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Early Age of Great Men. Short Term of their Lives. Newton; Gre
gory; Torricelli; Pascal ; Cowper; Burns ; Byron ; Sydney ; Ot
way ; Collins; Mozart; Raphael ; Correggio ; Politian ; Mirandola. CONSIDERABLE as are the disadvantages which those persons have to contend with who begin their acquaintance with books only late in life, it ought not to be forgotten, on the other hand, that all the chances of the race are not against them. The time they have lost, and are anxious to redeem, of itself gives a stimulus that will make up for many disadvantages. Then, although they have not yet learned much from books, they have nevertheless learned of necessity a great deal from other sources; and they come to their studies, too, with faculties, which, if not quite so pliant as those of childhood, have much more vigour and comprehension. And as for the comparative shortness of the space which they may reasonably count upon as being still left to them for their new pursuit, after the years they have already spent, as it were, in sleep, we would remark that in a right view of the subject, this is truly a little matter.
Between the ultimate point of discovery, and the place we now occupy on the ascent towards it, the steps are so inconceivably many, as, with regard to us, that they may be most truly described as interminable. So far as we have experience, or can conceive, of knowledge, it is an expanse ever widening before us and around us. Its horizon seems not only always as distant as ever, but always becoming more distant the more we strive to approach it.
one discovery is merely the opening of a road to other discoveries; and the lifting of us at the same time to a new eminence, from which we see a broader domain than before, both of the known and of the unknown. It is the attainment of a comparatively small portion of knowledge only, that even the longest life can compass; and the shortest is sufficient for the attainment of some portion. In other words, the pleasure belonging to the acquisition of knowledge is one which all may enjoy who choose, let the time of life at which they commence the pursuit of it be what it may. In so far, therefore, as we are to be allured by this temptation, it matters not, as we have said, whether we find ourselves in the morning or in the evening of our days, when we would yield ourselves up to its influence. If we were even certain that we had but a few years longer to live, it would still offer, for what leisure we could spare from other duties, the most delightful as well as the most ennobling of all occupations.
Such considerations we would address to the generality of those whose attention may not have been attracted to literature till late in life. But even to him who feels within himself the ambition, and something of the power, of high intellectual achievement, and only regrets that so many of his years have been lost in other pursuits before he has had any opportunity of turning to this, we would say that the field in which he longs to distinguish himself is still open for his admission, and its best prizes waiting to be won by him, if only his ardour and courage do not fail.
When their is a real superiority of faculties, it is wonderful how much has often been accomplished even in a very few years devotedly given to the pursuit of eminence. Some of the greatest men that ever lived have either died early, or might have done so for their fame. NEWTON
himself had completed many of his grand discoveries and laid the foundation of all of them, before he had reached his twenty-fifth year; and, although he lived to a great age, may be said to have finished all that was brilliant in his career at the early period of forty-five. After this, it has been remarked, that he wrote nothing, except some further explanations and developements of what he had previously published. But to go to other great names: JAMES GREGORY, the celebrated inventor of the reflecting telescope, was suddenly struck blind in his thirtyseventh year, while observing the satellites of Jupiter, and died a few days after. TorriceLLI, whose famous discovery of the barometer we have already mentioned, and who had deservedly acquired the reputation of being in every respect one of the greatest natural philosophers of his time, after the world had lost the illustrious Galileo, died at the age of thirty-nine. PASCAL, who first shewed the true use and value of Torricelli's discovery,* and who has ever been accounted, for his eminence both in science and in literature, one of the chief glories of France, as he would have been of any country in which he had appeared, was cut off at the same early age. Nay, in his case, the wonder is greater still; for he passed the last eight years of his life, as is well known, in almost uninterrupted abstinence from his wonted intellectual pursuits. Under the influence of certain religious views, operating upon a delicate and excitable temperament, and a frame exhausted by long ill-health and hard study, he, most mistakingly, conceived these pursuits to be little better than an abuse of his time and faculties—as if it were criminal in man' to employ those powers which his Creator has given him, in a way so well fitted
to purify and elevate his nature, and to fill him with sublimer conceptions, both of the wonderful universe around him, and of the Infinite Mind that formed it. It ought not to be forgotten, however, that it was during this period of depression and seclusion that he wrote and published his celebrated · Provincial Letters,' an attack upon the casuistry of the Jesuits, which, strange to say; is a work not only distinguished by all that is admirable in style and reasoning, but abounding in the most exquisite wit and humour, which the splendid enthusiast intermingles with his dexterous and often eloquent argumentation, apparently with as much light-heartedness, and as natural án ease, as if he had been one the flow of whose spirits had scarcely yet known what it was to be disturbed either by fear or sorrow. So false a thing, often, is the show of gaiety-or rather so mighty is the
power of intellectual occupation—to make the heart forget for the time its most prevailing griefs, and to change its deepest gloom to sunshine. Thus, too, it was that our own CowPER owed to his literary efforts almost the only moments of exemption he enjoyed from a depression of spirits extremely similar, both in its origin and effects, to that under which Pascal laboured; and, while the composition of his great poem, "The Task,' and his translations of the Iliad and Odyssey, suspended even for months and years the attacks of the disease, his inimitable John Gilpin,' for a shorter interval, absolutely transformed his melancholy into riotous merriment. Cowper affords us also another example of how much may be done in literature, and in the acquirement of a high name in one of its highest departments, even by the dedication to it of only a comparatively small portion of a life-time. He had received a regular education; but after leaving school threw away the next twenty or thirty years
of his life almost in doing nothing. When the first volume of his poems appeared, the author was above fifty years old; and it was after this that all his more celebrated pieces were written—and that, too, although the eighteen years that intervened before his death were, in regard to both his body and mind, little better than a long disease.” Many of our other poets, likewise, whose names are imperishable, have had but a brief term of life allowed them in which to achieve their fame. Sir Thomas Wyatt and Lord Surrey, the great refiners of our language in the reign of Henry VIII., and the first English poets after Chaucer whose works can be said still to survive, died, the former at the age of thirty-eight, and the latter on the scaffold, the last victim of Henry's despotism, at that of thirty-one. The gallant Sir Philip Sydney, the author of various works in prose and verse, but best known by his celebrated pastoral romance, · The Arcadia,' fell at the battle of Zutphen, in the Netherlands, in his thirty-second year. FRANCIS BEAUMONT, the dramatic poet, whose works, written in conjunction with Fletcher, form, indeed, the second glory of the English drama, died in the thirtieth year of his age. Orway had written his Orphan and his “Venice Preserved,' as well as nearly all his other pieces, before he had reached the age of thirty-one; and he died in extreme penury, the consequence, in a great measure, of his irregular and dissolute habits, at thirty-four. COLLINS first published his odes, many of which are among the most exquisite in the language, when only twenty-six, and was but ten years older when he died. Finally, Burns died at the age of thirty-seven, and Byron at that of thirty six. Yet these are all names that will never die.
We will mention only a very few more, distinguished in other departments of art or literature,