Thomas Reid.

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

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man — that is, next to you — I would be fond
of for a colleague ; and in this I think I am
determined more by the public good than
my private.



Dear Sir, — I cannot presently lay my
hand upon the last letter I had from you,
and I beg you will impute it to that and to
my bad memory if there was anything in it
I ought to answer. I have sent by the
bearer, Mr Duguid, merchant in Aberdeen,
an elliptical thermometer for Dr David,
which I could not find an opportunity of
sending till now. Mrs Reid was, this day,
at one in the afternoon, brought to bed of a
daughter, whom we have named Elizabeth,
and I hope is in a good way

We have had great canvassing here about

* A third Aberdonian rhysican of distinction, ot
the name of Skene, but not a relation, at least not a
near relation, of the other two He was Prol'essoi of
Philosophy, Marischal ( ollege; an eminent scholar ;
and father of the late Solicitor-General — H.

a Professor of the Theory and Practice of
Physic, to succeed Dr Jo. Black, although
all that we do is to recommend one to the
King, who has the presentation. Dr
Stevenson, a son of the late Dr Stevenson
in Edinburgh, who has by much the best
practice in this town and neighbourhood,
has obtained a recommendation from the
majority of the College, not without much
interest. The only objection to him was
his great practice, which it was thought
might tempt him to neglect regular teach-
ing. And, I believe, the majority would
have preferred to him any man of character
who had not such a temptation to neglect
the duties of his office. However, the
strongest assurances that he would not ne-
glect the class — nay, that he would think
himself bound in honour to give up the
Profession if he could not keep up a class,
brought in a majority to sign a recom-
mendation in his favour ; and, as he has a
strong interest at Court, and no rival, as
far as we know, it is thought he will be the
man. He declines teaching the chemistry
class, which is in the gift of the College,
and, I conceive, will be given to one of Dr
Black's scholars. My class will be over in
less than a month, and by that time I shall
be glad to have some respite. I hope to
have the pleasure of seeing my friends at
Aberdeen in the month of August, if not
sooner. We have had a thronger College
this year than ever before. I had some
reason to think that I should not have so
good a class as last year, and was dis-
appointed, for it was somewhat better. I
expect a good one next winter, if I live so
long. The Irish, on whom we depend
much, have an ebb and flow, as many of
them come but one year in two. We have
been remarkably free from riots and dis-
orders among the students, and I did not
indeed expect that 350 young fellows could
have been kept quiet, for so many months,
with so little trouble. They commonly
attend so many classes of different profes-
sors, from half-an-hour after seven in the
morning till eight at night, that they have
little time to do mischief.

You'll say to all this that cadgers are aye
speaking of crooksaddles. I think so they
ought ; besides, I have nothing else to say
to you, and I have had no time to think of
anything but my crooksaddles for seven
months past. When the session is over I
must rub up my mathematicks against the
month of August. There is one candidate
for your Profession of Mathematicks to go
from this College ; and, if your College get a.
better man or a better mathematician, they
will be very lucky. I am so sensible of the
honour the magistrates have done me in
naming me to be one of the examinators,
that I will not decline it, though, I confess,



I like tlie honour better than the office.-
I am, dear Sir,

Yours most affectionately,
Thomas Reid.
Glasgow, 8th May, 1766.
Half an hour after eleven at night.



When you are dis -

posed to laugh you may look into the in-
closed proposals from a physician here who
has been persecuting everybody with an
edition of Celsus, and now with an index to
him as large as the book. Another physi-
cian here is printing a History of Medicine,
and of all the arts and sciences from the
beginning to the present time, four vols.
8vo, price one guinea. He is not thought
mad, but whimsical. I have not the pro-
posals to send you, and I suppose I have
sent enough of this kind. We authors had
rather be known for madmen or fools than
pass our lives in obscurity. Stevenson's
presentation to the Profession of Medicine
here is not yet come, but is expected as cer-
tain. The College have appointed a Lec-
turer in Chemistry, and one in Materia
Medica, for next session. I think we might
have a college of medicine here if we had
an infirmary. I think our surgeons eclipse
our M.D's. I do not hear much of the
last, if you except Black and Stevenson.
Our Professor of Anatomy is not an M.D.,
otherwise I would have excepted him also.
Have you ever tried the seeds of the dau-
cus sylvestris in nephritick cases ? It has
been much talked of of late. I never saw
it in the north, but it is pretty common in
the fields here. — I am, dear Sir,

Yours most affectionately,

Thomas Reid.

