« PreviousContinue »
in keeping with the sentiment. He has, in truth, great strength ; he says much in small compass, and may sometimes be charged with a too great anxiety to be brief and terse. It was the error of the school in which his taste was formed to be over anxious about the harmony and polish of the verse; and he may be accused of erring with his teachers. Concerning the composition of The Pleasures of Memory, it is related that he corrected, transposed and changed, till he exhausted his own patience; and then, turning to his friends, he demanded their opinions, listening to every remark, and weighing every observation. This plan of correction is liable to serious objections. The poet is almost sure of losing in dash and vigor more than what he gains by correctness; and, as a whole, the work is apt to be injured, while individual parts are bettered. Poetry is best hit off at one heat of the fancy ; the more it is hammered and wrought on, the colder it becomes. The sale of The Pleasures of Memory continued to be large, though The Pleasures of Hope came into the market."
This production gave its author a high position among the men of letters who flourished in London during the early part of the present century. Cumberland, the dramatic author, in the supplement to his Memoirs, published nearly half a century ago, advised Moore, who was then known as the translator of Anacreon and the author of Little's Poems, to “ subject his composition to the review of his correct and judicious friend, Mr. Rogers, (and when so done) he may surrender himself without fear to the criticism of the world at large. “I can visit,” said the veteran reminiscent, “ the justly-admired author of The Pleasures of Memory, and find myself with a friend who together with the brightest genius possesses elegance of manners and excellence of heart. He tells me he remembers the day of our first meeting at Mr. Dilly's; I also remember it, and, though his modest, unassuming nature held back and shrunk from all appearances of ostentation and display of talents, yet even then I take credit for discovering a promise of good things to come, and suspected him of holding secret commerce with the Muse, before the proof appeared in shape of one of the most beautiful and harmonious poems in our language. I do not say that he has not ornamented the age he lives in, though he were to stop where he is ; but I hope he will not so totally deliver himself over to the arts, as to neglect the Muses ; and I now publicly call upon Samuel Rogers to answer to his name, and stand forth in the title-page of some future work, that shall be in substance greater, in dignity of subject more sublime, and in purity of versification not less charming, than his poem above mentioned."
In November, 1805, Moore wrote to his mother, “I am just going to dine third to Rogers and Cumberland : a good poetical stepladder we make ; the former is past forty, and the latter past seventy.” It was in the pages of the Anthologia Hibernica, for the months of January and February, 1793, that Moore first read, as a schoolboy, Rogers' Pleasures of Memory, little dreaming that he should one day become the intimate friend of the author ; and such an impression did it then make upon him, as he tells us in his Memoirs, that the particular type in which it is there printed, and the very color of the paper, were through life associated with every line of it
in his memory
Rogers was an early friend of Lord Byron. The noble poet had excepted him from the somewhat indiscriminate abuse of the English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, and had complimented him in lines which will well bear transcription :
- To the famed throng now paid the tribute due,
Neglected genius ! let me turn to you.
This eulogy Moore thinks the disinterested and deliberate result of the young poet's judgment, as at that time he had never seen Rogers (with whom he afterwards became intimate); and the opinion he then expressed remained the same through life.
* It would be superfluous to recall to the mind of the reader the authors of “The Pleasures of Memory” and “The Pleasures of Hope," the most beautiful didactic poems in our language, if we except Pope's “Essay on Man ;” but so many poetasters have started up, that even the names of Campbell and Rogers are become strange. — Byron's Note.
It was in the year 1798 that Rogers published " An Epistle to a Friend, with other Poems,” and he did not appear again as an author till the year 1812, when he ventured before the world with a fragmentary poem entitled The Voyage of Columbus. This poem was received by the critics with various favor. In a letter written from Bombay, before its appearance, Sir James Mackintosh had begged to be particularly remembered to Rogers, and added, “ I hope Columbus will soon undertake a new voyage to the East, and that he will animate the dulness of the one Indies more quickly than he conquered the barbarism of the other.” When the poem appeared, the great whig jurist and statesman, no less eminent as a man of letters and a critic, pronounced his judgment of its merits in the Edinburgh Review for October, 1813; and we feel that we cannot better occupy the pages we have reserved for a literary memoir of the poet than by giving this article entire :
“ POEMS BY SAMUEL ROGERS : Including Fragments of a Poem called
The Voyage of Columbus. London, 1812.
