Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

of age, he was led to entertain hopes of future improvement from the following circumstance. A neighbouring schoolmaster, calling at the school where he was then endeavouring to put vowels and consonants together, was desired by the teacher to assist in hearing a few of the lads their lessons : Adam was the last that went up, not a little ashamed of his own deficiency: he however “ hobbled” through his lesson, though in so indifferent a manner that the teacher apologised to the stranger, and remarked, that that lad was a grievous dunce. The assistant, clapping young Clarke on the head, said, Never fear, sir; this lad will make a good scholar yet. This was the first thing that checked his own despair of learning, and gave him hope. But all in vain ; for though he exerted himself diligently, he could not get any insight into the mysteries of the Latin grammar, not one syllable of which was he taught to understand while committing it to memory. He thus describes his troubles and his extraordinary emancipation ; which may furnish curious matter for reflection to those who addict themselves to the study of the anomalies of the human mind.

" This became so intolerable, that he employed two whole days and a part of the third in fruitless endeavours to commit to memory two lines, with their construction, of what appeared to him useless and incomprehensible jargon. His distress was indescribable, and he watered his book with his tears : at last he laid it by, with a broken heart, and in utter despair of ever being able to make any progress. He took up an English Testament, sneaked into an English class, and rose with them to say a lesson. The master perceiving it, said in a terrific tone, · Sir, what brought you here? where is your Latin Grammar?' He burst into tears, and said, with a piteous tone, I cannot learn it. He had now reason to expect all the severity of the rod : but the master, getting a little moderate, perhaps moved by his tears, contented himself with saying, Go, sirrah, and take up your grammar: if you do not speedily get that lesson, I shall pull your ears as long as Jowler's (a great dog belonging to the premises), and you shall be a beggar to the day of your death.' These were terrible words, and seemed to express the sentence of a ruthless and unavoidable destiny. He retired, and sat down by the side of a young gentleman with whoin he had been in class, but who, unable to lag behind with his dulness, requested to be separated, that he might advance by himself. Here he was received with the most bitter taunts, and poignant insults. "What! have you not learned that lesson yet? O what a stupid ass! You and I began together: you are now only in As in præsenti, and I am in Syntax!' and then, with cruel mockings, began to repeat the last lesson he had learned. The effect of this was astonishing -young Clarke was roused as from a lethargy; he felt, as he expressed himself, as if something had broken within him : bis mind in a moment was all light. Though he felt indescribably mortified, he did not feel indignant : what, said he in himself, shall I ever be a dunce, and the butt of those fellows' insults! He snatched up his book, in a few moments committed the lesson to memory, got the construction speedily; went up and said it, without missing a word !- took up another lesson, acquired it almost immediately, said this also without a blemish, and in the course of that day wearied the master with his so often repeated returns to say lessons; and committed to memory all the Latin verses, with their English construction, in which beavy and tedious Lilly has described the four conjugations, with their rules, exceptions, &c. &c. Nothing like this bad ever appeared in the school before—the boys were astonished_admiration took the place of mockings and insult, and from that hour, it may be said from that moment, he found his memory at least capable of embracing every subject that was brought before it, and his own long sorrow was turned into instant joy.

“ For such a revolution in the mind of a child, it will not be easy to account. He was not idle, and though playful never wished to indulge this disposition at the expense of instruction_his own felt incapacity was a most oppressive burden ; and the anguish of his heart was evidenced by the tears which often flowed from his eyes. Reproof and punishment produced neither change nor good, for there was nothing to be corrected to which they could apply. Threatenings were equally unavailing, because there was no wilful indisposition to study and application ; and the fruitless desire to learn shewed at least the regret of the want of that ability for the acquisition of which he would have been willing to have made any kind of sacrifices.

" At last this ability was strangely acquired, but not by slow degrees; there was no conquest over inaptitude and dulness by persevering and gradual conflict; the power seemed generated in a moment, and in a moment there was a transition from

darkness to light, from mental imbecility to intellectual vigour, and no means nor excitements were brought into operation but those mentioned above. The reproaches of his school-fellow were the spark which fell on the gunpowder and inflamed it instantly. The inflammable matter was there before, but the spark was wanting. This would be a proper subject for the discussion of those who write on the philosophy of the human mind.

“ This detail has been made the more particular, because he ever considered it as one of the most important circumstances in his life; and he has often mentioned it as a singular Providence, which gave a strong characteristic colouring to his subsequent life.” pp. 32–35.

