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Abridgment of English History.--Annual Register.-Acquaint
ance with Dr. Johnson.--Anecdotes of a Canon of Lichfield.Mrs. Ann Pitt, Bishop Warburton, Hume, Lord Charlemont, Mr. Fitzherbert.-Connexion with Mr. Gerrard Hamilton.Letter to Mr. Flood.-Documents connected with Mr. Burke's Pension.—Anecdote of Mr. Burke's humanity.
THE reputation of the Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful being quickly diffused through the literary world by the trading critics, as well as by the most eminent private judges of the day, immediately stamped the author's fame as a man of uncommon ingenuity and very profound philosophical investigation; though some of his theories did not, as might be expected in inquiring into matters of such strict intellectual acuteness and refinement, receive universal assent.
In 1757 a new edition was called for, to which was prefixed, for the first time, the introductory chapter on taste. To his father, who had not been well pleased with his desertion of the law, a copy was sent, which produced in return a present of 1001. as a testimony of paternal admiration. Another copy he dispatched to his friend Shackleton, and on one of the blank leaves wrote, as expressive of his affectionate and unceasing regard
Accipe et hæc manuum tibi quæ monumenta meorum
and all his future political works, especially the Thoughts on the Discontents, the Reflections on the French Revolution, the Appeal from the New to the Old Whigs, were transmitted to the same friend.
In the letter accompanying the Essay, dated from Battersea, August 10, 1757, he says, in jocular allusion to his matrimonial adventure, “I am now a married man myself, and therefore claim some respect from the married fraternity; at least for your own sakes you will not pretend to consider me the worse man.” And in another part of this letter he apologizes for a long silence by his “ manner of life, chequered with various designs, sometimes in London, sometimes in remote parts of the country, sometimes in France, and shortly, please God, to be in America."
The design expressed in the latter part of this sentence never, as has been already stated, took effect. Some persons have believed that it was the invitation of an old fellow-collegian settled in Philadelphia, who thought the sphere of the new world offered a less crowded area for the display of his talents in the law. Whatever
Whatever may have been the inducement, fortunately he did not persevere in his purpose when the death of his father made him more his own master : genius might have lost one of her most favoured offspring, and England one of her greatest ornaments. But the fact is curious in itself, as expressive of the same vague idea of expatriation which prevailed among many of the extraordinary political characters of the preceding century, and with some of the men of genius, as Goldsmith, Burns, and others, of our own.
In January, 1758, his domestic circle received an addition by the birth of that favourite son, who through life was beloved with even more than parental fondness, and whose death, at the early age of 35, tended in the opinion of his friends to hasten his own. Another son, named Edmund, born about two years afterwards, died in infancy. The wants of an increasing family proved an irresistible stimulus to industry by all the means within his power, and his pen at this time was actively employed on a variety of subjects, some of which, never published, as well as others of an earlier date, though pretty well ascertained to be in existence, have not been recovered by his executors.
One of those which remained in his own possession, was an “ Essay towards an Abridgment of English History,” which he had intimated to his Ballitore friends some time previously, it was his intention to write at length.
Eight sheets of this work were printed for Dodsley in 1757, but it was then discontinued, probably from hearing that Hume was engaged in treating of the same period of time, and perhaps from being unable to satisfy his own taste, which, on an historical subject, was fastidious. It displays, however, a spirit of close research into the earlier history of our island, not exceeded, perhaps not equalled, by works of much greater pretension, and with more antiquarian knowledge than could possibly be expected ; and that portion devoted to the aboriginal people, to the Druids, to the settlement of the Saxons, and to the details relative to their laws and institutions, contains some information new to the general reader.
On the whole it is perhaps the best abstract of that remote period we possess, without any admixture of the fabulous stories so common to the age; and to youth it will be found particularly instructive. The style differs from that of the “ European Settlements” in aiming at less of point and effect, but it possesses simplicity and perspicuity; the characters of William the Conqueror, Henry II, and John, are happily drawn, and the distinguished circumstances of their reigns well selected for narration, considered as a work written at the age of 26.
The sketch which he gives of the venerable Bede, as the great father of English literature, and preeminently distinguished in a peculiarly dark age (between the years 672 and 735), will interest many.
“ The great and justest boast of this monastery (that of Landisforn, at the mouth of the river Tees, afterwards removed to the vicinity of Durham,) is the venerable Beda, who was educated and spent his whole life there. An account of his writings is an account of the English learning in that age, taken in its most advantageous view. Many of his works remain, and he wrote both in prose and verse, , and upon all sorts of subjects. His theology forms the most considerable part of his writings. He wrote comments upon almost the whole Scripture, and several Homilies on the principal Festivals of the Church. Both the comments and sermons are generally allegorical in the construction of the text, and simply moral in the application. In these discourses several things seemn strained and fanciful ; but herein he followed entirely the manner of the earlier fathers, from whom the greatest part of his divinity is not so much imitated as extracted. The systematic and logical method, which seems to have been first introduced into theology by John of Damascus, and which afterwards was known by the name of school-divinity, was not then in use, at least in the western church ; though soon after it made an amazing progress. In this scheme, the allegorical gave way to the literal explication; the imagination had less scope; and the affections were less touched, but it prevailed by an appearance more solid and philosophical ; by an order more scientific; and by a readiness of application, either for the solution or the exciting of doubts and difficulties. They also cultivated in this monastery the study of natural philosophy and astronomy. There remains of Beda, one entire book, and some scattered essays on these subjects. This book, De Rerum Naturá, is concise and methodical, and contains no very contemptible abstract of the physics, which were taught in the decline of the Roman Empire. It was somewhat unfortunate, that the infancy of English learning was supported by the dotage of the Roman, and that even the spring-head from whence they drew their instructions was itself corrupted. However, the works of the great masters of the ancient science still remained; but in natural philosophy the worst was the most fashionable.