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time when he took his M.A. degree in 1785, he seems to have "assiduously employed," according to Mr. Kidd, "in highly useful but ungainful pursuits. It was a season which he recollected with pleasure, and would, at times, fondly wish to live over again Pieriosque dies et amantes carmina noctes."
As he became distinguished, his company was much sought, especially by the young men of his college. But he did not conduct himself in such a way, in the convivial hours which he spent among them, as to secure from them much personal deference, however they might admire the powers of his mind. Familiarity seems to have produced its proverbial effect in his case as in others. In his disputes with the young fellows he was fond of threatening to punish their insolence by splitting their heads with the poker. One evening an undergraduate distinguished for pugilism, with whom he had a dispute, seeing Porson catch hold of the poker, seized the tongs, observing that he could play at that game as well as Porson. Porson, looking in his face, said in a sneering tone, "If I should crack your skull, I believe I should find it empty." "And if I should crack yours," replied the other, "I believe I should find it full of maggots." This was a retort such as Porson liked, and he immediately laid down the poker with a smile, and repeated a chapter of "Roderick Random" suitable to the occasion. The author of the "Short Account of Porson" says that this cured him of using the poker; but he is mistaken, for we shall find him brandishing it again hereafter.
Sir Egerton Brydges*, who was at Cambridge at this
* Autobiography, vol. i. p. 58.
CRITICISM IN MATY'S REVIEW.
time, speaks of Porson's roughness, and thought him vain and arrogant; but Sir Egerton admits that he was in his company only once or twice, and he assuredly never penetrated Porson's husk.
In 1782 he made some proposals to republish Budæus's "Commentaries on the Greek Language," with notes; a book which, as Kidd thinks, would have been better for our public schools than Vigerus. But the design was never executed.
In March 1783 he appears to have first published an essay in criticism, a review of the first volume of Schutz's Eschylus, in "Maty's Review;" a publication which was started the year before by Maty, a fellow of Trinity, Porson's senior by a few years, and which Porson continued to support till it fell to the ground in 1787. The paper occupies only a few pages. Porson's propensity to sarcastic remark is just shown in it. Speaking of Schutz having separated two excursus on the "Septem contra Thebas" from the main body of his commentary, he says that he is at a loss to know why he has done so, for " they would have been as easily read, or turned over without reading, if they had been inserted in their proper order."
About this period, having read with great pleasure Ruhnken's preface to the second volume of Hesychius, and his historical disquisition on the Greek orators, he wrote to Ruhnken, saying that he was contemplating an edition of Eschylus, and requesting to be favoured with any fragments of that author that had occurred to Ruhnken in his body of inedited Lexicons and Grammarians; a source from which Brunck had drawn many valuable glosses for his "Lexicon Sophocleum."
That Ruhnken might not be ignorant of his qualifications for editing Eschylus, he sent him specimens of two or three emendations. Ruhnken was pleased with the letter, and after showing it to Wyttenbach, who was much struck with the ability that it displayed, sent him a reply addressed "Viro præstantissimo Ricardo Porsono," and consisting of eight leaves of foolscap crowded with fragments of Eschylus extracted from the treasures of his library. This manuscript afterwards perished by fire.
At this time Porson's attention was closely fixed upon Eschylus; and Maty, doubtless with Porson's permission, announced in his "Review" for March and October, 1783, that "a scholar of Cambridge was preparing a new edition of Stanley's Eschylus, to which he proposed to add his own notes, and would be glad of any communications on the subject either from Englishmen or foreigners." It happened at the same time, too, that the Syndics of the University Press had in contemplation a reprint of Stanley's edition, with additional notes from his manuscripts, of which he had left eight large folio volumes. Porson, being consulted about the publication, offered to undertake the editorship of it, if he were allowed to conduct it according to his own notions of an editor's duty. But on being told that he must preserve Stanley's text unaltered, and must admit all Pauw's annotations, however valueless, he declined to execute the work on those conditions. In one of his conferences with the Syndics, he urged upon them the necessity of obtaining the various readings of the Medicean manuscript at Florence, which Professor Salvini had inspected for Dr. Askew, and
offered to undertake a journey thither for the purpose of collating it, at an expense to the University not greater than that for which the task could have been performed by a person on the spot; but the proposal was rejected, and one of the Syndics, speaking strongly against it, asked why Mr. Porson could not collect his manuscripts at home? The name of this learned objector has not been recorded, but Kidd seems to have known who he was, for he calls him "a grave man, and most wonderful scholar, then perching on the pinnacle of power;" and another of the opposers he designates as "a genuine critic, well known in the Primrose Path as well as in the Fosse and the Watling Street." Porson afterwards alluded to this display of ignorance in a note to his "Letters to Travis:" "I have heard of a learned Doctor in our University who confounded the collection with the collation of manuscripts."*
This repulse is said to have dispirited Porson so much as to have had an ill effect on his whole critical career. Had he been now fairly started with Eschylus, he might, on its completion, have been animated by success to proceed to other works, and have accomplished those great undertakings which men who could fairly estimate his powers expected from him. But this discouragement seems to have weakened his exertions, to have turned his thoughts from great enterprises, and to have caused him to waste much time in comparatively trifling occupations.
The only excuse to be made for the Syndics is that
DESIRE TO EDIT ÆSCHYLUS.
* Letters to Travis, p. 57; Kidd, Tracts, p. xxxvi.
Porson was then untried as an editor, and that his success may have seemed doubtful. But they ought to have had Greek learning enough among them to know the value of Stanley's text, and to suppose that a man who had given such proofs of scholarship as Porson, was likely to do it little harm by a few alterations, in which his own reputation would be concerned.
Some verses, which have been much circulated, have given rise to the belief that Porson actually visited the continent :
"I went to Strasburg, where I got drunk
By whom these verses were written is not certainly known, but it is believed among scholars that they came from Porson himself, who, for the sake of the rhymes, described, as having really occurred, that which he thought might have occurred if he had met with those continental professors.