Mr. Clarke's father eked out the pittance which he derived from his profession as a village schoolmaster, by cultivating a little farm of ungrateful soil, on which his sons toiled with him. The good schoolmaster was a great admirer of Virgil's Georgics, and managed his land upon the principles therein laid down, not reflecting that Ireland was not Italy. Adam and his brother worked a part of the day on the farm, and studied the rest; and soon gained such an avidity for reading, that they saved all their pence and halfpence to buy books to gratify it, and ultimately formed a little library, containing—we give the titles of the books as they comeReading made easy ; Dilworth's Spelling-book; The famous and delightful History of Tom Thumb; Jack the Giant Killer; Jack Horner; Rosewall and Lilly Ann; Guy Earl of Warwick ; The Seven Wise Masters and Mistresses; The Nine Worthies of the World; Thomas Hickathrift; Captain James Hind; Babes in the Wood; Seven Champions of Christendom; Sir Francis Drake, and many other works equally select and valuable. Having procured an old copy of Littleton's Dictionary, he made himself, at a very early age, entire master of all the proper names ; so that there was neither person nor place in the classic world, of which he could not give a ready account.

Dr. Clarke entertained several peculiar notions, among which we must class his sentiments upon the study of such books as the above; for he says:

“ According to the present mode of education, most of these articles would be proscribed, as calculated to vitiate the taste and give false impressions; especially books of enchantment, chivalry, &c. But is it not better to have a deeply rooted belief of the existence of an eternal world, of God, angels and spirits, though mingled with such superstition as naturally cleaves to infant and inexperienced minds, and which maturer judgment, reflection, and experience, will easily correct, than to be brought up in a general ignorance of God and heaven, of angels, spirits, and spiritual influence; or in scepticism concerning the whole? There is a sort of Sadducean education now highly in vogue, that is laying the foundation of general irreligion and Deism ? Although it may not quadrate with certain received maxims, it may be here safely asserted, that it was such reading as the above, that gave A. Clarke his literary taste, and bent his mind to literary, philosophical, and metaphysical pursuits. He himself has been known to observe, Had I never read those books, it is probable I should never have been a reader, or a scholar of any kind : yea, i doubt much, whether I should ever have been a religious man. Books of enchantments, &c., led me to believe in a spiritual world, and that if there were a devil to hurt, there was a God to help, who never deserted the upright: and, when I came to read the Sacred Writings, I was confirmed by their authority in the belief I had received, and have reason to thank God that I was not educated under the modern Sadducean system.'” pp. 44, 45.

Of two bad things, it is not requisite for us to decide which is the worst : it is enough to know, that, if both are bad, both should be avoided. But did it never occur to Dr. A. Clarke, that if the Sadducean education left an awful blank, the superstitious education prepared the way for a perilous recoil ? For if a child " was led to believe in a spiritual world, and that there was a devil to hurt and a God to help,” by reading “ books of enchantment,” was there not the obvious danger, that when he saw that the records which had “ led,” in whole or in part, to this belief, were merely works of idle fiction, he might begin to surmise that the belief itself was founded on no better basis, and thus discard the Revelation of God as he discarded the fables of the nursery? So far, indeed, from habits of credulous wonder being favourable to the cause of true religion, they prepare the mind for every thing absurd, superstitious, and fanatical; but they have no tendency to spiritualize the affections, or to open the understanding to receive the blessed Gospel of Jesus Christ. We need not add, what a powerful weapon they furnish to the scorner; for what will the scoffers at Christianity say, when they find Dr. A. Clarke seriously asserting, in his matured years, that he “ much doubts whether he should ever have been a religious man," but for reading Jack the Giant Killer, and similar productions. It was not thus that the Lord opened the heart of Lydia : and since it is the Holy Spirit who alone can make any one “a religious man," it is, to say the least, not a little strange to suppose that He should employ ridiculous fabrications to aid His purpose. We can readily believe that Dr. Clarke received, as he says, his first taste for Oriental literature by reading the Arabian Nights' Entertainments; and that he wished to acquaint himself more particularly with a people whose customs and manners, both civil and religious, were so strange and curious; and never lost sight of this object“ till Divine Providence opened the way, and placed the means in his power, to gain some acquaintance with the principal languages of the East." Nor shall we question the extraordinary benefits which he says that he received from the Fables of Æsop, and the Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; the latter of which he read as a real history, and from it “ learned more expressly his duty to God and to his parents, and a firmer belief in Divine Providence, than from all he heard or read from books or men during his early years; so that he took care to put this work into the hands of his own children as soon as they could read.” But his mixing up idle romances with the work of the Divine Spirit, as he appears to do in the above statement, by making the one assist the other, we can only ascribe to that occasional eccentricity of opinion from which this excellent and learned and exemplary man was not exempt, and which we attribute to the defects of his education and the disadvantages of his early life. When we read the catalogue of his juvenile library, and reflect upon the darkness and prejudices of the people among whom he spent his infant years, we rather wonder that he ever emerged from his intellectual prison, and became remarkable for strength of understanding and solidity of judgment, than that he retained an air of origi. nality, and sometimes allowed himself—as in his strange notion that the serpent that tempted Eve was a monkey- to take up opinions far removed from common place, and which it required some genius or curious research to hit upon, and considerable moral courage to avow and defend. The fol. lowing passage in his life, when a child of only eight years of age, will shew that his mind was of a very extraordinary cast.

