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BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH OF PETER NIEUWLAND.
As you have given in your Fourth Number an account of the poet Beronicius, the following biographical sketch of another extraordinary man may not be unacceptable. It is taken from a Dutch publication of Professor Van Swinden,
who also wrote his funeral oration.
PETER NIEUWLAND was born in the year 1764, in a village near Amsterdam; his father was a master carpenter, who understood arithmetic and Euclid, and had a tolerable collection of good books.
mit them to educate his child in their house. He was nine years of age when he left his father's
He applied himself to all the sciences, and succeeded in all; Belles-Lettres, history, and philosophy, soon became familiar to him; he learned mathematics by his own genius, with hardly any instruction, and applied them to physics, mechanics, and astronomy. He soon surpassed his teacher, Professor Van Swinden, and the disciple was as much superior to the master as the master had been to the disciple.
His memory was prodigious; he turned over the leaves of books, read, as it were, two pages at once, and afterwards repeated the contents. All mathematical problems were solved
He soon perceived that his son had no relish for the play-things suitable to his age; the child was only to be amused with prints and their ex-by heart; geometrical figures, and algebraical planations. After his mother had for some time characters were always in his mind; he made his diverted him with a book containing fifty figures, calculations in the streets, in numerous com and had repeated to him the Datch verses in panies, and amidst all the tumult of Amsterdam. stanzas of six lines, which were under each, she one day heard the child, who was then three years old, repeat the whole fifty stanzas in the order the prints were shewn to him, without missing a syllable.
He learned languages with the same facility; besides his native language, Dutch, he perfectly understood Greek, Latin, French, English, Italian, and German, and could read Spanish, Portuguese, and Swedish books. It is unnecessary to remark what an immense advantage this knowledge was to him.
He possessed all the requisites of a great poet, a lively imagination, a perfect knowledge of nature, of history, of the best poems, and lastly, of his mother-tongue. He translated into Dutch verse, before he was nineteen, all that the Greek and Latin poets have said on the state of the soul after death; and he imitated the style of Homer, of Pindar, of Anacreon, of Theocritus, and of Virgil.
At five years of age, young Nieuwland had read the whole Bible; two years after, his mind was full of the knowledge he had acquired by reading all his father's books of history, travels, Dutch poetry; he had made notes of the remarkable events, the characters of those men who had distinguished themselves, and the properties of animals and plants of which he had read; every thing was strongly imprinted in his memory; he also wrote verses in which the sparks of poetical fire already appeared.
To this genius for poetry he united a decided With all these brilliant qualities, he was moitalent for mathematics. At eight years he per- || dest, and of the most pure and gentle manners; fectly understood the famous theorem of Pytha-full of respect for the Supreme Being, and humble goras on the right-angled triangle. in prosperity.
At nine years old he was examined by Professor Eneas, as to his mathematical knowledge, and performed operations which astonished the Professor, who asked him if he could tell how many cubic inches a little wooden figure on a clock contained? "Yes," said the boy, "if you will give me a piece of the wood of which the image is made." Why? "I shall reduce it to a cubic inch, and compare its weight with that of the statue, and then I shall be able to answer pretty exactly."
Every body now began to talk of the carpenter's son; all the learned men in Holland came to see him. Among others were Jerom de Bosch, and his brother, who requested the father to perNo. XVII. Vol. II,
Such an amiable man deserved a good wife; he found a young woman who was handsome, lively, tender, and sensible. He married her; she died in child bed, at the age of twenty-two, and her new-born daughter only survived her two days.
He was obliged to quit Holland for sometime, to assuage his grief for her loss (he wrote an elegy on her in Dutch verse, which was printed at Amsterdam in 1792), and went to Gotha in Saxony.
