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play upon his master and schoolfellows, and the little dramatic pieces which he wrote for private representation. From these he passed to his academical pursuits and studies, his election to the Greek professorship, and his ejection from his fellowship through the influence of Dr. Postlethwaite, who, though he had promised it to Porson, exerted it for a relation of his own. I was then,' said the Professor, almost destitute in the wide world, with less than 401. a year for my support, and without a profession ; for I never could bring myself to subscribe Articles of Faith. I used often to lie awake the whole night, and wish for a large pearl.'
He then gave me a history of his life in London, when he took chambers in the Temple, and read at times immoderately hard. He very much interested me by a curious interview which he had with a girl of the town, who came into his chambers by mistake, and who showed so much cleverness and ability in a long conversation with him, that he declared she might with proper cultivation have become another Aspasia. He also recited to me, word for word, the speech with which he accosted Dr. Postlethwaite, when he called at his chambers, and which he had long prepared against such an occurrence. At the end of this oration, the Doctor said not a word, but burst into tears and left the room. Porson also burst into tears when he finished the recital of it to me.
In this manner five hours passed away; at the end of which the Professor, who had finished the second bottle of my friend's sherry, began to clip the king's English, to cry like a child at the close of his periods, and in other respects to show marks of extreme debility. At length he rose from his chair, staggered to the door, and made his way down-stairs without taking the slightest notice of his companion. I retired to my college ; and next morning was informed by my friend that he had been out upon a search, the previous evening, for the Greek Professor, whom he discovered near the outskirts of the town, leaning upon the arm of a dirty bargeman, and amusing him by the most humorous and laughable anecdotes. I never even saw Porson after this day; but I shall never cease to regret that I did not commit his history to writing whilst it was fresh in my memory.”
It is but right, however, to add that Porson could place a strong constraint upon himself when necessary. When he went down to stay with his sisters, in the year 1804, it is said that he only took two glasses of wine a day for eleven weeks.
Porson was a man of ready wit and repartee. When asked by a Scotch stranger at the Gray's-Inn Coffee-house if Bentley were not a Scotchman, he replied, “No, sir; Bentley was a Greek scholar.” When a gentleman said to him at the close of a fierce dispute, “My opinion of you is most contemptible, sir,” “I never," said Porson, “knew an opinion of yours that was not contemptible.” He said Bishop Pearson would have been a first-rate critic in Greek if he hadn't muddled his brains with divinity. Dr. Parr once asked him, in his pompous manner before a large com
pany, what he thought about the introduction of moral and physical evil into the world. “Why, doctor,” said Porson, “I think we should have done very well without them.”
A great point in Porson's favour is the frugality and honesty with which he passed through a life so beset with temptations as his own. He once, shortly after the loss of his fellowship, lived a month on a guinea, and at the same time used to walk backwards and forwards between London and Cambridge in a day. Though his income was so small, and his habits apparently so reckless, at his death he owed nobody a shilling. And when we contrast this behaviour with that of the men of letters who had far less reason to think themselves ill-treated than Porson had, we shall admit that it well deserves to be recorded. His opinion of himself was also unfeignedly humble. Any body, he said, could do what he had done, if they would only take as much trouble. He used to say often that he should be only remembered by his notes, and that he should be quite satisfied if it was said of him after three hundred years, that “one Porson lived towards the close of the eighteenth century who did a good deal for the text of Euripides.”
ART. VI.-MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT. Martin Chuzzlenit. By Charles Dickens. Library Edition. Illus
trated with the Original Plates. London: Chapman and Hall,
1861. THE issue of a new edition of Martin Chuzzlewit tempts us to devote a few pages to the consideration of what we venture to think the most brilliant and entertaining of all the works of Mr. Dickens. This new edition is in a very convenient form, and is clearly and handsomely printed; it contains, moreover, the illustrations published in the original issue, and therefore those happy young people to whom Martin Chuzzlewit is unknown may enjoy its perusal with every advantage. We do not pretend to have any observations to offer on so familiar a work that can have much novelty for the established admirers of Mr. Dickens. But as this work is, we think, his most characteristic work, it may be worth while to examine briefly the composition of its leading characters and scenes, in order that we may see how persons and events that have now become a part, not only of the literature, but of the ordinary conversation of Englishmen, were first worked out by the author.
There are especially three parts of Martin Chuzzlewit that
, and havet edition entertainin
have thus been incorporated into the body of English thought. There is the history and character of Mr. Pecksniff; there is the figure, the habits, and the friend of Mrs. Gamp; and there is the description of all that Martin did and saw in America. Whenever an oily and plausible man is to be pointed out, he is at once called a Pecksniff. Whenever an unknown authority is quoted against us, we exclaim “Mrs. Harris;" and the press of New York, and the speeches of American statesmen, forbid us ever to forget the “Pogram Defiance” and the proceedings of the Water-toast Association. These are the great contributions of Martin Chuzzlewit to the resources of the English language, and to the completeness of English literature. We propose to ask what, in each of these three instances, is the exact picture which Mr. Dickens has placed before us, how far it is based on real life, and what are the ingredients in its construction that have insured its permanent popularity. But before we enter on this inquiry, we must notice a few subordinate points in Martin Chuzzlewit which seem to throw light on Mr. Dickens's general method and aims. As we have said, this may be regarded as the most typical production of its author, and furnishes illustrations of all his general habits of thinking and writing. .
