SIR WILLIAM PETTY.*
Sin WILLIAM PETTY was one of the first Fellows of the Royal Society, sometime Secretary to Henry Cromwell, maker of the "Down Survey" of Ireland, author of Political Arithmetic, and ancestor of the Lords Lansdowne of the present day. And it is rather in the latter capacity, per- haps, that the subject of this elaborate memoir will, after all, be remembered than in connection with the styles and dignities therewith enumerated and quoted from the title- page. It is a curious fact to be noted of the book that the biographer seems rather to take it for granted that the world is too thoroughly acquainted with the ancestral fact to require any special information on the point, and merely notes for our guidance that Sir William's widow was created a Peeress for life by King James II., and that her eldest son Charles became Baron Melburne by a simultaneous creation. The privy seal was dated December 6th, 1688, five days before the flight of the King from England.
William Petty was born in 1623 at Romsey, the little town in Hampshire, on the banks of the Test, which in later days was to renew its fame in connection with Lord Palmerston, but owes more to the glory of its abbey, one of the finest of our parish churches left. He was the third child of Antony and Francesca Petty, and his father was by profession a clothier, who did also "dye his own cloths." William Petty began life as a cabin-boy, but was ill-treated by the sailors and abandoned on the French coast near Caen, with a broken leg, in a small inn. "I must not omit," he wrote, in describing his adven- tures afterwards, "that 'La Grande Jane,' ye farrier's wife, had an escu for setting my broken leg; the Potticary 10 sole, and 8 sols a payer of crotches, of which I was afterwards cheated. Upon the remainder (my Ring trade being under- stood and lost) I set up, with the remainder of two cakes of Bees-wax sent mee in reliefe of my calamity, upon the trade of playing cards, white starch and hayre hatts, which I exchanged for tobacco pipes and the shreds of Letter and parchment wherewith to size paper. By all which I got my expenses, followed by Colledge, proceeded in Mathematics, and cleer'd four pounds." At a college in Caen, where the Jesuits offered to take the young Englishman as a pupil on condition that their attempts on his religion should be con- fined to prayers for his conversion, he attained, according to his own account, a knowledge of the Latin, Greek, and • The Life of Sir William Petty. 1623-1687. Chiefly derived from Public Documents hitherto unpublished. By Lord Edward Fitedaurice. London ; John Murray. 1895. French tongues, the whole body of common arithmetic, the practical geometry and astronomy, conducing to navigation, dialling, Ste., with the knowledge of several mathematical trades; all of which preferred him to the Queen's Navy, " when, at the age of twenty years, he had gotten about three- score pounds, with as much mathematics as any of his age was known to have had." At the outbreak of the Civil War he retired to the Continent, and spent three years in France and the Netherlands, frequenting the schools at Utrecht, Leyden, and Amsterdam, and the School of Anatomy in Paris, where he made the acquaintance of Hobbes, like himself a refugee, who admitted him to his familiarity, and secured his assistance in the preparation of a treatise on optics, the younger student tracing the optical scheme, "for he had a very fine hand in those days for drawing, which draughts Mr. Hobbes did much commend." It was a wonderful school for a young man of ability in those days in France, when the dis- coveries of Galileo, Kepler, and Hervey had stirred the world of science, and Hobbes and Descartes were rivals in meta- physical inquiry. "A Cardinal, more statesman than church- man, ruled the country. The rights of the Calvinists were secured by the privileges, as yet unimpaired, which the Edict of Nantes had granted, and a political alliance existed with Sweden, the greatest military State of the Continent." Petty's friendships, however, did not save him from the occasional stress of great poverty, and once he had to live for a week on threepennyworth of walnuts. But on his return to England he obtained from the Commonwealth a seventeen years' patent for an instrument of his own invention, which was a prototype of the manifold letter-writer of the present day, and entered into a three years' partnership with John Holland, of Deptford, for which he was to find the brains and Holland the money. They were to make the double-writing instrument, a machine for printing several columns at once, a big bridge which was to span a river without any support, and various matters of the kind. Instead of anything coming of this, however, we find our eccentric hero installed at Oxford as a Doctor in Physic, with 260 in hand, and entered at the College in London, and becoming known to the whole country by restoring to life a poor woman hung for the murder of her illegitimate child. After this, though we are not told that it was because of it, he was made Vice-Principal of Brasenose. There is quite a puzzling directness about the brief and businesslike manner in which we are told of all these extra- ordinary transformations, so that there is nothing that is not perfectly appropriate in finding him in Ireland in 1652 as Physician-General to the Army there, and to Ireton, the Commander-in-Chief, who died, however, before he arrived, leaving him to fulfil the duties for his successors. But a more important task was before him than the reorganisation of the medical service, to which his first attention was directed. The Civil War was just over, and Ireland, as the writer says, "lay prostrate under the feet of her conquerors." To assist in regulating, replanting, and reducing the country to its former flourishing condition, the Lord Deputy Fleetwood called on Dr. Petty to bring his scientific attainments and organising powers to aid in the vast undertaking,—vast, indeed! and looking so helpless in the light of all that has so constantly followed, as to give to the perusal of the long pages that ensue a sense of hopelessness which is difficult to set aside. The Government of the Commonwealth had resolved on a vast scheme for colonising the country with new settlers, in order to secure the English connection, as it was thought, for ever.
