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An essay by Thomas De Quincey

Sketch Of Professor Wilson

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Title:     Sketch Of Professor Wilson
Author: Thomas De Quincey [More Titles by De Quincey]

SKETCH OF PROFESSOR WILSON.[1]

[In a Letter to an American Gentleman.]

My dear L,--Among the _lions_ whom you missed by one accident or another on your late travels in Europe, I observe that you recur to none with so much regret as Professor Wilson; you dwell upon this one disappointment as a personal misfortune; and perhaps with reason; for, in the course of my life, I have met with no man of equally varied accomplishments, or, upon the whole, so well entitled to be ranked with that order of men distinguished by brilliant versatility and ambidexterity--of which order we find such eminent models in Alcibiades, in Caesar, in Crichton, in that of Servan recorded by Sully, and in one or two Italians. Pity that you had not earlier communicated to me the exact route you were bound to, and the particular succession of your engagements when you visited the English Lakes; since, in that case, my interest with Professor Wilson (supposing always that you had declined to rely upon the better passport of your own merits as a naturalist) would have availed for a greater thing than at that time stood between you and the introduction which you coveted. On the day, or the night rather, when you were at Bowness and Ambleside, I happen to know that Professor Wilson's business was one which might have been executed by proxy, though it could not be delayed; and I also know that, apart from the _general_ courtesy of his nature, he would, at all times, have an especial pleasure in waiving a claim of business for one of science or letters, in the person of a foreigner coming from a great distance; and that in no other instance would he make such a sacrifice so cordially as on behalf of an able naturalist. Perhaps you already know from your countryman, Audubon, that the Professor is himself a naturalist, and of original merit; in fact, worth a score of such meagre bookish naturalists as are formed in museums and by second-hand acts of memory; having (like Audubon) built much of his knowledge upon personal observation. Hence he has two great advantages: one, that his knowledge is accurate in a very unusual degree; and another, that this knowledge, having grown up under the inspiration of a real interest and an unaffected love for its objects,--commencing, indeed, at an age when no affectation in matters of that nature could exist,--has settled upon those facts and circumstances which have a true philosophical value: habits, predominant affections, the direction of instincts, and the compensatory processes where these happen to be thwarted,--on all such topics he is learned and full; whilst, on the science of measurements and proportions, applied to dorsal-fins and tail-feathers, and on the exact arrangement of colours, &c.--that; petty upholstery of nature, on which books are so tedious and elaborate,--not uncommonly he is negligent or forgetful. What may have served in later years to quicken and stimulate his knowledge in this field, and, at any rate, greatly to extend it, is the conversation of his youngest brother, Mr. James Wilson, who (as _you_ know much better than I) is a naturalist _majorum gentium_. He, indeed, whilst a boy of not more than sixteen or seventeen, was in correspondence (I believe) with Montague the Ornithologist; and about the same time had skill enough to pick holes in the coat of Mr. Hueber, the German reformer of our then erroneous science of bees.


[Footnote 1: This was written for _The Edinburgh Literary Gazette_, of which sixty-one numbers appear to have been issued in 1829-30. The paper is now so scarce, that the American publishers of DE QUINCEY'S works photographed their 'copy' from that contained in the Advocates' Library, Edinburgh. There is a file in the British Museum. I have not been able to authenticate any other contribution from the pen of DE QUINCEY. This letter deserves attention in various ways, but particularly for the passage on Elleray--CHRISTOPHER NORTH'S home on the banks of Windermere. MRS. GORDON in the life of her Father, PROFESSOR WILSON, remarks:--'For a description of this beautiful spot I gladly avail myself of the striking picture by Mr. DE QUINCEY.'--H.]


You see, therefore, that no possible introduction could have stood you more in stead than your own extensive knowledge of transatlantic ornithology. Swammerdam passed his life, it is said, in a ditch. _That_ was a base, earthy solitude,--and a prison. But you and Audubon have passed _your_ lives in the heavenly solitudes of forests and savannahs; and such solitude as this is no prison, but infinite liberty. The knowledge which you have gathered has been answerable to the character of your school: and no sort of knowledge could have secured you a better welcome with Professor Wilson. Yet, had it been otherwise, I repeat that my interest (as I flatter myself) would have opened the gates of Elleray to you even at midnight; for I am so old a friend of Mr. Wilson that I take a pride in supposing myself the oldest; and, barring relations by blood, arrogate the rights of dean in the chapter of his associates: or at least I know of but one person whose title can probably date earlier than mine. About this very month when I am writing, I have known Professor Wilson for a cycle of twenty years and more, which is just half of his life--and also half of mine; for we are almost _ad apicem_ of the same age; Wilson being born in May, and I in August, of the same memorable year.

My introduction to him--setting apart the introduc_ee_ himself--was memorable from one sole circumstance, viz. the person of the introducer. _William Wordsworth_ it was, who in the vale of Grasmere, if it can interest you to know the place, and in the latter end of 1808, if you can be supposed to care about the time, did me the favour of making me known to John Wilson, or as I might say (upon the Scottish fashion of designating men from their territorial pretensions) to Elleray. I remember the whole scene as circumstantially as if it belonged to but yesterday. In the vale of Grasmere,--that peerless little vale which you and Gray the poet and so many others have joined in admiring as the very Eden of English beauty, peace, and pastoral solitude,--you may possibly recall, even from that flying glimpse you had of it, a modern house called Allan Bank, standing under a low screen of woody rocks which descend from the hill of Silver How, on the western side of the lake. This house had been then recently built by a worthy merchant of Liverpool; but for some reason of no importance to you and me, not being immediately wanted for the family of the owner, had been let for a term of three years to Mr. Wordsworth. At the time I speak of, both Mr. Coleridge and myself were on a visit to Mr. Wordsworth; and one room on the ground floor, designed for a breakfasting-room, which commands a sublime view of the three mountains,--Fairfield, Arthur's Chair, and Seat Sandal (the first of them within about four hundred feet of the highest mountains in Great Britain), was then occupied by Mr. Coleridge as a study. On this particular day, the sun having only just set, it naturally happened that Mr. Coleridge--whose nightly vigils were long--had not yet come down to breakfast: meantime, and until the epoch of the Coleridgian breakfast should arrive, his study was lawfully disposable to profaner uses. Here, therefore, it was, that, opening the door hastily in quest of a book, I found seated, and in earnest conversation, two gentlemen--one of them my host, Mr. Wordsworth, at that time about thirty-seven or thirty-eight years old; the other was a younger man by good sixteen or seventeen years, in a sailor's dress, manifestly in robust health--_fervidus juventa_, and wearing upon his countenance a powerful expression of ardour and animated intelligence, mixed with much good nature. _'Mr. Wilson of Elleray'_--delivered, as the formula of introduction, in the deep tones of Mr. Wordsworth--at once banished the momentary surprise I felt on finding an unknown stranger where I had expected nobody, and substituted a surprise of another kind: I now well understood who it was that I saw; and there was no wonder in his being at Allan Bank, Elleray standing within nine miles; but (as usually happens in such cases) I felt a shock of surprise on seeing a person so little corresponding to the one I had half unconsciously prefigured.