Here his whole time was spent in the study of astronomy; after a few months' stay he returned to Amsterdam, and was by the Admiralty appointed one of the Commissioners for determining Kk
longitudes at sea, and for revising marine charts, which required all his astronomical knowledge, || and to this he applied as if he had never done any thing else.
and always knew how to make himself respected, Accordingly, no Professor has been more sincerely regretted, no pupils have more honoured the memory of their master; he was soon taken from them, Nieuwland died in 1794, aged thirty years and nine days.
Soon after he was appointed lecturer on mathematics, astronomy, and navigation, at the public college.
After having filled this office with great applause during six years, he was chosen professor of natural philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, hydraulics, and civil and military architecture at the university of Leyden.
He devoted himself with indefatigable zeal to the instruction of those pupils who were entrusted to his care. He was incessantly occupied in studying every thing that had been written on natural philosophy in all the languages, and likewise soon made himself master of the theorying all his diplomas, titles, acts of installation, &c. of chemistry. on the cover of which he had written :
During his last illness he arranged all his papers, and amongst them a parcel was found, contain
Hamlet. Is not parchment made of sheepskins?
He was not only an excellent teacher of the sciences to his pupils, but also as excellent a guide for their good conduct, inspiring them by precept and example with a love for virtue and morality. He had for them the solicitude of a father, conversed with them as with his equals,
Horat. Ay, my lord, and of calves-skins too. Ham. They are sheep and calves which seek out assurance in that.
He published twenty-two works; the first is a volume of Dutch poems, printed in 1788; 2. on the relative value of the different branches of human knowledge; 3. on the state of sciences compared with that of the belles lettres; 4. the love of one's country regarded as a religious duty; 5. on sensibility. The others are on different branches of mathematics, astronomy and navi. gation, of which the last was published in 1793.
A TRUE STORY,
COUNT T, chamberlain of the Duke of || advised him to keep up his spirits, and to seek Bg, lost, by a sudden and violent fever, his young, beautiful, and amiable consort, with whom he had lived scarcely a year in uninterrupted conjugal felicity. This heavy affliction reduced him to the brink of despair. He himself was still young, rich, respected by many, envied by more, distinguished by his rank, and in a still higher degree by the favour of his sovereign; had he but signified his pleasure, all the young females about-the court would have been ready to offer him their hands. This, however, afforded him no consolation. Notwithstanding his illustrious descent, he was so unfashionable as to possess a heart susceptible of the most tender and generous feelings. He now shunned all the brilliant circles, and while he suffered the Prince very often to go unattended to the theatre and to the chace, he confined himself almost entirely to his own house. There he frequently shut himself up for half the day with his sorrows and a portrait of his beloved wife, in a small lonely closet. When he quitted this retreat he conversed with not more than two or three of his most intimate friends; in company even with them he was often visibly absent, and listened with anguish in his heart and a smile upon his countenance, when they sometimes
In this manner several months passed away; the carnival arrived, and to him that period of amusement was as destitute of pleasure as any which had preceded it; he seemed to have bidden an eternal adieu to every enjoyment.
The prince at length grew weary of his long dejection. In the mean time many courtiers had endeavoured, perhaps purely from disinter ested attachment to his serene highnes, to fill the place of the negligent favourite, and had also occasionally indulged in satirical reflections on the gloomy melancholy, and extravagant tenderness of this new Orpheus, whose only cry was,Eurydice! Eurydice! Their sarcasms and their designs were alike unsuccessful; a stern look from the Duke had always instantly checked the brilliant current of their humour. The Prince was seriously concerned for a man whom he had known from his youth, and with whom, though he had studiously avoided interfering in the affairs of government, he could nevertheless converse on many other subjects besides the last stag with sixteen branches that had been shot, or the latest opera-dancer; he therefore resolved himself to attempt his cure.
"Chamberlain," said he once to him when Count T- - had not appeared for two or three days at court, "the tenderness of your love for your wife is not only honourable and praiseworthy, but in the present times it is truly exemplary; but as she is dead, and it is impossible to recall her from the grave, you should not for her sake fall out with all the living. Many of the latter, and myself in particular, have a just claim to your affection, and yet many weeks pass away in which I cannot even obtain a sight of you."
