페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

dicrous Composition," and on the “ Utility of Classical Learning. These were succeeded, in 1783, by a 'volume of “ Critical Dissertations” on various subjects; in 1786, by a treatise on the “Evidences of the Chris tian Religion;" and in 1790 and 1793, by two volumes on “Moral Science." His only remaining publication was an edition of the juvenile work of the elder of his two sons, who died of consumption in 1790. His youngest and only surviving son soon followed his brother to the grave, at the age of eighteen.

One of his biographers, Carey,* has observed, that “ the sole consolation with which the world could now supply Beattie was, that if his sons had lived, he might have seen them à prey to that miserable distemper under which their mother was still labouring. From this total bereavement he sometimes found a short relief in the estrangement of his own mind, which refused to support the recollection of such a load of sorrow.” These domestic afflictions gradually broke down his mind and spirits. Accordingly, it has been alleged, that he sought to forget his sorrows in fits of intempe

In 1799 he was seized with a paralytic stroke, from which he partially recovered; but from that period until 1803 he had repeated attacks of the same malady, which terminated his life in the month of August of that year,

at the age of sixty-eight. He was interred, according to his own desire, by the side of his two sons, in the churchyard of St. Nicholas, at Aberdeen. Sir William Forbes has published his life and correspondence ; and to his work the reader is referred for a full review of Beattie's character as a philosopher, a critic, and a poet. He had fewer defects in his private character than are found amongst the majority of mankind. He was honourable and disinterested, tender in the discharge of his domestic duties, kind to his pupils, and faithful to his friends. To those from whom hé had received favours he was grateful ; and his charity was as generous as it was unostentatious. The “Minstrel" may be classed among the most popular of our

rance.

• Carey's " Lives of the Poets."

English poems; and his pretty ballad of the “Hermit" will always be admired for the piety of the sentiment, and the melodious flow of the versification. The former work, upon which Beattie's fame now rests, is, as he has described it, a didactic poem, in the Spenserian stanza, designed to “ trace the progress of a poetical genius, born in a rude age, from the first dawning of fancy and reason till that period at which he may be supposed capable of appearing in the world as a minstrel.”

The following anecdote is interesting, and deserves to be remembered :—"In the early training of his eldest and beloved son, Dr. Beattie adopted an expedient of a romantic and interesting description. His object was, to give him the first idea of a Supreme Being; and his method, as Dr. Porteus, bishop of London, remarked,

had all the imagination of Rousseau, without his folly and extravagance.' 'He had,' says Beattie, 'reached his fifth (or sixth) year, knew the alphabet, and could read a little, but had received no particular information with respect to the Author of his being, because I thought he could not yet understand such information, and because I had learned, from my own experience, that to be made to repeat words not understood is extremely detrimental to the faculties of a young mind. In the corner of a little garden, without informing any person of the circumstance, I wrote in the mould, with my finger, the three initial letters of his name, and sowing garden cresses in the furrows, covered up the seed, and smoothed the ground. Ten days after he came running to me, and with astonishment in his countenance, told me that his name was growing in the garden. I smiled at the report, and seemed inclined to disregard it; but he insisted on me going to see what had happened. “Yes,” said I, carelessly, on coming to the place; “I see it is so; but there is nothing in this worth notice; it is mere chance," and I went away. He followed me, and taking hold of my coat, said with some carnestness, “ It could not be mere chance,- for that somebody must have contrived matters so as to produce it." I pretend not to give his words or my own, for I have

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

So

forgotten both, but I give the substance of what passed between us in such language as we both understood.

you think,” I said, “ that what appears so regular as the letters of your name cannot be by chance ?" “Yes,” said he with firmness, "I think so !"

“ Look at yourself," I replied, “and consider your hands and fingers, your legs and feet, and other limbs; are they not regular in their appearance, and useful to you ?" He said they were. "Came you then hither," said I, "by chance ?" "No," he answered, " that cannot be ; something must have made me.” “And who is that something ?” I asked. He said he did not know. (I took particular notice that he did not say, as Rousseau fancies a child in like circumstances would say, that his parents made him.) I had now gained the point I aimed at, and saw that his reason taught him (though he could not so express it) that what begins to be must: have a cause, and that what is formed with regularity must have an intelligent cause. I therefore told him the name of the Great Being who made him and all the world, concerning whose adorable nature I gave him such information as I thought he could in some measure comprehend. The lesson affected him deeply, and he never forgot either it or the circumstance that introduced it."

