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fellow. This most extraordinary man, who could instruct and delight the most cultivated minds, could also make himself a very nuisance by certain degrading habits. After dinner he took a small book out of his pocket, containing some of his writing (in which he was exquisitely skilled), and it was handed round the table for us to look at. In the evening he entertained us with an account of some Greek manuscripts, till they got him down to the card-table, which soon almost neutralised this great man. Owing to his habits, it was almost as much desired to be rid of him at a seasonable hour, as to enjoy his earlier conversation. One of the company, now a bishop, undertook as a great favour to carry him off in good time; without this precaution he would have stayed till the morning. As I had never been in his company before, I pleaded that he might be allowed to stay and to drench himself with water, which he would do, when nothing else was before him. I offered, for one, to sit up, not to talk with him, but to hear him talk, and was very sorry that I had none to second me."*
"When Porson dined with me," said Rogers, "I used to keep him within bounds; but I frequently met him at various houses where he got completely drunk. He would not scruple to return to the dining-room after the company had left it, pour into a tumbler the drops remaining in the wine-glasses, and drink off the omnium gatherum." Maltby, who was present when Rogers said this, added that he had seen Porson do so.† He would drink liquids of all kinds. "Horne Tooke
* Barker's Parriana, vol. i. p. 266.
† Rogers's Table Talk, p. 221.
used to say," as Mr. Maltby* tells us, "that Porson would drink ink rather than not drink at all.' Indeed," adds Mr. Maltby, "he would drink anything. He was sitting with a gentleman after dinner, in the chambers of a mutual friend, a Templar, who was then ill and confined to bed. A servant came into the room, sent thither by his master, for a bottle of embrocation which was on the chimney-piece. I drank it an hour ago,' said Porson."
"When Hoppner the painter was residing in a cottage a few miles from London, Porson, one afternoon, unexpectedly arrived there. Hoppner said that he could not offer him dinner, as Mrs. Hoppner had gone to town, and had carried with her the key of the closet which contained the wine. Porson, however, declared that he would be content with a mutton-chop, and beer from the next ale-house; and accordingly stayed to dine. During the evening Porson said I am quite certain that Mrs. Hoppner keeps some nice bottle for her private drinking, in her own bed-room; so, pray, try if you can lay your hands on it.' His host assured him that Mrs. Hoppner had no such secret stores; but Porson insisting that a search should be made, a bottle was at last discovered in the lady's apartment, to the surprise of Hoppner, and the joy of Porson, who soon finished its contents, pronouncing it to be the best gin he had tasted for a long time. Next day Hoppner, somewhat out of temper, informed his wife that Porson had drunk every drop of her concealed dram. Drunk every drop of it!' cried she. My God, it was spirits of wine for the lamp!""
* Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 302.
Another of Maltby's anecdotes* respecting Porson's drinking, is this: "Gurney (the Baron) had chambers in Essex Court, Temple, under Porson's. One night, or rather morning, Gurney was awakened by a tremendous thump in the chambers above. Porson had just come home dead drunk, and had fallen on the floor. Having extinguished his candle in the fall, he presently staggered down stairs to relight it; and Gurney heard him keep dodging and poking with the candle at the staircase lamp for about five minutes, and all the while very lustily cursing the nature of things."
This story reminds us of Daniel Heinsius reeling home, and repeating, as he went up the stone staircase to his rooms,
"Sta pes, sta bone pes; sta pes, ne labere, mî pes;
"Stand, stand, my trusty feet; firm be your tread;
"Porson frequently spent his evenings," says Beloe†, with the present venerable Dean of Westminster, with Dr. Wingfield, with the late Bennet Langton, and with another friend in Westminster, with respect to whom the following line used to be facetiously applied from Homer:
“ Ρίψε ποδὸς τεταγὼν ἀπὸ βήλου θεσπεσίοιο”. meaning Beloe himself. "Yet he hardly ever failed passing some hours afterwards at the Cider Cellar in Maiden Lane.
"The above individuals being all of them very regu
Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 304. † Sexagenarian, vol. i. p. 228.
lar in their hours, used to give him to understand that he was not to stay after eleven o'clock, with the exception of Bennet Langton, who suffered him to remain till twelve, corrupted in this instance, perhaps, by Dr. Johnson. But so precise was Porson in this particular, that although he never attempted to exceed the hour limited, he would never stir before. On one occasion, when, from some incidental circumstance, the lady of the house gave a gentle hint that she wished him to retire a little earlier, he looked at the clock, and observed, with some quickness, that it wanted a quarter of an hour of eleven."
"A brother of Bishop Maltby," relates Mr. Maltby, "invited Porson and myself to spend the evening at his house, and secretly requested me to take Porson away, if possible, before the morning hours. Accordingly at twelve o'clock I held up my watch to Porson, saying, 'I think it is now full time for us to go home;' and the host, of course, not pressing us to remain longer, away we went. When we got into the street, Porson's indignation burst forth: I hate,' he said, 'to be turned out of doors like a dog.'
He was greatly pleased with the encomium pronounced upon him by one of his companions at the Cider Cellar: "Dick can beat us all; he can drink all night, and spout all day."†
In 1798 Dr. Burney was meditating an edition of Terentianus Maurus, and mentioned, in a letter to Parr, his desire that Porson might consult some books for him. Parr replies, "The books may be consulted, and
* Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 304.
Porson shall do it, and he will do it. I know his price when he bargains with me; two bottles instead of one, six pipes instead of two, burgundy instead of claret, liberty to sit till five in the morning instead of sneaking into bed at one; these are his terms."*
"Porson," writes Maltby, "was fond of smoking and said that when smoking began to go out of fashion, learning began to go out of fashion also." Had he lived to the present day, he might have seen smoking revived more than ever, but chiefly among those who have little pretensions to learning.
Whatever was the extent of Porson's potations in company, he was never accused of drinking to intemperance in solitude; and he could, when he thought proper, observe total abstinence, for a considerable time, from wine and spirituous liquors.
In his eating, as to the quality of his food, he was easily satisfied. He went once to the Bodleian to collate a manuscript, and, as the work would occupy him several days, Routh, the President of Magdalen, who was leaving home for the long vacation, said to him, at his departure, "Make my house your home, Mr. Porson, during my absence, for my servants will have orders to be quite at your command, and to procure you whatever you please." When he returned, he asked for the account of what the Professor had had during his stay. The servant brought the bill, and the Doctor, glancing at it, observed a fowl entered in it every day. "What!" said he, did you provide for Mr. Porson no better than this, but oblige him to dine
* Parr's Works, vol. i. p. 730.
Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 305.