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REVIEWS BRUNCK'S ARISTOPHANES.
PORSON'S REVIEW OF BRUNCK'S ARISTOPHANES; OF WESTON'S HER-
MESIANAX; OF HUNTINGFORD'S
REMARKS ON DAWES.
LETTERS TO THE
GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE ON HAWKINS'S " LIFE OF JOHNSON.". NOTICE OF ROBERTSON'S ESSAY ON THE PARIAN CHRONICLE.-LETTER ON HEYNE'S APPLICATION FOR BENTLEY'S HOMERIC MSS.
IN the same year, 1783, Porson wrote another article. for "Maty's Review," a critique on Brunck's Aristophanes. It contains great commendations of Brunck as an editor, and some very acute emendations of passages that had perplexed or escaped Brunck. Some introductory remarks on the writings and character of Aristophanes, setting forth his principal merits and defects, are well worthy of extraction:
"Before I give an account of the editor's merits, it may not be improper to say a word of the excellences and defects of the author; especially as some modern critics have thought proper, not only to greet him with the title of a scurrilous and indecent buffoon, but to wonder how such monstrous farces could be endured by the chaste ears of an Attic audience. That many should have been greatly exasperated with Aristophanes for publicly exhibiting Socrates on the stage, and making him speak and act in a manner most inconsistent with his known character, is not surprising; but as the accusation urged by some against the poet, of being instrumental to Socrates's death, has been substantially refuted by many critics, so the present editor has very judiciously observed, with regard to the other part of the charge, that Socrates is not so much the object of ridicule in the
comedy of the Clouds' as the philosophers in general, who, of whatever benefit the lessons and example of Socrates himself might be to the state, were, from their idle lives, their minute, ridiculous, and sometimes impious disquisitions, highly prejudicial to their disciples, and, by consequence, to the public. If, says Mr. Brunck, Aristophanes had really in the smallest degree contributed to the death. of Socrates, it is not credible that Plato would have introduced them in his 'Symposium,' sitting together at the same table; it is not credible that he would have been so great an admirer of him as to write an epigram in his praise, containing a most extravagant compliment. Missa igitur hæc faciamus. Of the indecency which abounds in Aristophanes, unjustifiable as it certainly is, it may, however, be observed that different ages differ extremely in their ideas of this offence. Among the ancients plain speaking was the fashion; nor was the ceremonious delicacy introduced which has taught men to abuse each other with the utmost politeness, and express the most indecent ideas in the most modest language. The ancients had little of this. They were accustomed to call a spade a spade; to give everything its proper name. There is another sort of indecency, which is infinitely more dangerous; which corrupts the heart without offending the ear. I believe there is no man of sound judgment who would not rather let his son read Aristophanes than Congreve or Vanbrugh. In all Aristophanes's indecency there is nothing that can allure, but much that must deter. He never dresses up the most detestable vices in an amiable light, but generally, by describing them in their native colours, makes the reader disgusted with them. His abuse of the most eminent citizens may be accounted for upon similar principles. Besides, in a republic, freedom of speech was deemed an essential privilege of a citizen. Demosthenes treats his adversaries with such language as would, in our days, be accounted scurrilous enough; but it passed in those days without any notice or reprehension. The world is since greatly altered for the better. We have, indeed, retained the matter, but judiciously altered the manner.
"In the management of his plots too, it must be owned, Aristophanes is sometimes faulty. It ought, however, to be observed that his contemporary comic poets did not pique themselves upon the artful management of the plot. Aristophanes has, therefore, the usual failing of dramatic writers, to introduce speeches, and even scenes, not much conducing to the business of the drama. But if the only use of the plot be, as the great Bayes has decided, to bring in good. things, our poet will stand totally clear on this head of the charge, and the Knights' may be mentioned as an honourable exception even to this censure, as the design of the play, to expose Cleon, and to turn him out of his place, is admirably supported from beginning to end.
