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he left it.- My own personal acquaintance with some of the great men whose history I ventured to write, enabled me to throw additional light upon it; and respecting one, whom of course I could not have known, Mr. Hume, I obtained information from good sources through the kindness of friends. The materials of his life are, however, chiefly to be sought in his writings, and especially in his letters. The same remark is applicable to the Life of Voltaire. Those who have written it, like the Marquis de Condorcet, without ever referring to the fourteen large volumes (containing nine thousand closely-printed pages) of his Correspondence, might just as well have undertaken to give a life of Rousseau without consulting his Confessions,' or of Hume, without reading his Autobiography.'--I have, besides, had access to valuable original documents both of Voltaire, Robertson, and Cavendish ; to some respecting Watt and Simson.
Scientific and literary history, the record of the progress of science and of letters, and which is most usefully given in the lives of their cultivators, serves two purposes ; the one historical and critical, the other didactic. It is of great importance to trace the progress of mankind in the advancement of knowledge, and its diffusion ; to show by what steps improvements have been made and applied ; to estimate the relative merits of those whose claims upon our gratitude are the most unquestionable ; and to ascertain the position in which their labours have left the subjects of those labours, with the aspect and extent of the region that yet remains unexplored. But, it is hardly a less valuable service of such works that they promote the knowledge of the subject matter, both by exciting the desire of it, and by facilitating its acquisition. The history of a philosopher's life, that is, of his labours, the tracing of those steps by which he advanced beyond his predecessors, the com
parison of the state of the science as he found it, with that in which he left it, tends mightily to interest the reader, to draw him towards the same inquiries, and to fix his views more closely upon the details of the subject, if it has already somewhat occupied his mind. In like manner, the recording and the description of literary labours and merits, in connexion with the historians, poets, and orators themselves, has a powerful effect in making the reader familiar with the subject, while it cultivates and refines his taste.
Under the head of Philosophers, it is unnecessary to observe upon any of the lives except those of Adam Smith, D'Alembert, and Simson, except to note, that those of Black and Lavoisier give a full statement of the relative merits of these great men, and of the conduct of the latter, both with regard to Black and Priestley. But as many persons entertain a prejudice against the pretensions, or it may be, against the practical conclusions of the Political Economists, they may be apprised that the subjects on which the great and well-established fame of Adam Smith is founded, are here treated without any of the exaggerations wherewith speculative economists have been charged, and that the Life, and the Analysis of his great work were written long before the question respecting Free Trade and the repeal of the Corn Laws had assumed a practical form. Whatever touches that question, was composed as a treatise upon a subject of science only, with the desire to discover and to expound the truth, and without any view to the interests of any party,--the author, though he entirely approved the repeal, yet neither agreeing with those who hoped, nor with those who feared, so much from its consequences.
The Lives of Simson and D'Alembert, are designed not only to give the history of these eminent men—the restora. tion of the ancient geometry by the former, and the improve
ment of the modern analysis by the latter—but also to convey a competent knowledge of those great methods ; while in both lives, especially that of D'Alembert, there is further presented a strong recommendation of mathematical pursuits, by showing the gratification which they are fitted to bestow. Great as is the value of Montucla's History, in the light of a didactic work, many readers have lamented not more that he left it unfinished, and the latter half very unsatisfactorily edited, than that he did not enter more fully into the detailed statement of the subject, in several of the earlier portions.
By such historical and critical works, then, the desire and the acquisition of science is promoted ; and surely no more important duty can be performed, than that of affording both the excitement and the gratification, in however moderate a degree. They who are wholly incapable of advancing science themselves, may help others to the knowledge of what the great masters have done; and they may do this best by not disdaining the office of elementary explanation and discussion. Two thousand years ago, the wisest of the ancients was said to have brought philosophy down from heaven to earth; certainly, he chiefly valued himself on his constant efforts to stir up in men's minds the desire of knowledge.* What he found necessary with regard to the nature of the subject, we in our day may perceive to be equally necessary because of the clouds in which great men, almost unavoidably, involve their scientific researches. The mathematical writings of Newton and his immediate successors require to be made plain, and also to be illustrated by comparative discussion, in order both to show exactly what they accomplished, and to excite an intelligent curiosity respecting their labours. This has been
* Cic. Acad., Qu. i. 4, Tusc. v. 4.
the object both of the Life of D'Alembert, and of the Analytical View of the Principia.*
The course of this work kept me for the most part, at a distance from questions touching political affairs, or the constitution and progress of society, but not always. The reader will find that no opportunity has been left unimproved, as far as I was capable of seizing it with any effect, for inculcating or illustrating the great doctrines of peace, freedom, and religious liberty. The observations on historical composition in the Life of Robertson, I especially consider as pointing to an improvement in that department of letters, highly important to the best interests of mankind, as well as to the character of historians.
But although I had no political animosities to encounter, I feared my historical statements and my commentaries on some lives, as those of Voltaire, Rousseau, and Hume, might find enemies among the two great parties whose principles came in question. The Free-thinkers might object to the blame which I ventured to pronounce upon their favourite authors; the friends of the Church might take exception to the praises occasionally bestowed. It may, however, be expected from the justice of both these conflicting bodies, that they will read with attention and with calmness before they condemn. From the former class I could expect no favour beyond what every one has a
The Analytical View, first published in 1839, omitted the Second and part of the Third Book. The whole is now nearly completed. The object was to enable persons having little mathematical knowledge, beyond elementary geometry and algebra, to follow the demonstrations of the fu damental propositions, and to understand by what kind of reasoning the others are proved. That it was successful in this respect, there were undoubted proofs ; but the discussions with which the investigations were interspersed had also a very material effect.
right to claim from avowed adversaries; a fair hearing was all I desired. To the latter a few words might be addressed in the spirit of respectful kindness, as to those with whom I generally agree.
Whoever feels disposed to treat as impious any writer that has the misfortune not to be among the great body of believers, like the celebrated men above named, should bear in mind that the author of these pages, while he does justice to their great literary merits, has himself published, whether anonymously or under his own name, nearly as much in defence of religion as they did against it; and if, with powers so infinitely below theirs, he may hope to have obtained some little success, and done some small service to the cause of truth, he can only ascribe this fortune to the intrinsic merits of that cause which he has ever supported.* He ventures thus to hope that no one will suspect him of being the less a friend to religion, merely because he has not permitted his sincere belief to make him blind regarding the literary merit of men whose opinions are opposed
His censures of all indecorous, all unfair, all ribald or declamatory attacks, however set off by wit or graced by eloquence, he has never, on any occasion, been slow to pronounce.
to his own.
BROUGHAM, 3d January, 1855.
* It has given me a most heartfelt satisfaction to receive many communications from persons both at home and abroad, which intimated their having been converted from irreligious opinions by the Commentaries and Illustrations of Paley,' published in 1835 and 1838.—It must be noted that the passage of the present work in which Dr. Lardner is mentioned as an orthodox writer, refers to the great question between Christians and Infidels. He was an Unitarian, undoubtedly; but his defence of Revelation forms really the groundwork of Dr. Paley's Evidences.