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announces to us that he had formed with himself “that resolution which Ariosto followed, against the persuasions of Bembo, to fix all the industry and art he could unite to the adorning of his native tongue;” “that what the greatest and choicest wits,” he adds, “of Athens, Rome, or modern Italy, and those Hebrews of old did for their country, I, in my proportion, with this over and above of being a Christian, might do for mine; not caring to be once named abroad, though perhaps I could attain to that, but content with these British islands as my world.” It must, however, be admitted, that the preference given upon the revival of literature to the Latin language, was a natural consequence of the paucity of readers in any particular country, and of the extensive diffusion of a language rendered general amongst the reading classes in Western Europe, in consequence of its application to the services of the church,
We have little written in his native tongue, by the Prince of MIRANDoI.A.; nor indeed is it from his published works that we must judge of the extent of those literary labours which he found means to undertake in the course of his short life. Yet, if ever there was a heart given up to the love of literature, it was that of Mirandola. He was born in the year 1463; and, if we may trust to the accounts handed down to us by some of his contemporaries, was even in early youth such a prodigy of learning as the world has not often seen. It has been affirmed, that, by the time he had reached his eighteenth year, he had made himself familiar with no fewer than twenty-two different languages,—a story in which, as well as the similar one which certain ancient authors tell us of the famous Mithridates, King of Pontus, who is said to have spoken twenty-four languages fluently, there must be, we can hardly doubt, a very liberal allowance of the fabulous. At the university of Bologna, of which he was entered at the early age of fourteen, Mirandola greatly distinguished himself not only by his uncommon powers of intellect and memory, but by an industry and application almost equally rare. His future ardour and success in the pursuit of literature, up to the period of his death, was altogether in accordance with this early promise:— “I have, by assiduous and intense application,” he writes to one of his friends in his twenty-third year, “attained to the knowledge of the Hebrew and Chaldaic languages, and am at present struggling with the difficulties of the Arabic. Such are the achievements which I have ever thought, and still think, worthy the ambition of a nobleman.” In a subsequent letter to another of his correspondents, he says, in reference to the same subject, “After having studied the Hebrew language day and night for a month, I have directed my whole attention to the Arabic and Chaldee, not doubting that in these I shall make as much progress as I have done in the Hebrew, in which I am already able to compose an epistle, not certainly so as to merit praise, but yet without committing any decided fault. See what can be done by determination of mind—by mere labour and diligence, even when the strength, is but inconsiderable.” Mirandola's letters, which unfortunately form but a very small collection, are the most interesting productions of his pen we now possess. They breathe in every page both a literary enthusiasm that is quite inspiring, and a serenity and cheerfulness of heart, than which, adorned, as it is, by all the graces of a fervent devotion, and a very high toned morality, nothing can be more delightful. So precious were they wont to be esteemed, that in some of the earlier editions we find them entitled, “The Golden Epistles of the most learned, most noble, and most eloquent of Mortals,'—an inscription which,
s" " " ' ". MIRANDOLA. " ' " " " ' " 85
seeming as it does to a modern taste to partake somewhat of the pompous and extravagant, speaks at least the reverence and affection with which his own contemporaries regarded their admirable author. In the remaining part of the letter we have last quoted, Mirandola goes on to inform his friend that -the circumstance which had excited in him all this -zeal to acquire an acquaintance with the Oriental tongues, was the having obtained the loan for a short time of certain Chaldee or Hebrew books, “if” says he, “they are not rather treasures than books,” which the had every reason to believe were the genuine productions of the Jew Ezra. The following is another letter relating to this matter, addressed about the same time to his nephew, which forcibly illusitrates the literary enthusiasm and devotedness of the writer. “This was the reason,” he begins, “why I -have not yet answered your letter. Certain Hebrew books have fallen into my hands, on which I have spent the whole week, day and night, with such diligence, that they have almost made me blind. For the person who brought them to me, a Jew, from Sicily, is to leave this in twenty days. Wherefore, until I shall have extricated myself from these manuscripts, do not expect a line from me; for I cannot leave them for a moment, lest they leave me, before I shall have thoroughly perused them. When I shall have made my escape from this engagement, I will overwhelm you with letters, although you know that my mind is exceedingly occupied. But if ever you are to do any thing for my sake, endeavour as far as you can to prevent the Prince of Bar from desiring my coming to him; for I should in that case be obliged to interrupt all my studies, to which you know how much I am devoted, although I care for nothing beside. But I do not know whether it would vex me most to displease him or myself. Farewell. I
Fear God, and think of yourself every day as destined to die.” We need scarcely add that Mirandola had been, in this instance, deceived by his Hebrew friend, or by his own sanguine temperament; and that the writings in question were, in reality, the production of a much later age than that of their pretended author. The many laborious hours he spent in decyphering them, however, were not probably altogether thrown away; nor was his ardour the less honourable to him, that it met with somewhat less than its expected reward. It was by such zeal and industry as this, that, cut off as he was in his early days, Mirandola nevertheless had obtained for himself the universal reputation of being, to borrow the words of one of his contemporaries, not only a most able linguist, but master of all the liberal arts, an admirable poet, and the most learned philosopher and skilful disputant of his age. Even Politian describes him as the Phoenix among all the great geniuses of his time. Most of his printed works (but he left many others in manuscript) relate to theological subjects, and are strongly marked by what would now be called a spirit of mysticism; but are extolled by those who have studied them as abounding in erudition and genius. Among them is a Treatise, in twelve books, in refutation of astrology, which ranks its author as one of the earliest assailants in modern times of the pretensions of that visionary science, which may be said to have remained, for many ages after, nearly the universal faith of Europe.
* : * Self-educated Men. T. Simpson.
MANY of the persons who have most remarkably distinguished themselves by their ardour and success in the pursuit of knowledge, under adverse circumstances, have had no master to instruct them in any thing beyond perhaps the mere elements of reading; and have taught themselves, therefore, whatever else they had acquired, by their own unaided efforts. To have done this indicates, undoubtedly, a decidedly superior, mind; but it is more honourable, perhaps, to an individual's force of character, and zeal for intellectual improvement, than even to his strength of native talent. For a teacher is really not so indispensable to the work of education as is often supposed. Every branch of human knowledge has in fact been acquired, as we have already remarked, without the assistance of an instructor, if by no one else, at least by him who first found it out. But this sort of self-instruction, demanding as it does, the application of original and inventive genius, indicates a much more extraordinary degree of mental capacity, than is required merely to gain an acquaintance by solitary study with any department of science, or other species of learning, which is to be found already expounded in books. A good elementary book upon any subject is itself a teacher which, to a person of ordinary intelligence, ought almost to render any other unnecessary. In the present age, especially, when such works abound, persons so circumstanced as not to be able easily to obtain the lessons of a living mastër, will find com