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Having not been able to procure materials for a complete life of Mr. Barretier, and being nevertheless willing to gratify the curiosity justly raised in the publick by his uncommon attainments, we think the following extracts of letters, written by his father, proper to be inserted in our collection, as they contain many remarkable passages, and exhibit a general view of his genius and learning.
John Philip Barretier was born at Schwabach, January 19, 1720-21. His father was a Calvinist minister of that place, who took upon himself the care of his education. What arts of instruction he used, or by what method he regulated the studies of his son, we are not able to inform the publick ; but take this opportunity of intreating those, who have received more complete intelligence, not to deny mankind so great a benefit as the improvement of education. If Mr. Le Fevre thought the method in which he taught his children worthy to be communicated to the learned world, how justly may Mr. Barretier claim the universal attention of mankind to a scheme of
* This article was first printed in the Gentleman's Magazine for 1740.
education that has produced such a stupendous progress! The authors, who have endeavoured to teach certain and unfailing rules for obtaining a long life, however they have failed in their attempts, are universally confessed to have, at least, the merit of a great and noble design, and to have deserved gratitude and honour. How much more then is due to Mr. Barretier, who has succeeded in what they have only attempted ? for to prolong life, and improve it, are nearly the same. have all that riches can purchase, is to be rich; if to do all that can be done in a long time, is to live long; he is equally a benefactor to mankind, who teaches them to protract the duration or shorten the business of life.
That there are few things more worthy our curiosity than this method, by which the father assisted the genius of the son, every man will be convinced, that considers the early proficiency at which it enabled him to arrive; such a proficiency as no one has yet reached at the same age, and to which it is therefore probable that every advantageous circumstance concurred. At the
years, he not only was master of five languages, an attainment in itself almost incredible, but understood, says his father, the holy writers, better in their original tongues than in his own. If he means by this assertion, that he knew the sense of many passages in the original, which were obscure in the translation, the account, however wonderful, may be admitted ; but if he intends to tell his correspondent, that his son was better acquainted with the two languages of the Bible than with his own, he must be allowed to speak hyperbolically, or to admit that his son had somewhat neglected the study of his native language; or we must own, that the fondness of a parent has transported him into some natural exaggerations.
age of nine
Part of this letter I am tempted to suppress, being unwilling to demand the belief of others to that which appears incredible to myself; but as my incredulity may, perhaps, be the product rather of prejudice than reason, as envy may beget a disinclination to admit so immense a superiority, and as an account is not to be immediately censured as false, merely because it is wonderful, I shall proceed to give the rest of his father's relation, from his letter of the 3d of March, 1729-30. He speaks, continues he, German, Latin, and French, equally well. He can, by laying before him a translation, read any of the books of the Old or New Testament in its original language, without hesitation or perplexity. He is no stranger to biblical criticism or philosophy, nor unacquainted with ancient or modern geography, and is qualified to support a conversation with learned men, who frequently visit and correspond with him.
In his eleventh year, he not only published a learned letter in Latin, but translated the travels of Rabbi Benjamin from the Hebrew into French, which he illustrated with notes, and accompanied with dissertations; a work in which his father, as he himself declares, could give him little assistance, as he did not understand the rabbinical dialect.
The reason, for which his father engaged him in this work, was only to prevail upon him to write a fairer hand than he had hitherto accustomed himself to do, by giving him hopes, that, if he should translate some little author, and offer a fair copy of his version to some bookseller, he might, in return for it, have other books which he wanted and could not afford to purchase.
Incited by this expectation, he fixed upon the Travels of Rabbi Benjamin, as most proper for his purpose, being a book neither bulky nor-common, and in one month completed his translation, applying only one or two hours a day to that particular task. In another month, he drew up
the principal notes; and, in the third, wrote some dissertations upon particular passages which seemed to require a larger examination.
These notes contain so many curious remarks and inquiries, out of the common road of learning, and afford so many instances of penetration, judgment, and accuracy, that the reader finds in every page some reason to persuade him that they cannot possibly be the work of a child, but of a man long accustomed to these studies, enlightened by reflection, and dextrous by long practice in the use of books. Yet, that it is the performance of a boy thus young, is not only proved by the testimony of his father, but by the concurrent evidence of Mr. Le Maitre, his associate in the church of Schwabach, who not only asserts his claim to this work, but affirms that he heard him at six years of age explain the Hebrew text as if it had been his native language; so that the fact is not to be doubted without a degree of incredulity, which it will not be very easy to defend.
This copy was however far from being written with the neatness which his father desired; nor did the booksellers, to whom it was offered, make
proposals very agreeable to the expectations of the young translator ; but after having examined the performance in their manner, and determined to print it upon conditions not very advantageous, returned it to be transcribed, that the printers might not be embarrassed with a copy so difficult to read.
Barretier was now advanced to the latter end of his twelfth year, and had made great advances in his studies, notwithstanding an obstinate tu. mour in his left hand, which gave him great pain, and obliged him to a tedious and troublesome method of cure ; and reading over his performance, was so far from contenting himself with barely transcribing it, that he altered the greatest part of the notes, new-modelled the dissertations, and
aug. mented the book to twice its former bulk. The few touches which his father bestowed
upon the revisal of the book, though they are minutely set down by him in the preface, are so inconsiderable that it is not necessary to mention them; and it may be much more agreeable, as well as useful, to exhibit the short account which he there gives of the method by which he enabled his son to show so early how easy an attainment is the knowledge of the languages, a knowledge which some men spend their lives in cultivating, to the neglect of more valuable studies, and which they seem to regard as the highest perfection of human nature.
What applauses are due to an old age, wasted in a scrupulous attention to particular accents and etymologies, may appear, says his father, by seeing how little time is required to arrive at such an