"The most flattering reprimand, your serene highness, that I ever received! pardon me, howif a slight indisposition"
"Yes, your looks, my dear Count, attest that you are indisposed; but probably you have brought this indisposition on yourself by your incessant grief, your watchings, weeping, and continual confinement at home. Tell me how you have liked this carnival, how many balls you have been to?"
"To confess the truth, your highness, not to
"I thought so; and can you then wonder that you are unwell, at the same time that you refuse all medicine! The day after to-morrow I shall give a masquerade, and that at least I hope you will go to."
He had not been there long before a female mask that passed twice or thrice close to him drew his attention; it was a black domino with a white mask which completely covered the whole
face. She walked quite alone; she had nothing particularly remarkable in her dress, though it was perfectly neat and new, nor any thing glaring or splendid about her person; but in her tall, elegant figure, in her step, air, and movements, the Count imagined that he discovered a great resemblance to his deceased wife. At length she reclined against a pillar exactly opposite to him, and equally unconcerned about the crowd and the bustle around her, seemed to fix her eyes upon him alone. An unaccountable anxiety took possession of his soul, and overpowered by involuntary curiosity, he looked stedfastly at the figure. The Prince observing him change countenance, at length inquired what was the matter.
"O nothing, your serene highness, nothing at all; I only saw yonder a mask that interests me. I should like to know who it is."
"If your highness commands it."
The chamberlain followed his advice. But the mask, though it was impossible she could have heard what had passed in a whisper between them, seemed to anticipate the intention of the Count, and purposely to avoid him. Scarcely did he advance towards her before she quitted her station, and took refuge in the thickest of the crowd; the farther she removed, the more eager was Count Tin the pursuit; every one instantly made way, as may easily be conceived, for the favourite of the Prince. At last she could no longer avoid him without evidently giving offence. He addressed her with one of the usual masquerade questions, which, perfectly unmean
"Excellent! so you would stay away from that too? You know that I am not fond of using the word command, and least of all with you, but I shall fight you with your own weapons. Therefore, Sir, I request this condescension of you, and shall expect you at eight precisely."
The chamberlain bowed, and promised to obey.ing in themselves, signify nothing more than,All the necessary preparations were made for the masquerade; half the town of B- equipped themselves, with joy, for the occasion. The third evening a great number of masks appeared in the capacious hall of the palace, which was magnificently lighted. The Prince, with all his court, graced the assembly. Count T-, who was almost always near the Duke, and very often engaged in conversation with him, strove to appear, at least, somewhat more cheerful than usual. Rather more than two hours had elapsed when, still near the person of the prince, and fatigued with continually walking about, and perhaps also from secret disgust, he reclined a few moments against the cornice of a stove that was in the centre of the hall, and which afforded the most advantageous view of the whole gay and motly throng.
"Mask, I do not know you, but should like to hear you speak." Her reply was as short and indifferent as his question. These few words, however, startled him; he fancied that the voice exactly resembled that of her whose image was still ever present to his mind. He suppressed his astonishment, and again addressed her. She answered all his questions with the utmost politeness, but always in a certain melancholy tone, which corresponded but too well with that of his own mind. At length he offered her his arm to walk about the hall; she accepted it; but when she took hold of him, though very gently, an inward tremor thrilled his frame. In despite of this sensation he proceeded. "Why, beauteous mask," said he, "do you touch me with so timid a hand? perhaps my proposal to conduct you may not be agreeable?"
"Why not address her then? you are at li. berty, Count, to go and come back as often as you please; it gives me satisfaction to see you take an earnest in something."
"On the contrary, it is most agreeable; you, Count, are the only person in this hall to whom I could say so."
Have we ever been in each other's company || notice, and become the butt of the company, he before?"
