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Amusements Of The Learned
by [?]

Sallengre, who would amuse himself like Erasmus, wrote, in imitation of his work, a panegyric on Ebriety. He says, that he is willing to be thought as drunken a man as Erasmus was a foolish one. Synesius composed a Greek panegyric on Baldness. These burlesques were brought into great vogue by Erasmus’s Moriae Encomium.

It seems, Johnson observes in his life of Sir Thomas Browne, to have been in all ages the pride of art to show how it could exalt the low and amplify the little. To this ambition, perhaps, we owe the Frogs of Homer; the Gnat and the Bees of Virgil; the Butterfly of Spenser; the Shadow of Wowerus; and the Quincunx of Browne.

Cardinal de Richelieu, amongst all his great occupations, found a recreation in violent exercises; and he was once discovered jumping with his servant, to try who could reach the highest side of a wall. De Grammont, observing the cardinal to be jealous of his powers, offered to jump with him; and, in the true spirit of a courtier, having made some efforts which nearly reached the cardinal’s, confessed the cardinal surpassed him. This was jumping like a politician; and by this means he is said to have ingratiated himself with the minister.

The great Samuel Clarke was fond of robust exercise; and this profound logician has been found leaping over tables and chairs. Once perceiving a pedantic fellow, he said, “Now we must desist, for a fool is coming in!”[1]

An eminent French lawyer, confined by his business to a Parisian life, amused himself with collecting from the classics all the passages which relate to a country life. The collection was published after his death.

Contemplative men seem to be fond of amusements which accord with their habits. The thoughtful game of chess, and the tranquil delight of angling, have been favourite recreations with the studious. Paley had himself painted with a rod and line in his hand; a strange characteristic for the author of “Natural Theology.” Sir Henry Wotton called angling “idle time not idly spent:” we may suppose that his meditations and his amusements were carried on at the same moment.

The amusements of the great d’Aguesseau, chancellor of France, consisted in an interchange of studies; his relaxations were all the varieties of literature. “Le changement de l’etude est mon seul delassement,” said this great man; and “in the age of the passions, his only passion was study.”

Seneca has observed on amusements proper for literary men, that, in regard to robust exercises, it is not decent to see a man of letters exult in the strength of his arm, or the breadth of his back! Such amusements diminish the activity of the mind. Too much fatigue exhausts the animal spirits, as too much food blunts the finer faculties: but elsewhere he allows his philosopher an occasional slight inebriation; an amusement which was very prevalent among our poets formerly, when they exclaimed:–

“Fetch me Ben Jonson’s scull, and fill’t with sack,
Rich as the same he drank, when the whole pack
Of jolly sisters pledged, and did agree
It was no sin to be as drunk as he!”

Seneca concludes admirably, “whatever be the amusements you choose, return not slowly from those of the body to the mind; exercise the latter night and day. The mind is nourished at a cheap rate; neither cold nor heat, nor age itself, can interrupt this exercise; give therefore all your cares to a possession which ameliorates even in its old age!”

An ingenious writer has observed, that “a garden just accommodates itself to the perambulations of a scholar, who would perhaps rather wish his walks abridged than extended.” There is a good characteristic account of the mode in which the Literati may take exercise, in Pope’s Letters. “I, like a poor squirrel, am continually in motion indeed, but it is but a cage of three foot! my little excursions are like those of a shopkeeper, who walks every day a mile or two before his own door, but minds his business all the while.” A turn or two in a garden will often very happily close a fine period, mature an unripened thought, and raise up fresh associations, whenever the mind, like the body, becomes rigid by preserving the same posture. Buffon often quitted the old tower he studied in, which was placed in the midst of his garden, for a walk in it. Evelyn loved “books and a garden.”


[Footnote 1: The same anecdote is related of Dr. Johnson, who once being at a club where other literary men were indulging in jests, upon the entry of a new visitor exclaimed, “Let us be grave–here is a fool coming.”]