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Early Writings- The Scribbler '—' Vintage of Burgundy '-'Ode to Superstition' Smaller Poems.
ROGERS did not begin poetical composition very early in life. He did not lisp in numbers for he was probably far beyond boyhood when the numbers came. He had been kept at school rather longer than Walter Scott, who was only fourteen when, to use his own words, he ' entered on the dry and barren wilderness of forms and conveyances' in his father's office. Rogers entered his father's bank when he was sixteen or seventeen, and he made his first literary venture before he was eighteen. He went to business later than Scott, but plunged into authorship much earlier than his great friend and contemporary. His first printed efforts were not in verse. They consisted of a brief series of papers published in successive numbers of the Gentleman's Magazine. Like most early efforts these essays are imitations; and as might be expected Dr. Johnson is the model. Rogers never saw Johnson. He records having met old General Oglethorpe at the sale of Dr. Johnson's library. But the great autocrat of literature was still exerting his undisputed sway when Rogers was meditating authorship, and he felt for him not only the reverence which was then universal, but that which young ambition feels for
old and established fame. One day, in early youth, he and his friend William Maltby went to call on Johnson at his house in Bolt Court. I had my hand upon the knocker,' said Rogers, in telling the story, when our courage failed us and we retreated.' Boswell told them many years afterwards that they should have gone boldly in, for the great man would have received them kindly. Johnson died in December, 1784-more than a year before Rogers printed his first poem, so that he and his friend could have had no such introduction as the presentation of a book might give them; and it is not likely that, in those early days, his literary friends could give him an introduction to a man who would probably decline to know or recognise them. Nor is there any reason whatever to think, that Rogers was sufficiently content with his imitations of Johnson to have ventured to call his attention to them.
These short pieces are only worthy of notice as the earliest productions of a writer who afterwards attained wide celebrity on a different field. It was the custom of the Sylvanus Urban of those days to print in his magazine short series of papers, under titles evidently suggested by the Rambler.
Samuel Rogers gave his papers the title of 'The Scribbler,' and the following is the first number, which appeared in February, 1781:
THE SCRIBBLER, No. 1.
Ut scriptor cyclicus olim.--Hor.
Prompted by the ambition of appearing in print the Scribbler here obtrudes his compositions on the public. His character may obstruct his success, but it precludes disap
pointment, for no one can conceive very sanguine expectations of entertainment from the Scribbler.
Though his Essays be not favoured with a perusal, though the appellation he has assumed repress curiosity or excite contempt, the satisfaction he will feel at seeing himself in print will amply compensate the mortification of neglect.
If they be favourably received it will indeed be an additional pleasure; if not, he will not be dejected, nor, like Cowley, form the chimerical design of secluding himself from society and renouncing the chief pleasures of life.
He solicits the contributions of all who are influenced by the same motives which he has adduced for the publication of his productions, but declines a correspondence with those who have the vanity to aspire to literary eminence.
This Introduction may be regarded as singular, but the Scribbler disdains the practice of averting the displeasure of the reader by servile submission, or by affecting that diffidence which he does not possess.
Had he been a native of Athens, or had he even resided in Rome in the Augustan age, he would certainly have never conceived the idea of appearing in print, nor have been sensible of the bliss of publication.
This is a species of luxury of which the Ancients were entirely ignorant; which even the Despots of Asia had never the felicity to enjoy. Applause can never be conferred adequate to the merits of the discoverer of so exquisite a pleasure.
To his memory-to the memory of
FAUSTUS OF MENTZ;
Who by the invention of the art of printing
Has ultimately contributed more to the happiness of Empires Than all the conquerors and legislators of antiquity,
is inscribed by his grateful admirer, S***** R**** **.
(To be continued regularly every month.)
The same strain was continued in the next number, which began by describing the raptures he felt at seeing himself in print. The third paper was on 'Eloquence,' the fourth was on the Ancients and Moderns,' and was reproduced by Mr. Dyce in his Table Talk; the fifth was a story entitled the Pupil of Nature,' supposed to be translated from the Erse, with the statement that 'Shakespeare had probably seen it when he wrote the tragedy of Macbeth;' the sixth, On the Regions of the Blest,' a rhapsody, with Cicero's words for a text: '0 præclarum diem, cum ad illud divinum animarum concilium cœtumque proficiscar, cumque ex hac turbâ et colluvione discedam!' The seventh was on the Temple of Fashion' quoted below; and the eighth, misnumbered seven in the magazine, is on 'Virtue.' Mr. Dyce thinks these papers were quite up to the standard of the periodical writing of the time,' and some of them are clearly superior to those which were published contemporaneously with them. The one which Mr. Dyce quotes 'as a curiosity,' though it shows industry is by no means equal in merit to some others of the series. That on the Temple of Fashion,' quoted seventy-five years afterwards by Mr. Hayward in the Edinburgh Review article on Samuel Rogers is perhaps the best of the series. It is written, says the Edinburgh, with a freedom and rhythmical flow which are rarely found in essayists of eighteen.'
THE SCRIBBLER, NO. VII.
Sed nihil est magnum somnianti.-Cic.
Reflecting the other evening on the influence of Fashion, I insensibly fell asleep, and imagined myself suddenly transported into a magnificent temple, in the centre of which,
elevated on a pedestal, stood a female of very light, capricious air, attended by numbers of both sexes, who were burning incense on her altar. But what astonished me most was that the scene experienced a perpetual change. When she waved her hand the columns of the temple, which were first of the Ionic, became of the Corinthian order, the stucco wall appeared hung with the richest tapestry, the fretted ceiling swelled into a dome, and the marble pavement assumed a carpet of the brightest tints. These, after innumerable transformations, were revived, once more to pass through the same revolutions.
Whether she heightened with a pencil the vermilion of her cheeks or clothed her limbs with a close or flowing vest; whether she collected her ringlets in a knot or suffered them to hang negligently on her shoulders; whether she shook the dice, waked the lyre, or filled the sparkling glass-she was imitated by her votaries, who vied with each other in obsequiousness and reverence. All united in presenting their oblations—either their health, their fortunes or their integrity. Though numbers incessantly disappeared, the assembly receiving continual supplies preserved its grandeur and brilliancy. At the entrance I observed Vanity fantastically crowned with flowers and feathers, to whom the fickle deity committed the initiation of her votaries. These having fluttered as gaily as their predecessors, in a few moments vanished and were succeeded by others. All who rejected the solicitations of Vanity were compelled to enter by Ridicule, whose shafts were universally dreaded. Even Literature, Science, and Philosophy were obliged to comply. Those only escaped who were concealed beneath the veil of Obscurity. As I gazed on this glittering scene, having declined the invitation of Vanity, Ridicule shot an arrow from her bow which pierced my heart; I fainted, and in the violence of my agitation, awaked.
The publication of these essays in the months from February to September, 1781, gave their young author great encouragement. His nephew, Mr. Samuel Sharpe,