« PreviousContinue »
lation, where the European Spaniards and their South American descendants vie with each other in cruelty, ferocity, fanaticism, and ignorance.
The writer intends shortly to submit further observations to the public on this interesting section of the globe. New-York, September 11, 1814.
W. D. R.
CADWALLADER COLDEN, M. D. F. R. S.
LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF THE COLONY OF NEW-YORK.
There is nothing which can afford a more sure indication of the growth of national feeling, and the consequent formation of a more definite national character among us, than that curiosity and interest which has been of late so strongly manifested with respect to the history, anecdote, and the humble antiquities of our provin. cial annals.
To a mind warmed by the feelings of patriotism, and accustomed to elevate its views above the realities which surround us, to the contemplation of the past and the future, there is something inexpressibly pleasing in the contrast which suggests itself between the simplicity and rudeness of these infant institutions of our society and government, the fortunam et mores antiquae plebis, and the present greatness of our country, as well as that yet brighter scene of probable future glory and grandeur which, amidst all the thick gloom which now surrounds us, still opens beyond in brilliant perspective.
The feelings which arise from such a contrast are touched with admirable truth and skill in that part of the Eneid where the good Evander, at the head of his humble colony, receives the wanderer of Troy on the very spot which, in a few centuries, was to be. come the site of imperial Rome. This sentiment is the natural growth of patriotism and refinement; and Virgil is the poet of refined nature and of national feeling.
In the present state of society it is probably too late to expect any thing like a first-rate national epic; but whether we consider the importance of collecting materials for the historian and the philosophical speculatist, or the more immediate advantages to be derived by society from directing the curiosity of our youth to domestic examples and the history of their own country, we cannot but be impressed with a strong sense of the utility of preserving all that is still known of the earlier part of our history, and more especially of the lives and characters of the fathers of our religion, our science, our laws, or our liberty. Much of this now remains only in memory, or in perishable manuscript, and if not very speedily fixed in some permanent form, will be soon for ever lost.
Among those to whom this country is most deeply indebted for much of its science, and for very many of its most important institutions, Lieutenant Governor Colden is very conspicuous; and it is much to be regretted that as yet we have no more ample detail of his character, studies, and public services, thau is contained in a brief memoir in a medical journal, and a meager article of a biographical dicticnary. From these, and some examination of his various publications, the following sketch of his life and character is hastily drawn up.
CADWALLADER COLDEN was born in Scotland, February 17th, 1688, and was educated at the University of Edinburgh, which he left in 1705. He then devoted himself to the study of medicine and the cultivation of mathematical science, which he pursued with great ardour and success. In 1710, allured by the flattering accounts of William Penn's colony in America, where mild laws, a benevolent system of policy, and a fertile soil, seemed to the young adventurer almost to promise the revival of the golden age, he came over to Pennsylvania, where he practised physic with great reputation for about five years. He then returned to England, where he formed an acquaintance with most of the literary and scientific men of the day, particularly with those engaged in the cultivation of natural knowledge. That celebrated natural philosopher, Dr. Halley, with whom he had formed a great
intimacy, entertained so high an opinion of an essay on animal secretion, drawn up by Dr. Colden, that he read it before the Royal Society. After some residence in London, Dr. Colden returned to Scotland, where he married a lady of a respectable Scotch family of the name of Christie, and embarked with his bride for America, in 1716.
In 1718 he settled in the city of New York, where his mathematical knowledge procured him the appointment of surveyorgeneral of the colony from Governor Hunter, the friend and correspondent of Swift, from whom he soon after received the additional appointment of master in chancery. The state of society in this country, which did not yet allow of the regular subdivision either of labour or of professional study, rendered this last appointment less remarkable than it might otherwise appear to a reader of the present day. Dr. Colden's general knowledge and habits of business soon qualified him for the able discharge of this Alice.
On the arrival of Governor Burnet, in 1720, he was appointed one of the council, in which station he bore a very important part in all the public affairs of the province. About this time he obtained a patent for a large tract of land about nine miles from Newburgh, in the state of New York, which was designated in the patent by the name of Coldingham, and is still in the possession of his lineal descendants. Hither he retired in 1755, and devoted himself for several years to scientific and agricultural pursuits. In 1761 he was appointed lieutenant governor, which office he held until his death, and was frequently, for considerable periods, at the head of the provincial government, in consequence of the death or absence of several governors of the colonies, and his administration is memorable for many charters of incorporation of institutions of public utility in the city of New-York.
