Frisi, Paul

, a very eminent philosopher and mathematician, was born in Milan, April 13, 1727. He was first educated in the schools of the Barnabite fathers in that metropolis; and so uncommon was his progress in the classes, that it was soon predicted by his teachers and schoolfellows, that he would one day excel in polite literature, in poetry, and in pulpit eloquence; nature, however, had more unequivocally designed him to be what he really proved, a philosopher and a mathematician. In 1743, (the sixteenth of his age) he embraced the monastic life among the Barnabites of Lombardy, where he passed so rapidly through all the remainder of his studies, that he had the honour of being appointed, while still in the | inferior orders, to the professorship of philosophy in the college of Lodi, and afterwards promoted, in the same capacity, to the royal school of Casale, in Monferrat, as a successor to the late celebrated cardinal Gerdil.,

Frisi unfortunately possessed a violent and atrabilarious temper, and a lofty, disdainful, and independent character; and hence he was never raised to eminent stations in church or state, but was perpetually involved in the most disagreeable contests with every person with whom he happened to be connected. Even as soon as he had taken possession of his chair in Casale, he quarrelled with his colleagues, and was compelled by his Sardinian majesty to withdraw. His superiors, not choosing to employ father Frisi any more in the scholastic department, sent him to Novara, in the capacity of annual preacher. His merit, however, as a scientific man, had already become so conspicuous, that in 1755, (the twenty-eighth of his age) he was requested by the superintendant of the university of Pisa to fill the vacant chair of metaphysics and ethics in that literary corporation, then in the zenith of its glory. He had indeed given some specimens of his knowledge in the philosophy of the human mind by his essays on moral philosophy, published at Lugano in 1753; but he had exhibited before that time still greater proofs of his superior abilities in mathematics and natural philosophy, by his two excellent works “Disquisitio Mathematica in causam physicam figurse et magnitudinis telluris nostrue,” and the “Nova Electricitatis theoria,” &c. which were published at Milan, the former in 1751, and the latter in 1755; and it is curious that he was thus indebted for his first step in the higher paths of literary honours to other pursuits than those which were his favourite, and which have so deservedly immortalized his name.

It is, perhaps, equally curious, that even when metaphysics and ethics had become his professed avocations, he never so much indulged in the study of them as to produce any other work in their several departments. He rather availed himself of his situation at Pisa, in cultivating natural science with greater ardour than before; and he seemed to have the best opportunity for the purpose. The veteran professor Perelli was still alive, and still retained his amiable disposition of communicating to his friends those valuable discoveries which were the fruits of his long meditations, and which, from his great modesty, | had never been published under his own name. By this powerful assistance, and by his own extensive learning, Frisi, whilst at Pisa, was enabled to publish the two volumes of dissertations which appeared at Lucca under the title of “Dissertationum Variarum,” &c. 1759 and 1761, and the two hydraulic performances relative to the preservation of the provinces of Ferrara and Ravenna, from the inundation of rivers, which were likewise published at Lucca, in 1762. Among his dissertations, the most remarkable were that “De Atmosphaera Ccelestium corporuro,” which in 1758 obtained the prize from the royal academy of sciences in Paris, and that “De intequalitate MoiCls Planetarum,” which in 1768 received the honour of the accessit from the same corporation. The lust work published by Mr. Frisi at Pisa, was a tribute to the memory of his worthy and beneficent friend Perelli, which appeared in the 53d volume of the Journal of that university.

The Milanese government, duly sensible of the superior merit of Mr. Frisi, and most likely jealous of so many honours received by him in Tuscany, induced him to return to his native place, by tendering him the chair of mathematics in the Palatine schools of that metropolis. This offer was made in 1764, and was soon accepted by Mr. Frisi, who flattered himself that he should there be of greater assistance to his family than he had been in a foreign place; it was here he wrote his two capital works, “De gravitate universali,” in three books, and the “Cosmographia Physica et Mathematica,” in 2 vols. both of which were afterwards published at Milan, in 1768 and 1774. Many years had now elapsed without his being involved in any of those quarrels which were the result of his temper; but as he was threatened with an event of this kind soon after his return to Milan, he was advised by his friends to escape the storm by a temporary peregrination. He consequently made the tour of several European countries; and it was during this excursion, that he attained the friendship of some of the greatest characters in those times, especially in England and France, and acquired many literary honours; but the danger of incurring new evils was inherent to his nature. The famous periodical work entitled “The Coffee-house,” was at that time publishing by some of the most eminent Milanese literati, among whom was Mr. Frisi himself, who had already been | appointed royal censor of new literary publications. In this capacity he did not scruple to give his approbation to a pernicious work which was supposed to have issued from the above-mentioned society, and when the book was afterwards suppressed by ecclesiastical and civil authority, he had the imprudence, or rather the effrontery, to become its apologist. Sensible, perhaps at last, of the dangers to which he had exposed himself, he resolved to spend some years in retirement. A new field of exertions, however, was opened to him in his retreat, which proved more beneficial to society, and more honourable to himself, than any he had before cultivated. His uncommon talents in hydrpnymics were already celebrated in Italy, and as many hydrostatical operations had been projected at the time by the several Italian governments, he became the chief director, and almost the oracle of such undertakings. The Venetian senate, and the late Pius VI. also, wished in latter times to have his opinion on the projects which they had respectively adopted for the course of the river Brenta, and for the draining of the Pontine marshes. But even in these honourable commissions, he disgusted every person in power with whom he had to deal, and the necessity of applying to a man of his temper was frequently the subject of regret. In 1777, the Milanese government recalled him from obscurity, and appointed him director of the newly-founded school of architecture; and from this period he became as active in the republic of letters as ever. He published in the same year, 1777, his “Course of Mechanics,” for the use of the royal school; in 1781 his “Philosophical Tracts,” and from 1782 to 1784, his “Opera Varia,” 3 vols. 4to and in the interval from 1778 to 1783, he wrote the eulogies of Galileo, Cavalieri, Newton, the empress Maria Theresa, and of count Firmian. His eulogies on Galileo and Cavalieri have been pronounced by Montuclas “two finished specimens of scientific biography.” Frisi died Nov. 22, 1784, a man of unquestionable learning, but, unhappily for himself, of an impetuous and turbulent disposition. 1


Baldwin’s Literary Journal, vol. II. from Frist’s Memoirs, by Count Verri.