Glasgow, \5th July 1766.



Glasgow College, Dec. 17, 1766.

• • « I live now in the College, and
have no distance to walk to my class in
dark mornings, as I had before. I enjoy
this ease, though I am not sure whether
the necessity of walking up and down a
steep hill three or four times a-day, was not
of use. I have of late had a little of your
distemper, finding a giddiness in my head
when I lie down or rise, or turn myself in
my bed.

Our College is very well peopled this
session ; my public class is above three

score, besides the private class. Dr Smith
never had so many in one year. There is
nothing so uneasy to me here as our fac-
tions in the College, which seem to be
rather more inflamed than last session.

Will you take the trouble to ask of Dr
David, whether he knows of a bird called
a stankhen.* It is a water fowl, less than
a duck, with scolloped membranes at the
toes, but not close-footed, and has a crest
on the forehead of the same kind of sub-
stance with a cock's comb, but white andflat.
It has a very fishy taste, and is found here
in the lochs. If he has none of this kind,
I could send him one when I find a proper
occasion. I am, with entire affection and
regard, dear Sir, yours,

Thomas Reid.



Glasgow College, 25th Fehy. 1767.

Dear Sir, — I intend to send your stank-
hen along with the furnace, which was
ready long ago, and I suppose would have
been sent before now, but that Dr Irvine
was confined a long time by a megrim, and
was like to lose one eye by it ; but is now
pretty well recovered, and intends to send
your furnace this week.

Since the repeal of the stamp-act, trade,
which was languishing, has revived in this
place, and there is a great bustle and great
demand for money. We are now resolved
to have a canal from Carron to this place,
if the Parliament allows it. £40,000 was
subscribed last week by the merchants and
the Carron Company for this purpose ; and
commissioners are immediately going up
to London to apply for an act of Parlia-
ment. The freight upon this canal is not
to exceed twopence per ton for every mile ;
the land carriage is more than ten times as

Our medical college has fallen off greatly
this session, most of the students of medi-
cine having followed Dr Black ; however,
our two medical professors and two lec-
turers have each of them a class, and Irvine
expects a great many to attend him for
botany in summer. The natural and moral
philosophy classes are more numerous than
they have ever been ; but I expect a great
falling off, if I see another session. The
Lecturer in Chemistry has general approba-
tion. He chiefly follows Dr Black and
Stahl. There is a book of Stahl's, called
" Three Hundred Experiments," which he
greatly admires, and very often quotes. I
was just now seeing your furnace along with

* The Gallinula Chloropus — H.



Irvine ; I think it a very decent piece of
furniture for a man of your profession, and
that no limb of the faculty should be without
one, accompanied with a proper apparatus
of retorts, cucurbits, &c. For my part, if
I could find a machine as proper for ana-
lyzing ideas, moral sentiments, and other
materials belonging to the fourth kingdom,
I believe I should find in my heart to be-
stow the money for it. I have the more
use for a machine of this kind, because my
alembick for performing these operations —
I mean my cranium — has been a little out
of order this winter, by a vertigo, which
has made my studies go on heavily, though
it has not hitherto interrupted my teaching
I have found air and exercise, and a clean
stomach, the best remedies ; but I cannot
command the two former as often as I could
wish. I am sensible that the air of a
crowded class is bad, and often thought of
carrying my class to the common hall ; but
I was afraid it might have been construed
as a piece of ostentation. I hope you
are carrying on your natural history, or
something else, in the Club, with a view to
make the world wiser. What is my Lord
Linnaeus doing ? Are we ever to expect
his third volume upon the fossile kingdom
or not ? "We are here so busie reading lec-
tures, that we have no time to write. . . .