And here comes the place naturally, if anywhere, for a description of Mr. Wilson's person and general appearance in carriage, manner, and deportment; and a word or two I shall certainly say on these points, simply because I know that I _must_, else my American friends will complain that I have left out that precise section in my whole account which it is most impossible for them to supply for themselves by any acquaintance with his printed works. Yet suffer me, before I comply with this demand, to enter one word of private protest against the childish (nay, worse than childish--the _missy_) spirit in which such demands originate. From my very earliest years,--that is the earliest years in which I had any sense of what belongs to true dignity of mind,--I declare to you that I have considered the interest which men, grown men, take in the personal appearance of each other as one of the meanest aspects under which human curiosity commonly presents itself. Certainly I have the same intellectual perception of differences in such things that other men have; but I connect none of the feelings, whether of admiration or contempt, liking or disliking, which are obviously connected with these perceptions by human beings generally. Such words as 'commanding appearance,' 'prepossessing countenance,' applied to the figures or faces of the males of the human species, have no meaning in my ears: no man commands me, no man prepossesses me, by anything in, on, or about his carcass. What care I for any man's legs? I laugh at his ridiculous presumption in conceiting that I shall trouble myself to admire or to respect anything that he can produce in his _physics_. What! shall I honour Milo for the very qualities which he has in common with the beastly ox he carries--his thews and sinews, his ponderous strength and weight, and the quantity of thumping that his hide will carry? I disclaim and disdain any participation in such green-girl feelings. I admit that the baby feelings I am here condemning are found in connection with the highest intellects: in particular, Mr. Coleridge for instance once said to me, as a justifying reason for his dislike of a certain celebrated Scotsman, with an air of infinite disgust,--'that ugh!' (making a guttural sound as if of execration) 'he (viz. the said Scotsman) was so chicken-breasted.' I have been assured by the way, that Mr. Coleridge was mistaken in the mere matter of fact: but supposing that he were not, what a reason for a philosopher to build a disgust upon! And Mr. Wordsworth, in or about the year 1820, in expressing the extremity of his _Nil admirari_ spirit, declared that he would not go ten yards out of his road to see the finest specimen of man (intellectually speaking) that Europe had to show: and so far indeed I do not quarrel with his opinion; but Mr. Wordsworth went on to say that this indifference did _not_ extend itself to man considered physically; and that he would still exert himself to a small extent (suppose a mile or so) for the sake of seeing Belzoni. _That_ was the case he instanced: and, as I understood him, not by way of a general illustration for his meaning, but that he really felt an exclusive interest in this particular man's _physics_. Now Belzoni was certainly a good tumbler, as I have heard; and hopped well upon one leg, when surmounted and crested by a pyramid of men and boys; and jumped capitally through a hoop; and did all sorts of tricks in all sorts of styles, not at all worse than any monkey, bear, or learned pig, that ever exhibited in Great Britain. And I would myself have given a shilling to have seen him fight with that cursed Turk that assaulted him in the streets of Cairo; and would have given him a crown for catching the circumcised dog by the throat and effectually taking the conceit out of his Mahometan carcass: but then _that_ would have been for the spectacle of the passions, which, in such a case, would have been let loose: as to the mere animal Belzoni,--who after all was not to be compared to Topham the Warwickshire man, that drew back by main force a cart, and its driver, and a strong horse,--as to the mere animal Belzoni, I say, and his bull neck, I would have much preferred to see a real bull or the Darlington ox. The sum of the matter is this: all men, even those who are most manly in their style of thinking and feeling, in many things retain the childishness of their childish years: no man thoroughly weeds himself of all. And this particular mode of childishness is one of the commonest, into which they fall the more readily from the force of sympathy, and because they apprehend no reason for directing any vigilance against it. But I contend that reasonably no feelings of deep interest are justifiable as applied to any point of external form or feature in human beings, unless under two reservations: first, that they shall have reference to women; because women, being lawfully the objects of passions and tender affections, which can have no existence as applied to men, are objects also, rationally and consistently, of all other secondary feelings (such as those derived from their personal appearance) which have any tendency to promote and support the first. Whereas between men the highest mode of intercourse is merely intellectual, which is not of a nature to receive support or strength from any feelings of pleasure or disgust connected with the accidents of external appearance: but exactly in the degree in which these have any influence at all they must warp and disturb by improper biases; and the single case of exception, where such feelings can be honourable and laudable amongst the males of the human species, is where they regard such deformities as are the known products and expressions of criminal or degrading propensities. All beyond this, I care not by whom countenanced, is infirmity of mind, and would be baseness if it were not excused by imbecility.

Excuse this digression, for which I have a double reason: chiefly I was anxious to put on record my own opinions, and my contempt for men generally in this particular; and here I seemed to have a conspicuous situation for that purpose. Secondly, apart from this purpose of offence, I was at any rate anxious, merely on a defensive principle, to screen myself from the obvious misinterpretation incident to the case: saying anything minute or in detail upon a man's person, I should necessarily be supposed to do so under the ordinary blind feelings of interest in that subject which govern most people; feelings which I disdain. Now, having said all this, and made my formal protest, _liberavi animam meam_; and I revert to my subject, and shall say that word or two which I was obliged to promise you on Professor Wilson's personal appearance.

Figure to yourself, then, a tall man, about six feet high, within half an inch or so, built with tolerable appearance of strength; but at the date of my description (that is, in the very spring-tide and blossom of youth) wearing, for the predominant character of his person, lightness and agility, or (in our Westmoreland phrase), _lishness_: he seemed framed with an express view to gymnastic exercises of every sort--

"[Greek: Alma, podokeien, diskon, akonta, palen]"

