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Devotion to Knowledge in extreme poverty. Erasmus; Kepler;
Schaeffer; Bullinger; Musculus; Postellus; Castalio; Adrian VI.; Perrier; Claude Lorraine ; Salvator Rosa ; Marmontel ; Hoche; Lagrange ; Dr. Johnson; Dr. Parr ; Spagnoletto; Le Jay; Castell ; Davies; Tytler; William Davy.-In exile and imprisonment, Ovid; Boethius ; Buchanan; Tasso ; Smart; Maggi ; Le Maistre ; Lorenzini ; Prynne ; Madame Roland; Raleigh ; Lady Jane Grey; James I. (of Scotland); Lovelace.
In attempting to illustrate such a subject as the triumphs of the Love of Knowledge, and to set forth the exceeding might of that passion, the delight with which the indulgence of it is fraught, and the obstacles of all sorts in the way of its gratification which it has so often overcome, the materials which present themselves are so abundant and so various, that the chief difficulty in using them is which to choose. The examples we have already cited may be considered sufficient to shew how perfectly practicable it is to unite the pursuit of literature with that of any description of business or professional occupation. We shall now, therefore, proceed to notice some aspirants after knowledge, who have had other difficulties to struggle with than those arising from either the seducing excitements or engrossing cares and toils of active life.
Anecdotes illustrating the devotion with which knowledge has been pursued under the pressure of severe penury, or other forms of worldly misfortune, are evidences, not of any calamities to which literature has a peculiar tendency to expose its votaries, but rather of the power with which it arms them to conquer and rise superior to calamities. Students, and authors, and men of genius, have had their share
of adversity with others; but few others enjoy their peculiar advantages, if not for warding it off, at least for bearing up against it. The man who is most to be pitied under misfortune, is he whose whole happiness or misery hangs on outward circumstances. The scholar has sources of enjoyment within himself, of which no severity of fortune can altogether deprive him. Hence, a man who is truly in love with philosophy, will often think but lightly of sufferings and privations which would to another be almost intolerable. If his body be in want, his mind has store of riches. When ERASMUS was a poor student at Paris, he was indeed very anxious to be a little richer; but, almost in rags as he was, it was not fine or even comfortable raiment after which he principally longed. “ As soon as I get money,” says he, in a letter to a friend, “I will buy first Greek books, and then clothes.” It is the mind,” says Shakspeare,“ that makes the body rich;” and so the young scholar felt. Of his two contemplated purchases, it was not the clothes, he knew, but the Greek books, that were to bring him any thing permanent, in the way either of enjoyment or distinction.
And similar to those of Erasmus have been the feelings of many another aspirant after intellectual eminence, when struggling, like him, with the inconveniences of indigence, or braving every variety of labour and privation in pursuit of the object on which his heart was set. The illustrious KEPLER spent his life in poverty; yet, amidst all his difficulties, he used to declare that he would rather be the author of the works he had written, than possess the duchy of Saxony. There is hardly any severity of endurance to which ardent spirits have not subjected themselves, under the inspiration of an attachment to literature or the arts. The German naturalist, SCHAEFFER,
was so poor when he entered the University of Halle, that for the first six months of his attendance his whole expenditure did not exceed a few halfpence a day; a little bread, and a few vegetables boiled in water, were his only food; and, although the winter was a very rigorous one, no fire ever warmed his chimney. Yet all this he bore cheerfully, counting the opportunity he enjoyed of pursuing his studies as more than a compensation for it all. This heroism, indeed, has never been uncommon among German scholars. We have already mentioned the cases of Heyne and Winckelman. The latter, according to a practice not unusual among poor students in that country, was wont, while attending the grammar school, to support himself chiefly by singing at night through the streets; and not himself only, but, in a great measure, his father also. But Winckelman's expenses were always on the very humblest scale. Even when his fondest wishes were at last crowned by an opportunity having been afforded him of visiting Rome, he considered himself in possession of an ample revenue in the pension of a hundred crowns, which he was allowed, by his patron Father Rauch, in addition to his board, which he had free. The learned theologian, HENRY BULLINGER, one of the distinguished names of the Reformation, had in like manner supported himself at school for several years by his talents as a street musician. His contemporary and fellow-labourer in the same cause, WOLFGANG MUSCULUS, had commenced his career as a scholar in a similar manner, having for some time sung ballads through the country, and begged his way from door to door, in order to obtain a pittance wherewith to put himself to school; he was at length charitably received into a convent of Benedictine monks, who, greatly to his delight, offered to educate him, and admit him of
their order. Musculus was afterwards, on embracing the tenets of the Lutherans, reduced to such distress, that he was obliged to send his wife to service, and to bind himself apprentice to a weaver of Strasburg, who no sooner discovered his heretical opinions than he turned him out of doors. He had then no other resource but to offer himself as a common labourer to assist in repairing the fortifications of the city. Yet even in this situation he employed every moment he could spare in study; and applied himself, in particular, with so much ardour to the Hebrew language, that he placed himself eventually almost at the head of the scholars by whom that branch of learning was cultivated in his time.
Another great orientalist of that age, and in many respects one of the most extraordinary characters of any age, WILLIAM POSTELLUS, was, when merely a boy, so fond of reading, that he would often, it is related, while engaged with his book, forget to take his meals. Having set out from his native village in Normandy on the road to Paris, in the expectation of finding means to pursue his studies in that capital, he was attacked, in the course of his journey, by robbers, who took from him all the little he had in the world, and used him besides so barbarously, that his vexation, and the wounds he had received, together obliged him to take refuge in an hospital, where he lay for two years before his health was restored. On his recovery, he bent his steps once more towards Paris ; being at the time, however, in such a state of destitution, that he had no way of obtaining wherewithal to buy himself a coat, except by offering his services as a reaper to assist in cutting down the crop which then happened to be ready for the sickle. Having arrived at Paris, he thought himself fortunate in being received as a domestic into the College of St. Barbe, not
doubting that even this situation would afford him, in some degree, those opportunities of improvement which he so ardently longed for. Accordingly, having contrived to get possession of a Greek and a Hebrew grammar, he soon made himself master of both these languages, solely by his own efforts; and, although the fragments of time he could steal from the labours of his humble place were all the leisure he had for study, he afterwards became one of the greatest scholars of his time, being distinguished especially for his knowledge both of ancient and modern languages, of which there was scarcely one that he was not familiar with. To his vast acquirements, however, he added, in the latter part of his life, no little extravagance both of opinion and conduct; and, indeed, some of his notions could have proceeded from nothing else than partial derangement. But it does not belong to our present purpose to pursue this part of his history. Some of his works exhibit an extraordinary mixture of learning and genius, with the most melancholy delusion and absurdity,
SEBASTIAN CASTALIO, whose elegant Latin version of the Scriptures we have mentioned in a former chapter, was for many years of his life so poor, that, having a wife and family to support, he was obliged to employ the whole day in labouring in the fields, and could afford only the earlier part of the morning for study. Yet, even in these circumstances, literature was the great consolation of his life. Calvin, with whom he had quarrelled, having, in the heat of controversy, and in the same spirit of cruelty with which he hunted Servetus to death, allowed himself directly to charge him with theft, because he was in the habit of occasionally bringing home with him a little wood to serve for fuel, was answered by Castalio in a mild but dignified