Born: Christian Gottlob Heyne, classical editor, 1729, Chemnitz, Saxony; William Romaine, eminent divine, 1714, Hartlepool; Abraham Gottlob Werner, geologist, 1750, Weslau, Upper Lausitz; Felicia Dorothea Hemons, poetess, 1794, Liverpool.
Died: Philip I of Spain, 1506, Burgos; Lancelot Andrews, eminent prelate and writer, 1626; Ambrosio, Marquis of Spinola, great Spanish captain, 1630; Robert Dodsley, bookseller, and dramatist, 1764, Durham; Richard Pococke, bishop of Ossory, oriental traveller, 1765; John Henry Lambert, German philosopher, 1777, Berlin; Richard Porson, eminent Greek scholar and professor at Cambridge, 1808, Old Jewry, London.
Feast Day: St. Firmin, bishop of Amiens, martyr. St. Barr or Finbarr, first bishop of Cork, confessor, 6th century. St. Aunaire, bishop of Auxerre, about 605. St. Colfrid, abbot, 716.
The character of Porson exhibits an extraordinary combination of the highest classical learning and critical acumen, with a strong propensity to coarse drollery and convivial excess. His aberrations were indeed in many respects more ludicrous than repulsive, and notwithstanding the additional disadvantage of a rough and unceremonious temper, we can scarcely find it in our hearts to regard him otherwise than as a very honest fellow, who was nobody's enemy but his own.
A brief sketch will suffice for his history. He was the son of the parish clerk of East Ruston, in Norfolk, and having displayed from childhood the most marked inclination for study, with a wonderfully tenacious memory, he came under the notice of Mr. Hewitt, the clergyman of the place, who undertook his instruction along with that of his own sons. The weaver's boy, for such was the occupation of Porson's father on week-days, con-tinned to manifest such indications of classical genius, that a subscription was entered into in the neighbourhood to defray the further expenses of his education. Through these means he was sent first to Eton, and afterwards to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he gained a fellowship, but was afterwards obliged to relinquish it, from a conscientious objection to enter holy orders and subscribe the Thirty-Nine Articles. He then wended his way, a penniless adventurer, to London. Here he is said to have subsisted for nearly six weeks on a guinea, but a number of gentlemen, literary men, and others, clubbed together at last to purchase him an annuity of £100, which placed him beyond the reach of want for the remainder of his days. Shortly afterwards, the Greek chair at Cambridge became vacant, and Porson was at once elected to the professorship, which required no declaration of adherence to any rule of faith. The salary was only £40 per annum. Though no lectures or other services were required of him, it would seem that Porson had fully determined on giving these, but never accomplished his intention, partly owing to his own indolence, partly to the failure of the college authorities in supplying him with proper rooms and accommodation. Most of his subsequent life seems to have been spent in London, where he occupied himself with editing the Tragedies of Euripides, and contributing political squibs to the Morning Chronicle, relaxing himself by convivialities with his friends, and evenings at the 'Cider Cellars.' In 1806, he was chosen librarian of the London Institution, with a salary of £200 a year, and residence; but his health had now greatly declined, and in about two years after his appointment, the died from the effects of an apoplectic fit, at the age of forty-eight.
The circumstances connected with Porson's marriage are rather curious. He was very intimate with Mr. Perry, the editor of the Morning Chronicle, for whom his sister, Mrs. Lunan, a widow, kept house. One night the professor was seated in his favourite haunt, the Cider Cellars in Maiden Lane, smoking a pipe with a friend, when he suddenly turned to the latter and said: 'Friend George, do you not think the widow Lunan an agreeable sort of personage, as times go?' The party addressed replied that she might be so.
'In that case,' replied Porson, 'you must meet me at St. Martin's-in-the-Fields at eight o'clock to-morrow morning,' and thereupon withdrew after having called for and paid his reckoning. His friend was somewhat puzzled, but knowing that Porson generally meant what he said, resolved to obey the summons, and accordingly next morning presented himself at the appointed hour at the church, where he found Porson, with Mrs. Lunan and a female friend, and a parson in full canonicals for the solemnisation of matrimony. The service was quickly got through, and thereupon the party quitted the sacred building, the bride and bridegroom going each different ways with their respective friends.
The oddity of the affair did not end here. Porson had proposed to Mrs. Lunan some time before, but had insisted on her keeping it a secret from her brother; and now that the ceremony was completed, seemed as determined as ever that nothing should be said of the marriage, having apparently also made no preparations for taking his bride home. His friend, who had acted as groomsman, then insisted that Mr. Perry should be informed of the occurrence; and Porson, after some opposition, consenting, the two walked together to the residence of the worthy editor, in Lancaster Court, where, after some explanation, an arrangement was effected, including the preparation of a wedding-dinner, and the securing of apartments for the newly-married couple.
