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of these visitors was Mr. Summers, his old schoolmaster; but this is utterly improbable, for Porson always spoke of Mr. Summers with regard, as he appears, indeed, to have spoken of all from whom he had received any real kindness. Mr. Summers used to say, that Porson "had been too hardly censured by the world; that his nature was not unkind;" but that "he was too often accosted from motives of curiosity, which could not escape his penetration; and at times, perhaps, when his mind was alienated from the common forms of life," as was frequently the case, "by some deep subject" that occupied his thoughts.*
Another story is, that two farmers from East Ruston, passing through Cambridge, called at his rooms, and, when he came in, told him that they did not like to leave the town" without seeing Mr. Porson." "Well, now then, gentlemen," rejoined Porson, "you have seen me; I wish you good morning;" and walked off.
A man of such a temper was not likely to be very tolerant of admonition. We have seen how much he had been befriended by Sir George Baker; Sir George's house was always open to him, and his assistance and encouragement always ready to promote any design that he might take in hand. All this kindness and attention Porson fully acknowledged; yet, after visiting him regularly for some years, he suddenly ceased to visit him at all. For this withdrawal Sir George expressed himself quite unable to account; there had been no quarrel, and Porson had given him no cause to speak of him otherwise than with kind
Letter of Rev. W. Gunn to Dawson Turner, Barker's Parriana, vol. ii. p. 736.
ness. But it is supposed by Mr. Maltby that some words of remonstrance, which fell from Sir George respecting Porson's irregularities, were the cause of his change of conduct.
Such absolute independence was not unfrequently attended with waywardness and caprice. He would show likings and dislikings without much apparent reason. He was kind to children, says Beloe, but would be at no pains to conceal his partiality, if he felt any, where there were several in one family. "In one, which he often visited, there was a little girl of whom he was exceedingly fond; he often brought her trifling presents, wrote in her books, and distinguished her on every occasion, but she had a brother, to whom, for no assignable reason, he never spoke, nor would in any respect notice.” *
The little girl, going one day into the kitchen to deliver a message to a servant, took Porson by the hand, and led him in with her. A young woman, whose name was Susan, and who was much regarded by the family, was ironing linen. The child asked Porson to make some verses upon her; and, on his return to the sitting-room, he said,
When lovely Susan irons smocks,
Her eyes are brighter than her box,
And burn me like a heater.†
When contradicted in argument, he was, if the "Sexagenarian" may be credited, not easily provoked to asperity of language. "By precept," said Bishop
† Ibid. vol. ii. p. 313.
*Sexagenarian, vol. i. p. 217.
Maltby, "as well as by example, he discountenanced all violent emotions of the mind, and particularly anger.' But Beloe mentions one occasion in which he was moved, and, as it appeared, with justice, to express himself with great exasperation. "A person of some literary pretensions, but who either did not know Porson's value, or neglected to show the estimate of it which it merited, at a dinner-party, harassed, teazed, and tormented him, till at length he could endure it no longer, and, rising from his chair, exclaimed with. vehemence, It is not in the power of thought to conceive, or words to express, the contempt I have for you, Mr. *
This scene is represented, in a key to the "Sexagenarian," published in "Notes and Queries,"† to have occurred at the house of Mr. Hill in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, in the presence of Mr. Morris, Mr. Kemble, Mr. Dubois, Mr. Fillingham, and Mr. Perry ; and the offender is said to have been Mr. Isaac Disraeli, who, in return for Porson's expressions of severity, retorted on the Professor in an ill-natured note in his novel called "Flim-Flams." Barker, in his Literary Anecdotes, gives a somewhat different account, saying that Disraeli, on some occasion when Porson had fallen intoxicated under the table, had started up and made a sarcastic speech over him; and that Porson, hearing of this insult, took an opportunity of retorting upon Disraeli, and concluded an address to him with the same words that Beloe has given. That Mr. Disraeli
* Aikin's Athenæum, vol. iv. Oct. 1808. † April 21, 1860.
Vol. ii. p. 14.
was the author of the novel of " Flim-Flams," published anonymously in three volumes by Murray, in 1805, a production filled with pointless attempts at satirical description and dialogue, and abortive efforts at wit, and written altogether in a style and manner utterly at variance with Disraeli's acknowledged works, it seems extremely difficult to believe; but he is universally said to have been concerned in its composition. The attack on Porson, however, is made, not in a note, but in the text, where the Professor, Dr. Parr, Mr. Godwin, and Mr. Malthus, under the names of Pours-on, Græculus, Caconous, and Toomany, are represented as meeting, with some other public characters, at a large dinnerparty, given by "My Uncle," who, by a remark about a Greek word in Athenæus, sets the Doctor and the Professor at strife, when, after much discussion and quotation, the Professor is made to catch at the word tatyras used by the Doctor, and, uttering "a shrill whew!" to say, "You dare not tell us that tatyras is the true word for pheasant; Ptolemy Euergetus reads tetarton, others tatyron." "You lie, and you know you lie," retorts the Doctor; when the Professor empties his wine-glass on the Doctor's wig, and the Doctor hurls back his wig, saturated with wine, in the Professor's face. The Professor then challenges the Doctor to drink brandy with him in a pair of shoes; and the Doctor retorts by offering to drink brandy with the Professor in a pair of boots; a pair of new boots are accordingly sent for, and the operation commences, the Professor singing Greek epigrams, and the Doctor spouting passages from Lysias; but, amidst a great hubbub with which the party closes, the two com
PORSON AND ISAAC DISRAELI.
batants are left sitting, each with his boot before him, and the match undecided.
From the universally received character of Isaac Disraeli, he would seem as little likely to have given the offence as to have written the novel. "The philosophic sweetness of his disposition," says his son, "the serenity of his lot, and the elevating nature of his pursuits, combined to enable him to pass through life without an evil act, almost without an evil thought." The novel is the offspring of injudicious satire, illnatured, but weak, and casting disgrace, not on those who are caricatured in its pages, but on him or them that gave it being.
I have been assured, on trustworthy authority, that what was done or said with reference to Porson, in his state of insensibility, was in reality harmless and trifling, but was reported to the Professor with great exaggeration; and I have been given to understand, on the same authority, that the passage of the novel, in which Porson is introduced, was probably written by Dubois.
For Fitzgerald, the "small beer poet," who had one evening bawled his creaking couplets at a dinner of the Literary Fund Society, Porson, who was present, showed his want of respect in a somewhat Johnsonian manner. A gentleman brought Fitzgerald up to Porson to introduce him. "Sir," said he, "I have the honour to present to you Mr. Fitzgerald." Porson was silent. "Sir," recommenced that gentleman, "I have the honour to present to you Mr. Fitzgerald, who
* Memoir prefixed to Routledge's edition of Disraeli's Works, 1860.