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here his application and abilities were equally conspicuous. In six months, by gaining the first prize in the fourth class, he was raised to the fifth ; and in six months more, upon the same proof of the superiority of his genius, rewarded with another prize, and translated to the sixth ; from whence it is usual in six months more to be removed to the university.
Thus did our young student advance in learning and reputation, when, as he was within view of the university, a sudden and unexpected blow threatened to defeat all his expectations.
On the 12th of November, in 1682, his father died, and left behind him a very slender provision for his widow and nine children, of which the eldest was not yet seventeen years old.
This was a most afflicting loss to the lar, whose fortune was by no means sufficient to bear the expenses of a learned education, and who therefore seemed to be now summoned by necessity to some way of life more immediately and certainly lucrative; but, with a resolution equal to his abilities, and a spirit not so depressed and shaken, he determined to break through the obstacles of poverty, and supply, by diligence, the want of fortune.
He therefore asked and obtained the consent of his guardians to prosecute his studies as long as his patrimony would support him; and, continuing his wonted industry, gained another prize.
He was now to quit the school for the university, but, on account of the weakness yet remaining in his thigh, was, at his own entreaty, continued six months longer under the care of his master, the learned Winschotan, where he once more was honoured with the prize.
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, Thomæ 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 dvowTotalws loquentem, JEOTAPETTWS explicandam; et JEOT PÉTOUav singuli definiant ex placitis suæ metaphysices. Horrebat, inde dominantis secta 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 ad. vanced 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 understand. ings.
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