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Dr. George Wilson
by [?]

Among the many students at our University who some two-and-twenty years ago started on the great race, in the full flush of youth and health, and with that strong hunger for knowledge which only the young, or those who keep themselves so ever know, there were three lads–Edward Forbes, Samuel Brown, and George Wilson–who soon moved on to the front and took the lead. They are now all three in their graves.

No three minds could well have been more diverse in constitution or bias; each was typical of a generic difference from the others. What they cordially agreed in, was their hunting in the same field and for the same game. The truth about this visible world, and all that it contains, was their quarry. This one thing they set themselves to do, but each had his own special gift, and took his own road–each had his own special choice of instruments and means. Any one man combining their essential powers, would have been the epitome of a natural philosopher, in the wide sense of the man who would master the philosophy of nature.

Edward Forbes, who bulks largest at present, and deservedly, for largeness was of his essence, was the observer proper. He saw everything under the broad and searching light of day, white and uncolored, and with an unimpassioned eye. What he was after were the real appearances of things; phenomena as such; all that seems to be. His was the search after what is, over the great field of the world. He was in the best sense a natural historian, an observer and recorder of what is seen and of what goes on, and not less of what has been seen and what has gone on, in this wonderful historic earth of ours, with all its fulness. He was keen, exact, capacious,–tranquil and steady in his gaze as Nature herself. He was, thus far, kindred to Aristotle, to Pliny, Linnaeus, Cuvier, and Humboldt, though the great German, and the greater Stagirite, had higher and deeper spiritual insights than Edward Forbes ever gave signs of. It is worth remembering that Dr. George Wilson was up to his death engaged in preparing his Memoir and Remains for the press. Who will now take up the tale?

Samuel Brown was, so to speak, at the opposite pole–rapid, impatient, fearless, full of passion and imaginative power–desiring to divine the essences rather than the appearances of things–in search of the what chiefly in order to question it, make it give up at whatever cost the secret of its why; his fiery, projective, subtile spirit, could not linger in the outer fields of mere observation, though he had a quite rare faculty for seeing as well as for looking, which latter act, however, he greatly preferred; but he pushed into the heart and inner life of every question, eager to evoke from it the very secret of itself. Forbes, as we have said, wandered at will, and with a settled purpose and a fine hunting scent, at his leisure, and free and almost indifferent, over the ample fields–happy and joyous and full of work–unencumbered with theory or with wings, for he cared not to fly. Samuel Brown, whose wings were perhaps sometimes too much for him, more ambitious, more of a solitary turn, was forever climbing the Mount Sinais and Pisgahs of science, to speak with Him whose haunt they were,–climbing there all alone and in the dark, and with much peril, if haply he might descry the break of day and the promised land; or, to vary the figure, diving into deep and not undangerous wells, that he might the better see the stars at noon, and possibly find Her who is said to lurk there. He had more of Plato, though he wanted the symmetry and persistent grandeur of the son of Ariston. He was, perhaps, liker his own favorite Kepler; such a man in a word as we have not seen since Sir Humphry Davy, whom in many things he curiously resembled, and not the least is this, that the prose of each was more poetical than the verse.