In the first of these exercises, indeed, and possibly (but of that I am not equally certain) in the second, I afterwards came to know that he was absolutely unrivalled: and the best leapers at that time in the ring, Richmond the Black and others, on getting 'a taste of his quality,' under circumstances of considerable disadvantage [viz. after a walk from Oxford to Moulsey Hurst, which I believe is fifty miles], declined to undertake him. For this exercise he had two remarkable advantages: it is recorded of Sheffield, Duke of Buckingham, that, though otherwise a handsome man, he offended the connoisseurs in statuesque proportions by one eminent defect--perhaps the most obtrusive to which the human figure is liable--viz. a body of length disproportioned to his legs. In Mr. Wilson the proportions were fortunately reversed: a short trunk, and remarkably long legs, gave him one half of his advantages in the noble science of leaping; the other half was afterwards pointed out to me by an accurate critic in these matters as lying in the particular conformation of his foot, the instep of which is arched, and the back of the heel strengthened in so remarkable a way that it would be worth paying a penny or so for a sight of them. It is really laughable to think of the coxcombry which eminent men of letters have displayed in connection with their powers--real or fancied--in this art. Cardinal du Perron vapoured to the end of his life upon some remarkable leap that he either _had_ accomplished, or conceived himself to have accomplished (not, I presume, in red stockings). Every tenth page of the _Perroniana_ rings with the echo of this stupendous leap--the length of which, if I remember rightly, is as obviously fabulous as any feat of Don Belianis of Greece. Des Cartes also had a lurking conceit that, in some unknown place, he had perpetrated a leap that ought to immortalise him; and in one of his letters he repeats and accredits a story of some obscure person's leap, which


'At one light bound high overleaped all bound'


of reasonable credulity. Many other eminent leapers might be cited, Pagan and Christian: but the Cardinal, by his own account, appears to have been the flower of Popish leapers; and, with all deference to his Eminence, upon a better assurance than that, Professor Wilson may be rated, at the time I speak of, as the flower of all Protestant leapers. Not having the Cardinal's foible of connecting any vanity with this little accomplishment, knowing exactly what could and what could _not_ be effected in this department of gymnastics, and speaking with the utmost simplicity and candour of his failures and his successes alike, he might always be relied upon, and his statements were constantly in harmony with any collateral testimony that chance happened to turn up.

Viewed, therefore, by an eye learned in gymnastic proportions, Mr. Wilson presented a somewhat striking figure: and by some people he was pronounced with emphasis a fine looking young man; but others, who less understood, or less valued these advantages, spoke of him as nothing extraordinary. Still greater division of voices I have heard on his pretensions to be thought handsome. In my opinion, and most certainly in his own, these pretensions were but slender. His complexion was too florid; hair of a hue quite unsuited to that complexion; eyes not good, having no apparent depth, but seeming mere surfaces; and in fine, no one feature that could be called fine, except the lower region of his face, mouth, chin, and the parts adjacent, which were then (and perhaps are now) truly elegant and Ciceronian. Ask in one of your public libraries for that little 4to edition of the _Rhetorical Works of Cicero_, edited by Schuetz (the same who edited _AEschylus_), and you will there see (as a frontispiece to the 1st vol.) a reduced whole length of Cicero from the antique; which in the mouth and chin, and indeed generally, if I do not greatly forget, will give you a lively representation of the contour and expression of Professor Wilson's face. Taken as a whole, though not handsome (as I have already said), when viewed in a quiescent state, the head and countenance are massy, dignified, and expressive of tranquil sagacity.

Thus far of Professor Wilson in his outward man, whom (to gratify you and yours, and upon the consideration that my letter is to cross the Atlantic), I have described with an effort and a circumstantiation that are truly terrific to look back upon. And now, returning to the course of my narrative, such in personal appearance was the young man upon whom my eyes suddenly rested, for the first time, upwards of twenty years ago, in the study of S. T. Coleridge--looking, as I said before, light as a Mercury to eyes familiar with the British build; but, with reference to the lengthy model of you Yankees, who spindle up so tall and narrow, already rather bulky and columnar. Note, however, that of all this array of personal features, as I have here described them, I then saw nothing at all, my attention being altogether occupied with Mr. Wilson's conversation and demeanour, which were in the highest degree agreeable: the points which chiefly struck me being the humility and gravity with which he spoke of himself, his large expansion of heart, and a certain air of noble frankness which overspread everything he said; he seemed to have an intense enjoyment of life; indeed, being young, rich, healthy, and full of intellectual activity, it could not be very wonderful that he should feel happy and pleased with himself and others; but it was somewhat unusual to find that so rare an assemblage of endowments had communicated no tinge of arrogance to his manner, or at all disturbed the general temperance of his mind.

Turn we now suddenly, and without preparation,--simply by way of illustrating the versatile humour of the man,--from this grave and (as in reality it was) philosophic scene, to another first introduction, under most different circumstances, to the same Mr. Wilson. Represent to yourself the earliest dawn of a fine summer morning, time about half-past two o'clock. A young man, anxious for an introduction to Mr. Wilson, and as yet pretty nearly a stranger to the country, has taken up his abode in Grasmere, and has strolled out at this early hour to that rocky and moorish common (called the White Moss) which overhangs the Vale of Rydal, dividing it from Grasmere. Looking southwards in the direction of Rydal, suddenly he becomes aware of a huge beast advancing at a long trot with the heavy and thundering tread of a hippopotamus along the public road. The creature is soon arrived within half a mile of his station; and by the gray light of morning is at length made out to be a bull apparently flying from some unseen enemy in his rear. As yet, however, all is mystery; but suddenly three horsemen double a turn in the road, and come flying into sight with the speed of a hurricane, manifestly in pursuit of the fugitive bull; the bull labours to navigate his huge bulk to the moor, which he reaches, and then pauses, panting and blowing out clouds of smoke from his nostrils, to look back from his station amongst rocks and slippery crags upon his hunters. If he had conceited that the rockiness of the ground had secured his repose, the foolish bull is soon undeceived; the horsemen, scarcely relaxing their speed, charge up the hill, and speedily gaining the rear of the bull, drive him at a gallop over the worst part of that impracticable ground down into the level ground below. At this point of time the stranger perceives by the increasing light of the morning that the hunters are armed with immense spears fourteen feet long. With these the bull is soon dislodged, and scouring down to the plain below, he and the hunters at his tail take to the common at the head of the lake, and all, in the madness of the chase, are soon half engulfed in the swamps of the morass. After plunging together for ten or fifteen minutes, all suddenly regain the _terra firma_, and the bull again makes for the rocks. Up to this moment there had been the silence of ghosts; and the stranger had doubted whether the spectacle were not a pageant of aerial spectres, ghostly huntsmen; ghostly lances, and a ghostly bull. But just at this crisis--a voice (it was the voice of Mr. Wilson) shouted aloud, 'Turn the villain; turn that villain; or he will take to Cumberland.' The young stranger did the service required of him; the villain was turned and fled southwards; the hunters, lance in rest, rushed after him; all bowed their thanks as they fled past him; the fleet cavalcade again took the high road; they doubled the cape which shut them out of sight; and in a moment all had disappeared and left the quiet valley to its original silence, whilst the young stranger and two grave Westmoreland statesmen (who by this time had come into sight upon some accident or other) stood wondering in silence, and saying to themselves, perhaps,--


'The earth hath bubbles as the water hath;
And these are of them!'


