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passages; an accomplishment which she had gained by having had access to the library of the vicar, Mr. Hewitt, where she had been at service. He surprised her, one day, reading Congreve's "Mourning Bride," and finding, on questioning her, that she understood what she read, kindly gave her permission to read any book in his library. She is also said to have been of a gay and lively temper, such as cheered and relieved the gravity and seriousness of her husband. Porson himself always spoke highly of her.
His father taught him to write at the same time that he taught him to read. He traced the form of a letter with chalk on a board, or with a stick in sand, and the child was made at once to remember the figure, and to imitate it. Thus he was enabled to form letters almost as soon as he could speak, and grew so fond of the occupation, that he was ready to cover every surface within his reach with characters, which he delineated with great neatness and accuracy.
He was not, however, confined till the age of nine to his father's tuition, for he was sent when he was but six years old to the village school of Bacton, kept by a man named Woodrow, who had also an appointment under the Excise Office, and who may consequently be supposed to have been a fair arithmetician. Woodrow used to speak with admiration of the proofs of ability which Porson's childhood manifested. Porson is said to have remained, however, only three or four months with this teacher, as, being but weak and tender, he suffered greatly from the rudeness of the bigger boys.
* Gent. Mag. Oct. 1808.
His health had been affected at the age of four by the hooping-cough, and he is said to have been, even from infancy, a bad sleeper.
Whatever he did, even as a child, he appears to have been anxious to do well. His mother often employed him in spinning, and he would always produce, from the same quantity of wool, more yarn, and of a better quality, than his sister or his brothers. While he was spinning, he kept a book open before him, in which he read, as well as he could, during his occupation.
In his ninth year he was put to another school, in the adjoining parish of Happisburgh, of a rather better character, the master of which, Mr. Summers, was able to ground him in Latin. When Porson first went to this place of instruction, he wrote with a pen but imperfectly; but in three months he became the best writer in the school, and in six months is said to have known as much of arithmetic as his master. He He very early fixed his thoughts on the structure of language, and when he had once learned the English grammar he was never known to make a grammatical error; nor did he ever seem to forget what he had once read. His love of algebra he caught from a book on the science at his father's; and he was greatly attracted by logarithms. In studying Euclid with Mr. Summers, he did not proceed with the same deliberation as his schoolfellows, but everything seemed to come into his mind by intuition. "On his daily return to school," said Mr. Summers, "it was evident that he had been thinking, when he was not asleep, of his studies; for he generally came armed with some algebraic or mathematical problem solved in his own way: " a process
HIS EDUCATION IN CHILDHOOD.
which he adopted, to Mr. Summers's admiration, with the forty-seventh proposition of Euclid's first book. "His temper," Mr. Summers used to say, "was quiet and sedate; he was reckoned unsocial among his school-fellows, because out of school hours he preferred his book to joining with them in their play;" though he is reported to have excelled at marbles and trapball.*
His father still contributed to his improvement as much as he could; he obliged him to repeat at home every evening all the English lessons that he had learned at school during the day, requiring him to say them, not in a lax and desultory manner, but with the same exactness and in the same order as they had been learned. The boy profited wonderfully under this discipline, and while the tenacity of his memory was increased, began to show great force and comprehension of intellect, and an extraordinary inclination for reading all kinds of books. But to gratify this propensity he had to borrow from the neighbours, for his father's shelf contained but very few volumes, the chief of which were Jewell's "Apology," Greenwood's "England," some books of arithmetic, eight or ten volumes of the "Universal Magazine," and an odd volume of "Chambers's Cyclopædia."
It was not to be expected that the clerk would notice such remarkable abilities in his son without
*Letter of The Rev. W. Gunn to Dawson Turner; Barker's Parriana, vol. ii. p. 734.
† Gent. Mag. Oct. 1808.
Rev. H. R. Luard, Cambridge Essays, 1857.
speaking of him to the clergyman. The Rev. Charles Hewitt, curate of the united parishes of Bacton and East Ruston, being a man of much kindness, and being engaged in educating his own family, offered, on finding that the father had made no exaggerated representation of the boy's capacity, to take him under his care, and to give him instruction gratuitously with his own sons. This offer the clerk was but too happy to accept, and accordingly, after young Porson had been with Mr. Summers three years, he came under the tuition of Mr. Hewitt, by whom he was instructed, to some considerable extent, in Latin, and with whom he continued also about three years. As Mr. Hewitt's residence was four miles from East Ruston, the boy used to trudge thither every Monday morning, with a stock of some kind of humble provision for the week, which he spent at the vicarage, and returned to his father's on Saturday afternoon.
He seems to have shown some inclination to composition at this period, but not much. "Proofs of a serious turn of thought in his early years are still extant," says Mr. Kidd; "they are in the shape of hymns and grave reflections, but in no respect remarkable except in tracing out the adorable nature of the First Cause."
EARLY INDICATIONS OF ABILITY.
We have made inquiry for some of these pieces, and have been presented by Mr. Siday Hawes, the son of Porson's sister, now residing at Hayes, near Horsham, with the only copy in his possession, written when Porson was about twelve years old. The handwriting is beautiful as copper-plate.
On a Moonlight Night.
Who can the beauties of the night describe,
If thou thy study unto this should'st turn,
A lesson of humility thou'dst learn.
R. PORSON excogitavit, Anno Domini Jes. 1771.
These lines, proceeding from a boy of that age, of no great reading, indicate some, if not very much, power of thought, and certainly show an ear for the Popian couplet.
At nine years of age he had written some verses on the loss of the Peggy, a seventy-four gun ship, lost off Happisburgh in 1768. When Mr. Hewitt gave him a fable of Phædrus to translate into prose, he would sometimes, in preference, turn it into verse.
Mr. Hewitt seems to have had many good qualifications for the office of an instructor. He succeeded in educating, on an income, from three small charges, not exceeding two hundred pounds a year, five sons for the university, four of whom became fellows of their respective colleges, and the fifth was expected to obtain a fellowship, but died soon after he had taken his degree.* To effect so much with such small means, it
*Letter of The Rev. W. Gunn to Dawson Turner; Barker's Parriana, vol. ii. p. 736.