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TYRWHITT'S INTENTION.

1792.]

In what mode, or with what ceremony, the contribution was offered to Porson is nowhere mentioned; but he consented to accept it, only on condition that he should receive but the interest of the sum during his life, and that the principal, being placed in the hands of trustees, should be returned to the contributors at his death.

101

It is said that this subscription would have been unnecessary, but for the somewhat sudden death of Tyrwhitt, in 1786, who, with that generosity for which he was distinguished no less than for his learning and understanding, had promised to make an ample provision for Porson.* Such an act would not have been surprising in one who was always doing good, and who gave away in one year, in charitable donations, not less than two thousand pounds.

* Rev. H. R. Luard, Cambridge Essays, 1857.

CHAP. VIII.

PORSON A CANDIDATE FOR THE GREEK PROFESSORSHIP.-HIS LETTER TO
POSTLETHWAITE ON THE OCCASION. — IS ELECTED. HIS INAUGURAL
LECTURE ON EURIPIDES.-IS GRATIFIED BY THE DISTINCTION OF THE
APPOINTMENT. —
INTENDS TO READ LECTURES, BUT FINDS NO EN-
COURAGEMENT FROM THE UNIVERSITY AUTHORITIES.

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It was on the 21st of June, 1792, that Porson resigned his fellowship. Soon after, the professorship of Greek became vacant by the resignation of Cooke, which had been expected to take place some years before; and Postlethwaite, as if to make some atonement for his previous conduct, wrote to Porson, even before the vacancy occurred*, to inform him that it was likely to happen, and observing that he would doubtless offer himself a candidate for the office. Porson, supposing that subscription to the Thirty-nine Articles would be required for the tenure of the professorship, as for that of the fellowship, replied to Postlethwaite, on the 6th of October, 1792, in the following manner :

"SIR,-When I first received the favour of your letter, I must own that I felt rather vexation and chagrin than hope and satisfaction. I had looked upon myself so completely in the light of an outcast from Alma Mater, that I had made up my mind to have no further connection with the place. The prospect you held out to me gave me more uneasiness than

Parr's Works, vol. i. p. 385.

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1792.]

pleasure. When I was younger than I now am, and my disposition more sanguine than it is at present, I was in daily expectation of Mr. Cooke's resignation, and I flattered myself with the hope of succeeding to the honour he was going to quit. As hope and ambition are great castle-builders, I had laid a scheme, partly, as I was willing to think, for the joint credit, partly for the mutual advantage, of myself and the University. I had projected a plan of reading lectures, and I persuaded myself that I should easily obtain a grace permitting me to exact a certain sum from every person who attended. But seven years' waiting will tire out the most patient temper; and all my ambition of this sort was long ago laid asleep. The sudden news of the vacant professorship put me in mind of poor Jacob, who, having served seven years in hopes of being rewarded with Rachel, awoke, and behold it was Leah.

LETTER TO POSTLETHWAITE.

103

"Such, Sir, I confess, were the first ideas that took possession of my mind. But after a little reflection, I resolved to refer a matter of this importance to my friends. This circumstance has caused the delay, for which I ought before now to have apologised. My friends unanimously exhorted me to embrace the good fortune which they conceived to be within my grasp. Their advice, therefore, joined to the expectation I had entertained of doing some small good by my exertions in the employment, together with the pardonable vanity which the honour annexed to the office inspired, determined me; and I was on the point of troubling you, Sir, and the other electors, with notice of my intentions to profess myself a candidate, when an objection, which had escaped me in the hurry of my thoughts, now occurred to my recollection.

"The same reason which hindered me from keeping my fellowship by the method you obligingly pointed out to me, would, I am greatly afraid, prevent me from being Greek Professor. Whatever concern this may give me for myself, it gives me none for the public. I trust there are at least twenty or thirty in the University equally able and willing to undertake the office; possessed, many, of talents superior

to mine, and all of a more complying conscience. This I speak upon the supposition that the next Greek professor will be compelled to read lectures; but if the place remains a sinecure, the number of qualified persons will be greatly increased. And though it were even granted that my industry and attention might possibly produce some benefit to the interests of learning and the credit of the University, that trifling gain would be as much exceeded by keeping the professorship a sinecure, and bestowing it on a sound believer, as temporal considerations are outweighed by spiritual. Having only a strong persuasion, not an absolute certainty, that such a subscription is required of the professor elect, if I am mistaken I hereby offer myself as a candidate; but if I am right in my opinion, I shall beg of you to order my name to be erased from the boards, and I shall esteem it a favour conferred on, Sir,

"Your obliged humble servant,
"R. PORSON.

"Essex Court, Temple, 6th October, 1792."

Postlethwaite immediately replied that no subscription would be required. "Dr. P.," writes Cleaver Banks to Parr, "has acquainted Porson that his suspicions were unfounded, and that the day appointed for his examination is Tuesday, if any one will have the courage to attempt it, to use the doctor's words. The offer looks very much like an atonement for past injuries, and I am afraid the doctor would have us constrain it into a compensation." Porson, when his scruples were proved groundless, offered himself a candidate, and Cleaver Banks accompanied him on the occasion to Cambridge. He was elected on the 1st of November, 1792, by the unanimous votes of the seven electors.

From every candidate for the Greek Professorship is required a prælectio, or lecture, on some subject of

1792.]

Greek literature, to be read publicly in the schools. Porson took for the subject of his the character of Euripides, which he sketched with admirable discernment, giving at the same time a full and clear view of the comparative merits of the other two great tragic poets of Greece. This lecture is printed in his " Adversaria," filling thirty large octavo pages, and containing many quotations; yet the composition of it occupied him only two days. When a friend expressed his surprise that he could have produced it in so short a time, he replied that the subject of it had long employed his thoughts.† It is hoped that no apology is necessary for offering the reader a specimen of it in English.

ELECTION TO GREEK PROFESSORSHIP.

105

"Before the time when Euripides arrived at manhood, Eschylus had elevated tragedy from the meanness of the cart of Thespis, and had equipped her with her mask and robe of dignity; and Sophocles, having received her in this condition from the hand of Eschylus, had embellished and adorned her with such additional decoration, that no room seemed left for any succeeding poet to obtain further honour from the stage. Euripides, having imbibed, from his tenderest years, the precepts of philosophy, was unwilling to waste eloquence on the pursuit of public honours, and yet, being warned by the fate of his master, Anaxagoras, was afraid to apply his philosophy to eradicate from the public mind the superstitions too deeply implanted in it. That he might not, however, pass his life in inglorious obscurity, and that he might devote his powers of language and thought, as far as circumstances would permit, to the advantage of his fellow-creatures, he applied himself to the composition of tragedies; a pursuit which he cultivated with such diligence and success as to dispute the preeminence in it, in the judgment of many, even with Sophocles himself. Trusting, there

*Præf. in Advers. p. xii.

† Museum Criticum, vol. i.

P.

119.

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