But they were no bubbles; the bull was a substantial bull; and took no harm at all from being turned out occasionally at midnight for a chase of fifteen or eighteen miles. The bull, no doubt, used to wonder at this nightly visitation; and the owner of the bull must sometimes have pondered a little on the draggled state in which the swamps would now and then leave his beast; but no other harm came of it. And so it happened, and in the very hurly burly of such an unheard-of chase, that my friend was fortunate enough, by a little service, to recommend himself to the notice of Mr. Wilson; and so passed the scene of his _first introduction_.

* * * * *

In reading the anecdote of the bull hunt, you must bear in mind the period of Mr. Wilson's life to which it belongs, else I should here be unintentionally adding one more to the thousand misrepresentations of his character, which are already extant in different repositories of scandal: most of which I presume, unless in the rarer cases where they have been the pure creations of malice, owe their origin to a little exaggeration, and a great deal of confusion in dates. Levities and extravagances, which find a ready excuse at twenty, ten or fifteen years later are fatal to a man's character for good sense. In such a case, therefore, to be careless or inaccurate in dates, is a moral dishonesty. Understand then that the bull-hunting scenes belong to the time which immediately succeeded my first knowledge of Mr. Wilson. This particular frolic happened to fall within the earliest period of my own personal acquaintance with him. Else, and with this one exception, the era of his wildest (and according to the common estimate, of his insane) extravagances was already past. All those stories, therefore, which you question me about with so much curiosity, of his having joined a company of strolling players, and himself taken the leading parts both in Tragedy and Comedy--of his having assumed the garb of a Gipsy, and settled for some time in a Gipsy encampment, out of admiration for a young Egyptian beauty; with fifty others of the same class, belong undoubtedly (as many of them as are not wholly fabulous), to the four years immediately preceding the time at which my personal knowledge of Mr. Wilson commenced.

From the latter end of 1803 to the spring of 1808, Mr. Wilson had studied at the University of Oxford; and it was within that period that most of his _escapades_ were crowded. He had previously studied as a mere boy, according to the Scotch fashion, at the University of Glasgow, chiefly under the tuition of the late Mr. Jardine (the Professor, I believe, of Logic), and Dr. or Mr. Young (the Professor of Greek). At both Universities he had greatly distinguished himself; but at Oxford, where the distribution of prizes and honours of every kind is to the last degree parsimonious and select, naturally it follows that such academical distinctions are really _significant_ distinctions, and proclaim an unequivocal merit in him who has carried them off from a crowd of 1600 or 2000 co-rivals, to whom the contest was open; whereas, in the Scotch Universities, as I am told by Scotchmen, the multiplication of prizes and medals, and the almost indiscriminate profusion with which they are showered abroad, neutralises their whole effect and value. At least this was the case in Mr. Wilson's time; but lately some conspicuous changes have been introduced by a Royal Commission (not yet, I believe, dissolved) into one at least of the Scotch Universities, which have greatly improved it in this respect, by bringing it much nearer to the English model. When Mr. Wilson gained a prize of fifty guineas for fifty lines of English verse, without further inquiry it becomes evident, from the mere rarity of the distinction which, for a university _now_ nearly of five thousand members, occurs but once a year, and from the great over-proportion of that peculiar class (the Undergraduates) to whom the contest is open,--that such a victory was an indisputable criterion of very conspicuous merit. In fact, never in any place did Mr. Wilson play off his Proteus variety of character and talent with so much brilliant effect as at Oxford. In this great University, the most ancient, and by many degrees the most magnificent in the world, he found a stage for display, perfectly congenial with the native elevation of his own character. Perhaps you are not fully aware of the characteristic differences which separate our two English Universities of Oxford and Cambridge from those of Scotland and the Continent: for I have always observed that the best informed foreigners, even after a week's personal acquaintance with the Oxford system, still adhere to the inveterate preconceptions which they had brought with them from the Continent. For instance, they continue obstinately to speak of the _Professors_ as the persons to whom the students are indebted for tuition; whereas the majority of these hold their offices as the most absolute sinecures, and the task of tuition devolves upon the tutors appointed in each particular college. These tutors are called public tutors; meaning that they do not confine their instructions to any one individual; but distribute them amongst all the Undergraduates of the college to which they belong; and, in addition to these, _private_ tutors are allowed to any student who chooses to increase his expenditure in that particular. But the main distinction, which applies to our immediate subject, is the more than regal provision for the lodging and accommodation of the students by the system of _Colleges_. Of these there are in Oxford, neglecting the technical subdivision of _Halls_, five-and-twenty; and the main use of all, both colleges and halls, is, not as in Scotland and on the Continent, to lodge the head of the University with suitable dignity, and to provide rooms for the library and public business of the University. These purposes are met by a separate provision, distinct from the colleges; and the colleges are applied as follows: 1st, and mainly to the reception of the Fellows, and of the Undergraduate Students; 2ndly, to the accommodation of the head (known in different colleges by the several designations of provost, principal, dean, rector, warden, &c.;); 3rdly to the accommodation of the private library attached to that college, and to the chapel, which is used at least twice every day for public prayers; 4thly, to the Hall, and the whole establishment of kitchen, wine vaults, buttery, &c.;, &c.;, which may be supposed necessary for the liberal accommodation, at the public meals of dinner [and in some colleges supper] of gentlemen and visitors from the country, or from the Continent; varying (we will suppose) from 25 to 500 heads. Everywhere else the great mass of the students are lodged in obscure nooks and corners, which may or may not be respectable, but are at all events withdrawn from the _surveillance_ of the University. I shall state both the ground and the effect (or tendency rather) of this difference. Out of England, universities are not meant exclusively for professional men; the sons of great landholders, and a large proportion of the sons of noblemen, either go through the same academic course as others--or a shorter course adapted to their particular circumstances. In England, again, the church is supplied from the rank of gentry--not exclusively, it is true, but in a much larger proportion than anywhere else, except in Ireland. The corresponding ranks in Scotland, from their old connection with France, have adopted (I believe) much more of the Continental plan for disposing of their sons at this period. At any rate, it will not be contended by any man, that Scotland throws anything like the same proportion with England, of her gentry and her peerage into her universities. Hence, a higher standard of manners and of habits presides at Oxford and Cambridge; and, consequently, a demand for much higher accommodations would even _otherwise_ have arisen, had not such a demand already been supplied by the munificence of our English princes and peers, both male and female; and, in one instance at least, of a _Scottish_ Prince (Baliol). The extent of these vast Caravanseras enables the governors of the various colleges to furnish every student with a set of two rooms at the least, often with a _suite_ of three--[I, who lived at Oxford on no more than my school allowance, had that number]--or in many cases with far more. In the superior colleges, indeed (superior, I mean, as to their purse and landed endowments), all these accommodations keep pace with the refinements of the age; and thus a connection is maintained between the University and the landed _Noblesse_--upper and lower--of England, which must be reciprocally beneficial, and which, under other circumstances, could scarcely have taken place.

