Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/168

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


538 COLIN MACLA.URIN.


deep researches he had been engaged in, his patience and assiduity will be equally astonishing with his genius. His favourite studies were mathematics, which he cultivated with wonderful success, influenced by a disinterested love of truth, and aiming constantly at improvement and utility. The further he ad- vanced in the knowledge of geometry and of nature, the greater his aversion grew to perfect systems, hypotheses, and dogmatizing. Without being dissatis- fied with the attainments we can arrive at, or the uses which they serve, he saw that there lay infinitely more beyond our reach, and used to call our high- est discoveries but a dawn of knowledge, suited to our circumstances and wants in life, in which, however, we ought thankfully to acquiesce for the present, in hopes that it will be improved in a happier and more perfect state. To a view of general utility, all his studies were accommodated ; and we find in many places of his works, an application even of the most abstruse theories, to the perfecting of mechanical arts. He had resolved, for the same purpose, to com- pose a course of practical mathematics, and to rescue several branches of the science from the bad treatment which they often meet with in less skilful hands. But all those designs were frustrated by his death, unless we may reckon as a part of his intended work, the Translation of Dr David Gregory's Practical Geometry, which he revised and published, with additions, in the year 1745. In his lifetime, however, he often had the pleasure to serve his friends and country, by his superior skill. Whatever difficulty occurred concerning the construction or perfecting of machines, the working of mines, the improvement of manufactures, the conveying of water, or the execution of any public work, Mr Maclaurin was at hand to resolve it. He was likewise employed to termi- nate some disputes of consequence, that had arisen at Glasgow, concerning the gauging of vessels ; and for that purpose presented to the commissioners of excise two memorials containing rules (by which the officers afterwards acted,) with their demonstrations. But what must have given his philanthropic mind a higher source of pleasure than any thing else of the kind, were the calculations he made relative to that wise and humane provision, which is established by law, for the children and widows of the Scottish clergy, and of the professors in the universities, entitling them to certain annuities and sums, upon the voluntary annual payment of a certain sum by the incumbent On the contriv- ance and adjustment of this scheme, Mr Maclaurin bestowed great labour, and contributed not a little to bring it to perfection.

To find that his knowledge rendered him thus eminently useful to a late pos- terity, must have been a delightful enjoyment. But what still more endeared his studies to him, was the use they were of in demonstrating the being and attri- butes of the Almighty Creator, and establishing the principles of natural reli- gion on a solid foundation, equally secure against the idle sophistry of Epi- cureans, and the dangerous refinements of modern metaphysicians.

To this use Mr Maclaurin frequently applied them ; and he was equally zealous in the defence of revealed religion, which he would warmly undertake, whenever he found it attacked, either in conversation or writing. How firm his own persuasion of its truth wa, appears from the support which it afforded him in his last hours.

Among Mr Maclaurin's productions, besides the articles already specified, was a paper sent to the Royal Academy of Sciences, at Paris, in the year 1740, on account of which he shared the prize of the Academy with the celebrated D. Bernouilli and Euler, for resolving the problems relating to the motion of the tides, from the theory of gravity a question which had been given out during the former year, without receiving any solution. Having only ten days in which to draw up this paper, he had not leisure to transcribe a fair