« ZurückWeiter »
that of a plodding ignorant clown. Mr. Hoffman, after contemplating this unpromising appearance, concluded, that as the supposed superiority of this man was of the intellectual kind, it would certainly appear when he spoke; but even in this experiment he was also disappointed. He asked bim, if what his neighbours had said of his reading and studying was true ? and the man bluntly and coarsely replied, “What neighbour has told you that I read and study? If I hare studied, I have studied for myself, and I don't desire that you or any body else should know any thing of the matter." Hoffman, however, continued the conversation, notwithstanding his disappointment, and asked several questions concerning arithmetic and the first rudiments of astronomy; to which he now expected vague and confused replies. But in this too he had formed an erroneous prognostic; for Hoflman was struck not only with astonishment but confusion, to hear such definitions and explications as would have done honour to a regular academic in a public examination.
Mr. Hoffinan, after this conversation, prevailed on the peasant to stay some time at his house, that he might further gratify his curiosity at such times as would be most convenient. In their subsequent conferences he proposed to his guest the most abstracțed and embarrassing questions, which were always answered with the utmost readiness and precision. The account which this extraordinary person gives of himself and his acquisitions, is as follows :
John Ludwig was born the 24th of February, 1715, in the village of Cossedaude, and was, among other poor children of the village, sent very young to school. The Bible, which was the book by which he was taught to read, gave him so much pleasure, that he conceived the most eager desire to read others, which, however, he had no opportunity to get into his possession. In about a year his master began to teach him to write, but this exercise was rather irksome than pleasing at first; but when the first difficulty was surmounted, he applied to it with great alacrity, especially as books were put into bis hand to copy as an exercise; and he employed himself almost night and day, not in copying particular passages only, but in forming collections of sentences, or events that were connected with each other. When he was ten years old, he had been at school four years, and was then put to arithmetic, but this embarrassed him with innumerable difficulties, which bis master would not take the trouble to explain, expecting that he should content himself with the implicit practice of poaitive rules. Ludwig, therefore, was so disgusted with
arithmetic, that after inuch scolding and beating he went from school, without having learned any thing more than reading, writing, and his Catechism,
He was then sent into the field to keep cows, and in this employment he soon became clownish, and negligent of every thing else ; so that the greatest part of what he had learned was forgotten. He associated with the sordid and the vicious, and he became insensible like them. As he grew up he kept company with women of bad character, and abandoned himself to such pleasures as were within his reach. But a desire of surpassing others, that principle which is productive of every kind of greatness, was still living in bis breast; he remembered to have been praised by his master, and preferred above his comrades, when he was learning to read and write, and he was still desirous of the same pleasure, though he did not know how to obtain it.
In the autumn of 1735, when he was about twenty years old, he bought a small Bible, at the end of which was a Catechism, with references to a great number of texts, upon which the principles contained in the answers were founded. Ludwig had never been used to take any thing upon trust, and was, therefore, continually turning over the leaves of his Bible, to find the passages referred to in the Catechism; but this he found so irksome a task, that he determined to have the whole at one view, and, therefore, set about to transcribe the Catechism, with all the texts at large brought into their proper places. With this exercise he filled two quires of paper, and though when he began, the character was scarcely legible, yet, before he had finished, it was greatly improved; for an art that has been once learned is easily recovered.
In the month of March, 1736, he was employed to receive the excise of the little district in which he lived, and he found that in order to discharge this office, it was necessary for him not only to write, bui to be master of the two first rules of arithmetic, addition and subtraction. His ambition had pow an object, and a desire to keep the accounts of the tax he was to gather, better than others of his station, de termined him once more to apply to arithmetic, however hateful the task, and whatever labour it might require. He now regretted that he was without an instructor, and would bave been glad at any rate to have practised the rules without first knowing the rationale. His mind was continually upon the stretch to find out some way of supplying this want, and at last he recollected that one of his school-fellows had a book from which examples of several rules were taken by the master to exercise the scholars. He, therefore, went immediately in search of this school-fellow, and was overjoyed to find, upon inquiry, that the book was still in his possession. Having borrowed this important volume, he returned home with it, and beginning his studies as he went along, be pursued them with such application, that in about six months he was master of the rule of three with fractions.
The reluctance with which he began to learn the powers and properties of figures was now at an end; he knew enough to make him earnestly desirous of knowing more ; he was, therefore, impatient to proceed from this book to one that was more difficult, and having at length found means to procure one that' treated of more intricate and complicated calculations, he made himself master of that also before the end of the year 1739. He had the good fortune soon after to meet with a Treatise of Geometry, written by Pachek, the same author whose arithmetic he had been studying ; and finding that this science was in some measure founded on that which he had learned, he applied to his new book with great assiduity for some time, but, at length, not being able perfectly to comprehend the theory as he went on, nor yet to discover the utility of the practice, he laid it aside, to which he was also induced by the necessity of his immediate attendance to his field and his vines.
