« ÖncekiDevam »
A Modern Alchemist.
a typhus fever and malignant dysentery, which he contracted there, prevented his carrying out his intention of pursuing his favourite study at Berlin in the laboratory of Mitscherlich, and thus he unfortunately never perfected himself in chemical manipulation. With impaired health he returned to Edinburgh, wrote a chemical thesis, and graduated. Highly was he esteemed by most of his contemporaries, and in the winter of 1840-1, we find him delivering a public course of lectures, in conjunction with his friend, the late lamented Edward Forbes. After this he appears to have devoted himself mainly to the attempted proof of his atomic theory, single-handed and alone, in comparative poverty, with feeble health and mistrusting friends. On the merits or demerits of these scientific views, and also on some of his theological writings at that time, we shall presently endeavour to express our opinion. Then in his own university the chair of chemistry became vacant; Dr. Hope had resigned, friends urged him to place himself among the candidates; many of these were men of considerable standing, and Dr. Brown had no claim unless on the score of his scientific work. Many, no doubt, had great confidence in him ; his fellow-students of the Oineromathic * Society would move heaven and earth for his appointment; he had lectured on the philosophy of science, and had promulgated a great idea ; but the scientific world had not received it, and he had few if any discoveries to show. Yet he felt convinced not merely of the truth of his views, but that nature had actually yielded to him a forcible argument in support of them. He hastily produced two memoirs, entitled • Experiments on Chemical Isomerism,' and announced two processes by which carbon could be transmuted into silicon! The scientific world was aghast at the presence among them of an alchemist : they denied the truth of his experiments, and called him hard names, especially as one of the best chairs of chemistry was in the balance. He however offered to the leading chemists to repeat the wondrous processes in their presence, requiring simply that if successful they would publicly attest the fact. Dr., now Sir Robert Kane, accepted the proposal, and Dr. Brown repaired to Dublin. At the same time experiments were carefully performed at Edinburgh by Dr. George Wilson; and alas ! the reputed discovery came to nothing, the silicon was not obtained from the carbon, but was tortured we believe out of the material of the crucibles employed. Dr. Gregory was appointed to the Professorship.
This brought terrible obloquy upon Dr. Brown, and as he never retrieved his reputation by bona fide discoveries, he is
Οινον, Ηρως, Μαθησις.
known by many chemists merely as a wild enthusiast or an ignorant pretender. Liebig wrote of him that “his paper contained internal evidence, without a repetition of his experiments, that he was totally unacquainted with the principles of chemical analysis. He, doubtless, had made a great blunder; but so has many a shining chemical genius; the misfortune was that circumstances drew so much attention to his blunder, and that he never fairly and frankly acknowledged it; while in pursuing a difficult and unproductive line of thought and research, he neglected to achieve those conquests which would have been easily won and generally appreciated.
After this reverse he withdrew much from public life, but he still experimented on his favourite subject, and wrote not a little on many physical and metaphysical topics, besides historical and biographical pieces. In June, 1849, he narried, but the joys brought by this new relation were sadly interfered with by a marked deterioration of his health, and for seven years he was afflicted with a painful disorder. Yet he continued his literary labours, and solaced his mind with the friendship of some of the choice spirits of the age. He planned and partly executed a poetic history of all the sciences, and a prose work that was to embrace the entire mutual relation of God, man, and nature. During this time his spiritual being had made no little progress. From youth the religious sentiment had been strong within him, but the independent and antagonistic character of his mind had alienated him from every form and embodiment of Christianity, and he found himself at home in contributing to the Westminster Review. In his discipline of suffering, however, he was gradually led to a humble trust in Christ, his writings breathed more of the spirit of piety, and when drawing near his end we find him using such language as, ' Pray for me; often I can little com'mand my own thoughts now; pray for me; not for cure or allevia
tion—these are mean things to ask from a Father in heavenbut that His perfect will may be accomplished in me. He died on the 20th of September, 1856, in his thirty-ninth year.
Shortly after his death, there appeared in the North British Review a biographical notice of Samuel Brown, written by a loving friend, and it is mainly from this that we have drawn the materials for the above sketch of his life. His miscellaneous writings have now been collected together, and published in two octavo volumes, and this is the book to which we wish to draw the reader's notice. It contains the development of his chemical views in several lectures, many essays on scientific and literary subjects, and reprints of his best articles in various Reviews.
Obscurities of Diction.
These are mostly popular pieces; but we have this comfort in entering on their consideration, that their author wrote his thoughts irrespective of popular applause, and never gave to the world anything in which he had not done his best. At least, he professed this; and, though we may find serious fault with some of his writings, we are thoroughly impressed with the conviction that the man wrote carefully just what he believed to be true and important. In these volumes, too, will be found something to suit almost every taste; there is hard reasoning and beautiful imagery, and their author is by turns philosopher, historian, theologian, and poet.
At the very outset, however, we must enter our formal and emphatic protest against the style in which he sometimes wrote. He could write well, and some of our future extracts will, we think, be acknowledged as exquisite specimens of language; yet he was addicted to two literary vices—obscurity, and the coining of new and unnecessary words. His obscurity is the more provoking, as he had no occasion, as many would-be profound writers, to hide the shallowness of the stream by the muddiness of its waters; his ideas would be generally recognised as worth something, however pellucid were the medium employed for their expression. Just think of his beginning the very first lecture in the volume in this style :
'In the mathematics as well as in applied logic itself, the definition is the object of study, and subject of relationship: 1, 2, 3; a right angle, a circle, or a parabola. In those mixed sciences, which alone are commonly called natural philosophy, and that only by courtesy, the definition is the object for the speculative element of the applied propositions of such perfect sciences, and only describes or represents it for their practical element.'