Glasgow College, 14 SepK 1767.
Dear Sir, — It gives me much surprise,
as well as affliction, to hear frommy daughter
Patty, of the death of my dear friend, your
papa. Fifteen years ago it would havebeenno
surprise ; but for some years back, I thought
there was great probability that his life and
usefulness might have had a longer period.
I can never, while I remember anything,
forget the many agreeable hours I have en-
joyed with him in that entire confidence
and friendship which give relish to life. I
never had a friend that shewed a more
hearty affection, or a more uniform dispo-
sition to be obliging and useful to me and
to my family. I had so many opportuni-
ties of observing his disinterested concern
to be useful in his profession to those from
whom he could expect no return, his sym-
pathy with the distressed, and his assiduity
in giving them his best assistance, that, if
I had had no personal friendship with him,
I could not but lament his death as a very
great and general loss to the place. It is
very uncommon to find a man that at any
time of life, much more at his, possessed
the active, the contemplative, and the social
disposition at once in so great vigour. I

sincerely sympathize with you ; and I beg
you will assure each of your brothers and
sisters of my sympathy ; and that, besides
my personal regard to every one of them,
I hold myself to be under the strongest
obligation from gratitude and regard to the
memory of my deceased friend, if I can
ever be of the least use to any of them.

You are now, dear Sir, in the providence
of God, called to be a father as well as a
brother ; and I doubt not but you will ac-
quit yourself in that character as you have
done in the other. I need not say that Dr
Skene's death gave very great affliction to
Mrs Reid and to all my family ; they all
desire that you and all your family may be
assured of their respect and sympathy. . . .

Some days after I parted from you at
Edinburgh, I was called home to do the
last duty to my sweet little Bess, whom I
had left in perfect health some days after
her innoculation. Since that time I have
not been three miles from Glasgow, but
once at Hamilton with Mr Beattie. Hav-
ing my time at command, I was tempted
to fall to the tumbling over books, as we
have a vast number here which I had not
access to see at Aberdeen. But this is a
mare magnum, wherein one is tempted, by
hopes of discoveries, to make a tedious voy-
age, which seldom rewards his labour. I
have long ago found my memory to be like
a vessel that is full ; if you pour in more,
you lose as much as you gain ; and, on this
aceount, have a thousand times resolved to
give up all pretence to what is called learn-
ing, being satisfied that it is more profitable
to ruminate on the little I have laid up,
than to add to the indigested heap. To
pour learning into a leaky vessel is indeed
a very childish and ridiculous imagination.
Yet, when a man has leisure, and is placed
among books that are new to him, it is
difficult to resist the temptation. I have
had little society, the college people being
out of town, and have almost lost the
faculty of speech by disuse. I blame my-
self for having corresponded so little with
my friends at Aberdeen.

I wished to try Linnoeus's experiment,
which you was so good as to communicate
to me. I waited for the heat of summer,
which never came till the first of August,
and then lasted butia few days. Not hav-
ing any of the fungus powder at hand, I put
a piece of fresh fungus which grew on rot-
ten wood in pure water. In a day or two
I found many animalcules diverting them-
selves in the water by diving and rising
again to the top. But, after three or fouT
days, the water turned muddy and stunk.
And, from all I could then observe, I should
rather have concluded that my animalcules
died and putrified, than that they were
transformed into youug mushrooms. I see



r letter in The Edinburgh Courant of Wed-
nesday last on this subject. About twenty
hours ago, I put some smutty oats in water ;
but have not seen any animals in it
yet. A nasty custom I have of chewing
tobacco has been the reason of my observ-
ing a species of as nasty little animals. On
the above occasion, I spit in a bason of saw-
dust, which, when it comes to be drenched,
produces a vast number of animals, three
or four times as large as a louse, and not
very different in shape ; but armed with four
or five rows of prickles like a hedgehog,
which seem to serve it as feet. Its motion
is very sluggish. It lies drenched in the
foresaid mass, which swarms with these
animals of all ages from top to bottom ;
whether they become winged at last I have
not discovered.

Dr Irvine was taken up a great part of
the summer with his botanical course ; and,
since that was over, has been in the country.
I have gone over Sir James Stewart's great
book of political ceconomy, wherein I think
there is a great deal of good materials, care-
lessly put together indeed ; but I think it
contains more sound principles concerning
commerce and police than any book we have
yet had. We had the favour of a visit from
Sir Archibald Grant. It gave me much
pleasure to see him retain his spirits and
vigor. I beg when you see him you will make
my best compliments to him. I beg to be
remembered to the Club, which I hope goes
on with spirit. I am, with great regard,
dear Sir, yours most affectionately,

Thomas Reid.

