Friday, July 20, 2012

John Playfair

‘…Play fair, though ill, and the day bad, followed poor
Seymour to his grave at Holyrood. But those who saw
him there shook their heads; and in about three monthshe joined his friend. This was an irreparable loss bothto the science and to the society of Edinburgh. Taking the whole man — his science, his heart, his manner, and his taste, I do not see how Playfair could have been improved. Profound, yet cheerful; Social, yet alwaysrespectable; strong in his feelings, but uniformly gentle;a universal favorite, yet never moved from his simplicity; in humble circumstances, but contented and charitable — he realized our ideas of an amiable philosopher.
And is he not the best philosophical writer in the 
English language? I have been told that when 
racked on his death-bed with pain, a relation wished 
to amuse him by reading one of Scott's Novels, of 
which he was very fond, but that he said he would 
rather try the Principia. Nothing can he more just 
than the application made to him, by Stewart, of Mar- 
montel's description of D'Alembert. His friends sub- 
scribed for a bust of him, and a monument. The bust 
has been most happily executed by Chantrey. The 
monument, designed by his nephew, has been placed in 
the Calton Hill, in connection with the Observatory, 
which owes its existence and its early reputation to 
Lord Henry Cockburn’s entries in “Memorials of his Times” are always
of the most enjoyable kind.  Cockburn credits Playfair’s merit as a philosopher.
Most remember him as a scientist and as a mathematician with an axiom named for
him.  He was also a friend of Walter Scott, and as Cockburn notes,a fan of Scott’s novels.
John Playfair died on July 20, 1819.

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