Page images
PDF
EPUB

attention was almost equally divided between his books and a little garden, the cultivation and embellishment of which occupied all his leisure hours. His faculties however necessarily gained strength by exercise, and during his school vacations, the sedulity of a fond parent was without intermission exerted to improve his knowledge of his own language. She also taught him the rudiments of drawing, in which she excelled.

In his ninth year, he had the misfortune to break his thigh-bone in a scramble with his schoolfellows, and this accident detained him from school twelve months. After his relief from pain, however, the period of his confinement was not suffered to pass in indolence; his mother was his constant companion, and amused him daily with the perusal of such English books, as she deemed adapted to his taste and capacity. The juvenile poems of Pope, and Dryden's Translation of the Æneid, afforded him incessant delight, and excited his poetical talents, which displayed themselves in the composition of verses in imitation of his favourite authors. But his progress in classical learning, during this interval, was altogether suspended; for although he might have availed himself of the proffered instruction of a friend, in whose house he resided, to acquire the rudiments of Latin, he was then so unable to comprehend its utility, and had so little relish for it, that he was left unrestrained to pursue his juvenile occupations and amusements, and the little which he had gained in his two first years, was nearly lost in the third.

ments,

On his return to school, he was however placed in the same class which he would have attained, if the progress of bis studies had not been interrupted. He was of course far behind his fellowlabourers of the same standing, who erroneously ascribed his insufficiency to laziness or dulness, while the master who had raised hiin to a situation above his powers, required exertions of which he was incapable, and corporal punishment and degradation were applied, for the non-performance of tasks, which he had never been instructed to furnish. But in truth he far excelled his schoolfellows in general, both in diligence and quickness of apprehension ; nor was he of a temper to submit to imputations, which he knew to be unmerited. Punishment failed to produce the intended effect; but his emulation was roused. He devoted himself incessantly to the perusal of various elementary treatises, which had never been explained nor even recommended to him; and having thus acquired principles, he applied them with such skill and success, that in a few months he not only recovered the station from which he had been degraded, but was at the head of his class : his compositions were correct, his analysis accurate, and he uniformly gained every prize offered for the best exercise. He voluntarily extended his studies beyond the prescribed limits, and, by solitary labour, having

acquired

acquired a competent knowledge of the rules of prosody, he composed verses in imitation of Ovid; a task, which had never been required from any

of the students in the lower school at Harrow.

The behaviour of the master to Jones, made an impression on his mind, which he ever remembered with abhorrence. Little doubt can be entertained, that he might have been stimulated to equal exertions, if encouragement had been substituted for severity, and instruction for disgrace. The accumulation of punishment for his inability to soar before he had been taught to fly, (I use his own expression) might have rendered the feel. ings callous; and a sense of the injustice attend ing the infiction of it, was calculated to destroy the respect due to magisterial authority, and its influence over the scholar. It is a material and perhaps unavoidable defect in the system of education at public schools, that the necessity of re; gulating instruction by general rules, must often preclude that attention to the tempers and capacities of individuals, by which their attainmentes might be essentially promoted.

In his twelfth year, Jones was moved into the upper school. Of the retentive powers of his memory at this period, the following anecdote is a remarkable instance. His school-fellows proposed to amuse themselves with the representation of a play; and at his recommendation they fixed upon the Tempest : as it was not readily to be procured, he wrote it for them so correctly from memory, that

they

[ocr errors]

they acted it with great satisfaction to themselves, and with considerable entertainment to the

specs tators. He performed the character of Prospero.

His diligence increased with his advancement in the school: he now entered upon the study of the Greek tongue, the characters of which he had already learned for his amusement.

His genius and assiduity were also displayed in various compositions, not required by the discipline of the school. He translated into English verse several of the epistles of Ovid, all the pastorals of Virgil, and composed a dramatic piece on the story of Meleager, which he denominated a tragedy; and it was acted during the vacation, by some of his school-fellows with whom he was most intimate. In his own play, he performed the part of the hero.

A copy of this little composition, inaccurately transcribed by a relation, has been preserved; and to gratify that curiosity which the mention of it may have excited, I select from it the following

lines :

ATALANTA (speaks),
Still Discord raves, Bellona fiercely storms,
Mars calls, and Caledonians exclaim.
Althæa, fraught with ire, forgets her son,
And meditates fierce vengeance in her heart,
At Dian's sacred shrine a billet lies,
On which depends the life of Meleager.
This stern Althæa spied, -then fury fir'd
Her furious mind,-she knew the fates' decree:
Thrice did she rave, and thrice repress'd her hand;
At length she threw the billet on the fire,

Which gently gather'd round its impious prey;
And now in absent flames the hero burns.
Wildly he stares; his glaring eye-balls sink
Beneath their sockets, and omit their light.
His shiver'd hair hangs dangling o'er his face;
He rends his silken vest, and wrings his hands,

And groans, possess’d with agonizing pain. These juvenile efforts contributed to establish the influence and reputation of Jones in the school; and the success with which his studies had latterly been pursued, left him no reason to regret the disadvantages under which he had at first laboured. His improvement in the knowledge of prosody was truly extraordinary; he soon acquired a proficiency in all the varieties of Roman metre, so that he was able to scan the trochaïc and zambic verses of Terence, before his companions even suspected that they were any thing but mere prose. He also learned to taste the elegance of that writer, and was frequently heard to repeat with particular satisfaction the rule in the Andria :

Facile omnes perferre et pati,

Nunquam præponens se aliis. Such was the extent of his attainments, and such his facility of composition, that for two years he wrote the exercises of many boys in the two superior classes, who often obtained credit for

performances to which they had no title, whilst the students in the same class with himself were happy to become his pupils. During the holidays, his studies were varied, but not relaxed; in these intervals, he learned the rudiments of French and

arithmetic,

« PreviousContinue »