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THE

MONTHLY REVIEW, For SEPTEMBER, 1806.

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Art. I. An Account of the Life and Writings of James Beattie, LL.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, Bart. One of the Executors of Dr. Beattie. 2 Vols.

4to. 21. 125. 6d. Boards. Constable and Co. Edinburgh; Longman and Co. London. 1806. Hen a small publication with a similar title fell under our

notice some time ago *, we announced the preparation of these more extended memoirs by the respectable Baronet whose name they bear. In stating their contents, we shall avoid repeating those facts and circumstances which we so lately recorded ; and we shall preface our report only by observing that the present author enjoyed advantages and opportunities which were denied to his predecessor ; since he lived in habits of intimate friendship and correspondence with Dr. Beattie, and, in the capacity of his only surviving executor, may justly be considered as the depositary and guardian of his posthumous fame,

In pursuance of the plan adopted by Mason in his Life of Gray, Sir William Forbes unfolds the history and sentiments of his deceased friend in a series of Letters, which he occasionally connects by small links of narrative or annotation. Next to the conversation of eminent men, their private and unrestrained correspondence affords the most faithful transcript of their life and modes of thinking; and, consequently, when duly blended with the reports of the biographer, they impart animation and effect to sketches which would otherwise be deemed dull or uninviting. Here, however, a question of some delicacy naturally occurs; namely, how far we are at liberty to publish the communications of confidential friendship ? In this respect, too many editors have obviously exceeded the bounds of discretion; and the general imitation of their example would materially tend to banish all those pure and ex

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alted emotions, which have their origin in the unreserved interchange of sentiment and affection. We trust, however, that enough of honour is still left among the friends of the great and the learned, to prevent the diffusion of such an evil ; and we shall readily admit, on the other hand, that the world has been innocently amused, and our knowlege of human nature enlarged, by the perusal of letters not originally destined for publication. While the present author specifies some striking proofs of this last assertion, he intimates, at the same time, the laudable moderation and circumspection which he has exercised in his own case. • I have been scrupulous', says he, ‘in not admitting any thing that I thought would hurt the feelings of others; nor any anecdote or opinion which Dr. Beattie himself could have wished to have suppressed. As an Editor, I have not taken the liberty to add a single iota to what Dr. Beattie has written ; but I have thought myself fully warranted in omitting, without scruple, whatever it seemed to me that he would not have permitted to see the light.' It fortunately happens, also, that the general spirit and phraseology of most of the letters, with which we are here presented, are such as will not detract from the reputation of their writer, whether we regard him as a scholar, a philosopher, or a Christian.

In the first section, which traces the Doctor's obscure history from his birth to his removal to Aberdeen, we have some interesting particulars relative to the early period of his life; a period which is so often neglected by the professed biographer, but which, as so frequentlyindicative or even decisive of the future character, it is of much importance to investigate and illustrate. When a mere boy at school, Beattie perused with eagerness the few books to which he could have access, particularly Ogilby's translation of Virgil, which furnished him with the first notions of English versification. It is likewise worthy of record that, at this tender age, he was accustomed to get out of bed and walk about the room, noting any poetical idea that occurred to his fancy. In the divinity hall of his College, he delivered a dis. course which was much applauded, but of which the language, it was allowed, savoured more of poetry than of prose. During his solitude at Fordoun, he delighted to saunter in the fields, to indulge in his meditations, and to draw from the wild and romantic scenery in the neighbourhood some of the finest de. scriptions which are to be found in his poetical compositions. The circumstance of his acquaintance with Mr. Garden, afterward Lord Gardenstown, is thus related :

• To Beattie Mr. Garden became accidentally known, by his having found him one day in his favourite glen, employed in writing with a pencil. On enquiring what he was about, and finding that he was employed in the composition of a poem, Mr Garden's curiosity was attracted, and from that period he took the young bard under his protection. Dr. Beattie has been frequently heard to mention an anecdote which took place in the early part of his acquaintance with that gentleman. Mr. Garden having seen some of his pieces in manuscript, and entertaining some doubt of their being entirely of his own composition, in order to satisfy himself of the abilities of the yonng poet, asked him, with politeness, to translate the invocation to Venus from the first book of Lucretius. In compliance with this request, Beattie retired into the adjoining wood, and in no long time produced the translation, bearing all the marks of original composition, for it was much blotted with alterations and corrections.'

About the same time, he became acquainted with Lord Monboddo, with whom he always maintained a friendly intercourse, although he differed from him on many important questions.

In the second section, we have to attend the subject of these memoirs from his settlement in Aberdeen to the publication of his Essay on Truth, in the year 1770. In the discharge of his Professorial duties, he kept a regular diary of the titles of his Lectures, and of the proceedings of each public meeting; and he laboured by frequent revisals, and by conversation in the Socratic manner, to impress his doctrines on the minds of his pupils : but it was not only to Ethics, Metaphysics, and Logic, that his attention was devoted : we find him also bestowing a considerable portion of his time on works of the imagination, forming those principles relative to poetry, and other departments of taste, which be afterward published in his Essays ; and communicating in his letters many critical remarks on Clarissa, the poems of Ossian, the Nouvelle Eloise, Tasso's Jerusalem Delivered, &c.

The reader will doubtless be gratified with the manner in which Sir William Forbes introduces the subject of his intimacy with his much valued friend :

• It was in the course of this year, 1765, that my acquaintance with Dr. Beattie begao. We first met at the house of our mutual friend, Mr. Arbuthnot, in Edinburgh ; and having occasion to pass some time that autumn in Aberdeenshire, I renewed my intercourse with him there. As those with whom he chiefly associated at Aberdeen were my most intimate friends, we were much together; and that friendship and correspondence took place between us, which I regarded, not only as my pride, but as a source of the purest pleasure ; and I may fairly add, that if I am not a better man for the correspondence and instructive conversation of Dr. Beattie, great will be my condemnation at my last account.

