Harvey Goodwin's obituary of Robert Leslie Ellis

Harvey Goodwin (1818-1891) was the son of the solicitor Charles Goodwin and Frances Sawyer. After studying at an independent school in High Wycombe he matriculated at Gonville and Caius College Cambridge in 1835 and studied the mathematical tripos. He was Second Wrangler in 1840, the Senior Wrangler that year being Robert Leslie Ellis. Goodwin was Second Smith's prizeman while Ellis was First Smith's prizeman. Goodwin became a fellow of Caius College while Ellis became a fellow of Trinity College. Subsequently Goodwin was ordained and was appointed to St Giles' Church, Cambridge, then St Edward's Church, Cambridge. He became Dean of Ely in 1858. Following the death of Leslie Ellis in 1859, the book The Mathematical and Other Writings of Robert Leslie Ellis was edited by William Walton. Walton asked Harvey Goodwin to write a Biographical Memoir of Ellis which he agreed to do. We present a version of that Memoir below. Let us record that Goodwin became Bishop of Carlisle in 1869, continuing in this position for the rest of his life.




Biographical Memoir of Robert Leslie Ellis.

The publication in a collected form of the papers which this volume contains is to be regarded, to a certain extent, as a tribute of affection. From this point of view the work would hardly seem to be complete without some notice of the life and character of the author. That he was a man of no ordinary attainments, in at least one field of knowledge, will be sufficiently evident to those who know no more of him than they can gather from this portion of his writings; that he had powers distinct from those of mathematical research, is evident from what he has done as the editor of the philosophical works of Bacon; but even these published records of his intellect will perhaps fail to convey to readers that impression of remarkable and various ability which was made, I believe, upon all those who were brought into personal contact with him. It may therefore be interesting to the general reader, besides completing the memorial character of the volume, if an attempt be made by one of his contemporaries to give some account of what he was.

The mere facts of the life are few and simple. The external picture of it may be very easily drawn. It was short, quiet, uneventful, but very full of suffering. The plan which I shall adopt in the following memoir will be this: I shall first give the story of the life in as compact a form as may be possible, and then endeavour to lay before the reader some estimate of the mind and character.

ROBERT LESLIE ELLIS was born at Bath, 25 August 1817, being the youngest of a family consisting of three sons and three daughters. His mother's health was not good, and from her he appears to have inherited that highly nervous constitution, which became, during a considerable portion of his life, as we shall see hereafter, the medium of great suffering. His father was a man of cheerful disposition, of active and well cultivated intellect, fond of speculative inquiry, and in worldly circumstances independent. His character and his mode of dealing with Robert, as a child, had a great influence upon him throughout his life: he became his father's companion from a very early age, and the affection with which he referred in later life to his father's care and to the happy days of his boyhood, could not fail to strike those who had the pleasure of knowing him intimately.

I do not find that as a child he exhibited any extraordinary symptoms of precocity [Note 1], though it is manifest, from records of his boyish doings made by himself, that he was very forward in his studies, and that he took an interest in his work, and exerted his mind upon the subjects to which it was directed in a manner by no means usual.

He was never at school, but had the advantage of two tutors at Bath, one in classics, the other in mathematics [Note 2].

He worked for them with great earnestness, and I find from his own memoranda, that in the year 1827, when he was about ten years old, he was doing equations, and reading Xenophon and Virgil, besides giving some attention to French and drawing. These same memoranda show that at this time, in addition to his ordinary work with his tutors, he was reading books not usually read by boys at such an age, Cuvier's Theory of the Earth, The Edinburgh Journal of Science, The Edinburgh Review, &c.

One remark which is suggested by the boyish records left behind him is, that it is clear that from an early age Ellis had an extreme delight in knowledge for its own sake: he had not the ordinary stimulus of school emulation, indeed he was singularly free from the influence of competition until his college days: but it is manifest, from his own account, that his progress in knowledge, and perhaps especially in mathematical knowledge, was a source of very keen delight.

In 1829, that is, when twelve years old, he began to read Mechanics. In the early part of 1830 he commenced the Differential Calculus; from which he rapidly proceeded to the Integral Calculus; and towards the middle of the year he speaks of being engaged with his tutor in finding the lengths and areas of curves.

Meanwhile his general reading, for which he was dependent upon his father's library and upon that of the Bath Institution, was most multifarious; but each particular subject seems to have been carefully studied, and an opinion formed upon it.

