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REVIEW OF BOOKS.
An Account of the Life and Writings of James Beattie,
L. L. D. late Professor of Moral Philosophy and Logic, in the Marischal College and University of Aberdeen : including many of his original Letters. By Sir William Forbes of Pitsligo, Baronet, one of the Executors of Dr. Beattię. 4to, 2 vols. London, 1806.
Dr. Beattie and his biographer are unconscious now. both of censure and praise ; Sir William Forbes died very soon after the publication of these volumes, which give a faithful, feeling, and satisfactory account of Dr. Beattie's life and writings, and, perhaps, some will think too undiscriminating a selection of his epistolary correspondence : but Dr. Beattie's letters, though sometimes upon trifling subjects, cannot be read with out interest, and as his acquaintance was extensive, and included nearly all the literary characters of his day, we are more inclined to thank his biographer than censure him for the copious stores to which he has admitted us.
The works on which Dr. Beattie's reputation is principally founded, are the Minstrel, a poem in every hand, and in alniost every body's inouth ; and the Essay on Truth, a very elaborate composition, which does its author immortal honous, and is one of the best antidotes to infidelity which has ever issued from the press. One of its greatest recommendations is its perspicuity ; the intricate speculations of former writers are thoroughly examined, and by'appeals to facts and experience, by familiar illustrations and examples he solves every difficulty which scepticism has interposed to conceal the trųth, and detects all her arts and fallacies, by tracing the different kinds of evidence up to their first principles.
This admirable performance rendered the doctor very popular, and procured him a pension of 2001. a year. It also was the means of introducing him to a private andience with the King and Queen, an interview of which he has given a particular account, It is curious, and, though it has been published before, our readers we think, will be pleased with an extract froin it,
“ We were received in the most gracious manner possible, by both their Majesties. I had the honour of a conversation with them (no body else being present but Dr. Majendie) for upwards of an hour. on a great variety of topics, in which both the King and Queen joined, with a degree of cheerfulness, affability and ease, that was to me surprising, and soon dissipated the embarrassment which I felt at the beginning of the couference. They both complimented me, in the highest terms, on my“ Essay,” which, they said, was a book they always kept by thein; and the King said he had one copy of it at Kew, and another in town, and immediately went and took it down from a shelf. I found it was the second edition. “I never stole a book but one,” said his Majesty," and that was yours (speaking to me); I stołe it from the Queen, to give it to Lord Hertford to read.” He had heard thathe sale of “ Hume's Essays" had failed, since my book was published ; and I told him what Mr. Strahan had told me, in regard to that matter. He had even heard of my being in Edinburgh, last summer, and how Mr. Hume was offended on the score of iny book. He asked many questions about the second part of the “ Essay,” and when it would be ready for the press. I gave him, in a short speech, an account of the plan of it ; and said, my health was so precarious, I could not tell when it might be ready, as I had many books to consult before I could finish it; but that if my health were good, I thonght I might bring it to a conclusion iu two or three years. He asked, how long I had been in composing my Essay ?" prajsed the caution with which it was written; and said, he did not wonder that it had employed me five or six years. He asked about my poems. I said, there was only one poem of my own, on which I set any value (meaning the “ Minstrel”), and that it was first published about the same time with the “ Essay.” My other poems, I said, were incorrect, being but juvenile pieces, and of little consequence, even in my own opinion. We had much conversation on moral subjects; frono which both their Majesties let it appear, that they were warın friends to Christianity ; and so little inclined to infidelity, that they could liardly believe that any thinking man could really be an atheist, unless he could bring himself to believe that he made himself; a thought which pleased the King exceedingly; and he repeated it several times to the Queen. He asked, whether any thing had been writteu against me. I spoke of the late pamphlet, of which I gave an account, telling him, that I never had met with any man who had read it, except one quaker. This brought on soine discourse about the quakers, whose moderation, and mild behaviour, the King and Queen commended. I was asked many questions about the Scots universities, the revenues of the Scots clergy, their mode of praying and preaching, the medical college of Edmburgh, Dr. Gregory, (of whom I gave a particular character), and Dr. Culien; the length of our vacation at Aberdeen, and the cioseness of our attendance during the winter; the number of stujente that attend my lectures, my mode of lecturing, whether from
uotes, or completely written lectures : about Mr. Hame and Er. Robertso!), and Lord Kinpoull, and the Archbishop of York, &c. &c. &c. His Majesty asked what I thought of my new acquaintance, Lord Dartmouth ? I said, there was something in his air and manner, which I thought not only agreeable, but enchanting, and that he seemed to me to be one of the best of inen ; a sentiment in whicla both their Majesties heartily joined. “They say that Lord Darts mouth is an enthusiast," said the King; but surely he says nothing on the subject of religion, but what every Christian may, and ought to say." He asked, whether I did not think the English language on the decline at present ? I answered in the affirmative; and the King agreed, and named tlıe “ Spectator“ as one of the best stana dards of the laoguage, When I told him that the Scots clergy sometimes prayed a quarter, or even half an hour, at a time, he asked wlaether that did ot lead them into repetitions ? I said it often did. “ That,” said he, “I don't like in prayers; and excellent as our liturgy I think it somewhat faulty in that respect."
