« AnteriorContinuar »
succeeded in the mathematical class we have not been able to learn ; but we know that, as a gymnastic of the mind, he did not esteem either the geometric or the algebraic arts. It is probable that he passed fair, though not distinguishedly, through that portion of the curriculum. He does not employ the language of mathematics with the ease, frequency, and illustrative delight of an adept, and hence may be concluded not to have been so profoundly versed in its specialities, as to find them tripping to his pen-point in explanatory passages. In the moral philosophy class he was again among topics kindred to his genius, and he again successfully contested, won, and wore the palm of victory over his compeers. About this very time the recent death of Kant-which occurred on 12th February, 1804-gave rise to much talk and debate concerning the value of the labours of that illustrious thinker, and the new metapagsic creeds advanced by his successors, Hegel, Fichte, Schelling, &c. This gave his interest in metaphysical pursuits greater inten. sity, and led him to study the German language, that he might learn in the original the secrets of thought which had been unveiled by these acute psychologists.
Dugald Stewart owed his knowledge of the Kantian philosophy to Latin and French translations ; Thomas Brown depended very much upon the French outlines and abstracts; but Hamilton was a thorough German scholar, and drew his knowledge of the systems of philosophy prevalent among Teuton thinkers from their very fountain and source—the publications of the authors themselves. It was fortunate that at this time the occasioning impulse to the study of German and of German thought should have been given, as it materially widened the horizon of bis speculations, and opened ap regions of research, captivating, because new. Nor was the direct filiation of the metaphysic of Kant from the Scottish philosophy of Hume, and the similarity of its starting-point to that of Reid, trifliny auxiliaries to the interest he felt. It was the Ger. manic son of a Scottish sire, and was not wholly alien in spirit to its Caledonian sister. This fact is capable of the most irrefragable proof. Reid told Hume," I shall always avow myself your disciple in metaphysics ;” and Kant says, “ By Hume I was first startled out of my dogmatic slumber.” Studying in the class-room where Reid taught, and trained by a logician whom Hume befriended, it was natural that the young thinker should be anxious to know to what results these tenets led which had startled Kant into reflectiveness, and extorted the discipleship of Reid.
So great was the reputation of Hamilton in all his classes, that he, in 1809, was unanimously chosen Snell Bursar, the richest token of approval the university has to bestow. Adam Smith had been sent to Oxford on the same foundation, and John Gibson Lockhart was, we think, Hamilton's immediate successor in this bursariate. This is, perhaps, the largest and most liberal endow. ment open for competition to the students of Scotland. It arises from the rents of the manor of Uffton, in Warwickshire, bequeathed, in 1638, by John Snell, Esq., to the University of Glasgow, which has the sole nomination of the exhibitioners, for the education of Scottish students at Baliol College, Oxford. It is tenable for ten years, and the endowment supplies about £100 per annum to the recipients, who must, however, have spent three years in the university whence the bursary is gained. Here there were leisure and learning possible for ten years, and for some time thereafter he pursued assiduously, devotedly, a course of study, which resulted in his attaining first-class honours with unprecedented distinction. With what plodding diligence, what fagging and fatiguing indomitability, he laboured, is almost incredible, were the facts not substantiated upon the very highest and the most unimpeachable authority-that of the examiners themselves.
The Rev. Richard Jenkyns, D.D., Master of Baliol College, Oxford, thus expresses himself upon this point :-“I have seldom met with an individual who so happily as Sir William Hamilton combined a clear and vigorous intellect with an ardent and indefatigable zeal in literary pursuits ; and certainly never knew one who more successfully directed his mental powers to profound researches into the systems of modern as well as of ancient philosophy. Of this he gave the strongest proof in his public examination for his degree, when he was prepared in a much greater degree number of abstruse and difficult books than is usually the case, and by his knowledge of them obtained the highest distinction the examiners could bestow.” “ The honours of the University of Oxford,” we learn from the Rev. William Villers, of the same college, "are conferred according to the ability and learning of the candidates, as proved in the public examinations for their first degree.” He also informs us that Sir William Hamilton's examination, “which continued for two days, and occupied in all twelve hours," was not only “ unequalled for the number, but likewise for the difficulty of the authors." The distinguished Orientalist, the Rev. Alexander Nicol, Professor of Hebrew in Christ Church, who was one of the keepers of the Bodley Library, is even more explicit in his evidence, for he informs us that Hamilton "allowed himself to be examined in more than four times the number of philosophical and didactic books ever wont to be taken up for the highest honours, and those likewise authors far more abstruse than had previously been attempted in the schools ; while, at the same time, he was examined in more than any ordinary complement of merely classical works ;" and, indeed, the Rev. Mr. Villers states that “in fourteen of his books on the abstruser subjects of Greek philosophy he was not questioned, the greater part of these being declared by the masters to be too abstrusely metaphysical for examination."
