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PORSON AT ETON.-DR. GOODALL'S ACCOUNT OF HIM. WHAT HE KNEW
WHEN HE WENT TO ETON, AND WHAT HE LEARNED THERE. HIS MEMORY. -HIS DISLIKE OF COMPOSITION. ANECDOTES. DEATH OF
MR. NORRIS.-PORSON LIBERALLY PATRONISED BY SIR GEORGE BAKER.
HIS ILLNESS AT ETON. NOTICE OF HIS DRAMA, "OUT OF THE FRYING-PAN INTO THE FIRE," WRITTEN AND ACTED AT ETON. — A SPECIMEN OF HIS SCHOOL VERSES. — HIS MIND TURNED TO CRITICAL RESEARCH.-HIS ESTIMATION OF DAWES AND BENTLEY.
OF Porson's career at Eton we have no detailed account, but we may gather some information about it from the various notices of him. Two sources from which we learn something of it are Beloe's "Sexagenarian," and a paper in the "Gentleman's Magazine" for October 1808. "In that great seminary," says the writer in the Magazine," he almost from the commencement of his career displayed such a superiority of intellect, such facility of acquirement, such quickness of perception, and such a talent of bringing forward to his purpose all that he had ever read, that the upper boys took him into their society, and promoted the cultivation of his mind. by their lessons, as well, probably, as imposing upon him the performance of their own exercises. He was courted by them as the never-failing resource in every difficulty; and in all the playful excursions of the imagination, in their frolics as well as in their serious tasks, Porson was their constant adviser and support. He used to dwell on this lively part of his youth with peculiar complacency; and we have heard him repeat
HIS QUALIFICATIONS FOR ETON.
a drama which he wrote for exhibition in their long chamber, and other compositions, both of seriousness and drollery, with a zest that the recollection of his enjoyment at the time never failed to revive in him."
Beloe says that he wrote two dramatic pieces, and acted in them himself; but that nothing more is remembered of them than that the one, which was entitled "Out of the Frying-pan into the Fire," was more ingenious and elaborate than the other, which was founded on some petty affair that occurred in the school. In other respects Beloe's account differs from that of the other writer. Many of Porson's schoolfellows at Eton, he observes, were living at the time that "The Sexagenarian" was written, who all declare, without variation, that when Porson went to Eton he was not particularly distinguished above other boys either for knowledge or disposition to acquire it.
Dr. Goodall, when Provost of Eton, being called upon, after Porson's death, to give evidence on the state of education in the country, before a Committee of the House of Commons, and being asked, among other questions, "if he was acquainted with what had happened to the late Professor Porson, to prevent his election to King's College," made the following statement:
66 6 'Every account that I have read about him, in relation to that circumstance, is incorrect. When he came to the school he was placed rather higher, by the reputation of his abilities, than perhaps he ought to have been in consequence of his actual attainments. With respect to prosody, he knew but little; and as to Greek he had made comparatively but little progress when he came to Eton. The very ingenious and learned editor of one account of him has been misinformed
in most particulars; and many of the incidents which he relates, I can venture from my own knowledge to assert, are distorted or exaggerated. Even Porson's compositions, at an early period, though eminently correct, fell far short of excellence; still we all looked up to him in consequence of his great abilities and variety of information, though much of that information was confined to the knowledge of his schoolfellows, and could not easily fall under the notice of his instructors. He always undervalued school exercises, and generally wrote his exercises fair at once, without study. I should be sorry to detract from the merit of an individual whom I loved, esteemed, and admired; but I speak of him when he had only given the promise of his future excellence; and, in point of school exercises, I think he was very inferior to more than one of his contemporaries: I would name the present Marquis Wellesley as infinitely superior to him in composition.'
"On being asked whether he wrote the same beautiful hand as he did afterwards, Dr. Goodall replied he did, nor was there any doubt of his general scholarship.
"To a question whether he made great progress during the time he was at Eton, or after he left, Dr. Goodall said he was advanced as far as he could be with propriety, but there were certainly some there who would not have been afraid to challenge Porson as a schoolboy, though they would have shunned all idea of competition with him at Cambridge. The first book that Porson ever studied, as he often told me, was 'Chambers's Cyclopædia;' he read the whole of that dictionary through, and in a great degree made himself master of the algebraic part of that work entirely by the force of his understanding.
"Dr. Goodall was then asked if he considered there was any ground for complaint on the part of Porson in not having been sent to Cambridge; to which he answered, 'No; he was placed as high in the school as he well could be: as a proof, however, of his merits, when he left Eton contributions were readily supplied by Etonians in aid of Sir George Baker's proposal to secure the funds for his maintenance at the University.""
HIS EARLY VERSIFICATION.
Another account says that Dr. Goodall remarked that Porson, as a boy, showed but little taste in his compositions, and was fond of mixing, especially in his verses, Greek with Latin, as "Ingemuere ribo."
According to the "Short Account of Porson," he himself used to say that he added little to his acquirements at Eton except facility in Latin versification, as he had read with Mr. Hewitt, before he went thither, almost all that was required from him in the school, and had learned many portions of Horace, Virgil, Homer, Cicero, and Livy, by heart. He was unwilling to own that he was, on the whole, greatly indebted to Eton, but he must, as the writer remarks, have been "much obliged to the collision of a public school for the rapidity with which he increased his knowledge, and the correction of himself by the mistakes of others. Magnos enim viros non schola, sed contubernium facit."
Mr. Kidd says that Porson, when he entered Eton, was "wholly ignorant of quantity ;" and that "after he had toiled up the arduous path to literary eminence, he was often twitted by his quondam schoolfellows with those violations of quantity which are common in first attempts at Latin verse." "Our Greek Professor," he adds, "always felt sore upon this point. One of his best friends and greatest admirers has preserved a copy of verses, which indeed evince the rapid progress of his mind, but would not do honour to his memory."
That he could repeat by heart almost all the books read at Eton, before he became an Etonian, he himself told Mr. Maltby, and said that almost the only thing he recollected with pleasure during his Eton course was the
rat-hunting with which the boys amused themselves in the Long Hall.
He continued, however, to be fond of reading. Jonathan Raine, a brother of Dr. Matthew Raine, Porson's firm friend throughout life, was one of his schoolfellows at Eton, and was possessed of a Shakspeare which Porson, having none of his own, was ever eager to borrow. When Raine, who kept it locked up, was reluctant to lend it, Porson would take his knife out of his pocket, and say, "Come now, give us your key, or I shall pick the lock."
One remarkable instance which he gave of the power of his memory at Eton is recorded. He was going up one day with the rest of his form, to say a lesson in Horace, but, not being able to find his book at the time, took one which was thrust into his hand by another boy. He was called upon to construe, and went on with great accuracy, but the master observed that he did not seem to be looking on that part of the page in which the lesson was. He therefore took the book from his hand to examine it, and found it to be an English translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Porson was good-humouredly desired to continue his construing, and finished the lesson without erring in a single word.
He was so disinclined to composition when he was at Eton, that he would, to save himself the trouble of writing an exercise, borrow that of any other boy, and transcribe it with all its faults. Yet he was ready to assist others with advice, and to correct their errors.* Mr. Barker tells a story of Porson's boyhood, for the *Kidd, Tracts, p. lxix.