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unfortunate from the earliest ages, the list of unfortunate geniuses alwars begins with Homer, the father of poetry.
and blind.' says one of the catalogues of the calamities of genius, “ resorted to the publie places to recite his verses for a morsel of bread.” Now there is not one particle of evidence for the story of Homer begging, or even of his being poor. The tradition of his being blind is certainly ancient. If the beautiful hymn to Apollo be genuine, as it is assumed to be by Thuerdiles, who quotes it, we have Homer's blindness certiñed by himself. It might be the affliction of his old age. Be that as it may, this lIymn, if it be genuine, proves that the calamity was borne in a cheerful, nay, in a joyous spirit
. There is a bright southern sunshine about the Hymn to Apollo—the outburst of a spirit revelling in delight.
Having a good case in hand, we are not compelled to take advan. tage of doubtful, or even merely probable evidence. The question of whether there erer was such a poet as Homer, or whether the Iliad be not a collection of ancient Greek ballads, we need not meddle with. The genuineness of the Hymn to Apollo, in which the poet calls on the women of Delos, when assed to declare what poet pleased them most, to say that it was the blind poet who lived at Chios, is disputed ; but we do not care to cite modern erities in opposition to such an authority as Thucydides—and the spirit of the Hymn is really Homeric, for the Iliad amidst all its pathos is an exhilirating song--the work of a happy mind. Yet it is strange, if the writer of the Iliad was blind, that he was not tempied by his mention of the blind Thamyris to hint at his own affliction. We find that Milton could not restrain himself from alluding—and who has ever dared to blame him for the affecting allusion, to
These other two, equalld with me in fate,
Bind Thamyris and blind Mæonides. IIerodotus, the oldest authority, in his genuine history, has more than once referred to Homer, but nowhere refers either to his blindness or his poverty. The life of Homer, attributed to Herodotus, is universally allowed to be spurious. In short, we have but doubtful evidence of Homer's blindness, and no evidence of his poverty. Modern poets, however, not "equalled with him in renown,” find it for their interest to keep up the legend
Seren cities now contend for Homer dead,
Through which the living Homer begged his bread. The case of a poor poet serres wealthy poets in the same way as the begging friars were of benefit to the rich cardinals and bishops ; it attracts wealth to the tribe.
The next announcement is, " that Plautus turned a mill.” This is one of those misrepresentations of the fate of genius which are more false than plain fictions. The history of Plautus is an instance that literary are more profitable than mercantile pursuits. Of the life of Plautus the only record is a notice by Varro, quoted by Aulus Gellius. To that record, as being written within a reasonable period, there can be no objection, but the record must be honestly quoted. Varro then tells us, that Plautus made money by his plays, but afterwards became a merchant, and embarked in speculations which brought him to such a depth of poverty, that he was obliged to turn a mill.* This, then, is distinctly an instance of the calamities of mercantile speculation ; it is the ancient parallel to the modern instance of Sir Walter Scott. It is the case of a man who is not content to get moderately rich by his literary genius, but who attempts to become inordinately rich in an incredibly short space of time by turning merchant. Plautus and Sir Walter Scott became tired of the rate at which they were making gain by their writings, and by trying ambitious schemes in trade lost what they made by literature. We do not know what amount of sympathy was shown to Plautus in his fallen estate--but the most generous sympathy was undoubtedly shown to Sir Walter Scott, whom his creditors and the whole public certainly treated with a degree of kindness which would not have been experienced by a merchant who was not a genius. Sir Walter rapidly made money by his writings, and when his affairs became disordered through his cupidity, united with his weak passion to be a gentleman of rank, the world that had always been liberal to him, forgot all that it had done for him, and all his great failings and faults, in consideration of his great genius. What would have been made the subject of cold unfeeling sneering in the case of an ordinary merchant has never been alluded to but with the most delicate sympathy in the case of the merchant of genius—the author of Marmion and Ivanhoe.
