BMCR 2012.02.52

The Library of Richard Porson

, The Library of Richard Porson. S.l.: Xlibris, 2011. cxlvii, 441. ISBN 9781456805272. $23.99.


Richard Porson (1759–1808) holds his position, along with Richard Bentley and A.E. Housman, in the famous triad of the greatest English classical scholars and critics1 not only due to his acumen criticum but also because of his firm erudition. Thanks to this new book by P.G. Naiditch we are for the first time in a position to evaluate the material basis of this erudition.

We know that after his death Porson’s library was divided into two unequal parts, the larger one of which, containing 1394 lots, was sold at auction and the other, including the transcript of the Gale Photius, the books with his notes, and a part of his correspondence with foreign scholars, was bought by Trinity College, Cambridge, for 1000 guineas. Still many of these ‘notebooks’ remain unpublished. Among the scholars benefitting from his critical observations in those notebooks were James Henry Monk, his successor as Greek professor, and Charles James Blomfield, who edited Porson’s Adversaria, consisting of his notes on Athenaeus and the Greek poets and his prelection on Euripides. In addition, Peter Paul Dobree edited the notes on Aristophanes and the lexicon of Photius, Thomas Gaisford edited Porson’s notes on Pausanias and Suidas, and Thomas Kidd collected his scattered reviews.

The Porsonian bibliography is vigorously enriched by Naiditch’s book. Naiditch attempts to answer three basic questions about Richard Porson’s holdings: (i) which were the books and pamphlets Richard Porson owned? (ii) from whom did he acquire or purchase that material from 1786 to 1808? and (iii) what was the fate of his holdings? Although variant spellings of the scholar’s name as ‘Pawson’ and ‘Pauson’ perplexed cataloguers seeking to establish identity (pp. xix, xxiii-xxiv), Naiditch has managed to organize in mostly chronological order the development of Porson’s library and to identify buyers and bidders. We are thereby given the opportunity to understand the chronology of Porson’s study and consultation of various editions and, perhaps, to add a bit of explanation concerning his astonishing memory –namely a matter of feedback through reading.

The book consists of prolegomena, accompanied by an index, a detailed catalogue of books and pamphlets associated with Porson, and seven other indexes. The scope of prolegomena is that of a detailed introduction to the construction of Porson’s classical legacy through scholarly books and precious editions. ‘Tracing the actual development of the bulk of Porson’s library is an exercise in futility’ (p. xxvii), but at the same time admirers will be interested in this access to his readings and his deep veneration for his predecessors, such as Bentley (pp. lxxi-lxxii), as well as his Aldine collection of over forty titles (p. lxxiii). Reference to Porson’s marginalia (pp. lxxiii-lxxv) and Greek and Roman scripts (pp. lxxvi-lxxvii) offer pedantic philologists like me insight into the calligraphy and palaeography of the giants of classical scholarship, especially concerning those of the so-called Anglo-Dutch school of criticism: some of them were very fond of calligraphic idioms in paleographic blocks of Greek letters.

Of course, it is a desideratum to collect and edit properly all adnotationes Porsonianae and marginalia in a single volume, as has been done for John Caius on Galen and Housman on Plautus,3 and Naiditch’s endnotes will be very helpful in this. For instance, W. Maltby (1763-1854) wrote that Porson ‘was a great reader of translations and never wrote a note on any passage of an ancient author without first carefully looking how it had been rendered by the different translators’.4 And now we can consult Naiditch’s comments on the translations in his library (pp. cxiv-cxv, nn. 247-250).

It will prove of great importance for those Hellenists interested in the history of classical scholarship, to use Naiditch’s volume in cross-checking data. To attest my personal experience, while I was completing my dissertation on Adamantios Koraes as a classical scholar, I noted that, while harsh in his literary judgment of his student Thomas Burgess, Richard Porson harbored great appreciation for Koraes as a scholar: William Maltby wrote that Porson ‘had a high opinion of Coray as a scholar, and advised me by all means to purchase his Hippocrates’.5 For Koraes’ Hippocratic edition see in Naiditch’s book pp. 150-151, l. 837.

We cannot but welcome Naiditch’s book as a bibliographical contribution to the golden age of British scholarship. As such, the Bibliotheca Porsoniana remains still a challenge for those wondering about the various sources of his annotations.

Table of Contents

Part I
Note to the Reader
I. Introduction
II. Lists and catalogues
III. Life of Richard Porson
IV. The size of Porson’s library
V. The development of Porson’s library
VI.Variant spellings of ‘Porson’: ‘Pawson’ and ‘Pauson’
VII. Development of Porson’s library, year-by-year
VIII. Prizes and gifts
IX. Review copies
X. Development of Porson’s library in 1807 and 1808
XI. Duplicate or multiple copies
XII. Arrangement of Porson’s books
XIII. Auction of part of Porson’s books
XIV. Marked copies of auction catalogues
XV. Porson’s extant books
XVI. Division of Porson’s library
XVII. Porson’s auction catalogue
XVIII. Bidders
XIX. Alphabetical ordering of buyers
XX. Identification of buyers and bidders
XXI. Ordering of buyers by amount of purchase
XXII. Books not purchased: ‘Passed’, ‘Money’ and ‘Cash’
XXIII. Individuals absent from the Porson sale
XXIV. ‘ Bad copies of good books’
XXV. Porson with bibliophile and bibliopole
XXVI. Damaged and imperfect books
XXVII. Books absent from Porson’s library
XXVIII. Translations
XXIX. Porson and Bentley
XXX. Books printed by Alopa
XXXI. Aldines
XXXII. Multiple copies of individual authors: Greek dramatists
XXXIII. Porson’s marginalia
XXXIV. Porson’s annotations to others’ books
XXXV. Others’ copies of Porson’s annotations
XXXVI. Porson’s handwriting
XXXVII. Porson’s Greek scripts
XXXVIII. Porson’s Roman scripts
End notes
Index to Prolegomena
Part II
Catalogue of Porson’s library
Indexes to catalogue
I. Early owners
II. Porson’s sources
III. Concordance with auction
IV. Concordance of buyers with auction
V. Later owners
VI. Current owners
VII. Generalia


1. An eloquent title by C. O. Brink, English Classical Scholarship: Historical Reflections on Bentley, Porson, and Housman, Cambridge and New York, 1986.

2. N. A.E. Kalospyros, Ὁ Ἀδαμάντιος Κοραῆς ὡς κριτικὸς φιλόλογος καὶ ἐκδότης, vol. I: Ἕνα κεφάλαιο στὴν Ἱστορία τῶν Κλασικῶν Σπουδῶν στὴν Εὐρώπη τοῦ 19ου αἰώνα (Τὸ χφ. Χίου 490), Ἀθῆναι: Σύλλογος πρὸς Διάδοσιν Ὠφελίμων Βιβλίων, 2006, p. 500.

3. V. Nutton, John Caius and the manuscripts of Galen, The Cambridge Philological Society/Supplem. 13, 1987 and R. Smitskamp, Housman on Plautus. Manuscript notes in the Rudens of Friedrich Marx (1928) (Presented to participants in the 7 th International Congress of the International Federation of Societies of Classical Studies-Budapest, September 1979), Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1979.

4. W. Maltby, Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers to which is added Porsoniana, New York 1856, p. 322.

5. Ibidem.