After dinner, Porson, instead of remaining to enjoy the society of his bride, sallied forth to the house of a friend, and after remaining there till a late hour, proceeded to the Cider Cellars, where he sat till eight o'clock next morning! Not-withstanding what may well be called this most unprecedented treatment of a wife on her wedding-day, it is said that during the year and a half that the marriage subsisted, Porson acted the part of a kind and attentive husband, and had his wife lived, there is great reason to believe that she might have weaned him in time from his objectionable habits.
The worst of these was his propensity to drinking, which seems to have been in a great measure a monomania with him, as he would quaff liquors of all kinds, and apparently with equal gusto. Horn Tooke used to say that Porson would drink ink rather than nothing at all. One day he was sitting with an acquaintance in the chambers of a mutual friend in the Temple, who was confined to bed in another room. His servant came into the room to get a bottle of embrocation for him, which had been left on the chimney-piece. The phial was empty-Porson having drunk up the contents! When dining out, he would not unfrequently return to the dining-room after the company had departed, collect all the driblets of wine which had been left at the bottoms of the glasses, and drink off the aggregate. On one occasion he unexpectedly arrived at the house of his friend Hoppner, the painter, in the vicinity of London. The latter regretted his inability to offer the professor dinner, as Mrs. Hoppner had gone to town, and carried with her the key of the cup-board which contained the wine. Porson, however, declared that he could dine very well on a mutton-chop, and beer from the next public-house, and this repast was accordingly procured. Sometime afterwards, he remarked to his host that Mrs. Hoppner must assuredly keep some bottle in her bedroom for her own private drinking, and that a search might be made for it. Hoppner protested as to his wife's strict temperance, and the impossibility of any such private mode of refreshing herself being resorted to. To quiet his guest, however, who was becoming obstreperous, an inquisition was made and a bottle discovered, which Porson drained with the utmost glee, declaring it was the best gin he had tasted for a long time. Hoppner, rather discomposed, informed his wife, on her return, that their friend had drank every drop of her hidden flask of cordial. 'Drunk every drop of it!' exclaimed the horrified woman. 'My God, it was spirits of wine for the lamp!'
The dirtiness of his personal attire was very conspicuous, more especially in the latter years of his life. So disreputable an appearance did he at times present, that he would be refused admittance by the servants at the houses of his friends. His favourite beverage at breakfast was porter, and the Cambridge professor of Greek was often seen making his morning -meal on a pot of porter and bread and cheese, with black patches on his nose, and as dirty as if he had been rolling in the kennel. He seemed highly flattered by the compliment paid him by one of his Cider-Cellar associates: 'Dick can beat us all, he can drink all night, and spout all day.'
The memory of this singular man was prodigious, extending not only to classical literature, but to the most opposite productions, such as novels and songs, many of which he would almost have repeated verbatim after having perused them once. In connection with his attainments in Greek, the well-known story has often been related of his encounter in a stage-coach with a Cambridge undergraduate, whom he confounded in a pre-tended quotation, by producing from his pocket one after the other nearly all the Greek classics, and requesting him to point out in any of them the passage to which he referred. Another anecdote, not so well known, is that of his having called on a friend who was reading Thucydides, and consulted him as to the meaning of a word. Porson at once quoted the passage in which it occurred. 'How did you know what passage I referred to?' inquired his friend. 'Oh,' was the reply, 'I know that the word in question occurs only twice in Thucydides-once on the right, and once on the left hand page in the edition which you are now reading. I saw you look at the left page, and therefore knew the passage at once.' He used indeed to say sometimes, that the tenacity of his memory was a great misery to him, as it made him remember, whether he would or not, and forced him to retain in his recollection many things which he would gladly have forgotten.
Debarred by the adverse influences of climate from the profitable cultivation of the vine, the northern nations of Europe have endeavoured to supply this deficiency by the manufacture of exhilarating liquors from fruits and grains of various kinds, more congenial to their soil and skies. Of these rivals to the grape, with the exception of John Barleycorn and his sons, there is none which may more fairly claim to contest the palm of agreeableness and popularity than the apple and her golden-haired daughter, the bright and sparkling cider, whom some ardent admirers have even exalted to a level with the regal vintage of Champagne. Hear how John Philips, in his poem of Cider, eulogises the red-streak apple and its genial produce:
Let every tree in every garden own
The Red-streak as supreme, whose pulpous fruit
With gold irradiate, and vermilion shines
Tempting, not fatal, as the birth of that
Primeval interdicted plant that won
Fond Eve in hapless hour to taste, and die.