We must call attention to the case of Plautus, because it is the model after which a hundred stories about the calamities of genius are fabricated. A single circumstance, true in itself, is abstracted from the history of the man, and related without any context, or any notice of the other circumstances of his life and his general fortune. Thus, Voltaire is included amongst the geniuses who have been put in prison. It is perfectly true that Voltaire was for some months in prison, but it is also true, that he is an instance of a most fortunate genius, and that he was throughout life, as far as worldly prosperity and wealth and honours go,
a prosperous gentleman.” The same fradulent use is made of an incident in the life of Buchanan, which is told now.a-days in a very different style from the way in which that great genius relates the circumstance in his autobiography—and he certainly should know as well how he was used as any modern compiler of literary calamities--and certainly was not the man to speak leniently of Popish persecution, especially when exercised on himself
. While in Portugal, then, Buchanan tells us, that his opponents, after in vain endeavouring to convert him from his Lutheran errors, “shut him up
Sed enim Saturionem et Addictum et tertiam quandam, cujus nunc mihi nomen non suppetit, in pristino eum scripsisse Varro, et plerique alii memoriæ tradiderunt, cum pecu nia omni quam in operis artificum scenicorum pepererat, in mercationibus perdita, inops Romam redisset ; et ob quaerendum victum ad circumagendas molas, quae trusa tiles appellantur, operam pistori locasset.-Aulus Gellius--- Noctes Atticæ, 1. iii. c. 3.
in a monastery for some months, that he might be more correctly instructed by the monks, men indeed otherwise not inhumane nor bad, but ignorant of all religion."* This is the whole amount and character of that persecution which, as generally told, suggests ideas of the darkness, the tortures and the horrors of the Holy Office. The pbilosophic historian himself certainly talks of the whole affair without much excitement, and when we learn that it was during his abode with these good but ignorant men that he completed a portion of his wonderful version of the Psalms, we daresay that in after years the poet did not look back with any very intense horror on his brief monastic life. We could furnish a long catalogue of deceptions similar to this perpetrated in literary history. Thus in a late lamentation over the woes of the learned, which appeared in a London publication, it is stated, that “ Locke was expelled from Oxford, and the eloquent Burke was denied a small Professorship in Glasgow.” These circumstances are true, but they do not amount to calamities. It would be as relevant to mention that a man of genius once cut his finger, while another lost his hat and wig in a gale of wind. Both Burke and Lockethe wealthy Locke-were sufficiently fortunate men, notwithstanding their bewailed calamities, and both would have laughed if they could have foreseen that a future age would mourn their misfortunes. We hardly believe that Mr. Macaulay expects to be ranked amongst the unfortunate geniuses for whom the tears of future generations will flow, because he failed to be elected Member for Edinburgh in the year 1847-yet this was as serious a calamity as Locke's awful expulsion from Oxford, or Burke's melancholy loss of the Glasgow Professorship.
“ Terence was a slave"-is the next alleged calamity of genius. There is a fearful amount of falsehood in the statement. It should have been" Terence was a poor slave, but genius made him free, great, and wealthy." Terence was an African born, and was brought a slave to Rome. Here his genius procured for him his liberty, a good education, and the friendship and society of Scipio and of Lelius. The daughter of the once slave was married to a Roman knight. Terence received prodigious sums of money for his plays, and died immensely rich. Yet when the calamities of genius are mourned over the case of Terenice, the slave, is never forgotten.
The ancients, both Greeks and Romans, rewarded genius in literature so munificently, that the hunters after calamities have been sadly at a loss for materials from antiquity. Almost all their eminent geniuses were men of great wealth. The history of Cleanthes, the Stoic Philosopher, has, in desperation, been laid hold of, and by a plentiful suppression of the truth, the life of a healthy and happy man has been converted into a tale of woe. Of Cleanthes we are told, that he was so poor, that he had to draw water, and to grind at the mills, for his livelihood, and to write his philosophy on shells, and on the scraped blade bones of oxen, which he had to pick up. But care is taken
* Eum in monasterium ad aliquot menses recludunt, ut exactius erudiretur a monachis, hominibus quidem alioqui nec inhumanis, nec malis, sed omnis religionis ignaris. "-Geo. Buchanani l'ita ab ipso scripta. Ad An. 1551.
not to tell us that Cleanthes drew water, and was destitute of money to buy paper, out of principle, and in accordance with his own and his master, Zeno's practices ; that as soon as his poverty was discovered, the Athenians offered him a sum of money, which it was his pleasure to refuse ; that he had the king, Antigonus Euergetes for a disciple; and that when the king offered him a large fee, he rejected it with disdain, and told the monarch, that poverty and hard labour were part of his philosophy. He was the strongest and healthiest man of his time, and lived to the age, some say of eighty, others of ninety, and others of ninety-nine, and then starved himself to death, thinking that he had had his fair share of existence.
