« ElőzőTovább »
mind of the highest powers, and of the finest sensibilities. With much less enthusiasm from temperament, Dr. Wollaston was endowed with bodily senses of extraordinary acuteness and accuracy, and with great general vigour of understanding. Trained in the discipline of the exact sciences, he had acquired a powerful command over his attention, and had habituated himself to the most rigid correctness, both of thought and of language. He was sufficiently provided with the resources of the mathematics to be enabled to pursue with success profound enquiries in mechanical and optical philosophy, the results of which enabled him to unfold the causes of phenomena not before understood, and to enrich the arts, connected with those sciences, by the invention of ingenious and valuable instruments. In chemistry, he was distinguished by the extreme nicety and delicacy of his observations; by the quickness and precision with which he marked resemblances and discriminated differences; the sagacity with which he devised experiments, and anticipated their results; and the skill with which he executed the analysis of fragments of new substances, often so minute as to be scarcely perceptible by ordinary eyes. He was remarkable, too, for the caution with which he advanced from facts to general conclusions; a caution which, if it sometimes prevented him from reaching at once to the most sublime truths, yet rendered every step of his ascent a secure station, from which it was easy to rise to higher and more enlarged inductions. Thus these illustrious men, though differing essentially in their natural powers and acquired habits, and moving independently of each other, in different paths, contributed to accomplish the same great ends—the evolving new elements; the combining matter into new forms; the increase of human happiness by the improvement of the arts of civilised life; and the establishment of general laws, that will serve to guide other philosophers onwards through vast and unexplored regions of scientific discovery."
No. XX. JOHN REEVES, Esc. F.R.S. F.A.S.
FOUNDER OF THE. ASSOCIATIONS FOR PROTECTING LIBERTY AND PROPERTY AGAINST REPUBLICANS AND LEVELLERS.
During a long, useful, and honourable life, Mr. Reeves took part in so many matters of importance, that, barely to mention his more prominent actions, and name his various works, will completely fill the space to which our notice must be limited. He was born on the 20th of November, 1752, and received his education on the foundation of Eton; but failing in his expectation of succeeding to King's College, Cambridge, he entered himself of Merton College, Oxford, where he took the degree of Bachelor of Arts. From thence he was elected to a scholarship at Queen's, became a Fellow there, and took the degree of Master of Arts, May 21. 1778. In the course of his academical pursuits at Eton and at Oxford, he impressed upon the minds of all who knew him a very high opinion both of his heart and of his head; an opinion which the uniform tenour of his subsequent conduct fully justified and confirmed. It was an observation often made by Judge Blackstone, and which he always expressed with great concern, that "too many of the members of our Inns of Court kept regular terms, and put on the gown, before they seriously applied to such studies as could alone enable them to wear it with due credit." Mr. Reeves was a striking exception to the general justness of this remark. Having entered himself as a student in the Middle Temple, he did not attempt to appear in the professional robe until he had given proofs of professional knowledge. About a year previous to his introduction at Westminster Hall, he published "A Chart of Penal Law," and "An Inquiry into the Nature of Property and Estates, as defined by the English Law;" both of which pieces obtained a considerable share of public approbation. When, therefore, he solicited, according to form, the rank and privileges of a barrister, the benchers who granted his request might very properly say to him in the words of the old Roman, "Sume superbiam quaesitam mentis."