Be so good as to put the inclosed into
Sandie Leslie's shop.



Dear Sir, — You will easily guess that
my chief motive in writing you at this time,
is, by the benefit of your frank, to save the
postage of the two inclosed, of which I give
you the trouble. Perhaps I would have dis-
sembled this, if I had had anything to say. I
long to hear how Linnaeus' experiment has
succeeded with you. For my own part, I
have found nothing aboutit but what I wrote
you before. The chyniists here are hunting
for something by which cambrick may be
stamped as it comes from the loom, so that
the stamps shall stand out all the operations
of boyling, bleaching, &c. The only thing
that is like to answer, I am told, is that solu-
tion of silver which is used to dye ivory black.
The act of Parliament anent cambrick re-
quires it to be stamped in the loom ; and, if
this stamp is not apparent after bleaching,
it is contraband. But the wisdom of the

nation has not thought fit to prescribe the
material to be used for that purpose ; if no
such material is found, the act will be use-

I passed eight days lately with Lord
Kaims at Blair-Drummond. You were
very honourably mentioned. My Lord has
it much at heart to have a professor of
practical mcchanicks established at Edin-
burgh, and wants only a proper person.
He is preparing a fourth edition of his
" Elements." I have been labouring at
Barbara Celarent for three weeks by-
gone ;* and on Monday begin my own
course. I do not expect such a crop of
students as 1 had last year ; but the Col-
lege in general promises pretty well. My
compliments to all your family ; and believe
me to be, with great affection, dear Sir,
Thomas Reid.

Glasgow College, 31 Oct. 17G7-



[j„i y mo.\

Peak Sir, — Having this opportunity, I
could not forbear asking how you do, and
what you are doing. I know you are giv-
ing feet to the lame, and eyes to the blind,
and healing the sick. I know you are
gathering heaps of fossils, vegetables, and
animals, and I hope among other fossils you
are gathering gold and silver; this is all very
right. I know, likewise, that you have been,
ever since you was in petticoats, most avari-
ciously amassing knowledge. But is it all to
die with you, and to be buried in your grave ?
This, my dear sir, ought not to be. You
see we Scotch people will be blotting paper
though you should hold your hand : stultnm
est periturtB parcere churae. Can you find
no time, either when you are laid up in the
gout, or when the rest of the world is in
good health, to bequeath something to pos-
terity ? Think seriously of this, if you have
not done so already. Permit me, sir, to
offer you another counsell ; for you know we
moralists know better how to give good
counsell than to take it. Is it not possible
for you to order things so as to take a jaunt
of six weeks or two months ? I verily believe
there are things worth knowing here, much
more at Edinburgh, of which you cannot be
fully informed while you keep be-north Tay.
We have speculatists in medicine, in chem-
istry, in mechanics, in natural history, that
are worth being acquainted with, and that

* This alludes to his " Analysis of Aristotle's Lo-
gic," which he was then preparing as an Appendix
to one of Lord Karnes's " Sketches ofthe History of
Man "— H.



would be fond of your acquaintance. As
to myself, the immaterial world has swal-
lowed up all my thoughts since I came here ;
but I meet with few that have travelled far
in that region, and am often left to pursue my
dreary way in a more solitary manner than

when we used to meet at the club. What is
Linmeus doing ? When you have leisure,
indulge me with the pleasure of knowing
that you have not forgot, dear Sir, your
affectionate friend,

Thomas Reid.



Glasgow College, 3d D c. 1772.

My Lord, — I was very glad to under-
stand, by the letter you honoured me with
of November 9, that you got safe home,
after a long journey, in such dreadful rainy
weather. I got to Mr C 's on horse-
back soon after you left me, where I was
in good warm quarters.

The case you state is very proper, to dis-
cover how far we differ with respect to the
influence of the doctrine of necessity upon

A man in a mad fit of passion stabs his
best friend ; immediately after, he condemns
himself; and, at last, is condemned by a
court of justice, although his passion was
no less irresistible than if he had been
pushed on by external violence.