By far the greater part of the volume after this period is devoted to the affairs of Ireland, and the picture with which it opens on Sir William's arrival (he was not knighted till 1660, on the Incorporation of the Royal Society) is painful in the extreme. Two orders in Council practically confiscated the estates of all the beads of the ancient Roman Catholic native population, and of most of the old Anglo-Irish nobility, who were ordered either to migrate into Connaught or to go abroad, under which order about thirty-four thousand of the best manhood fled the country. "The whole of the upper and middle classes in Ireland were crushed in a common ruin. So entirely had the original inhabitants, except the poorest, been driven out of Dublin, that it was next to impossible to find a Roman Catholic physician or even a Roman Catholic midwife ;" and Dr. Petty, amongst others, was ordered to "propose a remedy." Survey after
survey, discussion upon discussion, report after report, and "obstruction after obstruction" make up the narrative of all that follows. The famous settlement of Ireland occupied four years, of which the actual distribution of the land claimed half. "All this," says Clarendon, "was done and settled within little more than two years, to that degree of perfection that there were many buildings raised for beauty as well as for use, orderly plantation of trees, and fences and inclosures raised throughout the kingdom; purchases made by one from the other at very valuable rates, and jointures made upon marriages, and all other conveyances and settlements executed as in a kingdom at peace within itself, and where no doubt would be made of the validity of the titles." In 1851 Sir Thomas Larcom wrote on the subject as follows :—
" It is difficult to imagine a work more full of perplexity and uncertainty than to locate thirty-two thousand officers, soldiers, and followers, with adventurers, settlers, and creditors of every kind and class, having different and uncertain claims on lands of different and uncertain value in detached parcels sprinkled over two-thirds of the surface of Ireland ; nor, as Dr. Petty subse- quently experienced, a task more thankless in the eyes of the contemporary million. It was for his comfort that he obtained and kept the good opinion of those who were unprejudiced and impartial. The true appeal is to the quiet force of public opinion, as time moves on and anger gradually subsides; and from that tribunal the award has long been favourable to the work of Dr. Petty. It stands to this day, with the accompanying books of distribution, the legal record of the title on which half the land of Ireland is held ; and for the purpose to which it was and is applied, it remains sufficient."
Whatever the merits and specialties of Dr. Petty's work, we fear that the Irish land-titles can scarcely associate them-
selves with success in the public mind. But it is not im- possible to form some idea of the difficulties of his task, and the energy and resource which he must have displayed in order to discharge it at all. We have taken some note in another place of the conclusions at which he arrived on the future of the question of Home-rule, as prophetic in their way as his anticipation of the type-writer or the manifold copyist.
In his treatise of "Ten Tooles for making the Crown and State of England more powerful than any other now in Europe," he issued a vigorous manifesto for the Union, one of
its characteristic merits being that it would weaken the Popish party :—
" As Wales is an example of the good effects of a union, so will Ireland be to Scotland, New England, and the other of his
Majesty's out-territories Rather than not unite Ireland, 'twere better to dispeople and abandon the land and houses thereof, all movables, with the people, being brought away If it be an evil thing to unite Ireland with England, it seems a good thing to colonise even England itself into many small king- doms as heretofore, and now in America and Africa, though nominally under one monarch The poor and decaying persons of England always went for Ireland, and the rich of Ireland always spent their estates in England If either nation did or should lose by the Union, yet even the loser, in justice, equity, honour, and eminence, ought to promote and accept it from the other."
The particulars of the work done by Petty and his staff, under the friendly eye of Henry Cromwell, are a matter of interesting study. As the history of a self-made man, and the position and responsibilities to which he can rise, this sketch of the ancestor of the Lansdownes is well worth the
care bestowed upon it, though we think that it might have been possible to invest it with more of the personal interest of a biography. In that it strikes us as distinctly lacking, leaving no impression of Sir William's personality, but
appearing more in the light of a continuous chapter of history. We should like to know more of the humours of a man who could bring duelling into ridicule by choosing a dark cellar and a carpenter's axe for his place of meeting and weapon, on the ground of his shortness of sight ; and of his home-life with the widow of Sir Maurice Fenton, whom he married when he was forty-four. Her father had been an assistant of his on his survey, and one of the signataries of King Charles's death-warrant. She was "a beautiful and ingenious lady, browne, with glorious eyes," and as fond of splendour as he was of simplicity, distingushed for wit as well as beauty. The King offered to celebrate the event by making a Peer of him, in return for a round contribution to the Exchequer, which he declined. The life of Sir William Petty, in short, is a valuable addition to the chronicles of the time, though not very available for purposes of selection and quotation.