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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/166

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yond the range of his chosen and favourite pursuits. As he cared nothing for money, so he cared little for reputation, at least in the popular sense; the only applause which he valued was that of scholars who satisfied his fastidious judgment. He worked with a clear consciousness of the limits within which he could work best. Rogers mentions that some one asked Porson why he did not produce more original work, and he replied, ‘I doubt if I could produce any original work which would command the attention of posterity. I can be known only by my notes; and I am quite satisfied if, three hundred years hence, it shall be said that one Porson lived towards the close of the eighteenth century, who did a good deal for the text of Euripides.’

All Porson's principal writings are comprised in the short period from his twenty-fourth to his forty-fourth year (1783–1803). The last five years of his life (1804–8), when his health was failing, are represented only by a very few private letters; though some of the notes in his books may be of that time. His earliest work appeared in a publication called ‘Maty's Review’ [see Maty, Paul Henry], which existed from 1782 to 1787. To this review he contributed, in 1783, a short paper on Schutz's Æschylus, and a more elaborate one on Brunck's Aristophanes; in 1784 a notice of the book in which Stephen Weston dealt with the fragments of the elegiac poet Hermesianax, and a few pages on G. I. Huntingford's defence of his Greek verses (‘Apology for the Monostrophics’). Comparatively slight though these articles are, they give glimpses of his critical power; one fragment of Hermesianax, in particular, (ap. Athen. p. 599A, vv. 90 ff.) is brilliantly restored. In 1786, when Hutchinson's edition of the ‘Anabasis’ was being reprinted, he added some notes to it (pp. xli–lix), with a short preface. During these early years, Porson's thoughts were turned especially towards Æschylus. It had already been announced in ‘Maty's Review’ (for March and October 1783) that ‘a scholar of Cambridge was preparing a new edition of Stanley's Æschylus, to which he proposed to add his own notes, and would be glad of any communications on the subject, either from Englishmen or foreigners.’ The syndics of the Cambridge University Press were then contemplating a new edition of Æschylus, and offered the editorship to Porson; who, however, declined it, on finding that Stanley's text was to be followed, and that all Pauw's notes were to be included. He was anxious to be sent to Florence to collate the Medicean (or ‘Laurentian’) manuscript of Æschylus—the oldest and best—and offered to perform the mission at small cost; but the proposal was rejected, one of the syndics remarking that Porson might ‘collect’ his manuscripts at home. It was always characteristic of Porson to vary his graver studies by occasional writings of a light or humorous kind. One of the earliest examples, and perhaps the best, is a series of three letters to the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ (August, September, October 1787) on the ‘Life’ of Johnson by Sir John Hawkins—an ironical panegyric, in which Hawkins's pompous style is parodied. The ‘Fragment’—in which Sir John is supposed to relate what passed between himself and Johnson's negro servant about the deceased Doctor's watch—is equal to anything in Thackeray. It was in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ too, for 1788 and 1789, that Porson published his first important work, the ‘Letters to Travis.’ Archdeacon George Travis, in his ‘Letters to Gibbon,’ had defended the genuineness of the text 1 St. John v. 7 (the three heavenly witnesses), to which Gibbon (ch. 37, note 120) had referred as being an interpolation. The best critics, from Erasmus to Bentley, had been of Gibbon's opinion. Porson, in his ‘Letters to Travis,’ reviews the history of the disputed text in detail, and proves its spuriousness with conclusive force. His merit here is not originality, but critical thoroughness, luminous method, and sound reasoning. Travis receives no mercy; but his book deserved none. Porson was an admirer of Swift and of ‘Junius.’ In these ‘Letters’ he occasionally reminds us of both. ‘To peruse such a mass of sophistry,’ he said, ‘without sometimes giving way to laughter, and sometimes to indignation, was, to me at least, impossible.’ The collected ‘Letters to Travis’ were published in 1790. In the preface is Porson's well-known estimate of Gibbon, whose style he criticises, while fully appreciating the monumental greatness of his work. One of the results of Porson's labours was that an old lady, who had meant to leave him a large sum, on being informed that he had ‘attacked Christianity,’ cut down the legacy. In 1789, while the ‘Letters to Travis’ were in progress, Porson found leisure to write an article in the ‘Monthly Review,’ defending the genuineness of the ‘Parian Chronicle’ against certain objections raised by the Rev. J. Robertson. A new edition of Toup's ‘Emendationes in Suidam’ came forth from the Oxford Press in 1790, with notes and a preface by Porson (which he had written in 1787). This was the work which first made his powers widely known among scholars. The three years 1788–90 may thus be said to be those in which his high repu-