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Imprisonment of the Learned.
kin' o' creatures they please, gie them names, an' dwallin' places, an' tell fok its true! An gif he's a papist, the auld system o darkness an' deception maun be keept up, whether it be right or wrang!-But whatever he is, "There's a bee in his bannet," au' I caution your young readers to beware o' his misleadin' palaver, On Supernatural Powers, an' to remember, "that lambs should tremble whan the foxes preach.”
I am, Sir, Your frien',
Kirkton, 12th December, 1818.
IMPRISONMENT OF THE LEARNED.
Imprisonment seems not much to have disturbed the man of 1 etters in the progress of his studies.
It was in prison that Boethius composed his excellent book on the consolations of philosophy,
Grotius wrote, in his confinement, his commentary on St. Matthew.
Buchanan, in his dungeon of a monastery in Portugal, composed his excellent paraphrases of the Psalms of David.
Pelisson, during five years confinement for some state affairs, pursued with ardour his studies in the Greek language, in philosophy, and particularly in theology, and produced several good
Michael Cervantes composed the best and most agreeable book in the Spanish language, during his captivity in Barbary. Heta, a well-known and very excellent little law production, was written by a person confined in the Fleet Prison for debt, but whose name has not been preserved.
Louis XII. when he was Duke of Orleans, being taken prisoner at the battle of St. Aubin, was long confined in the Tower of Bourges, and applying himself to his studies, which he had hitherto neglected, he became in consequence an able and enlightened Monarch.
Margaret, Queen of Henry IV. King of France, confined in the Louvre, pursued very warmly the study of elegant literature, and composed a very skilful apology for the irregularities of her conduct.
The Fate of Genius.
Charles I. during his cruel confinement at Holmsby, wrote that excellent book entitled, The Portrait of a King, which he addressed to his son, aud where the political reflections will be found not unworthy of Tacitus. This work however has been attributed, by his enemies, to a Dr. Gowden, who was incapable of writing a single paragraph of it.
Queen Elizabeth, while confined by her sister Mary, wrote some very charming Poems, which we do not find she ever could equal after her enlargement; and Mary Queen of Scots, during her long imprisonment by Elizabeth, produced many beautiful poetic compositions.
Sir Walter Raleigh, produced in his confinement his History of the World, of whom it is observed, to employ the language of Hume, they had leisure to reflect on the hardships, not to say the injustice of his sentence. They pitied his active and enterprising spirit, which languished in the rigours of confinement. They were struck with the extensive genius of the man, who, being educated amidst naval and military enterprises, had surpassed in the pursuits of literature even those of the most recluse and sedentary lives; and they admired his unbroken magnanimity, which, at his age, and under his circumstances, could engage him, to undertake and execute so great a work as his History of the World.
THE FATE OF GENIUS.
Homer was a beggar: Plautus turned a mill: Terence was a slave; Boethius died in a jail: Paolo Borghese had 14 different trades, and yet starved with them all: Tasso was often distressed for Five Shillings: Bentevoglio was refused admittance into an hospital he had himself erected: Cervantes, the immortal author of Don Quixote, died of hunger: Camoens, the celebrated wiiter of the Luciad, ended his days in an alms-house; and Varigelas left his body to the Surgeons to pay his debts, as far as it would go.
In considering the above men, who, blest with common sense, an even and cheerful temper, and equability of disposition, need envy the elevation of genius, or the superiority of learning and science, when he sees the one contemned or neglected an
The Fate of Genius.
the other toiling without reward? Whoever pants for fame, or longs for literary honours, would do well to take a view of the fate of those abovementioned; or survey that of such of our own countrymen as have been eminently conspicuous in the fields of imagination, the regions of fancy or the plains of philosophy.
