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LETTER TO DR. DAVY.
LETTER TO DR. DAVY. -NEW EDITION OF THE HECUBA; SUPPLEMENT
IN A LETTER ΤΟ FOX. OTHER EXAMPLES. REVIEW OF HIS LUCRETIUS IN THE BRITISH CRITIC," PARTLY THE WORK OF PORSON. WAKEFIELD'S POLITICAL FOLLIES. PORSON PRESENTED BY EICHSTADT WITH HIS DIODORUS SICULUS" AND LUCRETIUS; EICHSTADT'S LETTERS TO PORSON.
In the early part of the year 1802, we find Porson addressing the following letter to his friend Dr. Davy, enclosing proposals for a charitable subscription. For whose benefit it was intended we do not know.
I cannot tell whether you are acquainted or not with the object of the foregoing subscription. He was once of Emmanuel, but choosing rather to trust his wits for a maintenance than the bounty of Holy Mother Church, you see to what it has brought him. In the mean time, if you have "a hand open as day for melting charity," you may contribute what you see reasonable, and apply to any well-disposed persons, that may fall in your way, for similar exertions of benevolence. The amount of the subscription at present is, I understand, between 400l. and 500l.; so there will be something to purchase an annuity for the poor poet, after paying his debts, and to give him food, which is necessary, in lieu of fame, which is not necessary. God forbid it should! How
many of us would then be in want of necessaries! We have been rather in expectation of you here in town this Christmas, but, I suppose, diseases, and consequently deaths, have been so rife, that you have had no leisure for jaunting or merrymaking. I have got a copy of Coray's Hippocrates de Aëribus, Aquis, et Locis, which, if you come shortly to town, you may take with you; if not, I shall send it by Hole, when he passes this way in his return to Cambridge. I have been at death's door myself, but with a due neglect of the faculty, and plentiful use of my old remedy (powder of post), I am pretty well recovered, and am in any way but in medicine,
Your humble servant to command,
Strand, No. 145 (Mr. Perry's), 1st Feb. 1802.
Having recovered, as he says, he proceeded to publish a new edition of the Hecuba at Cambridge, in which the famous supplement to the preface made its first appearance. In his additions to the notes he twice bestows his attention on Wakefield. In the first passage, the 153rd verse, on which Wakefield, in making his foolish alteration of χρυσοφόρου into χρυσοφόβου, had cited a passage of Lycophronis, preserved in Athenæus, speaking rather against the alteration than for it, Porson very quietly quotes the passage, observing that he owes his knowledge of it to the fourteenth page of Gilbert Wakefield's Diatribe Extemporalis in Hecubam; a happy mode of showing how little he regarded Wakefield's attack, and how willing he was that all his readers should see what had been put forth against him. In the other passage, the 1164th verse, he treats the author of the Diatribe in a different way. Wakefield had sneered at Porson for calling the first syllable of dɛì the
CHARACTER OF WAKEFIELD.
penultimate. "Whoever heard," says he, "of the penultimate of a dissyllable?" Porson remarks, "Pierson on Maris, p. 231, rightly states that the penultima of deì is common; and that no scurra or sycophanta, no babbler or railer, may insult the shade of Pierson for using the expression penultimate of a dissyllable, I will here adduce two passages from two Latin grammarians." He then transcribes passages from Valerius Probus and Priscian, in which the word penultima is used in the same way as Pierson had used it.
What Wakefield was, both as a man and a scholar, has become tolerably apparent. In his boyhood he had received a good education, both from his father, who was a clergyman of some ability, and from Mr. Wooddeson, master, for nearly forty years, of the grammarschool of Kingston-on-Thames, under whom Steevens, Gibbon, Hayley, and Lovibond were educated. Of Wooddeson's general tuition he spoke with approval, but not of his instruction in writing Latin, which he did not train his pupils to compose well, and which Wakefield, from the ill effects of early habit, says that he never wrote without hesitation and difficulty. At about seventeen he was sent, on a scholarship, to Jesus College, Cambridge, where his father had been educated. The mathematical and logical studies of the University he did not like, but, though compelling himself to give some attention to Euclid and algebra, devoted the chief portion of his time to classical reading. In the third year of his residence, he wrote for all Browne's three medals, for the epigrams and the Greek and Latin ode, but was in every case' unsuccessful. His epigrams and Greek ode he allows to have been justly rejected; but
accuses Dr. Cooke, who was then provost of King's, and whose judgment, as he had been head-master of Eton, was much regarded in such matters, of having set aside his Latin ode in favour of his own son's, which, he says, the friends of both parties afterwards acknowledged to be the inferior, and which he insinuates that the father had seen and corrected before it was sent in. Of the truth of this charge we cannot judge, unless we could bring both compositions to light; and both have probably long ago perished. Soon after, he commenced the study of Hebrew, reading it without points, of which he says that no words can sufficiently condemn the obstructions and inutility. When he took his degree, he had attained such proficiency in mathematics as to be second wrangler, and was consequently entitled to compete for the Chancellor's medals, of which he gained the second, Foster, afterwards master of Norwich school, being awarded the first. He was then elected to a fellowship, and in the same year published a small collection of Latin poems, partly original and partly translated. In the two following years he gained two prizes, offered to bachelors, for Latin prose, but stood on each occasion only second.
His fellowship, after holding it three years, he vacated by marriage; and, having been ordained, he devoted himself for some time to theological studies, but, conceiving a dislike for the forms of the Church of England, went over to the dissenters, and returned with great ardour to his classical pursuits, the results of which appeared in the five parts of his Silva Critica, which, Vertumnis, quotquot sunt, natus iniquis, he published when he was between thirty and forty. The
great characteristic of these miscellaneous criticisms is an extravagant, and even insane, desire to make changes, which their author calls emendations, in the texts of writers. The volumes never obtained much regard, and have of late lain almost wholly unheeded; nor shall we disturb them to search for more examples of the writer's pruriency for verbal alteration than those which we have already extracted. Sufficient instances of it may be found elsewhere; in his Virgil, his Horace his Greek plays, and his Lucretius. Whatever book h took up, indeed, he appears to have felt himself compelled to propose new readings for its pages. Whatever expression he saw susceptible of a plausible alteration, he could not be content to leave unmolested. He could not allow what was good to be genuine or endurable, if he himself could excogitate something that he imagined better. We have an excellent example of this propensity in his letters to Fox. He is reading with one of his children the lines of Ovid's Tristia,
Parve, nec invideo, sine me, liber, ibis in urbem;
Vade, sed incultus, qualem decet exulis esse:
and thinks that he perceives "something awkward and obscure in the construction" of the third verse. Surely, he says, we ought to read in cultu. Fox, in his reply, says, "I showed your proposed alteration in the Tristia to a very good judge, who approved of it very much. I confess, myself, that I like the old reading best, and think it more in Ovid's manner; but this perhaps is mere fancy." The person to whom Fox showed the