Gravesande, William James

, an eminent Dutch philosopher, was born Sept. 26, 1688, at Bois-le-duc, in Holland, of an ancient and honourable family. He was educated with the greatest care, and very early discovered an extraordinary genius for mathematical learning. He was sent to the university of Leyden, in 1704, with an intention to study the civil law; but at the same time he cultivated with the greatest assiduity his favourite science. Before he was nineteen, he composed his treatise on perspective, which gained him great credit among the most eminent mathematicians of his time. When he had taken his doctor’s degree in 1707, he quitted the college, and settled at the Hague, where he practised at the bar. In this situation he contracted and cultivated an acquaintance with learned men; and made one of the principal members of the society that composed a periodical review, entitled “Le Journal LitteVaire.” This journal began in May 1713, and was continued without interruption till 1722. The parts of it written or extracted by Gravesande were principally those relating to physics and geometry. But he enriched it also with several original pieces entirely of his composition, viz. “Remarks on the construction of Pneumatical Engines;” A moral Essay on Lying;“and a celebrated Essay on the Collision of Bodies;” which, as it opposed the Newtonian philosophy, was attacked by Dr. Clarke, and many other learned men.

In 1715, when the States sent to congratulate George I. on his accession to the throne, Gravesande was appointed secretary to the embassy. During his stay in England he was admitted a member of the royal society, and became intimately acquainted with sir Isaac Newton. On his return to Holland, when the business of the embassy was over, he was chosen professor of the mathematics and astronomy at Leyden; and he had the honour of first teaching the Newtonian philosophy there, which was then in its infancy. The most considerable of his publications is | An Introduction to the Newtonian Philosophy; or, a treatise on the Elements of Physics, confirmed by experiments.” This performance, being only a more perfect copy of his public lectures, was first printed in 1720; and has since gone through many editions, wiih considerable improvements. He published also “A small treatise on the Elements of Algebra, for the use of young students.” After he was promoted to the chair of philosophy in 1734, he published “A Course of Logic and Metaphysics.” He had a design too of presenting the public with “A Sj’stem of Morality,” but his death, which happened in 1742, prevented his putting it in execution. Besides his own. works, he published several correct editions of the valuable works of others. His whole mathematical and philosophical works, except the first article above, were collected and published at Amsterdam, 1774, in 2 vols. 4to, to which is prefixed a critical account of his life and writings, by professor Allamand.

He was amiable in his private and respectable in his public character; for, few men of letters have done more eminent services to their country. The ministers of the republic consulted him on all occasions in which his talents were requisite to assist them, which his skill in calculation often enabled him to do in money affairs. He was of great service also in detecting the secret correspondence of their enemies, as a decipherer. And, as a professor, none ever applied the powers of nature with more success, or to more useful purposes. 1


ProsperMarchand, vol. II. —Dict. Hist.Hutton’s Dictionary.