• From that correspondence, therefore, which continued to the end of his days, when the decay of his faculties would not permit him to

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carry

carry it on any longer, I am now enabled to begin to elucidate still farther his writings and his character. • But I am not without my apprehensions here, that I

may be charged with no small degree of vanity for publishing to the world those warm expressions of esteem, affection, and gratitude towards me, which occur in several of the letters addressed to me by Dr. Beattie. And I own I do feel some little pride (an honest pride, I hope) in preserving and recording some testimonies of that favourable opinion which such a man as Dr. Beattie was pleased to entertain of me. I can, however, at the same time assure the reader (as some apology for myself), that I have suppressed much stronger passages of that nature, and a much larger number of them, than I have al. lowed myself to retain.'

We likewise extract the following letter, because it shews. that the Doctor could indulge in humour with a good grace ; though the undeviating gravity of the other epistles, which seldom turn on any lighter subject than criticism, would induce us to believe that gaiety and sprightliness were not inherent in, his constitution. A passage in Pope's Prologue to his Satires. seems, on this occasion, to have been in Dr. Beattie's memory. DR: BEATTIS TO THE HONOURABLE CHARLES BOYD.

“ Aberdeen, 16th November, 1766. " Of all the chagrins with which my present infirm state of health is attended, none afflicts me more than my inability to perform the duties of friendship. The offer which you were generously pleased to make me of your correspondence, flatters me extremely ; but alas ! I have not as yet been able to avail myself of it. While the good weather continued, I strolled about the country, and made many strenue ous attempts to run away from this odious giddiness ; but the more I struggled, the more closely it seemed to stick by me. About a fortnight ago the hurry of my winter business began ; and at the same time my malady recurred with more violence than ever, rendering me at once incapable of reading, writing, and thinking. Luckily I am now a little better, so as to be able to read a page, and write a sentence or two, without stopping; which, I assure you, is a very great matter. My hopes and my spirits begin to revive once more. I flatter myself I'shall soon get rid of this infirmity; nay, that I shall ere long be in the way of becoming a great man. For have I not headachs, like Pope ? vertigo, like Swift? grey hairs, like Homer? Do I not wear large shoes, (for fear of corns) like Virgil and sometimes complain of sore eyes, (though not of lippitude) like Horace ? Am I not at this present writing invested with a garment, not less ragged than that of Socrates ? Like Joseph the patriarch, I am a mighty dreamer of dreams; like Nimrod the hunter, I am an eminent builder of castles (in the air). I procrastinate, like Julius Cæsar ; and very lately, in imitation of Don Quixote, 1 rode a horse ; lean, old, and lazy like Rosinante. Sometimes, like Cicero, I write bad verses ; and sometimes bad prose, like Virgil. . This last instance I have on the authority of Seneca. I am of small stature, like Alexander the Great ; I am somewhat inclinable to fatness, like

Dr.

Dr. Arbuthnot and Aristotle ; and I drink brandy and water, like Mr. Boyd. I might compare myself in relation to many other infirmities, to many other great men i but if fortune is not in Auenced in my favour by the particulars already enumerated, I shall ciespair of ever recommending myself to her good graces. I once had some thought of soliciting her patronage on the score of my resembling great men in their good qualities ; but I had so little to say on that subject, that I could not for my life furnish matter for one wellrounded period : and you know a short ill turned speech is very im• proper to be used in an address to a female deity.

Do not you think there is a sort of antipathy between philosophical and poetical genius? I question whether any one person was ever eminent for both.

Lucretius lays aside the poet when he assumes the philosopher, and the philosopher when he assumes the poet : In the one character he is truly excellent, in the other he is absolutely nonsensical. Hobbes was a tolerable metaphysician, but his poetry is the worst that ever was. Pope's “ Essay on Man” is the finest philosophical poem in the world ; but it seems to me to do more honour to the imagination than to the understanding of its author : I mean, its sentiments are noble and affecting, its images and allusions apposite, beautiful and new : its wit transcendently excellent; but the scientific part of it is very exceptionable. What. ever Pope borrow's from Leibnitz, like most other metaphysical the. ories, is frivolous and unsatisfying : what Pope gives us of his own is energetic, irresistible, and divine. The incompatibility of philosophical and poetical genius is, I think, no unaccountable thing. Poetry exhibits the general qualities of a species; philosophy the particular qualities of individuals. This forms its conclusions from a painful and minute examination of single instances : chat decides instantaneously, either from its own instinctive sagacity, or from a singular and unaccountable penetration, which at one glance sees all the instances which the philosopher must leisurely and progressively scrutinize, one by one. This persuades you gradually, and by detail ; the other overpowers you in an instant by a single effort. Observe the effect of argumentation in poetry; we have too many instances of it in Milton : it transforms the dublest thought into drawling in. ferences, and the most beautiful language into prose : it checks the tide of passion, by giving the mind a different employment in the comparison of ideas. A little philosophical acquaintance with the most beautiful parts of nature, both in the material and immaterial system, is of use to a poet, and gives grace and solidity to poetry; as may be seen in the.“Georgics," “ the Seasons,” and “the Pleasures of Imagination :" but this acquaintance, if it is any thing more than superficial, will do a poet rather harm than good and will give his mind that turn for minute observation, which enfeebles the fancy by restraining it, and counteracts the native energy of judgment by rendering it fearful and suspicious."

The third section, which occupies more than one half of each volume, is intitled, From the publication of the " Essay on Truth” to the death of Dr. Beattie's eldest son, in the year

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1790.

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