Page images
PDF
EPUB

Thus ends the first Act.

In the second Act Joan enters, singing. Vulcan comes to her with the head of brass, and Joan observes,

I think that it looks rather frightful and horrid:
What hideous eyes, what a terrible forehead!

Punch joins them, and the whole act is composed of their talk and songs.

The third Act discovers Punch and Joan sitting half asleep, with bottle and tumblers beside them, and the head in a huge frying-pan on the fire; Dr. Faustus having charged them to watch the roasting of it, and to let him know when it should speak. They talk and sing, and the head says, "Time is," of which they take no notice; soon after the head says, "Time was," and, in a little while, exclaims, "Time is gone," and falls into the fire and bursts. In comes Faustus to ask if it has not spoken. Seeing it broken, he laments, and upbraids Punch and his wife for their carelessness, who endeavour to excuse themselves, but are at last driven off by Satan and Lucifer to Tartarus. Faustus mourns, in a parody on Wolsey's speech, that "his shoot has been nipp'd when he thought his greatness was a ripening," but adds that, though Britain must still continue open to our foes, yet

-Still beneath our arms the foe shall fall,
And England's valour be its brazen wall.

Three copies of school-Latin verses, written by Porson when he was at Eton, are in the library of Trinity College, having been presented to it in 1851 by T. L'Estrange Ewen, Esq., of Dedham, Essex. One is in iambic verse, a translation of a passage of Pope's

1774-8.]

"Essay on Criticism," extending to thirty-three lines another consists of thirty-six hexameters from "The Dying Indian," in Dodsley's Collection; and the third of thirty hexameters and pentameters on the Progress of Pastoral Poetry. We have extracted a few lines from the first as a specimen :

HIS SCHOOL EXERCISES.

Natura solers ipsa legibus suis
Sese coercet, ut tenetur ordine
A se reperto, se regens, Licentia.
Sedem superbo Græcia in cacumine
Sibi vindicat, natosque demonstrans suos
Queis laureorum palma cingit tempora,
Nos et decora tendere ad certamina
Jubet triumphi, nos et æquali gradu
Hortatur exercere munus ingenî.

Pope's lines are,

"Nature, like liberty, is but restrain'd

By the same laws which first herself ordain'd.
Hear how learn'd Greece her useful rules indites,
When to repress, and when indulge our flights;
High on Parnassus' top her sons she show'd,
And pointed out those arduous paths they trod;
Held from afar aloft, th' immortal prize,
And urged the rest by equal steps to rise."

27

To turn "liberty" into licentia, and to make licence se coercere et regere ordine a se reperto, is extremely boyish. But there are some good lines here and there. They are written in a small neat hand, on both sides of the paper, and "Porson" is carefully printed in italics at the top, on the left hand.

His mind was first inclined to critical researches, as he himself used to relate, by reading Toup's "Longinus,"

with a copy of which he was presented by Dr. Davies as a reward for a good exercise. Some time afterwards he read Bentley on Phalaris, and Dawes's "Miscellanea Critica," and these writers he used to call his great masters in the art of criticism.

For Bentley he preserved through life an unbounded veneration. He calls his work on Phalaris, immortalis illa de Phalaridis Epistolis Dissertatio, and omitted no opportunity of praising him. When, in after life, he had made many emendations in Aristophanes, and Bentley's copy of that poet was shown him, containing a number of his corrections in the margin, he is said to have shed tears of joy at finding a large portion of Bentley's conjectures exactly coincide with his own.* He once spoke to some scholars at the Gray's Inn Coffee-House, on Bentley's literary character, with such warmth of eulogy that a North Briton, who was present, asked him if Bentley was not a Scotchman. "No," replied Porson, "Bentley was a Greek scholar.”† This story is told in more ways than one, but Porson's stress must have been upon the word “Greek.”

Bentley was, indeed, a mighty man in the province of literature to which he devoted himself. Notwithstanding all the slashing with his desperate hook, he still showed himself, except in his attempts on Milton and in some of his later pamphlets, a sound and perspicacious critic. Pope would have gained himself more credit by praising than by satirising him. He is said to have been in doubt, when he was writing the

* Rev. H. R. Luard, Cambridge Essays, 1857.

† Kidd, Tracts, p. lxxxviii.; Barker's Lit. An. vol. ii. p. 10.

1774-8.]

BENTLEY.

29

"Dunciad," whether he should extol or depreciate Handel, till some musician, whose opinion he asked, assured him that Handel was a great man. It may well be wished that some scholar had had the power to give him a similar impression of Bentley.

CHAP. III.

PORSON ENTERED AT TRINITY COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE.—BEGINS TO SHOW

HIS ABILITIES IN CRITICISM. GAINS THE CRAVEN SCHOLARSHIP.
HIS GREEK IAMBICS ON THE OCCASION. HE TAKES HIS DEGREE AND
IS ELECTED FELLOW.—HIS HABITS.—HIS LITERARY PROJECTS.— HIS
FIRST ESSAY IN REVIEWING. HIS DESIRE TO EDIT ÆSCHYLUS.— HIS
PROPOSALS ILL RECEIVED BY THE SYNDICS OF THE UNIVERSITY
PRESS. IS MUCH DISCOURAGED.-NEVER VISITED THE CONTINENT.

[ocr errors]

PORSON was too old when he went to Eton, as may have been inferred from Dr. Goodall's evidence before the House of Commons, to have any chance of going to Cambridge as a King's scholar. After having remained at Eton four years, he was entered at Trinity College in October 1778, when he was nearly eighteen years of age.

Concerning his course of life as an undergraduate at Cambridge, little is told. He was at first, however, so much influenced by the genius loci that he applied himself to mathematics, but soon relinquished the study for others more agreeable to his inclination. His reading would appear to have been very miscellaneous. Whether the perusal of Chambers's Dictionary, of which Dr. Goodall spoke, and which is also mentioned by Beloe, took place before he went to Cambridge, or afterwards, is uncertain; but it would seem more probable that the achievement was performed at Cambridge. He was said by his old master, Mr. Summers,

« PreviousContinue »