Thus his education proceeded quietly and also rapidly under his father and private tutors for several years.

This home education had, I think, a perceptible effect upon his future character. The effect was not bad in the sense in which that epithet is generally believed to be applicable to home education; but there might be observed in him a kind of elderly sobriety of manner, not amounting to stiffness, but conveying the impression that he had been accustomed to converse with those older than himself, and standing out in marked contrast with that lively boyish freedom and gaiety which is especially the characteristic of young men educated at the great public schools.

In October, 1834, he became the pupil of the Rev James Challis, then Rector of Papworth St Everard, in Cambridgeshire, who soon after was appointed and still remains Plumian Professor of Astronomy in the University of Cambridge. His residence at Papworth was, however, very short; his health gave way, and at the end of six weeks he was compelled to return home. Here he remained for about two years, not coming up to the University in 1835, as originally intended, but postponing the event, on the ground of health, to the following year.

He came into residence as a Pensioner of Trinity College, in October 1836, being entered as a pupil of the Rev G Peacock, afterwards Lowndean Professor and Dean of Ely. During his undergraduate career his health was not strong, but I think he was never compelled by illness to desist from his course of study. He was very much in advance of the men of his year in mathematical acquirement, and had already read most of the subjects which usually occupy an undergraduate's time. He was himself much amused at the surprise expressed by his tutor, Mr Peacock, when at an early stage of his College life in answer to the question, "What are you chiefly reading now?" he replied, "Woodhouse's Isoperimetrical Problems." He read mathematics, chiefly without the aid of a private tutor, but in his third year and his last term had the advantage of Mr Hopkins's direction [Note 3].

I was myself a pupil of Mr Hopkins' at the time; but Ellis never read with the class of which I was one; in fact, he did not need the kind of lecture which was adapted to myself and others; he required only that his reading should be arranged, and put in a form suitable for the Cambridge examinations.

The only occasion upon which I was brought into contact with him as a fellow-student was in attending Professor Peacock's lectures on Plane Astronomy. I remember well the astonishment with which I witnessed his demeanour during the lectures: he made no note, he asked no question; but he quietly remarked as we left the lecture-room together one day, "It saves one the trouble of reading these things up."

It was in fact a great advantage to him to be able to substitute the use of his ears for that of his eyes. His sight was very tender, and during the latter part of his undergraduate career he regularly employed a person to read to him high mathematical subjects. He once mentioned to me incidentally that the theory of the Earth's Figure, as given in Pratt's Mechanical Philosophy, was in this manner read to him; which instance I here record as an indication of a power of mental effort possible to very few, and the magnitude of which mathematicians will appreciate.

During his undergraduate career I was not intimately acquainted with him: probably he had no desire to increase his circle of friends beyond that which was naturally brought round him in his own college: and his manner was not such as to encourage rapid intimacy. I do not think that at this period the number of his intimate friends was large even within Trinity College, and sometimes a feeling of desolation and want of sympathy oppressed him painfully. He once described to me the forcible manner in which he was affected in College Chapel by those words of the Psalm, "I had no place to flee unto, and no man cared for my soul." This melancholy feeling, which sometimes assumed a very painful intensity, was no doubt connected with the weak state of his bodily health, and the highly nervous temperament which naturally belonged to him: it was the source of much suffering, I fear, even in that period which preceded the most distressing portion of his life.

Ellis was to be seen sometimes at the debates of the Union Society, but he seldom took any part in them. On one or two occasions, however, when domestic troubles had arisen, and squabbles of a somewhat personal kind ran high, he stood up as a pacificator; he was heard with marked respect, and his suggestions were readily adopted.

In January, 1840, he passed his examination for B.A. degree. In consequence of complaints which had been made of the coldness of the Schools, in which the Candidates for Mathematical Honours were then examined, the examination took place for two or three years in the Lecture Rooms of Trinity College. The difficulty was afterwards solved by the proper warming of the Senate-House. When we visited the rooms on the day before the Examination to inspect our places, I found that the alphabetical arrangement of names combined with the conditions imposed by the length of the tables had brought Ellis and myself almost immediately opposite to each other, and I was rather pleased with the thought of seeing him in actual work. He however made a special request that his seat might be changed, (I do not exactly know why,) and was allowed to be placed in a different room; so that I saw nothing of him during the examination.

