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At his removal to the university, the same genius and industry met with the same encouragement and applause. The learned Triglandius, one of his father's friends, made soon after professor of divinity at Leyden, distinguished him in a particular manner, and recommended him to the friendship of Mr. Van Apphen, in whom he found a generous and constant patron.
He became now a diligent hearer of the most celebrated professors, and made great advances in all the sciences; still regulating his studies with a view principally to divinity, for which he was originally intended by his father, and for that reason exerted his utmost application to attain an exact knowledge of the Hebrew tongue.
Being convinced of the necessity of mathematical learning, he began to study those sciences in 1687, but without that intense industry with which the pleasure he found in that kind of knowledge induced him afterwards to cultivate them.
In 1690, having performed the exercises of the university with uncommon reputation, he took his degree in philosophy; and on that occasion discussed the important and arduous subject of the distinct natures of the soul and body, with such accuracy, perspicuity, and subtilty, that he entirely confuted all the sophistry of Epicurus, Hobbes, and Spinosa, and equally raised the characters of his piety and erudition.
Divinity was still his great employment, and the chief aim of all his studies. He read the scriptures in their original languages, and when difficulties occurred, consulted the interpretations of the most ancient fathers, whom he read in order of time, beginning with Clemens Romanus.
In the perusal of those early writers*, he was struck with the profoundest veneration of the simplicity and purity of their doctrine, the holiness of their lives, and the sanctity of the discipline practised by them; but, as he descended to the lower ages, found the peace of Christianity broken by useless controversies, and its doctrines sophisticated by the subtilties of the schools. He found the holy writers interpreted according to the notions of philosophers, and the chimeras of metaphysicians adopted as articles of faith. He found difficulties raised by niceties, and fomented to bitterness and rancour. He saw the simplicity of the Christian doctrine corrupted by the private fancies of particular parties, while each adhered to its own philosophy, and orthodoxy was confined to the sect in power.
* “Jungebat his exercitiis quotidianam patrum lectionem, secundum chronologiam, a Clemente Romano exorsus, et juxta seriem seculorum descendens : ut Jesu Christi doctrinam in N. T. traditam, primis patribus interpretantibus addisceret.
“Horum simplicitatem sinceræ doctrinæ, disciplinæ sanctitatem, vitæ Deo dicatæ integritatem adorabat. Subtilitatem scholarum divina postmodum inquinasse dolebat. Ægerrime tulit, Sacrorum interpretationem ex sectis sophistarum peti; et Platonis, Aristotelis, Thome Aquinatis, Scoti ; suoque tempore Cartesii, cogitata metaphysica adhiberi pro legibus, ad quas castigarentur sacrorum scriptorum de Deo sententiæ. Experiebatur acerba dissidia, ingeniorumque subtilissimorum acerrima certamina, odia, ambitiones, inde cieri, foveri : adeo contraria paci cum Deo et homine. Nihil hic magis illi obstabat ; quam quod omnes asserant sacram scripturam ανθρωποπαθως loquentem, JEOTT PETWs explicandam; et JEOT pétrovar singuli definiant ex placitis suæ metaphysices. Horrebat, inde dominantis sectæ prævalentem opinionem, orthodoxiæ modum, et regulas, unice dare juxta dictata metaphysicorum, non sacrarum literarum; unde tam variæ sententiæ de doctrina simplicissima.” Orig. Edit.
Having now exhausted his fortune in the pursuit of his studies, he found the necessity of applying to some profession, that, without engrossing all his time, might enable him to support himself; and having obtained a very uncommon knowledge of the mathematicks, he read lectures in those sciences to a select number of young gentlemen in the university.
At length, his propension to the study of physick grew too violent to be resisted; and, though he still intended to make divinity the great employment of his life, he could not deny himself the satisfaction of spending some time upon the medical writers, for the perusal of which he was so well qualified by his acquaintance with the mathematicks and philosophy.
But this science corresponded so much with his natural genius, that he could not forbear making that his business which he intended only as his diversion; and still growing more eager as he advanced further, he at length determined wholly to master that profession, and to take his degree in physick, before he engaged in the duties of the ministry
It is, I believe, a very just observation, that men's ambition is generally proportioned to their capacity. Providence seldom sends any into the world with an inclination to attempt great things, who have not abilities likewise to perform them. To have formed the design of gaining a complete knowledge of medicine by way of digression from theological studies, would have been little less than madness in most men, and would have only exposed them to ridicule and contempt.
But Boerhaave was one of those mighty geniuses, to
whom scarce any thing appears impossible, and who think nothing worthy of their efforts but what appears insurmountable to common understandings.
He began this new course of study by a diligent perusal of Vesalius, Bartholine, and Fallopius; and, to acquaint himself more fully with the structure of bodies, was a constant attendant upon Nuck's publick dissections in the theatre, and himself very accurately inspected the bodies of different animals.
Having furnished himself with this preparatory knowledge, he began to read the ancient physicians in the order of time, pursuing his inquiries downwards from Hippocrates through all the Greek and Latin writers.
Finding, as he tells us himself, that Hippocrates was the original source of all medical knowledge, and that all the later writers were little more than transcribers from him, he returned to him with more attention, and spent much time in making extracts from him, digesting his treatises into method, and fixing them in his memory.
He then descended to the moderns, among whom none engaged him longer, or improved him more, than Sydenham, to whose merit he has left this attestation, “ that he frequently perused him, and always with greater eagerness.
His insatiable curiosity after knowledge engaged him now in the practice of chemistry, which he prosecuted with all the ardour of a philosopher, whose industry was not to be wearied, and whose love of truth was too strong to suffer him to acquiesce in the reports of others.
Yet did he not suffer one branch of science to withdraw his attention from others : anatomy did not withhold him from chemistry, nor chemistry, enchanting as it is, from the study of botany, in which he was no less skilled than in other parts of physick. He was not only a careful examiner of all the plants in the garden of the university, but made excursions for his further improvement into the woods and fields, and left no place unvisited where any increase of botanical knowledge could be reasonably hoped for.
In conjunction with all these inquiries he still pursued his theological studies, and still, as we are informed by himself, “proposed, when he had made himself master of the whole art of physick, and obtained the honour of a degree in that science, to petition regularly for a licence to preach, and to engage in the cure of souls," and intended in his theological exercise to discuss this question, “why so many were formerly converted to Christianity by illiterate persons, and so few at present by men of learning.
In pursuance of this plan he went to Hardewich, in order to take the degree of doctor in physick, which he obtained in July 1693, having performed a publick disputation, “ de utilitate explorandorum excrementorum in ægris, ut signorum."
Then returning to Leyden full of his pious design of undertaking the ministry, he found to his surprise unexpected obstacles thrown in his way, and an insinuation dispersed through the university that made him suspected, not of any slight deviation from received opinions, not of any pertinacious adherence to his own notions in