This, of more bounteous influence, inspires
Poetic raptures, and the lowly
Muse Kindles to loftier strains; even I perceive
Her sacred virtue. See! the numbers flow
Easy, whilst, cheer'd with her nectareous juice,
Hers and my country's praises I exalt.
Hail Herefordian plant, that dost disdain
All other fields! Heaven's sweetest blessing, hail!
Be thou the copious matter of my song,
And thy choice nectar; on which always waits
Laughter, and sport, and care-beguiling wit,
And friendship, chief delight of human life.
What should we wish for more? or why, in quest
Of foreign vintage, insincere, and mixt,
Traverse th' extremest world? why tempt the rage
Of the rough ocean? when our native glebe
Imparts, from bounteous womb, annual recruits
Of wine delectable, that far surmounts
Gallic, or Latin grapes, or those that see
The setting sun near Calpes' towering height.
Nor let the Rhodian, nor the Lesbian vines
Vaunt their rich Must, nor let Tokay contend
For sovereignty; Phanaeus self must bow
To th' Ariconian vales.
Like hop-picking in the east, the gathering of apples, for cider, forms one of the liveliest and most interesting of rural operations throughout the year in the western counties of England. These comprise mainly Hereford, Monmouth, and Gloucester shires, Somerset and Devon, the first and last counties more especially representing the two great cider districts of England, and also two separate qualities of the liquor, Herefordshire being noted par excellence for sweet, as Devonshire is for rough cider. Both descriptions, however, are made in the two counties. In the sweet cider, the object of the maker is to check the vinous fermentation as far as possible, so as to prevent the decomposition of the saccharine matter, which in the rough cider is more or less destroyed. The cider lauded by Philips in such encomiastic terms, is the sweet Herefordshire cider; but as a native of the west midland counties, a due allowance must be made for local predilection. It, nevertheless, enjoys a deservedly high reputation, and it is stated as a positive fact that an English peer, when ambassador in France, used frequently to palm it on the noblesse as a delicious wine.
In the manufacture of cider, those apples are preferred which are of a small size and have an acid or astringent taste. Red and yellow are the favourite colours, green being avoided as producing a very poor quality of liquor. Where cider is made in small quantities, or where it is desired to have it of a specially fine description, the apples are gathered by the hand when thoroughly ripe, care-fully picked, and any rotten portions that may appear, cut away.
For general purposes, the fruit is beaten from the trees by the aid of long poles, and collected in baskets beneath, by women and children. It is then spread out in heaps in the open air, and remains exposed to the weather till it becomes mellow. It is then conveyed to the cider-mill, a primitive apparatus, consisting of a stone wheel revolving in a circular trough of the same material, and driven by a horse. The apples are ground as nearly as possible to a uniform consistence, it being especially desirable that the rinds and kernels should be thoroughly pressed, as on the former the colour, and on the latter the flavour of the liquor essentially depend. The resulting pulp, or, as it is termed, pomage, is taken to the cider-press, a machine constructed on the principle of the packing-press, on the floor of which the crushed fruit is piled up, between layers of straw or hair-cloth, and subjected to a severe and protracted pressure. The heap thus formed is styled the cheese. Wooden tubs or troughs receive the expressed liquor, which is then. placed in casks, and left to ferment. This operation being successfully completed, the cider, bright and clear, is racked off into other casks, which are allowed to stand in the open air till the ensuing spring with their bungs lightly fixed, but which are then tightly closed. The best time for bottling it is said to be when it is from eighteen months to two years old, or rather when it has acquired its highest brightness and flavour in the cask. If the proper time for doing this be seized, the liquor thus bottled may be kept for a very long period, but, as a general rule, cider is extremely difficult to preserve, from the readiness with which it turns sour, owing to the development of lactic acid.
As a summer drink, cider is a most palatable and refreshing one, though its extended use seems to be confined to the western counties of England, where it occupies the place in popular favour held, in other parts of the country, by beer. The percentage of alcohol which it contains, varies from 5½ to 9. We retain a most affectionate remembrance of the liquor in connection with the fairy nooks of Devon, and the rich pastures of Somerset, through which, some years ago, it was our fortune to ramble. Enchanted land of the west! how our fancies are entwined with thy sunny valleys, deep shady lanes, and the beauty and vigour of thy rustic inhabitants. Long may Pomona shed her choicest blessings on thy head, and her refreshing juices cheer the heart of the thirsty and way-worn traveller!