Those who knew anything of the relative powers of the men of the year had no doubt as to which place Ellis must occupy, if only his health should enable him to do himself justice in the examination. His health of course introduced an element of uncertainty; but when the examination was concluded, and it was found that he had been able to take every paper, the result was quite sure. He was Senior Wrangler; and I can truly say, that for myself I had almost as much satisfaction in seeing his name at the top of the list, as in seeing my own next to it, for I felt convinced that it was his rightful position, and that nothing but the accident of ill health could have put any of his competitors above or even near him.

His appearance in the Senate-House when he took his degree was very striking. He looked very pale and ill, but this perhaps enhanced the intellectual beauty of his countenance. A person who was present remarked to me very pithily, "If I had seen him before, I could have told you, you could not beat him."

In October, 1840, he was elected Fellow of Trinity College. He retained his fellowship until the year 1849, that is, for seven years after the degree of M.A., when as a layman he ceased to be a fellow in due course.

His intention after taking his degree was to read for the bar, and at one time there was a notion of his entering upon political life by becoming a candidate for his native city Bath. His name was publicly discussed with reference to the election, but the design was given up on the ground of the weakness of his health. Had he been a candidate, it would have been on Whig principles; he was not a very earnest politician, but always professed himself a Whig, a profession which was probably strengthened by his intimacy with Sir William Napier, to whom he always expressed himself as much attached.

With regard to the bar, he was duly called, but did not study long with the intention of practising. The fact is that his worldly position was unexpectedly altered. Both of his elder brothers died, and he thus became heir in expectation of considerable property, and soon by the death of his father heir in possession. He was thus deprived of the chief inducement to labour as a lawyer; and had it been otherwise, it is clear that his health would never have enabled him to undergo the necessary drudgery. Nor indeed would the actual practice of law-courts have been very congenial to his feelings and tastes: law in the abstract he loved exceedingly, as we shall see presently, but law as it is concerned with the actual strifes and quarrels of mankind would have been eminently distasteful to him.

As a Fellow of Trinity he made his College his home, except for a short period after his election. Here he continued his mathematical reading, but not with any very definite purpose. He became very intimate with the late D F Gregory, who was then Fellow of Trinity College, and who did good service to mathematics by the establishment of the Cambridge Mathematical Journal; when Gregory resigned the editorship shortly before his death, Ellis took the office, and edited part of the third and fourth volumes of the journal, in the latter of which he inserted a short biographical memoir of his friend [Note 4].

In January, 1844, Ellis was Moderator. On this occasion, being myself one of the Examiners, I was thrown into closer relations with him than before, and commenced that real intimacy which lasted as long as his life. His problem paper on this occasion was singularly elegant, but perhaps too refined for its purpose. His fellow moderator, O'Brien of Caius College, and he, published their problems with their own solutions, soon after the Examination. He bore the labour of the Examination better than could have been expected; he was a very pleasant work-fellow, being always ready to fill up the intervals of work with that rich and varied conversation which his friends remember so well. Shall I be pardoned if I mention that his fees as Moderator were transferred to Addenbrooke's Hospital?

He worked for the Senate-House again in 1845. It is customary for the Moderator of one year to act as Examiner the next [Note 5], but he was desirous of escaping the labour, and had declined to serve.

There was, however, a difficulty in finding a substitute; I was myself one of the Moderators and felt anxious that he should serve, which at my earnest entreaty he at length consented to do. It was in this year that Professor W Thomson took his degree; great expectations had been excited concerning him, and I remember Ellis remarking to me with a smile, "You and I are just about fit to mend his pens." He again got through the Examination much better than could have been expected; in fact, the effort seemed to do him good; when he had consented to act he said, "I feel all the better for having done something plucky."

It has already been mentioned that the study of the principles of Law was very agreeable to him. At this period of his life he devoted much time to the study of the Civil Law, and he has left behind him several volumes of notes made in the course of his reading. The only appointment concerning which I ever heard him express any strong wish was that of the Professorship of Civil Law. He acknowledged to me that he would have felt gratified by the tenure of this office, which is the more remarkable when taken in connection with the fact that on the occasion of one of the Mathematical Professorships being vacant he expressed no desire to be appointed, but, on the contrary, declared that he would not consent to be nominated as a candidate. Indeed it is a mistake to suppose that Ellis was in any exclusive or even preponderating degree devoted to mathematics: his mathematical power was no doubt very great, but I think not greater than several other powers, and certainly his taste by no means exclusively leaned in this direction, as his intimate friends very well knew. But of this more hereafter.

