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COLLEGE LIFE AT OXFORD. PUBLISHES BURTON'S
1775 to 1778.
In the year 1775, Mr. Burgess removed to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, upon a Winchester scholarship, which he gained after passing through a severe competition with five or six other candidates. Dr. Lawrence, the future friend of Burke, entered at the same time. They were both good scholars, and their tutor, who soon discovered that their classical proficiency much exceeded his own, intimated to them that he dispensed with their future attendance at lectures. Dr. Randolph was at this time head of Corpus.
The philological deficiencies of Dr. Warton have already been mentioned. His pupil was so sensible of the consequent defects of his own early training, that he now assiduously applied to the study of the best authors on Greek verbal criticism. Hoogeven, Bos, and Vigerus, became his constant companions, and he even submitted to the drudgery of committing to memory the whole of Nugent's Greek Primitives. The solid advantages which he felt that he had
thus acquired, often led him to recommend a diligent consultation of similar authors to such of his younger friends as manifested a taste for Greek literature, and he would sometimes expatiate to them upon the great importance of cheerfully submitting, early in life, to the necessary labour of accurately investigating the fundamental principles of those particular parts, whether of learning or science, to which their studies were directed.
His conduct as an under-graduate was, I have every reason to believe, in all respects exemplary. His circle of acquaintance was small, and pretty much confined to such as, like himself, were men of high principle and studious habits.
The four years which he spent at Oxford, previously to taking his degree, were steadily devoted to hard reading and to learned researches. He studied some of the finest works of the Greek philosophers and poets, with critical attention, and being fond of the philosophy of language, applied its principles to the investigation of the origin and formation of that of Greece, with an acuteness which contributed much in its consequences to his future eminence. He delighted also in metaphysical reading and research; and when he relaxed from these severer occupations, it was to cultivate a more intimate acquaintance with the finest productions of elegant literature, both classical and English. From an admirer, he became a votary of the Muses, and, in the year 1777, published, in the
spirit of youthful ambition, an English poem, entitled Bagley Wood, which was followed at a short interval by another, the title of which I have been unable to discover. Bagley Wood is situated between Abingdon and Oxford, and was one of his favourite rural retreats. His library has been searched in vain for copies of these youthful productions, which, however useful they might have proved to himself as exercises in composition, were probably of no great poetical merit.
In the year 1778, before taking his degree, he tried his strength as an author in a way better adapted to the powers of his mind and to the course of his learned studies, by editing a new edition of Burton's Pentalogia. This work, which comprises five of the finest of the Greek tragedies, illustrated by Annotations for the use of students, had formerly been deemed a Cambridge book, but had gradually fallen into disuse in that University. Mr. Burgess enriched this edition with an Appendix of additional and learned notes, with an improved and copious Greek Index, and with an elegant Preface, in the course of which he deprecates, in the following terms, the severity of criticism:
"Such as it is, I trust the learned reader will
* Hæc autem, qualiacunque sint, benevolè accipiat, rogo lector eruditus, quippe quæ a juvene conscripta Græcarum literarum, vereor, rudiori quàm decebat eum, qui primum Critices periculum, in Tragicis veteribus facere auderet
Multa tamen animo occurrebant, quæ suaderent ne hæc auTooXediáoμaτa publice proponerem: et movebant quidem, ni me firmasset Quintiliani, viri planè gravissimi, judicium. Non differendum
accept, in a kind spirit, this attempt on the part of a youth, less skilled, I fear, in Greek criticism, than becomes one who ventures for the first time to incur the risk of commenting upon the ancient tragic authors. Many considerations there are, which make me doubt of the propriety of this publication, and these doubts would have prevailed, had I not been encouraged by the authority of Quintilian, a man of the most profound judgment. "A "youthful author must not (he says) defer publishing till he grows old, for fear daily gathers strength; that which is long meditated appears more and more awful; and while we deliberate when to begin, the time itself for beginning passes away. Therefore the fruit must be gathered while it is yet green and tender, while there is the hope of pardon, and favour is at hand. To dare the attempt involves no dishonour, and age supplies what may be wanting to the work, and should any thing be advanced which savours of youth, it is treated accordingly."
Such a publication by an under-graduate was so remarkable an occurrence, that it attracted much attention both at Oxford and elsewhere. Dr. Warton, on receiving a copy of it from his old pupil, went into an ecstasy of delight, and holding it up in his
monentis esse tyrocinium in senectutem: nam quotidie metus crescit, majus fit semper quod ausuri sumus, et dum deliberamus quando incipiendum sit, incipere jam serum est. Quare fructum viridem, et adhuc dulcem, promi decet, dum veniæ et spes est, et paratus favor. Et audere non dedecet, et si quid desit operi supplet ætas, et si quæ dicta sunt juveniliter pro indole accipiuntur.
hands before the Winchester boys, addressed himself in particular to one who has since acquired no small literary distinction, the Rev. W. L. Bowles, exclaiming, "When will you produce such a work?" The fact is, that a resident graduate, who had undertaken the office of editor, growing tired of the labour, had suddenly withdrawn his services. The publisher, Mr. Fletcher, was one day complaining in the presence of Mr. Buckland a fellow of Corpus, of Burgess, and others, of the embarrassing position in which he consequently found himself, when Buckland exclaimed, "Burgess, why should not you undertake it?" The next day Fletcher called, and formally pressed the office of editor upon him. The youthful critic complied, and had great reason to rejoice in his decision, for independently of the reputation which the publication secured him, he derived solid and permanent advantage from the practical application which it involved of his philological studies, from the critical works which it led him to investigate, and from the acquaintance or friendship of various learned men which it procured him.
That Mr. Buckland, who was a man of learning, should have recommended an under-graduate of his college to undertake the difficult task of editing and enlarging a work which required intimate acquaintance with the Greek tragic authors, and much critical acumen, proves the high estimate which he had formed of the extent of his learning, and of the soundness of his judgment.