The subjoined observations, by one of Dr. Beattie's biographers, are a just tribute to the goodness of his character, and the value of his contributions to our poetical and philosophical literature :—“The complexion of his mind will be found in his works, which disclose the poet, the good man, and the true Christian. His 'Minstrel’ is a poem remarkable for simplicity and sweetness of language, for purity and pathos of sentiment, and for richness and truth of description. And a most interesting piece of information is, that in the character of Edwin he has delineated himself as he was in his younger days. 'I have made him,' he says in one of his letters, "take pleasure in the scenes in which I took pleasure, and entertain the sentiments similar to those of which even in my early youth I had repeated experience. His prose

writings are voluminous. Of these, his Essay on Truth-on Poetry and Musicon Laughter and Ludicrons Composition on Classical Learning—on Memory and Imagination—on Dreaming—on the Theory of Language-on Fable and Romance on the Attachments of Kindred—and his Evidences of Christianity, and Elements of Moral Science, display many instances of a vigorous understanding, of a discriminating judgment, of extensive information, of sound criticism, and of sincere and unaffected piety, set off with an elegant and animated style; so that his works are, perhaps, as well fitted as any in the language for initiating the young student in the various branches of mental philosophy.

“ In Beattie’s Essay on Truth he has been charged with railing, rather than reasoning, and with having interlarded his language too profusely with the pungency of acrimony, for the uninterrupted coolness becoming a philosophical discussion. But in this (whether defensibly or not, is a different question) he acted from principle, and not from passion. He viewed his antagonists in the light that we view the thief or the robber, who endeavours to deprive us of our property; and conceiving that they had intentionally attempted the most irreparable of injuries, he was of opinion that their attacks ought to be repelled with a warm earnestness of manner. But whoever will read his letters on this subject, contained in Sir William Forbes's memoir of his life, will soon be satisfied that he was incapable of cherishing a hostile disposition in his heart.” The memoir of Beattie in “ The Encyclopedia Britannica” is copious and interesting, and contains all the material facts in the history of his life, with some admirable remarks on his character and works. The biographical sketch of him in Carey's “ Lives of the Poets," from which the materials in this short notice have been principally taken, is also worthy of perusal.

ANNA LETITIA BARBAULD:

BORN, 1743; DIED, 1825.
Bright-eyed fancy hovering o'er,
Scatters from her pictured urn

Thoughts that breathe and words that burn.--Gray. AnnA LETITIA BARBAULD is known to the literary world as one of the most classical, elegant, and useful writers of her time; and whose moral excellences and unaffected piety, endeared her to the admirers of genius and of virtue. She was the eldest child and only daughter of the Rev. John Aikin, a dissenting clergymnan of considerable reputation, and a man of attainments and unblemished character. She was born on the 20th of June, 1743, at the village of Kilworth Harcourt, in Leicestershire. There are some children who evince a love of books, and a desire for the acquisition of knowledge, from their earliest infancy. Mrs. Barbauld was one of this class. Quick in her conceptions, and lively in her fancy, she was always anxious, even from her childhood, to learn something useful. Her intelligent mother alludes to this circumstance, in one of her letters, in these words : “I once indeed knew a little girl who was as eager to learn as her instructors could be to teach her; and who, at two years old, could read sentences and little stories in her wise book, roundly, without spelling; and in half a year more could read as well as most women." This precocity of intellect did not disappear with advancing years, but manifested itself during every period of her life. She was not sent to school to receive the rudiments of her education. In her excellent and accomplished mother, she found both an affectionate parent and a skilful instructor; whilst her father, who had great experience and eminent qualifications as a preacher, superintended, with anxious solicitude, her studies in the higher branches of learning. In the middle of the last century, there existed a very general prejudice against permitting females to become learned, especially in the classical languages of antiquity. Miss Aikin disregarded this prejudice, then so prevalent, and induced her father to extend the limits of female

« 이전계속 »