« PreviousContinue »
Places, of the Continent, is our countryman, Mr Ivory; and the Transactions of the Royal Society are enriched with much of his extraordinary productions. Those on the Attractions of Spheroids, have received the most unbounded praise from M. de La Place himself: and there is hardly one of his investigations which, whether we regard its originality, or the profound acquaintance it displays with all the resources of modern analysis, could have been produced by any mathematician of the age, except him, whose irreparable loss, though mature in years and full of transcendent glory, the World of Science has lately had to deplore. It is pleasing to see this eminent person rewarded with the prize, and it is a sight, which, during the times that are but just past, we could not have witnessed. In bestowing the medal, the President dwells most justly on the rare endowments of the individual; he closes his well-deserved panegyric with an allusion equally appropriate to the retired unambitious life of one to whom philosophy is its own reward: and then turning to the sublime science itself which he cultivates, pronounces at once an ample recantation of the Society's past errors, and a beautiful eulogy of the highest and most arduous branch of human learning. We have unbounded pleasure in quoting this splendid passage:
I feel the highest satisfaction in anticipating that this reward may renovate the activity of the Society upon this department of science, and that it will return- Veteris vestigia flammæ'-with new ardour to its so long neglected fields of glory.
Whether we consider the nature of mathematical science or its results, it appears equally amongst the noblest objects of human pursuit and ambition. Arising a work of intellectual creation from a few self-evident propositions on the nature of magnitudes and numbers, it is gradually formed into an instrument of pure reason of the most refined kind, applying to and illustrating all the phenomena of nature and art, and embracing the whole system of the visible universe; and the same calculus measures and points out the application of labour, whether by animals or machines, determines the force of vapour, and confines the power of the most explosive agents in the steam-engine, -regulates the forms and structures best fitted to move through the waves-ascertains the strength of the chain-bridge necessary to pass across arms of the ocean-fixes the principles of permanent foundations in the most rapid torrents, and leaving the earth filled with monuments of its power, ascends to the stars, measures and weighs the sun and the planets, and determines the laws of their motions, and can bring under its dominion those cometary masses that are, as it were, strangers to us, wanderers in the immensity of space; and applies data gained from contemplation of the sidereal heavens to measure and establish time, and movement, and magnitudes below.'
VOL. XLVI. NO. 92.
We most willingly hail in such sentiments, pronounced from this place, the prospect of this ancient and illustrious body renewing its youth, by recurring to its pristine occupations; and we should be truly glad to say of it as an historian of the Roman Empire-Consenuit atque decoxit, nisi quod sub Tra'jano Principe movet lacertos, et, præter spem omnium, Senectus Imperii quasi redditâ juventute revirescit.'-(Flor. Pro.) But of this we feel well assured, that the second youth so much to be wished can only be hoped for in a careful retracing of the steps so lately made-not to call them strides-towards decay. The revival of the honour most due to the severer sciences, we reckon one very auspicious sign; that the President had himself begun to cultivate them, we gather from many parts of the Discourses before us. Another step, and a still more important one, will be the better choice of the Council; and the exclusive preference of learning and merit in the selection. It is true, that the patronage of wealthy, and noble, and powerful individuals fosters learning, by protecting and encouraging learned men; but among the personages endowed with those means of usefulness from the accident of fortune or station, there are always some to be found who join to such recommendations, some taste and some capacity for the studies which the Society was formed to promote. Let those individuals be distinguished by the learned body among their fellows, and then it receives the benefit of patronage as a return for the distinctions legitimately bestowed, in the encouragement of scientific pursuits among the wealthy and the great. Above all, should the President's health unfortunately require him to leave the chair he has so ably filled, let especial care be taken, in bestowing it, to select a successor by the consent of all so well fitted for the exalted station, that the choice shall not only be above blame, but above suspicion.
We trust, that in the remarks which we have thrown out on the present occasion, we shall not be thought to have in any the least degree departed from the perfect respect due to the highly-gifted individual whose discourses we have observed upon. Towards his part of the work, we repeat, there can be but one feeling. He has performed as well as possible a task which never should have been imposed on him, and the faults are altogether in the design, which is none of his contriving, and not at all in the execution, for which alone he is answerable. addition to the admirable passages with which we have already taken a pride in adorning our pages, we cannot resist the temptation of imprinting upon them the eloquent and touching con
clusion of his address upon the late geological discoveries. If such discourses are fit for such bodies, it would be vain to look for any one better able to pronounce them with surpassing effect.
If we look with wonder upon the great remains of human works, such as the columns of Palmyra, broken in the midst of the desert ; the temples of Pæstum, beautiful in the decay of twenty centuries, or the mutilated fragments of Greek sculpture in the Acropolis of Athens, or in our own Museum, as proofs of the genius of artists, and power and riches of nations now past away; with how much deeper a feeling of admiration must we consider these grand monuments of nature, which mark the revolutions of the globe; continents broken into islands; one land produced, another destroyed; the bottom of the ocean become a fertile soil; whole races of animals become extinct, and the bones and exuviæ of one class covered with the remains of another; and upon those graves of past generations, the marble or rocky tombs, as it were, of a former animated world, new generations rising, and order and harmony established, and a system of life and beauty produced as it were out of chaos and death; proving the infinite power, wisdom, and goodness of the Great Cause of all being!'
