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; with Remarks on Railway Accidents. By Robert
Ritchie, Civil Engineer, · · · · .4
Gages and poets have vied with each other in the invention of
significant symbols by which to express the littleness of all earthly greatness, and the vanity of all human ambition-not always superior themselves to a secret ambition of obtaining fame even by showing it to be nothing-of being remembered for the beauty and the excellence wherewith they have typified vanity. Like the sculptor employed to ornament the tomb, they have hoped to be celebrated for their eloquent images of death, and their graceful emblems of mortality. Yet neither amongst the devices feigned by art, nor the objects presented to us by the ravages of timethe broken column, the sarcophagus empt even of ashes, the stone inscribed with a silent history, with half legible characters,—is there any memento of thes truths more expressive or more touching, than that which presents itself in the tarnished decorations of a series of portly folios or quartos of a past age, the product of some capacious and restless intellect, which toiled, as was fondly thought and hoped, for immortality, which aspired to be remembered, not merely in Biographical Dictionaries—those crowded Cemeteries of mind—but to hold active and familiar converse with VOL, LXXXIV. NO, CLXIX.
the mind of successive generations,—to live in perpetual citation on the lips of grateful and admiring readers.' Yet are these misjudging aspirants for fame often consigned to the “dust and darkness of the upper shelf;" rarely opened except by some chance visitor, out of idle curiosity,—not from any wish to hold communion with their spirits, or to emancipate even for an instant · their imprisoned wit and wisdom. These remains are guarded, it is true, with jealous care, and kept safe behind handsome doors and gratings; but the page is as mute as the voice of him who wrote it; and that supplementary body of ink and paper by which the fond authors hoped to perpetuate their existence, and secure a second and longer life on earth, is dead as the first tenement of flesh and blood, and without a hope of resurrection. To traverse an old library filled with such remains, is like walking through the catacombs of a great city. Could the thought of the utter want of sympathy, the cold oblivion' which awaited him, have obtruded itself on the imaginings of those who wrought for immortality, it had been enough to paralyse all their energies, and make the pen drop from their nerveless hands.
We have been led into these gloomy reflections by the lot of that great and shining man, on whose Life and Genius we are about to offer a few remarks. His name is no obscure one; on the contrary, he has achieved, if ever man did, a high European reputation, and his name is laid up with those of the great of all time; and yet we believe there are few, even of the utterly obscure, who, having written so much, are read so little. It is the smallest possible fraction of his works that even those who have troubled themselves to peruse any thing, are acquainted with; while the immense majority, who yet know him renowned for mathematical discoveries and metaphysical theories, have never read a syllable of him.
For this comparative neglect there are more reasons than one. To a certain extent he shares but the lot of all great philosophers. Their condition, in this respect, is far less enviable than that of great poets. The former can never possess so large a circle of readers under any circumstances; but that number is still further abridged by the fact, that even the truths they have taught or discovered, form but stepping-stones in the progress of science, and are afterwards digested, systematized, and better expounded in other works composed by smaller men. The creations of poetry, on the contrary, remain ever beautiful, as long as the language in which they are embodied shall endure : even to translate is to injure them. Thus it is, that for one reader of Archimedes, (even amongst those who know just what Archimedes achieved,) there are thousands of readers of Homer; and of Newton it may
be truly said, that nine-tenths of those who are familiar with his doctrines have never studied him except at second-hand. Far more intimate, no doubt, is that sympathy which Shakspeare and Milton inspire ; being dead, they yet speak;' and may even be said to form a part of the very minds of their readers.
But this is not the only cause of the almost total neglect of the works of Leibnitz. As he wrote often with great beauty, and on a great variety of subjects, there should be no reason, one might imagine, why he should be less read than many other philosophers whose claims to be remembered are far inferior to his.
The cause, we are inclined to think, is owing, in part, to the fragmentary character of his productions: though enormously voluminous, there is almost nothing except his Theodicée and his Remarks on Locke that can be considered systematic; and he has
nowhere, not even in these pieces, given a complete digest of his · philosophical system. The great mass of his works consists of
occasional papers ; such as his contributions to the Acta Eruditorum of Leipsic; and the immense remains of that Literary Correspondence in which he was actively engaged throughout his life, and which included the name of almost every eminent scholar and thinker of the age. In these Letters he continually repeats (as was most natural) fragments of his opinions; so that the reader finds that he has got most of what Leibnitz thought, long before he has read all that Leibnitz wrote, and might here, if any where, take a brick as a specimen of the house.
But yet another cause of this comparative neglect is, that with all his intellectual greatness, few other men have ventured to expound metaphysical theories which depend so absolutely on mere
conjecture, or which are less adapted to invite disciples. His "Monads are unintelligible even to his most devoted commentators ; his Pre-established Harmony has long since been dissolved; and a score of other theories, and rudiments of theories, which were suggested to his ever active genius, lie scattered in gigantic ruins over the vast field of his labours. .
Nor is this all. A very large portion of his writings, as already said, consists of his Letters. Now, not only is the Latin in which he often writes far from being Ciceronian ; not only are the theories he defends exploded, or the truths he develops rendered elementary in the subsequent progress of science; but the books cited are long forgotten, the very names of the authors never heard of: even the doctissimus Hackmannus and the illustrissimus Kettwigius have somehow become obscure: the allusions are unintelligible, the incidents without interest, the pleasantry insipid.
t. These causes are at least sufficient to show why we ought not to wonder that Leibnitz for more than a century has been but little read.'
But it is well that those illustrious men, whose voluminous writings, for the reasons above assigned, will never be remembered equally with those of the great poet, should have their periodical commemoration; when the achievements by which they benefited their own generation and all time shall be honourably recounted, their portraits brought out of the dust and dampness where they were fading away, and the lineaments retouched and vivified; when some of their most pregnant thoughts and weighty maxims shall be repeated in the ear of mankind; and some fragments of their wisdom rescued from the sepulchre of their opera omnia. Even this is better than sheer oblivion. They have influenced the mind of the species some generations back, and through that indirectly for ever. It is something more to be permitted to do this directly, in modes however limited, and for intervals however transient. Yielding to the instinct of immortality, each grateful shade, thus honoured, will triumphantly exclaim, Non omnis moriar!
Such a festival in honour of Leibnitz seems to be now in course of celebration in Germany. “Old Mortality is there going his round, and reviving the imagery and inscriptions on the philosopher's tomb; and we could hardly hope to find a more favourable juncture for offering our homage than the present, when his works have just been republished at Berlin, and a new biography composed by Dr Guhrauer.
We shall commence with a sketch of his life, the rather that it is more varied than that of the generality of literary men; so much so, indeed, as to increase in no small degree that wonder which his prodigious attainments are calculated to excite. It is difficult to reconcile so much activity and locomotion with such severe study. He must have learnt that useful lesson of losing no time 'in changing his hand,' as Adam Smith expresses it; and of bringing his faculties to bear with resolute promptitude on whatever, for the moment, exacted attention.
The principal sources of the biography of Leibnitz are the materials left by his friend Eckhart—his Life by Brucker, in the History of Philosophy-his well-known Eloge by Fontenelle that by Bailly, first published in 1768, and republished in his Discours in 1790_ that by Kastner, published in 1769_the Memoir prefixed to several editions of the Theodicée, by M. Jaucourt, originally published under the feigned name of M. Neufville-a piece possessing considerable merit, and praised