We have sometimes wondered if it was in allusion to, and in remembrance of this last-mentioned fact, that in his article on Recent English Treatises on Logic, published in the Edinburgh Review, April, 1833, he wrote thus :— * Since the re-introduction,
however limited, of a real examination for the first degree of Arts, a powerful stimulus has been applied to other studies,-to logic none. Did a candidate make himself master of the organon (of Aristotle ?]—he would find as little favour from the dispensers of academical distinction as he had previously obtained assistance from his tutor. For the public examiners could not be expected either to put questions on what they did not understand, or to encourage the repetition of such overt manifestations of their own ignorance.' This statement, though written twenty years after he had left the university, sounds like an autobiographical hint, and according as it does, with a well-authenticated fact in his own Oxford experience, we think it all the more probable that he meant to instance his own case, as an undeniable proof of his assertion regarding the low state into which the study of logic had then fallen in the university that has since been graced by the names of Copleston, Whately, Hinds, Huyshe, Hampden, G. C. Lewis, Thomson, Chretien, Moberley, Mansel, &c., instead of Aldrich, Bentham, and Kett. The example of Sir William Hamilton has not been one of the least efficacious causes of this singular change and happy improvement.
While employed in these apparently thankless studies, necessitating so much sedulous application and severe exercise of mind, and winning so little encouraging regard, Hamilton did not feel the duty irksome or unpleasant; on the contrary, he found in them per se an over-payment of delight.” He speaks gratefully of Baliol College as a place (we give his own words) " in which I spent the happiest of the happy years of youth, which is never recollected but with affection, and from which, as I gratefully acknowledge, I carried into life a taste for those studies which have constituted the most interesting of my subsequent pursuits. It is well to be re-assured, on such authority, that " studies" do indeed, as Lord Bacon has said, serve for delight, for ornament, and for ability,” in and by and for themselves alone.
Though on subjects of theology his erudition was extensive and minute, Sir William Hamilton chose the profession of law as more consonant to his personal position than the church. He, accordingly, returned to Edinburgh in 1812, was called to the Scottish bar in 1813, and immediately thereafter began to walk the Parliamentary House in Edinburgh, generally the initiatory practice of a young advocate. Without much employment in the perusal of briefs, he had leisure to follow his bookish inclinations, and to proceed in making those enormous acquisitions which so astonished and perplexed his compeers. Even De Quincey, who was no undistinguished glutton of books—who became acquainted with Hamilton in 1814-says that John Wilson (Christopher North) spoke of hi fellowadvocate as occasionally gazed at as a monster of erudition," and describes the popular impression about him then in these terms :"Indeed, the extent of his reading was said to be portentous—in
* Discussions on Philosophy, 1852, page 659.
fart, frightful; and, to some extent, even suspicious ; so that certain ladies thought him no canny ;' for, if arithmetic could demonstrate that all the days of his life ground down and pulverized into 'wee wee' globules of five or eight minutes each, and strung upon threads, would not furnish a rosary anything like corresponding, in its separate beads or counters, to the books he was known to have studied and familiarly used, then it became elearer that he must have had extra aid, and in some way or other must have read by proxy." This slightly burlesqued statement indicates, however, that Hamilton's multifarious reading was a known and patent topic of converration in the literary society of Edinburgh-then very remarkable for the number of able men who filled the circles of its social life, e.g., Scott, Lockhart, Brown, Stewart, Ritchie, Leslie, Playfair, Brewster, Wilson, Jeffrey, Cockburn, Pillans, Combe, Napier, Moir, &c. These men were able to detect and expose the results of“ vague, tumultuary reading,” which in tlates with the persuasion, without conferring the reality of erudition. That Hamilton stood this test is proof, independently of the vast masses of marshalled learning which he reproduces in his works, that he possessed, as John Wilson afterwards said, “great talents and matchless acquire. ments.” The same assiduous and studious life, for which he had been remarkable in Oxford, he continued to pursue in Edinburgh, not only from inclination, but from habit; for abeunt studia in mores--studies become habits. He continued to acquire friends and fame, but little profitable practice. About 1815 he was requested to become an office-bearer in the Mid-Calder church as elder, and shortly afterwards succeeded in being served heir to his cousin-Robert Hamilton, who died unmarried at St. Helena-and lineal heir male to Sir Robert Hamilton, Bart., a descendant of Sir John Fitz-Gilbert de Hamilton, of Rossavon and Fingalton, the second son of the founder of the house of Hamilton. On accomplishing this, he re-assumed the title which he had acquired the right to bear-though it had been long in abeyance de facto, though not de jure.
