Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 46.djvu/165

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alone. He could, and often did (even in his later years), observe abstinence for a longer or shorter period. But from boyhood he had been subject to insomnia; this often drove him to seek society at night, and to sit up late; and in those days that easily led to drinking. A craving was gradually developed in him, which at last became essentially a disease. His best friends did their utmost to protect him from it, and some of them could succeed; but he was not always with them, and, in less judicious company, he would sometimes prolong his carouse through a whole night. Byron's account of him is to the effect that his demeanour in public was sober and decorous, but that in the evenings, in college rooms, it was sometimes the reverse. It should be remembered that these recollections refer to the years 1805–8 (in which Byron was an undergraduate), when Porson's health was broken, and when his infirmity was seen at its worst (cf. Luard, Correspondence of Porson, p. 133). That the baneful habit limited Porson's work and shortened his days is unhappily as little doubtful as are the splendour of his gifts and the rare vigour of constitution with which he must have been originally endowed.

The most salient feature of Porson's character is well marked by Bishop Turton in his ‘Vindication’ (1815). ‘There is one quality of mind in which it may be confidently maintained that Mr. Porson had no superior—I mean the most pure and inflexible love of truth. Under the influence of this principle he was cautious, and patient, and persevering in his researches, and scrupulously accurate in stating facts as he found them. All who were intimate with him bear witness to this noble part of his character, and his works confirm the testimony of his friends.’ It might be added that the irony which pervades so much of Porson's writings, and the fierce satire which he could occasionally wield, were intimately connected with this love of accuracy and of candour. They were the weapons which he employed where he discovered the absence of those qualities. He was a man of warm and keen feelings, a staunch friend, and also a good hater. In the course of life he had suffered, or believed himself to have suffered, some wrongs and many slights. These, acting on his sensitive temperament, tinged it with cynicism, or even with bitterness. He once described himself (in 1807) as a man who had become ‘a misanthrope from a morbid excess of sensibility.’ In this, however, he was less than just to himself. He was, indeed, easily estranged, even from old acquaintances, by words or acts which offended him. But his native disposition was most benevolent. To those who consulted him on matters of scholarship he was liberal of his aid. Stephen Weston says ‘he told you all you wanted to know in a plain and direct manner, without any attempt to display his own superiority, but merely to inform you.’ Nor was his liberality confined to the imparting of his knowledge. Small though his means were, the strict economy which he practised enabled him to spare something for the needs of others: he was ‘most generous (as his nephew, Mr. Siday Hawes, testifies) to the three orphan children of his brother Henry.’ There is a letter of his extant—written in 1802—when his own income was something under 140l. to his great friend Dr. Martin Davy (master of Caius)—asking him to help in a subscription on behalf of some one whom he calls ‘the poor poet.’ He was free from vanity. ‘I have made myself what I am,’ he once said, ‘by intense labour; sometimes, in order to impress a thing upon my memory, I have read it a dozen times, and transcribed it six.’ And, though he could be rough at times, he was not arrogant; never sought to impose his own authority, but always anticipated the demand for proof. His capacity for great bursts of industry was combined with chronic indolence in certain directions. He had a rooted dislike to composition; and though, under pressure, he could write with fair rapidity, he seldom wrote with ease—unless, perhaps, in some of his lighter effusions. This reluctance was extended to letter-writing; even his nearest relatives had cause to complain of his silence. In the case of some distinguished scholars, his failure to answer letters was inexcusable. Gail, of the Collège de France, sends him books, with a most courteous letter, in 1799, and a year later writes again, expressing a fear that the parcel must have miscarried, and sending other copies. Eichstädt, of Jena, had a precisely similar experience in 1801–2, aggravated by the fact that the book which he sent (vol. i. of his ‘Diodorus’) was actually dedicated to Porson, in conjunction with Koraës, Wolff, and Wyttenbach. The same kind of indolence unfitted him for routine duties of any sort. In his later life he was also averse to travelling. ‘He hated moving,’ says Maltby, ‘and would not even accompany me to Paris.’ Long years passed without his once going from London to Norfolk to see his relatives; though he was a good son and a good brother, and, when his father became seriously ill, hastened down to stay with his sister. The sluggish elements which were thus mingled with the strenuous in his nature indisposed him for any exertion be-