Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/295

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


farther is ascertained respecting him, till after he had reached the fortieth year of his age. He is then found settled at the family seats of Merchiston, near Edinburgh, and Gartness, in Stirlingshire, where he seems to hare practised the life of a recluse student, without the least desire to mingle actively in political affairs. That his mind was alive, however, to the civil and religious interests 01 hit country, is proved by his publishing, in 1593, an exposition of the Revela- tions, in the dedication of which, to the king, he urged his majesty, in very plain language, to attend better than he did to the enforcement of the laws, and the protection of religion, beginning reformation in his own " house, family, and court." From this it appears that Napier belonged to the strict order of presbyterians in Scotland ; for such are exactly the sentiments chiefly found prevalent among that class of men at this period of our history.

In the scantiness of authenticated materials for the biography of Napier, some traditionary traits become interesting. It is said that, in his more secluded residence at Gartness, he had both a waterfall and a mill in his immediate neighbourhood, which considerably interrupted his studies. He was, however, a great deal more tolerant of the waterfall than of the mill ; for while the one produced an incessant and equable sound, the other was attended with an irre- gular clack-clack, which marred the processes of his mind, and sometimes even rendered it necessary for him, when engaged in an unusually abstruse calcula- tion, to desire the miller to stop work. He often walked abroad in the even- ing, in a long mantle, and attended by a large dog ; and these circumstances, working upon minds totally unable to appreciate the real nature of his researches, raised a popular rumour of his being addicted to the black art. It is certain that, no more than other great men of his age, was he exempt from a belief in several sciences now fully proved to have been full of imposture. The practice of forming theories only from facts, however reasonable and un- avoidable it may appear, was enforced only for the first time by a contempo- rary of Napier the celebrated Bacon ; and, as yet, the bounds between true and false knowledge were hardly known. Napier, therefore, practised an art which seems nearly akin to divination, as is proved by a contract entered into, in 1594, between him and Logan of Fastcastle afterwards so celebrated for his supposed concern in the Gowry conspiracy. This document states it to have been agreed upon, that, as there were old reports and appearances that a sum of money was hid within Logan's house of Fastcastle, John Napier should do his utmost diligence to search and seek out, and by all craft and ingine [a phrase for mental power] to find out the same, or make it sure that no such thing has been there. For his reward he was to have the exact third of all that was found, and to be safely guarded by Logan back to Edinburgh ; and in case he should find nothing, after all trial and diligence taken, he was content to refer the satisfaction of his travels and pains to the discretion of Logan. What was the result of the attempt, or if the attempt itself was ever made, has not been ascertained.

Besides dabbling in sciences which had no foundation in nature, Napier ad- dicted himself to certain speculations which have always been considered as just hovering between the possible and the impossible, a number of which he disclosed, in 1596, to Anthony Bacon, the brother of the more celebrated philosopher of that name. One of these schemes was for a burning mirror, similar to that of Archimedes, for setting fire to ships ; another was for a mir- ror to produce the same effects by a material fire ; a third for an engine which should send forth such quantities of shot in all directions as to clear everything in its neighbourhood ; and so forth. In fact, Napier's seems to have been one of those active and excursive minds, which are sometimes found to spend a