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every day on fowl?" "No, sir," replied the servant, "but we asked the gentleman the first day what he would have for dinner, and, as he did not seem to know very well what to order, we suggested a fowl. When we went to him about dinner any day afterwards, he always said 'The same as yesterday,' and this was the only answer we could get from him.”
Dr. Raine used to say that he found Porson quite manageable in his house; and Dr. Maltby said the same of him.*
In noticing these habits of Porson, we must remember that to drink to excess was one of the vices of the day in which he lived; when a capacity for three bottles was thought a necessary qualification for society; when noblemen and gentlemen fell senseless under the dinner-table, and were carried to bed by their servants; and when Pitt and Dundas, on whom Porson made his epigrams, rose reeling from a carouse to join the Senate. Yet, whatever allowances may be made on account of the time, we must still admit that Porson's drinking was enormous. It should, however, be considered that he suffered from sleeplessness, which led him frequently to protract his sittings; and it may, perhaps, be said that a craving for drink, which he seems to have felt from an early period of life, was with him a disease.
* Barker's Lit. Anecd. vol. ii. p. 13.
PORSON'S WONDERFUL MEMORY. ITS STORES ALWAYS READY FOR USE.
OWN REMARKS ON THE TO SIR JOSEPH BANKS." 66 RODERICK RANDOM."
Of his memory, and its wonderful tenacity, innumerable stories are told. But what was most remarkable in regard to it, was, not so much its retentiveness, as its power of producing at all times, and in all circumstances, the stores which it contained. "Other scholars may perhaps be quoted," says the author of the "Short Account of Porson," "who have not fallen very short of him in this particular," the ability to retain; "scarce any, however, can be found, who have possessed the extraordinary talent of retaining everything they had ever read, and carrying it about with them, and bringing it out, à point nommé, in all states and conditions, whether sick or sorry, as Porson showed in numberless instances that he could do, almost even to his latest breath." Whenever he fell into excess, he adds, "his mind was less clouded, and his recollection more perfect, than any other man's in the same circumstances." Quic
quid legisset mente repositum servare, et in loco meditatè et lucidè proferre, Porsoni fere proprium fuit.*
Upon one occasion," says the "Short Account," "the Professor having spent an evening at a friend's house, a little way out of town, where he arrived completely wet through, was brought the next morning to visit his friend's neighbour, who had a learned library, and a house full of books; and, after apologising for his dress and his shoes, which were not his own, but supplied, with the rest of his clothes, by his companion, and quoting Horace in two places for the awkwardness or inconvenience of a shoe too tight or too loose, and Theophrastus and Theocritus, he provoked one of the company to observe, that the way to make the greatest expedition was to run, as the French and Dutch and Scotch women do, with their slippers in their hands, when they are pressed for time; and cited Æschylus, where it is said, in the Prometheus, I hurried out of the carriage without sandals.' Upon which the Professor started up upon his feet, and fired, as a strict sportsman does, who hears a strange gun in the preserve which he keeps for his own shooting. No sooner were the three words pronounced, than he gave Stanley's comment and parallel passages upon them; for such was the local mechanism of his memory, that, mention a line in any classic, and he would not only tell which side of the page it was on, but the previous and subsequent clause. But to proceed; he quoted a similar passage from Bion, which consisting of a broken line, a whole verse, and a broken one, he made the most of them, and thundered them out with a menacing gesture,
*Præf. in Adversaria.
and a strong emphasis on the last words without sandals.' The person who had innocently begun this capping match, and had never seen Porson before in a room, was struck with the earnestness of his manner, and apparent displeasure, and determined neither to give up, nor sit still, but to follow the Professor, and do as he did; he, therefore, too, stood on his legs, and roared out, in the words of the next quotation in Stanley from Theocritus, Arise, nor stay to put your sandals on your feet.' The Professor was startled at finding his opponent on the same ground with himself, and so near at his heels; but doubting if it were not by mere accident, he took the next passage from Horace that followed in the commentator, to which he added the remark of Stanley that concludes his note; namely, that water-nymphs went unshod,' for that reason Homer gives Thetis the epithet of silver-footed. Here the Professor had as usual the last word, for he was in the habit of seeing everybody and everything out."
When Coxe was at Cambridge, preparing his "Northern Travels" for the press, he formed an acquaintance with Porson, who was then residing on his fellowship at Trinity, and gives the following instance of his memory. "Taking tea one afternoon in his company at Dockerell's coffee-house, I read a pamphlet written by Ritson against Tom Warton. I was pleased with the work, and after I had read it I gave it to Porson, who began it, and I left him perusing it. On the ensuing day he drank tea with me, with several other friends, and the conversation happened to turn upon Ritson's pamphlet. I alluded to one particular part about Shakspeare which had greatly interested me, adding, to
those who had not read it, I wish I could convey to you a specific idea of the remainder.' Porson repeated a page and a half word for word. I expressed my surprise, and said, 'I suppose you studied the whole evening at the coffee-house, and got it by heart?' 'Not at all; I do assure you that I only read it once.'"*
He is said to have repeated at times, in company, the greater part of the "Rape of the Lock," with the various readings of the several editions, and a number of annotations, all delivered with such accuracy, that a person who heard it observed: "Had it been taken down as it came from his mouth, and printed, it would have formed the best edition of that poem ever published."†
REPETITIONS FROM POPE.
Another poem of Pope's that he was fond of repeating was the "Eloisa;" a repetition which Boaden once witnessed, and of which he gives the following account in his "Memoirs of Kemble." "I was dining with him at the house of a mutual friend, when, over wine, a very dull man became outrageous in the praise of Pope's Eloisa to Abelard.' The Professor began upon the poem, and recited it, with some occasional accompaniments of imitations by two moderns, in Ovidian Latin; and, as a perpetual or running commentary, he repeated the Macaronic version, called Eloisa in Dishabille,' which has stolen into print, and been attributed to Porson, as he assured me, erroneously. Our wise friend lost all patience at this outrage. He would not endure such a profanation of the work of an exalted genius. He would have satisfaction for the buffoon travesty of his favourite poem.' The man's head was
*Life and Posthumous Works of Archdeacon Coxe. † Barker's Parriana, vol. i. p. 553.
Vol. ii. p. 337.