Hitherto we have spoken of men whose lives were history, — Bowers, or medicinal plants (for as yet we have encountered no weeds), preserved in a Hortus-siccus, to which we have done our best to restore the lively hue and appropriate aroma. We have now a more delicate task to perform. We speak of a man whose death is a recent sorrow; whose image lives in eyes that have wept for him. The caution and reserve, which honour and duty exact from the biographer of a living contemporary, are more especially required of him who essays to collect the scattered lineaments of one who no longer lives to confute or approve the portrait, which yet may give pain or pleasure to many, who compare the likeness with their own authentic memory.
I never saw Roscoe. I have heard much of him, both from the many who delighted in his praise, and from some who reluctantly assented to it. Unseen, yet not quite unknown of me, he performed his earthly pilgrimage, and went to his reward. If his life were not a theme of commendation, — if, however told, it were not a bright example and an argument of hope to all, who, amid whatever circumstances, are striving to develope the faculties which God has given them, for the glory of the Giver, and the benefit of his creatures, — if there were any thing to tell, or any thing to leave untold, which those who knew him best would rather have forgotten, his life would never have been written by me. I am not ignorant, that one who has an hereditary right to be his Biographer, is even now performing that office. With his filial labours I presume not to interfere. Let the son tell of his father what the son knows of the father. Roscoe, as a scholar, an author, a politician, and a philanthropist, is public: his praise, and if censure were due, his censure, is as much a public property as Westminster Abbey should be. With his more familiar privacy I meddle no otherwise, than as he who treats of fruits and flowers must necessarily say something of the soil in which they were grown, and the culture by which they were reared to perfection.
Among those men who have attained to literary eminence without the ordinary assistance from their elders, Roscoe was especially distinguished by the variety, and by the elegance of his acquirements. Most of the self-taught have been men of one talent and one idea — one exclusive passion for one sort of knowledge. Their bias has been much more frequently to the mathematics, physics, or mechanics, than to general literature. The poor classics of Scotland and Germany, such as Adams, Heyne, and Winkelman, are not fairly cases in point; for though they underwent great toil and privation in obtaining tuition, they did obtain it, therefore were not self-taught. As little to the purpose are the instances of uneducated Poets. For we are not speaking of men who have displayed great genius with little culture, but of those who have cultivated their own powers without the customary aids.
With respect to the uneducated Poets, however, not many of them are any thing more than nine-days'-wonders. Some great man, of great lady, finds out that a peasant or menial can tag rhimes; and having at once a most exaggerated notion of the difficulty of rhiming, and a most contemptuous estimate of the faculties of the lower orders, straightway gives information of a self-taught poet, whom patronage is to select for a victim.
But secondly: Far be it from us to deny that there have lived, and are living, true and great poets, who have not only been all but destitute of tuition, but have been very scantily furnished with book-learning. We do not, however, count Shakspeare in the number; for he was manifestly a great and extensive reader, and got from books whatever could have been of any use to him; his genius, his intuitive knowledge of human nature, concreted by wide and perspicacious observation of human life, his shaping and combining imagination, his electrical fancy, no book could supply. The world is still too much in the habit of confounding the absence of regular tuition, with positive ignorance; though we do hope, that the preposterous folly of dignifying a little, a very little Latin, and very, very, very little Greek (forgotten long ago), with the exclusive name of learning, is far gone in the wane. Indeed there is more need to assert and vindicate the true value of Greek and Roman lore, than to level the by-gone pretensions of its professors. This age has a sad propensity to slay the slain, to fight with wrath and alarm against the carcase of extinct prejudices, because some two or three men of genius, and perhaps a score of blockheads, are striving to galvanize them to a posthumous vitality. Admitting, however, that Shakspeare could not, with the assistance of grammar and dictionary, construe an ode of Horace, (which is a pure and rather improbable assertion, for Latin was then taught far more generally than at present), he certainly was not unacquainted with the ancient authors, most of which were translated early in Elizabeth's reign, rudely and incorrectly enough it may be, (there was little or no accurate scholarship in England before Bentley), but still so, that neither the feelings nor the thoughts were wanting. An uneducated man he was: his mind had never been disciplined, but it was completely armed and ammunitioned. Had he been educated, he would perhaps have avoided some few faults, but he would, in all probability, have fallen considerably short of his actual excellence, — not that his matter would have been less original (Milton, in the true sense of the word, is as complete an original as Shakspeare), but his manner would have been more restrained, more subdued, and therefore would have presented a less exact image of truth; for he was a man modest and gentle by nature, with little of Milton's mental hardihood. It was well for him and for mankind, that he did not know how widely he differed from his great predecessors.
But though we except Shakspeare from the list of unlearned authors, we admit that there have been, and are, men who, with no assistance from teachers, and little from books, have justly earned the name of Poets. But they are men with whom poetry is a passion, or a consolation, and their excellence will be found to consist in short effusions of natural feeling, in descriptions of what they have actually seen or experienced, and in records of the manners, devotions, loves, and superstitions of those among whom they have been bred up. It is, moreover, doubtful how far extensive reading of any sort is beneficial to any but a very great Poet: that indiscriminate reading of vernacular poetry is prejudicial to poetic powers, there can be no doubt at all. Any but a surpassing genius, who has the "British Poets," or even the "Elegant Extracts," by heart, must either become a mere compiler, in despair of novelty, or must go out of his way, to avoid saying what has been said before. And here we perceive the true reason why the greatest poets generally appear in the early stages of literature; or it, like Wordsworth and Byron, they are products of a later age, they are yet the earliest great poets of their kind. Here, too, we find the main value of a skill in ancient or foreign languages, whereby the mind is enriched with thoughts which it is in a manner compelled to make its own.
But Roscoe's passion was knowledge in general, with a peculiar bids to the beautiful in art and nature. Perhaps it was in some measure owing to the universality of his studies, that he was never tempted to neglect or discard his professional duties; for had he devoted himself exclusively to any one study, it would most likely have gained so entire a dominion over his imagination, as to render business an insupportable distraction.
WILLIAM ROSCOE was born on the 8th of March, 1753. The house in which he first drew breath is standing still, but instead of a rural retirement, is now a tavern, in a crowded and almost central street of Liverpool, recording, by its name of Mount Pleasant, its former suburban rusticity. So mightily is the inundation of brick and mortar spreading, uniting village after village to the great centres of population, as the ocean "drinks up all the little rills:" overrunning fields, and parks, and gardens, which, like the political institutions of a decaying nation, bear names to testify what they have been, and are not.
The house in which Roseoe was born is now known as the "Old Bowling-green House," and is well represented in an engraving by Austin.
Mr. Roscoe's parents were persons in humble but respectable circumstances. Having lived together as domestics with a worthy old bachelor, they formed an attachment, and married with their master's approbation. By their own savings, and probably with the assistance of the same benevolent gentleman (who is said to have left the bulk of his property to the subject of this memoir), they were enabled to rent a few fields, and the house at Mount Pleasant, where their son William was born.
Though exempt from the evils of actual poverty, it cannot be supposed that the honest couple were able, or in the first instance desirous, to afford their child any thing above the commonest education. At six, he was sent to a day school kept by a Mr. Martin, and two years afterwards removed to the seminary of Mr. Sykes, then in considerable repute as a commercial academy. Young Roscoe was by no means remarkable for diligence or proficiency at these schools. The books then selected (if in truth there was any selection at all) for elementary instruction were little attractive, and Roscoe's mind was not one of those that are peculiarly delighted with the science of numbers. Yet as he was found qualified, at sixteen, for an attorney's office, we may conclude that he was a respectable penman, and discovered no inaptitude to figures. At twelve, he was taken from school at his own request, and from that period was mainly his own instructor. Reading, writing, arithmetic, and a little geometry, were then all his acquirements. Perhaps he had learned all that was taught in the usual routine of Mr. Sykes's establishment. If so, he displayed his early good sense in voluntarily withdrawing from it. Mutual instruction was not yet in vogue; and perhaps even at this time it may be proper to remind parents, especially those of humble rank in easy circumstances, that a day school is a very dangerous lounge for either boy or girl past childhood, whose time is not fully occupied in the business of that school. It is too much the practice to permit youth of both sexes to remain at school, not because they are doing any good there, but because their parents do not know what else to do with them. With regard to females of the higher class, this may not be objectionable: the intermediate state between pupilage and companionship in which young ladies continue with their schoolmistresses has its advantages; the articles of female education are so multifarious, that it can hardly ever be said to be completed. A ladies' boarding-school approaches to a domestic establishment; and wherever there is a home, a female need never be idle. But for the infinitely larger class, whose destiny is labour, and indeed, for males of all classes, a school becomes almost prejudicial as soon as it ceases to be necessary. The higher education of England will never be what it ought to be, till there is some institution for the youths who are too old for Eton or Harrow, and not old enough for Oxford or Cambridge. In the mean time, we think it the less evil, that they should go too early to the University, than that they should continue too long at the school.
From twelve to sixteen, young Roscoe continued under his father's roof, employing his time partly in reading, and partly in assisting the labours of the farm. He also paid frequent visits to a porcelain manufactory in the neighbourhood, where he amused himself with china-painting. His reading was desultory, as that of a boy left to himself always will be; but it could not be very miscellaneous, for his command of books was extremely limited, and the few volumes to which he had access, were rather such as chance threw in his way, than what his unaided judgment would have recommended. There was, however, no lack of good matter among them. His favourites were Shakspeare (an odd volume most likely), Shenstone, the Spectator; and the poems of Mrs. Katherine Philips. Perhaps these were all the books of a poetical or imaginative cast which his library afforded. The names may now seem oddly grouped; yet if the merit of a writer be measured by the plaudits of contemporary pens, the fame of Mrs. Katherine Philips, alias "the matchless Orinda," would soar high above Addison himself, and poor Shakspeare and Shenstone must hide their diminished heads. There are few school-girls now who could not write better verses than her's; but then mediocrity was not so easy in the 17th century as in the 19th. We are disposed to hope that it will become so easy, that none will tolerate it, even in themselves.
If we might indulge a conjecture as to which among these was Roscoe's favourite, we should be tempted to fix upon Shenstone. Boys who have any thing of a poetical turn themselves, are often better pleased with verses which they think that they can imitate, than with those that defy emulation. No boy ever imagines himself a poet while he is reading Shakspeare or Milton, The thoughts, too obviously, are not his own. But Shenstone has much to charm, and nothing to overpower, the mind of boyhood. His pastoral imagery is pretty, and must have been new to Roscoe, though it was not to Shenstone. His versification is smooth and imitable; his sentiments, sometimes plaintively tender, and sometimes breathing disdain and defiance to the world, find a ready sympathy with those whose warmer feelings are just beginning to glow; and he has much of a temper with which all ages are ready to sympathize — namely, discontent.