"Yes, often; both here and in other places; masked and unmasked."
employed all the powers of his eloquence, and summoned to his aid all the promises he could think of, to prevail on her either to tell him her name, or what would be still more agreeable, to unmask. She long refused, or rather kept silence. At last, when he conjured her by all that is
"You must know me then?"
"I once flattered myself that I did; now I hope sacred on earth or in heaven, and if she had ever so still more than before."
"And do I know you?"
loved, by the object of her affection, she answered, but still not without apparent reluctance: "Well, your request shall be granted. I will
"Most certainly you do?"
"Extraordinary!-And your name; might I unmask, but not here. If you know of any safe not be permitted to know that?"
66 You might; but the knowledge of it cannot now be attended with any advantage, but would rather prove injurious to you."
"Injurious! your name injurious!-Can any name prove injurious to me? Incomprehensible! impossible!"
"But yet too true! You are here for the purpose of diverting yourself; a single word from me might awaken the most painful sensations."
Such was the commencement of a conversation which every moment grew more interesting and more obscure for the unhappy Count, which filled his heart with inexpressible anxiety, and which, nevertheless, he could not prevail upon himself to break off. He turned the conversation to various long past occurrences of his life; the mask knew them all with a precision and accu racy that nothing could surpass; nay, she even recalled to his memory many a little trait that he himself had forgotten. At length he began to speak, with an inward tremor, of the felicity he enjoyed in the conjugal state. The mask was silent, or replied only in monosyllables. Her voice seemed to become fainter. When the Count urged her to tell him, whether she knew any thing relative to this, subject, she exclaimed, "Why should I tear open wounds which still bleed in my own bosom? You are sensible, Count, deeply sensible of what you have lost. But as you have again made your appearance|| here, you seem already to be looking round you for consolation and oblivion." He thought that, on these words, she would have disengaged herself from him, but he held her too firmly.
"By all that is sacred!" cried the Count, and in a louder tone than was suited to such a place, "I will not let you go! Incomprehensible woman, who are you? and whence come you?"
A motion with her right hand towards heaven served instead of an answer, and seemed to say, "From above."
The Count could scarcely restrain the tumult of his feelings. Seating himself with her in a corner of the hall, lest they should excite the
and retired apartment in the palace, and still persist in your curiosity, conduct me to it." He instantly rose. "But, I fear, Count," continued she, or rather, I am certain that you will repent your obstinacy." Instead of replying, he offered her his arm.
They departed. One out of the suite of apartments that ran the length of the hall, was opened without hesitation for the favourite of the Prince. They entered; the mask first looked round to see whether they were alone. Having satisfied herself on this point, she once more asked her conductor, if he wished to see her real countenance. "Yes, yes; I implore it as the greatest of favours." "Be it so!" She removed the mask, and Count T- --sunk as if thunder. struck upon the floor, for he beheld-a death's head.
How long he remained in this condition cannot be stated with accuracy. To the care of the Prince he was, probably, indebted for his recovery, before it was too late. He had kept an attentive eye upon his favourite. His long têtea-tête with a mask that nobody knew; the warmth of their conversation, or rather the warmth with which the Count engrossed almost the whole of it to himself; the lively interest he took in this person, which caused him to forget all that was passing around him, excited no small degree of astonishment in the Duke. His surprise was increased to the highest pitch, when he, at length, saw them both walk straight away from the hall. Gladly would his serene highness have ascribed it to a cause which is said not unfrequently to occur at masquerades; for then he would have heartily rejoiced at the cure of grief so profound. Such a change he, however, thought too sudden; the air of the conversation appeared too grave, and so open a departure from the company too incautious. That the Count had retired for the night without paying his respects to the Prince, was not to be supposed.
