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MR. HAYWARD ON ROGERS
Rogers has never been excelled in the art of blending fancy and feeling with historic incident and philosophical reflection. Mackintosh thought the closing lines of 'The Pleasures of Memory' equal to those of 'The Dunciad,' which Mr. Hayward says is like comparing Virgil's Apostrophe to Marcellus' with Homer's 'Battle of the Gods.' He quotes the lines
Ah! who can tell the triumphs of the mind.
By truth illumined, and by taste refined?
When age has quenched the eye, and closed the ear,
He asks why verses like these have failed to lay fast and durable hold of the public imagination, and thinks the answer is that the linked sweetness is too long and elaborately drawn out, and that the very symmetry and artistic finish of a production may militate against its general popularity. But this criticism begs the question. Mr. Hayward did not know how largely The Pleasures of Memory' was circulated in the generation to which it was first addressed. It did attain general popularity. It is now a classic-and classics are almost always for the few. Rogers's poems are poems of taste and culture.
They are adapted rather to smooth the raven down of darkness till it smiles, than to stir the blood and nerve the arm and set the soul on fire. Madame d'Arblay accidentally uses the fit expression with respect to 'The Pleasures of Memory' when she describes it as that most sweet poem.' It rendered literature, as Mr. Hayward says, an invaluable service by its purity of language and chasteness of tone-which immediately became the objects of improving imitation and elevating rivalry.'
Diary of literary visits, parties, etc.- Dinners with Parr, Cumberland — Fox, Sheridan, and Pamela, at Stone's-R. Sharp-Summer journey to New Forest, etc.-Gilpin-Meetings of Club-Cooper, Priestley, Tuffin, Stothard, Franklin, etc.-Eumelean Club--Arthur Murphy His stories of Foote and Garrick.
THE success of The Pleasures of Memory,' gave Rogers at once a high position in the literary society of the time. He soon begins to be spoken of by contemporaries as
the poet Rogers,' or as Mr. Rogers, the admired poet.' His society was sought; and wherever he went he was pointed out as the author of the poem everybody was reading. This was just the kind of fame for which he longed. He had found the direction in which his strength lay. It was not in the noise and hurry of dithyrambic odes, but in smooth and polished versification; not in bursts of passion or in great flights of bold imagination, but in graceful elegance of movement and restrained feeling, that he was able to excel his contemporaries. The time, moreover, was singularly fortunate. The most barren era of English poetry was just drawing to its close. The laureateship which Spenser had adorned in the sixteenth century, and Ben Jonson and Dryden in the seventeenth, had fallen in the eighteenth to Colley Cibber and William Whitehead and Henry James Pye,
and through the whole century never rose above the level of Pye's immediate predecessor, the Rev. Thomas Warton who had just succeeded to Whitehead when Rogers's first poem came out. It was true that Gray had declined it in 1757 and Mason in 1785; as Rogers himself was destined to do in 1850. But Gray had been in his grave in Stoke Poges churchyard for more than twenty years, and Mason was chiefly known as his biographer, when The Pleasures of Memory' appeared. Cowper-who divides with Rogers the true poetical chieftainship of the times, but whose popularity was never as great among the cultivated classes as that of Rogers-was out of society, cowering in the gloom of religious melancholy. It is only possible to understand the high position which the success of this comparatively short poem gave to Rogers when we recollect that he was educated in the eighteenth century, but in the midst of the men by whom and the influences by which the nineteenth century was moulded; and that he wrote the poem by which he was best known in later times before the Lake School had risen, or Scott had been heard of, or Tennyson was born.
It is quite possible that the title of the poem-‘ The Pleasures of Memory'-was suggested by Akenside's 'Pleasures of Imagination;' and it is quite certain that the success of Rogers's poem suggested to Campbell his 'Pleasures of Hope.' There were the usual inquiries as to its authorship, and in those days it was a surprise to be told that the new poet was a young banker in the City. When Lord Eldon, then Sir John Scott, was told
of it, he exclaimed: If Old Gozzy' head of the firm of
DIARY IN 1792
Goslings, with whom he banked-' even so much as says a good thing, let alone writing, I will close my account with him the next morning.' Neither the partners nor the customers of the firm of which Rogers was the youngest member had this feeling. His father's letters are full of matters of business, all of which he seems to have entrusted to his poetic son without the least fear that his pursuit of poetry, as the happy occupation of his well-earned leisure, would in any way interfere with his application to business. The best business man is perhaps the one who thinks least about it and gets farthest away from it when business is over.
In these early days of his fame he kept a diary of his occasional visits to literary people and conversations with them. The habit was unfortunately not continued long; but as in the records of his Edinburgh visit, and his conversation at Miss Williams's, so in the diary for 1792 and 1793 we catch glimpses of interesting and sometimes of eminent persons.
'1792.-Paid two visits at Streatham this winter. Walked back to London the first time with Lysons, who said Lord Orford would never go to Houghton, as it would remind him of the sale of the pictures. The last time saw Miss Harriet Lee and Mr. Ray, a very sensible and engaging man. Danced a blind minuet with Cecilia, and footed another with her mother. Mrs. Piozzi read me an opera called The Fountains' in blank verse interspersed with songs. Scene Dovedale. It contained some touching sentiments, particularly a line in a woman's mouth
For independent only means forlorn.