The elegant memorialist, to whom this article is so largely indebted [Author's note: From a "Memoir of William Roscoe, Esq. by Dr. Thomas Stewart Traill, F.R.S.E., read before the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool, in October 1831, communicated by the author to Dr. Jameson's Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal.], remarks upon this part of Roscoe's life: "It is curious to trace his attachment to botany and the fine arts to this early period. The phaenomena of vegetation, and the cultivation of plants, appear to have made a deep impression on his youthful mind, and in the little cultivator of his father's fields we can trace the embryo botanist, to whose ardent enthusiasm in after years we owe our botanic garden, the world the new arrangement of Scitamineae, and the superb botanical publication on the same beautiful order of plants. The early essays in painting china-ware seem also to have first inspired him with a love of the fine arts, and drew him on to cultivate his taste in the arts of design, in which he not only displayed the knowledge of an intelligent amateur, but such practical proficiency as might have led to eminence, had his genius not been directed to other channels, as several slight but spirited etchings by his hand amply testify."
All this is very agreeable to contemplate, and true it is, that the embryo botanist will often be found in the field and the garden, by the hedge-row, and in the thicket. The embryo artist, if he cannot procure brush, or pencil, or crayon, will make "slight but spirited" sketches with chalk, or charcoal; or carve fantastic heads on walking sticks. But a fondness for plants by no means clearly foretells the botanist. All children are fond of flowers, (they would be little monsters if they were not); and all who possess any life of mind are curious to observe how plants grow, and feel wonder and delight when the peas begin to peep above the ground. It is a pity that this happy curiosity is so seldom made an inlet to useful knowledge; but it has no connection with scientific botany. A child wishes to know the name of every thing it sees: this is nature; but arrangement and classification are works of reason, of reason trained and informed by education. Again, we hardly ever knew a boy that had not a turn for the arts of design, if a passion for scratching and daubing, for lake and gamboge, is to be called by that title. Some children, in their juvenile efforts, display a truth of eye and obedience of hand of which others are quite destitute, yet the pictorial passion is equally strong in the latter. Still it must be granted that the painter, unlike the poet, always exhibits the bias of his talent in early life. You cannot, from the rapid improvement and enthusiastic devotion of the boy, securely prophecy the excellence of the future artist; for some soon arrive at a certain degree of imitative skill, and then never advance a step further; but it may safely be assumed that the man who, with any sort of opportunity, has not produced something of promise before his fifteenth year, will never be even a tolerable painter.
Nevertheless we cannot quite agree with Dr. Traill in referring Mr. Roscoe's intelligence as a connoisseur to his youthful love of china painting, though that certainly might contribute to give him a dexterity of hand, which, diligently cultivated, would have enabled him to execute as well as to judge. Youths, even of less stirring intellects than Roscoe, like to attempt every thing they see doing, and young eyes are almost sensually delighted with brilliant colours. Porcelain-painting is a gorgeous, an ingenious art, but it remained for Wedgewood to make it a fine, i.e. an intellectual art. Imitating the gaudy grotesques on china dishes was much more likely to spoil Roscoe's eye than to improve it. But Heaven had given Roscoe an inward sense of beauty, a yearning after the beautiful, which would have made him a botanist, had his father not possessed so much as a box of mignonette; which would have led him to admire and criticise the productions of the pencil, the graver, and the chisel, had there been no china manufactory out of the Celestial Empire. We are not intending to charge Dr. Traill with the sophism, of which Dr. Johnson seems to have been guilty, of ascribing the original direction of genius to the accidents upon which it is earliest exercised. What he says is just, as it is pleasing; it is against the false inferences of others that we are guarding. Of this stage of his existence Mr. Roscoe speaks thus in his earliest publication, the poem entitled " Mount Pleasant:"—
Freed from the cares that daily throng my breast,
Again beneath my native shades I rest.
These shades, where lightly fled my youthful day,
E're fancy bow'd to reason's boosted sway.
Untaught the toils of busier life to hear,
The fools impertinence, the proud man's sneer,
Sick of the world, to these retreats I fly,
Devoid of art my early reed to try.
To paint the prospects that around me rise,
What time the cloudless sun descends the skies,
Each latent beauty of the landscape trace,
Fond of the charms that deck my native place.
Though Roscoe was doubtless storing his memory and maturing his powers in this interval of comparative leisure, it does not appear that he had yet formed any regular plan of study, or made a fixed distribution of his time. To a mind of less energy, such early liberty might have been dangerous, and though nothing could have rendered Roscoe a mere idler, yet even he might have lost that self-controul without which industry is wasted, had he continued much longer the master of his own hours. But at sixteen he became articled clerk to Mr. John Eyes, a respectable solicitor of Liverpool, and here, while he strictly performed the duties of the office, and acquired a measure of professional knowledge that led the way to competence and eminence, he commenced a course of self-education, the results of which appear in his biographies of the Medici. Between the ages of sixteen and twenty he mastered the rudiments of Latin, with no other aid than that of a grammar and dictionary; no trifling effort for one who previously knew no language but his own, and had never learned that grammatically. His studies, however, were not always solitary; he read some of the best Latin authors, in company with William Clarke and Richard Lowndes, two young men of Liverpool, whose tastes were similar to his own; but though a communication of knowledge can seldom be made without an accession, it does not appear that Clarke or Lowndes had been more regularly tutored, or had made any greater proficiency than Roscoe himself. They were the comrades, not the leaders of his studies.
To Francis Holden, an able, but eccentric man, he ascribed his first inclination to the study of modern languages, and he was eager to acknowledge that by the advice and encouragement of this young friend he was led to apply himself assiduously to Italian reading. Yet neither in the Italian nor the French tongue, both which he mastered during the term of his clerkship, had he any tutor. Greek was a later acquisition. A memorandum in a copy of Homer, yet in possession of his family, runs thus: "Finished the Odyssee the day I came to Allerton, March 18th, 1799. W. R." Can any thing evince his unconquerable mental industry more clearly than his entering upon the study of a language accounted so arduous as the Greek, after he had attained a considerable literary reputation without it? During the time of his. apprenticeship, Mr. Roscoe formed an agreement with his friends Clarke, Lowndes, and Holden, to meet early in the morning, before the hours of business, to read some Latin author, and afterwards impart whatever observations might occur during the lesson. The evening leisure was chiefly bestowed upon Italian. Before his twentieth year he had perused, in the original, several of the Italian historians, and had already conceived a design to be the historian of Lorenzo de' Medici. Few are the men who persevere so nobly, and so successfully, in designs so early formed. Roscoe was not
A clerk foredoomed his father's soul to cross,
Who penn'd a stanza when he should engross.
Yet, amid all his employments, he did find time to pen many a stanza: and many of his productions remain, full of fine feeling and beautiful fancy, though unfortunately disfigured with the inane phraseology which then passed for poetic diction. Several of his metrical pieces were addressed to a young lady, about his own age, of an ardently poetical genius, afterwards destined to become the mother of an eminent Poet. The admiration, for it does not appear to have been more, was mutual; and among the lady's manuscript poems are found the following laudatory and almost prophetic lines:—
But cease, my Muse, unequal to the task,
Forbear the effort, and to nobler hands
Resign the lyre. Thee, Roscoe, every muse
Uncall'd attends, and uninvoked inspires:
In blooming shades and amaranthine bowers
They weave the future garland for thy brow,
And wait to crown thee with immortal fame.
Thee Wisdom leads in all her flowery walks,
Thee Genius fires, and moral beauty charms;
Be it thy task to touch the feeling heart,
Correct its passions, and exalt its aims;
Teach pride to own, and owning, to obey
Fair Virtue's dictates, and her sacred laws:
To brighter worlds shew thou the glorious road,
And be thy life as moral as thy song.
To this lady the descriptive poem of "Mount Pleasant" was originally inscribed, though, when it was published, the address was omitted. The poem was composed about 1772, when the author was not more than nineteen, though it was not published till 1777. Among juvenile productions it claims a very respectable rank: still, it is a very juvenile production, and as it probably received little after-revision, we think it more for Roscoe's honour to speak of it here, in connection with his youth, than to bring it into association with his riper years.
In the first-place, a word on the species of poetry to which it belongs, the loco-descriptive. Of all organized poems, the loco-descriptive has the most imperfect organization, and, unless it assume the shape of a journey, or series of descriptive sketches, the least natural progression. It may be any thing and every thing, and the parts may be arranged in any order that happens to occur. Hence, its tempting facility has made it a great favourite with many lovers of poetry, who resort to poetical composition as an agreeable relaxation after business, or a pleasant occupation of idle time — as commercial men, retired gentlemen, and country clergymen. In very few of these productions is the description any thing more than the prelude to the reminiscences and reflections, and in some, the locality merely supplies a title. They are no more local or descriptive than Cicero's "Tusculan Questions;" or Home Tooke's "Diversions of Purley." Even where the Poet attempts to vie with the landscape painter, his description must be in a great measure vague and general, or it is not intelligible. He does best when he communicates to the reader the feeling which the scene is calculated to inspire; whether it be of beauty, richness, grandeur, vastness, or of quiet seclusion. He may, indeed, enumerate the objects supposed to be in sight; he may tell you their shape and colour, and furnish them with a suite of similes; but, after all, language cannot paint, for it can only present things separately, and in succession, which in nature appear simultaneously, and derive their principal charm from their copresence and coinherence. Painting imitates coexistence in space; poetry, like music, expresses succession in time. This may be one reason why the greater number of these poems are about hills, where the gradual ascent produces a succession of prospects, and supplies the want of action. But in the best of them the objects are not pourtrayed as they occur to the eye, but as they rise upon the memory, or connect themselves with the feelings. In fine, we cannot consider the merely loco-descriptive poem as a legitimate work of art. Yet it is pleasing, easily written, and as easily read; for it demands little care in the author, and little thought in the reader.
Young poets are apt to have very exaggerated opinions of the powers of verse to confer immortality. After the lines on Mount Pleasant, which we have already quoted, Roscoe proceeds thus:
The shades of Grongar bloom secure of fame;
Edge-hill to Jago owes its lasting fame.
When Windsor forest's loveliest scenes decay,
Still shall they live in Pope's unrivall'd lay.
Led on by hope an equal theme I choose,
O, might the subject boast an equal Muse!
Then should her name, the force of time defy,
When sunk in ruin, Liverpool shall lie.
Really we should have thought that Edge-hill owed its fame quite as much to its being the scene of the first pitched battle in the civil wars, the place where the gallant Earl of Carnarvon died in defence of royalty, as to its giving name to some indifferent blank verse by one Rev. Mr. Jago, who owes his own admission among the poets, chiefly to the friendship of Shenstone. Jerusalem is not the more secure of fame, because it was the subject of a Seatonian prize-poem.
The real theme of "Mount Pleasant" is not Mount Pleasant, but Liverpool; or rather the commerce of Liverpool, and the money-getting propensities of her inhabitants, her new-born taste for the fine arts, her public institutions, and public spirit, with incidental reflections on commerce in general, and the slave trade in particular, which compose by far the most interesting portion of the poem. In dilating on the wrongs of the African, the style rises to an indignant fervour which is something better than poetical. That a young and hitherto undistinguished clerk should have ventured so boldly to denounce the traffic to which Liverpool attributed much of her prosperity, indicated no small moral courage. The voice of humanity was then as the voice of one crying in the wilderness; and so far from swelling the universal concert of a nation, was in danger of being drowned amid the hootings of an angry contempt. We are all too apt to undervalue common truths, as if they were common-place truisms, not thankfully acknowledging the blessing, that the most precious truths are become common-places, interwoven into the texture of thought, and involved in the very logic of speech. But these truths were not always common-places: time has been when the best of them were regarded as romance, or paradox, or heresy, or jargon — when the wise shook their heads at them, the fools made mouths at them, when many honestly opposed them, because they held them subversive of elder truth, and too many wickedly hated them, because they felt and feared them to be true.
