Графични страници
PDF файл

“As to his person and constitution, excepting only the agreeable air of his countenance, and florid head of Aaxen hair, I have little to produce that may be commended. His temperature of body, and his austere course of life, were ill matched, and his complexion agreed with neither; for his face was always tincted with a fresh colour, and his looks vegete and sanguine, and, as some used to jest, his features were scandalous, as shewing rather a madam entravestrie, than a bookworm. But his flesh was strangely flaccid and soft, his going weak and shuffling, often crossing his legs, as if he were tipsey, his sleep, seldom or never, easy, but interrupted with unquiet and painful dreams, the reposes he had were short and by snatches,-his active spirit had rarely any perfect settlement or rest."

His mind seems always to have been in a state of ferment·ation, which fretted “his pigmy body to decay.”

“It is certain he was overmuch addicted to thinking, or else he performed it with more labour and intenseness than other men ordinarily do ; for, in the end, it will appear he was a martyr to study. He scarce ever allowed himself any vacation; what he had, was forced upon him. There was no undertaking, no occurrence, how trivial soever, whereof all the circumstances or emergencies that possibly might concern him, were not valued and revolved in his mind, lest he should be so unhappy as to oversee any, as if mere trifles had been cardinal to the interests of his whole life. If he was to ride to his father's house, walk to church, or make any visit in town, he was in pain about the contigents, and so low as to fret at the fancy he had, that the people in the street looked on him. He was, in a word, the most intense and passionate thinker that ever lived and was in his right mind.”

He shared with the fastidious Gray, to whose character the Doctor's bears a striking resemblance, a great dissatisfaction with his own works, together with a morbid longing after perfection in his productions; and what brings the comparison more home, he had, like the poet, an utter dislike to have his likeness taken. To such a pitch indeed had this disgust risen,

-such unnatural importance did it occupy in his mind,—that he seems to have been haunted with the idea, that the mere impression of his person was laid in wait for; as he actually, every morning, designedly obliterated the print in the bed where he had lain.

“ He was always exceeding thoughtful and full of notions. He could not rest from working upon his designs, and, at the same time, so diffident of the event, that, between impulse and despair, he was like Mahomet in his tomb, or, as they say, Erasmus, hung. Despair had the greatest influence; and it sat so hard upon his spirits, that he desired rather to be utterly forgot, than that any memorial of his dealings in literature should remain, to shew that such a one as he existed, which should not be proof against the teeth of the next ages. After he had the government of himself, he would not endure that a picture should be made of him, though he was much courted and invited by Sir Peter Lely to it. And what was very odd, he would not leave the print in his bed where he had lain, remain undefaced.”

He was also like Gray in this respect—that all his deep and long continued researches came to nothing. The only evidence of the learning and application of both of them, was a heap of notes. Those of Gray have lately seen the light ;-the papers of North were all, by his especial direction, before his death, committed to the flames. If the task had been left to his younger brother, we may guess from his language, and, indeed, from his having disobeyed the injunction, in the only instance within his power,-in spite of “ the pleasant imprecation,”-that the world would have been the better for the industry of this elaborate thinker.

— And must profess under no small concern, that all his books and papers fell not into my hands as those did. It had been a shrewd temptation to have snapt a Parole or trust prejudicial to no account but of the fire. But his humour was to hold all within himself, till he was entirely satisfied that no slip or oversight might give disadvantage to his cause or himself, lest any less guarded words or expressions should escape him. Nothing could have secured him better in that point, than the participation of his friends. In a critic of works, an author has but one eye upon his own; but, upon another's, he hath two, and spectacles to boot. He was so deeply concerned for his cause, as well as his own esteem, that he durst not trust even a friend with either. And he had a dread lest this little note book, of which I have given an account, might happen to stray, and fall into unknown persons' hands, who possibly might misconstrue his meaning. In contemplation of which contigent, he wrote upon it this pleasant imprecation :- I beshrew his heart, that gathers my opinion from any thing he finds wrote here.

After Dr. Barrow's death, Dr. North was appointed to succeed him in the mastership of Trinity, an elevation which might be supposed to put the crown on the honourable ambition of a retired and studious scholar. With his rise to this dignity, however, ended all the happiness which his peculiar temperament had hitherto allowed him to enjoy. In place of retirement, he found solitude ; the social converse in which he had, till now, indulged, seemed unbecoming the gravity of his station; and what more than all tended to render the change a miserable one, he found himself thwarted by the eight senior fellows, who had, during the time of the two last masters, governed the college without interference. When the new master began to exert his authority, the seniors opposed him, and he was quickly


involved in quarrels, which, harrassing his feeble and sensitive frame, hastened his death. Being near his end, he ordered that he should be buried in the outward chapel, that the fellows might trample upon him dead, as they had done living.

The austere and abstemious course of life which he led, would, however, conduce as much as any thing to bring on the fatal sickness which terminated in his death. He is here drawn with the manners of a hermit, and the spirit of a martyr.

“ I have already accounted for his thoughtful and studious course of life, and habitual fulness and care in his mind. But after he came into a post of magistracy, all his solicitudes exasperated, and the ordinary refreshments, which he sometimes met with before, failed. And I must add, that as his course of life, so his diet, was severe to himself, for he was always sober and temperate, and scarce spared the time of eating from thinking. After morning prayer and a solitary dish of coffee, he retired to his study at the end of a gallery, and there he was fast till noon, unless college or university affairs called him out. After his meals, a meagre dish of tea, and then again to his post till chapel and supper; and then if he had any friendly conversation, it was still in a studious way; that is, discoursing of abstruse matters, which, however pleasant to him, kept his head at work. His chief remissions were when some of his nearest relations were with him, or he with them : and then, as they say, he was whole-footed: but this was not often, nor long together. Some of them used to be free with him; and, in his own way, between jest and earnest, tell him he must indulge a little, go abroad, and be free with a glass of wine, with good company, in his college, as he used to be with them : that his selfdenials would endanger his life, and the like. To which sort of discourse, I have heard him return a tradition of Bishop Wren, who, when he was told he must not keep Lent, his body would not bear it, Will it not, said he, then it is no body for me. And the doctor, by his life of perpetual thinking, had settled his mind in a resolution so stiff, that he often seemed rather morose and humoursome, than, as his constant profession was, to be governed by reason. When his friends have been importunate with him, to say (in the common forms of free converse) Why? and for what reason? He hath answered, Reason is to govern me, but my will is a reason to every body else."