“ It seems very doubtful whether the progress and the vicissitudes of the elegant arts can be referred to the operation of general laws, with the same plausibility as the exertions of the more robust faculties of the human mind, in the severer forms of science and of useful art. The action of fancy and of taste seems to be affected by causes too various and minute to be enumerated with sufficent completeness for the purposes of philosophical theory. To explain them, may appear to be as hopeless an attempt as to account for one summer being more warm and genial than another. The difficulty would be insurmountable, even in framing the most general outline of a theory, if the various forms assumed by imagination, in the fine arts, did not depend on some of the most conspicuous as well as powerful agents in the moral world. But these arise from revolutions of popular sentiments, and are connected with the opinions of the age,
and with the manners of the refined class, as certainly, though not in so great a degree, as with the passions of the multitude. The comedy of a polished monarchy never can be of the same character with that of a bold and tumultuous democracy. Changes of religion and of government, civil or foreign wars, conquests which derive splendor from distance or extent or difficulty, long tranquillity,- all these, and indeed every conceivable modification of the state of a community, show themselves in the tone of its poetry, and leave long and deep traces on every part of its literature. Geometry is the same, not only at London and Paris, but in the extremes of Athens and Samarcand; but the state of the general feeling in England, at this moment, requires a different poetry from that which delighted our ancestors in the time of Luther or Alfred.
During the greater part of the eighteenth century, the connection of the character of English poetry with the state of the country was very easily traced. The period which extended from the English to the French Revolution was the golden age of authentic history. Governments were secure, nations tranquil, improvements rapid, manners mild beyond the example of any former age. The English nation, which possessed the greatest of all human blessings, a wisely constructed popular government, necessarily enjoyed the largest share of every other benefit. The tranquillity of that fortunate period was not disturbed by any of those calamitous, or even extraordinary events, which excite the imagination and inflame the passions. No age was more exempt from the prevalence of any species of popular enthusiasm. Poetry, in this state of things, partook of that calm, argumentative, moral, and directly useful character, into which it naturally subsides when there are no events to call up the higher passions, — when every talent is allured into the immediate service of a prosperous and improving society,--and when wit, taste, diffused literature, and fastidious criticism, combine to deter the young writer from the more arduous enterprises of poetical genius. In such an age, every art becomes rational. Reason is the power which presides in a calm. But reason guides, rather than impels ; and, though it must regulate every exertion of genius, it never can rouse it to vigorous action.
“The school of Dryden and Pope, which prevailed till a very late period of the last century, is neither the most poetical nor the most national part of our literary annals. These great poets sometimes, indeed, ventured into the regions of pure poetry; but their general character is, that not in fancy's maze they wandered long ;' and that they rather approached the elegant correctness of our continental neighbors, than supported the daring flight, which, in the former age, had borne English poetry to a sublimer elevation than that of any other modern people of the West.
- Towards the middle of the century, great, though quiet changes, began to manifest themselves in the republic of letters in every European nation which retained any portion of mental activity. About that time, the exclusive authority of our great rhyming poets began to be weakened, while new tastes and fashions began to show themselves in the political world. A school of poetry must have prevailed long enough to be probably on the verge of downfall, before its practice is embodied in a correspondent system of criticism.
“ Johnson was the critic of our second poetical school. As far as his prejudices of a political or religious kind did not disqualify him for all criticism, he was admirably fitted by nature to be the critic of this species of poetry. Without more imagination, sensibility or delicacy, than it required, --- not always with perhaps quite enough for its higher parts, - he possessed sagacity, shrewdness, experience, knowledge of mankind, a taste for rational and orderly compositions, and a disposition to accept, instead of poetry, that lofty and vigorous declamation in harmonious verse, of which he himself was capable, , and to which his great master sometimes descended. His spontaneous admiration scarcely soared above Dryden. Merit of a loftier class he rather saw than felt.' Shakspeare has transcendent excellence of every sort, and for every critic, except those who are repelled by the faults which usually attend sublime virtues, character and manners, morality and prudence, as well as imagery and passion. Johnson did, indeed, perform a vigorous act of, reluctant justice towards Milton ; but it was a proof, to use his own words, that
• At length our mighty bard's victorious lays
The deformities of the Life of Gray ought not to be ascribed to jealousy, -- for Johnson's mind, though coarse, was not mean, -- but to the prejudices of his university, his political faction, and his poetical