While we admire the poetic enthusiasm of young Roscoe, and revere the pious indignation of Cowper, let us not uncharitably condemn, or intolerantly excommunicate from our esteem, all those who regarded their opinions with suspicion, or even with anger. St. Paul was once as bitter an enemy of Christianity as Alexander the coppersmith. The task of the true philanthropist, the genuine reformer, the enlightened iconoclast, would be easy to the heart, whatever toil and fortitude it might require, if they were opposed by none but the very foolish, or the very wicked. But they have also to endure the censure of the timid good; they cannot always avoid the praise and co-operation of the evil. They must learn to bear cold and reproachful looks from those whom they cannot, should not love the less for reproach or coldness. They run the risk of being classed with those, who are eager to commit sacrilege under pretence of cleansing the temple — who would overthrow the tables of the money-changers, in order to have a scramble for the money. They must encounter fightings from without and from within: they will painfully discover the difference between a dream of sensibility, and a labour of benevolence; and they may have to labour through a long life without effecting any tangible good; may wander for years in the desert, and never behold the promised land, even in a Pisgah-view — save with the eye of faith; or baying done much, find that all is yet to do. If the days of persecution are past, the rack at rest, the wheel of torture revolve no more, and the fires of Smithfield be quenched for ever, the world has engines still to assault the man that goes about to mend it — calumny, false praise, bribery, poverty, witcheries of love, and sundering of loves; but worse than the world, and stronger far, is the bosom fiend Despair.
The days are indeed gone by, when the mere announcement of a theory, or abstract position, true or false, was attended with any considerable peril to purse or person. The widest diversities of creed hardly produce an interruption of social intercourse, provided that each speculator is content to enjoy and defend his own fancy, without intermeddling by advice or censure, with the conduct of the rest. If any do this, he will be excluded, not as a heathen man and a publican, but as a bore. It is a truly ridiculous instance of vanity, when a modern paradox-monger boasts of his courage and disinterestedness, talks of defying martyrdom, and refusing unoffered bribes, and quotes Galileo and Luther, in proof of his right to think as he pleases. But the case is otherwise with practical truths even now; for practical truths are duties, which, whoever acknowledges, is called upon to act or to abstain. The announcement of these is attended with many heart-burnings even now, it often incurs the forfeiture of patronage, it is frequently treated with contemptuous pity, and sometimes brings down the charge of ingratitude, of all others the most grievous to a good mind. But when Roscoe first raised his voice against slavery, and satirized the commercial spirit of his townsmen, the public were far from being as tolerant as they are at present. The State opposed to him, the Church at best dubious, (with many glorious exceptions among its individual members), the Multitude decidedly hostile, and easily infuriated. There was, therefore, some courage in avowing his sentiments, even in rhime; at least as much as would be required to write a serious defence of slavery in heroic couplets at the present epoch. We say a serious defence, for there is something sacred in scurrility, and ever has been. Aristophanes was applauded for burlesquing the Gods, in the same Athens where Socrates was murdered for arguing against the absurdities of popular superstition. Yet it must be allowed, that "Mount Pleasant" was published before the French revolution had stamped the brand of Jacobinism on every struggle for emancipation. Roscoe lived to do greater things in behalf of the Negro than writing verses, in seasons, when the cause had far more deadly enemies.
The lines introductory to the noble burst of feeling on which we have descanted, are a very good sample of what was then accounted the best versification and diction. Goldsmith, rather than Pope, had been Roscoe's model, or rather, his ear had been unconsciously influenced more by the former than by the latter. After describing the growing bulk, thronged population, and busy noises of Liverpool, and reproving "the sons of wealth" for adding "gold to gold," he thus proceeds:—
Far as the eye can trace the prospect round,
The splendid tracks of opulence are found,
Yet scarce an hundred annual rounds have run,
Since first the fabric of this power begun;
His noble waves, inglorious, Mersey roll'd,
Nor felt those waves by labouring art controul'd;
Along his side a few small cots were spread,
His finny brood their humble tenants fed;
At opening dawn with fraudful nets supplied,
The paddling skiff would brave his spacious tide,
Ply round the shores, nor tempt the dangerous main,
But seek ere night the friendly port again.
Now o'er the wondering world, her name resounds,
From northern climes, to India's distant bounds;
Where-e'er his shores the broad Atlantic laves;
Where-e'er the Baltic rolls his wintry waves;
Where-e'er the honour'd flood extends his tide,
That clasps Sicilia like a favour'd bride,
Whose waves in ages past so oft have bore
The storm of battle on the Punic shore,
Have wash'd the banks of Graecia's learned bowers,
And view'd at distance Rome's imperial towers.
In every clime her prosperous fleets are known,
She makes the wealth of every clime her own;
Greenland for her its bulky whale resigns,
And temperate Gallia rears her generous vines;
Midst warm Iberia citron orchards blow,
And the ripe fruitage bends the labouring bough;
The Occident a richer tribute yields,
Far different produce swells their cultur'd fields;
Hence the strong cordial that inflames the brain,
The honey'd sweetness of the juicy cane,
The vegetative fleece, the azure dye,
And every product of a warmer sky.
There Afric's swarthy sons their toils repeat,
Beneath the fervors of the noontide heat;
Torn from each joy that crown'd their native soil,
No sweet reflections mitigate their toil;
From morn to eve, by rigorous hands opprest,
Dull fly their hours of every hops unblest:
Till broke with labour, helpless and forlorn,
From their weak grasp the lingering morsel torn,
The reedbuilt hovel's friendly shads denied,
The jest of folly and the scorn of pride,
Drooping beneath meridian suns they lie,
Lift the faint head, and bend the imploring eye;
Till death in kindness from the tortor'd breast
Calls the free spirit to the realms of rest
Shame on mankind, but shame to Britons most,
Who all the sweets of liberty can boast;
Yet deaf to every human claim, deny
The sweets to others which themselves enjoy,
Life's bitter draught with harsher bitter fill,
Blast every joy, and add to every ill;
The trembling limbs with galling iron bind,
Nor loose the heavier bondage of the mind.
Yet whence these horrors, this inhuman rage,
That brands with blackest infamy the age?
Is it our varied interests disagree,
And Britain sinks if Afric's sons be free?
No — Hence a few superfluous stores we claim,
That tempt our avarice, but increase our shame.
The sickly palate touch with more delight,
Or swell the senseless riot of the night.
Blest were the days ere foreign climes were known,
Our wants contracted, and our wealth our own;
When Health could crown, and Innocence endear
The temperate meal, that cost no eye a tear;
Our drink the beverage of the chrystal flood,
Not madly purchased by a brother's blood—
Ere the wide spreading ills of trade began,
Or luxury trampled on the rights of man.
When Commerce, yet an infant, rais'd her head,
'Twas mutual want her growing empire spread,
Those mutual wants a distant realm supplied,
And like advantage every clime enjoy'd.
Distrustless then of every treacherous view,
An open welcome met the stranger crew;
And whilst the whitening fleet approach'd to land
The wondering natives hail'd them from the strand;
Fearless to meet, amidst the flow of soul,
The lurking dagger, or the poison'd bowl.
Now, more destructive than a blighting storm,
A bloated monster, Commerce rears her form;
Throws the meek olive from her daring band,
Grasps the red sword, and whirls the flaming brand.
True to no faith, by no restraints controul'd,
By guilt made cautions, and by avarice bold—
Can this be she, who promis'd once to bind
In leagues of strictest amity, mankind?
This fiend, whose breath inflames the spark of strife,
And pays with trivial toys the price of life?
It is easy to see on what part of this effusion Mr. Roscoe would ever look back with self-congratulation, and what his riper judgment taught him to laugh at. He would soon discover that the slave-trade was not protected by the inveterate devotion of the English to rum and sugar, but by the powerful vested interests engaged in its support, by a false idea of national prosperity, and by the latent apprehensions that the right of men to freedom, admitted in one instance, would prove too much, and disturb that order which, Mr. Pope tells us, is "Heaven's first Law." His view of the rise and progress of commerce, her lovely infancy, and progressive depravation, is not strictly historical. Slave-trades, of one kind or other, are among the most ancient of commercial dealings: indeed, almost the earliest trading transaction of which we are informed, is the sale of Joseph to the Ishmaelites by his brethren. Instead of venting his ire against his own generation for continuing the slave-trade, Roscoe might have expressed thankfulness that he lived at a time when its enormity began to be acknowledged, and should have remembered that the vague reverence for the past which his diatribe tended to inculcate, was the strong hold of those who sought to perpetuate that traffic in which their forefathers saw no more sin than our Druidical predecessors in roasting a man in an osier colossus. As far as the annals of commerce have come down to us, it would seem to have become gradually more humane, as it grew more extensive.
Willing to propitiate his townsmen after rebuking them, the poet dwells with glowing satisfaction on the literary and scientific tastes of Liverpool, the improvement of its architecture, (under which heads we are sorry to find a sneer at the Gothic style,) encouragement of the fine arts, &c. above all the public and private virtues of its inhabitants. But we can only afford one more quotation, which shews a fine eye and considerable descriptive power.
Far to the right where Mersey dnteous pours,
To the broad main his tributary stores,
Ting'd with the radiance of the golden beam,
Sparkle the quivering waves; and midst the gleam,
In different hues, as sweeps the changeful ray,
Pacific fleets their guiltless pomp display;
Fair to the sight, they spread the floating sail,
Catch the light breeze, and skim before the gale,
Fill lessening gradual on the stretching view,
Obscure they mingle in the distant blue,
Where in soft tints the sky with ocean blends,
And on the weaken'd sight, the long, long prospect ends.
Mount Pleasant" certainly does not promise a great poet, but it clearly evinces a mind sufficiently poetical to enjoy and appreciate whatever of poetry is in books, in pictures, in nature, and in the heart of man. The elegance, and innate gentility of Roscoe's mind is very conspicuous in his selection of words and phrases, and has possibly led him to exclude the operative words of the language too strictly from his composition. He was afraid of calling things by their right names. His phraseology, where plain statement is required, reminds one of the silken tackle of Cleopatra's galley. Yet though his words are sometimes too fine for their business, they always do some work, only it is not precisely the work they are fittest for. He has few superfluous epithets, and hardly one empty line. Perhaps his Italian studies had given him a distaste for the homeliness of his native tongue; but indeed it was not the fashion in 1770, for poets to write English. Percy's ballads set some to mimic the antique turns of phrase, but Cowper was the first, after Churchill, who ventured to versify the English of his own day.
In 1772, a small society was formed in Liverpool "for the encouragement of designing, drawing, and painting," of which Mr. Roscoe was the prime promoter and most active member, while it continued in existence; but its date was short, its dissolution being hastened by the loss of an influential member who went to reside in Germany. Before this short-lived institute Mr. Roscoe recited an ode, which introduced him to the public as a lyric poet. A few copies were printed for private distribution in 1774, which had the fortune to win the approbation of the "Monthly Review," whereby the author was tempted to annex it to his publication of "Mount Pleasant," in 1777. Though not without strong indications of the writer's juvenility, and a savour of the taste of the times, this ode indisputably proves that Roscoe had already acquired one of the highest accomplishments of the poet, the art of expressing abstract thought poetically. If there be some partiality in the preference given to the silent muse over her vocal sisters, it might be deemed a compliment due to the occasion.