For our strictures upon the author of this work, then, we have no need to apologize; we have not found occasion to deliver any upon his part of the work. For the freedom of our remarks on the Society itself-on its late history and present condition-and on the abuses which have mixed themselves with the management of its affairs, we have no apology to offer. The day is long gone by when learned bodies could be reckoned exempt from discussion, merely because they might deem such an exemption desirable.
We live in times when the light is let in every moment upon all who fill a public station; and bodies of men are of necessity public. Matters of science are not indeed fit subjects for discussion before the multitude, whether assembled together, or reading the daily and the weekly journals. But the conduct of corporations touching the interests of science, and of individuals bearing office, connected with scientific affairs, is not matter of science; it is matter of policy, and enjoys no exemption from the most free and searching inquiry, in whatever shape may be most likely to promote the great end of all discussion upon public measures, prevent abuse, and see right and justice done. The eyes of the country may soon be fixed upon the Royal Society, with a yet more scrutinizing look than has hitherto been deemed requisite; and there is, we trust and believe, no manner of reason why it should shrink from the inquiry.
ART. IV. The Private Theatre of Kilkenny, with Introductory Observations on other Private Theatres in Ireland, before it was opened. 4to. pp. 134. 1825.
T HERE is no subject that we would sooner recommend to any male or female author, in distress for a topic, than a History of the Private Theatres of Europe. It has been said of Gibbon, that his work is like the great whirlpool of Norway, which sucks into its eddy bears, whales, ships, and everything 'that comes within any possible reach of its engulfing streams;' -and this, after all, in much humbler walks of literature than that of Gibbon, is the grand secret of book-making. To find a subject which is either capable, or may be made so by a little management, of pressing all other possible subjects into its service, is the grand desideratum to which the quarto-monger and the man of many volumes should aspire. Bayle, we know, contrived, in his Thoughts on the Comet,' to make the world acquainted with his thoughts on every other existent topic,-from Jesuits and Jansenists, and the Peace of Nimeguen, to Crusades, Demons, and the ever memorable Bishop of Condom. Berkeley has converted his Essay on Tar Water to purposes no less omnigenous and incongruous;-the principles of attraction, and repulsion-the story of Isis and Osiris-the Anima Mundi of Plato, and the doctrine of the Trinity, all administered to the reader through the somewhat nauseous medium of Tar Water.
With much less abuse of the privilege of discursiveness than has been assumed by either of those two celebrated sceptics,* the author of a History of Private Theatricals might interweave with his subject, not only an account of the Rise and Progress of the Drama, in the different countries of Europe, but by availing himself of the splendid names which have, from time to time, illustrated the annals of Private Theatres, he might, with perfect relevancy, branch out into such a rich variety of anecdote and biography, as few subjects-even among the best adapted for this sort of literary Macédoine-could furnish. By a converse of the proposition, all the World's a Stage,' he might, with little difficulty, succeed in making his Stage all the World.'
Among the ancient Greeks there are, we believe, no traces of private theatrical performances;-and the reason may be, that as, in the eyes of that enlightened people, no stigma attached
*That all the arguments of Berkeley, (says Hume,) though otherwise intended, are, in reality, merely sceptical, appears from this'that they admit of no answer, and produce no conviction.'
itself to the profession of an actor, the wealthy and high-born might indulge, not only with impunity but with honour, in their taste for the practice of that art on the boards of the public theatres. It was allowed,' says Montaigne, to persons of the 'greatest quality to follow the profession of the stage in Greece.' The testimony of Livy to the same point is decisive;-speaking of the tragic actor, Aristo, he says, Huic et genus et fortuna honesta erant, nec ars, quia nihil tale apud Græcos pudori 'est, ea deformabat.' Some of the greatest dramatic poets of Greece, Eschylus, Sophocles, and Aristophanes, thought it not unbecoming to take a part in the representation of their immortal works; nor did the fellow-countrymen and contemporaries of Demosthenes feel themselves disgraced by having a great actor, Aristodemus, their representative at the Court of Philip.
This high appreciation of the ministers of the Dramatic Muse was worthy of the taste and liberal feeling of such a people. If the interpreters of the oracles of the gods derived a character of sacredness from their very task, those who gave utterance to the written spells of genius, might with equal justice participate in the homage paid to genius itself.
Far different was the estimation in which actors were held among the Romans. Their profession was pronounced by the law to be infamous,* and no person of free birth was to be found among its members. The pathetic address of Laberius, the Roman Knight, on being forced by Cæsar to appear on the public stage, is well known:
Twice thirty years I've borne a spotless name,
The defence which a writer in the Mémoires de l'Académie attempts to set up for the illiberal law of the Romans, is mere sophistry: Les Comédiens n'étoient réputés infames à Rome que par le 'vice de leur naissance, et non pas à cause de leur profession; et si elle 'n'eut été exercée que par des hommes libres, ils auroient eu autant de respect que leur art en merite.' Whether the law pronounced the profession itself to be infamous, or attained the same end by allowing none but infamous persons to practise it, makes assuredly no difference in the real state of the case.
Ego, bis tricenis annis actis sine notâ,