He did not give himself in any degree to tuition during his Cambridge residence. So far as I know he never had a private pupil; he gave a few College Lectures upon high mathematical subjects, but he did this only as locum-tenens for friends upon whom the task devolved. Probably his health would have interfered with any regular occupation of this kind; but besides this, he had not, I think, any taste or any special fitness for imparting knowledge to average minds; his remarks were always suggestive, and he could throw light upon almost any subject which could be brought forward, but he usually assumed a considerable amount of knowledge on the part of those with whom he conversed, and sometimes (as it seemed to me) he was obscure, in consequence perhaps of the neatness and conciseness which were so remarkable in his conversation.

At the request of the British Association, which held its annual meeting at Cambridge in 1845, he undertook a Report upon the progress of certain branches of pure mathematics. This Report is reprinted in the present volume. It represents a great amount of labour and research, and I have no doubt that the preparation of it was a source of pleasure to him, as it refers to a department of mathematics which was with Ellis a special favourite.

It was during his residence as a Fellow in Trinity College that he undertook, in conjunction with Mr James Spedding and Mr Douglas Denon Heath, to edit the works of Bacon. The philosophical section of the works was the share allotted to Ellis. No literary occupation could have been more congenial to his taste, and the prefaces to the several treatises which he was able more or less to complete, especially the "General Preface to the Philosophical Works," are perhaps the most valuable thing which he has left behind him. He was engaged upon the preface to the Novum Organum, when he was stopped by illness; and so complete and sudden was the break in his health that he never completed it. The last sentence that he wrote will be found on page 100 of the first volume of his edition of Bacon's Works. It is an affecting monument, and as such I here produce it. "Again he affirms that he does not inculcate, as some might suppose, a ... ;" to which Mr Spedding has appended a note, "Mr Ellis had written thus far when the fever seized him."

The mention of Bacon has led me to anticipate the course of events. In the years 1847 and 1848 he visited Malvern for the benefit of his health, still making Trinity College his headquarters, and he certainly appeared to be strengthened by the course of treatment to which he was submitted. He had, I believe, always intended, at the expiration of the tenure of his fellowship, to go abroad; partly perhaps for the general advantages of travel, and partly with the belief that his health would be improved by residence in a warmer climate. He desired to settle himself in some place possessing a good library, where he might complete his work for the edition of Bacon. Accordingly in the autumn of 1849 he went to Nice. After remaining there some little time he started, not well in health, for the journey by post along the Riviera. The first night he slept at Mentone, and, as he believed, in a damp bed. The next day he arrived early at San Remo, but feeling indisposed determined to proceed no further that day. In the evening he took the last walk which he was ever able to take, otherwise than as a cripple; he described afterwards to one of his friends the profound effect produced upon his mind, possibly rendered more sensitive by approaching illness, by the loveliness of the scene. That night, which was one of horrors to him, he was seized with a rheumatic fever, which for several days put his life in great danger. A physician, who was called in, seems to have exerted himself with great kindness and to the utmost of his skill, to do all that could be done. Ellis always retained an affectionate remembrance of him. He ordered his patient to be bled extensively, and after a few days the imminent danger was passed. Rheumatism however remained fixed hopelessly upon him; he was ever after in constant pain, with very little use of any part of his body; and the rest of his life, ten years, may be described as a long process of gradual dissolution.

After a residence of nearly three months at San Remo, he was brought home by easy stages. He visited several places after his return, London, Brighton, Bath, Malvern, Tunbridge Wells, consulting various physicians, with no apparent result. At length giving up all hope of amendment, he fixed himself in 1853 at Trumpington, a village two miles from Cambridge, of which his friend Professor Grote was Vicar, for the sake of being near the University and his old friends. When he arrived he was unable to walk, but could drive out in a carriage, and in the house he could move from one place to another on the same floor by means of a chair set upon wheels: after some time however he became entirely confined to the house; then to his bed, where he remained in a sadly suffering condition till the day of his death.

He wrote me a letter shortly before his arrival at Trumpington, telling me that he had taken Anstey Hall (the name of his house [Note 6] at Trumpington), and adding that he was coming to leave his bones amongst us, and he trusted we should "give him a little earth for charity."

