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JAMES BEATTIE, LL.D.
BY WILLIAM MUDFORD.
To the scholar and the poet, whose laurels may be now slowly ripening in obscurity, the Life of Dr. Beattie will present consolation and hope: not perhaps more than the lives of some other literary men, but at least as much. To the obscurity of his birth, were added other impediments in his career of fame, which only genius could surmount. Sequestered in a remote village of a remote province of Scotland, far from the circle of patronage and the opportunities for exertion, ambition found no aliment but what it derived from that in ward consciousness of something superior, which is perhaps always united with extraordinary endowments. It is this consciousness which swells the heart with high forebodings; which prompts the soul to o’erleap its present state, and to snatch a brief glance at futurity; which accompanies the youthful genius to his midnight pillow, and gives a colour to the dreams of sleep; which awakens with him in the fresh morning hour, and sheds around his steps the dubious anticipations of that renown which is to give his name to posterity, and to compensate for the cold and comfortless neglect that now envelopes him. The acknowledgement of these feelings would be too nearly allied to repulsive egotism, to expect that they should be displayed by those who have felt them : but can it be doubted that the existence of those lofty powers which constitute the poet and the man of genius, have ever been unaccompanied by the silent conviction of superiority, which, like the rose of spring, awaits the fostering sun of public praise to expand it into maturity and beauty? With a rapid, timid, but rap""turous eye, the youthful Shakspeare or Milton pierced, perhaps, through the shadows that surrounded the future, and hung with rapture on the glorious scene that glanced upon
their sight. Prophetic whispers of imperishable fame soothed their souls, and, proudly eminent in the consciousness of anticipated celebrity, they trod the path, obscure and hid. den, which was to terminate in the wide field of renown and glory. These cherished visions of superior minds, serve not only to brighten the immediate course of life, but they act as stimulants by which they are themselves verified: and there can be little doubt that Beattie, who confessed that he has given an adumbration of his own boyhood in the character of Edwin, felt all those trembling expectations of future fame which he was destined to accomplish. This ardent, this cheering hope' accompanied bis progress from the humble privacy of a village schoolmaster, to the more dignified post of a teacher of moral wisdom.
Of the life of Dr. Beattie not much is recorded. He has been made his own historian, by a plan well suited to supply deficiency of knowledge in the narrator, but which can sel'dom please equal to a perspicuous and copious detail of facts. Sir William Forbes, who had long been his friend, became also his biographer, but with few qualities for the task. As his communication with Dr. Beattie was more epistolarỳ than personal, he knew little of the man beyond what he learned from his letters; and of these he has not been sparing. The nar. rative part of Sir William's Life, might be comprised within very scanty limits. Neither does he appear to possess the force or discri. mination of mind which is requisite to paint the intellectual and moral character of Dr. Beattie. What he has written, any man might have written with the same accumulation of papers before him. His picture is but a copy of Dr. Beattie's self-delineation : such as Beattie describes himself, such his friend describes him: but he who has learned to penetrate the motives of human action, and the
principles of human thought, will receive, 1 with cautious deliberation, the opinions each
man entertains of himself. There are two kinds of deception; voluntary and involun. tary. A man practises the first when his speech is contrary to his knowledge; and this is criminal. The second is almost every man's error: for who is there that does not persuade himself into the belief of virtues which be possesses only in imagination ? But this is venial: it is the inseparable lot of human fallibility; and I am willing to think, with Shaftsbury,