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In 1800 nothing is known, we believe, to have been given to the public from the pen of Porson, except a review of Pybus's "Sovereign," a poem addressed to the Emperor of Russia. Mr. Kidd calls this "a truly neat specimen of playful criticism," and says that when Porson first opened the Laureate's splendid volume, he exclaimed, in the hearing of several friends,
I sing a song of sixpence,
The birds began to sing:
And was not this a dainty dish
To set before a king?
The review is as follows. It appeared in the Monthly Review" for December 1800.
The Sovereign. Addressed to His Imperial Majesty PAUL, Emperor of all the Russias. By CHARLES SMALL PYBUS, M.P., one of the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury. Folio, pp. 60. Price 17. 18., or, with a Portrait, 17. 11s. 6d. White, 1800.
The inventive genius of modern times appears with peculiar lustre in that new species of the sublime, of which the magnificent poem before us is an astonishing example. The gigantic types, the folio wove paper, and the awe-inspiring portrait, like the
Vultus instantis tyranni,
have superseded the old rules of Longinus, and have forced admiration from the appalled beholder, even before he reads. Mr. Pybus is certainly "as tall a poet of his hands" as any wight that has issued from the press within our memory; and he may vie for title-page, print, and margin, with the first of
our bards. When, however, we have bestowed this praise on his work, we have exhausted every source of panegyric; for his verses are formed only to be viewed, not to be perused; his poetry is so like a picture, according to the Horatian precept, that it will not bear the near approach of the eye.
The happy alliteration resulting from the title, A Poem to Paul by the poet Pybus, reminds us of the Latin work entitled Pugna Porcorum, per Publium Porcium, Poetam. Though this work is addressed to the Emperor Paul, it is, with inimitable dexterity, dedicated to our own king. This is a flight of courtly wit, which perhaps will never again be attempted; and the amazing resemblance which Mr. Pybus has asserted between the illustrious personages, to one of whom he addresses his address to the other, will be ranked by posterity among the most unexpected discoveries of the present age.
To compress the shining lines of Mr. Pybus into our narrow and unadorned pages, is, like translating Virgil, to lose all the beauty of the original. But we shall endeavour to gratify our friends in the country with a specimen of this state-performance, in the address to Peter I. and his ill-fated descendant:
"Illustrious shade! Oh! could thy soul infuse
When the whole empire forms one monument.
"And thou, ill-fated prince, whom discord gave
Whate'er thy frailties were (and who has none?),
This other Peter, it seems, means the late empress; who, by a poetical licence, which can only be derived from royal authority, is here invested with the name of her husband. Perhaps Mr. Pybus had been thinking of a passage in Shakspeare:
"And if his name be George, I'll call him Peter."
In truth, the author seems liable to mistakes of this kind; for we observe that some of his couplets terminate with words which have not even so much affinity with each other as that which subsisted between Peter and Catharine :
"Rhymes, like Scotch cousins, in such order placed,
Considered in its political relations, Mr. Pybus's work is not less unfortunate than in its literary station. After the high and splendid hopes of curbing France, which are held out in the poem, comes a dolorous prose epilogue, to inform us that the glory of Europe is blasted, and that the Emperor has withdrawn his troops! Subsequent occurrences have lamentably deepened the gloom of this disappointment; and we sincerely condole with Mr. Pybus on the ungracious return which this northern Mecenas has made to the British treasury, both for its solid pudding and its empty praise.
A note adds, "The Imperial Balancer seems to have placed both [our pudding and our praise] in one scale, and to have counterpoised them with some other commodity, which has made our offerings kick the beam."
Porson used afterwards to repeat, very frequently, the following lines, which are universally supposed to have been his own composition:
Poetis nos lætamur tribus,
Pye, Petro Pindar, Parvo Pybus:
Si ulterius ire pergis,
Adde his Sir James Bland Burgess.
Which may be thus imitated:
Three bards to praise them fain would bribe us,
The nursery lines, which Porson uttered when he opened Pybus's book, have been thus attempted in Greek, we know not by whom :
Τετρώβολόν τι μέλπω,
Ο δὴ δοκεῖ τι λαμπρὸν,
In 1799 and 1800 Porson received from Gail, the French translator and editor of Xenophon, the two following letters, with presents of some of his works.
* Barker's Literary Anecdotes, vol. ii. p. 189.
LETTERS FROM GAIL.
"GAIL to the illustrious Mr. PORSON.
"M. Vellimenot the younger, a banker of Paris, ought, at his last trip to London, to have sent you, from me, my "Treatise on Hunting, translated from the Greek of Xenophon.' In the apprehension that he may not have caused it to reach you safely, I address to you a second copy of it on vellum paper, accompanied with my Greek Roots' and my 'Poetic Anthology.' Would you have the goodness, if I may venture to ask, to announce these three works, or to get them announced, in one of the most respectable of your journals? May I request you especially, also, to cast your eye on two historical dissertations, which I think curious, and particularly on that relating to Hipparchus, Anacreon, &c. (p. 39 of my Anthology), the true sense of which the critics who have preceded me appear not to have caught? I would also have you look at that on Epicharmus (p. 23 of the Anthology), and on my observations on M. Sturz's Lexicon Xenophonteum in the preface to the Anthology.
"I shall be flattered by having your opinion on these three articles; the rest would not recompense you for the trouble of perusal.
"Will you pardon me if I request you to read also my critical observations on Xenophon's object in his Symposium?
"I send you a leaf of the Décade Philosophique, year x., third quarter, in which these observations have been inserted.
"I am working constantly at Xenophon. The six manuscripts of the Hellenica have occupied much time, and required incredible patience; but I have found valuable various readings, which have made me excellent amends. In another month I shall put forth a humble specimen of it, which will be inserted in my magazine by M. Millier.
"May my researches be thought useful! May Mr. Porson say, when he reads them, that the author has not wholly wasted his time!
"GAIL, Professor of the Greek language in the College of France.
"15 Prair. an x. (1799).”