The history of Socrates may stand as it is usually recorded, as an instance of the unmerited fate of a teacher of wisdom, of whom his age was not worthy. Anaxagoras and Aristotle figure amongst “ the persecuted learned,” in D’Israeli's work. Anaxagoras was born to wealth. He withdrew from his enemies at Athens, and lived at Lampsacus. We cannot believe that this amiable philosopher was unhappy; were it on no other account than that, when the magistrates of Lampsacus wished to honour his memory, he desired, that they would order the month in which he died to be kept as a holiday month at all the schools. The story is Plutarch's; we hope it is true ; it is as delightful a tale as antiquity has handed down to us; and would alone establish the character of Anaxagoras as a true philosopher. Aristotle, after long living surrounded by wealth and honour, withdrew from Athens to avoid persecution. The accounts of his death are various. Some say that he threw himself into the Euripus, out of vexation at not being able to solve the mystery of its ebbing and flowing seven times a-day. Others relate, that he poisoned himself. This story, which, like the other one, is destitute of all credible authority, is adopted by D’Israeli, in order to get Aristotle placed amongst “the persecuted learned.” The ancient and best authenticated accounts say, that he died a natural death.
We come to “the last of the Romans,” to the unfortunate Boethius, before we get a genuine case of a great and good man persecuted by calamity—banished, imprisoned, and put to death. His literature, however, it should be remarked, raised him to high honours, and immense wealth ; it was political intrigue that sent him to the dungeon and the scaffold. Banishment, imprisonment, and a violent death, form a chain of calamities in the eyes of all men whose philosophy does not deny the existence of evil. Yet the amount of suffering which they would inflict on such a man as Boethius is a matter of which we may doubt. He had passed a long life surrounded by more real honours than his rank and his fortune conferred. In his prison house, while engaged in the composition of that precious treatise which, without detracting from its fame, undoubtedly owes part of its interest with the world to the circumstances under which it was written—that treatise, the purpose of which is to teach that evil is ever weak and that virtue is always powerful,* he could not but
* De Consolatione Philosophice, Lib. IV.
feel assured that he had been the last to hold up the torch of learning amidst the thickening darkness of the age, and that the last light of Roman literature would be extinguished in his blood. He could not but feel assured that his appeal to the justice of posterity would be answered by a unanimous and enthusiastic verdict in his favour. And never certainly in this world had injured genius and virtue so speedy, so great, and so enduring a vengeance and a reward. Grief and remorse drove Theodoric, haunted by spectres, to his grave, and the blood of his murdered servant bas almost washed away the memory
of the Emperor's virtues. The daughter of Theodoric re-erected the statues of Boethius, and restored his palace and his possessions to his family. In every age that has followed the day of his death, generation after generation of the wise and the learned, the good and the great, in one voice, have paid homage to the purity and the beauty of his virtues and his genius.
As we approach modern times, the history of Roger Bacon presents itself as a legitimate and true instance of the persecution of the learned, and it cannot be denied that a man of science and letters, whose life appears to have been free from crime, and who was for some years in imprisonment, deserves to be ranked with the unfortunate sons of genius. Yet there are great difficulties in believing that it was his learning and scientific attainments which procured for Bacon the ill-will of his order. Like his patron, Pope Clement IV., he was an ardent ecclesiastical reformer. There is an air of harsh melancholy, and of discontent spread over his writings. Of his contemporaries he generally speaks in a tone of bitter censure. These circumstances put together incline us to join with those who believe that it was to the imprudence and perhaps the ungracious violence with which he attacked ecclesiastical abuses that Bacon owed his misfortunes. It is indeed almost absurd to believe that he was hated for his scientific studies and attainments. It is certain that in no age in the history of Europe was science more enthusiasiastically pursued, and more highly honoured, than it was in the age of Roger Bacon ; and since the day that the illustrious Gerbert ascended the Papal throne, the clergy had been at the head of this movement. Riches and honours followed the other scientific men of the time. Alchemy and astrology paved the way to wealth, and men of letters and science revelled in palaces and fattened in episcopacies,--and how the learning which made his contemporaries powerful and rich, should have been calamities to him, how the same science which had made Michael Scott the companion of princes, and placed Grossetete in the bishopric of Lincoln, and Albert the Great in the bishopric of Ratisbon, should have depressed Bacon into a dungeon, is inconceivable. This was a golden age for intellect and genius. It was the age of such monarchs as Alfonzo X., and the Emperor Frederick II., who poured out their wealth on men of learning. The Church and the State at loggerheads about the question of competing jurisdictions, contended with each other for the pleasure of honouring letters and science. To this praise at least, the thirteenth century, with its princes and prelates, is most justly and abundantly entitled.