During his lingering illness I saw him not infrequently, and am able to record, from personal recollection, some few things which may be pleasant to those who knew him, and not unprofitable perhaps to the general readers of this volume. In the early part of his residence in Anstey Hall, he was well enough to enjoy the society of his friends to a very considerable extent; he sat in his invalid chair, with sometimes two or three persons present, pouring forth his varied stores of knowledge as in olden days; in fact, it should be stated here once for all, that during the whole of his lingering sickness his mental powers never appeared to be in the smallest degree impaired; it was a wonder to note the perfect action of the mind, at a time when the body was a mere distorted and attenuated heap of skin and bones. But this brightness of intellect doubtless made the suffering more acute. His life for several years was a constant looking of death in the face, with scarcely an interval of ease or obliviousness. By degrees the resource of the society of his friends began to be diminished; frequently we called and found him unable to see us; and even relatives staying in the house could not be admitted into his chamber for days together.

In the earlier part of his illness he was able to give some attention, but not much, to Bacon; some of the notes which have been since printed were dictated at this time. The thought of leaving his work imperfect could not fail to be painful to him, and the pain would be increased by the very high standard of excellence which he set up for himself in all matters which he undertook. Latterly he could not bear the subject of Bacon to be alluded to: if it happened to be introduced, he would say, "We don't talk about it in this room." He amused himself also with mathematical investigations, which he was able to carry on in a remarkable manner, without paper or figure, "in his head," as the common phrase is. It was in this way that he discovered for himself what he believed to be a new view of Napier's rules for the solution of right-angled spherical triangles. His discovery involves so curious a piece of history that I shall venture for a moment to dwell upon it. Ellis found out in his illness, that Napier's rules, instead of being, as they have been stated to be in Cambridge books, from Professor Woodhouse downwards, a mere memoria technica, were all capable of being deduced from one geometrical construction. He sent me a paper which he dictated on the subject, and which I requested him to allow me to communicate to the Cambridge Philosophical Society. Having gained his permission, I thought it well to examine the literature of the subject, and above all to see what Napier had himself said. On turning to Napier's famous tract, Mirifici Logarithmorum Canonis Descriptio, I found that Ellis had in fact rediscovered Napier's own original conception of the problem.

It was during his illness that he dictated his remarks concerning the construction of bees' cells; I believe also that he thought out at this time his demonstration of the tautochronous quality of the cycloid. Indeed he had usually some mathematical question running in his head, which served him for recreation during his easier moments. Nor were other subjects excluded; it was in this season of extreme bodily weakness that he corresponded with the late Dr Gilly on the Romance language, discussed the date of the "Noble Lesson," and criticised Dr Gilly's edition of the Yaudois Gospel of St John. I have also before me a considerable number of letters dictated to friends, dealing with subjects so different, according to the tastes of the persons to whom they were sent, that it seems difficult to believe them to be the production of the same person. He dictated also papers on Vegetable spirals, on Comparative Metrology, and on various points of Etymology.

But the most remarkable effort of his illness was the dictation of a pamphlet (reprinted in this volume) on the subject of a Chinese Dictionary, and the best mode of constructing such a work. This pamphlet was in the form of a letter to the Rev J Power, the Librarian of the University, who had kindly assisted him in his literary researches, and had supplied him with the most recent literature bearing upon the Chinese language. I can give no opinion of its value, but can hardly be wrong in regarding it as a marvellous exertion of mental vigour under very depressing conditions.

In truth his taste for language was as marked as that for mathematics. I have just now remarked incidentally upon his study of the Romance language; Gothic also appears from his letters as having received considerable attention; he has left a paper on Sanskrit; and amongst the modern languages, besides the usual acquirements of French and German, I perceive that he was well versed in Italian, and that he had given attention to Danish and Spanish. He thoroughly enjoyed the study of a language, and I remember very well the pleasure which he expressed at having had the courage to communicate a French memoir to Liouville's Journal: it seemed to me that the writing mathematics in a foreign language gave him almost as much satisfaction as the mathematical results themselves [Note 7].

I ought, perhaps, to mention that I found him one day reading the New Testament in Swedish, which he told me he had "picked up" since he had been ill [Note 8].

I have said that through his long illness Ellis retained his vigour of mind. It is wonderful that in such suffering, and in the consciousness of approaching dissolution the mind should have been capable of dwelling calmly upon subjects of abstract interest, such as investigations in pure mathematics; he himself felt that there was something strange in the occupation. In a note accompanying a mathematical paper he writes to me: "I have been very miserable all this week. God will mend it, when His will is. It seems strange that my mind still runs at all upon triangles, and I am not at all sure that it is right it should. I need not tell you to think charitably of me in this as in other respects." His mind by no means however dwelt upon triangles to the exclusion of more solemn subjects, as I shall have occasion to show more fully presently; but it appeared to have a vigour of action and a fulness of matter which no external circumstances could affect, and so far as my observation went he conversed with the same facility and command of his subject during his illness, as in earlier days.

