Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

deficiency in judgment, without at all involving the perfect rectitude of his motives. But in attacking the critics of another country, it is possible he may have been actuated, though not certainly by a personal jealousy of their reputation, yet by a desire of establisha ing the credit of his own country on the ruin of that of others. Accordingly, his enemies are loud in calling out for mercy on the German critics : and you shall hear men,-not professedly his enemies, but a species of candid friends who despise the “ bigot zeal” which would throw a veil over his failings, wind up a warm panegyric on the great scholar with an acknowledgment of this seemingly undeniable truth, that the German critics have just reason to complain of injurious treatment at his hands. The merits of those German critics are not always closely examined, por even their names enquired into: it is sufficient that the cavil is taken up as a charge against Porson; and who shall contradict it? Who shall presume to vindicate a libeller?

There is, to be sure, one difficulty in the way of any attempt at the defence of Porson: it is an admitted point of law now-a-days, that a Jibel is not the less a libel for being true; nay, that it is more a libel, more 'malicious, more wicked, more diabolical. Thus, to assert the truth and justice of Porson's fulminations against the sons of Germany and wit, is no justification of him in law: however, as something may be gained for him on the score of equity and common sense, we will venture to examine a little into this point.--Now, who are the German editors, in whose behalf Porson has been so virulently attacked ? Unquestionably, Brunck and Hermann; but more especially, and, indeed, almost exclusively, the latter.

The merits of Brunck are not to be denied : but neither are his faults to be overlooked. The industry, the fidelity, and the extensive reading he has displayed, in his editions of Sophocles and Aristophanes, are quite sufficient to raise him above contempt: but the temerity with which he has laid down inadmissible dogmas, and the carelessness with which he has in some instances confounded the laws of comic and tragic composition, are calculated to provoke alternately our smiles and our astonishment; while the fastidious arrogance with which he has triumphed over the dullness of poor Thomas Johnson,--and that, too, in some cases, where he þas put down a right interpretation of the said Thomas Johnson, and substituted an error in it's place is really quite disgusting : it is such as must excite the indignation of every reader, and very readily reconcile us to any reprehension the confident critic may meet with from others. Now, the rebukes he has received from Porson are generally some such passing hits as the following:

6 Is, lectore celato, ut facere solet, cum alienas conjecturas adoptat, ex Heathii emendatione edidit, &c.-Not. in Hec. 0.464.

66

" Nec me fugit, Brunckium pluribus in locis Sophoclis et Aristophanis togeïs, žuvisīs, et similes barbarismos aut reliquisse aut intulisse."--Orest. 141.

Such censures as these, however severe, carry their own justification with them: a matter of fact, either plainly stated or implied, cannot easily involve a gross injustice, nor subject the critic to merited reproach. We may leave Brunck to endure the just punishment of his faults, and pass on to that more illustrious offender, Hermann.

Hermann has unquestionably been in his day an úseful collector of notes upon the ancients,-a man possessing infinitely more learning than genius, and more industry than taste, and employing that learning and industry upon the elucidation of the metrical department of Grecian literature. For his services in this way he has been rewarded with quite as much applause as was due to him,—that is, about as much as Bacon or Alfred might have looked to receive. Among other panegyrists, Doctor Burney speaks of him in the preface to his Tentamen as

TOū Merginwrátov, viri à philosophia et omni liberali doce trinâ maximè instructi.”

Be it so: let us think of this man as one singularly skilled in metrical science; and what is the impression we feel on the occasion ? Is it a wish to bow with veneration before him? Or do we hear his name as that of an ordinary mortal ?-But, it seems, he is singularly gifted with philosophy and all kinds of liberal science. Yes; he displayed his philosophy in a petty act of revenge against Porson,--he affected to proclaim Gilbert Wakefield his rival as a critical scholar :-such was his philosophy ; and the other subject of the panegyric is to be exhibited, I suppose, in his next work.

Now, of this man, it is not to be disguised that Porson pro. fessed a sovereign contempt.-Among other absurdities, Hermann had maintained that an Iambic Senarius might be composed entirely of tribrachs except the last foot. A most delectable verse for tragedy it would be, to be sure! Porson tried the experiment in a poignant epigram on the great metrical scholar himself:

« «Ο μετρικός, ο σοφός, άτοπα γέγραφε περί μετρών.

* «Ο μετρικός άμετρος, ο σοφός άσοφος εγένετο.No abuse, no ridicule could have exceeded in severity this simple epigram; and yet where is the injustice of it? The question is, did the man write absurdly about metres?" If he did (and the fact is indisputable), Porson says no more in his epigram; and what objection can the Hermannites raise to this exemplification of their master's rule? If ridicule be an unfair touchstone, let. this touchstone be applied in revenge to the rules of Porson, with this restriction only, that the German Epigrams made for the purpose shall be confined to a plain statement of matter of fact, and not launch out into scurrility.

with

4

But Porson’s great attack on the poor German is in his cele, brated note on the Medea, v. 675. In this note he has concentrated all that poignant bitterness which he knew so well how to manage,

all that indignant irony which is more terrible than the noisiest vehemence,--and ail that agreeable combination of learning with elegant playfulness, which distinguishes the style of his notes from the doll prosings of ordinary commentators.---Aftes establishing a tule and referring to some passages which apparently militate against it, he proceeds :

" Quæ loca Gothofredo Hermanno curanda libenter mandarem, si eum crederem eâdem facilitate ex corruptis sana facere posse, quâ ex sanis corrupta facit. Quis enim præter Hermannum dactylum, non dico prætervidit, (hoc enim omnes facimus) sed in quartam senarii sedem ipse ex emendatione intulit? Nub. 870. Quis præter Hermannum pro optimâ voce XUTgEOűr verbum sube stituit non Græcum, nullâ auctoritate munitum, metro perniciosum, χυτρούν !

