Sunday, June 04, 2023


Richard Porson's Powers of Memory

Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers. To which is Added Porsoniana (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1856), p. 296:
Porson declared that he learned nothing while a schoolboy at Eton. "Before I went there," he said, "I could nearly repeat by heart all the books which we used to read in the schools."
Id., pp. 302-303:
He thought the Decline and Fall beyond all comparison the greatest literary production of the eighteenth century, and was in the habit of repeating long passages from it.
Id., pp. 305-306:
He insisted that all men are born with abilities nearly equal. "Any one;" he would say, "might become quite as good a critic as I am, if he would only take the trouble to make himself so. I have made myself what I am by intense labour: sometimes, in order to impress a thing upon my memory, I have read it a dozen times, and transcribed it six."*

* But he was certainly gifted by nature with most extraordinary powers of memory. Dr. Downie, of Aberdeen, told me that, during a visit to London, he heard Porson declare that he could repeat Smollett's Roderick Random from beginning to end:—and Mr. Richard Heber assured me that soon after the appearance of the Essay on Irish Bulls (the joint production of Edgeworth and his daughter), Porson used, when somewhat tipsy, to recite whole pages of it verbatim with great delight.—ED.
Id., p. 323:
His favourite authors in Greek (as, I believe, every body knows) were the tragedians and Aristophanes; he had them almost by heart.

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