[Richard Porson, Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge.] Autograph jeu d'esprit by Porson, purporting to be a letter from John Villette, Ordinary of Newgate, to Sir Busick Harwood, Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge. With leaf of autograph Latin text

Author: 
Richard Porson (1759-1808), Regius Professor of Greek at Cambridge [Rev. John Villette (c.1749-1799), Ordinary of Newgate Prison; Sir Busick Harwood (c.1750-1814), Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge]
Publication details: 
Letter dated from Newgate Street, 21 March 1787. Latin text without place or date.
£2,500.00
SKU: 21136

Two items. ONE: Ostensible letter from John Villette, Ordinary of Newgate, to Sir Busick Harwood, Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge. Like Porson, Villette was a Cambridge man (St John's, BA 1771). He was Ordinary of Newgate between 1774 and 1799, the position being a lucrative one, and Porson's satire would in part appear to be directed against his cupidity in attempting to make money out of the cadaver of an executed man. (Villette is said to have urged the execution of a reprieved youth in order to profit from the publication of a memoir.) In 1777 Villette published the last in the series of 'Ordinary's Accounts' (of those executed), and in the same year he attended at the execution of Samuel Johnson's friend Rev. Dr. William Dodd, publishing a hugely-successful 'genuine account' of Dodd's 'behaviour and dying words'. 2pp., 4to. On the first leaf of a bifolium of laid paper watermarked with a crest and 'GR'. Forty-two lines of closely-written text, in a neat hand. (Such was the neatness of Porson's Greek handwiting that it was used as the basis of Richard Austin's celebrated typeface for Cambridge University Press.) In good condition, lightly aged, with stub from mount still adhering. The letter is a skit, purporting to be a communication in the third person from John Villette, Ordinary of Newgate, to Sir Busick Harwood, Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge. The following is written in pencil in an unknown hand at the head: 'In the handwriting of Professor Porson. Evidently a Joke'. (Porson would not be elected to the Regius Professorship of Greek until 1792.) Some of the humour is now lost, but the main thrust concerns the procurement for the purposes of dissection of the corpse of a man executed at Newgate; with references to prostitution and syphilis also featuring. The formal nature of the communication is designed to add to the humour. The letter begins: 'Mr. Villette presents his compliments to Mr. Professor Harwood, and is sorry he was disappointed of the body he expected; but the convict had perversely raised money enough to buy himself a coffin, so that he was removed from Newgate by his relations. The next Session, however, will afford a better subject, and Mr. Professor shall not be forgotten. Mr. Villette supposes the party may be packed up together with the Tobacco, in a hamper, and dispatched per Fly. | If Mr. Professor happens to know a Mr. Seel, or Sale, of some College in Cambridge, Mr. Villette will be much obliged if he will deliver the enclosed Discourse to him, which (as it appears) was picked out of his pocket at a Ball, or rather a Hop, in the Strand, a few years ago. A certain Major (lately sus per coll) made a private confession of this enormity, among others, to Mr. Villette; and further acknowledged having several times attempted to sell or pawn the Sermon aforesaid, but could not raise sixpence upon it. Hence, indeed, he strove to palliate his guilt, urging, that he who steals what is of no value, can be no criminal. But that unfortunate Commander seemed to be little acquainted with the worth of spiritual admonitions; for even of those delivered to him by Mr. Villette after sentence, he was at best an inattentive auditor.' The second half of the letter continues in the same style, with references to 'Mr. Akerman's Chapel' and 'The Keeper of the Tap in Newgate'. It is suggested that 'Mr. S-' leaves a disbursement 'with Miss Willis in Vinegar Yard, Drury Lane. Mr. Professor may assure Mr. S – that the most delicate person alive can justly apprehend no bad consequences from paying cash into the hands of this young Lady, as she is now perfectly clear from certain cutaneous eruptions &c, which formerly rendered a touch of her, or with her, alike dangerous.' The supposed author continues: 'As a new edition of the Tyburn Chronicle is preparing for press by Mr. Villette, if Mr. S- wishes to improve the dying speeches of the Major and Mr. S-g-n, they shall be immediately forwarded to Cambridge.' The letter ends with a postscript: 'N.B. If Mr. S. is at all musically inclined, Mr. V. can oblige him with a copy of a little pathetic tune pricked out with chalk by the late Mr. S-g-n on a shutter in the condemned Hold.' TWO: Handwritten Latin text, with 'Porson)' written in another hand at the head. 2pp., 4to. On laid paper with a Britannia watermark. In good condition, with light aging at edges, and stub from mount still adhering. 'Porson' in another hand at the head of the first page. Possibly a schoolboy exercise (Pliny the Younger?): thirty-four lines of neat text, preceded by a Greek quotation. The text ends: '[…] et regulis ab eo examine deductis, bono publico studiose consulere & inservire oportet.'