My opinion of the case, my Lord, is this :
if the passion was really as irresistible as
you represent it, both in its beginning and
progress, the man is innocent in the sight
of God, who knows that he was driven as
by a whirlwind, and that, the moment he
was master of himself, he abhorred the
action as much as a good man ought to do.

At the same time, he reasonably may
condemn himself, and be condemned by
a court of justice.

He condemns himself, because, from his
very constitution, he has a conviction that
his passion was not irresistible. Every
man has this conviction as long as he be-
lieves himself not to be really mad, and
incapable of self-government. Even if he
is a fatalist in speculation, that will not
hinder this natural conviction when his
conscience smites him, anymore than specu-
lative scepticism will hinder a man from
apprehension of danger when a cart runs
against him.

The court of justice condemns him for the
same reason, because they believe that his
passion was not irresistible. But, if it could
be proved that the man was really incapa-
ble of bridling his passion — that is, that he
was really mad — then the court of justice

ought not to punish him as a criminal, but
to confine him as a madman.

"What is madness, my Lord ? In my
opinion, it is such weakness in the power of
self-government, or such strength of pas-
sion, as deprives a man of the command of
himself. The madman has will and inten-
tion, but he has no power to restrain them.
If this madness continues so long as to be
capable of proof from the tenor of a man's
actions, he is no subject of criminal law,
because he is not a free agent. If we sup-
pose real madness to continue but for a
moment, it makes a man incapable of a
crime, while it lasts, as if it had continued
for years. But a momentary madness can
have no effect to acquit a man in a court
of justice, because it cannot be proved. It
would not even hinder him from condemn-
ing himself, because he cannot know that
he was mad.

In a word, if, by a mad fit of passion,
your Lordship means real madness, though
temporary, and not permanent, the man is
not criminal for what this fit of madness
produced. A court of justice would not
impute the action to him, if this could be
proved to be the case. But if, by a mad
fit of passion, you mean only a strong pas-
sion, which still leaves a man the power of
self-government, then he is accountable for
his conduct to God and man ; for every
good man — yea, every man that would avoid
the most heinous crimes— must at some
times do violence to very strong passions.
But hard would be our case indeed, if we
were required, either by God or man, to
resist irresistible passions.

You think that will and intention is suf-
ficient to make an action imputable, even
though that will be irresistibly determined.
I beg leave to dissent, for the following
reasons : —

1 An invincible error of the understanding,
of memory, of judgment, or of reasoning, is
not imputable, for this very reason, that it is
invincible : why, then, should an error of the
will be imputable, when it is supposed equally
invincible ? God Almighty has given us
various powers of understanding and of will.
They are all equally his workmanship. Our



understandings may deviate from truth, as
our wills may deviate from virtue. You
will allow that it would be unjust and tyran-
nical to punish a man for unavoidable devi-
ations from truth. Where, then, is the
justice of condemning and punishing him for
the deviations of another faculty, which are
equally unavoidable ?

You say we are not to judge of this mat-
ter by reasons, but by the moral sense.
Will you forgive me, my Lord, to put you
in mind of a saying of Mr Hobbes, that
when reason ss against a man. he will he
against reason. I hope reason and the
moral sense are so good friends as not to
differ upon any point. But, to be serious,
I agree with your Lordship, that it is the
moral sense that must judge of this point,
whether it be just to punish a man for doing
what it was not in his power not to do.
The very ideas or notions of just and un-
just are got by the moral sense ; as the
ideas of blue and red are got by the sense of
seeing. And as by the sense of seeing we de-
termine that this body is red, and that is blue ;
so, by the moral sense, we determine this
action to be just, and that to be unjust. Itisby
the moral sense that I determine, in general,
that it is unjust to require any duty of a man
which it is not in his power to perform. By
the same moral sense, in a particular case, I
determine a man to be guilty, upon finding
that he did the deed voluntarily and with
intention, without making any inquiry about
his power. The way to reconcile these two
determinations I take to be this : — that, in
the last case, I take for granted the man's

Online LibraryThomas ReidThe works of Thomas Reid, D.D.; now fully collected, with selections from his umpublished letters → online text (page 13 of 114)