Page images
PDF
EPUB

any reasonable man. But whatever success I may have had in the main question, there is another point which I have proved to demonstration, that Mr. Travis is radically ignorant of the subject which he has undertaken to demonstrate. You may therefore reply, Sir, or not, as shall seem good to you. If you think proper not to expose yourself again, which, to speak as a friend, I should think your wisest plan, I shall attribute your silence to a consciousness of your own weakness. You will call it contempt of your adversary, and I cannot deny the retaliation to be fair enough, considering with how small respect I have treated an author, who has vindicated the authenticity of that important passage (1 John v. 7) in a superior way, so as to leave no room for future doubt or cavil." [These words are from a pamphlet called "An Apology for the Liturgy and Clergy of the Church of England."] "But if you reply, I shall not think myself bound to continue the debate, unless both your matter and style much excel your letters to Mr. Gibbon, and still more that crambe recocta which you called a defence of Stephens and Beza," published in the "Gentleman's Magazine," for March, 1790. "Such replies will carry their own refutation with them to all readers that are not eaten up with prejudice; and others it would be folly to expect to satisfy. I shall therefore be perfectly silent, unless you can disprove the charges that I have brought against you, of ignorance and misrepresentation. In case of conviction, I dare not promise to retract publicly (for I know how frail are the vows of authors and lovers), but I promise to try. If you confess the charges, and yet maintain that the errors you have committed are venial and consistent with a knowledge of the subject, I shall excuse myself from the controversy, and consider you as degraded from that rank of literature which entitles one writer to challenge another."

What is most displeasing in these Letters is the excessive virulence of their style. There appears in page after page too much railing at Mr. Travis's ignorance and presumption. The epistles would have been in

1789.]

PORSON'S STYLE.

finitely more agreeable to the reader if Porson had treated Travis as he treated Sir John Hawkins, or as Bentley treated Boyle, exhibiting the ease and good humour with which a higher mind can expose the folly and weakness of a lower; an exercise of which the finest specimen in our language is Johnson's critique on Jonas Hanway's "Eight Days' Journey." As it is, the Letters were not improperly said, by Dr. Rennell, to be "such a book as the devil would write, if he could hold a pen.'

"

* Rogers's Table Talk, "Porsoniana," p. 307.

77

CHAP. VI.

[ocr errors]

CONTEMPORARY CRITICISM ON THE 'LETTERS TO TRAVIS.". PARR, BURNEY.-PORSON'S SARCASTIC MANNER OF WRITING. ANECDOTE OF BISHOP WATSON. PORSON LOSES A GREAT PATRONESS. — BISHOP BURGESS'S ATTACKS ON PORSON'S BOOK AFTER HIS DEATH. — VINDICATED BY DR. TURTON, BISHOP OF ELY. - INSTANCES OF TRAVIS'S IGNORANCE AND OBTUSENESS. - PORSON'S CRITIQUE ON GIBBON. GIBBON'S OPINION OF THE 66 LETTERS." - PORSON'S INTERVIEW WITH GIBBON.—A REMARK OF FOX ON GIBBON'S QUOTATIONS.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

.

TRAVIS'S attack upon Gibbon has been characterised as violent. But it is mildness itself when compared with Porson's attack upon Travis. He said that, facit indignatio versum, he was stimulated by indignation to overcome his dislike of writing, and that "he could not treat the subject in any other manner if he treated it at all. To peruse such a mass of sophistry," he observed, "and to write remarks upon it, without sometimes giving way to laughter, and sometimes to indignation, was, to me at least, impossible. I am persuaded that every attentive reader, who believes me right in the statement of my facts, and the tenor of my argument, will allow that even harsher expressions would in such a case be justified. Besides, I confess I never much admired that mock politeness which expresses a strong charge in a long-winded periphrasis of half a dozen lines, when the complete sense might be conveyed in as many words."†

* Letters to Travis, Preface, p. xxii.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

1790.] STYLE OF THE LETTERS TO TRAVIS."

66

"The Travisian examination," wrote Burney to Parr, "is most excellent, and shows the clear acuteness of Porson's mind in as strong a point of view as it exhibits his wit and severity. But I feel little inclination to mercy, when ignorance, aided by a desire of misrepresentation, is chastised." *

66

Travis," said Parr, "was a superficial and arrogant declaimer; and his letters to Gibbon brought down upon him the just and heavy displeasure of an assailant equally irresistible for his wit, his reasoning, and his erudition,-I mean, the immortal Richard Porson."+

79

One peculiarity in the style of these Letters is the vein of irony and banter which everywhere pervades them; the effect of which is such that readers, unless they be thoroughly acquainted with the point under consideration, are often in danger of being puzzled to know whether Porson is in jest or in earnest. Even Dr. Turton, afterwards his vindicator, who understood him in general well enough, is utterly mystified and deluded by the phrases which he uses concerning Gregory of Nazianzum. He speaks of himself as "having been always extremely fond of Gregory," and being desirous "to bring off," on one occasion, "his favourite Gregory with the least possible loss of honour; "§ expressions which led Dr. Turton, and many others, seriously to believe that Porson had the highest esteem and liking for Gregory. But the truth is, that all these remarks are merely sarcastic allusions to a story which, as Mr. Kidd says ||, was well known to every

* Parr's Works, vol. vii. p. 409.

† Bibliotheca Parriana, p. 601. § Ib. p. 272.

Letters, p. 223.

|| Tracts, p. lv.

member of Cambridge University. What the story was, Mr. Kidd does not tell us; but Barker* learned from Parr that it was a story about Bishop Watson. The Bishop, while he was divinity professor, happened, as he was taking a ride a few days before he had to deliver a Latin oration to the University, to meet with a learned friend, who began to talk to him on the subject of his intended speech, and told him that there was a notable passage in Gregory Nazianzen, which he might introduce with effect. "Is there?" said Watson. "But I never read a page of him.” "Well," said the other, "I will send you the volume with the passage marked in it." This promise was performed, and the professor, having got the passage by heart, pronounced it ore rotundo in his oration, adding Hæc ex Gregorio illo Nazianzeno, quem semper in deliciis habui. Parr used to repeat this anecdote as an instance of charlatanerie in one whom he pronounced a man of some ability, but of little learning. Watson's religious sincerity, it may be observed, has, notwithstanding his "Apology," come to be pretty generally disbelieved. Southey said his conversation was such as to prove that "the articles of his faith were not all to be found among the nine and thirty, nor all the nine and thirty to be found among his;"† and still stronger testimony to the nature of his belief may be seen in De Quincey's "Selections, Grave and Gay." The Bishop seems, according to these authorities, to have grown weary of professing the faith of which the profession had made him a bishop.

* Barker's Parriana, vol. ii. † Letters by Warter, vol. i.

p. 713.

p. 391.

Vol. ii. p. 215.

« PreviousContinue »