« PreviousContinue »
truth of which he must himself be left responsible. When Colonel Disney was a Westminster boy, he was in the habit of meeting Porson at his master's house. When they were alone together in the evening, Porson asked Disney if he knew his way to the ale-cellar. Disney replied that he did, but that he was engaged in doing his Greek verses. "Never mind," said Porson; "I will look to them; take the largest jug you can find, and fill it with beer." This Disney did, and on his return found his Greek verses finished. This occurred more than once, and Disney was always on such occasions at the head of his class. He told Porson not to let the handwriting be too good.* How Porson found opportunities of being with Disney at Westminster when it was not vacation time, is not explained.
There was a boy named Murphitt at Eton, of a somewhat ungainly figure, with whom he used to spar. He observed that Murphitt need never be in want of a corkscrew, as he had only to swallow a tenpenny nail, and the sinuosities of his frame, as it passed through, would twist it into an excellent shape for a corkextractor. Murphitt was afterwards vicar of Kendal.
His propensity to satirical composition began to show itself at Eton. One of his schoolfellows was Charles Simeon, whom he afterwards called a "coxcomb in religion," but who was then a coxcomb in dress. Porson, disliking his vanity and conceit, wrote some verses addressed "to the ugliest boy in Dr. Davies's dominions," and threw them over a wall where they
* Barker's Lit. Anecd. vol. ii. p. 17.
† Ib. vol. i. pp. 23, 189.
were sure to be found. A good-natured friend soon handed them to Simeon, who was much stung by them, and used every possible means to discover the author, examining the handwriting of all the boys in his form, and soliciting the assistance of the monitors; but his efforts were fruitless, for Porson had written them with his left hand, so as to defy detection.*
When he had been about three years at Eton, his patron, Mr. Norris, died; and Porson is said to have shown much concern at his loss. The suddenness of his death, it is supposed, prevented Mr. Norris from making any provision for him. But Sir George Baker still determined to protect him; he received him into his house in the following vacation; he continued to collect sums, whether as subscriptions or donations, for his maintenance, and at last secured enough to purchase for him an annuity of eighty pounds a year, for a few years, in the short annuities, an income which was sufficient to enable him to remain at Eton. Mrs. Mary Townshend and Lady Middleton are mentioned as two of the contributors to Sir George Baker's fund.
About the time of Mr. Norris's death, Porson's life appears to have been in danger from the formation of an imposthume on the lungs, and though his lungs were relieved by a copious discharge, yet he recovered his strength but slowly, and is considered to have escaped from consumption only to be troubled, during much of his life, with asthma.+
* Barker's Parriana, vol. ii. p. 700.
The drama which he wrote at Eton, entitled "Out of the Frying-pan into the Fire," is preserved in the library of Trinity College, Cambridge, to which it was presented in 1850 by Bishop Maltby, into whose hands it had passed. We have perused it, and found it, as might be expected, but a schoolboy performance; but, as the youthful production of one afterwards so famous, the reader may not be displeased if we give a short notice of it. It is in three acts, and may be called an opera, for it consists chiefly of songs. The subject is the old story of Friar Bacon's attempt to build a wall of brass round Britain to defend it from its enemies. But, in Porson's play, the business is taken, we know not why, out of the hands of Friar Bacon, and put into those of Doctor Faustus. Lucifer and Satan, also, two of the characters, are made distinct personages. The dramatis persona, and the names of the boys who acted them, are these:
HIS DRAMA WRITTEN AT ETON.
Now pale Cynthia's borrowed light
Now the ghosts with sullen stalk
He then invokes "Satan, and Lucifer his partner," to assist him in building a brazen wall "round Britannia's chosen land." The two immediately appear in thunder and lightning, and "dance the hay," to the tune of "Deil tak' the wars," to which Faustus sings a song. They then "dance again," while Faustus sings another song, to the air of "Fill your glasses, banish grief,” as follows:
Wheresoe'er materials lie,
On the earth or in the sea,
You must seek them out for me.
Whatever you think, Dr. Faustus, expedient,
Lucifer expresses himself to the same effect. then proposes to call in Vulcan, to make "a head all of brass," which may give directions how to build the brazen wall; telling Faustus,
As soon as it speaks, which it will when you roast it,
But he cautions him to be careful of making any mistake. Satan and Lucifer then depart to find Vulcan, who comes in by chance, while Dr. Faustus is waiting for him, singing,
Whoe'er wants to buy, to my office repair,
And I'll furnish you quickly with all kinds of ware,
The Doctor signifying his wish to have the head, Vulcan promises to make it in an hour and a quarter, and takes his leave. Faustus sends his servant Punch to fetch the head, and, as he is not over expeditious in going, threatens to whip him, and sings,
If a servant you have, he's the plague of your life,
Oh! what a plague is an impudent servant!
This Punch parodies thus:
If a master you have, he's the plague of your life,
For with him you have nought but contention and strife;
Go as fast as you can, he would have you go faster :
Ordering and bothering,
Stripping and whipping,
Oh! what a plague is a whimsical master!