Of these advantages, you may be sure, that Mr. Wilson availed himself to the utmost extent. Instead of going to _Baliol_ College, he entered himself at _Magdalen_, in the class of what are called, 'Gentlemen Commoners.' All of us (you know) in Oxford and Cambridge wear an Academic dress, which tells at once our Academic rank with all its modifications. And the term '_Gentlemen Commoner_' implies that he has more splendid costumes, and more in number; that he is expected to spend a good deal more money, that he enjoys a few trifling immunities; and that he has, in particular instances, something like a King's right of pre-emption, as in the choice of rooms, &c.;

Once launched in this orbit, Mr. Wilson continued to blaze away for the four successive years, 1804, 1805, 1806, 1807, I believe without any intermission. Possibly I myself was the one sole gownsman who had not then found my attention fixed by his most heterogeneous reputation. In a similar case, Cicero tells a man that ignorance so unaccountable of another man's pretensions argued himself to be a _homo ignorabilis_; or, in the language of the Miltonic Satan, 'Not to know me, argues thyself unknown.' And _that_ is true; a _homo ignorabilis_ most certainly I was. And even with that admission it is still difficult to account for the extent and the duration of my ignorance. The fact is, that the case well expresses _both_ our positions; that _he_ should be so conspicuous as to challenge knowledge from the most sequestered of anchorites expresses _his_ life; that I should have right to absolute ignorance of him who was familiar as daylight to all the rest of Oxford--expresses _mine_. Never indeed before, to judge from what I have since heard upon inquiry, did a man, by variety of talents and variety of humours, contrive to place himself as the connecting link between orders of men so essentially repulsive of each other--as Mr. Wilson in this instance.

'Omnis Aristippum decuit color et status, et res.'

From the learned president of his college, Dr. Routh, the editor of parts of _Plato_, and of some _Theological Selections_, with whom Wilson enjoyed an unlimited favour--from this learned Academic Doctor, and many others of the same class, Wilson had an infinite gamut of friends and associates, running through every key; and the diapason closing full in groom, cobbler, stable-boy, barber's apprentice, with every shade and hue of blackguard and ruffian. In particular, amongst this latter kind of worshipful society, there was no man who had any talents--real or fancied--for thumping or being thumped, but had experienced some _preeing_ of his merits from Mr. Wilson. All other pretensions in the gymnastic arts he took a pride in humbling or in honouring; but chiefly his examinations fell upon pugilism; and not a man, who could either 'give' or 'take,' but boasted to have punished, or to have been punished by, _Wilson of Mallens_.[2]


[Footnote 2:
The usual colloquial corruption of _Magdalen_ in Ox. is _Maudlin_; but amongst the very _lie dupeuple_, it is called _Mallens_.]

* * * * *

A little before the time at which my acquaintance with Mr. Wilson commenced, he had purchased a beautiful estate on the lake of Windermere, which bore the ancient name of _Elleray_--a name which, with his customary good taste, Mr. Wilson has never disturbed. With the usual latitude of language in such cases, I say _on_ Windermere; but in fact this charming estate lies far above the lake; and one of the most interesting of its domestic features is the foreground of the rich landscape which connects, by the most gentle scale of declivities, this almost aerial altitude [as, for _habitable_ ground, it really is] with the sylvan margin of the deep water which rolls a mile and a half below. When I say a mile and a half, you will understand me to compute the descent according to the undulations of the ground; because else the perpendicular elevation above the level of the lake cannot be above one half of that extent. Seated on such an eminence, but yet surrounded by foregrounds of such quiet beauty, and settling downwards towards the lake by such tranquil steps as to take away every feeling of precipitous or dangerous elevation, Elleray possesses a double character of beauty, rarely found in connection; and yet each, by singular good fortune, in this case absolute and unrivalled in its kind. Within a bow-shot of each other may be found stations of the deepest seclusion, fenced in by verdurous walls of insuperable forest heights, and presenting a limited scene of beauty--deep, solemn, noiseless, severely sequestered--and other stations of a magnificence so gorgeous as few estates in this island can boast, and of those few perhaps none in such close connection with a dwelling-house. Stepping out from the very windows of the drawing-room, you find yourself on a terrace which gives you the feeling of a 'specular height,' such as you might expect on Ararat, or might appropriately conceive on 'Athos seen from Samothrace.' The whole course of a noble lake, about eleven miles long, lies subject to your view, with many of its islands, and its two opposite shores so different in character--the one stern, precipitous, and gloomy; the other (and luckily the hither one) by the mere bounty of nature and of accident--by the happy disposition of the ground originally, and by the fortunate equilibrium between the sylvan tracts, meandering irregularly through the whole district, and the proportion left to verdant fields and meadows,--wearing the character of the richest park scenery; except indeed that this character is here and there a little modified by a quiet hedge-row or the stealing smoke which betrays the embowered cottage of a labourer. But the sublime, peculiar, and not-to-be-forgotten feature of the scene is the great system of mountains which unite about five miles off at the head of the lake to lock in and inclose this noble landscape. The several ranges of mountains which stand at various distances within six or seven miles of the little town of Ambleside, all separately various in their forms and all eminently picturesque, when seen from Elleray appear to blend and group as parts of one connected whole; and when their usual drapery of clouds happens to take a fortunate arrangement, and the sunlights are properly broken and thrown from the most suitable quarter of the heavens,--I cannot recollect any spectacle in England or Wales, of the many hundreds I have seen, bearing a local, if not a national reputation for magnificence of prospect, which so much dilates the heart with a sense of power and aerial sublimity as this terrace view from Elleray. It is possible that I may have stood on other mountain terraces commanding as ample a view and as happily combined; but the difference of effect must always be immense between a spectacle to which you ascend by half a day's labour, and that upon which you are launched in a second of time from the breakfast table. It is of great importance, for the enjoyment of any natural scene, to be liberated from the necessity of viewing it under circumstances of haste and anxiety, to have it in one's power to surrender oneself passively and tranquilly to the influences of the objects as they gradually reveal themselves, and to be under no summons to crowd one's whole visual energy and task of examination within a single quarter of an hour. Having seen Elleray at all times under these favourable circumstances, it is certainly not impossible that I may unconsciously have overrated in some degree its pretensions in comparison with some rival scenes. I may have committed the common error of attributing to the _objects_ the whole sum of an impression which in part belonged to the _subjective_ advantages of the contemplator and the benefits of his station. But, making every allowance in this direction, I am still of opinion that Elleray has, in connection with the merits common to all scenes of its class, others peculiar to itself--and such as are indispensable conditions for the full effect of all the rest. In particular, I would instance this: To bring any scene upon a level of competition with Elleray as to range and majesty of prospect, it is absolutely essential that it should occupy an equal elevation, or one not conspicuously inferior. Now, it is seldom indeed that eminences so commanding are not, by that very circumstance, unfitted to the picturesque aspects of things: in fact I remember no tract of ground so elevated as Elleray from which the lowest level of the adjacent country does not take a petty, dotted, and map-like appearance. But this effect, which is so heavy a price for the sublimities of the upper regions, at Elleray is entirely intercepted by the exquisite gradations of descent by which the contiguous grounds begin their fall to the level of the lake: the moment that this fall in any quarter becomes accelerated and precipitous, it is concealed by the brows of this beautiful hanging foreground; and so happily is this remedy applied, that in every instance where the lowest grounds would, if seen at all, from their immediate proximity, be seen by the spectator looking down perpendicularly as into a well, there they are uniformly hidden; and these lowest levels first emerge to view at a remote distance--where, being necessarily viewed obliquely, they suffer no peculiar disadvantage by being viewed from an eminence. In short, to sum up the whole in one word, the splendours of Elleray, which could not have been had but at an unusual elevation, are by a rare bounty of nature obtained without one of those sacrifices for the learned eye which are usually entailed upon that one single advantage of unusual elevation.