Copies of verses called odes have always been numerous, and were particularly so in the latter half of the last century. Yet there are almost as many good epics as good odes. We confine the observation solely to the sublime, the heroic, and the philosophical ode; for in the lighter effusions of the lyric muse, in the playful and the tender, many have attained to great beauty and sweetness. But there is nothing in common between an excellent ode and a plaintive or cheerful song, except the assumption, that the movement of both is promoted and modified by musical sound.
Lyric poetry is a vague and somewhat deceptive phrase. If it be defined as that species of metrical composition which admits a musical accompaniment, it is too general. The epic and dramatic poems of Greece, and all the early poetry of the world would then come under the denomination. If only that poetry be called lyric which requires a musical accompaniment, the definition is as much too narrow. For some of the finest odes are so far from requiring music for their full effect, that their effect would be marred by any music that we can conceive. Fancy Wordsworth's "Ode on the Intimations of Immortality," sung by the sweetest voice to the sweetest and fittest conceivable music? The absurdity of fiddling "Paradise Lost," and dancing "Paradise Regained," would be nothing to it. In truth the song, the only mode of composition to which music is now successfully united, has a very limited range of subjects indeed.
A song must be short. What devotee of music or poetry so devoted, who could bear to hear "Chevy chase" to a dismal psalm tune? Nothing sets the patience of our ancestors in a more conspicuous point of view, than the immeasurable lengths of narrative, and dreary monotony of thrumming instruments, which they not only endured, but enjoyed. The habit of silent reading is the bane of literary patience, at least as far as narrative is concerned. A man used to glance his eye over a page, and see at once the striking incidents which it contains, could never be brought to relish a story drawled to recitative. No inference is to be drawn from the success of certain selections from Scott's or Byron's narrative poems, set to music, and "sung with unbounded applause." Sweet music is always sweet, though it accompany words in an unknown tongue; its power is unquestionably increased, when associated with words so familiar as to bring a train of images and feelings along with them, and yet allow the meaning to be, as it were, diffused by the melody. A music which should be strictly subordinate to sense, would, to our ears, vitiated, an austere critic might say, by the complex attraction of modern strains, be a great deal more unsatisfactory than no music at all; as the Vin ordinaire and other continental thin potations, to an English palate, are absolutely weaker than water.
Now music, as all but those who have no music in their souls well know, is capable of expressing and evoking any simple emotion; it may imitate the rapid succession or dazzling alternation of feeling, or dying away to silence, may symbolize the fading of passion into pensiveness. It may also, to a certain degree, express action, as action consists in motion; but beyond this it cannot go. It cannot narrate, describe, or reason. It is of little assistance to the understanding, and though it may stimulate, it cannot inform the imagination. True, words may supply all these deficiencies, and true, there is no narrative, description, reasoning, or imagination, that is truly poetical, but what involves or engenders a pleasurable feeling, nor any feeling of which some modification of numerous sounds is not a conductor. But nevertheless, those compositions will be found best accommodated to musical expression, for which music supplies a natural and universal language, and such are love, grief, and devotion; because in all these the feeling suggests the thought, and not the thought or imagery the feeling. A song however is not an ode; it is only one, and not a high species of lyric composition. If there be any thing that generally distinguishes the genuine lyrist, it is the nature of his connections and transitions, which do not arise from the necessities of his theme, far less from the arbitrary turns of his convenience, but are determined by the flux and reflux, the under currents and eddies of the poetic passion, of that sense of power and joy which the poet feels in the exercise of his art for its own sake; a passion easily mimicked, but not often real, even in those who possess every other requisite of pure poetry. Roscoe, in his ode on painting, has shewn no small portion of this true lyric element, and would have exhibited yet more, had he not been seduced into the didactic line of criticism.
After some animated stanzas on the removal of the arts from Greece and Italy to England, and a lively enumeration of the functions of Poetry and poetic Music, he gives a loose to his enthusiasm at the first appearance of Painting, which he considers to be the youngest Muse, and inheritor of all her elder sister's estates.
Next came the power in whom conjoined,
Their differing excellence is shewn;
Yet sweetly blended, and combined
With charms peculiarly her own.
Beneath the great Creator's eye,
'Twas she with azure spread the sky;
And when creation first had birth,
In happiest hues array'd the earth,
Still varying in each varied scene,
Bedeck'd the smiling meads with green,
Blush'd in the flower, and ting'd the fruit,
More lovely still as more minute:
O'er every part the veil of beauty cast,
In heav'nly colours bright, thro' numerous years to last.
Her's is the glowing bold design,
The just and lessening perspective,
The beauties of the waving line,
And all the pencil's power can give.
Majestic, nervous, bold and strong,
Let Angelo with Milton vie.
Opposed to Waller's amorous song
His art let wanton Titian try.
Let great Romano's free design
Centend with Dryden's pompous line:
And chaste Corregio's graceful air,
With Pope's unblemish'd page compare.
Lorraine may rival Thomson's name,
And Hogarth equal Butler's fame;
For still, where'er the aspiring muse
Her wide unbounded flight pursues,
Her sister soars on kindred wings sublime,
And gives her favourite names to grace the rolls of time.
The attempt to prove the equi-potency of poetry and painting by bracketing the poets and painters in couplets, after the manner of Plutarch's parallels, was somewhat rash, even in a Pindarique, and is not very successfully executed. The painters have cause to complain of injustice. Surely, if a wide and permanent fame, approved by those whose kindred excellence makes their judgment the constituent of true fame, be a criterion of merit, on which those, who want the skill or opportunity to judge for themselves, may safely rely, there can be no fair comparison between Titian as a painter, and Waller as a poet. Titian did not paint epigrams. If a pictorial correlative must be found for Waller, let him pair off with Monsieur Petitot, the famous miniaturist in enamel, who compressed the charms of many a court beauty into the dimension of a bracelet, which the fair original might wear unobtrusively upon her slender wrist. But besides the egregious inequality of the mighty Venetian and the English courtier, Waller's real merit consisted in certain elegances of thought and polite turns of phrase, for which the pencil offers no equivalent. "Chaste Corregio's graceful air" could never convey the strong thought and stittetto-like sarcasm of Pope, as Pope on the other hand neither conveyed images of chaste and simple beauty, nor suggested feelings analogous thereto. Hogarth has no other resemblance to Butler, than the ludicrous character of his subjects, and the power with which he instils serious meaning into mean and ridiculous images. But in the manner and spirit by which he effected this, he had more of Juvenal than of Butler. Michelangelo was certainly worthy to be paralleled with Milton. If he was inferior, the superiority was not in the men, but in their arts; and no one, who is not either a painter, a connoisseur, or a young poet, reciting an ode before a "Society for the encouragement of the Arts" would maintain that lines and colours can embody as many, or as noble thoughts as can be communicated by words. The world of the eye is a great, a beautiful, a glorious world; but it is only one part of the world of mind.
There is great ingenuity, and some truth in the following lines, which explain how painting compensates for the peculiar effects of music:—
When just degrees of shade and light,
Contend in sweetest harmony,
Then bursts upon the raptured sight
The silent music of the eye.
Bold, as the bases deeper sound,
We trace the well-imagined ground,
Next in the varying scenes behind,
The sweet, melodious tenor find,
And, as the softening notes decay,
The distant prospect fades away;
Their aid if mingling colours give,
To bid the mimic landscape live,
The visual concert breaks upon the eyes,
With every different charm which music's hand supplies.
This, in plain English, means that the pleasure derived from music, like that derived from colouring, depends upon just and varied proportions. Some virtuosos have carried the matter much further, and that too in sober prose, assigning a colour to every note in the gamut. A sound analogy may be stretched till it cracks.
But it is high time to make an end of our notices of Roscoe's juvenile poetry. Poetry was never more to him than a relaxation; a moral, a manly, and an elegant relaxation he made it; but to have become a great poet, he must have made it a serious business, and devoted to its cultivation a larger portion of his energies, if not of his time, than his vocation and duty allowed.
Soon after the expiration of his articles of clerkship, Mr. Roscoe became the partner of Mr. Aspinall, and commenced business as an attorney, a profession he never heartily liked, but which, in his hands, was the useful means of honorable competence. His disinclination to his calling never relaxed his attention to professional engagements; nor did the variety of his intellectual pursuits prevent his attaining considerable eminence in a line of practice, which required not only regular industry, but much technical knowledge, and no small concentration of mind. Though he early formed a resolution to retire as soon as he had realized a sufficiency, he waited prudently till that period arrived, and it was not till 1796, in the forty-fourth year of his age, after the splendid success of his "Lorenzo the Magnificent" had spread his name over Europe, that he withdrew from the toils of the desk. In the latter part of his professional career he was in partnership with Mr. Joshua Lane. His business must indeed have been both extensive and lucrative, to enable him to escape from its trammels so soon with a competent fortune, and unspotted reputation. It is greatly to the credit of Liverpool, that its merchants continued to employ and confide in a literary man of business, proving themselves superior to the vulgar prejudice, that a man of any occupation must be ruining himself and all who were concerned with him, if his mind, heart, and soul are not absorbed in the worky-day means of his livelihood; a prejudice which authors have contributed very much to cherish, not only by gross neglect of their positive duties, but by avowedly ascribing that neglect to their refined studies.
In the year 1781, Mr. Roscoe found his circumstances such as enabled him to marry the object of his affections, and he was united to Jane, second daughter of Mr. William Griffies, a respectable tradesman of his native town. From the terms in which Dr. Traill speaks of this union, we conjecture that it was the result of a long engagement, the consummation of which was deferred by prudence, a more usual companion of true love, than either the worldly or the romantic conceive. The patience of a well-grounded attachment was rewarded with long domestic felicity. Seven sons and three daughters were the fruit of the marriage, and they have been sons and daughters to make a good father happy. All except one daughter survived their parent, and more than one of them is eminently distinguished in polite literature;
Neither business nor domestic cares abstracted him from the accumulation of knowledge and the cultivation of taste. We have already mentioned that he conceived in very early life an ambition, which ripened to purpose, of becoming the historian of the Medici. Besides the attractions of the name to every lover of the arts and of learning, there may have been something in the "Princely Merchant" peculiarly delightful to an inhabitant of Liverpool. It proved at least that commerce is not inconsistent with art or with philosophy; it inspired a hope that the wealth which successful traffic was storing up might one day be employed in filling the streets and squares with temples and palaces, in calling forth the genius of sculpture and painting, in aiding the researches of science, and collecting the treasures of learning; and perhaps no history speaks more in favour of true freedom than that of the Florentine family, who were more than monarchs, while they were content to be citizens, but became exiles, or dependent tyrants, when they could no longer brook equality. Though many years elapsed before this great work of Roscoe's life was finished, many perhaps, before a page was written as it now appears, yet the immense variety of laborious reading which the "Lorenzo" and the "Leo" display, evince that the purpose never slumbered, that in the brief vacations of a busy existence, he was indefatigably collecting materials which his more perfect leisure was to cast into form.
