Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

though it is attested by his friend, Dr. Osterdyke, of whom it cannot be reasonably suspected that he is himself deceived, or that he can desire to deceive others, it must be allowed far to exceed the limits of probability if it be considered, with regard to the methods of education practised in our country, where it is not uncommon for the highest genius, and most comprehensive capacity, to be entangled for ten years, in those thorny paths of literature, which Burman is represented to have passed in less than two; and we must doubtless confess the most skilful of our masters much excelled by the address of the Dutch teachers, or the abilities of our greatest scholars far surpassed by those of Burman.

But, to reduce this narrative to credibility, it is necessary that admiration should give place to inquiry, and that it be discovered what proficiency in literature is expected from a student, requesting to be admitted into a Dutch university. It is to be observed that in the universities in foreign countries, they have professors of philology, or humanity, whose employment is to instruct the younger classes in grammar, rhetorick, and languages; nor do they engage in the study of philosophy, till they have passed through a course of philological lectures and exercises, to which, in some places, two years are commonly allotted.

The English scheme of education, which with regard to academical studies is more vigorous, and sets literary honours at a higher price than that of any other country, exacts from the youth, who are initiated in our colleges, a degree of philological knowledge sufficient to qualify them for lectures

in philosophy, which are read to them in Latin, and to enable them to proceed in other studies without assistance; so that it may be conjectured, that Burman, at his entrance into the university, had no such skill in languages, nor such ability of composition, as are frequently to be met with in the higher classes of an English school; nor was perhaps more than moderately skilled in Latin, and taught the first rudiments in Greek.

In the university he was committed to the care of the learned Grævius, whose regard for his father inclined him to superintend his studies with more than common attention, which was soon confirmed and increased by his discoveries of the genius of his pupil, and his observation of his diligence.

One of the qualities which contributed eminently to qualify Grævius for an instructor of youth, was the sagacity by which he readily discovered the predominant faculty of each pupil, and the peculiar designation by which nature had allotted him to any species of literature, and by which he was soon able to determine, that Burman was remarkably adapted to classical studies, and predict the great advances that he would make, by industriously pursuing the direction of his genius.

Animated by the encouragement of a tutor so celebrated, he continued the vigour of his application, and, for several years, not only attended the lectures of Grævius, but made use of every other opportunity of improvement, with such diligence, as might justly be expected to produce an uncommon proficiency.

Having thus attained a sufficient degree of classical knowledge, to qualify him for inquiries into other sciences, he applied himself to the study of the law, and published a dissertation, “ de Vicesima Hæreditatum,” which he publickly defended, under the professor-Van Muyden, with such learning and eloquence, as procured him great applause.

Imagining, then, that the conversation of other men of learning might be of use towards his farther improvement, and rightly judging, that notions formed in any single seminary are for the greatest part contracted and partial; he went to Leyden, where he studied philosophy for a year, under M. de Volder, whose celebrity was so great, that the schools assigned to the sciences, which it was his province to teach, were not sufficient, though very spacious, to contain the audience that crowded his lectures, from all parts of Europe.

Yet he did not suffer himself to be engrossed by philosophical disquisitions, to the neglect of those studies in which he was more early engaged,, and to which he was perhaps by nature better adapted; for he attended at the same time Ryckius's explanations of Tacitus, and James Gronovius's lectures on the Greek writers, and has often been heard to acknowledge, at an advanced age, the assistance which he received from them.

Having thus passed a year at Leyden with great advantage, he returned to Utrecht, and once more applied himself to philological studies, by the assistance of Grævius, whose early hopes of his genius were now raised to a full confidence of that excellence at which he afterwards arrived.

At Utrecht, in March, 1688, in the twentieth year of his age, he was advanced to the degree of doctor of laws; on which occasion he published a learned dissertation, “ de Transactionibus,” and defended it with his usual eloquence, learning, and success.

The attainment of this honour was far from haying upon Burman that effect which has been too often observed to be produced in others, who, having in their own opinion no higher object of ambition, have elapsed into idleness and security, and spent the rest of their lives in a lazy enjoyment of their academical dignities. Burman aspired to farther improvements, and not satisfied with the opportunities of literary conversation which Utrecht afforded, travelled into Switzerland and Germany, where he gained an increase both of fame and learning.

At his return from this excursion, he engaged in the practice of the law, and pleaded several causes with such reputation, as might be hoped by a man who had joined to his knowledge of the law, the embellishments of polite literature, and the strict ratiocination of true philosophy, and who was able to employ on every occasion the graces of eloquence and the power of argumentation.

While Burman was hastening to high reputation in the courts of justice, and to those riches and honours which always follow it, he was summoned in 1691, by the magistrates of Utrecht, to undertake the charge of collector of the tenths, an office in that place of great honour, and which he accepted therefore as a proof of their confidence and esteem.

[ocr errors]

While he was engaged in this employment, he married Eve Clotterboke, a young lady of a good family, and uncommon genius and beauty, by whom he had ten children, of which eight died young; and only two sons, Francis and Caspar, lived to console their mother for their father's death.

Neither publick business, nor domestick cares, detained Burman from the prosecution of his literary inquiries; by which he so much endeared himself to Grævius, that he was recommended by him to the regard of the university of Utrecht, and accordingly, in 1696, was chosen professor of eloquence and history, to which was added, after some time, the professorship of the Greek language, and afterwards that of politicks; so various did they conceive his abilities, and so extensive his knowledge.

At his entrance upon this new province, he pronounced an oration upon eloquence and poetry.

Having now more frequent opportunities of displaying his learning, he arose, in a short time, to a high reputation, of which the great number of his auditors was a sufficient proof, and which the proficiency of his pupils showed not to be accidental or undeserved.

In 1714 he formed a resolution of visiting Paris, not only for the sake of conferring in person, upon questions of literature, with the learned men of that place, and of gratifying his curiosity with a more familiar knowledge of those writers whose works he admired, but with a view more important, of visiting the libraries, and making those

« ZurückWeiter »