Such at length was the state of his health, that he was compelled to withdraw from every thing which might, in the slightest degree, disturb the equanimity of his mind. He could no longer play his part in a college wrangle, which, at first, he had done with a great deal of readiness and decision, for the penalty was a fit. And it is remarkable, that during an occasional interference of this kind, the fatal stroke was inflicted, which soon hurried him to his grave. It was determined in a meeting of the master and seniors, which had not passed without considerable dispute, that two of the students of the college should be admonished for being disorderly. The

master was reprimanding them with more than usual acrimony and warmth, when, in the act of speaking, he dropped on the floor. This fit deprived him of the use of one side, and he never regained the entire use of his faculties. He, however, in some measure, recovered, and dragged on a miserable existence till he died, in 1683, aged a little more than thirty-eight years, and was buried in the ante-chapel, as he had himself directed. After the paralytic stroke, just mentioned, when he had partly come to his senses, he gave to his brother this extraordinary account of his feelings during the access of the fit.

“ He told me the images in his mind during this infliction, as far as he could remember them. First, during his admonishing, he perceived himself to lean towards the left side; and the leg that should have sustained him seemed to have lost its bone, and to be like the finger of a glove; by which it was plain to him, that he must fall, and accordingly he gave way to it. After this, he remembered nothing at all that had happened to him, until, by the help of his mother, he bad taken a little rest. And then, in a dreaming manner, his conceit was, that he had got a strange leg in bed with him, and was much perplexed which way to get rid of it; whether he should call to have it taken away or not. And it was a great while before he could bring himself, even awake, to own it.”

The Biographer then proceeds to narrate the situation of his brother after his partial recovery, and gives this awfully affecting picture of an intellect in ruins :

“ It is an uneasy task, but (according to the profession I make of truth for better or worse) necessary to show the miserable decay of the doctor's thinking and memorial capacities. What is the difference between manhood and puerility, but that the former hath a large stock of useful memoirs, and also strength habituated to action, which the latter wanting, runs after levities, and any thing for variety, without choice, unless appetite or inclination (and even that flows from experience) draws it. Suppose an hurricane to fall upon a sound man's memory, and obliterate great part of his collections, and confuse the rest, as one may imagine a fine poem wrote upon the sands, and much ruffled by the wind-there may be enough left to shew it had been good sense, but the dignity of the verse lost. So the man would lose his judgment of true values, and relapse into a sort of puerility, but still his moral character, that is his will to do good or evil, remains unaltered. This was the case of our good doctor. The seat of his memory was ruffled by, the disease falling upon his brain and nerves, which had made such havoc, that he had no firm notion of himself or of any thing, but had his experience to gather, and his understanding to frame over again. After he could lie awake and think, I guess he had some reflection, that he had been over severe with himself by too much hard study and abstemiousness, which, possibly, brought that disease over him: and then fancied, he musi cure himself by a course clean contrary; and accordingly he thought, that now he must be merry and jolly. Pursuant to this (conjectured) model, the company that assisted about his bed to entertain him, must find merry tales to tell, and if a little smutty, the mirth paid for it. The lighter sort of books and frivolous comedies were read to him, and he heard them with notable attention, and at the quaint passages was usually affected, and often laughed, but (as his visage was then distorted) most deformly. After he was enfranchised from his bed, and had the entertainment they call walking about his chamber, and divers friends and acquaintance came and staid with him, he gathered some little strength. But his levities still continued; and he used to please himself with rehearsing paltry rhymes and fables, and what with difficulty of utterance (for his speech was touched and never perfectly recovered) and what with his unseemly laughing, it was long before he could get any thing well out: and, at last, he made but broken stuff of it. All this was inexpressible grief and mortification to his friends, seeing that dismal alteration. They had known his genius bright; and, in his health, solemn, grave, and instructive; and his mirth, when it happened, not without a flow of pleasant wit, and, as it ought to be, ever decent and without offence, far from all suspicion of a possibility that such levity of humour and discourse should ever appear in him. He seemed as a high flying fowl, with one wing cut. The creature offers to fly, and knows no cause why he should not, but always comes with a side turn down to the ground. The doctor had some remembrances of his former forces, when he could mount up and fly; now, his instruments on one side failing him, he was forced to deal in low concerns and reptile conceits, that scarce rose from the ground.”

We shall add nothing to weaken the effects of a lesson so striking.

Come, man!
Hyperbolized nothing! know thy span;
Take thine own measure here, down, down, and bow
Before thyself in thy idea, thou
Huge emptiness contract thy bulk, and shrink
All thy wild circle to a point !

ART. VII. Hesperides : or the Works both humane and divine of Robert Herrick, Esq.

Effugient aridos carmina postra rogos. Ovid. London, 1648, 8vo. pp. 398. . Ilis Noble Numbers: or his Pious Pieces, wherein (amongst other

things ) he sings the Birth of Christ, and sighes for his Saviour's Sufferings on the Crosse. London, 1647, 8vo. pp. 79.

There are no incidents in the life of Robert Herrick so remarkable as to make it desirable to record them in this place;

« ПредишнаНапред »