Sunday, September 25, 2011

Richard Porson

The man for whom the term Porsoniana came into being, ceased being on September 25, 1808.  Much can be learned of Richard Porson by reading William Maltby’s “Porsoniana”, a collection of anecdotes concerning the eponymous subject.  An exceptionally talented individual, by all accounts, he was also one who could begin the morning with porter, and spend the night with other legal beverages.  Porson made his mark in classical scholarship, and even merited a literary law being named after him (Porson's Law).  

The Edinburgh Annual Register (1808), edited by Walter Scott, carries a substantial obituary on Mr. Porson.

Sept. 25. Richard Porson, M. A. Greek professor at Cambridge.

Yesterday the remains of Professor Porson were removed from the London Institution, Old Jewry, to be deposited in Trinity College Chapel, Cambridge. The hearse, accompanied by four mourning coaches and six private carriages, arrived at Cambridge this day at two o'clock. The body lay in the hall, in state, till five, at which hour the Lord Bishop of Bristol, (master of the college), the vice-master, senior and junior fellows, bachelors of arts, scholars, and other members resident in the university, in their academical habits, and in black scarfs, bands, and gloves, walked from the combination-room, accompanied by the chief-mourners into the hall; and, after moving round the body, which was placed in the midst, they took their seats, the chief-mourners being placed onthe right hand and left of the master. Several epitaphs in Greek and English verse, the effusions of reverential respect for his high attainments, and of love for his virtues, were placed on the pall, and were read with the most sympathetic interest by his former associates in study. An anthem was chaunted by the choir; and the body was then conveyed to the chapel, supported by the eight senior fellows, and followed by the junior fellows, bachelors, scholars, and servants of the college two and two.

On entering the chapel, which was illuminated, the Lord Bishop, chief-mourners, and all the members of the college took their places, and the choir performed an anthem. After which, the lord bishop read the lesson, and the procession moved in the same order to the grave, which was at the foot of the statue of Sir Isaac Newton, and surrounded by those of all the illustrious persons which this college has produced. When they had taken their stations round the grave, and the body was placed above it ready for interment, the funeral anthem was performed by the choir, in the adjoining chapel, during the most perfect silence of the auditory, and with the most solemn effect. The service was then read by the lord bishop with as awful, dignified, and impressive a pathos as was ever witnessed on any former solemnity of the kind. He was himself overwhelmed as he proceeded by his feelings; and he communicated the sympathetic emotion to every listening friend of the deceased. Nothing could be more solemn nor more affecting than his tone and delivery. The whole assembly seemed to be oppressed with sorrow at the irreparable loss which the university, and the world in general, had sustained by the death of such an ornament of literature.

Professor Porson was born at East Ruston, in Norfolk, on Christmasday, 1759. Exhibiting evident signs of prodigious genius, he was sent to Eton by Mr Norris; and by the exertions of his friends was enabled to enter a student at Trinity College, in 1777. In 1781, he took his degree of master of arts, and in 1791 was elected Greek professor of Cambridge, with a salary of but 40£. a year. In 1795, he married Mrs Lunan, sister of Mr Perry, editor of the Morning Chronicle, but who sank under a decline in April 1797. It is needless here to enter into an enumeration of his literary compositions, or to appreciate their merit, as they are known to every classical scholar throughout Europe.

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