truly heroic, and I hear Mrs G

gave a remarkable one.

" To see the soul increase in vigour and
wisdom, and in every amiable quality, when
health, and strength, and animal spirits
decay — when it is to be torn by violence
from all that filled the imagination and
flattered hope — is a spectacle truly grand
and instructive to the surviving. To .think
that the soul perishes in that fatal moment
when it is purified by this fiery trial, and
fitted for the noblest exertions in another
state, is an opinion which I cannot help
looking down upon with contempt and dis-

" In old people, there is no more merit in
leaving this world with perfect acquiescence
than in rising from a feast after one is full.
When I have before me the prospect of the
infirmities, the distresses, and the peevish-
ness of old age, and when I have already
received more than my share of the good
things of this life, it would be ridiculous
indeed to be anxious about prolonging it ;
but, when I was four-and-twenty, to have
had no anxiety for its continuance, would,
I think, have required a noble effort. Such
efforts in those that are called to make them
surely shall not lose their reward."

I have now finished all that the limits of
my plan permit me to offer here as a tribute
to the memory of this excellent person. In
the details which I have stated, both with
respect to his private life and his scientific
pursuits, I have dwelt chiefly on such cir-
cumstances as appeared to me most likely
to interest the readers of his works, by
illustrating his character as a man, and his
views as an author. Of his merits as an
instructor of youth, I have said but little ;
partly from a wish to avoid unnecessary
diffuseness, but chiefly from my anxiety to
enlarge on those still more important la-
bours of which he has bequeathed the fruits
to future ages. And yet, had he left no
such monument to perpetuate his name,
the fidelity and zeal with which he dis-
charged, during so long a period, theobscure
but momentous duties of his official station
would, in the judgment of the wise and
good, have ranked him in the first order of



useful citizens. " Nee enim is solus rei-
publicse prodest, qui candidates extrahit, et
tuetur reos, et de pace belloque censet ; sed
qui juventutem exhortatur ; qui, in tanta
bonorum praeceptorum inopia, virtute in-
struit animos ; qui, ad pecuniam luxuri-
anique cursu ruentes prensat ac retrahit, et,
si nihil aliud, certe moratur : in privato,
publicum nsgotium agit."*

In concluding this memoir, I trust I
shall be pardoned, if, for once, I give way
to a personal feeling, while I express the
satisfaction with which I now close, finally,
my attempts as a biographer. Those which
I have already made, were imposed on me
by the irresistible calls of duty and attach-
ment ; and, feeble as they are, when com-
pared with the magnitude of subjects so
splendid and so various, they have en-
croached deeply on that small portion of
literary leisure which indispensable engage-
ments allow me to command. I cannot,
at the same time, be insensible to the grati-
fication of having endeavoured to associate,
in some degree, my name with three of the
greatest which have adorned this age —

• Senaca," De Tranquill. An." cap. 3.

happy, if, without deviating intentionally
from truth, I may have succeeded, however
imperfectly, in my wish to gratify at once
the curiosity of the public, and to soothe the

recollections of surviving friends. But I,

too, have designs and enterprises of my
own ; and the execution of these (which,
alas ! swell in magnitude, as the time for
their accomplishment hastens to a period)
claims, at length, an undivided attention.
Yet I should not look back on the past
with regret, if I could indulge the hope,
that the facts which it has been my province
to record — by displaying those fair rewards
of extensive usefulness, and of permanent
fame, which talents and industry, when
worthily directed, cannot fail to secure —
may contribute, in one single instance, to
foster the proud and virtuous independence
of genius ; or, amidst the gloom of poverty
and solitude, to gild the distant prospect of
the unfriended scholar, whose laurels are
now slowly ripening in the unnoticed pri-
vacy of humble life. "

I * On Reid's doctrines Mr Stewart has also 6ome
j valuableobservationsin his" Dissertation on the Pro-
gress of Metaphysical and Ethical Philosophy " — H.


Note A. — Page 4.