The severe winter which happened in the year 1740, obliged him to keep long within his cottage, and having there no employment either for his body or his mind, he had once more recourse to his book of geometry: and having at length comprehended some of the leading principles, he procured a little box ruler and an old pair of compasses, on one point of which he mounted the end of a quill cut into a pen. With these instruments he employed himself incessantly in making various geometrical figures on paper, to illustrate the theory by a solution of the problems. He was thus busied in his cot till March, and the joy arising from the knowledge he had acquired was exceeded only by his desire of knowing more.
He was now necessarily recalled to that labour by which alone he could procure himself food, and was besides without money to procure such books and instruments as were absolutely necessary to pursue his geometrical studies, However, with the assistance of a neighbouring artificer, he procured the figures which he found represented by the diagrams in bis book, to be made in wood, and with these he went to work at every interval of leisure, which now happened only once a week, after divine service on a Sunday, He was siill in want of a new book, and having laid by a little sum for that purpose against the time of the fair, where
alone he had access to a bookseller's shop, he made a purchase of three small volumes, from which he acquired a complete knowledge of trigonometry. After this acquisition he could not rest till he had begun to study astronomy; his next purchase, therefore, was an introduction to that science, which he read with indefatigable diligence, and invented innumerable expedients to supply the want of proper instruments, in which he was not less successful than Robinson Crusoe, who, in an island of which he was the only rational inhabitant, found means to supply himself not only with the necessaries but the conveniences of life.
During his study of geometry and astronomy he had frequently met with the word philosophy, and this became more and more the object of his attention. He conceived that it was the name of some science of great importance and estent, with which he was as yet wholly unacquainted; he became therefore impatient in the highest degree to get acquainted with philosophy, and being continually upon the watch for such assistance as offered, he at last picked up a book, called An introduction to the knowledge of God, of man, and of the universe. In reading this book he was struck with a variety of objects that were equally interesting and new.
But as this book contained only general principles, he went to Dresden, and inquired among the booksellers, who was the most celebrated author that had written on philosophy. By the booksellers he was recommended to the Works of Wolfius, written in the German language, and Wolfius having been mentioned in several books he had read, as one of the most able men of his age, he readily took him for his guide in the regions of philosophy.
The first purchase that he made of Wolfius's Works was his Logic, and at this he laboured a full year, still attending to his other studies, so as not to lose what he had gained before. In this book he found himself referred to another, written by the same author, called Mathematical Principles, as the fittest to give just ideas of things and facilitate the practice of logic, he therefore inquired after this book with a design to buy it; but finding it too dear for his finances, he was obliged to content himself with an abridgment of it, which he purchased in the autumn of 1743. From this book he derived much pleasure and much profit, and it employed him from October, 1743, to February, 1745.
He then proceeded to metaphysics, at which he laboured till the October following, and he would fain have entered on the study of physics, but his indigence was an insuperable impediment, and he was obliged to content himself with
this author's Morality, Politics, and Remarks on Metaphysics, which employed himn till July, 1746; by this time he had scraped together a sum sufficient to buy the Physics, which he had so earnestly desired, and this work he read twice within the year.
About this time a dealer in old books sold him a volume of Wolfius's Mathematical Principles at large, and the spherical trigonometry which he found in this book was a niew treasure, which lie was very desirous to make his own. This, however, cost him incredible labour, and filled every moment that he could spare from his business and his sleep, for something more than a year.
He proceeded to the study of Kahrel's Law of Nature and Nations, and at the same time procured a little book on the terrestrial and celestial globes. These books, with a a few that he borrowed, were the sources from which he derived such a stock of knowledge, as is seldom found even among those who have associated with the inhabitants of an university and had perpetual access to public libraries.
Mr. Hoffman, during Ludwig's residence at his house, dressed him in his own gown), with other proper habiliments, and he observes that this alteration of his dress had such an effect, that Hoffman could not conceive the man's accent or dialect to be the same, and he felt himself secretly inclined to treat him with more deference than when he was in his peasant's dress, though the alteration was made in his presence and with his own apparel.
It happened also that before Ludwig went home there was an eclipse of the sun, and Mr. Hoffman proposed to his guest that he should observe this phænomenon as an astrononer, and for that purpose furnished him with proper instruments. The impatience of Ludwig till the time of the eclipse is not to be expressed ; be had hitherto been acquainted with the planetary world only by books and a view of the heavens with the naked eye; he had never yet looked through a telescope, and the anticipation of the pleasure which the new observation would yield him, scarcely suffered him either to eat or sleep; but it unfortunately happened, that just before the eclipse came on, the sky became cloudy, and continued so during the whole time of its conti. nuance. This misfortune was more than the philosophy even of Ludwig could bear; as the cloud caine on he looked up at it in the agony of a man that expected the dissolution of nature to follow; when it came over the sun, he stood fixed in a consternation not to be described, and when he knew the eclipse was past, his disappointment and grief were little short of distraction.