Page images

in the commencement of the last century: anda short, but more accurate sketch of his life than has hitherto appeared, which I am enabled to give from the authority of his son, may be acceptable to the lovers of science.

Mr. William Jones was born in the year 1680, in Anglesey ; his parents were yeomen, or little farmers, on that island; and he there received the best education which they were able to afford: but the industrious exertion of vigorous intellectual powers, supplied the defects of inadequate instruction, and laid the foundation of his future fame and fortune. From his earliest years, Mr. Jones discovered a propensity to mathematical studies, and, having cultivated them with assiduity, he began his career in life, by teaching mathematics on-board a man of war; and in this situation he attracted the notice, and obtained the friendship, of Lord Anson. In his twenty-second year, Mr. Jones published a Treatise on the Art of Navigation; which was received with great approbation. He was present at the capture of Vigo, in 1702 ; and, having joined his comrades in quest of pillage, he eagerly fixed upon a bookseller's shop as the object of his depredation ; but finding in it no literary treasures, which were the sole plunder that he coveted, he contented himself with a pair of scissars, which he frequently exhibited to his friends as a trophy of his military success, relating the anecdote by which he gained it. He returned with the fleet to England, and immediately afterwards established himself as a teacher of mathematics, in London; where, at the age of twentysix, he published his Synopsis Palmariorum Ma. theseos; a decisive proof of his early and consummate proficiency in his favourite science.


The private character of Mr. Jones was respectable, his manners were agreeable and inviting; and these qualities not only contributed to enlarge the circle of his friends, whom his established reputation for science had attracted, but also to secure their attachment to him.

Amongst others' who honoured him with their esteem, I am authorized to mention the great and virtuous Lord Hardwicke. Mr. Jones attended him as a companion on the circuit when he was chief justice; and this nobleman, when he afterwards held the great seal, availed himself of the opportunity to testify his regard for the merit and character of his friend, by conferring upon him the office of secretary for the peace. He was also introduced to the friendship of Lord Parker (afterwards president of the Royal Society), which ter, minated only with his death; and, amongst other distinguished characters in the annals of science and literature, the names of Sir Isaac Newton, Halley, Mead, and Samuel Johnson, may be enumerated as the intimate friends of Mr. Jones. By Sir Isaac Newton, he was treated with particular regard and confidence, and prepared, with his assent, the very elegant edition of small tracts on the higher mathematics, in a mode which obtained


the approbation, and increased the ésteem, of the author for him.

After the retirement of Lord Macclesfield to Sherborne Castle, Mr. Jones resided with his lordship as a member of his family, and instructed him in the sciences. In this situation, he had the misfortune to lose the greatest part of his property, the accumulation of industry and economy, by the failure of a banker : but the friendship of Lord Macclesfield diminished the weight of the loss, by procuring for him a sinecure place of considerable einolument. The same Nobleman, who was then Teller of the Exchequer, made him an offer of a more lucrative situation ; but he declined the acceptance of it, as it would have imposed on him the obligation of more official attendance, than was agreeable to his temper, or compatible with his attachment to scientific pursuits.

In this retreat, he became acquainted with Miss Mary Nix, the youngest daughter of George Nix, a cabinet-maker in London, who, although of low extraction, had raised himself to eminence in his profession, and, from the honest and pleasant frankness of his conversation, was admitted to the tables of the great, and to the intimacy of Lord Macclesfield. The acquaintance of Mr. Jones with Miss Nix, terminated in marriage ; and, from this union, sprang three children, the last of whom, the late Sir William Jones, was born in London, on the eve of the festival of Saint Michael, in the year 1746; and a few days after his birth was

baptized baptized by the christian name of his father. The first son, George, died in his infancy; and the second child, a daughter, Mary, who was born in 1736, married Mr. Rainsford, a merchant retired from business in opulent circumstances. This lady perished miserably, during the year 1802, in consequence of an accident from her clothes catching fire.

Mr. Jones survived the birth of his son William but three years; he was attacked with a disorder, which the sagacity of Dr. Mead, who attended him with the anxiety of an affectionate friend, immediately discovered to be a polypus in the heart, and wholly incurable. This alarming secret was communicated to Mrs. Jones, who, from an affectionate but mistaken motive, could never be induced to discover it to her husband; and, on one occasion, displayed a remarkable instance of self-command and address in the concealment of it.

A well-meaning friend, who knew his dangerous situation, had written to him a long letter of condolence, replete with philosophic axioms on the brevity of life; Mrs. Jones, who opened the letter, discovered the purport of it at a glance, and, being desired by her husband to read it, composed in the moment another lecture so clearly and rapidly, that he had no suspicion of the deception; and this she did in a style so cheerful and entertaining, that it greatly exhilarated him,


He died soon after, in July 1749, leaving behind him a great reputation and moderate property.

The history of men of letters is too often a melancholy detail of human misery, exhibiting the unavailing struggles of genius and learning against penury, and life consumed in fruitless expectation of patronage and reward.

We contemplate with satisfaction the reverse of this picture in the history of Mr. Jones, as we trace him in his progress from obscurity to distinction, and in his participation of the friendship and beneficence of the first characters of the times. Nor is it less grateful to remark that the attachment of his professed friends did not expire with his life; after a proper, interval, they visited his widow, and vied in their offers of service to her; amongst others to whom she was particularly obliged, I mention with respect, Mr. Baker, author of a Treatise on the Improved Microscope, who afforded her important assistance, in arranging the collection of shells, fussils, and other curiosities, left by her deceased husband, and in disposing of them to the best advantage. The library of Mr. Jones, by a bequest in his will, became the property of Lord Macclesfield.

The compilers of the Biographical Dictionary, in their account of Mr. Jones, have asserted, that he had completed a mathematical work of the first importance, and had sent the first sheet of it to the press, when the indisposition, which ter


« PreviousContinue »