In the account given in the text of Dr
Reid's ancestors, I have followed scrupu-
lously the information contained in his own
memorandums. I have some suspicion,
however, that he has committed a mistake
with respect to the name of the translator
of Buchanan's History ; which would ap-
pear, from the MS. in Glasgow College, to
have been, not Adam, hut John. At the
same time, as this last statement rests on
an authority altogether unknown, (being
written in a hand different from the rest of
the MS.,i*) there is a possibility that Dr

• If another edition of this Memoir should ever
-be called for, I must request that the printer may
adhere to the plan which I myself have thought
advisable to adopt in the distribution of my notes.
A mistake which has been committed in a late edi
tion of my Lite of Dr Robertson, where a long
Appendix is broken down into foot-notes, will suf-
ficiently account for this request to those who have
seen that publication.

f It is to the following purport : — "The Historie
of Scotland, first written in the Latm tungue by
that famous and learned man, George Buchanan,
and afterwards translated into theScottishe tungue
by John Read, Esquyar, brother to James Rear),
person of Banchory. Ternan, whyle he lived. They intered in the parish church of thattowne,
seated not farre from the banke of the river of Deo,
expecting the general resurrection, and the glorious
appearing of Jesus Christ, there Rcdimer." The date

Reid's account may be correct ; and, there-
fore, I have thought it advisable, in a matter
of so very trifling consequence, to adhere to
it in preference to the other.

The following particulars with respect to
Thomas Reid may, perhaps, be acceptable
to some of my readers. They are copied
from Dempster, a contemporary writer ;
whose details concerning his countrymen, it
must, however, be confessed, are not always
to be implicitly relied on : —

" Thomas Reidus, Aberdonensis, pueri-
tiaa me£e et infantilis otii sub Thoma Car-
gillo collega, Lovaniiliterasinschola Lipsii*
scrio didicit, quas magno nomine in Ger-
mania docuit, carus Principibus. Londiui
diu in comitatu humanissimi ac clarissiini
viri, Fulconis Grevilli, Regii Consiliarii
luterioris et Anglise Proqusestoris, egit :
turn ad araicitiam Regis, eodem Fulcmie
tlcducente, cveotus. inter Palatinos admis-

of the transcript is 12th December lG.'i4. Accord-
ing to CalderwoocVs IMS. History of the Chinch of
Scotland, John Read was ''servitor and writer to
Mr George Buchanan." But this is not likely.— H.
» This is doubtful ; for Sir Robert Aytoun, in the
account he gives of Reid's studies, makes no mention
of so remarkable a circumstance. Dempster possibly
confuted Thomas Reid with Reid's friend, Sir Thomas
Seghet, another learned and wardering Scotchman,
and a favourite pupil of '■• the Prince of Latin Let.
ters."— H.




sus, A Uteris Latinis Regi fuit. Scripsit
multa, ut est magna indole et varia erudi-
tione," &c. " Ex aula se, nemine conscio,
nuper proripuit, dum illi omnia festinati
honoris augmenta singuli ominarentur, nee
quid deinde egerit aut quo Iocorum se con-
tulerit quisquam indicare potuit. Multi
stispicabantur, ta>dio aulse affectum, mon-
asticte quieti seipsum tradidisse, sub an-
num 1618. Rumor postea fuit in aulam
rediise, et meritissimis honoribus redditum,
sed nunquam id consequetur quod virtus
promeretur. *' — Hist. Ecclesiastica Gentis
Scotorum, lib. xvi. p. 576.

What was the judgment of Thomas
Reid's own times with respect to his genius,
and what their hopes of his posthumous
fame, may be collected from an elegy on
his death by his learned countryman [Sir]
Robert Aytoun. Already, before the lapse
of two hundred years, some apology, alas !
may be thought necessary for an attempt to
rescue his name from total oblivion.

Aytoun's elegy on Reid is referred to in
terms very flattering both to its author and
to its subject, by the editor of the collec-
tion entitled, " Poetarum Scotorum Museg
Sacrae."* " Tn obitum Thomee Rheidi
[Rhsedi] epicedium extat elegantissimum
Robert! Aytoni, viri Uteris ac dignitate
clarissimi, in Delitiis Poetarum Scotorum,
ubi et ipsius quoque poemata, paucula qui-
dem ilia, sed venusta, sed elegantia, corn-
parent, "f

* The well-known William Lauder.— H.

t I add the following hricf notices, which T chance
to have, in regard to this elegant scholar and acute
philosopher. From Sir Robert Avtoun's Elegy,
it appears, that, after finishing his studies in Scot-
land. Reid proceeded to France. There, however,
he did no' tarry ; for, as Pcottish-plulosophersiwere
then in high academical repute, he soon received a
cat! to Germany : —

— — " attraxit Germania philtro
E* precis et pretii."

In that country, he taught philosophy and humane
letters for several years with distinguished reputation,
in the universities of Leipsic and Rostoch.

