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Peter's College, Cambridge, a Unitarian, and good classical scholar. Dr. Disney himself knew who wrote them, but would not tell; but his daughter felt sure that she was right in her opinion as to the author.
In March 1804, Porson received a letter from Tittmann, Professor of Philosophy at Leipsic, and afterwards editor of Zonaras's Lexicon, stating that he designed to publish the Lexicon called Συναγώγη λεξέων χρησίμων, and soliciting Porson's assistance in finding a publisher, as well as any corrections or suggestions which he might be kind enough to supply, for the improvement of the work itself.* What was the result of the application we do not know. This is the last communication among Porson's papers from any Continental scholar.
* Porson's MSS. in the Library of Trin. Coll. Camb.
LORD BYRON ON PORSON.
PORSON'S HABITS. LORD BYRON'S ACCOUNT OF HIM AT COLLEGE.
Or Porson's habits at Cambridge something has been seen in the earlier part of our biography. We are sorry to find Lord Byron, at a later period, 1805, receiving a still darker impression of them. It may be necessary to make allowance, perhaps, for something of fastidiousness of taste in his lordship, but, with all reasonable abatement, there must be some truth in what he tells of the Professor. It is sad that such things should be said, and sad that they cannot be fairly refuted. We notice the passage with unwillingness, but we might be accused of unjustifiable silence if we forbore to notice it. It is to be found in a letter to Mr. Murray, written in 1818, after a perusal of the "Sexagenarian."*
His lordship says that he remembers to have seen Porson at Cambridge, though not frequently; that in the hall, where he himself dined at the Vice-Master's table, and Porson at the Dean's, he always appeared * Moore's Byron, vol. iv. p. 94, ed. 1832.
sober in his demeanour, nor was he ever guilty, as far as his lordship knew, of any excess or outrage in public; but that in an evening, with a party of undergraduates, his behaviour would often be of a different character, as he would, in fits of intoxication, get into violent disputes with the young men, and revile them for not knowing what he thought they might be expected to know. Lord Byron had seen him, he says, take up a poker to one of them, using language corresponding in violence to the action, and once saw him go away in a rage because none of them knew the name of the "Cobbler of Messina," insulting their ignorance with the strongest terms of reprobation. In this condition his lordship used to see him, though but on a few occasions, at William Bankes's (the Italian discoverer's) rooms, where he would pour forth whole pages of various languages, and distinguish himself especially by copious floods of Greek.
Such is the description which Lord Byron gives of Porson's evening displays. We have seen him brandishing the poker at an earlier period of his life; but to the character of the language used with the act there is no testimony but his lordship's own opinion. As the Professor, however, never injured any one with the poker, we may suppose that the gesture and the words were alike intended to be harmless.
Concerning the Professor's behaviour in London society abundance of anecdotes are told. To what we have to say on this subject, the following letter, written some time after 1804, and addressed to an eminent surgeon, Mr. Joy, with whom Porson had long been intimate, may serve as an appropriate introduction.
I should be very happy to obey your obliging summons; I should equally approve of the commons, the company, and the conversation; but, for some time past, my face, or rather my nose, whether from good living or bad humours, has been growing into a great resemblance of honest Bardolph's, or, to keep still on the list of honest fellows, of honest Richard Brinsley's. I have therefore put myself under a regimen of abstinence till my poor nose recovers its quondam colour and compass; after which I shall be happy to attend your parties on the shortest notice. Thank you for returning Mr. Ireland's, whom you justly call an amiable youth, and I think you might have added a modest. Witness a publication of his that appeared in 1804, entitled Rhapsodies, by W. H. Ireland, author of the Shakspearian MSS., &c., where he thus addresses his book:
"As on thy title-page, poor little book,
I shake my head, and pity thee;
To send thee forth from censure free."
Though I cannot help looking upon him as too modest in the fourth verse; he certainly underrates the amount and extent of his possessions. He is by no means poor in his own brass. I was going to conclude with "And now to dinner with what appetite you may," but first I bethought me of a question: Do you see nothing extraordinary in this note? nothing, perhaps you will say. Why then be amazed; for it is written with a pen from the wing of an eagle. Ay, and of an Irish eagle too, dear Joy. So no more at present, but rests yours sincerely,
In relation to his appearance, and especially that of his nose, he would relate, with much good humour, the
*Barker's Parriana, vol. i. p. 418.
following anecdote. He went to call on one of the judges with whom he was intimate, when a gentleman, who did not know Porson, was waiting impatiently for the barber. Porson, who was negligently dressed, and had besides a patch of brown paper soaked in vinegar on his inflamed nose, being shown into the room where the gentleman was sitting, he started up suddenly, and rushing towards Porson, exclaimed, "Are you the barber?" "No, sir,” replied Porson, "but I am a cunning shaver, very much at your service."
Mr. Maltby says, "He was generally ill-dressed and dirty. But I never saw him such a figure as he was one day at Leigh and Sotheby's auction-room; he evidently had been rolling in the kennel; and, on inquiry, I found that he was just come from a party (at Robert Heathcote's, I believe), with whom he had been sitting up drinking for two nights."*
"Banks," says the same authority, "once invited Porson (about a year before his death) to dine with him at an hotel at the west end of London; but the dinner passed away without the expected guest having made his appearance. Afterwards, on Banks's asking him why he had not kept his engagement, Porson replied (without entering into further particulars) that he 'had come;' and Banks could only conjecture that the waiters, seeing Porson's shabby dress, and not knowing who he was, had offered him some insult, which had made him indignantly return home."+
He went one evening to a ball at the assembly-rooms at Bath, escorted by Dr. Davis, a physician of the place,
Rogers's Table-Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 305. † Ibid. p. 321.