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death in an elegy, of which Johnson said, that “a more sublime or more elegant funeral poem is not to be found in the English language.” The description he gives of the poet's obsequies placer us beside the procession as it slowly paces down the aisle to lay Addison in his last earthly home; and with these lines we bid him farewell :
“Can I forget the dismal night that gave
VII. SIR ISAAC NEWTON.
The present Somerset House is sometimes confounded with its predecessor, the “ large and goodly house" described by John Stowe, and built by the bold and proud Protector of that name, who swayed the destinies of England during the nominal reign of Edward vi.—the amiable boy-king. That princely abode-connected with the memory of its founder; of Henrietta, the queen of Charles I., to whom it was assigned by her royal husband; of Oliver Cromwell, who there lay in state; and of Monk duke of Albemarle, to whom a similar honour was paid within its walls -was demolished pursuant to an Act of Parliament passed in 1775. The present pile of buildings, which so many thousand Londoners pass without notice, but which the stranger pauses to look upon as a note-worthy edifice, was reared upon the site of the old one, in accordance with plans which had been formed by Sir William Chambers, a distinguished architect of that day. The building is not without grandeur in its general design and proportions, or without beauty in its particular and minute details; but a far greater interest belongs to the place as derived from its manifold associations.
“When I first came to this building,” an old clerk in the audit office told Mr. Cunningham, who records the fact in his interesting Handbook of London, “I was in the habit of seeing for many mornings a thin spare naval officer, with only one arm, enter the vestibule at a smart step and make direct for the Admiralty, over the rough round stones of the quadrangle, instead of taking, what others generally took and continue to take, the smooth pavement at the sides. His thin frail figure shook at every step, and I often wondered why he chose so rough a footway; but I ceased to wonder when I heard that the thin frail officer was no other than Lord Nelson, who always took the nearest way to the place he wanted to go.”
It was indeed the manner of the man; and within that slim frame there beat a lion's heart, allied to a quickness of perception, a power of calculating probabilities, a calmness of reflection, and a mastery of will, before whose united influence fleets under his command sailed on to victory, and adverse armaments fled or struck in disorder and defeat. He heeded not the roughness of his way, was blind to difficulties, and would not recognise the word “impossible,” but steered right on by the most direct route to the accomplishment of his designs.
We are not, however, in quest of warlike associations, though having lighted on this notable one we would not pass it by unnoticed : our search is rather after those who have won more enduring triumphs than were ever gained on field or flood. “The results of intellectual labour or scientific genius," says Sir H. Davy,
are permanent and incapable of being lost. Monarchs change their plans, governments their objects, a fleet or an army effect their object and then pass away; but a piece of steel touched by the magnet preserves its character for ever, and secures to man the dominion of the trackless ocean.” The illustrious man who penned this profound sentence will long be remembered in connection with that part of the building appropriated to the Royal Society. It is to the left as you enter within the elegant vestibule, crowned with its key-stone masques of river deities. Through that doorway often passed the inventor of the safety-lamp, and within the rooms devoted to the learned conclave of which he was president there were frequently disclosed the results of his extraordinary discoveries. Watt, and Wollaston, and other great names, recur to us as we turn aside from the dense throng of wayfarers, who crowd all day along the pavement, to muse in the portico on past times, and to meditate on the humanizing influences of the studies pursued by those, of whom the building will, as long as it remains, be the magnificent memorial.
But it is beyond our design-it would distract our attentionto dwell upon the numerous reminiscences of the biography of science revived by the sight of these smoke-stained walls, within which other learned bodies meet beside the Royal Society : much further remote from our purpose would it be to yield to the tempting story of artistic achievements, which the right-hand entrance under the same vestibule tells; for through it you pass into the School of Design, where for so many years the Academy of Arts exhibited their beautiful works in painting and sculpture. Our thoughts are at present fixed on one of the great departed,
who, though his earthly career was run long before this edifice was raised, is identified with the Royal Society, and therefore with the place of its assembling, as his bust over the left-hand doorway indicates. There we meet the shade of Sir Isaac Newton, portly but not tall, his locks silvery but abundant without any baldness, with eyes sparkling and piercing, though they fail to indicate the profound genius which looks through them into the secrets of the universe ; his figure and face come before us, to awaken grateful homage as we reflect on his character and history. Wonderful humility blends with intellectual greatness. To other men he seems a spirit of higher rank, having superhuman faculties of mental vision, wont to soar into regions which the vulture's
hath never seen : to himself he seems but a little boy, playing with shells by the sea-side. Others were taken up with what Newton did : he himself was thinking of what remained undiscovered. So it is ever with genius—the broader the range of view, the wider the horizon of mystery. He who understands more than others, is conscious beyond others of what cannot be understood.
Let us enter the apartment devoted to meetings of the Royal Society. There hang three portraits of the great philosopher ; one, as it ought to be, suspended over the president's chair, to indicate, we may suppose, that Newton is ever to be regarded as the presiding genius over the researches and deliberations of British science. Still more lively mementoes of him are preserved among the Royal Society's treasures. There is a solar dial made by the boy Isaac, when, instead of studying his grammar and scanning Virgil and Horace, he was busy making windmills and waterclocks. In fancy, we see him going along the road to Grantham on a market-day, with the old servant whom his mother sent to take care of him, and then stopping by the wayside to watch the motions of a waterwheel, reflecting upon the mechanical principles involved in the simplest contrivances. It is pleasant, with our knowledge of what he afterwards became, to sit down on the green bank by the river-side, and to speculate upon the ignorance of the old servant who accompanied him, and of the farmers they saluted by the way, as to the illustrious destiny which awaited the widow's son who lived in the manor house of Woolsthorpe. The reflecting telescope, preserved along with the dial, was made by Newton in his thirtieth year, and reminds us of the deep mathematical studies he was then pursuing at Cambridge. The autograph MS. of the Principia, also kept here, gives increased vividness to the picture of this extraordinary person in his study, solving mysterious problems, and suggesting others still more mysterious: and then the lock of silvery hair, the last of the Newtonian relics belonging to the Society, comes in as a finishing touch to fancy's picture, like one more stroke of the pencil, which, when a portrait is just complete, gives life and expression to the whole.
After all, it must be remembered that in Newton's time the Royal Society met elsewhere. The gatherings out of which it arose were first in Oxford during the Commonwealth, and then subsequently at Gresham College, London. There it continued after Charles II. gave the philosophers a charter and the body was completely formed, which happened in 1664. Isaac Newton became a member in January, 1674, when he was excused the customary payment of a shilling a week, “ on account of his low circumstances, as he represented.” The old Gresham College was long since swept away. It stood in Broad-street, on the ground now occupied by the Excise Office; so, in following the shades of the departed about the streets of London, we pause opposite the place now devoted to business connected with our national revenue, and easily transform it, by a touch with the wand of fancy, under the guidance of archæological research, into an old quadrilateral range