Yet was he not so devoted to his "opus magnum," but his pen was ever ready when occasion called for its use. His political pamphlets were numerous, and though there may be diversities of opinion respecting the wisdom of his views, there is none as to the urbanity and temperance with which he advanced them. Many of his productions of this kind were anonymous, but he never wrote what he wished to deny. In the year 1787, he appeared as the champion of justice in the great cause of the abolition of the slave-trade, to promote which he put forth two tracts: the first, entitled "Original view of the African slave-trade, demonstrating its injustice and impolicy, with hints towards a bill for its abolition." The second was of a more controversial character. The Rev. Raymond Harris, a Roman Catholic clergyman, had published a pamphlet called "Scriptural researches on the licitness of the slave-trade," containing, we presume, the same plausible arguments which are repeated in the same interest to this day, to the perfect satisfaction of slavery-loving consciences; arguments occasionally adorned with an imposing display of Greek and Hebrew type. (We have seen a passage of the Talmud, in the original language, quoted in a news paper.) It must be admitted that if slavery be a spirit never to be cast out but by a text commanding him to come out by his Greek or Hebrew name, he may possess the body of society till it be dissolved at the general doom. If the slave-traders and slave-buyers are proof against the spirit, they may safely defy the letter. But yet they would do wisely to rely solely upon the negative, as the worthy ordinary of Newgate, in his last interview with Jonathan Wild, defended his preference of punch on the ground that nothing was said against it in Scripture. When they appeal to the Bible for a positive justification of slavery, they ought to enquire whether anything similar to modern colonial slavery existed when the Bible was written. Mere bond-service, or territorial vassalage, whether better or worse, were not the same thing. Now the preceptive part of Scripture is only so far prophetic, as all general truths necessarily provide for a number of unseen contingencies: the sacred penmen did not prohibit what those to whom their writings were primarily addressed did not, or could not practice, but left the case to be determined by reason and analogy. To vindicate slavery on Christian grounds, it would be necessary to prove that it is a state in which a Christian, judging wisely of his own and his offspring's welfare, would gladly consent to be. We know not whether the Rev. Raymond Harris proved this but his performance so well satisfied the then common council of Liverpool, that they voted him £200 of the public money: and his reasonings were so convincing that two dissenting protestant ministers followed on the same side. We believe that no minister of religion, catholic, orthodox, or dissenter, would now hold up the Book of Revelation to the scorn of the infidel by representing it in as odious colours as the maddest infidel dare.
Mr. Roscoe stepped forward in defence of Christianity with an essay entitled "Scriptural refutation of a Pamphlet lately published by the Rev. Raymond Harris, &c.," on the Christian principle that "all men are equal in the sight of God," and the great law of our Saviour, "Therefore, all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them." He also, in the same year, published his "Wrongs of Africa," a poem in two parts, the profits of which were at the disposal of the committee then formed for promoting the abolition of the slave trade.
About the same time, he succeeded in forming a new society for the encouragement of art in Liverpool. To the "Liverpool Academy for the encouragement of the Fine Arts," Mr. Roscoe delivered a series of lectures on the progress and vicissitudes of taste, which he appears once to have designed to publish, but which yet remain in manuscript.
During these years of his life, he was engaged in the formation of a library, in an excellent collection of etchings and engravings by and from the old masters, and in literary correspondence with many of the first contemporary artists, amateurs, and literati, particularly with Mr. Strutt, the author of the "Dictionary of Engravers." The letters of Strutt acknowledge the receipt of various important disquisitions on the history of engraving from Mr. Roscoe, which are supposed to be incorporated in the preliminary essays to his Dictionary.
Engravings and sketches were at all times a favourite object of Mr. Roscoe's pursuit. An engraving bears somewhat the same relation to a picture, that a play read does to a play acted. It does justice to the intellect of the artist, but not to the power, splendour, and magnificence of the art. No picture, the effect of which is wholly lost in a good engraving, can afford a real intellectual gratification, or deserve to rank with the works of dignified art. It is a motionless spectacle, a painted melo-drama, but neither tragedy, comedy, history, nor good broad farce. Engraving cannot, indeed, bewitch the eye with colour, but it can give the most delicate gradations, combinations, and interchanges of light and shade. The pleasure of colour is more in the sense than in the mind-the utmost skill in mere colouring only makes the painter a rival, if he be not rather a humble imitator of the velvet manufacturer. Engraving, too, partakes of the ubiquity and reproductive power of printing. It enables many, who can never visit the Vatican, to satisfy themselves that the fame of Raphael and of Buonarotti is not a vain sound; and it will bear testimony to their glories, if the works of their hands be doomed to perish like those of Apelles. Engraving, in fine, puts the enjoyment of art within the compass of moderate incomes, and fills up little room in a moderate mansion; therefore it brings art within the range of popular sympathy.
Roscoe was a true lover of books and prints, and continually added to his store, as often as business called him to London. As his habits were temperate, simple, and unostentatious, his library and his collection were his main sources of expense. Yet he purchased for use, not for shew or curiosity: he was superior to that petty pride of property, which values the mere possession of a thing which few beside possess. If he had a good thing that was a rarity, he perhaps preserved it the more tenderly, because its loss could be less easily repaired; but his good nature regretted that any good thing should be rare.
Latterly, he began to look out for original drawings of the great masters, which often unfold the artist's mind more than the most finished productions. They may be compared to a great man's private minutes.
In 1788 he took part in the celebration of the centenary of the Revolution, and composed an ode, which was recited at the Liverpool meeting on that occasion. It was probably as good as Mason's, but these things may generally be forgotten as soon as they are forgotten, without any mighty loss to their author's reputation. A change of dynasty, at the distance of a century, is not old enough to be modified by the abstract imagination, and yet too long passed to create a real and passionate interest. It is neither an idea nor a reality, but the "caput mortuum" of a fact. Besides, King William was the most prosaic of liberators.
In 1789, after years of previous preparation, he began to compose and arrange his notices of Lorenzo de' Medici. We might almost wonder that he did not find or make time to visit Italy, and tread the ground on which his hero walked in life. But fortunately for him, his early friend William Clarke, at that very time, had fixed his residence at Fiesole, in the immediate neighbourhood of Florence, and supplied him with the information which his own engagements did not permit him to seek. Of the assistance derived from this old companion of his studies, he speaks thus:—
"An intimate friend, with whom I had been for many years united in studies and affection, had paid a visit to Italy, and fixed his winter residence at Florence. I well knew that I had only to request his assistance, in order to obtain whatever information he had an opportunity of procuring, upon the very spot which was to be the scene of my intended history. My inquiries were particularly directed to the Laurentian and Ricardi libraries, which I was convinced would afford much original and important information. It would be unjust merely to say that my friend afforded me the assistance I required: he went far beyond even the hopes I had formed, — and his return to his native country was, if possible, rendered still more grateful to me, by the materials which he had collected for my use."
The friendly researches of Mr. Clarke discovered many poetical pieces of Lorenzo de' Medici, which were either supposed to be lost, or not known to have existed. From these Mr. Roscoe has given copious extracts in the body of his work, and several appear in his appendix that had never been printed in their native land. And he conferred a benefit on all merchants, all politicians, and all poets by so doing. For they prove, that neither commerce nor politics destroy the vigour of imagination, or make callous the poetic sensibilities; and prove, too, that the imagination may be exercised and beautified, the finest susceptibilities maybe kept alive, without impairing the practical judgment and executive powers, — without unfitting a man for the world. In the faculties which the great Creator has bestowed upon his creatures, there is no envy, no grudging, no monopoly: one pines not because another flourishes: if any be emaciated, it is not because another is fed, but because itself is starved. Shakspeare himself displayed the abilities of a ruler. Was he not a manager? and in that capacity had he not jarring interests to reconcile, factions to pacify or subdue, finances to arrange, and a capricious public to satisfy? His worldly avocations were as little poetical as those of any man on change.
The French Revolution broke out in 1789. The downfall of the Bastile, "with all its horrid towers," echoed throughout Europe, and one voice of gratulation was heard above all the bodings of the fearful, the grumblings of the dull, the coward outcries of the selfish, and the sighs of the better few, that, while they abhorred oppression, and coveted not privilege, yet knew in their hearts "that the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God." It could not be but that Roscoe, loving liberty as he loved the human race, with a soul cheerful as day-light, and hopeful as spring, should join the joyful chorus. To see a monarch, descended from a long line of sensual despots, co-operate with a nation, long idolatrous of despotism, in realizing a perfect freedom upon earth — a freedom embodied in laws and institutions, which should be the limbs, organs, and senses of the moral will-whose vital heat was universal love, was too great, too glorious, too new a spectacle to give him time for doubt or question. The black and portentous shadow which the past ever throws on the future, fell beyond his sphere of vision. Whatever of pain or violence attended the nativity of the deliverance, pain, which he deserved to suffer who would not gladly suffer for such a cause, and violence most justifiable, if vengeance ever could be justifiable, seemed no more than the constant law of nature, which sets a price on every good, as the birth pangs of happiness, or the dying struggles of tyranny.
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding ways
Of custom, law, and statute took at once
The attraction of a country in romance,
When Reason seem'd the most to assert her rights
When most intent on making of herself
A prime enchantress to assist the work
Which then was going forward in her name.
Not favoured spots alone, but the whole earth
The beauty wore of promise, that which sets
The budding rose above the rose full blown.
What temper at the prospect did not wake
To happiness unthought of? The inert
Were roused, and lively natures rapt away!
Those who had fed their childhood upon dreams,
The playfellows of fancy, who had made
All powers of swiftness, subtlety, and strength
Their ministers — who in lordly wise had stirred,
And dealt with whatsoever they found there,
As if they had within some lurking right
To wield it: — they too, who of gentle mood,
Had watch'd all gentle motions, and to those
Had fitted their own thoughts, schemers more mild,
And in the regions of their peaceful selves.
Now was it that both found, the meek and lofty,
Did both find helpers to their hearts' desire,
And stuff at hand, plastic as they could wish,—
Were called upon to exercise their skill,
Not in Utopia — subterraneous fields—
Or some secreted island — Heaven knows where,
But in the very world, which is the world
Of all of us — the place where in the end
We find our happiness, or not at all. — WORDSWORTH.
So a great spirit describes his own emotions at the first heavings of that great convulsion, the gladness of his own young hopes — hopes which he was not quick to relinquish, when many years of bloodshed had passed over them. Roscoe never disowned his at all; but acknowledging that there was, from the beginning, an evil element in the revolution, continued to ascribe the temporary predominance of that evil to the hostility which the established powers of Europe had shewn to the good. Time doubtless abated much of the greatness of his expectations, and though he lived to hear of the three days of 1830, he would hardly, had his pulse been as strong, and his heart as light, at the one period as the other, have sung a strain so blithe as his "O'er the vine-covered hills and gay vallies of France" or his, "Unfold Father time, thy long records unfold," which were produced in 1789, and recited at a meeting assembled to celebrate the emancipation of France. But the stream of his hopes, though it flowed with a weaker current, never changed its direction. It was to renovation and progression, not to restoration, or immobility, that he looked for the increase of human happiness. At the same time, there is no evidence that at any time he adopted levelling opinions, or wished to release mankind from any portion of the moral law acknowledged for ages. It is needless to say, that he was clear of all participation, in wish or will, with the massacres and executions of the Jacobins, and with the ambitious wars of their successors. If he erred, he erred in judgment, not in heart, and chiefly erred in attributing too much of the French atrocities to foreign interference, and too little to the national irreligion, which grew, and was growing, tong before the revolution, and which made the revolution what it was, instead of what it ought to have been. Ill can he determine the rights of man, who denies the immortality of man, from which all rights, as well as duties, flow. He that would make earth likest Paradise must make it a mirror reflecting Heaven. Perhaps Roscoe erred also in thinking peace practicable after it had ceased to be so. But we must return to our narrative.
