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Latin, as translating a poet from one language to another is different from prose. One comfort I have, that the authors I am concerned with are very good in their kind, and afford me plenty of materials, which will clear up a great many mistakes of modern travellers, who, passing through the eastern countries, without the necessary knowledge of the history and ancient customs of the Mohammedans, pick up little pieces of tradition from the present inhabitants, and deliver them as obscurely as they receive them. One thing pleases me much, that we shall give a very particular account of Ali and Hosein, who are reckoned saints by the Persians, and whose names you must have met with both in Herbert and Tavernier; for the sake of whom there remains that implacable and irreconcilable hatred between the Turks and Persians to this very day, which you may look for in vain in all the English books that have hitherto appeared. It would be a great satisfaction to me, if the author I have were complete in all his volumes, that I might bring the history down five or six hundred years: but, alas! of twelve that he wrote, we have but two at Oxford, which are large quartos, and from whence I take the chief of my materials.
"I wish that some public spirit would arise among us, and cause those books to be bought in the east for us which we want. I should be very willing to lay out my pains for the service of the public. If we could but procure £500 to be judiciously laid out in the east, in such books as I could mention for the public library at Cambridge, it would be the greatest improvement that could be conceived: but that is a happiness not to be expected in my time. We are all swallowed up in politics; there is no room for letters; and it is to be feared that the next generation will not only inherit but improve the polite ignorance of the present."
Poor Ockley, always a student, and rarely what is called a man of the world, once encountered a literary calamity which frequently occurs when an author finds himself among the vapid triflers and the polished cynics of the fashionable circle. Something like a patron he found in Harley, the Earl of Oxford, and once had the unlucky honour of dining at the table of my Lord Treasurer. It is probable that Ockley, from retired habits and severe studies, was not at all accomplished in the suaviter in modo, of which greater geniuses than Ockley
have so surlily despaired. How he behaved we cannot narrate; probably he delivered himself with as great simplicity at the table of the Lord Treasurer, as on the wrong side of Cambridge Castle gate. The embarrassment this simplicity drew him into, is very fully stated in the following copious apology he addressed to the Earl of Oxford, which we have transcribed from the original; perhaps it may be a useful memorial to some men of letters as little polished as the learned Ockley :
"Cambridge, July 15, 1714.
"I was so struck with horror and amazement two days ago, that I cannot possibly express it. A friend of mine showed me a letter, part of the contents of which were, 'That Professor Ockley had given such extreme offence by some uncourtly answers to some gentlemen at my Lord Treasurer's table, that it would be in vain to make any further application to him.'
"My Lord, it is impossible for me to recollect, at this distance of time. All that I can say is this: that, as on the one side for a man to come to his patron's table with a design to affront either him or his friends, supposes him a perfect natural, a mere idiot; so on the other side it would be extremely severe, if a person whose education was far distant from the politeness of a court, should, upon the account of an unguarded expression, or some little inadvertency in his behaviour, suffer a capital sentence.
"Which is my case, if I have forfeited your Lordship's favour; which God forbid! That man is involved in double ruin that is not only forsaken by his friend; but, which is the unavoidable consequence, exposed to the malice and contempt, not only of enemies, but, what is still more grievous, of all sorts of fools.
"It is not the talent of every well-meaning man to converse with his superiors with due decorum; for, either when he reflects upon the vast distance of their station above his own, he is struck dumb and almost insensible; or else their condescension and courtly behaviour encourages him to be too familiar. To steer exactly between these two extremes requires not only a good intention, but presence of mind, and long custom.
"Another article in my friend's letter was, 'That somebody had informed your lordship, that I was a very sot.' When first I had the honour to be known to your lordship, I could easily foresee that there would be persons enough that would envy me upon that account, and do what in them lay to traduce me. Let Haman enjoy never so much himself, it is all nothing, it does him no good, till poor Mordecai is hanged out of his way.
"But I never feared the being censured upon that account. Here in the University, I converse with none but persons of the most distinguished reputations both for learning and virtue, and receive from them daily as great marks of respect and esteem, which I should not have, if that imputation were true. It is most certain that I do indulge myself the freedom of drinking a cheerful cup, at proper seasons, among my friends; but no otherwise than is done by thousands of honest men who never forfeit their character by it. And whoever doth no more than so, deserves no more to be called a sot, than a man that eats a hearty meal would be willing to be called a glutton.
"As for those detractors, if I have but the least assurance of your lordship's favour, I can very easily despise them. They are nati consumere fruges. They need not trouble themselves about what other people do; for whatever they eat and drink, it is only robbing the poor. Resigning myself entirely to your Lordship's goodness and pardon, I conclude this necessary apology with like provocation, That I would be content he should take my character from any person that had a good one of his own.
“I am, with all submission,
"Your Lordship's most obedient, &c.
To the honour of the Earl of Oxford, this unlucky piece of awkwardness at table, in giving "uncourtly answers," did not interrupt his regard for the poor oriental student; for several years afterwards the correspondence of Ockley was still accept. able to the Earl.*
• D'Israeli's Calamities of Authors.
In the meantime, Ockley was one of those unfortunate persuns, whom Pierius Valerianus would have recorded, in his book "De infelicitate literatorum." In his "Inaugural Oration," printed in 1711, he calls fortune venefica and noverca, speaks of mordaces curæ as things long familiar to him; and, in Dec. 1717, we find him actually under confinement for debt. In the introduction to the second volume of the first edition of his "Saracenic History," he not only tells us so, but even stoically dates from Cambridge Castle. His biographer thus accounts for his unfortunate situation :-Having married very young, he was encumbered with a family early in life; his preferment in the church was not answerable to his reputation as a scholar; his patron, the Earl of Oxford, fell into disgrace when he wanted him most; and, lastly, he had some share of that common infirmity among the learned, which makes them negligent of economy and a prudential regard to outward things, without which, however, all the wit, and all the learning, in the world, will but serve to render a man the more miserable.
If the letters of the widows and children of many of our eminent authors were collected, they would demonstrate the great fact, that the man who is a husband or a father ought not to be an author. They might weary with a monotonous cry, and usually would be dated from the gaol or the garret. I have seen an original letter from the widow of Ockley to the Earl of Oxford, in which she lays before him the deplorable situation of her affairs; the debts of the Professor being beyond what his effects amounted to, the severity of the creditors would not even suffer the executor to make the best of his effects; the widow remained destitute of necessaries, incapable of assisting her children.
Thus students have devoted their days to studies worthy of a student. They are public benefactors, yet find no friend in the public, who cannot yet appreciate their value-Ministers of state know it, though they have rarely protected them. Ockley, by letters I have seen, was frequently employed by Bolingbroke to translate letters from the sovereign of Morocco to our court; yet all the debts for which he was imprisoned in Cambridge Castle did not exceed two hundred pounds. The public interest is concerned in stimulating such enthusiasts; they are men who cannot be salaried, who can
not be created by letters patent; for they are men who infuse their soul into their studies, and breathe their fondness for them in their last agonies. Yet such are doomed to feel their life pass away like a painful dream!*
As to the literary character of Ockley, it is certain that he was extremely well skilled in all the ancient languages, and particularly the oriental; so that the very learned Reland thought it not too much to declare, that he was "vir, si quis alius, harum literarum peritus." He was, likewise, very knowing in modern languages, as in the French, Spanish, Italian, &c. and, upon the whole, considered as a linguist, we may presume that very few have exceeded him.†
• D'Israeli's Calamities of Authors.
For this biography, which is principally written by Dr. Heathcote, we are indebted to Chalmers's Biographical Dictionary and D'Israeli's Calamities of Authors.