« PreviousContinue »
LIFE OF SIR WILLIAM JONES.
BY MR. CHALMERS.
THE life of sir William Jones, one of the most illustrious characters of the eighteenth century, forms a history of unexampled talents, industry, and taste, employed to the most valuable purposes. In what be executed and in what he projected, there is a grasp of mind and a vigour of intellect to which no short narrative can do justice. Yet the purpose of the present sketch will be fully answered if it shall send the reader with eagerness to the more ample and satisfactory volume lately published by lord Teigu- . mouth.
The family of this eminent scholar is ancient, and may be traced through a long catalogue of names, none of which have obtained a place in biography, except that of his father, who was highly and deservedly celebrated as a pbilosopher and mathematician during and after the time of sir Isaac Newton. He was a native of Anglesea, from which he removed to the humble occupation of teaching mathematics on board a man of war. After pursuing this course of life for some years, he became a teacher of the same science in London, and the author of some works in great esteem. His excellent character and talents recommended him to the acquaintance and patronage of lord Hardwicke, sir Isaac Newton, lord Macclesfield and others, which he enjoyed until bis death in 1749. By his wife, Mary Nix, the daughter of a cabinet-maker in London, he had three children, George, who died in infancy; Mary, who became the wife of Mr. Rainsford a merchant, and lost her life in 1802, in consequence of her clothes taking fire, and William, the subject of the present memoir, who was born on the eve of the festival of St. Michael 1746.
As his father died when he had scarcely reached his third year, the care of his edu. cation devolved on his mother, whose talents and virtues eminently qualified her for the task. Her husband, with affectionate precision, characterised her as one who “ was virtuous without blemish, generous without extravagance, frugal but not niggard, cheerful but not giddy, close but not sullen, ingenious but not conceited, of spirit but not passionate, of her company cautious, in her friendship trusty, to her pa. rents dutiful, and to her husband ever faithful, loving and obedient.” She must bave been yet a more extraordinary woman than all this imports, for we are told that under
her husband's tuition she became a considerable proficient in algebra, and with a view to act as preceptor to her sister's son, who was destined for the sea, she made berself perfect in trigonometry, and the theory of navigation, sciences of which it is probable she knew nothing before marriage, and which she now pursued amidst the anxious, and, usually, monopolizing cares of a family.
In educating her son she appears to have preferred a method at once affectionate and judicious. Discovering in him a natural curiosity and thirst for knowledge, beyond what children generally display, she made the gratification of those passions to depend on his own industry, and constantly pointed to a book as the source of infortnation. So successful was this method, that in his fourth year he was able distinctly and rapidly to read any English book, while his memory was agreeably exercised in getting by heart such popular pieces of poetry as were likely to engage the fancy of a child. His taste for reading gradually became a habit, and having in his fifth year, while looking over a bible, fallen upon the sublime description of the Angel in the tenth chapter of the Apocalypse, the impression which his imagination received from it was never effaced.
In his sixth year an attempt was made to teach him Latin, but the acquisition of a new language had as yet no charms. At Michaelmas 1753, when he had compleated his seventh year, he was placed at Harrow school, under the tuition of Dr. Thackeray. Here during the first two years he applied with diligence to his prescribed tasks, but without indicating that superiority of talents which in eminent characters biographers are desirous to trace to the earliest years. It was enough, however, that he learned what was taught, and it was fortunate that his mind was gradually informed without being perplexed. During the vacations his mother resumed her “ delightful task," and initiated him in the art of drawing, in which she excelled. Her private instructions became more necessary, and indeed indispensable, when in his ninth year his thigh-bone was accidentally fractured. During his confinement, which lasted twelve months, his mother diverted his taste for reading to the best English poets, whom he already endeavoured to imitate, but whether any of these very early efforts are in existence his biographer has not informed us. · On his return to school, he was placed in the same class which he should have attained if the progress of his studies had not been interrupted. Whether this was from favour or caprice in the master, it might have been attended with fatal consequences to young Jones, had his temper been of that irascible and wayward kind which sometimes accompanies genius. He found himself in a situation in which he was necessarily a year behind his school-fellows, and yet his master affected to presume on his equal proficiency, and goaded him by punishment and degradation to perform tasks for which he had received no preparatory instructions. In a few months, however, he applied himself so closely during his leisure hours to recover what he had lost, that he soon reached the head of his class, and uniformly gained every prize offered for the best exercise. In his twelfth year he moved into the upper school, when he entered upon the study of the Greek, and, as was bis practice when in the lower, exercised himself in various translations and compositions which, not being required by his instructors, elevated him in the eyes of his school-fellows, while his kindness prevented the usual effects of jealousy, They felt nothing unpleasant in the superiority of a