« VorigeDoorgaan »
write his life, we may pause, and pronounce “ his character is ambiguous ;" but we shall not hesitate to decide, that Rawleigh knew better how to die than to live. “ His glorious hours," says a contemporary, were his arraignment and execution;"—but never will be forgotten the intermediate years of his lettered imprisonment !
SECRET HISTORY OF RAWLEIGH'S HISTORY OF
THE WORLD, AND VASARI'S LIVES.
An union of talents, differing in their qualities, might carry some important works to a more extended perfection. In a work of great enterprise, the aid of a friendly hand may be absolutely necessary to complete the labours of the projector, who may have neither the courage, the leisure, nor all acquisitions necessary for performing the favourite task which he has otherwise matured. Many great works, commenced by a mastergenius, have remained unfinished, or have been deficient for want of this friendly succour. The public had been grateful to Johnson, had he united in his dictionary the labours of some learned etymologist. Speed's Chronicle owes most of its value, as it does its ornaments, to the hand of Sir Robert Cotton, and other curious researchers, who contributed entire portions. Goguet's esteemed work of the “ Origin of the Arts and Sciences” was greatly indebted to the fraternal zeal of a devoted friend. The still valued books of the Port-royal Society were all formed by this happy union. The secret history of many eminent works would show the advantages which may be derived from this combination of talents, differing in their nature. Cumberland's masterly versions of the fragments of the Greek dramatic poets had never been given to the poetical world, had he not accidentally possessed the manuscript notes of his relative, the learned Bentley. This treasure supplied that research in the most obscure works, which the volatile studies of Cumberland could never have explored; a circumstance which he concealed from the world, proud of the Greek erudition which he thus cheaply possessed. Yet by this literary union, Bentley's vast erudition made those researches which Cumberland could not ; and Cumberland gave the nation a copy of the domestic drama of Greece, of which Bentley was incapable.
There is a large work, which is still celebrated, of which the composition has excited the astonishment even of the philosophic Hume, but whose secret history remains yet to be disclosed. This
extraordinary volume is “ The History of the World, by RAWLEIGII.” I shall transcribe Hume's observation, that the reader may observe the literary phenomenon. They were struck with the extensive genius of the man, who being educated amidst naval and military enterprises, had surpassed in the pursuits of literature, even those of the most recluse and sedentary lives ; and they admired his unbroken magnanimity, which at his age, and under his circumstances, could engage him to undertake and execute so great a work, as his History of the World.” . Now when the truth is known, the wonderful in this literary mystery will disappear, except in the eloquent, the grand, and the pathetic passages interspersed in that venerable volume. We may, indeed, pardon the astonishment of our calm philosopher, when we consider the recondite matter contained in this work, and recollect the little time which this adventurous spirit, whose life was passed in fabricating his own fortune, and in perpetual enterprise, could allow to such erudite pursuits. Where could RAWLEIGH obtain that familiar acquaintance with the rabbins, of whose language he was probably entirely ignorant? His numerous publications, the effusions of a most active mind, though excellent in their kind, were evidently composed by one who was not abstracted in curious and remote inquiries, but full of the daily business and the wisdom of human life. His confinement in the Tower, which lasted several years, was indeed sufficient for the composition of this folio volume, and of a second which appears to have occupied him. But in that imprisonment it singularly happened that he lived among literary characters, with the most intimate friendship. There he joined the Earl of Northumberland, the patron of the philosophers of his age, and with whom Rawleigh pursued his chemical studies; and Serjeant Hoskins, a poet and a wit, and the poetical “ father” of Ben Jonson, who acknowledged that “ It was Hoskins who had polished him ;" and that Rawleigh often consulted Hoskins on his literary works, I learn from a manuscript. But however literary the atmosphere of the Tower proved to RAWLEIGH, no particle of Hebrew, and perhaps little of Grecian lore, floated from a chemist and a poet. The truth is, that the collection of the materials of this history was the labour of