“ As he had heard and read much of enchantments and enchanters, so he had heard much of magic and magicians. Whether there were any thing real in their pretended science he could not tell: but his curiosity prompted him strongly to enquire. He had heard of the occult philosophy of Cornelius Agrippa, and wonderful tales his school-fellows had told relative to this book;—that it was obliged to be chained to a large block, else it would fly, or be carried away, &c.'

“ Hearing that a school-master at some miles distance had a copy, he begged bis father to write a letter to the gentleman, requesting the loan of the book for a few days. Though he knew not the road, and was only about eight years of age, yet he equipped himself for the journey; and when his mother said, Adam, you must not attempt to go; you will be lost, for you know not the road,' he replied, Never fear, mother, I shall find it well enough. . But you will be so weary by the time you get there, that you will not have strength to return;' to which he answered, Never fear, mother: if I can get there and get the book, I hope to get as much out of it as will bring me home without touching the ground. The little fellow had actually made up his mind to return to his home on the back of an angel ; he was however disappointed; the man refused to lend the book.

“ This disappointment only served to whet and increase his curiosity; and an occurrence shortly after took place, which in some measure crowned his wishes as to a sight of this book. A family of travelling tinkers or iron founders,-makers of small iron pots,-came to the country. It was currently reported of them, that they were all conjurors, and possessed some wonderful magical books. Adam got leave from his parents to visit them. He found a man, his wife, and a tall well made son of about twenty years of age, and several other children, two of whom were dumb, encamped in a forsaken house, where, for the time being, they had erected a furnace and were hard at work. Adam's errand was soon known, and the father, a very intelligent man, began to entertain him with strange relations of what might be done by spells, figures, diagrams, letters, fumigations, &c. &c. All this he heard with raptures, and enquired into the particulars :- these were sparingly related, and he was told to come tbe next day. He went accordingly, and was well received, and to his inexpressible joy, a copy of the three books of Cornelius Agrippa's Occult Philosophy was produced. He touched it with fear, and read it with trembling, and asked liberty to take some notes, which was conceded. In this way, studying, talking, looking for simples, and preparing for operations, he spent several days; this eccentric community cheerfully dividing, with this indefatigable student, their morsel of homely fare. Every night, however, he returned home; and early in the morning revisited these occult philosophers. At length, when they had supplied all the adjacent place with their manufacture, they removed to another part of the country, entirely out of his reach; and he returned laden with spoils, for such he esteemed them; and having, as he supposed, the bounds of bis knowledge considerably enlarged. His instructor, however, had told him that there was a fourth book of the incomparable Cornelius Agrippa, without which, as it contained the practice of the art, it would be useless to attempt any operations. This was discouraging ; but it could not be remedied, and so he nearly remitted all study of the science, as he was unacquainted with the practical part, till he should be able to meet with this fourth book.

“ The notes which he took at this time were very imperfect, as he had not learned to write, so as to make them very intelligible : but his brother copied all fair; and by the help of Adam's descriptions, made those little entries pretty correct.

“ He was persuaded the whole was innocent, for every thing seemed to be done with a reference to, and dependence upon, God. By his terrible name all spirits were to be raised, employed, bound, and loosed. The science appeared to connect both worlds, and bring about a friendly intercourse between disembodied and embodied spirits: and by it those which were fallen and wicked were to be made the servants and vassals of the good and holy.

“ This view of the subjeet tended greatly to impose on his mind; but happening about this time to read an answer, in a book entitled The Athenian Oracle, to the question,– Is that magic lawful whose operations are performed in the name of God, and by solemn invocations of his power, &c. &c. ?' The answer was, No: for, concerning such things, our Lord has said: Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name 'done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you ; depart from me ye that work iniquity.' Matt. vii. 22, 23.

“ This had a proper effect, and made him proceed afterwards with caution in all these occult matters; nor did he ever attempt to use any kind of magical incantations." pp. 47–50.