It would be only painful to draw as vivid a picture as might be easily drawn of the protracted sufferings which he had to endure. Medicine could do nothing more for him than mitigate the severity of the disease, which seemed to claim as its own one muscle after another, as it slowly approached the heart. "One twitch there" said he to me one day, speaking of his heart, "and then I shall know the great secret." For a considerable period, reading (as might be supposed) was a relief; the weary hours of night, sometimes rendered horrible by the fear of dreams if sleep should come upon him [Note 9], were beguiled with books, a lamp suspended over his head giving him the necessary light.

By and bye however this resource also failed : the eyes began to be affected by the complaint, and for about two years before his death he was almost entirely blind [Note 10].

Books were read to him, and he dictated occasionally to an amanuensis, but the loss of sight. was a very severe addition to his sufferings.

The following lines, which may be taken as a sample of the love of epigram [Note 11] which belonged to him, were sent to Dr Paget, his physician, when the blindness was gaining upon him.
Contortos artus nunc culcita celat, at olim
Terra teget melius: sit modo et ilia levis.
Et quam vix possunt oculi tolerare dolentes
Lux fugit, ac tenebris mox adopertus ero.

9 March 1857.
In the earlier part of his illness, I made the remark one day that he appeared to me to be a little better; he at once said very earnestly, "pray do not say so!" He recognised from the first the sure character of his disease, and he desired that his sufferings might not be protracted; at the same time he was perfectly patient, even cheerful, and reverently acknowledged in all his afflictions the governing hand of God.

But it is time that I should leave the story of my friend's sickness, upon which affectionate remembrance tempts me to linger, in order that I may endeavour to give such estimate as I can of his mind and character.

Speaking generally I should say that his intellect was the most remarkable that I have known. It was made up of a combination of powers so delicately balanced, and working together in such perfect harmony, that it would be difficult to say that any one predominated over the rest. Popularly in Cambridge he might be regarded as specially a mathematician, because he was Senior Wrangler, but those who knew anything of him were fully aware that mathematics was only one of his acquirements, and that in conversation mathematics by no means presented itself as the chief or even the favourite subject of his thoughts. Indeed, I think, it would be difficult to say that there was any one subject in which his mental powers were manifested more decidedly than in others; and the only marked deficiency which I ever detected was in respect of music, for which he had no special taste. I do not mean that he had no sense of melody: this was far from being the case: but his conversation never ran upon the great masters of music and their works, as it did upon almost all other subjects.

Doubtless, however, mathematical power belonged to him in a very large degree. With the present volume in the reader's hands it would be superfluous to say much concerning the special departments of mathematical investigation in which his taste impelled him; but I may remark that he seemed most naturally to associate his mathematics with the past; he delighted to discuss the principles of investigations already known, to trace the history of processes, to examine the philosophy of a subject, to hunt up its literature, or to simplify its treatment. His memoir on the Foundations of the Theory of Probabilities and that on the Method of Least Squares, which stand at the opening of this volume, appear to me to represent as well as possible his special taste, so far as he had a special taste, with regard to mathematics. He always seemed to talk on the subject of Probabilities with great pleasure, and as one in which he was thoroughly at home. The remarkable little essay on the Theory of Matter was also one which I think gave him much satisfaction. His taste did not seem to lead him much in the direction of elaborate physical experiment, nor do I remember that on any occasion he worked in this path of investigation. His mind in fact was rather that of the philosopher than the physicist; his impulse was rather to contemplate existing knowledge, than to take up a particular line of physical investigation and press forward knowledge upon that one line.

This characteristic of mind gave a great charm to his conversation: his thoughts were, so to speak, set in a rich historical framework, and they were produced with an ease and readiness which I have never seen equalled. In referring to his conversational powers generally, I may record the singular accuracy of his speech; this was perhaps partly a natural gift, and partly the result of early education; certainly it was very wonderful; his sentences were not only full of thought and of references to literature of all kinds, but they were so remarkably correct in their construction and elegant in diction. He was one of the few men who could have borne a Boswell with great advantage to their reputation [Note 12].

