Beronicius

The  history of this man is involved in some obscurity, yet enough is known to show that he was a person of wonderful endowments, and great eccentricity of life and character.

In the year 1674, the celebrated Dutch poet, Antonides Vander Goes, being in Zealand, happened to be in company with a young gentleman, who spoke of the wonderful genius of his language master. Vander Goes expressed a desire to see him, and while they were talking upon the subject, the extraordinary man entered. He was a little, sallow dumpling of a fellow, with fiery eyes, and nimble, fidgety motions; he was withal a sight to see for the raggedness of his garments.

The strange man soon showed that he was drunk, and shortly after took his leave. But in a subsequent interview with the Dutch poet, he fully justified the character his pupil had given him. His great talent lay in being able with almost miraculous quickness, to turn any written theme into Latin or Greek verse. Upon being put to the trial, by Vander Goes, he succeeded, to the admiration of all present.

The poet had just shown him his verses, and asked his opinion of them. Beronicius read them twice, praised them, and said, "What should hinder me from turning them into Latin instantly?" The company viewed him with curiosity, and encouraged him by saying, "Well, pray let us see what you can do." In the meantime, the man appeared to be startled. He trembled from head to foot, as if possessed. However, he selected an epigram from the poems, and asked the precise meaning of two or three Dutch words, of which he did not clearly understand the force, and requested that he might be allowed to Latinize the name of Hare, which occurred in the poem, in some manner so as not to lose the pun. They agreed; and he immediately said, "I have already found it,—I shall call him Dasypus," which signifies an animal with rough legs, and is likewise taken by the Greeks for a hare. "Now, read a couple of lines at a time to me, and I shall give them in Latin," said he;—upon which a poet named Buizero, began to read to him, and Beronicius burst out in the following verses:—

Egregia Dasypus referens virtute leonem
In bello, adversus Britonas super æquora gesto,
Impavidus pelago stetit, aggrediente molossum.
Agmine quem tandem glans ferrea misit ad astra,
Vindictæ cupidum violato jure profundi.
Advena, quisquis ades, Zelandæ encomia gentis
Ista refer, lepores demta quod pelle leonem,
Assumant, quotquot nostro versantur in orbe.
Epitaphium Herois Adriani de Haze, ex Belgico versum.

When the poet had finished, he laughed till his sides shook; at the same time he was jeering and pointing at the company, who appeared surprised at his having, contrary to their expectations, acquitted himself so well; everybody highly praised him, which elated him so much that he scratched his head three or four times; and fixing his fiery eyes on the ground, repeated without hesitation, the same epigram in Greek verse, calling out, "There ye have it in Greek." Every one was astonished, which set him a-laughing and jeering for a quarter of an hour.

The Greek he repeated so rapidly, that no one could write from his recitation. John Frederick Gymnick, professor of the Greek language at Duisburgh, who was one of the auditors, said that he esteemed the Greek version as superior to the Latin. Beronicius was afterwards examined in various ways, and gave such proofs of his wonderful learning, as amazed all the audience.

This singular genius spoke several languages so perfectly, that each might have passed for his mother tongue; especially Italian, French, and English. But Greek was his favorite, and he used it as correctly and as fluently as if he had always spoken it. He knew by heart the whole of Horace and Virgil, the greatest part of Cicero, and both the Plinys; and would immediately, if a line were mentioned, repeat the whole passage, and tell the exact work, volume, chapter, and verse, of all these, and many more, especially poets. The works of Juvenal were so interwoven with his brain, that he retained every word.

Of the Greek poets, he had Homer strongly imprinted on his memory, together with some of the comedies of Aristophanes; he could directly turn to any line required, and repeat the whole contiguous passage. His Latin was full of words selected from the most celebrated writers.

The reader will probably be desirous of knowing to what country Beronicius belonged; but this is a secret he never would disclose. When he was asked what was his native land, he always answered, "that the country of every one, was that in which he could live most comfortably." It was well known that he had wandered about many years in France, England, and the Netherlands, carrying his whole property with him. He was sometimes told that he deserved to be a professor in a college;—but his reply was, that he could have no pleasure in such a worm-like life.

Strange to say, this eccentric being gained his living chiefly by sweeping chimneys, grinding knives and scissors, and other mean occupations. But his chief delight was in pursuing the profession of a juggler, mountebank, or merry-andrew, among the lowest rabble. He never gave himself any concern about his food or raiment; for it was equal to him whether he was dressed like a nobleman or a beggar. His hours of relaxation from his studies were chiefly spent in paltry wine-houses, with the meanest company, where he would sometimes remain a whole week, or more, drinking without rest or intermission.

His miserable death afforded reason to believe that he perished whilst intoxicated, for he was found dead at Middleburgh, drowned and smothered in mud, which circumstance is alluded to in the epitaph which the before named poet, Buizero, wrote upon him, and which was as follows:—

Here lies a wonderful genius,
He lived and died like a beast;
He was a most uncommon satyr—
He lived in wine, and died in water.

This is all that is known of Beronicius. The poet, Vander Goes, often witnessed the display of his talents, and he says that he could at once render the newspapers into Greek and Latin verse. Professor John de Raay, who was living at the time of Beronicius's death, which occurred in 1676, saw and affirms the same wonderful fact.