« PreviousContinue »
London, we are told by one of his biographers that he “ always mentioned with marked distinction Samuel Rogers, whom he admired as a poet, and greatly esteemed as a friend.” A clause in his will is in the following words : “ I give a ring in token of high regard to Samuel Rogers, author of the justly celebrated poem, The Pleasures of Memory.” Rogers had been the medium of reconciling the doctor to Sir James Mackintosh, with whom he had differed, and whom he first met, after a long coldness, at the hospitable board of the poet. The biographer of Mackintosh, after alluding to this difference, says, “It may be interesting to mention that the occasion on which the intimacy was renewed was offered by an acceptance of the following invitation from one whose • Memory' is prodigal in such · Pleasures.'
• He best can paint them who can feel them most.
“ DEAR MACKINTOSII : Dr. Parr dines with me on Thursday, the 3d of August, and he wishes to meet some of his old friends under my roof, as it may be for the last time. He has named Wishaw, and Sharp, and Lord Holland ; and he says, “I want to shake hands with Jemmy Mackintosh before I die.'
“ May I ask you to be of the party ? That you can forgive, I know full well. That you will forgive in this instance - much as you have to forgive -I hope fervently.
“ Some of the pleasantest moments of my life have been spent in the humble office I am now venturing to take upon myself, and I am sure you will not take it amiss, if, on this occasion, I wish to add to the number. Yours, very truly,
“ SAMUEL ROGERS. “ July 23d, 1820."
Moore mentions in his diary, that in 1824 he passed an evening in looking over Rogers' Common Place Book with him, where he found highly curious records of his conversations with eminent men, particularly Fox, Grattan and the Duke of Wellington. A diary of Rogers, with his opportunities, and his admirable faculty of compression in his prose style, could hardly fail to be the most entertaining literary history that ever appeared. He has been more familiar with a large number of distinguished persons, for a longer period, than any other man of letters whom we now remember. There is hardly a person distinguished in English history for the last sixty or seventy years, whose name is not in some way connected with that of the
venerable poet, - if not otherwise, at least as the partaker of his liberal and elegant hospitality. His social sphere has always been a very large one. It included whigs and tories, wits and statesmen, poets and philanthropists ; not only the habitués of society, but men who were but seldom seen in worldly circles. Sir Samuel Romilly enters in his diary, a few months before his lamented death,
To-day I dined with Rogers (the poet). A very pleasant dinner with Crabbe (whom I had never before seen), Frere and Jekyll.” An extract from the diary of Wilberforce shows that he did not think 80 well of this dining with poets :
“ Feb. 19, 1814. — Dined Duke of Gloucester's, to meet Madame de Staël, at her desire. Madame, her son and daughter, duke, two aides-de-camp, Vansittart, Lord Erskine, poet Rogers, and others. Madame de Staël quite like her book, though less hopeful. Complimenting me highly on abolition, and all Europe, &c. But I must not spend time in writing this. She asked me, and I could not well refuse, to dine with her on Friday, to meet Lord Harrowby and Mackintosh, and poet Rogers on Tuesday sennight.
66 23d. -- Breakfast, Nir. Barnett about the poor. Letters. Wrote to Madame de Staël and poet Rogers, to excuse myself from dining with them. It does not seem the line in which I can now glorify God. Dinner quiet, and letters afterwards."
In his diary, under date of the 5th November, 1821, Moore makes the following entry : “By the by, I received the other day a manuscript from the Longmans, requesting me (as they often do) to look over it, and give my opinion whether it would be worth publishing anonymously. Upon opening it, found, to my surprise, that it was
Rogers’ Italy,' which he has sent home thus privately to be published.” This work was published in the following year, and is the last and best of its author's productions. Its merits have been set forth with exquisite taste and skill, by a writer in the New Monthly Magazine :
- Turn we to the last and greatest of our author's poems, “Italy.'
“ The great character of this poem (Italy) as it is in The Pleasures of Memory, is simplicity; but here simplicity assumes a nobler shape. Although to a certain degree there is an alteration in the tone of the last from that of the first published poem, an alteration seemingly more marked from the difference between blank verse and
rhyme ; and although there is something of the new Persian odors, breathing from the myrtle wreaths of a muse, whom displicant nexæ philyrâ coronæ,' yet, unlike what we felt inclined to blame in · Jacqueline' and the • Human Life,' we see nothing that reminds us of individual traits in another ; nothing that reminds us of Byron, though he strung his harp to the same theme ; nothing that recalls any contemporaneous writer, unless it be occasionally Wordsworth, in Wordsworth's purer, if not loftier vein: we see no harsh, constrained abruptness, emulating vigor ; no childish mirauderies, that would gladly pass themselves off for simplicity. Along the shores and palaces of old glides one calm and serene tide of verse, wooing to its waters every legend and every stream that can hallow and immortalize.
