Page images


Helen Williams-Conversation at her house-Merry and the Della Cruscans-Journey through Wales, 1791-Mrs. Barbauld's LetterVisit to Dr. Parr, 1793.

THE memorable visit to revolutionary Paris was only one of the events of this year which Rogers has left on record. On his return to London in the latter part of February, he naturally resumed his morning journeys from Stoke Newington to the banking house in Freeman's Court. On one of these daily journeys an event happened of which he often spoke to his friends with some emotion. Mr. Dyce reports it in the Table Talk'in his usual bald and half-remembered manner, but the best and most vivid account is given in the postscript to a letter addressed by the Rev. John Mitford of Benhall to the Gentleman's Magazine, soon after Rogers's death. Mr. Mitford, himself, in the letter, illustrates the premature confidence with which some of Rogers's friends spoke and wrote about him, by expressing the opinion that Rogers had left no diaries behind him. In the postscript Mr. Mitford says

The last drive I ever took with Mr. Rogers in his chariot was one often previously made by us into the City, to pay one of his regular calls on his oldest friend, 1 Gentleman's Magazine, vol. xlv. p. 147.



Mr. William Maltby of the London Institution, who had been his schoolfellow more than eighty years previous to this time, and who died a year or two before him, nearly at the same age. In returning by the City Road, he pulled the check-string opposite to the Bunhill Fields Burial-ground, and then desired me to get out and read the inscription on the stone which stands conspicuously over the grave of the well-known Thomas Hardy. This being done, he said: "You see that little chapel oppositego and look carefully at the house which stands there to the left of it, and then come back and get in." This all duly performed, and again seated side by side, he said: "When I was a young man in the banking house, and my father lived at Newington, I used every day in going into the City to pass by this place. One day in returning I saw a number of respectable persons of both sexes assembled here, all well dressed in mourning, and with very serious look and behaviour. The door of the house was open, and they entered it in pairs. I thought that, without impropriety, I might join them, so we all walked upstairs, and came to a drawing-room in the midst of which was a table; on this table lay the body of a person dressed in a clergyman's robes, with bands, and his grey hair shading his face on either side. He was of small stature, and his countenance looked like wax. We all moved round the table, some of the party much affected, with our eyes fixed on the venerable figure that lay before us; and as we moved on, others came up and succeeded in like manner. After we had gone the round of the table in our lingering procession we descended as we The person that lay before us was the celebrated


John Wesley, and at the earnest request of his congregation, they were permitted to take this pathetic and affectionate farewell of their beloved pastor."


Wesley died on the 2nd of March, 1791. Southey does not mention this lying-in-state in the house in the City Road, but only records that on the day before the funeral, the body was carried into the chapel, and there lay in a kind of state becoming the person, dressed in his clerical habit, with gown, cassock, and band; the old clerical cap on his head, a Bible in one hand, and a white handkerchief in the other.' The crowds that flocked to see him were so great that the funeral was accelerated, and took place between five and six in the morning. The scene which Rogers so vividly remembered, in which he had been privileged to catch a glimpse of the great man's face as he lay dead, must have been an earlier and more private lying-in-state than that which Southey records.1


Two of Rogers's distinctive characteristics were his faculty of rapid and correct observation and his retentive memory. He used to say that Samuel Boddington, his companion in the visit to revolutionary Paris, attended a series of lectures on Memory, delivered by the Stokes of those days, Mr. Feinaigle, but on being asked the name of the lecturer, could not recollect it. Rogers was asked why he did not attend the series. He answered that he wished to learn the art of forgetting. The remarkable volume of his 'Recollections' published by his nephew Mr. William Sharpe after his death, has shown the

Mr. Dyce in the last edition of his Table Talk' quotes Mr. Mitford's letter, and expresses the opinion that Rogers's memory had played him false. The view I have taken of the apparent discrepancy is, I think, far the most likely to be the true explanation.



wonderful power he possessed of noting down the actual words he had heard in a long conversation. The earliest illustration which his diaries contain of this power of reproducing an evening's talk, is an account of a conversation at the house of Miss Helen Williams. At one of her literary parties he met Henry Mackenzie, whose acquaintance he had already made in Edinburgh, and a number of other men and women of letters, some of whom were then famous, but are now forgotten, and one or two of whom were then comparatively unknown, but are now familiar names after nearly a hundred years.

[ocr errors]

April 21, 1791.-At Miss Williams's.

'Mr. Mackenzie, a man of very mild and unassuming manners, was first announced, and began upon Edinburgh. "I believe," said he, "conversation is more cultivated there than here. In London the ardour of pursuit is greater. The merchant, the lawyer, and the physician are enveloped in their different professional engagements, but the Scotchman will retire early from the counter or the counting-house to lecture on Metaphysics, or make the grand tour of the arts and sciences. I believe we have a more contemplative turn than you, and it arises partly from a defect-- the little commerce and agriculture we have among us. We are also more national, and there is not a labourer among us that is not versed in the history of his country. is what we are particularly fond of.”

Local history

"I had observed it," I said. "Not a Highlander I met but could give me the history of every pebble about his village."


'Mr. Mackenzie: "I remember an innocent trick that was once played on an Englishman. When Dr. Roebuck was riding in Scotland, he was assured by a friend that every peasant knew Greek. Let us visit, for instance, that farmhouse!' Dr. Roebuck assented. It belonged to Wilkie, the celebrated author of the Epigoniad,' and he was at work as usual in the dress of a labourer. Dr. Roebuck made an observation on tillage. Yes, sir,' said Wilkie,' but in Sicily there was once a different method,' and he quoted Theocritus. Dr. Roebuck was thunderstruck. Wilkie was an original character. He had conversed so long with the ancients that he had lost every trace of the modern in his composition. When he paid Edinburgh a visit at a time that party ran high on some particular subject, he attacked the leading wits of the day in a large circle with such spirit that he set them to flight, and when his hearers, who were struck with the uncouthness of his look and gesture, expressed their surprise at his courage: Shall I,' said he, 'who have kept company so long with Agamemnon, the king of men, shall I shrink from a contest with such a puny race?' But after all," said Mr. Mackenzie, returning to his subject, "Dr. Johnson was perhaps right when he said of us that every man had a taste, and no man a bellyful."

"And yet you will allow that there are many exceptions to the last part of the rule, sir?" said Miss Baillie, a very pretty woman with a very broad Scotch accent. "Mr. Adam Smith


"Yes, ma'am," Mr. Mackenzie interrupted with a warmth he seldom discovered, "Mr. Smith was an excep

« PreviousContinue »