Изображения страниц

paratively but little difficulty in teaching themselves any of the common branches of education; if they will but make the attempt with a true desire and determination to succeed in it, and are not devoid of those powers of attention and perseverance without which there can be no success in any thing. The truth is, that even those who enjoy to the greatest extent the advantages of what is called a regular education, must be their own instructors as to the greater portion of what they acquire, if they are ever to advance beyond the elements of learning. What they learn at schools and colleges is comparatively of small value, unless their own after reading and study improve those advantages. Still, however, it may be said, that it is a great matter for the young student to have the first steps of his progress encouraged and facilitated, by thus advancing, as it were, while another holds him by the hand. Compared with him who educates himself from the beginning, such a student may be regarded as entering upon a new country under the conduct of a guide, instead of endeavouring to find his way thạough it by the aid simply of the road-book. Or rather, he is in the situation of the man who begins the world with a fortune, which, though small, is yet sufficient to set him

up in business; while others have to earn even their first shilling by their own ingenuity and industry. Undoubtedly the person thus circumstanced has a somewhat gentler ascent to climb, in the first instance, than his competitors. Still all must owe what they eventually arrive at principally to their own efforts. And if this be, generally speaking, true of commercial prosperity, it is still more strictly so of the acquisition of intellectual riches; for, in this latter case, what is called good-fortune can be of no avail to

But the examples which we are going to mention will shew how much every man has it in his

any one.

own power to do for himself, when placed in the situation referred to. • The first case we shall detail is that of the wellknown mathematician, THOMAS SIMPSON. He was born in the town of Market-Bosworth, in Leicestershire, in the year 1710. His father was a working stuff-weaver, and was either so poor, or so insensible to the importance of education, that, after keeping his son at school only so long as to enable him to make a very slight progress in reading, he took him home with the view of bringing him up to his own trade. Thomas, however, had already acquired a passionate love of books, and was resolved at all hazards to make himself a scholar. So, beside contriving to teach himself writing, he read with the greatest eagerness every volume that came in his way, or that he could by any means procure; and spent in this manner not only all his leisure, but even occasionally a portion of the time which his father thought he ought to have employed at his work. Instead of giving any encouragement indeed to his son's fondness for study, his father did all in his power to cure him of what he deemed so idle and pernicious a propensity ; and at last, it is said, after many reprimands, forbade him even to open a book, and insisted upon his confining himself to his loom the whole day. This injudicious severity, however, defeated its own object. The young man's ' repeated attempts to evade the harsh injunction that had been laid upon him, led to perpetual quarrels between himself and his father, till he was one day ordered by the latter to leave the house altogether, and to go seek his fortune where and in whatever way he chose.” In this extremity he took refuge in the house of a tailor's widow, who let lodgings in the neighbouring village of Nuneaton, and with whose son, two years older than himself, he had been previously acquainted. Here he

[ocr errors]

contrived to maintain himself for a while by working at his business; and had at least a little time to spare besides for his favourite enjoyment of reading, when he could anywhere borrow a book. It chanced, however, that, among other humble travellers who sometimes took up their abode with the widow, was a pedlar, who followed the profession of an astrologer and fortune-teller, as well as that of an itinerant merchant, and was accordingly accounted a man of no little learning by the rustics of those parts. Young Simpson's curiosity had been, some time before this, greatly excited by a remarkable eclipse of the sun, which happened on the 11th of May, 1724; but, if this was the incident that gave his mind its first bias toward the studies in which he afterwards attained so high a distinction, it was to his casual connexion with the astrologer that he owed the rudiments of his scientific knowledge, This personage, with whom he had become very intimate, had, it appears, a few books relating to the mystery he professed, and to the branches of real learning held to be connected with it. Among these were Cocker's ‘Arithmetic,' which had, fortunately, a treatise on Algebra bound up with it—as well as the less useful addition of a work written by Partridge, the famous Almanacmaker, on the calculation of nativities. Both these volumes, the pedlar, on setting out upon a tour to Bristol, left in the hands of his ;


friend. These were the first scientific works Simpson had ever had an opportunity of perusing, and they interested him exceedingly—even the book on nativities, notwithstanding the absurdities it was filled with, probably not a little exciting his wonder and curiosity, both by its mysterious speculations on the prophetic language of the stars, and such scattered intimations as it afforded in regard to the sublime realities of astronomy. He studied his manuals with such are

[ocr errors]

dour and assiduity, that the pedlar, upon returning from his excursion, was quite confounded at his progress; and looked upon him as so marvellous a genius, that he proceeded forthwith to draw his horoscope, (to speak in the jargon of the art,) or, in other words, to calculate the position of the planets on the day he was born, in order that he might ascertain the splendid destiny in store for him. He predicted, that in two years more this miraculous pupil would actually turn out a greater philosopher than himself. After this, it cannot surprise us that our young aspirant should give himself to his occult studies with greater devotion than ever; and we find him, in fact, ere long, commencing business as fortune-teller on his own account, and rapidly rising in reputation in that capacity until he became the oracle of the whole neighbourhood. He now gave up working as a weaver ; but, to occupy his leisure, he added to his principal profession that of a schoolmaster: so that, his gains being now considerable, he looked upon himself as in the secure high road to prosperity, and accordingly took to himself a wife in the person of his landlady, the tailor's widow, whom we have already mentioned. This was a somewhat singular match; for, if the account commonly given of the lady be correct, which account makes her die in the year 1782, at the age of one hundred and two, she must have been at the time of this her second marriage about three times as old as her husband. Indeed, as we have already observed, she had (beside a daughter) a son by her former husband two years older than her new one. Nevertheless it is recorded, that she presented the latter with two successive additions to the family-the juvenile portion of which (excluding the father) now consisted, therefore, of four individuals. ;

It is necessary to mention these circumstances, in


order to give a true picture of Simpson's situation at this period of his life, and of the multiplied difficulties through which he must have fought his way to the eminence he eventually attained. No starting-place for a literary career, one should think, could well be more awkward and hopeless, than that of a man who, beside many other disadvantages, had already a family to maintain before he had almost commenced his education, and no other means of doing so except a profession which necessarily excluded him from any association with the literary world in general, much more effectually than if he had eaten the bread of the humblest or most menial industry. It was quite necessary, indeed, that, if he was ever to give himself a chance either of advancement or respectability, he shonld exchange his trade of a fortune-teller and conjurer for some more reputable vocation, even although it should be, at the same time, a more laborious and less lucrative one. This desirable result, in fact, was at last brought about hy one of those accidents, which so often in human life bring with them a temporary inconvenience only to turn a man into some path of permanent prosperity, which, but for this compulsion, he would have overlooked or never entered. Among the credulous persons who applied to Simpson to resolve, by his art, their doubts and misgivings touching the distant or the future, was a young girl, whose sweetheart, a sailor, was at the time at sea, and who wished to learn what he was about, either by having him presented to her in vision. or by a conference with a spirit who might be able to give her the requisite information. It was resolved, therefore, to use the jargon' of imposture, to raise a spirit ; and, for this purpose, a confederate of the conjurer's was attired in certain terrific habiliments, and concealed among a quantity of straw in the corner of a hay-loft, that he might step forth on due

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »