Curiosities of Literature, by Isaac Disraeli

Grotius.

The Life of Grotius shows the singular felicity of a man of letters and a statesman, and how a student can pass his hours in the closest imprisonment. The gate of the prison has sometimes been the porch of fame.

Grotius, studious from his infancy, had also received from Nature the faculty of genius, and was so fortunate as to find in his father a tutor who formed his early taste and his moral feelings. The younger Grotius, in imitation of Horace, has celebrated his gratitude in verse.

One of the most interesting circumstances in the life of this great man, which strongly marks his genius and fortitude, is displayed in the manner in which he employed his time during his imprisonment. Other men, condemned to exile and captivity, if they survive, despair; the man of letters may reckon those days as the sweetest of his life.

When a prisoner at the Hague, he laboured on a Latin essay on the means of terminating religious disputes, which occasion so many infelicities in the state, in the church, and in families; when he was carried to Louvenstein, he resumed his law studies, which other employments had interrupted. He gave a portion of his time to moral philosophy, which engaged him to translate the maxims of the ancient poets, collected by Stobæus, and the fragments of Menander and Philemon.

Every Sunday was devoted to the Scriptures, and to his Commentaries on the New Testament. In the course of the work he fell ill; but as soon as he recovered his health, he composed his treatise, in Dutch verse, on the Truth of the Christian Religion. Sacred and profane authors occupied him alternately. His only mode of refreshing his mind was to pass from one work to another. He sent to Vossius his observations on the Tragedies of Seneca. He wrote several other works — particularly a little Catechism, in verse, for his daughter Cornelia — and collected materials to form his Apology. Although he produced thus abundantly, his confinement was not more than two years. We may well exclaim here, that the mind of Grotius had never been imprisoned.

To these various labours we may add an extensive correspondence he held with the learned; his letters were often so many treatises, and there is a printed collection amounting to two thousand. Grotius had notes ready for every classical author of antiquity, whenever a new edition was prepared; an account of his plans and his performances might furnish a volume of themselves; yet he never published in haste, and was fond of revising them. We must recollect, notwithstanding such uninterrupted literary avocations, his hours were frequently devoted to the public functions of an ambassador:—“I only reserve for my studies the time which other ministers give to their pleasures, to conversations often useless, and to visits sometimes unnecessary.” Such is the language of this great man!

I have seen this great student censured for neglecting his official duties; but, to decide on this accusation, it would be necessary to know the character of his accuser.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37