Page images


SAMUEL ROGERS was born at Newington Green, a village now forming part of London, about the year 1763, and is now (1854) upwards of ninety-one years of age. His birth-place was in a locality distinguished by many associations of interest.

66 In this neighborhood," says William Howitt, in his entertaining work on the Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets, “ the Tudor princes used to live a good deal. Canonbury, between this green and Islington, was a favorite hunting-seat of Elizabeth, and no doubt the woods and wastes extended all round this neighborhood. There is Kingsland, now all built on, there is Henry VIII.’s walk, and Queen Elizabeth's walk, all in the vicinity; and this old, quiet green seems to retain a feeling and an aspect of those times. It is built round with houses, evidently of a considerable age. There are trees and quietness about it still. In the centre of the south side is an old house standing back, which is said to have been inhabited by Henry VIII. At the end next to Stoke Newington stands an old Presbyterian chapel, at which the celebrated Dr. Price preached, and of which, afterward, the husband of Mrs. Barbauld was the minister. Near this chapel De Foe was educated, and the house still remains. In this green lived, too, Mary Wolstoncroft, being engaged with another lady in keeping school. Samuel Rogers was born in the stuccoed house at the south-west corner, which is much older than it seems. Adjoining it is a large, old garden. Here his father, and his mother's father, lived before him. By the mother's side he was descended from the celebrated Philip Henry, the father of Matthew Henry, and was therefore of an old non-conformist family. Mr. Rogers’ grandfather was a gentleman, pursuing no profession, but his father engaged in banking.” In the banking-house the elder Rogers amassed considerable wealth, which with his business descended to his son.

But little is known of the early life of the poet. His education was liberal, and from an early age he was familiar with the best society of the metropolis. In the year 1786 he published his first volume, with the title of “An Ode to Superstition, and other Poems," in which a critic of the time, writing in the Monthly Review, thought he perceived the “ hand of a master.''

Six years afterwards he published The Pleasures of Memory, a poem that attained an immediate popularity, both in England and in this country. This poem was elaborated with the most consummate care and art. He submitted it very freely to the censure of his friends before publication, one of whom, Mr. Richard Sharpe, since member of Parliament, has said that during the preparation of the first and second editions he had read it with the poet several hundred times, at home and on the continent, and in every temper of mind that varied company and varied scenery could produce. the spirit of original observation,” says Mr. Allan Cunningham of this poem, in his History of British Literature, “ to the fine pictures of men and manners, and to the remarks on the social and domestic condition of the country, which mark the disciples of the newer school of verse, are added the terseness, smoothness and harmony, of the old. The poem abounds with capital and brilliant hits ; with passages which remain on the memory, and may be said to please rather than enchant one, to take silent possession of the heart, rather than fill it with immediate rapture. Hazlitt, with some of that perverseness which even talent is not without, said the chief fault of Rogers was want of genius and taste. Perhaps in the whole list of living men of genius no one can be named whose taste in poetry is so just and delicate. This is apparent in every page of his compositions ; nay, he is even fastidious in his taste, and rejects much, in the pictures of manners and feelings which he paints, which other authors, whose taste is unquestioned, would have used without scruple. His diction is pure, and his language has all the necessary strength, without being swelling or redundant : his words are always

66 To

« PreviousContinue »