No comic writer likes to be wholly comic. We remember the oddities of Pecksniff and Mrs. Gamp while we forget the general scheme of the story, and the passages in which Mr. Dickens gives vent to his poetical feelings. But the author does not confine his care and attention to what is jocose. A writer would be a mere buffoon if he were always willing to grimace and caper, in order to steal a giggle out of the public. Mr. Dickens, in his earlier tales, delivered himself up to his genial sense of fun, and to the record of the results of his marvellous power of observation. But after these first effects of youthful hilarity were over, he has always striven to have a serious side to his books. In Martin Chuzzlewit, as the preface informs us, he has tried to exhibit the effect of selfishness, to trace its hidden operations, and to show how it may cling like a curse to a whole family. This is a very good notion, if a novel is to be constructed on the principle of showing off a moral lesson. Nor is it fair to say that the effect intended is not produced. The passages in which old Martin and his brother Anthony are introduced are comparatively tedious, and make us feel that we do not get our moral lesson without paying for it. But they succeed in putting selfishness before us in a very unmistakable way, and in making us loathe it, so far as we can bring ourselves to care either one way or the other for these uninteresting and unhappy old brothers. The objection that a group of very selfish
people, contrasted with another group of very unselfish people, is not at all a true representation of the world, is insuperable. But it is not the object of Mr. Dickens to represent the world as it is. The comic characters are only true to life in a remote and exceptional way. The serious part of the story may strike the balance, and set off the comic part, although it is strained and, in a certain sense, unreal. It keeps us on the same platform; and even if we cannot greatly admire it, we should probably think much less of the book if it were not there. The satisfaction with which it fills the author, and the zest which this tribute to his self-respect imparts to his composition generally, is communicated to the reader, and we like ourselves better for enduring that a comic book should venture to be instructive after its fashion.
Much the same is to be said of the sentimental passages. It has evidently been a great pleasure to the author to write them, and a certain emotion of pleasure is awakened by reading them. For example, Mr. Dickens thinks it worth wbile to describe minutely the progress of the coach which bears Tom Pinch to town. “Yoho! among the gathering shades, making of no account the deep reflection of the trees, but scampering on through light and darkness. Yoho! across the village green, where cricket-players linger yet. Yoho! why now we travel like the moon itself. Yoho! a match against the moon.” This goes on for several pages, and every object that any one can be supposed to see from the top of a coach, and every fancy to which these supposed objects can be conceived to give rise, are laboriously and carefully noted down. The effect is, that we lose all notion of a coach and of scenery, and of every thing else, in the wealth of fine writing. We feel more and more anxious that Tom Pinch should get to town, and that this Yohoing would stop. But the story probably gains in our eyes by the interlude. We like our author to enjoy himself; and a flux of poetical description is a very creditable form of enjoyment to those who can pour it forth. The writer makes us feel that he sees something besides the burlesque and the comic, and we comprehend that he and we have earned our fun more honestly and respectably by halting a little to give play to fancy.
Mr. Dickens is, however, principally known to the public as a comic writer; and, like inferior comic writers, he sometimes carries comic writing to an unpleasant length. There is a peculiar style which he has introduced into English composition, and which consists in giving what is conventionally accepted as a funny turn to language, without there being any fun whatever in the thought. This has been so widely copied, and has reappeared in the compositions of so many purveyors
tody Mr. Dickens ell if he had not fun. The effectand the style is
of hackneyed fun, that we are almost tempted to forget that Mr. Dickens invented it. The best parts of his best works are singularly free from it. Directly the story is started, and we get to the principal performers of the piece, the fun lies in what they say and do, and in the connection of this with the supposed bases of their characters. But it is hard to start a story of this kind. There must be an introduction of some sort, and Mr. Dickens would probably have disappointed both his readers and himself if he had not written this introduction in a recognisable vein of conventional fun. The effect is what might be expected. The contest between the matter and the style is painfully marked, and the opening chapter of Martin Chuzzlewit is one of the very worst things Mr. Dickens has written. The reason is because it is entirely away from the story, and is all about nothing. The fun is entirely in the language, and the funny language is as flat as funny language about nothing is apt to be. “As no lady or gentleman with any claim to polite breeding can possibly sympathise with the Chuzzlewit family without being first assured of the extreme antiquity of the race, it is a great satisfaction to know that it undoubtedly descended in a direct line from Adam and Eve, and was in the very earliest times closely connected with the agricultural interest." This is the opening paragraph, and the whole of the chapter is in the same style. The result is worth studying by any one who thinks that Mr. Dickens's comic style, which may be easily borrowed, will be any security that a facetious composition will please or amuse any human being, except those who are satisfied to laugh when they are bid, and see in funny writing a perpetual order to be merry.
Mr. Dickens has also another piece of comic machinery which is very easily imitated. In order to mark off his less prominent characters, he is apt to select one salient external feature in their appearance, to which he makes constant reference, or he introduces them as perpetually making use of some phrase by which they are to be recognised. The same observation of minute details, the same power of seizing hold of the ludicrous, which prompts this, also lie at the bottom of his most successful characters. He therefore only stops short when he gives the rudimentary sketches to which we allude. But it is because he does stop short that the personage thus introduced is utterly unreal and seems invented merely to fill up the canvas, and to make us laugh for the moment. Several of these shadowy comic ladies and gentlemen appear at the meeting of the relations of old Martin Chuzzlewit which is held at Mr. Pecksniff's house. “First,” we read, “there was Mr. Spottletoe, who was so bald and had such big whiskers that he seemed to have stopped bis