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Essay before its publication had prompted me to investigate the nature of the gods; my inquiries led me to the Histoire Critique du Manichéism of Beausobre, who discusses many deep questions of Pagan and Christian theology; and from this rich treasury of facts and opinions I deduced my own consequences, beyond the holy circle of the author. After this recovery I never relapsed into indolence; and my example might prove, that in the life most averse to study, some hours may be stolen, some minutes may be snatched. Amidst the tumult of Winchester camp I sometimes thought and read in my tent; in the more settled quarters of Devizes, Blandford, and Southampton, I always secured a separate lodging, and the necessary books; and in the summer of 1762, while the new militia was raising, I enjoyed at Beriton two or three months of literary repose.* In
spective officers, our provincial and municipal administration, the views of our several parties, the characters, connections, and influence, of our principal people,—have been impressed on my mind, not by vain theory, but by the indelible lessons of action and experience. I have made a number of valuable acquaintance, and am myself much better known, than (with my reserved character) I should have been in ten years, passing regularly my summers at Beriton, and my winters in London. So that the sum of all is, that I am glad the militia has been, and glad that it is no more.
* JOURNAL, May 8th, 1762.]-This was my birth-day, on which I entered into the twenty-sixth year of my age. This gave me occasion to look a little into myself, and consider impartially my good and bad qualities. It appeared to me, upon this inquiry, that my character was virtuous, incapable of a base action, and formed for generous ones; but that it was proud, violent, and disagreeable in society. These qualities I must endeavour to cultivate, extirpate, or restrain, according to their different tendency. Wit I have none. My imagination is rather strong than pleasing; my memory both capacious and retentive. The shining qualities of my understanding are extensiveness and penetration; but I want both quickness and exactness. As to
forming a new plan of study, I hesitated between the mathematics and the Greek language; both of which I had neglected since my return from Lausanne. I consulted a learned and friendly mathematician, Mr George Scott, a pupil of de Moivre; and his map of a country which I have never explored, may perhaps be more serviceable to others. As soon as I had given the preference to Greek, the example of Scaliger and my own reason determined me on the choice of Homer, the father of poetry, and the Bible of the ancients but Scaliger ran through the Iliad in one and twenty days; and I was not dissatisfied with my own diligence for performing the same labour in an equal number of weeks. After the first difficulties were surmounted, the language of nature and harmony soon became easy and familiar, and each day I sailed upon the ocean with a brisker gale and a more steady course.
̓Εν δ ̓ ἄνεηος τρῆσεν μέσον ἱςίον, ̓αμφί δε κῦμα
In the study of a poet who has since become the most intimate of my friends, I successively applied my situation in life, though I may sometimes repine at it, it perhaps is the best adapted to my character. I can command all the conveniences of life, and I can command too that independence (that first earthly blessing) which is hardly to be met with in a higher or lower fortune. When I talk of my situation, I must exclude that temporary one of being in the militia. Though I go through it with spirit and application, it is both unfit for and unworthy of me. Fair wind, and blowing fresh, Apollo sent them; quick they rear'd the mast, Then spread th' unsullied canvass to the gale, And the wind fill'd it. Roar'd the sable flood Around the bark, that ever as she went Dash'd wide the brine, and scudded swift away. COWPER'S HOMER.
many passages and fragments of Greek writers; and among these I shall notice a life of Homer, in the Opuscula Mythologica of Gale, several books of the geography of Strabo, and the entire treatise of Longinus, which, from the title and the style, is equally worthy of the epithet of sublime. My grammatical skill was improved, my vocabulary was enlarged; and in the militia I acquired a just and indelible knowledge of the first of languages. On every march, in every journey, Horace was always in my pocket, and often in my hand: but I should not mention his two critical epistles, the amusement of a morning, had they not been accompanied by the elaborate commentary of Dr Hurd, now bishop of Worcester. On the interesting subjects of composition and imitation of epic and dramatic poetry, I presumed to think for myself; and thirty close-written pages in folio could scarcely comprise my full and free discussion of the sense of the master and the pedantry of the servant.
After his oracle Dr Johnson, my friend sir Joshua Reynolds denies all original genius, any natural propensity of the mind to one art or science rather than another. Without engaging in a metaphysical or rather verbal dispute, I know by experience, that from my early youth I aspired to the character of an historian. While I served in the militia, before and after the publication of my Essay, this idea ripened in my mind; nor can I paint in more lively colours the feelings of the moment, than by transcribing some passages, under their respective dates, from a journal which I kept at that time.
BERITON, APRIL 14, 1761.
(In a short excursion from Dover.)
Having thought of several subjects for an historical composition, I chose the expedition of Charles VIII of France into Italy. I read two memoirs of Mr de Foncemagne in the Academy of Inscriptions, (tom
xvii. p. 539-607) and abstracted them. I likewise finished this day a dissertation in which I examine the right of Charles VIII to the crown of Naples, and the rival claims of the houses of Anjou and Arragon: it consists of ten folio pages, besides large
BERITON, AUGUST 4, 1761
(In a week's excursion from Winchester camp.)
"After having long_revolved subjects for my intended historical essay, I renounced my first thought of the expedition of Charles VIII, as too remote from us, and rather an introduction to great events than great and important in itself. I successively chose and rejected the crusade of Richard the first, the barons wars against John and Henry the third, the history of Edward the Black Prince, the lives and comparisons of Henry the fifth and the emperor Titus, the life of sir Philip Sidney, and that of the marquis of Montrose. At length I have fixed on sir Walter Raleigh for my hero. His eventful story is varied by the characters of the soldier and sailor, the courtier and historian; and it may afford such a fund of materials as I desire, which have not yet been properly manufactured. At present I cannot attempt the execution of this work. Free leisure, and the opportunity of consulting many books, both printed and manuscript, are as necessary as they are impossible to be attained in my present way of life. However, to acquire a general insight into my subject and resources, I read the Life of sir Walter Raleigh by Dr Birch, his copious article in the General Dictionary by the same hand, and the reigns of queen Elizabeth and James the first in Hume's History of England."
BERITON, JANUARY 1762.
During this interval of repose, I again turned my thoughts to sir Walter Raleigh, and looked more closely into my materials. I read the two volumes in quarto of the Bacon papers, published by Dr Birch; the Fragmenta Regalia of sir Robert Naunton, Mallet's Life of lord Bacon, and the political treatises of that great man in the first volume of his works, with many of his letters in the second; sir William Monson's Naval Tracts; and the elaborate Life of sir Walter Raleigh, which Mr Oldys has prefixed to the best edition of his History of the World. My subject opens upon me, and in general improves upon a nearer prospect."
BERITON, JULY 26, 1762.
I am afraid of being reduced to drop my hero; but my time has not however been lost in the research of his story, and of a memorable era of our English annals. The Life of sir Walter Raleigh, by Oldys, is a very poor performance; a servile panegyric, or flat apology, tediously minute, and composed in a dull and affected style. Yet the author was a man of diligence aad learning, who had read everything relative to his subject, and whose ample collections are arranged with perspicuity and method. Excepting some anecdotes lately revealed in the Sidney and Bacon papers, I know not what I should be able to add. My ambition (exclusive of the uncertain merit of style and sentiment) 'must be confined to the hope of giving a good abridgment of Oldys. I have even the disappointinent of finding some parts of this copious work very dry and barren; and these parts are unluckily some of the most characteristic: Raleigh's colony of Virginia, his quarrels with Essex,