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Imprisonment Of The Learned
by [?]

Imprisonment has not always disturbed the man of letters in the progress of his studies, but has unquestionably greatly promoted them.

In prison Boethius composed his work on the Consolations of Philosophy; and Grotius wrote his Commentary on Saint Matthew, with other works: the detail of his allotment of time to different studies, during his confinement, is very instructive.

Buchanan, in the dungeon of a monastery in Portugal, composed his excellent Paraphrases of the Psalms of David.

Cervantes composed the most agreeable book in the Spanish language during his captivity in Barbary.

Fleta, a well-known law production, was written by a person confined in the Fleet for debt; the name of the place, though not that of the author, has thus been preserved; and another work, “Fleta Minor, or the Laws of Art and Nature in, knowing the bodies of Metals, etc. by Sir John Pettus, 1683;” received its title from the circumstance of his having translated it from the German during his confinement in this prison.

Louis the Twelfth, when Duke of Orleans, was long imprisoned in the Tower of Bourges: applying himself to his studies, which he had hitherto neglected, he became, in consequence, an enlightened monarch.

Margaret, queen of Henry the Fourth, King of France, confined in the Louvre, pursued very warmly the studies of elegant literature, and composed a very skilful apology for the irregularities of her conduct.

Sir Walter Raleigh’s unfinished History of the World, which leaves us to regret that later ages had not been celebrated by his eloquence, was the fruits of eleven years of imprisonment. It was written for the use of Prince Henry, as he and Dallington, who also wrote “Aphorisms” for the same prince, have told us; the prince looked over the manuscript. Of Raleigh it is observed, to employ the language of Hume, “They were struck with the extensive genius of the man, who, being educated amidst naval and military enterprises, had surpassed, in the pursuits of literature, even those of the most recluse and sedentary lives; and they admired his unbroken magnanimity, which, at his age, and under his circumstances, could engage him to undertake and execute so great a work, as his History of the World.” He was assisted in this great work by the learning of several eminent persons, a circumstance which has not been usually noticed.

The plan of the “Henriade” was sketched, and the greater part composed, by Voltaire during his imprisonment in the Bastile; and “the Pilgrim’s Progress” of Bunyan was performed in the circuit of a prison’s walls.

Howell, the author of “Familiar Letters,” wrote the chief part of them, and almost all his other works, during his long confinement in the Fleet prison: he employed his fertile pen for subsistence; and in all his books we find much entertainment.

Lydiat, while confined in the King’s Bench for debt, wrote his Annotations on the Parian Chronicle, which were first published by Prideaux. He was the learned scholar alluded to by Johnson; an allusion not known to Boswell and others.

The learned Selden, committed to prison for his attacks on the divine right of tithes and the king’s prerogative, prepared during his confinement his “History of Eadmer,” enriched by his notes.

Cardinal Polignac formed the design of refuting the arguments of the sceptics which Bayle had been renewing in his dictionary; but his public occupations hindered him. Two exiles at length fortunately gave him the leisure; and the Anti-Lucretius is the fruit of the court disgraces of its author.

Freret, when imprisoned in the Bastile, was permitted only to have Bayle for his companion. His dictionary was always before him, and his principles were got by heart. To this circumstance we owe his works, animated by all the powers of scepticism.

Sir William Davenant finished his poem of Gondibert during his confinement by the rebels in Carisbrook Castle. George Withers dedicates his “Shepherds Hunting,” “To his friends, my visitants in the Marshalsea:” these “eclogues” having been printed in his imprisonment.[1]