The beautiful estate, which I have thus described to you, was ornamented by no suitable dwelling-house at the time when it was purchased by Mr. Wilson: there was indeed a rustic cottage, most picturesquely situated, which, with the addition of a drawing-room thrown out at one end, was made for the present (and, as it turned out, for many a year to come) capable of meeting the hospitable system of life adopted by its owner. But, with a view to more ample and luxurious accommodations, even at that early period of his possession (1808), Mr. Wilson began to build a mansion of larger and more elegant proportions. The shell, and perhaps the greater part of the internal work, was soon finished; but for some reason, which I never remember to have inquired into, was not rendered thoroughly habitable (and consequently not inhabited) till the year 1825. I think it worth while to mention this house particularly, because it has always appeared to me a silent commentary on its master's state of mind, and an exemplification of his character both as it was and as it appeared. At first sight there was an air of adventurousness, or even of extravagance about the plan and situation of the building; and yet upon a considerate examination (and latterly upon a practical trial) of it, I cannot see that within the same dimensions it would have been possible to have contrived a more judicious or commodious house. Thus, for instance, the house is planted upon the boldest and most exposed point of ground that can be found on the whole estate, consequently upon that which might have presumed (and I believe was really reputed) to be the very stormiest: yet, whether from counteracting screens of wood that have since been reared in fortunate situations, or from what other cause I know not, but undoubtedly at this day no practical inconvenience is suffered; though it is true, I believe, that in the earlier years of its history, the house bore witness occasionally, by dismal wrecks of roof and windows, to the strength and fury of the wind on one particular quarter. Again, in the internal arrangements one room was constructed of such ample proportions, with a view to dancing, that the length (as I remember) was about seventy feet; the other dimensions I have forgotten. Now, in this instance most people saw an evidence of nothing but youthful extravagance, and a most disproportionate attention directed to one single purpose, which upon that scale could not probably be of very frequent occurrence in _any_ family. This by the way was at any rate a sensible extravagance in my judgment; for our English mode of building tends violently to the opposite and most unwholesome extravagance of giving to the very principal room of a house the beggarly proportions of closets. However, the sequel showed that in providing for one end, Mr. Wilson had not lost sight of others: for the seventy-feet room was so divided by strong folding-doors, or temporary partitions, as in its customary state to exhibit three rooms of ordinary proportions, and unfolded its full extent only by special and extraordinary mechanism. Other instances I might give in which the plan seemed to be extravagant or inconsiderate, and yet really turned out to have been calculated with the coolest judgment and the nicest foresight of domestic needs. It is sufficient to say that I do not know a house apparently more commodiously arranged than this, which was planned and built with utmost precipitation, and in the very heyday of a most tempestuous youth. In one thing only, upon a retrospect at this day of the whole case, there may appear to have been some imprudence, viz. that timber being then at a most unprecedented high price, it is probable that the building cost seven or eight hundred pounds more than it would have done a few years later. Allowing for this one oversight, the principal house on the Elleray estate, which at the time was looked upon as an evidence of Mr. Wilson's flightiness of mind, remains at this day a lasting monument of his good sense and judgment.

Whilst I justify him, however, on this head, I am obliged to admit that on another field, at that very time, Mr. Wilson was displaying the most reckless profusion. A sailing club had been established on Windermere, by whom I never heard; very probably by Mr. Wilson himself; at all events, he was the leader and the soul of the confederation; and he applied annually nothing less than a little fortune to the maintenance of the many expenses which arose out of it. Amongst the members of the club there were more than one who had far larger fortunes than Mr. Wilson could ever have possessed; but he would permit no one to outshine him on this arena. The number of his boats was so great as to compose a little fleet; and some of them, of unusually large dimensions for this lake, had been built at an enormous expense by regular builders brought over expressly from the port of Whitehaven (distant from Elleray about forty-five miles), and kept during the whole progress of their labour at a most expensive Lakers' hotel. One of these boats in particular, a ten-oared barge, which you will find specially introduced by name in Professor Wilson's tale of _The Foresters_ (_vide_ p. 215), was generally believed at the time to have cost him at the least five hundred pounds. And as the number of sailors which it required to man these boats was necessarily very great at particular seasons, and as the majority of these sailors lived, during the period of their services, with little or no restraint upon their expenses at the most costly inn in the neighbourhood,--it may be supposed very readily that about this time Mr. Wilson's lavish expenditure, added to the demands of architects and builders, and the recent purchase of Elleray, must have seriously injured his patrimonial property,--though generally believed to have been originally considerably more than thirty thousand (many asserted forty thousand) pounds. In fact, he had never less than three establishments going on concurrently for some years; one at the town or village of Bowness (the little port of the lake of Windermere), for his boatmen; one at the Ambleside Hotel, about five miles distant, for himself; and a third at Elleray, for his servants, and the occasional resort of himself and his friends. It is the opinion of some people that about this time, and during the succeeding two years, Mr. Wilson dissipated the main bulk of his patrimony in profuse expenditure. But more considerate people see no ground for that opinion: his expenses, though great, were never adequate to the dilapidation of so large an estate as he was reputed to have inherited: and the prevailing opinion is that some great loss of L20,000 at a blow, by the failure of some trustee or other, was the true cause of that diminution in his property which, within a year or two from this time, he is generally supposed to have suffered. However, as Mr. Wilson himself has always maintained an obstinate silence on the subject, and as the mere fact of the loss (however probable) is not more accurately known to me than its extent, or its particular mode, or its cause,--I shall not allow myself to make any conjectural speculations on the subject. It can be interesting to you and me only from one of its consequences, viz. its leading him afterwards to seek a professorship: for most certain it is, that, if the splendour of Mr. Wilson's youthful condition as to pecuniary matters had not been in some remarkable degree overcast, and suffered some signal eclipse, he would never have surrendered any part of that perfect liberty which was so dear to him, for all the honours and rewards that could have been offered by the foremost universities of Europe.