Some advances were made to our strenuous and succes, ful advocate for Truth, to tempt him over to the Church of England, but he declined the proposal.
Might it not (says he) have the appearance of levity and insin. cerity, and, hy some, be construed into a want of principle, if I were at these years (for I am now thirty-eight) to make such an important change in my way of life, and to quit without any appurent motive than that of bettering my circumstances, that church of which I have hitherto been a member? If my book has any tendency to do good, as I Hatter myself it has, I would not, for the wealth of the Indies do any thing to counteract that tendency; and I am afraid that tendency might in some measure be counteracted, (at least in this country), if I were to give the adversary the least ground to charge ine with inconsistency."
Dr. Beattie suffered much from doinestic calamity. His wife becaine insane ; and both his sons died, after attaining maturity. His spirits gradually sunk under these afflictions, and the loss of his youngest son, Montagu, affected his mind almost to derangement.
« The death o his only surriving child (says Sir William Forbes) completely unhinged the mind of Dr. Beattie, the first symptom of which, ere many days had elapsed, was a temporary but almost total loss of memory respecting his son. Many times he could not recollect what had become of him; and after searching in every room of the house, he would say to his niece, Mrs. Glennie, “You may think it strange, but I must ask you if I have a son, and where be is? She then felt herself under the painful necessity of bringing to his recollection his son Montagu's sufferings, which always restored hiin to reasou. And he would often, with many tears.express his thankfulness, that he had no child, saying, “ How could I bave borue to see their elegant minds mangled with madness !" Wheö he looked for the last time on the body of his son, he said, " I have now done with the world;" and he ever after seemed to act as if he thought so. For he never applied himself to any sort of study, and answered but few of the letters he received from the
friends whom he most valued. Yet the receiving a letter from an old friend never failed to put him in spirits for the rest of the day. Music, which had been his great delight, he could not endure, after the death of his eldest son, to hear from others; and he disliked his own favourite violoncello. A few months before Montagu's death, he did begin to play a little by way of accompaniinent when Montagu sung : but after he lost him, when lie was prevailed on to touch the violoncello, he was always discontented with his own performance, and at last seemed to be unhappy when he heard it. The only enjoyment he seenied to have was in books, and the society of a few old friends. It is impossible to read the melair choly picture which he draws of his own situation about this time, without dropping a tear of pity over the sorrows and the sufferings of so good a nan thus severely visited by affliction."
After lingering a few years, almost in a state of insensibility, he died in 1803.
Memoirs of M. de Brinboc : containing some licies of
English and Foreign Society. , 12mo. 3 vols. 12s. 60. Cadell and Davies.
This is the production of a superior writer. The incidents are numerous and strikiny, and the interest is powerfully supported. M. de Brinboc is a Frenchman who has been forced to fly from his country on account of his principles. After various adventures on the continent he arrives in London, and we are adınitted to some curious Views of English Sucicty drawn with much skill, and very highly coloured.
The characters are very numerous and happily diso criminated, and tbe style and sentiments are admirable. Poetic Sketches by T. Gent. 12mo. 4s. 61. Yarmouth,
Beart. London, Rivington, 1807. Mr. Gent does not aspire to any high rank as a poet, but his compositions merit the praise of correctness, simplicity, and sometimes of elegance. The following is perhaps one of the most pleasing specimens that the volume affords.
Bow'd down beneath a weary weight of woes,
His head, all hoar with many a winter's snows.
The voice of mis'ry scarce my ear assail'd :
Remembrance check'd him, and his utt'radce fair'd.
For he had known full many a better day;
And when the poor-man at his threshold bent,
But freely shar'd what Providence had sent;
And live to want the mite his bounty gave!
Cervantes Hogy, F.S. M. Vol. III. i2mo. Appleyards, London, 1807.
The sale of the first two volumes of this satire was 80 satisfactory to the publisher, that he has added a third by way of postcript; in which sóine further adventiires of Mr. Merryman, Mr. Windpuff, Mr. BedLoards Mr. Brownbread, Mr. Mimkin, Mr. Turn-anyway, and other notorious worshippers of the Rising Sun are related with the same blunt whimsicality as in the preceding volumes. They have amused us not a little, and we can coinmend in pretty warm terms the parody on a fairy tale, to which the author_has given the title of Prince Georgiskhan, and the Fairy Prudentia. It is ingeniously managed ; the satire is just, and we hope it may prove salutary. Beachy Head: with other Poems, by Charlotte Smith.
Now first published. 12mo. pp. 219. Johnson. 1807.
It was intended to prefix to these poems a few particulars of Mrs. Smith's life ; a design which we are not sorry to learn was abandoned, since we are told, that her inemoirs, in lieu of a scanty account, are likely to appear, with a selection of her correspondence, on a inore enlarged plan, and under the immediate authority of her own nearest relatives.
The principal of these poems is Beachy Head. It is in blank verse, and the genius and pathos of this exquisite poet are frequently to be traced in it, but we do not rank it among her happiest compositions. It is often languid and dilated, and the descriptions possess no novelty. The Studies by the Sea are written with a bolder
of the stanzas are extremely beauc tiful.
What glories on the sun attend,
When the full tides of evening flow,
With amber light, the opal's glow;
Rises in virgin lustre bright,
A partial liue of trembling light