During those commotions which preceded the revolution, he supported the governinent of the mother country with great firmness; and in the tumults which took place in the city of NewYork, in consequence of the stamp act, although then in his seventy-eighth year, he manifested all the vigour and decision of youth, and finally prevailed in defeating for the time the efforts of the whig party. Upon the return of Governor Tryon, in 1775, he gladly retired from the cares of government to a seat on Long
Island, where he spent the short remainder of his life. He died in the eighty-ninth year of his age, September 28th, 1776, with great composure and resignation.
Governor Colden was a scholar of various and extensive attainments, and of very great and unremitted ardour and application in the acquisition of knowledge. When it is considered how large a portion of his life was spent in the labours or the routine of public office, and that, however great might have been bis original stock of learning, he had, in this country, no reading public to excite him by their applauses, and few literary friends to assist or to stimulate his inquiries, his zeal and success in his scientific pursuits will appear deserving of the highest admiration.
His attention was early directed to the vegetable productions of this country, and a description of several hundred American plants was drawn up by him according to the Linnæan system, and communicated to Linnæus, who published it in the Acta Upsa. lentia. Under his instruction his daughter became very distinguished for her proficiency in this study, and a plant of the tetandrous class, first described by this lady, was called by Linnæus, in honour of her, Coldenia. He also wrote a history of the
prevalent diseases of this climate, which is still in manuscript, and left a long series of observations on the state of the thermometer, barometer, and winds. Nor was he inattentive to the improvement of the healing art, after he had relinquished the practice of that profession. “If,” say the editors of the American Medical and Philosophical Register, “ he was not the first to recommend the cooling regimen in cure of fevers, he was certainly one of its earliest and warmest advocates, and opposed with great earnest. ness the then prevalent mode of treatment in the small pox.” In the autumn of 1741 and 1742, a malignant fever, similar in its aspect to that since denominated yellow fever, desolated the city of New-York. Dr. Colden communicated his thoughts to the city corporation on the causes and most efficient means of guarding against this distemper, in which tract he seems to have in. clined to the opinion since held by the champions of domestic origin. He also published a treatise "on the cure of cancers;" an essay “on the virtues of the Bortanice, or Great Water Dock," and some “observations upon an epidemical sore throat,” which
spread over our continent in 1735, and the succeeding years. All these tracts, originally published in different fugitive forms, have been republished by Mr. Carey in his valuable repository of early American scientific and political tracts, the “ American Museum.” He also published the “ history of the five Indian nations,” of which there have been two or more editions; the first, 8vo. London, 1747, and a second in 2 vols. 12.no. London. This work is still of the highest authority in every thing that relates to our North American Indian history and antiquities.
But the work to which he had devoted the greatest labour, and which occupied several years of his life, was his treatise on the cause of gravitation,” which was printed in this country in a small 12mo, and afterwards much enlarged by the author, and republished in London in 4to, in 1751, under the title of the principles of action in matter."
In this work, far from aiming, as has been supposed, at the overthrow of the Newtonian system, he proceeds in the very same path with the father of the mathematical philosophy, and endeavours merely to advance a few steps beyond those conclusions where Newton had palised. Newton had himself expressly denied that he thought gravity a power innate, inherent, and essential to matter; and in a letter to Dr. Bentley had said, that “gravity must be caused by an agent acting constantly according to certain laws, but whether this agent be material or immaterial I leave to the consideration of my readers.” This agent and its mode of action it is the object of Colden's essay to point out, and he brings a great body of ingenious argument, grounded upon the various phenomena of planetary motion, to show that light is that great moving power, and that it acts through the medium of an elastic ether investing the planetary bodies, and alone possessing the power of causing reaction, a property which he denies to exist in inert matter. It is worthy of observation that Colden seems, from philosophical speculation and observation, to have arrived at nearly the same conclusions to which the philosophers of the Hutchinsonian school were led by their interpretations of the Hebrew scriptures, and what they have termed the Mosaic philosophy. To the last edition of this tract is appended “an introduction to the doctrine of Fluxions,” in the course of which he removes the objections raised against that doctrine by Bishop Berkely, and