Page images
PDF
EPUB

1797.]

tion made of Heath in Hermann's notes on the Hecuba*, and in his Observationes Critica. "No man," said he, "admires more sincerely than I do the genius and learning of Hermann. But I can never read without indignation the arrogant and contemptuous terms in which he speaks of the late Mr. Heath, a man whose good sense, good manners, and most meritorious labours ought to have protected him from such indignities." All English scholars were moved with indignation or pity at the foolish remark concerning Bentley on the 325th verse of the Nubes: Bentleius, summus alioqui criticus, sed nullius auctoritatis in Aristophane, ad quem minimè imbutus Attici sermonis cognitione accessit. On the whole it was considered that the castigations which Hermann received from Porson, severe as they were, were not at all heavier than his arrogance and audacity had merited.

HERMANN WRITES TO PORSON.

On the 28th of November in the preceding year, 1796, Hermann sent Porson a copy of his Treatise De Metris, with a Latin letter, in which he praises Porson's Eschylus, and says that he is contemplating an edition of Plautus, and requests his good offices to procure him access to the manuscripts of that author in the libraries of Great Britain. He had ventured on this application, he says, at the desire of Heyne, who had promised to second it; a promise which Heyne did not fail to perform. The reader shall see both Hermann's letter and Heyne's in such an English dress as I can give them.

* Ver. 1002.

Memoirs of Wakefield, vol. ii. p. 439.

N 2

179

† P. 59.

"To the much-celebrated RICHARD PORSON,
GODFREY HERMANN wishes the greatest health.

"My friend Heyne has given me an excellent proof of his kindness in not only assuring me that you, a gentleman so well known to fame, would not fail to regard me with favour, but in not hesitating to induce you, by his own recommendation, to receive with indulgence the letter which I now address to you. By this encouragement he has freed me from great anxiety and apprehension; for though I had no greater object of desire than that gentlemen of distinguished merit in Great Britain should be willing to aid my literary endeavours by their authority, yet I was extremely fearful, either that I should find no means of access to them, or such only as I should not be able to adopt without great presumption. Nor do I now, indeed, feel altogether free from timidity on this account; though my fears have been much allayed by the report of your kindness, which is said to be extremely great; by the knowledge of your love of learning and eminent literary merits, of which an illustrious specimen has lately appeared in your edition of Eschylus; and by your manifest zeal and readiness to serve all by whom learning is assiduously cultivated. I thought, too, that I might more reasonably rest my hopes on your indulgence, if I should submit to your exact and severe judgment some of the fruits of my labours. I have therefore sent you a book which I have written on the metres of the Greek and Latin poets; though I am aware that, should it secure me any regard, such regard must be attributable, not so much to what I have done as to what I have endeavoured to do, and to the good-will and consideration of the reader.

"If you, Sir, do not wholly disapprove of this work, your sentence in its favour will be one of the greatest honours, and your support of it one of the greatest pleasures, that can happen to me in the whole course of my studies, especially of those studies to which I have now devoted myself; for, having felt, some years ago, from the example of Richard Bentley, an extraordinary desire to edit Plautus, I was led,

HERMANN'S LETTER.

1797.]

some time afterwards, to contemplate that object the more eagerly, by observing that the method which that great man, formerly the ornament of his country, had adopted in editing Terence, had been abandoned by almost all other scholars. My desire, however, remained unaccomplished, as I gave precedence to Frederic Augustus Wolf, who entertained the same purpose, and than whom no more learned editor of Plautus could have been found. But when Wolf himself, after I had published my book on metres, gave up Plautus to me of his own accord, he inspired me with so much new ardour, while other learned friends also encouraged me, that there is no object which I would less willingly relinquish than that of giving a new edition of Plautus.

181

"Yet I have still one cause for great care and anxiety, since the manuscripts of Plautus, without which it is certain that no new light can be thrown on his text, are not only very few, but also, from the distance of the places in which they are kept, very difficult to be collated. But the excellence of the readings which Bentley has produced, on several occasions, from the manuscripts preserved throughout Great Britain, has fixed my hopes and expectations chiefly on them. If perchance Bentley, as he once thought of editing Plautus, made any collection of those readings, such a collection, both for its greater compendiousness, and because it is likely that the readings have been illustrated by the conjectures of their eminent possessor, would be not less acceptable to me than a collation of the manuscripts themselves. Should this request from me, therefore, or your regard for Heyne, have so much influence with you as to render you not unwilling to procure me, by your recommendation and authority, access to those manuscripts, there would certainly be no favour which I should account either a more fruitful cause for rejoicing, or a more worthy subject for gratitude.

"Leipsic, Nov. 28th, 1796."

Heyne's letter, in support of this request, was written on the 21st of the following December:

"To the highly-famed MR. PORSON,
C. G. HEYNE wishes the greatest health.

"As it is inconsistent alike with my disposition and practice to decline to do any service or kindness requested of me, especially when such request proceeds from a highly deserving person, you will, I hope, excuse me if I seem rather obtrusively to trespass on your occupation or your leisure. You have received from one of the most learned of my countrymen a book on the metres of the ancients, with a letter which he wrote to accompany it. That gentleman is deceived in supposing that I have so much influence with you as to prevail on you to grant to my entreaties what he so anxiously desires. He will more easily obtain his object by addressing himself to your kindness, provided there be but a possibility of accomplishing that which he has in view.

"You will see by the book that the learned writer has attached himself with great devotion to Plautus, and is eager to bring to effect what many, and especially the great Bentley, have conceived or attempted in regard to that author. As Bentley's papers are deposited somewhere with you, he is very anxious to be allowed the privilege of inspecting them. As to the attainment of his object, I know not whether you have any friendship or connexion with those gentlemen from whom permission for that purpose is to be obtained; but I am sure that you will not be wanting in inclination or zeal for the promotion of literature, and especially for the furtherance of a design to settle the text of Plautus, an author whose metres scarcely one mind in a century has sufficient learning, power, or will, to restore.

"So much for Hermann. For myself, be assured that I have availed myself, with so much the more eagerness, of this opportunity of addressing you by letter, as my sincere regard for you, and my high admiration of your recondite learning and exquisite judgment, are perpetually growing stronger; and to express these feelings to you, though but by a word or two, seemed to be to lighten myself of a great burden. Such indeed is human nature, that we delight to

1797.]

open our thoughts to any one to whom we are drawn by strong affection. It shall be my constant object to prove myself not unworthy of your kindness.

"Gottingen, Dec. 21st, 1796."

HEYNE WRITES TO PORSON.

183

Whether Porson returned any answer to these letters is not known. It is not likely that he answered Hermann; but, with all his dislike to letter-writing, he may have favoured Heyne with a reply.

« PreviousContinue »