You will have heard, no doubt, from some of those with whom you conversed about Professor Wilson when you were in Europe, or you may have read it in Peter's Letters, that in very early life (probably about the age of eighteen) he had formed a scheme for penetrating into central Africa, visiting the city of Tombuctoo, and solving (if it were possible) the great outstanding problem of the course of the Niger. To this scheme he was attracted probably not so much by any particular interest in the improvement of geographical knowledge, as by the youthful spirit of romantic adventure, and a very uncommon craving for whatever was grand--indefinite--and gigantic in conception, supposing that it required at the same time great physical powers in the execution. There cannot be a doubt for us at this day, who look back upon the melancholy list of victims in this perilous field of discovery which has been furnished by the two or three and twenty years elapsed since Mr. Wilson's plan was in agitation, that in that enterprise--had he ever irretrievably embarked himself upon it--he would infallibly have perished; for, though reasonably strong, he was not strong upon that heroic scale which an expedition so Titanic demands; and what was perhaps still more important, if strong enough--he was not _hardy_ enough, as a gentleman rarely is, more especially where he has literary habits; because the exposure to open air, which is the indispensable condition of hardiness, is at any rate interrupted--even if it were not counteracted--by the luxurious habits and the relaxing atmosphere of the library and the drawing-room. Moreover, Mr. Wilson's constitution was irritable and disposed to fever; his temperament was too much that of a man of genius not to have furnished a mine of inflammable materials for any tropical climate; his prudence, as regarded his health, was not remarkable; and if to all these internal and personal grounds of danger you add the incalculable hazards of the road itself, every friend of Mr. Wilson's must have rejoiced on hearing that in 1808, when I first met him, this Tim-(or Tom-) buctoo scheme was already laid aside.

Yet, as the stimulus of danger, in one shape or other, was at that time of life perhaps essential to his comfort, he soon substituted another scheme, which at this day might be accomplished with ease and safety enough, but in the year 1809 (under the rancorous system of Bonaparte) was full of hazard. In this scheme he was so good as to associate myself as one of his travelling companions, together with an earlier friend of his own--an Englishman, of a philosophical turn of mind, with whom he had been a fellow-student at Glasgow; and we were certainly all three of an age and character to have enjoyed the expedition in the very highest degree, had the events of the war allowed us to realise our plan. The plan was as follows: from Falmouth, by one of the regular packets, we were to have sailed to the Tagus; and, landing wherever accident should allow us, to purchase mules--hire Spanish servants--and travel extensively in Spain and Portugal for eight or nine months; thence, by such of the islands in the Mediterranean as particularly interested us, we were gradually to have passed into Greece, and thence to Constantinople. Finally, we were to have visited the Troad, Syria, Egypt, and perhaps Nubia. I feel it almost ludicrous to sketch the outline of so extensive a tour, no part of which was ever executed; such a Barmacide feast is laughable in the very rehearsal. Yet it is bare justice to ourselves to say that on our parts there was no slackness or _make-believe_: what put an extinguisher upon our project was the entrance of Napoleon into Spain, his immediate advance upon Madrid, and the wretched catastrophe of the expedition so miserably misconducted under Sir John Moore. The _prestige_ of French generalship was at that time a nightmare upon the courage and spirit of hopeful exertion throughout Europe; and the earliest dawn was only then beginning to arise of that glorious experience which was for ever to dissolve it. Sir J. Moore, and through him his gallant but unfortunate army, was the last conspicuous victim to the mere sound and _humbug_ (if you will excuse a coarse expression) of the words _Napoleon Bonaparte_. What he fled from was precisely those two words. And the timid policy, adopted by Sir John on that memorable occasion, would--among other greater and national consequences--have had this little collateral interest to us unfortunate travellers, had our movements been as speedy as we had anticipated, that it would have cost us our heads. A certain bulletin, issued by Bonaparte at that time, sufficiently apprised us of that little truth. In this bulletin Bonaparte proclaimed with a careless air, but making at the same time somewhat of a boast of it, that having happened to meet a party of sixteen British travellers--persons of whom he had ascertained nothing at all but that they did not bear a military character--he had issued a summary order that they should all be strung up without loss of time by the neck. In this little facetious anecdote, as Bonaparte seemed to think it, we read the fate that we had escaped. Had nothing occurred to retard our departure from this country, we calculated that the route we had laid down for our daily motions would have brought us to Guadarama (or what was the name of the pass?) just in time to be hanged. Having a British general at our backs with an army of more than thirty thousand effective men, we should certainly have roamed in advance with perfect reliance upon the old British policy of fighting, for which we could never have allowed ourselves to dream of such a substitute as a flight through all the passes of Gallicia on the principle of '_the D---- take the hindmost_.' Infallibly also we should have been surprised by the extraordinary rapidity at that time of the French movements; our miserable shambling mules, with their accursed tempers, would have made but a shabby attempt at flight before a squadron of light cavalry; and in short, as I said before, we should have come just in time to be hanged. And hanged we should all have been: though _why_, and upon what principle, it would be difficult to say; and probably that question would have been left to after consideration in some more philosophical age. You will suppose naturally that we rejoiced at our escape; and so undoubtedly we did. Yet for my part I had, among nineteen-twentieths of joy, just one-twentieth of a lingering regret that we had missed the picturesque fate that awaited us. The reason was this: it has been through life an infirmity of Mr. Wilson's (at least in my judgment an infirmity) to think too indulgently of Bonaparte, not merely in an intellectual point of view, but even with reference to his pretensions--hollower, one would think, than the wind--to moral elevation and magnanimity. Such a mistake, about a man who could never in any one instance bring himself to speak generously, or even forbearingly of an enemy, rouses my indignation as often as I recur to it; and in Professor Wilson, I have long satisfied myself that it takes its rise from a more comprehensive weakness, the greatest in fact which besets his mind, viz. a general tendency to bend to the prevailing opinion of the world, and a constitutional predisposition, to sympathise with power and whatsoever is triumphant. Hence, I could not but regret most poignantly the capital opportunity I had forfeited of throwing in a deep and stinging sarcasm at his idol, just at the moment when we should have been waiting to be turned off. I know Professor Wilson well: though a brave man, at twenty-two he enjoyed life with a rapture that few men have ever known, and he would have clung to it with awful tenacity. Horribly he would have abominated the sight of the rope, and ruefully he would have sighed if I had suggested to him on the gallows any thoughts of that beautiful and quiet Elleray which he had left behind in England. Just at that moment I acknowledge that it would have been fiendish, but yet what a heaven of a luxury it would have been in the way of revenge--to have stung him with some neat epigram, that I might have composed in our walk to the gallows, or while the ropes were getting into tune, on the generosity and magnanimity of Bonaparte! Perhaps, in a sober estimate, hanging might be too heavy a price for the refutation of a single error; yet still, at times, when my moral sense is roused and provoked by the obstinate blindness of Professor Wilson to the meanness and _parvanimity_[3] of Bonaparte (a blindness which in him, as in all other worshippers of false idols, is connected at the moment with intense hatred for those who refuse to partake in it), a wandering regret comes over me that we should have missed so fine an opportunity for gathering in our own persons some of those redundant bounties which the Corsican's 'magnanimity' at that time scattered from his cornucopia of malice to the English name upon all his unfortunate prisoners of that nation.


