Bilfinger, George Bernard

, an eminent German philosopher and statesman, was born at Camstadt in Wirtemberg, Jan. 23, 1693; his father was a Lutheran minister. By a singular hereditary constitution in this family, Biliinger was born with twelve fingers and eleven toes, which, in his case, is said to have been remedied by amputation when he was an infant. From his earliest years, he showed an uncommon capacity for study, joined to a retired and thinking turn of mind. Happening, when studying at Tubingen, to learn mathematics in the works of Wolf, he imbibed likewise a taste for the sceptical philosophy of that writer, and for the system of Leibnitz, which for a time took off his attention from his other studies. When entered on his theological course, he found himself disposed to connect it with his new ideas on philosophy, and with that view wrote a treatise, “De Deo, anima, et mundo,” which procured him considerable fame, and was the cause of his being chosen preacher at the castle of Tubingen, and repeater in the school of divinity. But fancying Tubingen a theatre too contracted, he obtained of one of his friends a supply of money, in 1719, which enabled him to go to Halle to study more particularly under Wolf himself. This, however, did not produce all the good consequences expected. When after two years he returned to Tubingen, the Wolfian philosophy was no longer in favour, his patrons were cold, his lessons deserted; himself unable to propagate his new doctrines, and his promotion in the church was likely to suffer. In this unpleasant state he remained about four years, when, by Wolf’s recommendation, he received an invitation from Peter I. to accept the professorship of logic and metaphysics in the new academy at St. Petersburgh. Thither accordingly he went in 1725, and was received with great respect, and the academical memoirs which he had occasion to publish increased his reputation in no small degree. The academy of sciences of Paris having about | that time proposed for solution the famous problem, on the cause of gravity, Bilfinger carried off the prize, which was one thousand crowns. This made his name be known in every part of Europe, and the duke Charles of Wirtemberg having been reminded that he was one of his subjects, immediately recalled him home. The court of Russia, after in vain endeavouring to retain him, granted him a pension of four hundred florins, and two thousand as the reward of a discovery he had made in the art of fortification. He quitted Petersburgh accordingly in 1731, and being re-established at Tubingen, revived the reputation of that school not only by his lectures, but by many salutary changes introduced in the theological class, which he effected without introducing any new opinions. His greatest reputation, however, rests on his improvements in natural philosophy and mathematics, and his talents as an engineer seem to have recommended him to the promotion which the duke Charles Alexander conferred upon him. He had held many conversations with Bilfinger on the subject of fortifications, and wished to attach him to government by appointing him a privy-councillor in 1735, with unlimited credit. For some time he refused a situation which he thought himself not qualified to fill, but when he accepted it, his first care was to acquire the knowledge necessary for a member of administration, endeavouring to procure the most correct information respecting the political relations, constitution, and true interests of the country. By these means, he was enabled very essentially to promote the commerce and agriculture of his country, and in other respects to improve her natural resources, as well as her political connections, and he is still remembered as one of the ablest statesmen of Germany. The system of fortification which he invented is yet known by his name, and is now the chief means of preserving it, as he died unmarried, at Stuttgard, Feb. 18, 1750. He is said to have been warm in his friendships, but somewhat irascible; his whole time during his latter years was occupied in his official engagements, except an hour in the evening, when he received visits, and his only enjoyment, when he could find leisure, was in the cultivation of his garden. To his parents he was particularly affectionate, and gratefully rewarded all those who had assisted him in his dependent state. His principal works are 1. “Disputatio de harmonia praestabilita,| Tubinguen, 1721, 4to. 2. “De harmonia animi et corporis humani maxime prsestabilita commentatio hypothetica,” Francfort, 1723, 8vo. This was inserted among the prohibited books by the court of Rome in 1734. 3. “De origine et permissione Mali, &c.” ibid. 1724, 8vo. 4. “Specimen doctrinae veterum Sinarum moralis et politicae,” ibid. 1724, 8vo. 5. “Dissertatio historico-catoptrica de speculo Archimedis,” Tubingen, 1725, 4to. 6. “Dilucidationes philosophies; de Deo, anima, &c.” before mentioned, ibid. 1725, 4to. 7. “Bilfingeri et Holmanni epistolae de barmonia praestabilita,1728, 4to. 8. “Disputatio de natura et legibus studii in theologica Thetici,” ibid. 1731, 4to. 9. “Disputatio de cuku Dei rationali,” ibid. 1731. 10. “Notae breves in Spinosae methodum. explicandi scripturas,” ibid. 1732, 4to. 11. “De mysteriis Christianae fidei generatim spectatis sermo,” ibid. 1732, 4to. 12. “La Citadelle coupee,” Leipsic, 1756, 4to. 13. “Elementa physices,” Leipsic, 1742, 8vo; besides many papers in the memoirs of the Petersburgh academy, of which, as well as of that of Berlin, he was a member.1


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