Nub. 1176. Nimirum ut Dawesio gbloqueretur, Cui si non aliqua nocuisset, mortuus esset.",

It is readily granted, that this attack on Hermann is quite gratuitous, and that the Professor has gone out of his way to make it: but the impertinence of it is unquestionably compensated by the service he has done in opposing the whole weight of his authority to such senseless innovations, as might otherwise mislead the unsuspecting and uninquiring judgment of young students ;and for young students, be it remembered, Porson wrote. Let us remark, too, that not one sentence of this extract is vague rea proach: it is all matter-of-fact accusation, and such as cannot be disputed. Hermann did intrude a dactyl into the fourth place of a genarias : he did substitute a barbarism for a pure Greek word: he did manifest a disposition at all hazards to cavil at Dawes. But his ignorance betrayed in the preceding extract is no fault, in comparison of the arrogant impertinence which Porson proceeds to expose. And here, again, we shall find that Porson has used none of those abusive epithets in which some commentators so much delight: he has in the same passage bestowed his reproof, and guarded it by it's proper justification.

66 Sed hæc nibili sunt præ triumphis, quos de innocenti 'Hgarding pomine egit. Quamvis enim, ipso judice, xut goûx apud Comicos productarum ejusmodi syllabarum exemplum sit, nihil contrà farius est apud Tragicos. Ideòque, ait llermannus, “ Nos Germani, qui multo meliùs Anglis syllabarum quantitatem callemus, nos oninia loca, ubi 'Hagaxhéns pro Epitrito tertio apud Euripidem occurrit, emendabimus. Et sex loca, hoc morbo scilicet laboran

Ilas he

tia, corrigit, si hoc est corrigere, morbum fingere, ut tuam medi. cinæ peritiam ostentes.”

Let us just observe the folly of this German critic's boast,--a boast, too, so ill supported by his proofs : it is not, that his countrymen are better poets, better philosophers, better legislators than the English, but-that they are better skilled in the quantity of syllables !

Here, then, it may confidently be asked, Ilas Porson any heavy load of guilt to answer for in his treatment of Ilermann? been unjustly and outrageously severe on a man whom Doctor Burney has condescended to panegyrize;-on a man, who has in, sulted the English nation by depreciating the merits of their great scholar, and by arrogantly claiming over them a superiority which they would not stoop to dispute with him, and which lie himself has satisfactorily proved his inability to maintain ?

When the impartial judgment of posterity shall have fixed the renown or the infamy of the illustrious great ones of this age, Porson may, perhaps, be stripped of some share of that rapturous admiration with which he is now honoured by his most zealous friends : his name will then be ranked below Chatham, and Bacon, and Newton; but Newton himself will scarcely be more highly exalted above Porson, than Porson will rise superior to Hermany and the satellites of "Iermann.

[ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]

Ir gives me much pleasure, my dear young friend, to learn that you have determined, during this vacation from your academical studies, to deyote a daily portion of your time to serious reading, and that, contented with the beautiful rural situation in which you are fixed, you are able to resist the temptation of lounging some months away at a fashionable watering-place, immersed in the indolence and frivolity which are the invariable attendants on those scenes of modern dissipation. I doubt not that by this resolution you will find yourself a gainer as much in pleasure, as in improvement; for if variety be one of the chief sources of entertainment, there can be no comparison between a country reşidence in the midst of delightful natural objects, with the inter.

change change of converse by means of books with all the wisdom and all the wit of past ages; and the monotonous routine of rides, rooms, coffee-houses, and circulating libraries, amidst fleeting crowds, intent only upon the arduous business of getting rid of the time with which they are cruelly overburthened.

I do not wonder that among the subjects of your literary course you include Biography; for whether the knowledge of individual man be regarded in a philosophical view, as the only true foundation of the science of mind; or politically and practically, as the ground of all just inference concerning the probability of human conduct; or with the simple curiosity that stimulates us to cultivate an acquaintance with those whose names we have aften heard repeated; the authentic records of the lives and actions of the most distinguished of our species cannot be destitute of high claims to our attention. In order, however, to render biography a profitable as well as an amusing study, it will be important previously to establish some rules for judging of the value and credit belonging to different narratives of this kind, lest fallacies and misrepresentations should be imposed on us in the guise of truths. When that is done, it may be also useful to point out the general conclusions which are to be kept in view during a course of biographical reading, lest one life should follow another with no greater effect on the mind, -than a walk through a gallery of portraits has on the eye. For the most valuable lessons afforded by biography are the result, not of detached surveys, but of com. parisons and contrasts, which cannot be made with advantage without a direction to some specific objects. Since, therefore, you have pleased to request my advice in general terms respecting this branch of pursuit, I trust it will not be displeasing to you if I make it the topic of a series of letters, in which I may unfold somewhat at large the ideas which a tolerably extensive acquaint. ance with biographical writings has suggested to my mind. Let the present letter be a commencement of this design.

I shall begin with some observations on biographers themselves; of whom the first place is due to those who are their own historians or, if the word be sufficiently naturalized, the class of autobiographers.

As it must be admitted that men know more of their own story than any other persons can know of them, an obvious advantage arises from the disclosures they may choose to make to the public, as being more exact and particular than can be given by any other pen. This is especially the case with respect to those early periods of life which precede entrance on the open stage of the world ; and also to a number of minute domestic facts which, however trifling in appearance, are often of fundamental consequence in the elucidation of character. As far, then, as it is interesting to

contemplate

« ForrigeFortsett »