[Footnote 3:
I coin this word _parvanimity_ as an adequate antithesis to _magnanimity_; for the word _pusillanimity_ has received from usage such a confined determination to one single idea, viz. the defect of spirit and courage, that it is wholly unfitted to tie the antipode to the complex idea of magnanimity.]


But enough of this; an event soon occurred in Mr. Wilson's life which made it a duty to dismiss for ever all travelling schemes that were connected with so much hazard as this. The fierce _acharnement_ of Bonaparte so pointedly directed to everything English, and the prostration of the Continent, which had enabled him absolutely to seal every port of Europe against an Englishman, who could now no longer venture to stray a mile beyond the range of the ship's guns, which had brought him to the shore, without the certainty of being arrested as a spy,--this unheard-of condition of things had at length compelled all English gentlemen to reconcile themselves for the present to the bounds of their own island; and, accordingly, in the spring of 1809, we three unhanged friends had entirely weaned our minds from the travelling scheme which had so completely occupied our thoughts in 1808. Mr. Wilson in particular gave himself up to the pleasures and occupations furnished by the neighbourhood of Windermere, which at that time were many and various; living myself at a distance of nine miles from Elleray, I did not see much of him through this year 1809; in 1810 he married a young English lady, greatly admired for her beauty and the elegance of her manners, who was generally supposed to have brought him a fortune of about ten thousand pounds. In saying _that_, I violate no confidence at any time reposed in me, for I rely only on the public voice--which, in this instance, I have been told by well-informed persons, was tolerably correct. Be that as it may, however, in other respects I have the best reasons for believing that this marriage connection has proved the happiest event of Mr. Wilson's life; and that the delightful temper and disposition of his wife have continued to shed a sunshine of peace and quiet happiness over his domestic establishment, which were well worth all the fortunes in the world. This lady has brought him a family of two sons and three daughters, all interesting by their personal appearance and their manners, and at this time rapidly growing up into young men and women.

Here I should close all further notice of Mr. Wilson's life, and confine myself, through what remains of the space which I have allowed myself, to a short critical notice (such as it may be proper for a friend to write) of his literary character and merits; but one single event remains of a magnitude too conspicuous in any man's life to be dismissed wholly without mention. I should add, therefore, that, about eight or nine years after his marriage (for I forget the precise year[4]), Mr. Wilson offered himself a candidate for the chair of Moral Philosophy in the University in Edinburgh, which had recently become vacant by the death of Dr. Thomas Brown, the immediate successor of Mr. Dugald Stewart. The Scotch, who know just as much about what they call 'Moral[5] Philosophy' and Metaphysics as the English do, viz. exactly nothing at all, pride themselves prodigiously upon these two names of Dugald Stewart and Dr. Brown, and imagine that they filled the chair with some peculiar brilliance. Upon that subject a word or two farther on. Meantime this notion made the contest peculiarly painful and invidious, amongst ungenerous enemies, for any untried man--no matter though his real merits had been a thousand times greater than those of his predecessors. This Mr. Wilson found; he had made himself enemies; whether by any unjustifiable violences, and wanton provocations on his own part, I have no means of knowing. In whatever way created, however, these enemies now used the advantages of the occasion with rancorous malignity, and persecuted him at every step with unrelenting fury. Very different was the treatment he met with from his competitor in the contest; in that one circumstance of the case, the person of his competitor, he had reason to think himself equally fortunate and unfortunate; fortunate, that he should be met by the opposition of a man whose opposition was honour--a man of birth, talents, and high breeding, a good scholar, and for extensive reading and universal knowledge of books (and especially of philosophic literature) the Magliabecchi of Scotland; unfortunate on the other hand that this accomplished opponent, adorned by so many brilliant gifts that recommended him to the contested office, should happen to be his early and highly valued friend. The particular progress of the contest, and its circumstances, I am not able to state; in general I have heard in Edinburgh that, from political influences which chiefly governed the course of the election, the conduct of the partisans (perhaps on both sides) was intemperate, personal, and unjust; whilst that of the principals and their immediate friends was full of forbearance and generosity. The issue was, that Mr. Wilson carried the Professorship,--by what majority of votes, I am unable to say; and you will be pleased to hear that any little coolness, which must naturally have succeeded to so warm a contest, has long since passed away; and the two rival candidates have been for many years restored to their early feelings of mutual esteem and regard.


[Footnote 4:
[In July, 1820.]]

[Footnote 5:
Everywhere in the world, except in Scotland, by _moral_ philosophy is meant the philosophy of the will, as opposed to the philosophy of the intellect; in Scotland only the word _moral_ is used, by the strongest abuse, as a comprehensive designation of whatsoever is not _physical_; so that in the cycle of knowledge, undertaken by the Edinburgh Professor of Moral Philosophy, are included logic, metaphysics, ethics, psychology, anthropology,--and, in one word, almost all human knowledge, with the exception of physics and mathematics.]


Here I pause for everything that concerns in the remotest way the incidents of Professor Wilson's life; one letter I mean to add, as I have already promised, on the particular position which he occupies in relation to modern literature; and then I have done. Meantime, let me hope that you have not so far miscalculated my purpose as to have been looking out for anecdotes (_i. e._ scandal) about Professor Wilson throughout the course of this letter; since, if in any case I could descend to cater for tastes of that description (which I am persuaded, are naturally no tastes of _your_ family),--you must feel, on reflection, how peculiarly impossible it is to take that course in sketching the character of a friend, because the very means, by which in almost every case one becomes possessed of such private anecdotes, are the opportunities thrown in one's way by the confiding negligence of affectionate friendship; opportunities therefore which must be for ever sacred to every man of honour.

Yours most faithfully,

PARMENIDES.


[The end]
Thomas De Quincey's essay: Sketch Of Professor Wilson

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