Littell's Living Age/Volume 125/Issue 1614/Literary Curiosities

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From The Gentleman's Magazine.


The intended celebration this year of the five-hundredth anniversary of the death of Boccaccio, who would have been a lawyer had it not been — so he says — for a sight of Virgils tomb, suggests a remarkable addition to the museum of literary curiosities. Poetry could ill afford to spare

Clerk foredoomed his fathers soul to cross,
Who pens a stanza when he should engross.

Petrarch was a law-student — and an idle one — at Bologna. Goldini, till he turned strolling player, was an advocate at Venice. Metastasio was for many years a diligent law-student. Tasso and Ariosto both studied law at Padua. Politian was a doctor of law. Schiller was a law-student for two years before taking to medicine. Goethe was sent to Leipzig, and Heine to Bonn, to study jurisprudence. Uhland was a practising advocate, and held a post in the ministry of justice at Stuttgart. Rückert was a law-student at Jena. Mickiewicz, the greatest of Polish poets, belonged to a family of lawyers, Kacinczy, the Hungarian poet, and creator of his country's literature, studied law at Kischau. Corneille was an advocate, and the son of an advocate. Voltaire was for a time in the office of procureur. Chaucer was a student of the Inner Temple. Gower is thought to have studied law; it has been alleged that he was chief justice of the Common Pleas. Nicholas Rowe studied for the bar. Cowper was articled to an attorney, called to the bar, and appointed a commissioner of bankrupts. Butler was clerk to a justice of the peace. The profession of Scott need not be stated. Moore was a student of the Middle Temple. Gray, until he graduated, intended himself for the bar. Campbell was in the office of a lawyer at Edinburgh. Longfellow, a lawyer's son, spent some in the office of his father. The peculiarity of this list — which might be extended with little trouble — lies in the eminence of these six-and-twenty names it contains. If they were omitted from literary history, Italian and German poetry would be nowhere, France would be robbed of one of its greatest and most national poets, English poetry would lose its father, and in all respects be very appreciably poorer. If less classic names in poetical history are taken, such as Talfourd, Macaulay, Bryant, and Barry Cornwall, the list might be infinitely extended; and if filial relationship to the legal profession be considered, as in the case of Wordsworth, the close connection between poetry and law will look such a matter of course that the few eminent exceptions will only tend to prove the rule. Milton was the son of a scrivener. There is no need to indorse the fancy that Shakespeare may have been a law-clerk, or to suggest that Dante might have been influenced by a residence at the great legal university of Bologna. But there is another list strikingly to the purpose — the long roll of great lawyers who, like Cicero, Sir Thomas More, Lord Somers, Blackstone, and Sir William Jones, have found flirtation with the muses no impediment to their marriage with the law. It may be that this close connection of two seemingly irreconcilable pursuits is due to some rule of contrast; or is it that fiction, romance, and verbiage afford to poetry and law a common standing-ground?