Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/342

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130 -WILLIAM PLAYFAIR.


former part of the subject is open for the appreciation of the world, but as the latter can only be told by one acquainted with it, we beg to extract a portion. " The same admirable taste which is conspicuous in his writings, or rather the higher principles from which that taste was but an emanation, spread a similar charm over his whole life and conversation, and gave to the most learned philosopher of his day the manners and deportment of the most perfect gentleman. Nor was this in him the result merely of good sense and good tem- per, assisted by an early familiarity with good company, and a consequent knowledge of his own place and that of all around him. His good-breeding was of a higher descent ; and his powers of pleasing rested on something better than mere companionable qualities. With the greatest kindness and generosity of nature, he united the most manly firmness, and the highest principles of honour; and the most cheerful and social dispositions, with the gentlest and steadiest affections. Towards women, he had always the most chivalrous feel- ings of regard and attention, and was, beyond almost all men, acceptable and agreeable in their society, though without the least levity or pretension unbe- coming his age or condition. And such, indeed, was the fascination of the perfect simplicity and mildness of his manners, that the same tone and deport- ment seemed equally appropriate in all societies, and enabled him to delight the young and the gay with the same sort of conversation which instructed the learned and the grave. There never, indeed, was a man of learning and talent who appeared in society so perfectly free from all sorts of pretension, or notion of his own importance, or so little solicitous to distinguish himself, or so sincerely willing to give place to every one else. Even upon subjects which he had thoroughly studied, he was never in the least Impatient to speak, and spoke at all times without any tone of authority ; while so far from wishing to set off what he had to say by any brilliancy or emphasis of expression, it seemed generally as if he had studied to disguise the weight and originality of his thoughts under the plainest form of speech, and the most quiet and indif- ferent manner ; so that the profoundest remarks and subtlest observations were often dropped, not only without any solicitude that their value should be ob- served, but without any apparent consciousness that they possessed any."

PLAYFAIR, WILLIAM, an ingenious mechanic and miscellaneous writer, brother to the preceding, was born in the year 1759. The personal history of this man when compared with that of his brother, shows in striking colours the necessity, not only of industry, but of steadiness and consistency of plan, as adjuncts of genius in raising its possessor to eminence. Being very young when his father died, his education was superintended by his brother. His early taste for mechanics prompted his friends to place him as apprentice to a mill-wright of the name of Miekle. He afterwards went to England, and in 1780, was engaged as draughtsman in the service of Mr James Watt How long he remained in this situation we do not know, but the vast mass of pamphlets which he was unceasingly producing must have speedily interfered with his professional regularity, and he seems to have spent the remainder of his days in alternately making mechanical discoveries of importance, and penning literary or political pamphlets. Among the most useful of .his mechanical ef- forts, was the unrequited discovery of the French telegraph, gathered from a few partial hints, and afterwards adapted by an alphabet of his own invention to British use. At the period when he was most busy as a writer, he received no less than five patents for new inventions ; one of these was for the manufac- ture of sashes, constructed of a mixture of copper, zinc, and iron. These he termed Eldorado sashes. Another was for a machine for completing the orna- mental part of fretwork on small implements of silver and other metal ; such as