Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/160

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.


530 COLIN MACLAURIN.


.-is it otherwise might have been, on account of the kind advice and benevolent attention of a worthy uncle, the reverend Daniel Maclaurin, minister of Kilfm- nan, and the careful economy and exemplary virtues of their mother. After remaining in Argyleshire for some time, on a small patrimonial estate, which was divided between Mrs Maclaurin and her sisters, she removed to Dumbarton, for the more convenient education of her children; but dying in 1707, the en- tire charge of the orphans devolved upon their uncle. Colin, at this time, was nine years old ; and, although of a delicate constitution, he was remarkable for the quickness of his apprehension, and the retentiveness of his memory ; he was passionately fond of learning, and pursued his studies with so much zeal and satisfaction, as to be fully qualified to enter the university of Glasgow, in t\vo years after his mother's death. He was accordingly placed there under the di- rection of Mr Carmichael, an admirable public teacher, who took the greatest pains in superintending his education, and for whom Mr Maclaurin, ever after in life, evinced the warmest feelings of gratitude and respect. His proficiency in every branch of elementary learning was so rapid, and his application to study so in- tense, that his teachers were astonished at the ease and quickness with which he distanced, not only those who were commencing the same class with himself, but those who had the advantage of attending for many sessions before him. His youthful imagination entered with great delight into the beauties of the writings of the ancients, and a taste for classical learning never forsook him during the whole course of his life, notwithstanding the predominant bent of his wonderful genius for the cultivation and improvement of mathematical science. From the time he entered college, he kept a diary, in which he carefully noted down the beginning and success of every particular study, inquiry, or investigation, his conversations with learned men, the subjects of those, and the arguments on either side. This was found among his oldest manuscripts, and in it might be read the names of the celebrated Mr Robert Simpson, Dr Johnson, and several other gentlemen of learning and worth, who all seemed anxious who should most encourage our young philosopher, by opening to him their libraries, and admitting him into their most intimate society and friendship. His genius for mathematical learning discovered itself so early as twelve years of age, when, having accidentally met with a copy of Euclid, in a friend's chamber, he became master, in a few days, of the first six books, without any assistance ; and having accomplished this extraordinary enterprise, his predilection for the science of quantity was determined for life. He now made an extraordinary progress, as we very soon after find him engaged in solving the most curious and diffi- cult problems.

At fifteen years of age, Mr Maclaurin took his degree of master of arts, having passed through the curriculum, or public course of lectures appointed by the university, which must be attended before this honour can be gained. The subject he selected for his thesis, was, the "Power of Gravity," and this, accord- ing to the custom of the times, it was necessary for him to defend publicly. It may be necessary to observe, for the information of those who are acquainted with the manner in which such disputations were conducted in Scotland, -that the candidate was left free to select for this ordeal any literary or scientific subject he thought proper. The depth and boldness of the topic proposed by young Maclaurin at once revealed what kind of studies had engaged his atten- tion while at the university, and excited the wonder and admiration of all pre- sent. In most instances, the subjects of disputation were of a trifling kind, and adapted chiefly to afford the candidate an opportunity of displaying his ingenu- ity and acquaintance with the mood and figure of the school of logic But the mind of our youthful philosopher disdained to stoop to any thing puerile or coin-