« PreviousContinue »
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 trochaic and iambic 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, bis studies were varied, but not relaxed; in these intervals, he learned the rudiments of French and arithmetic, and was particularly gratified with an invitation to attend the meetings of learned and ingenious men, at the house of that amiable philosopher, Mr. Baker, and his friend, Mr. Pond. As an introduction to the knowledge of the subjects discussed in this literary society, by the particular recommendation of his mother, he read the Spectacle de la Nature : he acknowledged, however, that he was more entertained with the Arabian Tales, and Shakespeare, whose poems and plays he repeatedly perused with increased delight.
In the usual recreations of his school-fellows at Harrow, Jones was rarely a partaker; and the hours which they allotted to amusement, he generally devoted to improvement. The following anecdote strongly indicates the turn of his mind, and the impression made by his studies. He invented a political play, in which Dr. William Bennet*, Bishop of Cloyne, and the celebrated Dr. Parr, were his principal associates. They divided the fields in the neighbourhood of Harrow, according to a map of Greece, into states and kingdoms; each fixed upon one as his dominion, and assumed an ancient name. Some of their school-fellows consented to be styled barbarians, who were to invade their territories and attack their hillocks, which were denominated fortresses. The chiefs vigorously defended their respective domains against the incursions of the enemy; and in these imitative wars, the young statesmen held councils, made vehement harangues, and composed memorials, all doubtless very boyish, but calculated to fill their minds with ideas of legislation and civil government. In these unusual amusements, Jones was ever the leader: and he might justly have appropriated to himself the words of Catullus;
dote * The Bishop of Cloyne, in a letter to the Dean of St. Asaph, dated November 1795, mentions Sir William Jones in terms of respect and affection:-“I knew him (he writes) " from the early age of eight or nine, and he was always an uncommon boy. Great
Ego gymnasii flos, ego decus olei.
Dr. Thackeray retired from the superintendance of the school at Harrow, when his pupil had attained his fifteenth year. It was a singular trait in the character of this good man and respectable
abilities, great particularity of thinking, fondness for writing verses and plays of various “ kinds, and a degree of integrity and manly courage, of which I remember many
instances, distinguished him even at that period. I loved him and revered him, and, " though one or two years older than he was, was always instructed by him from my
« earliest age.
“ In a word, I can only say of this amiable and wonderful man, that he had more “ virtues, and less faults, than I ever yet saw in any human being; and that the good
ness of his head, admirable as it was, was exceeded by that of his heart. I have never ' ceased to admire him from the moment I first saw him; and my esteem for his great qualities, and regret for his loss, will only end with my life.”
tutor, that he never applauded the best compositions of his scholars, from a notion which he had adopted, that praise only tended to make them vain or idle. But the opinion which he gave of Jones in private was, that he was a boy of so active a mind, that if he were left naked and friendless on Salisbury Plain, he would nevertheless find the road to fame and riches.
Dr. Thackeray was succeeded by Dr. Sumner; and for his information of the course of study pursued at Harrow, a plan of the lectures and exercises in the upper school was accurately delineated by Jones, at the suggestion of the principal assistant, who presented it to the new master, with many encomiums on the talents of his favourite scholar. He annexed to it a collection of his compositions, including his translation of the pastorals of Virgil. Dr. Sumner quickly distinguished him; and of the two complete years which he passed under that excellent instructor, it is sufficient to say, that he employed thein in reading and imitating the best ancient authors; nor did he confine himself merely to the compositions of Greece and Rome; he learned the Arabic characters, and studied the Hebrew language sufficiently to enable him to read some of the Psalms in the original. His ardour for knowledge was so unlimited, that he frequently devoted whole nights to study, taking coffee or tea as an antidote to drowsiness; and his improvement by these extraordinary exertions was so rapid, that he soon became the prime favourite of his master, who with an excusable partiality was heard to declare, that Jones knew more Greek than himself, and was a greater proficient in the idiom of that language. Nor was he less a favourite with his fellow-students than with his master. He acquired popularity with them, by the frequent holidays that rewarded the excellence of his compositions. His reputation at the same time was so extensive, that he was often flattered by the enquiries of strangers, under the title of the Great Scholar.
Of his juvenile compositions in prose and verse, the early fruits of rare talents and unbounded industry, 'some have been printed in the fragment of a work which he began at school and entitled Limon* in imitation of Cicero. During the last months of his residence at Harrow, Dr. Sumner not only dispensed with his attendance at school, but was obliged to interdict his application, in. consequence of a weakness of sight contracted by it. His compositions were not however discontinued; and he obtained the assistance of the younger students to write them from his dictation, He employed the intervals of suspended duty, which he was reluctantly compelled to admit, in learning chess, by practising the games of Philidor.
During the vacations, his application was directed to improve his knowledge of French and arithmetic, to which he also added the study of the Italian. Books he had always at command; for his mother, who contemplated with delight the progress of her son, with a wise liberality allowed him unlimited credit on her purse. But of this indulgence, as he knew that her finances were restricted, he availed himself no further than to purchase such books as were essential to his improvement.
I shall here transcribe, without alteration or omission, a letter which the young student, at the age of fourteen, wrote to his sister, , to console her for the death of a friend.
When I received your letter, I was very concerned to hear the death of your friend Mr. Reynolds, which I consider as a piece of affliction common to us both. For although
Works of Sir William Jones, vol. ii. p.
my knowledge of his name or character is of no long date, and though I never had any personal acquaintance with him, yet (as you observe) we ought to regret the loss of every honourable man; and if I had the pleasure of your conversation, I would certainly give you any consolatory advice that lay in my power, and make it my business to convince you what a real share I take in your chagrin. And yet to reason philosophically, I cannot help thinking any grief upon a person's death very superfluous, and inconsistent with sense ; for what is the cause of our sorrow? Is it because we hate the person deceased ? that were to imply strange contradiction, to express our joy by the common signs of sorrow. If, on the other hand, we grieve for one who was dear to us, I should reply that we should, or the contrary, rejoice at his having left a state so perilous and uncertain as life is. The common strain is; “ 'Tis pity so vir“ tuous a man should die :”—but I assert the contrary; and when I hear the death of a person of merit, I cannot help reflecting, how happy he must be who now takes the reward of his excellencies, without the possibility of falling away from them and losing the virtue which he professed, on whose character death has fixed a kind of seal, and placed him out of the reach of vice and infamy! for death only closes a man's reputation, and determines it as either good or bad. On the contrary, in life nothing is certain ; whilst any one is liable to alteration, we may possibly be forced to retract our esteem for him, and some time or other he may appear to us, as under a different light than what he does at present; for the life of no man can be pronounced either happy or miserable, virtuous or abandoned, before the conclusion of it. It was upon this reflection, that Solon, being asked by Crøsus, a monarch of immense riches, who was the happiest man? answered, After your death I shall be able to determine. Besides, though a man should pursue a constant and determinate course of virtue, though he were to keep a regular symmetry and uniformity in his actions, and preserve the