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Peter Burman was born at Utrecht, on the 26th day of June, 1668. The family from which he descended has, for several generations, produced men of great eminence for piety and learning; and his father, who was professor of divinity in the university, and pastor of the city of Utrech’t, was equally celebrated for the strictness of his life, the efficacy and orthodoxy of his sermons, and the learning and perspicuity of his academical lectures.

From the assistance and instruction which such a father would doubtless have been encouraged by the genius of this son not to have omitted, he was unhappily cut off at eleven years of age, being at that time, by his father’s death, thrown entirely under the care of his mother, by whose diligence, piety, and prudence, his education was so regulated, that he had scarcely any reason, but filial tenderness, to regret the loss of his father.

He was, about this time, sent to the publick school of Utrecht, to be instructed in the learned languages; and it will convey no common idea of his capacity and industry to relate, that he had passed through the classes, and was admitted into the university in his thirteenth year.

This account of the rapidity of his progress in the first part of his studies is so stupendous, that, though it is attested by his friend, Dr. Osterdyke, of whom it cannot be reasonably suspected that he is himself deceived, or that he can desire to deceive others, it must be allowed far to exceed the limits of probability, if it be considered, with regard to the methods of education practised in our country, where it is not uncommon for the highest genius, and most comprehensive capacity, to be entangled for ten years, in those thorny paths of literature, which Burman is represented to have passed in less than two; and we must, doubtless, confess the most skilful of our masters much excelled by the address of the Dutch teachers, or the abilities of our greatest scholars far surpassed by those of Burinan.

But, to reduce this narrative to credibility, it is necessary that admiration should give place to inquiry, and that it be discovered what proficiency in literature is expected from a student, requesting to be admitted into a Dutch university. It is to be observed, that in the universities of foreign countries, they have professors of philology, or humanity, whose employment is to instruct the younger classes in grammar, rhetorick, and languages; nor do they engage in the study of philosophy, till they have passed through a course of philological lectures and exercises, to which, in some places, two years are commonly allotted.

The English scheme of education, which, with regard to academical studies, is more rigorous, and sets literary honours at a higher price than that of any other country, exacts from the youth, who are initiated in our colleges, a degree of philological knowledge sufficient to qualify them for lectures in philosophy, which are read to them in Latin, and to enable them to proceed in other studies without assistance; so that it may be conjectured, that Burman, at his entrance into the university, had no such skill in languages, nor such ability of composition, as are frequently to be met with in the higher classes of an English school; nor was, perhaps, more than moderately skilled in Latin, and taught the first rudiments of Greek.

In the university he was committed to the care of the learned Graevius, whose regard for his father inclined him to superintend his studies with more than common attention, which was soon confirmed and increased by his discoveries of the genius of his pupil, and his observation of his diligence.

One of the qualities which contributed eminently to qualify Graevius for an instructor of youth, was the sagacity by which he readily discovered the predominant faculty of each pupil, and the peculiar designation by which nature had allotted him to any species of literature, and by which he was soon able to determine, that Burman was remarkably adapted to classical studies, and predict the great advances that he would make, by industriously pursuing the direction of his genius.