Bacon lived a life of meanness and distress. Raleigh ended his days upon a scaffold. The learning and virtue of More could not secure him a better doom. Spencer, the charming Spencer, whose Fairy Queen is never read but with increase of admiration, died neglected, forsaken, and in want. The fate of Collins (one of our first lyric poets) may be ascribed in a great degree to the world's neglect, which was the cause of his mental derangement and death. Milton sold his copy-right of Paradise Lost for £15. at three payments, and finished his life in obscurity. Drydon lived in poverty, and died in distress. Otway, though his end be variously related, yet all his biographers agree in this, that he died prematurely and in want. Lee is said to have died in the streets. Steele lived a life of perfect warfare with bailiffs. Johnson is said to have sold the Vicar of Wakefield for a trifle, to release its great author Goldsmith from the gripe of the law. Fielding lies in the burying-ground of the British Factory at Lisbon, without a stone to mark the spot. Savage died in Newgate at Bristol, where he was confined for a debt of £8. And the great biographer of the British poets has recorded of the inimitable author of Hudibras, Butler, "that all that can be said of him with certainty, is, that he lived neglected and died poor." And that youthful phenomenon, the immortal Chatterton, was so harassed by want that he destroyed himself in his 18th year. Such alas! is the fate of envied genius!
Superior talents, it seems, give no security for propriety of conduct on the contrary, having a natural tendency to nourish pride, they often betray the possessor into such mistakes as men more moderately gifted never commit. Ability, therefore, is not wisdom; and an ounce of grace is a better guard against gross absurdity than the brightest talents in the world.
Ay free aff han' your story tell,
Frae critical dissection;
But keck through every ither man
Wi' sharpen'd, sly inspection.Burns.
Of the negative virtues none carries along with it more security and respect, through all the walks of life, than Secresy. Secresy is equally essential in the cabinet and counting-house; in the administration of an empire, and the conduct of a family. Its advantages, like those of every other thing are most evident in its absence; for the want of secresy is uniformly accompanied with danger and discredit. By divulging the secrets of another, a man makes the world his enemy; by divulging his own, he makes the world his master.
Of such political moment did this virtue appear to Lycurgus, so necessary and so congenial to his masculine institutions, that it gained a fundamental place in the Spartan education. When any youth, as Plutarch relates, entered the place of public meals at Lacedemon, the oldest man present, pointing to the door, said to him, "Let nothing spoken here go out that way." In this instance, as through the whole course of his legislation, Lycurgus set himself against the propensities of human nature; for youth while its temerity is yet unrepressed by experience, or its openness of heart uncontracted by suspicion, is prone to unbosom every thing to every body. Such indiscreet communications.
however, as we advance in life, betray us into the commission of injuries, and injuries chastise us into caution. Yet there are some whom this failing pursues through life, uncorrected even by the sufferings of their character or interest. Such persons, through a constitutional excess of good nature; through a desire of gratifying others; through a tendency to plunge into premature friendship, resign all their knowledge, sacrifice all their credit, dissolve all their connections, and at last find themselves deserted and disgraced.
Secresy, encompassed by opposition and ambush, has hourly assaults to repel, or mines to counterwork. Some have so much
of the Inquisition in their hearts, that they hunt after secrets with the utmost cunning, and generally with the most flattering success. They then repay themselves for the trouble of the inquiry, by enjoying the malignant pleasure of exposing them in that situation; and at that juncture in which they may do most mischief.--Others labour to explore what it is our duty or interest to conceal, that, by threats of disclosure, they may lay us under contribution, or that they may impart their information for a reward, to those who may gain some advantage by the disclosure.
A more amiable, and more victorious invader of our secrets is woman. Armed with beauty, she attracts us by endearment. Unequal to the charming encounter, we surrender our whole souls to be ransacked by her eager curiosity. Hence secrets of the highest import; secrets that involve the fate of nations or families, are intrusted to a female, and as it is a wonder if a woman keeps a secret, hence public and domestic troubles are multiplied.
But of all the enemies of secresy, none is so resistless as intoxication. This, while it disarms a man of his faculties, divests him of his character. It confounds the distinction between the open and reserved; under its baneful enchantment all are blabs alike. Indeed secresy, like every other exercise of prudence, requires a level calm of mind which ebriety destroys; and it is equally endangered by the tumult of joy, the ebullition of rage, or the distraction of anguish.
These are all adversaries which secresy ought either to shun or to resist; but there are others with which it should capitulate. Though a secret is one of the most sacred commissions with which the mind can be charged; a commission which neither advantage should tempt, nor distress force us to violate; yet on some occasions, when the safety of our country, of our religion, or our neighbour, demands its exposure, then it must fall a victim to duty. But to duty every wise man, on such occasion, will have secured honourable access, as he will never assume the unconditional custody of any secret.