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TENACITY OF MEMORY.
annoyed him so much that he started up, and paced round the room for about ten minutes, when, stopping suddenly, he exclaimed: "Eureka! The Count's name is Don Francesco Averrani." If this account is quite accurate, it shows that Porson was better acquainted with the Italian than was supposed by Mr. Maltby, who thought that he knew little or nothing of the language.*
On one occasion, when Porson, Reed, and some other of the literati, with John Kemble, were assembled at Dr. Burney's at Hammersmith, and were examining some old newspapers in which the execution of Charles I. was detailed, they observed some particulars stated in them which they doubted whether Hume or Rapin had mentioned. Reed, who, being versed in old literature, was consulted as the oracle on the point, could not recollect; but Porson repeated a long passage from Rapin in which the circumstances were fully noticed. Archdeacon Burney, who favoured me with this anecdote, told me, at the same time, that he had often, when a boy, taken down Humphry Clinker, or Foote's plays, from his father's shelves, and heard Porson repeat whole pages of them walking about the room.
Basil Montague related that Porson, in his presence, and that of some other persons, read a page or two of a book, and then repeated what he had read from memory. "That is very well," said one of the company, "but could the Professor repeat it backwards?" Porson immediately began to repeat it backwards, and failed only in two words.†
Priestley, the bookseller, used to relate that Porson
* Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 329.
† Barker's Lit. Anecd. vol. ii. p. 18.
was once in his shop, when a gentleman came in, and asked for a particular edition of Demosthenes, of which Priestley was not in possession. The gentleman being somewhat disappointed, Porson, whose attention was directed towards him, asked him whether he wished to consult any passage in Demosthenes. The gentleman replied in the affirmative, and specified the passage. Porson then asked Priestley for a copy of the Aldine edition, and, having received it, and turned over a few leaves, put his finger on the passage, "showing," said Priestley, "not only his knowledge of the author, but his familiarity with the position of the passage in that particular edition.” *
A similar anecdote used to be told by Mr. Cogan. One day Porson called on a friend who happened to be reading Thucydides, and who asked leave to consult him on the meaning of a word. Porson, on hearing the word, did not look at the book, but at once repeated the passage. His friend asked how he knew that it was that passage. "Because," replied Porson, "the word occurs only twice in Thucydides, once on the right hand page, in the edition which you are using, and once on the left. I observed on which side you looked, and accordingly knew to which passage you referred."+
"I once took him," relates Rogers, "to an evening party at William Spencer's, where he was introduced to several women of fashion, Lady Crewe, &c., who were very anxious to see the great Grecian. How do you suppose he entertained them? Chiefly by reciting an immense quantity of old forgotten Vauxhall songs.
† Ibid. p. 23.
Barker's Lit. Anecd. vol. ii.
He was far from sober, and at last talked so oddly that they all retired from him except Lady Crewe, who boldly kept her ground. I recollect her saying to him, "Mr. Porson, that joke you have borrowed from 'Joe Miller,'' and his rather angry reply, "Madam, it is not in 'Joe Miller;' you will not find it either in the preface or in the body of the work, no, nor in the index." I brought him home as far as Piccadilly, where, I am sorry to say, I left him sick in the middle of the street." *
A writer in the "Public Ledger" said that he had often seen him standing at night, in the midst of a number of people, pouring forth, with dignified deportment, and sonorous utterance, a number of lines of Homer, apparently for no other purpose than to excite the wonder of his audience at what few or none of them could understand.†
Yet, like many other great men, who have excelled in some particular faculty of the mind, he was far from being vain of his peculiar excellence. Sir Isaac Newton claimed no other merit from his vast calculations than that of persevering labour, and of keeping his subject constantly before him till it was worked out; and Porson would say that his memory was no better than other men might make theirs. He would sometimes argue that all men are born with abilities nearly equal. Any one," he would say, "might become quite as good a critic as I am, if he would only take the trouble to make himself so. I have made myself what I am by intense labour; sometimes, in order to impress a
Rogers's Table Talk, p. 222.
† Public Ledger, Sept. 29, 1808.
Barker's Lit. Anecd. vol. ii.
thing upon my memory, I have read it a dozen times, and transcribed it six." *
A remark which he made to Mrs. Edwards, however, a friend of Dr. Parr's, intimates that he was quite conscious of the natural goodness of his memory. He told her that "his memory was a source of misery to him, as he could never forget anything, even what he wished not to remember."+ Themistocles is not the only one that has longed for the art of forgetting.
* Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 310. Barker's Lit. Anecd. vol. ii. p. 25. Hellenophilus (Bp. Maltby) in Aikin's Athenæum, Nov. 1808.
† Field's Memoirs of Parr, vol. i. p. 456.
DISLIKE OF PRETENSION.
PORSON'S AVERSION TO ASSUMPTION AND PRETENCE. HIS DISLIKE OF CAUSES OF IT. LITERARY CHARACTER OF PARR.- PORSON'S REPARTEES ON THE ORIGIN OF EVIL AND ON METAPHYSICS. LINES ON PARR'S PREFACE TO BELLENDENUS.-PORSON AND JACOB BRYANT. -PORSON'S ESTIMATE OF BISHOP BURGESS. HIS FEELINGS TOWARDS PALEY AND MACKINTOSH. HIS DETESTATION OF BISHOP TOMLINE.HIS REMARK ON SOUTHEY'S POETRY.- HIS CONTEMPT FOR WILKES.— HIS ESTEEM FOR DR. DAVY; LETTER TO HIM. HIS ESTIMATION OF HORNE TOOKE, TYRWHITT, PEARSON, CORAY, KIDD, MALONE, DR. RAINE. -LETTER FROM KIDD TO PORSON.
"IF," says the "Short Account of Porson," " a man declared himself to be, or insinuated that he was, or thought that he ought to be considered as, a hidalgo in literature, sese aliquem credens, he was sure to be attended to by the Professor in his own way; and if he quoted the text of Homer, the Professor would give him the scholiast on that text. Græculus, who had been very free in his publications with professors in general, once observed to Mr. Porson, rather too familiarly, in regard to a vulgar saying, 'It is all the same in Greek, Mr. Professor.' The Professor replied, gravely, "You can't tell that, Sir.' At another time the same person insisted upon it, that the Greek was an easy language. The Professor said, Not to you, Sir.'"
This dislike of assumption may account perhaps, in some degree, for Porson's want of cordiality for Parr. He would observe to his intimate friends that he had