In the first years of the revolution, and long after, Mr. Roscoe held much epistolary correspondence with the late Marquis of Lansdowne, and other whig leaders, on the subject of parliamentary reform, a cause he had much at heart. It is said that this correspondence proves that it was no "bit by bit" reform that the noble whigs of those days advocated.
But the times were growing unfavourable to reforms of all sorts. French affairs took a murderous aspect. Alarm spread far and wide. The court, the church, the great body of the aristocracy, the elder and sager portion of the middle orders, the rustic population in general, and in many places the town populace, combined against the new opinions, which, like most opinions tending to change, were very miscellaneously supported by the noblest and the basest minds; by those who deemed too highly of the dignity of human nature, and by those who quarrelled with every thing that distinguishes man from beast, by those who could not think, and by those who could do nothing but think; by the most imaginative poets and the most absolute prose-men; by the most ascetic and the most sensual; by souls whose faith was the most spiritual, and by creatures whose materialism was most atheistic. It is true, there was no agreement of doctrine among this motley tribe, nor did they coalesce, or attempt to coalesce, for any definite purpose: but they did agree in one thing, that the social system was not as good as it might be, and for this they were indiscriminately subjected to the ban of the church and state, and of the loyal and orthodox in all orders. And as the heathen slandered the Catholic Church with all the insanities and abominations of all the heretics that usurped the Christian name; so, under the common name Jacobin, every supposed favourer of French freedom was charged with every dogma that any Jacobin could hold. The sans culottes were reproached with metaphysics, and the metaphysicians with having no breeches. The abolition of the slave-trade was coupled with the equal division of property; and men were accused of craving for wholesale butchery, who condemned all homicide, even in self-defence.
Though there is reason to think that the really ill-disposed Jacobins, who hoped or wished for an English revolution, were not at that time numerous, and that those who took any measures to promote it were fewer still, yet they were quite noisy, boastful, profligate, and ferocious enough to strike a panic into the well-meaning, and induce the better sort to approve of strong measures, to which in cooler times they would have been opposed. Their fears, though not their affections, confounded the philosophers and the blackguards; the reformers, who wished to remove the causes of revolution, and the anarchists, who loved destruction for its own sake. They did not, perhaps, account them equally bad, but they felt them equally dreadful. Every arrival from France brought intelligence of new horrors. The daring energy of Pitt, and the eloquent denunciations of Burke, gathered the friends of social order together under their banners, and there was nothing which the English nation would not have surrendered, had the statesmen been as wicked as their enemies have represented them. Never, since Charles the Second, had England been in such danger of enslaving itself by excess of loyalty.
The friends of liberty among the educated orders thought it right to counteract this excess, by a free declaration of their opinions. Accordingly, in 1792, when the town of Liverpool prepared an address of thanks for Mr. Pitt's proclamation against sedition, Mr. Roscoe and his friends succeeded in carrying a counter-petition. The mob rose the next day, broke into the place where it lay for signature, and tore it to pieces! Verily, John Bull is much changed in the course of forty years, whether for the worse or the better. It does not appear that Mr. Roscoe was in danger of personal violence, or that Liverpool imitated the outrages of Birmingham. But Roscoe was a townsman, and a layman; Priestley a stranger, and a dissenting minister. Now the English mob, when they assault any party or community, always select the clergy of that party for peculiar ill-usage. There is nothing political or religions in this; it is a mere antipathy, like that of a turkey-cock to scarlet — aggravated, it must be allowed, by ballads and caricatures. The moment a man, however poor or ignorant, begins to be of any religion, he ceases to be one of the mob.
Mob passions are not absolutely confined to the living aggregations in the streets. Party spirit ran so high in Liverpool at this time, that a small literary society, of which Mr. Roscoe, Dr. Currie, Mr. Shepherd, and others were members, found it necessary to dissolve, lest the purpose of their meeting should be misrepresented to the government.
When the Anti-jacobin war broke out, its commencement was followed by numerous bankruptcies, and commercial distress. Mr. Roscoe, wishing to deduce good from evil, attempted, by investigating the causes, and magnifying the evils of this distress, to dispose the nation, especially the monied part of it, without whose assistance the war could not he carried on, to more pacific counsels. With this intent, he published, in 1793, an anonymous pamphlet, entitled, "Thoughts on the Causes of the present Failures." It is short (the fourth edition, which we have before us, contains thirty pages), written with much perspicuity and amenity, but rather less vigour and earnestness than might have been expected from the author on such a topic. In truth, it is throughout an "argumentum ad hominem," or which in England is the same thing, "ad crumenam": designed to demonstrate the commercial impolicy of a contest which the author reprobated on far higher grounds. With this view, he enters upon an explanation of the system of paper credit, accommodation, and bills of exchange, which he deems essential to the commercial life of England, — and shews how that credit is necessarily affected by war, whereby the fictitious, or more properly ideal, capital perished along with the confidence which it really represented. Of the justice or injustice of the war he says not a word. He only hints at the absurdity of stopping the circulation of the body politic, on account of the shutting of the Scheldt, which he must have known was not the real cause of the war. Throughout he preserves the utmost sang-froid. Not an angry, hardly a pathetic expression escapes him. He alludes to the slave-trade, but instead of inveighing against its wickedness, simply mentions that "the trade to Africa has been carried on for a few years past, with an avidity naturally arising in the minds of mercantile men, from the apprehensions that it would not long be permitted to continue; " and states a fact, of which we certainly were previously ignorant, that the bills of exchange with which the planters paid for the slaves, were drawn at a longer date than most others, sometimes payable at the end of three years. The reason is, however, sufficiently obvious: slave labour must take so long to be converted into money. But what is more remarkable, is the evidence, that Roscoe would have signed a petition for peace, even if it had emanated from the slaveholders. One of the ablest and most interesting passages is that in which, having pronounced that "war is the cause of our calamities, and peace is the only cure," and glanced at the little we had done for the cause in which we were embarked at so much loss and hazard, he points out the needlessness of the conflict, and the circumstances which rendered it peculiarly ruinous.
"Let us, however, forget what is past, and regard with a steady eye our present situation. Driven within the limits of their own country, and probably on the brink of a civil war, the French are no longer formidable, and the object for which Great Britain engaged in the war is now accomplished. To proceed further would be to defeat the end which the minister professed to have in view, and to destroy, not to preserve, the balance of power in Europe.
"It is not difficult to foresee an objection on the part of those who are reluctant to acknowledge the truths here attempted to be inforced. If our misfortunes, say they, are occasioned by the war, whence comes it, that the same events have not taken place under the same circumstances on former occasions? The short answer to this, is a denial of the truth of the proposition contained in the question. Have we so soon forgotten the disasters occasioned by our contest with America? The depreciation of landed property, the fall of the public funds, and the innumerable inconveniences attendant on the destruction of credit? The evils which this country then experienced, and those which we now so intensely feel, are similar in their nature, and different only in degree; our present sufferings being augmented by many causes, some of them perhaps imaginary, but not on that account less aggravating. The enormous extent of our commerce, whilst it increased the probability of the explosion, rendered the consequences of it, when it once took place, more general. Again, it was presumed that the war was not, as on former occasions, to be carried on in distant parts of the globe, for ascertaining the boundaries of a desert, or determining the right to a barren island: but was supposed to be commenced by an enraged and powerful enemy, and to be waged at our own doors, for the purpose of depriving us of whatever we held dear and sacred. Even at the first onset, we were witness to a vigorous attack on the territories of an ally, with whom we stand closely connected in our commercial transactions. In addition to these considerations, no artifices were spared by the advocates for a war, to impress on the minds of their countrymen at large, an idea that many of their countrymen — men of rank, of talents, and of influence — were attached to the cause of our adversaries. Insurrections were alluded to that never had existence, and plots were denounced, that finished where they began — in the fertile brain of the informer. Such are the peculiarities that distinguish this war from those in which Britain had before been engaged, and it would be astonishing indeed, if exertions so industriously made, and so pointedly calculated to destroy all confidence amongst us, political, moral, and commercial, should totally have failed of effect."
On the whole, it is doubtful whether this well-meant pamphlet was, or was not calculated to be very effective. Men — many men at least — are easily seduced through their purses; but it is not through their purses that they are soonest tamed. It is the advice of Machiavelli, never to make war on a nation in the hope of exhausting its finances. In like manner, never expect that commercial losses, or the dread of poverty, will induce a nation to submit to peace. It may be, that many persons — it may be that Mr. Roscoe himself — looked with secret satisfaction at the increasing list of bankrupts in those disastrous years; that they shook their heads incredulously when they were told that markets were looking up; and watched the fall of the funds as wistfully as a farmer, whose crops are perishing of drought, would observe the fall of the mercury. Not that they did not love their country, but because they hoped that failures and losses would starve out the military fever, and stop a contest, for the success whereof they could not conscientiously pray. But whatever vices wealth may bring, it is not by poverty, or the apprehension of poverty, that they are to be cured. As well might you expect to cure a populace of drinking by lowering their wages. Children may steal or famish, wife turn beggar or prostitute, pot and pan, saw and hammer, go to the pawnbroker's: as long as a penny can be raised, the drunkard will have his drop; nor will his own hunger and nakedness, his bleared eye and palsied hand, nor his shame and remorse work his reformation.
War is the drunkenness of states, and when once they are debauched with its poison, they will have it, let it cost what it may. Credit may perish, specie fly the country or hide its head, rent and tithe become, like Demogorgon, a horrible name without a substance, the manufacturers be as idle as their rusting machinery, yet noisy as it was when in full employment, the bankrupt merchant vainly seek a book-keeper's place, the labourers roam about in grim hungry bands, demanding charity with curses, the paupers breed a pestilence, and die of their own multitude (but they are very hard to kill), and the middle order disappear, or be represented by a few tottering old bachelors, a few angular..visaged spinsters, "In thread-bare finery, fifty fashions old," and an indefinite number of news-writers, pamphleteers, and victory-puffers, who write gentleman after their names, because the law has never recognized their occupation. Nobility itself may begin to find that all is not as it used to be. Still, the sinews of war will be found so long as a tax or a loan can be wrenched from the people. Every little victory renews the national vanity, and every discomfiture revives the national resentment: The losing gamester plays on to retrieve his loss.
Mr. Roscoe probably did not foresee (or rather it was not to his purpose to foresee) that the very paper credit which he esteemed as the locomotive faculty of trade, would increase many-fold during the war which appeared to destroy it; would become the main support of that war, and, in the opinion of many, its greatest evil.