** Palladis in castris multa hie cum laude merentem,
Kt victa de Barbarie sciolisque sophistis
Ducentem insignes fama victrice triumphos
Lipst'a dethmit lomum. Quis credidit illic
Se rite admissum in Phcebi sacraria, Rha;do
Non pandente fores? Quh per dumeta Lycsei
Ausus itertentare, nisi duce et ausp'ce Rhaedo ?

Nee tibi fama minor qua Balthica h'tora special
Rosiocht'um, paucis istic tihi plurimus annis
Crevit hono«, nullo non admirante profunda
Doctrine aggestos tot in uno pectore acervos,
Felicemque viani fandi,<juocunque liberet
Ore loqui, quocunquc habitu producere partus
Mentis, et examines scriptis animare papyros."

While in Germany, he wrote the following treat-
ises, which display great philosophical talent :—
" Thomee Rhaadi, Scoti, De Objecto Metaphysicas
Disseriatio contra Henningum Arnisaeum. Ros-
tochii : 1613." 4-to.

'* Thomae Rhsedi, Scoti, Pervigilia Metaphysica
desideratissima. Rostochii : 1613." 4to.

I have likewise seen referred to, a System of Logic
bv him, published at Rostoch; but in what year I
know not. Though fhe date of the earliest of the
preceding treatises be 1613, it appears that he was
at Rostoch before Hi! I, and that he then had pub-

The only works of Alexander Reid of
which I have heard are "Chirurgical Lec-
tures on Tumors and Ulcers," London,
1035; and a "Treatise of the First Fart
of Chirurgerie,** London, 1638. He appears
to have been the physician and friend of
the celebrated mathematician Thomas
Harriot, of whose interesting history so
little was known till the recent discovery of
his manuscripts by Mr Zach of Saxe-Gotlia.

A remarkable instance of the careless or
capricious orthography formerly so common
in writing proper names, occurs in the dif-
ferent individuals to whom this note refers.
Sometimes the family name is written —
Reid ; on other occasions, Riede, Read,
Rhead, or Rliaid,

Note B. — Page 4.

Dr TurnbulPs work on moral philosoptiy
was published at London in 1740. As I
have only turned over a few pages, I can-
not say anything with respect to its merits.
The mottoes on the title-page are curious,
when considered in connection with those
inquiries which his pupil afterwards prose-
cuted with so much success ; and may,
perhaps, without his perceiving it, have had
some effect in suggesting to him that plan
of philosophizing which he so systemati-
cally and so happily pursued : —

" If natural philosophy, in all its parts,

lished a dissertation against Arnissus; to which
this philosopher in that year replied in his *' Vindi-
ciaj secundum veritatem pro Aristotele et.saniaribus
quibupque philosophis contra Thorna? Rhaadi, Scoti,
Dissertationem elenchticam de subjreto Metaphysices
et naturaEntis, assertaeab Henningo Armsseo, Hal.
berstadiensi. Francofurti: IBM." 4to.

At what date Reid returned to Englavd, or when
he was appointed Latin Secretary to King James,
does not appear. I find, however, from Smith's
Life of Patrick Young, who was associated with
him in the translation into Latin of James's English
works, and who succeeded him as Secretary, that
Reid died in 1624. There is also to he found in the
same Life (see " Vila? quorundam eruditissimoriim
virorum," See.) the fragment of a Dissertation by
Reid — " Quod Regibus et Licitum et Decorum sit
Scrihere." A considerable number of Reid's poems
are to be found in the ** Delitise Poetarum Scoto-
rum:" and his paraphrase of the 104-th Psalm,
which is not among these, was published during his
life, with high encomium, by William Barclay in his
•' Judicium de Poetico duello Eglisemmii." The
writings which he left weTe, however, only occa-
sional and fugitive pieces — only indications of what
he would have accomplished had an early death not
frustrated his great designs.

*' Et tu Rhsede jaces opera inter manca, minasque
Scriptorum ingentes, queis si supremafuisset
Cum lima porrecta manus, non ulla fuisset
Calliopes tnto Sophisaveillustrior albo
Quam qua? Rhiedeum praiferret pagina nomen.

Nunc ceu rapta tiiis supcrant lantummodo bus-tia
Paucula furtivas schediasmata fusa per horas,
Qualiacunque lamen sunt haic, haw ipsa revincent
Ksse Caledoniis etiamnum lumen alumnis
Kt genium, quo vel Scoti Subtilis acumen,
Vei poterunt dulces Buchanani tequare Camrenas."

Mr Stewart (p 3) is misinformed in stating that
Heid published any collection of his Dissertations.—



l«y pursuing this method, shall, at length,
be perfected, the bounds of moral philoso-

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 10 of 114)