This was but a childish mistake, in an attempt to find out wisdom in a wrong road; but, what is more remarkable, he adds, that“ many years after he investigated the subject still more minutely :" so that he did not easily divest his mind of the impression of its being a matter of some importance; nor even at the last does he speak of it as altogether an absurdity, but only says that “ he saw all that could be termed the use and abuse of it.” What the “use” is, he does not specify ; but it shews the baneful effect of wrong early associations, that a mind so powerful should have thought the matter worth serious investigation, or that he should have come to the conclusion that there was any good “use” whatever, in what is only an “ abuse” of reason and common sense, and receives no sanction from Divine Revelation.

There was, however, one“ use," we must acknowledge-namely, to terrify superstitious plunderers ; for, a report spreading in the neighbourhood that the young Clarkes had such sovereign magical powers, and such spells set in their house, garden, and fields, that, “ if any person came to plunder or steal, he would be arrested by the power of those spells, and not be able to move from the spot in which he began his depredations till sun-rise the next morning,” their father's property was rendered secure from depredation. Previously to this, many things were stolen, particularly poultry; but after, nothing was ever taken ; and the family became so secure, that for months together they neither bolted nor locked their doors ; nor was it necessary. “ Sadducean " thieves, as modern plunderers probably are, would scarcely have been restrained by such imaginary barriers ; but the incident shews the ignorance and degrading superstition of the peasantry, both of Great Britain and Ireland, even within the last fourscore years. The progress of education will cure this evil;-let us take care that education be so conducted as not to engender others.

As the circumstance we have just mentioned is rapidly changing the moral and intellectual aspect of the country, so that a few years hence the customs of the last generation will scarcely be remembered, it may not be uninteresting to record the following memorial of the habits of the Irish peasantry, as described by Dr. A. Clarke from the vivid recollections of his childhood and youth. The passage is particularly noticeable from its literary and historical bearings, as well as in connexion with those efforts to dispel the darkness of Ireland, which, we trust, will speedily substitute Scriptural reading, or at least books of instructive entertainment, for the wild tales of Erse, Scandinavian, or any other barbarous mythology, or the absurd fables of Popish legends.

“ It may be proper (Dr. Clarke speaks, though, as before mentioned, in the third person to give here some account how the peasantry spend their long winter's evenings in that part of Ireland in which young Clarke was born and educated.

“ The young people of the different families go night about to each other's houses, and while the female part are employed in carding and spinning, the master and elder males in weaving linen cloth, and some of the smaller children in filling the bobbins, called there quills, and one holding the lighted wooden candle-a thin lath split from a block of bog fir, called there a split-a grandfather, grandmother, or some other aged person tells tales of other times: chiefly respecting the exploits of their ancestors, especially of Fiol ma cool (Fingal) and his family, and their wars with the Danes. Some of these tales employ two or three hours in the telling. And although this custom prevailed long before any thing was heard of Macpherson, and his Fingal and Ossian, and their heroes; yet similar accounts to his relations were produced in the Noctes Hibernicæ of these people. It is true that in these there were many wild stories which are not found in Macpherson, but the substance was often the same. Perhaps this may plead something in favour of Macpherson's general accuracy: be did not make all his stories, but he may have greatly embellished them. As for the existence of epic poems in those times, either in Ireland or in the Scotch Highlands, it is a fiction too gross to be credited: nothing like these appear in the best told tales of the most intelligent Shenachies; which they tell as having received them from their fathers, and they from their fathers, and so up to an impenetrable antiquity.

WÁ. C. has been heard to say :-- The Gælic tales are of such a nature, and take possession of the heart and memory so forcibly, that they may be related by different persons again and again, without omitting any one material circumstance. I have heard some of these tales, the telling of which took up three full hours, that I could repeat, and have repeated afterwards, in different companies, without the loss of a single sentence. I have, in telling such, done little else than give a verbal relation, only mending the language, where it appeared particularly faulty.' But were those tales, to which you refer, told in verse ? No; they were all in prose : but they might have been originally in verse; for the persons who related them translated them out of their maternal tongue, which was Irish, alias Gælic. I asked no questions relative to the form in which they existed in the original ; because I did not know that any thing depended on it; for of Macpherson and his Ossian, and the controversy on that subject, no man bad then heard.

“ In one of those tales which relates to Fion ma cool (Fingal), there is a statement of his conversion by the preaching of St. Patrick. When the chief of Erin presented himself before the Saint, he found him very decrepit, and obliged to support himself on two crutches, while he performed the ceremony of baptism. When about to sprinkle the water upon Fingal's head, the Saint was obliged to shift his ground, in order to stand more commodiously by the Chief. In doing this he unwittingly placed the pike of his crutch upon Fion's foot : the ceremony being ended, when St. Patrick was about to move away, he found the end of his crutch entangled

« VorigeDoorgaan »