Monday, February 20, 2006

Extracts from the Works of Francis Egerton, Earl of Bridgewater

Birkenhead: January 23.—Mr. Nugent has just brought me a bundle of the publications on various subjects by Lord Bridgewater; all excepting one of addenda and corrigenda to an edition of Euripides, and a letter from the Seigneurie de Florence au Pape Sixto 4re, 1478, relate to himself, his family or inland navigation.

A Life of the Chancellor Egerton seems interesting from the variety of documents, relating more to contemporary history than to his hero, which are thrown into notes; especially a letter from, Essex to the Chancellor, who had tried to persuade him to return to the Court and sue for pardon to Elizabeth, after he had received the famous box on the ear. The most singular production is a single sheet beginning—
A report has been generally circulated that I have an intention of writing a life of F. E., third Duke of Bridgewater . . . consequently I am induced on my part to announce to the public that I will not write his life. It is true that for ten or eleven years before his death I and I only lived in the house with him . . . that I prepared materials with a view of writing his life. . . . When I reflected more and more continually every day upon what I saw, first I faltered, and lastly I became assured that I could bring neither the faculties of my mind or body on to the accomplishment of this task. How could I bring my mind to the task, were I impressed with the persuasion that the general system of navigable canals and inland navigation ought to be carried forward upon the enlarged, comprehensive, and elevated view of benefiting the public and the country? How could I bring my mind to the task, should I have seen such an object neglected or overlooked by one of the first and greatest subjects in Great Britain (most certainly in Europe), and all things appertaining to the navigation considered as in a merchant's counting-house, exclusively upon the strictest calculations of profit and loss and individual interest ? How could I bring my mind to the task ? how portray a domestic tyrant, selfish in all things, living for himself alone, regardless of those duties which attach to one who inherits immense estates from a long line of ancestry, unacquainted with even the persons of most of his own family, his own name, his own blood, giving nothing in charity, with no service at home and yet never attending any public worship ? . . . Under all these considerations, and many more, I confess I faltered; I cannot bring myself to the task. Briefly, therefore, &c. &c. [Here follows an account like that for the peerage.] F. H. E. London, 1809

Another singular paper is his petition to Louis XVIII. to be exempted from the Droit d’aubain on the Hotel de Noailles, which he had purchased. The grounds on which he requests this exemption are singular:
Que je suis reste plusieurs annees en France, et que pendant tout ce temps je n'ai pas voulu acheter aucune propriete quelconque. Qu'au commencement de 1815 j'ai change d'avis. . . . Que je n'ai pas voulu profiter des delais que la loi et 1'usage m'accorderaient pour payer les droits d'enregistrement, mais que les circonstances critiques ou V. M. se trouvait alors m'ont determine a solder les droits Ie lendemain, 18 mars 1815, la somme de 30,743 francs. Qu'il est impossible de ne pas reconnaitre dans ces paymens onereux faits par anticipation le vif interet que m'inspirait alors la situation de V. M. Que je n'ai plus tarde a voir de quel osil on regardait ma conduite; car Buonaparte, sous pretexte d'utilite publique qui exigeait que lea bureaux de Secretariat du Gouvernement passent dans mon hotel, a mis sous le sequestre mon hotel, mon mobilier, et m'a ordonne de sortir de mon hotel, sous peine d'expulsion forcee. Que j'ai defendu mon droit contre Buonaparte, a mon risque personnel et a mes frais personnels. J'ai defendu aussi les droits de tous les proprietaires francais. J'ai barricade les portes et mis mon hotel en etat de siege. Je me suis vu force, pour la premiere fois de ma vie que j'ai su un proces, d'entamer un proces .... enfin je me suis vu force de passer par mille tracasseries de toute espece que je crois devoir designer au Gouvernement reparateur de V. M. . . . Que lea circonstances suivantes sont pleinement suffisantes pour empecher que la concession en question ne devienne un exemple general. Que je suis allie a la famille royale d'Angleterre. [Here follows a long descent from Henry VII. and from Robert Comte d'Artois, frere de St. Louis, ]

In the first instance I put away the addenda and corrigenda to his translation of Euripides, saying to myself, That must be totally uninteresting to me; but one word caught my eye which made me look for others, and in the notes I found a mass of heterogeneous knowledge ; some unintelligible to me, being herisse de Grec; some uninteresting; a long and severe criticism on the ' Phedre' of Racine, much on Jewish customs, some music, some philosophy, some piety, an extract from his own will, &c. &c. In this confused mass I find a note on the original invention of arithmetical numerals in large characters, full of ideas which are quite new to me, and certainly very interesting.

He surmises that this mode of numeration was taken from the hand and fingers, and resulted naturally from the necessity under which the most ancient proprietors lay of counting the herds and flocks in which their wealth consisted. Holding up the palm of one of his hands before his eyes, the four fingers furnished him. with a ready mark for each of four units; he coarsely imitated them thus, 1111; at five, the mark which naturally suggested itself "was that which was made by the forefinger and thumb, thus, V ; by adding his units to this he could count to ten; at ten it naturally suggested itself to double the mark already made for five, and thus make twice five; to his first vertical V he added another that was inverted A ; thus he was enabled to count as far as fifty: at fifty he had to seek another mark for the method by which he obtained the mode of numeration required, and enabled him to procure a new mark at each five; which number when doubled makes a decimal, and resulted out of the lines which gave him the figure of his body. He rested the palm of one hand upon one side of the body on the lower ribs, and looking down to the figure presented by his arm, it formed a right angle and presented this figure, L; thus he was enabled to count on to one hundred. To obtain a new mark he observed the same method: he doubled the I— which represented fifty; leaving the first mark vertical, he inverted the next, the second accessory figure, the upright, serving for both; the result is C : at five hundred he wanted another figure, and still proceeding on the same system of doubling, he then produced this figure by adding another, D. He had now obtained his unit, now softened in I; his five, now V; his ten, now X, his fifty, L; his hundred, now softened into C ; his five hundred, now softened and rounded into D: he then doubled the square for a thousand thus, CD ; which is now softened into M, or into the letters 010 ; by which last letters are denoted one hundred minus five hundred, or four hundred, and one hundred plus five hundred, giving ten hundred or a thousand.

It remains to be observed that by this series of operations is obtained the designation of positive and negative quantity; for, upon whatever side shall be begun to be marked the units, whether right or left, the figures placed on the same side denote they are minus that figure, as V minus 1 is IV ; five minus two, 111, &c.; five minus 0 is V positive. Again, the figures marked on the other side of the V, or the decimal, denote that they are plus
that figure; five plus one is VI, &c. &c.*
Editor's note
* This seems to be now the received origin of numerals.—Encyclopaedia Britannia, Art. Arithmetic.


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