Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/47

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


be sent to the university of St Andrews, in order to fit himself for a learned profession, and he was accordingly entered there, as a student of mathematics, in 1779. At the first distribution of prizes, he attracted some attention by his proficiency, which was the means of introducing him to the patronage of the earl of Kinuoul, then chancellor of the university. Being now destined for the church, he went through the regular routine of instructions for that purpose. After attending for six sessions at St Andrews, he removed to Edinburgh, in company with another youth, destined like himself to obtain a high niche in the temple of fame, and to be honoured, at the same moment wiih himself, more than forty years after, with a royal favour expressive of his equal merit, -James (afterwards Sir James) Ivory. At St Andrews he had also formed an acquaintance with Dr William Thomson, the continuator of Watson's Life of Philip II., and latterly a professed author of no small note in London. At the university of Edinburgh Mr Leslie studied three years, during which time he Mas introduced to Dr Adam Smith, and employed by that eminent man in assisting the studies of his nephew, afterwards lord Reston. He now gave up his intention of adop- ting the clerical profession, which he found to be in a great measure incompati- ble with the strong bent which his mind had taken towards physical studies.

In 1788, he went to Virginia, as tutor to two young college friends, Messrs Randolph ; and after spending more than a year in America, returned to Edin- burgh. In January 1790, he proceeded to London, carrying with him some recommendatory letters from Dr Smith ; he has been heard to mention, that one of the most pressing injunctions with which he was honoured by that illustrious philosopher, was to be sure, if the person to whom he was to present himself was an author, to read his book before approaching him, so as to be able to {peak of it, if there should be a fit opportunity. His first intention was to de- liver lectures on natural philosophy; but being disappointed in his views, he found it expedient to commence writing for periodical works, as the readiest means of obtaining subsistence. For obtaining employment of this kind, he was mainly indebted to his friend Dr William Thomson, who engaged him upon the notes of a new edition of the Bible, which he was then publishing in numbers. About three months after his arrival in London, he made an agreement with Mr Murray, the bookseller, to translate Bufibn's Natural History of Birds, which was published in 1793, in nine octavo volumes. The sum he received for it laid the foundation of that pecuniary independence which, unlike many other men of genius, his prudent habits fortunately enabled him early to attain. The preface to this work, which was published anonymously, is characterised by all the peculiarities of his later style ; but it also bespeaks a mind of great native vigour and lofty conceptions, strongly touched with admiration for the sublime and the grand in nature and science. During the progress of the translation, he fulfilled an engagement with the Messrs Wedgewood of Etruria in Stafford- shire, to superintend their studies ; he left them in 1792. In 1794, Mr Leslie spent a short time in Holland ; and, in 1796, he made the tour of Germany and Switzerland with Mr Thomas Wedgewood, whose early death he ever lamented as a loss to science and his country. About this period, he stood candidate for a chair at St Andrews, and subsequently, for that of natural philosophy in Glasgow, but without success. The fortunate candidate on the latter occasion was Dr James Brown of St Andrews, with whom Mr Leslie to the end of his life maintained a constant intimacy. In 1799, he travelled through Norway and Sweden, in company with Mr Robert Gordon, whose friendship he had acquired at St Andrews college.

At what period Mr Leslie first struck into that brilliant field of inquiry where lie became so conspicuous for his masterly experiments and striking discoveries