The following reflections furnish matter for thought at the present aera:—
"To enter into an enquiry at the present day, into the advantages or disadvantages which any country derives from an extensive foreign trade, would be to no purpose. Probably in the result of such a question it might appear, that there is a certain limit, beyond which commerce ceases to be lucrative, and increases the risque without increasing the profit. But a train of events, of which it would be useless to point out the causes, have brought us into a situation in which that commerce, whether abstractedly desirable or not, is become indispensable to us. Those who condemn the enterprising spirit of our merchants, the immense extent of credit, and the consequent circulation of paper, would do well to consider, that a sum not less than £17,000,000 is, even during the continuance of peace, annually to be raised in this country for what are called the exigencies of the state; a sum not raised without some difficulty, even during the most flourishing periods of our commerce. However desirous we may be to tread back our steps from the dangerous eminence to which we have unawares attained, and to regain once more the safer track that winds through the forsaken valley, we find ourselves surrounded on every side by precipices that forbid our retreat. The diminution of our commerce will occasion a diminution in the revenue, which must be supplied from other sources, and it is not difficult to foresee what those sources are. Hence, perhaps it is eventually not less the interest of the landed than of the trading part of the community, to support a system which, however introduced, is not only become essential to our prosperity, but to our existence; and heartily to concur in the common cause; if not till we conquer the difficulties that surround us, at least till we can effect a safe and honourable retreat.
"It is not uncommon to find those who have been the loudest in extolling the riches, security, and happiness of the nation, attempting to console themselves under the pressure of misfortunes which they cannot but feel, by attributing the present calamity to the improper extension of paper credit: according to their idea, the present is only the subsiding of a tumour which had already increased beyond all bounds, by which the body politic was soon to be restored to a better state of health. But may we be permitted to ask these political optimists, what then was the origin and support of that unexampled series of prosperity which it seems this nation has of late years enjoyed? Without the assistance of paper credit, can it be pretended that the manufactures of Great Britain could have been circulated to foreign parts, or the produce of foreign countries have been imported into Great Britain, even to one fifth of the extent that has actually taken place? Or would the minister have been enabled to exult monthly and weekly over the amount of his revenue? Either this felicity was visionary and ideal, or, being real and substantial, has been incautiously undermined and overthrown."
In another part of the pamphlet, Mr. Roscoe is rather severe upon the Bank of England, for contracting their discounts, when it would have been so much more public-spirited to have extended them, and instead of "shewing the example of confidence," "leading the way of pusillanimity." We have heard and read the same complaint over and over again, but on its justice we are not moneyed enough ourselves to decide. Public bodies hold a trust which hardly permits them to be generous, if by generosity be meant a sacrifice of their corporate interest for the benefit of others; and if generosity do not mean this, it is a word without meaning, or at best, only a kind of speculative self-interest. If chartered companies aggrandize themselves at the expense of the community, or withhold from the state assistance which it may justly claim, the national government, not the company's directors, are to blame. Still, even upon self-interested principles, there can be no worse policy than over-caution.
Though the style of this pamphlet is easy, unaffected, and purely English, and the matter in the main sensible, it is only in a very few passages that we discover an indication of the powers which two years afterwards appeared in the "Life of Lorenzo de' Medici." This delightful work was published in the winter of 1795, printed by John M'Creery of Liverpool, and met with a reception that amply rewarded the author for his long, but pleasant labour. It was almost immediately translated into the principal European languages: it was hailed with delight by the Italians, compliments showered in from all quarters, and Mr. Roscoe was installed among classical historians.
Perhaps the most valuable, certainly the most pleasing, part of the book, is the information it affords on the revival of ancient, and the growth of modern Italian literature, together with the origin and progress of Italian art. We scarcely remember a work in which, with so few excrescences, there is so much incidental and collateral knowledge displayed, — so many little facts, so many traits of manners, so much that is not to be found elsewhere, which you would not expect to find there, where, notwithstanding, it is strictly relevant, and in its place. The singular characters, wonderful industry, and everlasting quarrels of the early scholars, who, if their mutual reports of each other are to be trusted, must have been the vilest set of miscreants that ever existed, compose a pleasant underplot; and the well-blended virtues and talents of Lorenzo himself, always great and always amiable, whether in public or in private, constitute a green spot in the waste of history, which certainly has every advantage of contrast with the dark mazes of Italian policy he was compelled to thrid. Roscoe has been accused of flattering his hero; but if the portrait be not altogether ideal, never since our English Alfred has any state been guided by a man so good and so all-accomplished. But alas! the transactions of Florence, even during his life, and yet more the calamities which followed his decease, do but confirm the lesson which the Antonines had taught before, how insufficient are the excellencies of an individual, though vested with sovereign power, to remedy the radical evils of a bad constitution.
The fame and profit derived from this publication finally determined Mr. Roscoe to relinquish his business as a solicitor. At one time, he had thoughts of being called to the bar, and actually entered himself of Grey's Inn. But in this intention he did not persevere. He had already formed the design of continuing the history of the Medici through the pontificate of Leo X.; and having now acquired what to his moderate desires and elegant habits was an easy fortune, he hoped to divide his time between studious retirement, congenial society, and the promotion of such public objects as he deemed most worthy and desirable.
In 1796, he produced a pamphlet with a title which to some may seem portentous, if not profane, — "Exposure of the Fallacies of Mr. Burke."
In 1797, in a visit to London of some continuance, he made the acquaintance and acquired the friendship of Mr. Fox, Mr., now Lord Grey, and several other persons of note in politics and literature, among whom was Dr. Moore, author of "Zeluco," whose familiarity with Italian manners, so vividly painted in his "Sketches of Manners," must have made his society both pleasant and profitable to our author. In the same year, Mr. Roscoe translated the "Balia" of Tansillo, a sportive poem of that sort which peculiarly suits the genius of the Italian language, though it has of late been transplanted, and has flourished in our "bleak Septemtrion blasts." Still, English humour is not Italian humour; and English playfulness, if not tightly reined in, is very apt to degenerate into horse-play. We have not seen either the original of Tansillo, nor Mr. Roscoe's version but we are sure that Roscoe would never forget the gentleman in his mirth, or translate what had better never have been written.
The year 1798 saw the institution of the Liverpool Athenaeum, first projected by Dr. Rutter, but to the establishment of which Mr. Roscoe mainly contributed, and continued, to the end of his life, to take a warm interest in its welfare.
Finding his time at Liverpool too much interrupted by visits and invitations, he resolved to retire into the country, thinking a rural retreat favourable to his mental and bodily health, and to the gratification of that love of nature, and passion for agricultural pursuits, which began in his boyhood. With this view, he purchased half the estate of Allerton, from the trustees of Mrs. Hardman, and became, in the best sense of the word, a country gentleman. His pleasant anticipations from this change are happily expressed in a comic letter to Fuseli the painter. It is much to be regretted that he was ever induced to depart from this rational scheme of happiness and usefulness, and to launch into the world again. But yet the alteration of his course redounded to his honour; for it arose neither from restlessness, infirmity of purpose, avarice, nor ambition, but was a sacrifice of his own leisure and wishes, for the benefit of his friends.
About 1800, a period of general calamity and threatened famine, the affairs of Messrs. J. and W. Clarke, bankers, fell into considerable disorder. Mr. Roscoe was requested to lend his professional aid to their arrangement, and in conducting this business he was brought in contact with Sir Benjamin Hammet, banker, of London, a man who knew the power of money, and whose uneasy assumption of dignity, under the honours of knighthood, was the theme of much small wit. Sir Benjamin was so much struck with Mr. Roscoe's adroitness in unravelling the perplexed accounts of the embarrassed concern, that he insisted on that gentleman's becoming a partner of the bank, and threatened to make it bankrupt in case of refusal. Perhaps Sir Benjamin had an eye to Mr. Roscoe's property, as well as to his skill, but at all events, as he held acceptances to the amount of £200,000, he was able to put his threat in execution, and Mr. Roscoe reluctantly consented to avert it, having previously satisfied himself of Messrs. Clarke's ability to meet all demands, if proper time were given. Thenceforth he devoted the hours of business to attendance at the bank, and the hours of relaxation to the studies necessary to perfect his "Leo."
In 1802, he succeeded in establishing a Botanic Garden at Liverpool, which, under the superintendence of its able curator, Mr. John Shepherd, has prospered exceedingly, to the great advantage of botanical science.
His interest in politics never slumbered. In the same year, 1802, he put forth a pamphlet "On the Relative Situation of France and England." His earnest endeavours for peace exposed him for many years of his life to considerable obloquy, and made some good men, who loved and esteemed him, esteem his judgment the less. He certainly, like Cicero, was disposed to think the worst peace better than the best war; and knowing that the government could not long carry on the war if the people firmly demanded peace, and that the people were stimulated to battle chiefly by their indignation against the atrocities, and by their alarm at the ambition, of the enemy, he naturally sought to soften the national animosity, by palliating the conduct of the French, and representing the danger of the conflict as greater than the danger of a compromise. Perhaps he did not sufficiently observe how completely the war changed its character and object in its progress; but continued to contemplate it as an interference with the right of the French to constitute their own government, long after all thought of such interference had been abandoned.
The year 1805 brought forth the "Life and Pontificate of Leo X." in four volumes quarto. This Roscoe esteemed his great work, but it was by no means so favourably received in England as its predecessor. The partiality which had found a ready sympathy when directed to the Florentine merchant, was harshly censured when it devolved on the more questionable character of his son; and it was argued, that no patronage of art, or liberality to genius, should have been allowed to expiate the many offences of the dissolute free-thinking Pope, whose sale of indulgences aroused the wrath of Luther. Yet harder measure was dealt to Roscoe's alleged palliation of the crimes of Alexander VI. and his family, nor was he supposed to have done justice to the virtues of Luther. It is impossible to examine these objections in this place, but as far as regards Pope Alexander and his daughter, we may observe, that there is a considerable difference between palliating crimes, and doubting whether they had ever been committed; that to believe in monstrous wickedness, on insufficient evidence, indicates any thing but a healthy moral sense; and that Roscoe had probably consulted more authorities, and weighed them more carefully, than any of his reviewers. As for Luther, he was not a man after Roscoe's own heart: there was little sympathy between them. Luther, though above his time, was still a man of his time, and it was not, even in the sunny realms of art and poesy, an age of soft speaking. Roscoe would have made as bad a reformer as Erasmus. These objections fell not unawares on our author. He had both anticipated and provided against them in his preface. His occasional deviations from received opinions of persons and things, he defends with spirit, eloquence, and a just sense of an historian's duty.
"With respect to the execution of the following work, I cannot but be well aware, that many circumstances and characters will be found represented in a light somewhat different from that in which they have generally been viewed, and that I may probably be accused of having suffered myself to be induced by the force of prejudice, or the affectation of novelty, to remove what have hitherto been considered as the land-marks of history. To imputations of this kind I feel the most perfect indifference. Truth alone has been my guide, and whenever she has steadily diffused her light, I have endeavoured to delineate the objects in their real form and colour: History is the record of the experience of mankind in their most important concerns. If it be impossible for human sagacity to estimate the consequences of a falsehood in private life, it is equally impossible to estimate the consequences of a false or partial representation of the events of former times. The conduct of the present is regulated by the experience of the past.... If those in high authority be better informed than others, it is from this source that their information must be drawn; and to pollute it is, therefore, to poison the only channel through which we can derive that knowledge, which, if it can be obtained pure and unadulterated, cannot fail in time to purify the intellect, expand the powers, and improve the condition of the human race.