"To sum up Aristophanes's character: if we consider his just and severe ridicule of the Athenian foibles; his detestation of the expensive and ruinous war in which Greece was engaged; his pointed invectives against the factious and interested demagogues, by whom the populace was deluded, 'who bawl'd for freedom in their senseless mood;' his contempt of the useless and frivolous inquiries of the sophists; his wit and versatility of style; the astonishing playfulness, originality, and fertility of his imagination; the great harmony of versification whenever the subject required it, and his most refined elegance of language, in spite of Dr. Beattie's dictum, we shall look over his blemishes, and allow that, with all his faults, he might be a very good citizen, and was certainly an excellent poet."
CHARACTER OF ARISTOPHANES.
Brunck excuses himself for having left some faulty readings in the text "on account of the great hurry," he says, "in which he was obliged to write his notes." "I am aware," he observes, "partem haud minimam istarum fabularum à me descriptam iterum fuisse, dum in Museo meo vel ludebat filius meus, quo animum meum nihil magis advertit oblectatque, vel confabulabantur boni quidam viri, qui quot fere diebus horisque matu
tinis ad me visere solent." Upon this Porson exclaims, "Tantamne rem tam negligenter? I think in such a case I should have sent Master Brunck out of the room. Pugh! says Mr. Brunck (or, I suppose, would say, if he read Shakspeare), ' He talks to me that never had a son.' But, to be serious, what right has any man to publish a work of this kind in a hurry? Mr. Brunck, I believe, is not in that unfortunate situation which some learned men have experienced, to be obliged to publish as fast as the avarice or tyranny of booksellers required.”
This article, though of considerable length, was written in one night and part of the following day. *
In 1784 he reviewed, in the same publication, an edition of Hermesianax, an elegiac poet of whom only fragments remain, by the Rev. Stephen Weston, Fellow of Exeter College, Oxford. He gives Mr. Weston some praise and not much blame, except for his Latin metrical version, which, he says, one so little able to rival Grotius should not have attempted. Whether the review led to any personal communication between Porson and Mr. Weston, I do not know; but Mr. Weston is generally thought to have written the "Short Account of Mr. Richard Porson," published by Baldwin in 1808, soon after Porson's death; a meagre pamphlet, filled with matters which the writer might have learned without ever having seen Porson. This production was re-issued in 1814, with an addition, of a similar character, called "Teμάxn, or Scraps from Porson's Rich Feast," which there seems to be better
* Kidd, Tracts, p. xxxix.
ground for attributing to Weston. Kidd was told that the "Short Account" had proceeded from a dignitary of the church.*
Shortly after, in the same Review, appeared a brief notice of George Isaac Huntingford's "Apology for his Monostrophics." It is well known that Huntingford published, when he had just ceased to be an undergraduate, a volume of Greek verses under the title of "Monostrophica," in which Dr. Charles Burney, in the pages of the "Monthly Review," exposed several metrical errors, one of which was the shortening of the first syllable of xudos. In reply to Burney's strictures Huntingford printed his "Apology for the Monostrophics published in 1782," to which he had the hardihood to add "A Second Collection of Monostrophics." In this "Apology" he tries to defend his use of xudos, which Dawes, as Burney had observed, had pronounced to have the first syllable always long, by the authority of two Greek epigrammatists in the Anthologia, who had shortened the second syllable in Oouudions, saying, "the mere ipse dixit of the pedantic Dawes must give place to two poetical authorities." Porson was enraged at this contemptuous mention of Dawes, whom he held in high esteem, and resolved not to spare Mr. Huntingford, whose second "Monostrophics" he perceived to be as vulnerable as his first. He makes Mr. Huntingford a present of a third example of Oouudions from the same source, and then says:
"But wherever the word Kudos, or its derivatives, occur in ancient Greek poetry (and they occur very frequently), * Kidd, Tracts, p. lxvi.