Shortly after his settlement in Edinburgh, Hamilton acquired the friendship of Dugald Stewart, and with Brown, the representatives at that time of the Scottish philosophy. This acquaintanceship was useful to both. Hamilton assisted the elder metaphysician in attaining such a knowledge of the philosophers of Germany as he had: and as the holder of the chair of morals, Stewart lent his aid
younger thinker in his efforts to gain a professorship in the university. This opportunity for exerting the good offices of friendship occurred on the death of Dr. Thomas Brown, 2nd April, 1820, and on his own retirement from the professoriate. The most noteworthy Whig candidates were Sir William Hamilton, advocate, and John Young, LL.D. (1781-1829), Professor of Philosophy in Belfast College, whose Lectures on Intellectual Philosophy” have since been published, under the editorship of William Cairns, his suc.
The now celebrated John Wilson, also an advocate, and
then little more than imping his wings in Blackwood's Magazine, thongh known as the Newdigate poem prizeman of Magdalene College, Oxford, the author of "The Isle of Palms” (1812), “ The City of the Plague” (1816); and noted for his impetuous temperament, his gymnastic powers, and his reckless profusion of money, energy, and thought-ras the favourite Tory candidate. Ebony and his "set,” Sir Walter Scott. &c., of course helped Wilson ; and the Oxonians, Dr. M. Crie (the biographer of Knox), Dugald
, Stewart, &c., worked for Hamilton. The contest was exceedingly keen, but not bitter. Hamilton had written nothing, was retired, and averse to canvassing-justly regarding that system as an insult to the patrons and a degradation to the candidate. A majority of the city council,or magistrates of Edinburgh-who were then the electors -were Tories, staunch and true. They ignored the express and special culture and clains of Hamilton, the whimsical and eccentric disposition of Wilson, and made the latter the victor. It so happened that the appointment was one of the best for the man and the university which could have been made ; but that did not result from the motives and grounds for voting which the councillors had, but from the genuine unspoilable nature of that noble intellect with pliich Christopher North was endowed, which made him able for anything-especially anything demanding prolific profusion of mind.
In 1821, the Faculty of Advocates offered him the chair of Universal History and Roman Antiquities, of which they were the patrons, and this position he accepted. The salary attached to the possession of the chair is small, and not being included in the compulsory curriculum, there are few fees exigible from its attendantsindeed, it is sometimes impossible to get up even a nominal class. Hamilton succeeded in collecting a class, and the lectures he delivered while incumbent of that professorship have been spoken of with enthusiasm for “ their sagacity, learning, eloquence, and philosophical spirit.”. The chief topic discussed by him in these lectures was “ the influence of the laws, literature, and philosophy of ancient nations upon modern civilization"- -a subject of much importance, and one which, if treated in the full, impartial, and thoughtful style of Sir William Hamilton's other productions, must have been of great value and interest.
About this time (1813-1825) the theory of Dr. Gall, known as Phrenology, which had been publicly expounded in Edinburgh by his chief disciple, Spurzheim, was attracting much attention ; and in 1819 the “Essays on Phrenology,” by George Combe, the great popularizer of that subject in Britain, were published. The opinions contained in this work were further elaborated, generalized, and applied, in a subsequent work of great ability and research, in 1828, entitled " The Constitution of Man,” and perfectly arranged and systematized in 1836, in Combe's most ambitious work, the System of Phrenology.” His brother Andrew applied the same theory to health and its preservation, in several excellent and useful compo