Now, this embroglio of words contains a genuine meaning, if it can only be got at. As to new words, we readily cede the privilege of coining them if they are really wanted ; and we are glad when a writer dares to use a good word which has not yet found general acceptance. Thus we do not object to, we approve of, Dr. Brown's using 'method,'' methodic,' methodology,' in the foreign and scientific sense, as applied to the order of nature, not to a system of man. 'Fidianism,' too, may be allowed, since by it Coleridge expressed an idea which has no other symbol ; but what can be said of such terms as 'schematism, 'subsumed,' 'hecatoi,'' heteroclitic,'' mathetic,'' mathetical,'' levinbrand,' “unition, twosome,'' pawky,'' periranterium,' exolu'' '
' tion,' 'paralogy, 'fluitate,' panphysicism,' 'hypothetized,' ' percurring, ongrowth ?' In his paper on David Scott he kindly explains in a foot-note the meaning of 'tautegorize, but not
till several pages after he has first used the word. When we read of Descartes the 'Methodist,' and Bacon the 'Organist,' our thoughts will wander away from philosophy into a Wesleyan chapel. We dwell upon this fault for the sake of those, a numerous class, who think it indicative of advanced views to write in this jargon; and also for the sake of our readers, lest, when they meet with these eccentricities of style, they should stop reading our article, or be deterred from looking at the book itself. We promise them suggestive thoughts under this motley garb.
It is only fair to give some specimens of his better style. We select the following as worthy of extract, on account of the thought as well as the language. This is from a description of a solar eclipse
• The day at length arrived—it was a Sunday. The churches were closed on purpose. The streets swarmed awhile, as if it were some judgment-day, and they were then left empty of everything but fiery heat and dust. The Calton Hill was covered, as with a flight of bees. So were Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat. The castle, the tops of monuments, the roofs of great buildings, the spires of churches, were all heavy with holiday star-gazers. The hum of the clustering crowds thickened the air. The cry of ‘One minute more ran through the multitude, and all were hushed; but as soon as the shadow commenced to stalk across the glorious orb, the hum began again, smoked glasses were handled, small science was talked, and the people went their ways glad that they had seen and understood the mysterious apparition. Ignorant savages would have thought it was the finger of God, but the inhabitants of Edinburgh knew it was no such thing!
Here is another extract :
Sciences grow like trees. The purely speculative are endogenous, and swell outwards from within, like the palm, stretching the fingers of its leaves to heaven; the unmixed practical are exogenous, and ring succeeds and embraces ring every propitious year, like the spreading oak which shades the land and furnishes timber for the sea; and the applied combine the nature of both.'
The following extract closes Dr. Brown's review of George Herbert:
• The constellation of the Lyre, and the birthplace reminiscences of an early life, under the roof of godly parents, combined to draw our thoughts into high Bible tracks. Yielding to the soft, and almost paternal guidance of the place and of the
hour, we flew aloft on the imaginative wing of faith to those argent fields of industrious peace, where the spirits of just men made perfect' shall summer high in bliss' for ever. There was David the royal singer, sitting apart upon a pleasant height before our willing eye. Bending over his harp in
wonder and in love, and sweeping his prophetic fingers over the wakeful and awaiting chords, he interpreted the hieroglyphics of nature as they rose on his view, and rolled away in silent magnanimity' before him; he interpreted them into the living voice of song, and the nations of heaven gave ear. 'Hark! we whispered to the listening night, “how he thunders out the glories of our own magnificent firmament in full diapason: a worthy overture to all that is to follow. Listen again : he comes to the system of the sun, a majestic interlude, but also big with a tenderer meaning to the sovereign lyrist himself ; for what a soft, melancholy, home-toned bar is floating from about him now! It is his own dear old world, where he struggled, and fell, and rose again a thousand times and more. Notice how his eye glistens, and his hand trembles, and his voice falters and wails, while he utters in intelligible strains the other meaning of the pale reflective moon, and the cool just sky, and the heaving true-hearted sea, and the bountiful green earth; ay, and Kedar's monotonous wilderness afar, and the skipping hills of Judah, and the muttering brook of Kedron, and the holy city of Jerusalem, and the ever-fragrant Temple of Solomon his son! But he might not tarry. There lay an outspread universe before him, and away he sped, climbing a thousand times ten thousand milky ways with his regal eyc, and pouring forth an unending flood of music, meaning more than the ear can understand.
* Alas! we are now many years older than then, and find such rapturous apprehensions or deliriums only in the house of memory, when some voice like Herbert's approves itself a spell, and opens the chambers that are haunted by those ghosts of the past.'
In considering the different subjects treated of in these Essays, our attention is first arrested by that great idea which held Dr. Brown enchained throughout his life, the central conception round which the whole of his scientific teaching revolved, which has been indissolubly associated with his name, and which, in the recesses of his laboratory he ever strove to demonstrate—that laboratory which he himself has called
Study, rest-room, place of toil,
Still in burning hope and prayer.' But how shall we initiate the unscientific reader into this atomic theory? We will do our best; and should we not perfectly succeed, we must still crave his permission to explain it for the benefit of those whose studies have already furnished them with some preliminary knowledge.
The atomic theory. These words carry us back at once among