As Count T-— had now been absent for some time, and did not return, the Prince began to be seriously alarmed; he made more particular inquiries, and was informed that they had gone
into a certain apartment and shut the door. He went thither; and after calling to no purpose, opened the door, and beheld the Count extended in the middle of the apartment, with all the appearances of death. Surgeons and attendants were instantly summoned to his aid. All their efforts to restore animation were long ineffectual. At length, when the Count came to himself, and seemed somewhat recovered, the Prince urgently intreated him to disclose the cause of the accident. The Count gave a faithful narrative of the whole affair. The Duke was in the utmost astonishment, and would have suspected that the Count was delirious, had not his pulse, and the testimony of the medical attendants, refuted such an idea. Nay, the Prince himself had, with his own eyes, beheld at least some part of this extraordinary occurrence. The strictest inquiry was now made for the mask. Nobody had seen her go away, or even come out of the room; and yet she was no where to be found. All the hackneycoachmen that were drawn up before the palace, all the gentlemen's servants, were interrogated, none of them had driven or attended her. At last, when they were all tired of inquiring, two chairmen came forward. They had, they said, been called about an hour before to take up a emale domino, who came out of a back do of the palace. Being asked where they had set her down, they at first hesitated to tell; but when farther urged, they replied: "At the churchyard." They added, that the mask had directed them to stop there; that when she was set down, she put an old ducat, covered all over with mould, into one of their hands; that she then went to the church-yard gate, which she opened with a - single touch, and quickly shut it again after her. What afterwards became of her, they knew not. As far as their terror and astonishment would permit them to observe, she had sunk into the .tomb on the right hand, as she there vanished from their sight.
In the very spot, described by the chairmen, was the family vault of the Count. There his deceased consort was interred. The door of the vault was next morning found open. No farther traces could be discovered; and in spite of repeated inquiries, nothing more was ever heard or seen of this mask.
It is easy to conceive that this event, when it became known-and it could not but be known the next morning to every child in B, produced an uncommon sensation; and it is in the nature of things, that very different opinions should be formed concerning it. The multitude took it for an actual apparition; another, and not an inconsiderable portion, assuming an air of profound wisdom, came to no decision at all;
and a few imagined that something of human artifice must be at the bottom.
They justly observed, that a spirit would not have wanted a couple of chairmen to carry it away. "If," said they farther, "the spirits of the departed were actually permitted to appear to the living; if they could, on such occasions, assume the former body, with all its clothing and appurtenances, still this apparition was highly censurable. What was it intended for? A visit of punishment. How had the Count deserved it? 'Or, was it a friendly visit?—In this case, neither time, place, or manner, could have been worse chosen; and it would prove that, on the other side of the grave, people behave still more inconsistently than they, alas! so frequently act on this side of it."
The sentiments of this last class were certainly the most rational; but unfortunately the vir tuous Count had too much warmth of feeling, and too little strength of mind, to adopt them. He was thoroughly convinced that his wife's spirit had actually appeared to him, for the purpose of admonishing him never to forget her.— He now withdrew, still more rigidly than before, from all diversions, and indulged still more freely in his sorrow and his love of solitude. No persuasions, no rem onstrances had any ffect. His health, already impaired, received a severe shock from the fright, and still greater injury from this mode of life. It continued on the decline. Before a year elapsed, symptoms of a confirmed onsumption appeared; and towards the conclusion of the second he expired. On this event, the app rition was again, for a time, the subject of conversation; after which, it was again for gotten, at least for a considerable interval..
About twenty-five years afterwards, an elderly lady of honour, the Baroness U-, was gathered to her right noble and illustrious ancestors. She made, as it is called, a very edify. ing exit; and, by her will, bequeathed a legacy of fifty dollars to the church and schools.-Soon after her interment, a story, to which she had herself given occasion, by a confession made on her death-bed, began to be whispered in the higher circles. The substance of it was as fullows:
"Count T- had been in her youth the first, and, it might be said also, the only object of her affection. Encouraged by herself, he had, for some time, professed himself her admirer, and possessed her favour in the fullest meaOn her side she was perfectly serious, but probably he was not the same on his; for, in a few months, he suspended his assiduities, and soon afterwards publicly courted the hand of the lady who became his wife. This conduct