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town is an old theme. So Horace wrote to Fuscus and Petrarch to Colonna. Dr. Aikin, as S. Sharpe points out, had just translated the 'Epistle of Frascatorius' in praise of a country life. It is the object of An Epistle to a Friend.' Yet the life at Stoke Newington had scarcely been country life. It was life on the verge of London, with many opportunities of mingling in the whirl. Rogers had seen true country life, such, for example, as Gilpin lived it at Vicar's Hill, only as a spectator, or at the very most as a visitor, but that may only make his praise of it the more sincere. He had not failed to read Cowper, the true poet of country life, and he could not read him without feeling a profound sense of the quiet which a close and constant communion with Nature brings into the mind. He appreciated what Cowper calls an unambitious mind, content
In the low vale of life;
yet said to his soul
Be thine to blend, nor thine a vulgar aim,
There is a good deal in the poem to indicate what his early home had been. The partial pencil, which, as he says, must
love to dwell
needed the guidance of the poet's fancy, though he probably drew the picture from recollections of Gilpin's parsonage at Vicar's Hill. But the library demanded no flight of imagination. It is the very place where on
'AN EPISTLE TO A FRIEND'
many an evening he had sat amid the studious silence of brothers and sisters, reading ancient books and dreaming inspiring dreams.
Selected shelves shall claim thy studious hours;
There are other home touches. He had spoken in 'The Pleasures of Memory' of the family portraits
Those once loved forms still breathing through their dust, Still from the frame in mould gigantic cast,
Starting to life-all whisper of the past.
In the new poem the thought is again taken up and further expanded—
But could thine erring friend so long forget
1 Rogers's note on this line is as follows
Grata carpentis thyma.-Hor.
His nephew points out that whereas in the earlier poem the family portraits are the only works of art spoken of, and were almost the only works of art known in his father's house,' in the later poem we find that he 'had gained a knowledge and love of art of the highest class, and understood the beauties of Greek sculpture and Italian painting.' He had imbibed this love of art, as has been already said, from his sister's husband, Sutton Sharpe, but he had not yet dreamed of indulging it as a rich man may. The villa in the Epistle' is a small country house, plainly and economically furnished.
Here no state chambers in long line unfold,
Bright with broad mirrors, rough with fretted gold;
Yet modest ornament, with use combined
Attracts the eye, to exercise the mind!
Small change of scene, small space his home requires
The very object of the Epistle,' as he says in his Preface,' is to show how little True Taste requires to secure not only the comforts, but even the elegancies of life.' 'True Taste,' he says, 'is an excellent Economist. She confines her choice to few objects, and delights in producing great effects by small means; while False Taste is for ever sighing for the new and rare, and reminds us, in her works, of the Scholar of Apelles, who not being able to paint his Helen beautiful, determined to make her fine.' Hence, in the imaginary villa, where the aim was to blend
Repose with dignity, with Quiet fame,
a severe economy reigned.
'AN EPISTLE TO A FRIEND'
What tho' no marble breathes, no canvas glows,
Here from the mould to conscious being start
And here the faithful graver dares to trace
In pursuance of his habit of taking counsel with his friends on his works before they were published, Rogers sent the unfinished manuscript of this poem to Dr. Joseph Warton,' and afterwards in its completed state to the Rev. William Gilpin. Dr. Warton returned it with the following letter:
Dr. J. Warton to Samuel Rogers.
'April 9, 1797.
'My dear Sir,-I should ill deserve the friendship I hope to cultivate with you if I wrote you a letter of mere compliment on the poem you have so obligingly sent to me. I must assure you, with strict truth, that I like it much. There is in it uncommon elegance and simplicity both of style and sentiment. And the notes
' Warton had just then finished his edition of Pope, on which it is said he had been engaged for sixteen years. He was in his old age. He had resigned the head mastership of Winchester School in 1793, and was living at Wickham, of which parish he was rector, where he died in February, 1800.
are very pertinent and proper. It is more to show you that I have read it with attention than to wish you to alter a word or two that I venture to carp a little at the following words: Page 1, unvalued hours,'' ambush'd gate,' a good image certainly, but the word seems harsh.' Page 7, Fountain flings." Page 8, 'woo dreams,' why not wait? 9, unfelt,' the idea is excellent, and I cannot suggest another word, yet doubt of unfelt. I lay no sort of stress on these seeming blemishes, nor think them of much consequence. I cannot forbear adding that I am extremely struck with the concluding lines as well as with the Plan and Design of the whole, and hope you will finish it immediately. Own, my dear sir, that I have treated you with the freedom you are pleased to desire, and believe me,
'Very faithfully and sincerely yours,
Rogers did right in retaining both the unvalued hours' and the unfelt current.' 6 The latter is compared to life
which still as we survey,
Seems motionless, yet ever glides away!
Mr. Gilpin's criticisms were more important than those of Dr. Warton, and more influential. As Rogers had spent his own life chiefly in the immediate neighbourhood of London he probably felt some diffidence in describing country life, and passing a eulogy upon it with
It now reads 'the sheltered gate.'
There is now no such expression in the poem. The line is
That here its warmest hues the pencil flings.'