He was a good scholar, and very fond of the Greek and Roman literature. I believe I am justified in saying, that his knowledge of that literature was really more extensive and thorough than that of many whose reputation as scholars has been much greater. He could enjoy a discussion of a point of classical philology as keenly as one on scientific subjects, and when so engaged no one would have supposed that mathematics was his favourite study. Indeed, as I have already intimated, mathematics could not in any proper sense be so described: Civil Law was certainly as much a favourite: and he seemed to be most happy in conversation, when the subject was one of a philosophical character. I have often felt disposed to compare his mental constitution in many respects with that of Leibniz. Each was the philosopher quite as emphatically as the mathematician. Leibniz, I may observe, was one of his favourites, and he mentioned to me one day with some feeling of amusement that a Fellow of Trinity had spoken to him of Leibniz, under the title "your Leibniz," as though the old feeling of jealousy were still lurking in the College.

His love of philosophy fitted him especially to be the editor of Bacon. It was a work, I believe, which he undertook with all his heart, and relinquished with extreme pain and only under a sense of imperious necessity. He was assisted too by his familiarity with the philosophical speculations of the middle ages: there was something congenial to his own cast of mind in the discussions of the schoolmen, and I think he appreciated Bacon all the more in virtue of his appreciation of those, whose processes of thought and methods of argument it was Bacon's task to supersede.

In producing his knowledge he was much assisted by the strength and clearness of his memory. All his knowledge seemed to be as it were in hand; it was not merely that he knew where to look for information, although that is a great thing and as much as many clever men are satisfied to accomplish; but information upon the most various subjects, the most trivial and the most important, seemed to be at call upon all occasions. His long painful illness had no apparent effect upon this faculty. On one occasion, some years after he had been confined to the house, he wished to describe a certain picture in a room which he had only once entered, and that merely for a morning call: to my astonishment he mentioned the pictures one after another as they hung on the wall, and so identified that to which he desired to refer.

Ellis was very fond of expressing his thoughts in verse. Some of his notebooks are full of poetical scraps, generally somewhat melancholy in their tone, but expressing (I have no doubt) the feelings of his mind at the time of writing. I will produce two or three of these scraps in this place: it will be seen that they all belong to the period preceding his last long illness.

  1. E'en in the days when life is dear
    And we would fain live on for aye,
    Then let it not forgotten be
    That death draws near.

  2. And when we fall on sadder hours,
    And gladly would lie down and die,
    Remember that we live to do
    God's will; not ours.
DINANT, 1846,
Written 9 April.

The two following were written, I presume, in Trinity College-.

  1. The flower of life is gone 'tis well
    We know each flower will have its day.
    It were not wise did you repine
    Because the spring has passed away.

  2. The flower was cankered in the bud,
    It was a sickly faded flower
    What recks it now? however fair
    It still had died before this hour.

  3. 'Aye, but it died and left no fruit,
    And therefore I must needs lament.'
    'Lament not for the buried past,
    For all in vain your grief is spent.'

  4. "Tis true, and days to come may bring
    A sharper woe than all the past,
    And every passing year may seem
    To me more bitter than the last.'

  5. 'Think not of this, but turn to Him
    Who bids His wearied follower rest,
    About the altars of whose house
    The swallow builds itself a nest.

  6. Turn you to Him whose voice can calm
    The working of our troubled sea,
    Who brings the way-worn traveller
    Unto the port where he would be.

  7. To Him who said these solemn words,
    "Blessed are they that weep,"
    Who now as in the days of old
    Gives His beloved sleep.'
12 January 1848.
I do lament me for the days gone by,
All spent in loving frail mortality:
Else I had been what now I cannot be,
For I had wings wherewith to mount on high.
Thou king of heaven eternal, hear my cry!
Thou knowest all my grief and misery:
Recall, O God, my wandering soul to Thee,
And its shortcomings with Thy grace supply!
O let me die in harbour and at rest,
Though I have lived in tempest and in strife:
So when I journey hence at Thy behest
My death will be less worthless than my life.
Vouchsafe in life and death to succour me;
Thou knowest that I trust in nought but Thee.

Amen and Amen.

Miserere mei Domine et nunc et in horĂ¢ mortis.
24 February 1848.