- This poem differs widely from the poems of the day, in that it is wholly void of all that is meretricious. Though nature itself could not be less naked of ornament, yet nature itself could not be more free from all ornament that is tinsel or inappropriate. A contemplative and wise man, skilled in all the arts, and nursing all the beautiful traditions of the past, having seen enough of the world to moralize justly, having so far advanced in the circle of life as to have supplied emotion with meditation, telling you, in sweet and serene strains, all that he sees, hears and feels, in journeying through a country which nature and history combine to consecrate, this is the character of Rogers' Italy; and the reader will see at once how wholly it differs in complexion from the solemn Harold, or the impassioned Corinne. This poem is perfect as a whole ; it is as a whole that it must be judged ; its tone, its depth, its hoard of thought and description, make its main excellence, and these are the merits that no short extracts can adequately convey.
“Of all things, perhaps the hardest in the world for a poet to effect is to gossip poetically. We are those who think it is in this that Wordsworth rarely succeeds, and Cowper as rarely fails. This graceful and difficult art Rogers has made liis own to a degree almost unequalled in the language.
s. With the author of The Pleasures of Memory a banker, a wit, a man of high social reputation we find it is from the stony heart of the great world that the living waters of a pure and transparent
poetry have been stricken. Few men of letters have been more personally known in their day, or more generally courted. A vein of agreeable conversation, sometimes amene, and more often caustic ; a polished manner, a sense quickly alive to all that passes around; and, above all, perhaps, a taste in the arts, a knowledge of painting and of sculpture, - very rare in this country, - have contributed to make the author of Italy scarce less distinguished in society than in letters."
Moore's diary is full of allusions to his social intercourse with Rogers and his friends. One day the fashionable poet was invited to dine in St. James' Place, to meet Barnes, the editor of the Times, in company with Lords Landsdowne and Holland, Luttrell and Tierney; and Moore, on Rogers' advising that he was well worth cultivating, broke off an engagement for the next Sunday with Miss White, and refused Lord Landsdowne, to accept an invitation from Barnes. Another day he would breakfast at Rogers' with Sydney Smith, Sharpe, Luttrell and Lord John ; or amuse himself with reading the notes from Sheridan, or passages from the unpublished works of his friend.
On 10th April, 1823, he writes, “ Dined at Rogers'. A distinguished party : S. Smith, Ward, Luttrell, Payne Knight, Lord Aberdeen, Abercrombie, Lord Clifden, &c. Smith particularly amusing. Ilave rather held out against him hitherto ; but this day he conquered me; and I am now his victim, in the laughing way, for life.
What Rogers says of Smith, very true, that whenever the conversation is getting dull he throws in some touch which makes it rebound, and rise again as light as ever. Ward's artificial efforts, which to me are always painful, made still more so by their contrast to Smith's natural and overflowing exuberance. Luttrell, too, considerably extinguished to-day ; but there is this difference between Luttrell and Smith, that after the former you remember what good things he said, and after the latter you merely remember how much you laughed. June 10th.— Breakfasted at Rogers’, to meet Luttrell, Lady Dary, Miss Rogers and William Bankcs. ** Rogers showed us · Gray's Poems' in his original hand-writing, with a letter to the printer ; also the original MS. of one of Sterne's sermons." Again, he dined with Rogers at the Athenæum, the first time the latter ever dined at a club. He dined with him at Roberts', in Paris,
tête-à-tête, at a splendid dinner “at fifteen francs a head, exclusive of wine. Poets did not feed so in the olden time." But the dinners in the poet's own modest but elegant mansion will be remembered as models of refined and intellectual hospitality, as long as the names live of the great men who have delighted to gather round his table.
We have alluded to Rogers’ talent for epigram ; a talent which he has very discreetly employed. His conversation seems to have been dry and sarcastic, though he is not to be held responsible for most of the bon-mots and repartees that have been attributed to him. It was at one time the habit of some of the London newspapers to manufacture these things, and ascribe them to Rogers. Of this manufacture, no doubt, is a mot that has found its way into a book so respectable as Mr. E. H. Barker's Literary Anecdotes. “Rogers, speaking to Wilberforce of the naked Achilles in the park, said it was strange that one who had made so many breaches in Troy should not have a single pair for himself.” Moore records some of his observation, which are pithy and pertinent. On one occasion, speaking of the sort of conscription of persons of all kinds that was put in force for the dinner of the Hollands, Rogers said, “ There are two parties before whom everybody must appear— them and the police." Again, speaking of their friend Miss White, Rogers said, “How wonderfully she does hold out! They may say what they will, but Miss White and Miss-olonghi are the most remarkable things going.” In talking of the game-laws at a party at Holland House, Rogers said, “If a partridge, on arriving in this country, were to ask what are the game-laws, and somebody would tell him they are laws for the protection of game, 'What an excellent country to live in,' the partridge would say, “where there are so many laws for our protection!'” On somebody remarking that Payne Knight had got very deaf-“ 'Tis from want of practice,” said Rogers; Knight being a notoriously bad listener Rogers thus described Lord Holland's feeling for the arts : 5 Painting gives him no pleasure, and music absolute pain."
From the reports of his conversation, we are inclined to believe that It is entitled to a good deal of the praise which the Quarterly Review bestows upon the Notes to his poems. In referring to the venerable poet, the reviewer says, • This most elegant and correct of writers, with a taste matured by the constant study of the classics of our