Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/343

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


WILLIAM PLAYFAIR. 137


sugar tongs, buckles, &c., which had previously been executed by the hand. For some time he occupied a silversmith's shop in London, but, tiring of the business, or finding it unprofitable, he proceeded to Paris, where, among other mechanical speculations, he procured an exclusive privilege for the manufacture of a rolling mill on a new plan. While living in Paris, he was the means of forming the colony of Scioto in America. Having formed an acquaintance with Mr Joel Barlow, who had been sent to Paris to negotiate the disposal by lots of three millions of acres which had been purchased by a company at New York, on the banks of the Scioto, he undertook to procure for him the necessary introductions, and to conduct the disposal. The breaking out of the French revolution favoured the scheme. It was proposed that the lands should be dis- posed of at 5s. per acre, one half to be paid at signing the act of gale, the other to remain on mortgage to the United States, to be paid within two years after taking possession. In less than two months 50,000 acres were sold, and two vessels sailed from Havre de Grace, with the nucleus of the colony. Soon after accomplishing this project, he made a narrow escape from being ar- rested by the revolutionary government, a fate which his strongly expressed objections to the French revolution rendered a very likely event. On his re- turn to London he projected a bank termed the Security Bank ; its object was the division of large securities so as to facilitate small loans ; this bank unfor- tunately belied its name, and became insolvent, too little attention having been paid to the securities taken. On the restoration of the Bourbons, he returned to France, and became editor of Galignani's Messenger, but he was driven back to England by a libel prosecution, and continued to gain his subsistence by essay-writing and translating. His works being in general connected with the passing politics of the day, need not be all named and characterized. In books and pamphlets, his distinct works are said to amount to about a hundred. Several were politico-economical in their subject, discussing the sinking fund, the resources of France, the Asiatic establishments of Britain, the prospects of the manufacturing interest, &c. His political remarks were generally for the purpose of supporting and vindicating the conduct of Britain towards France, and received the designation " patriotic." Among his principal publications were a " History of Jacobinism," published in 1795 ; an edition of Smith's Wealth of Nations, with Notes, in 1 806 ; and " British Family Antiquities," in 9 vols. 4to, published in 1809-11. This last work forms a Peerage and Baronetage of Britain and Ireland. It contains a great mass of matter, and is splen- didly illustrated, but it is not looked on by genealogists as a work of much au- thority. He spent the last days of his laborious but irregular life without the competence which well-directed talent generally acquires, and his death was hurried on by anxiety of mind. He died in Covent Garden on the llth February, 1823, in the sixty-fourth year of his age. " In private life," says a biographer, " Mr Playfair was inoffensive and amiable ; not prepossessing in his appearance and address, but with a strong and decided physiognomy, like that of his late brother. With a thoughtlessness which is too frequently allied to genius, he neglected to secure that provision for his family, which from his talents they were justified to expect ; and although he laboured ardently and abundantly for his country, yet he found it ungrateful, and was left in age and infirmity to regret that he had neglected his own interests to promote those of the public." l


1 Annual Obituary, 1824, 460. s