I have no wish to indulge in any extravagant eulogy of my friend, but I should leave a sad blank in this brief memorial of him if I did not say that his moral qualities were not below his intellectual. His manner might be accounted by some persons cold, and he was certainly not one with whom familiar intercourse and the thorough freedom of friendship were attained rapidly; but those who knew him well knew that he possessed one of the most gentle of hearts, with a delicate consideration for the feelings of others, and a most grateful sense of any kindness shown to himself. Above all his sense of honour and propriety was perfect; nothing shabby or mean could exist in the same place with Leslie Ellis. This is a description which I am convinced that all who knew anything of him will certify to be correct, and I think I need not add more to it: his intellectual faculties were undoubtedly his most striking characteristics, and the fruits of his intellect, which he was permitted to gather during his brief period of health and activity, remain as an indication of what he might have done; let it suffice to say that those qualities of which his works can tell but little, were such as we delight to contemplate in union with great intellectual gifts.

There is one other point which must not be omitted, but which must be treated with delicacy. It would be unjust not to add a word upon the more definitely religious aspect of his character; I say unjust, because the remarkable keenness of his mind concerning mathematical and other questions, during an illness in which his life was hanging constantly by a thread, may give those who are disposed to do so the occasion of remarking that his mind might very well have been occupied with more solemn thoughts. Let such persons then be satisfied by knowing that more solemn thoughts did occupy his mind. I think that as his sickness advanced and his bodily powers were diminished, his mind gradually found more settled peace and rested more surely upon the love of God and the merits of the Saviour. Certainly there was much to tempt him to murmur, but I never noticed any murmuring propensity or any tendency to do otherwise than bow to God's will and accept with patience a mysterious and painful dispensation. In the early part of his illness, he asked me whether I had ever thought much or heard a sermon upon Habakkuk iii. 17, 18: "Although the fig-tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation." He made no application of the verses to his own circumstances, only remarking how striking the language was; but it was evident to me that his own case was in his mind.

He always begged me to read prayers with him. I usually introduced the Collect from the Visitation of the Sick; on one occasion I omitted it; he noticed the omission at my next visit, and begged me to use it. Anyone who remembers the substance of that Collect will see the value of this simple anecdote.

His own bodily weakness and utter abstraction from all works of active piety intensified his desire of doing something for the benefit of his fellow-creatures, and made him grieve over his forced indolence. I do not mean that his charitable feelings first germinated in his sick room: this was very far from being the case: but his sense of his own inability to discharge any active duty made him more keenly sensible of the privilege of being permitted to exert ourselves for God and for our brethren. On reading the account of the death of Captain Gardiner in his noble but not wisely-arranged effort to found a mission in Patagonia, he expressed a wish that his own life might have had a similar termination. Indeed a sense of the spiritual needs of mankind appeared to grow upon him as his own bodily weakness brought him nearer to the great realities of existence: I can never forget the earnestness with which he said to me at a late period of his illness, "The thing above all others which strikes me, as I lie here on my bed, is the intense wickedness of mankind." "I feel," he continued, "as if I should be constrained, did God ever raise me up again, to rush in amongst them, as Barnabas and Paul did amongst the people of Lystra, and rend my clothes and say, Sirs! why do ye these things?" [Note 13]

His speculative mind, acting under the peculiar conditions to which it was subjected by his diseased body, could hardly fail to look sometimes anxiously into the future, and guess what might be the nature of the life prepared for him in the world to which he was brought so near: as time went on however the keen discipline of affliction seemed to have taught him that he must "stand and wait," and simply look forward with calm hope.

In fact it was impossible not to observe that throughout his illness he perceived, that it was to be regarded in the light of a divine discipline, however mysterious such discipline might be. "Aches and pains," he said to a friend, "have been my teachers of late." "Fiat voluntas Tua," he observed to the same friend, taking up his De Imitatione Christi, "is after all the only prayer. Domine, modo sum in tribulatione, et non est cordi meo bene, sed multum vexor a praesenti passione ... Et nunc inter haec quid dicam? Domine, fiat voluntas Tua; ego bene merui tribulari et gravari."

His last days were days of peace; and his last words were so striking that I think it right to put them here upon record. It will be remembered that for a considerable period before his death he had been quite blind: just before his departure, which was in a certain sense sudden though so long expected, he exclaimed, "I see a light!" and so expired. Possibly some physical explanation of this exclamation may be given: for myself I would rather look upon it as indicative of something spiritual, and as announcing the arrival of a glorious change for which his imprisoned soul had long waited and earnestly prayed. [Note 14]

He was released from his sufferings 12 May 1859, and was buried at Trumpington. His grave is at the South-East corner of the churchyard, and bears the simple inscription -



DIED 12 MAY 1859.


Psalm 40. v. 5.

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