Mr. Reeves was called to the bar in 1780, and no doubt was then entertained of his proving one of its most distinguished ornaments. But he soon found the wrangle of altercation very little suited to the natural turn of his temper. Endowed with the happiest talents for investigating truth, and for displaying it with force and evidence, he felt an unconquerable antipathy to the indiscriminate defence of right and wrong. After exerting himself, therefore, with ability and success, upon several important occasions, he gradually withdrew from active practice in the courts. But in discontinuing his attendance at Westminster Hall Mr. Reeves did not forget the duties of his profession, nor the services which every man of science owes to the great body of society. He published, in 1783, the first volume in quarto of his "History of the English Law," ending with the wise establishments of Edward the First; and in the course of the next year the second volume appeared, continuing the narrative to the close of Henry the Seventh's reign. Several treatises had before been written to elucidate different parts of so interesting a subject; but Mr. Reeves's discussion of it was perfectly new, accurate, and satisfactory. He did not carry his readers back into the dark mist of Saxon antiquities, nor did he vainly endeavour to fill up the chasms of authentic record by ingenious conjecture; but he wisely began his historical details at the time of the Norman invasion, when a new order of things arose,when something like a regular system first took place, and from which period the writer is frequently more encumbered by the multitude, than distressed by the paucity of genuine materials. But if the design of this work was well conceived, the execution was not less masterly. All the revolutions in our laws are traced in it with the utmost clearness and precision. Before any changes in the general system are described, before any particular acts or statutes are mentioned, the reader is always supplied with such a degree of previous information as enables him to comprehend their import, on a bare statement of their contents. The author's style is manly and perspicuous. Full of the importance of his subject, he ever expresses himself with dignity and purity. His language is neither alloyed with ancient inelegance, nor set off by the false graces of modern affectation. He every where appears a zealous friend to a well-regulated government, and a warm advocate for civil and religious liberty. He points out, with the generous exultation of an Englishman, the sacred barriers that secure, on the one side, the privileges of the crown against the fury of popular licentiousness; and guard, on the other, the rights of the people from the encroachments of arbitrary power. The second edition of this able work, in four volumes 8vo., which appeared in 1787, extends to the reign of Philip and Mary. It might be reasonably presumed that an undertaking of such magnitude and intricacy as the history of the English law, would have engrossed any author's whole time and attention. The collection and arrangement of so great a diversity of materials, the removal of that cumbrous load of diction, that immense mass of phraseology, in which the spirit of our statutes is frequently buried, and the discovery of a clue to lead the rational enquirer, without confusion or perplexity, through all the meanders of our civil and criminal jurisprudence, were tasks which seemed to require the full exertions of the most active genius, united with the most indefatigable industry. Yet, in the midst of those laborious efforts, Mr. Reeves cast a frequent glance at what was passing on the great theatre of life; and was always ready to take up any new subject that seemed likely to promote the immediate welfare or tranquillity of his country. The police bill which he produced in 1785 evidently shows that the short intervals of his intense studies were always made subservient to the public good. The first sketch of that bill he finished under the encouragement of Lord Sydney, then secretary of state. A variety of accidental causes prevented the bill from receiving at that time the sanction of the legislature. Such, however, was the intrinsic merit of the plan, that the Irish government adopted its leading principles, and adapted them, with the most beneficial results, to the city of Dublin. The British legislature did not remain long inattentive to the successful experiment made in the sister kingdom; and Mr. Reeves had the satisfaction, in 1792, to see all the essential parts of his plan brought forward with greater spirit than before, and sanctioned by a very flattering majority of both Houses. Mr. Reeves was appointed receiver under the new bill, as a just acknowledgment of his exertions. This, however, was not the first instance of a due regard paid by government to his abilities and public spirit. He had been made a commissioner of bankrupts in 1780; Lord Hawkesbury had given him the appointment of law clerk to the Board of Trade in 1787; and he was soon after invited to go to Ireland, to take a part in a scheme dictated by the soundest, the most liberal, and the most beneficent policy, which had for its object the improvement of the system of education in that kingdom. No man was better qualified to undertake the task; and happy would it have been for Ireland had he continued there long enough to complete it; but on the death of the Duke of Rutland, under whose patronage he had engaged in so laudable a design, he returned to England, after a stay of only three months. The duties of his office at the Board of Trade became at this juncture uncommonly pressing and important. Some of the most considerable objects of commercial policy were then before the board; and a reference to the voluminous reports