"As in speaking of the natural world, there are some persons who are disposed to attribute its creation to chance, so, in speaking of the moral world, there are some who are inclined to refer the events and fluctuations in human affairs to accident, and are satisfied with accounting for them from the common course of things, or the spirit of the times. But as chance and accident, if they have any meaning whatever, can only mean the operation of causes not hitherto fully investigated, or distinctly understood, so the spirit of the times is only another phrase for causes and circumstances which have not hitherto been sufficiently explained. It is the province of the historian to trace and to discover these causes; and it is only in proportion as he accomplishes this object, that his labours are of any utility. An assent to the former opinion may indeed gratify our indolence, but it is only from the latter method that we can expect to acquire true knowledge, or to be able to apply to future conduct the information derived from past events."
Some of the attacks of the censors were of a truly nibbling character. Yet these also he had foreseen, and hoped to crush them in the egg. He was found fault with for spelling Italian names as they were spelt in Italy, not as they had come to England in a Frenchified or Latinized form. This he ably justifies.
"The practice which I have heretofore adopted of designating the Scholars of Italy by their national appellations, has given rise to some animadversions, in answer to which I must beg to remark, that whoever is conversant with history, must frequently have observed the difficulties which arise from the wanton alterations in the names both of persons and of places, by authors of different countries, and particularly by the French, who, without scruple, accommodate every thing to the genius of their own language. Hence the names of all the eminent men of Greece, of Rome, or of Italy, are melted down, and appear again in such a form as in all probability would not have been recognized by their proper owners; Dionysius if 'Denys'; Titus Livius, 'Tite Live'; Horatius, 'Horace'; Petrarca, 'Petrarque', and Pico of Mirandola, 'Pic de Mirandole.' As the literature which this country derived from Italy was first obtained through the medium of the French, our early authors followed them in this respect, and thereby sanctioned those innovations which the nature of our language did not require. It is still more to be regretted that we are not uniform even in our abuse. The Dame of Horace is familar to the English reader, but if he were told of the three Horaces, he would probably be at a loss to discover the persons meant, the authors of our country having generally given them the appellation of the 'Horatii.' In the instance of such names as were familiar to our early literature, we adopt with the French the abbreviated appellation; but in latter times we usually employ proper national distinctions, and instead of 'Arioste,' or 'Metastase,' we write without hesitation, 'Ariosto,' 'Metastasio.' This inconsistency is more sensibly felt, when the abbreviated appellation of one scholar is contrasted with the national distinction of another, as when a letter is addressed by 'Petrarch' to 'Coluccio Salutati,' or by 'Politian' to 'Hermolao Barbaro,' or 'Baccio Ugolini.' For the sake of uniformity it is surely desirable that every writer should conform as much as possible to some general rule, which can only be found by a reference of every proper name to the standard of its proper country. This method would not only avoid the incongruities before mentioned, but would be productive of positive advantages, as it would in general point out the nation of the person spoken of, without the necessity of further indication. Thus in mentioning one of the Monarchs of France, who makes a conspicuous figure in the ensuing pages, I have not denominated him 'Lodovico XII.' with the Italians, nor 'Lewis XII.' with the English, but 'Louis XII.' the name which he himself recognized. And thus I have also restored to a celebrated Scottish General, in the service of the same Monarch, his proper title of d' Aubigny, instead of that of Obigni, usually given him by the historians of Italy."
It seems hard that a man should have to apologize for doing right, especially where the right is so obvious as in this case. It is surely an advantage in the English language, that it can give the natives of every country their right names, without violating its own idiom; an advantage which should not be given up in compliment to our French neighbours. The only exception to Mr. Roscoe's, is in the case of scholars like Erasmus, Secundus, &c. who are only known to the world through the medium of their Latin compositions, or such as Melancthon and Oecolampadius, who have, of their own free choice, exchanged or hellenized their patrimonian designations. With respect to the Italian names, euphony no less than propriety demands that they be restored to their natural proportions.
Another rather more plausible topic of animadversion, was the frequency of poetic quotations in the pages of a history. When quotations are introduced merely for their own sake, at some slight suggestion, or, as one might say, appropos, they are impertinent enough, but passages of contemporary writers, which either throw light upon facts, or indicate the feelings with which those facts were regarded, are never irrelevant, but tend especially to confirm and realize narrative. Let our author once more speak for himself.
"There is one peculiarity in the following work, which it is probable may be considered as a radical defect; I allude to the frequent introduction of quotations and passages from the poets of the times, occasionally interspersed through the narrative, or inserted in the notes. To some it may appear that the seriousness of history is thus impertinently broken in upon, whilst others may suppose, that not only its gravity, but its authenticity is impeached by these citations, and may be inclined to consider this work as one of those productions in which truth and fiction are blended together, for the purpose of amusing and misleading the reader. To such imputations I plead not guilty. That I have at times introduced quotations from the works of the poets, in proof of historical facts, I confess; nor, when they proceed from contemporary authority, do I perceive that their being in verse invalidates their credit. In this light, I have frequently cited the Decennale of Machiavelli, and the Vergier d' Honneur of Audri de la Vigne, which are, in fact, little more than versified annals of the events of the times; but in general, I have not adduced such extracts as evidences of facts, but for a purpose wholly different. To those who are pleased in tracing the emotions and passions of the human mind in all ages, nothing can be more gratifying than to be informed of the mode of thinking of the public at large, at interesting periods and in important situations. Whilst war and desolation stalk over a country, or whilst a nation is struggling for its liberties or its existence, the opinions of men of genius, ability, and learning, who have been agitated with all the hopes and fears to which such events have given rise, and have frequently acted a personal and important part in them, are the best and most instructive comment. By such means, we seem to become contemporaries with those whose history we peruse, and to acquire an intimate knowledge, not only of the facts themselves, but of the judgment formed upon such facts by those who were most deeply interested in them. Nor is it a slight advantage in a work which professes to treat on the literature of the times, that the public events, and the works of the eminent scholars and writers of that period, thus become a natural comment, and serve on many occasions to explain and to illustrate each other."
But it is quite impossible that in a work so extensive as the "Leo," written by a man whose hours of study were those which other men consider their hours of justifiable idleness, dependent in some measure upon contingencies for the books which he required, and a stranger to the country whose history he was writing, should not contain some errors more serious than poetical quotations or innovations in orthography. The mistakes which Mr. Roscoe's English reviewers had not learning enough to detect, exposed him to the keen revisal of Sismondi, who not sympathizing with his admiration of the Medici family, and possessing an unlimited command of books and languages, animadverted on some parts of Mr. Roscoe's writings with an asperity which gave him more concern than any of the ignorant criticisms which emanated from English prejudice. To these animadversions he replied in his "Illustrations of the life of Loreazo de Medici." It is pleasant to record that this literary controversy did not prevent a friendly intercourse between Roscoe and Sismondi, when the latter visited England.
The next important event in Roscoe's life was his election into the short Parliament, which abolished the slave-trade. As he partook the blessing of this great act of justice, it was no great hardship for him to participate in the unpopularity which national disappointment threw upon the short-lived ministry, which first adulation and afterwards irony denominated "All the Talents." But it is woeful to think that the best act of that ministry was the most unpopular, and that the influence of the slave-traders at the gin-shops prevented Mr. Roscoe's re-election in 1807. After the dissolution of Parliament he returned to his constituents, and a number of well-affected gentlemen went out to meet and to conduct him into the town which he had faithfully represented. But an infuriated multitude opposed the entrance of his cortege, in Castle-street, and he found it necessary to withdraw from the contest, which was carried on against him by personal violence. Should we not be thankful to Heaven, that in little more than twenty years, so great an improvement has taken place in public feeling, that all the rum in Jamaica could not raise a mob in favour of slavery? It must not be omitted that the part taken by Mr. Roscoe, in the discussions on the Catholic question, furnished a convenient handle to his enemies, and perhaps alienated a few of his friends.
They who remember the dismissal of the whig ministry of 1807, the "no Popery" riots, and the enthusiastic burst of applause which attended the King's decided opposition to the Catholic claims, will perhaps form no high estimate of the stability of public opinion. The truth is the people were disappointed-they thought themselves cheated. They had been led to expect a great diminution of taxes — they experienced a large increase of their burdens. While the majority hoped for a decisive and vigorous prosecution of the war, and a respectable minority promised themselves that at least a sincere effort would be made for peace; both parties were disgusted by negociations meant only for delay, and expeditions of which the failure was as probable as the success would have been insignificant.
Never, during the whole course of the revolutionary war, were the hopes of the English so little, or their weariness so great, as in the period intervening between the battle of Friedland and the French invasion of Spain. As the enemy had confessedly abandoned, or indefinitely postponed the threatened invasion of Britain, the high-wrought resolution, which had steeled every British nerve, the martial enthusiasm which almost craved the contest with the eagerness of anticipated victory, began to relax and to cool. It seemed that England had done all that Providence allotted for her own safety and honour; she had annihilated the naval force of France, her trade and colonial dominion; she had secured her own shores, and the empire of the sea. On the land she could attempt nothing, for there was no spot whereon to fix her engines. The Pitt plan of subsidizing, in which the wise never had any confidence, had now proved its inefficiency to the most sanguine. All saw the folly of putting their trust in continental princes. The world beheld the spectacle of two mighty nations at deadly enmity, armed and ready for the fight, each with an arm uplifted, yet prevented by enchantment from striking a blow.
Mr. Roscoe judiciously thought this a favourable juncture for pacific counsels; and between 1807 and 1808, produced two pamphlets, one entitled, "Considerations on the Causes, Objects, and Consequences of the present War, and on the expediency, or the danger of Peace with France." The second, "Remarks on the Proposals made to Great Britain for opening negociations with France in the year 1807." The following passage, near the beginning of the earlier pamphlet, may serve at least to record the general feeling of despondency which the rising of the Peninsula war soon to change into an extacy of hope:
"Hitherto, indeed, we have contended with our enemies for prizes of great value. States and empires have been the objects of dispute, and as far as we have been interested in them, have been lost. But we have as yet struggled only for the possessions of our allies. At the present moment we are called upon for a higher stake. If the war is to be continued, it is now no longer matter of exaggeration to assert, that the sovereign of these realms is to contend for his crown; the people for their liberties and rights; for the soil in which their forefathers lie intombed. Against this stake, what is the prize we can hope to obtain from the enemy? The bare honour of having defended ourselves with success; for in any hopes of our being able to make an impression on the dominions of France, the wildest advocates of the war will now scarcely indulge themselves. Thus we follow up a losing game. Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Sardinia, Italy, Prussia, Turkey, Denmark, and Russia, are not only lost to us as allies, but have thrown their weight into the opposite scale. With the assistance of these powers we have been completely disappointed in all our views. Is it then advisable that we should play the last desperate game, and exhibit ourselves to the world as the last object, with an adversary against whom we have been so far from gaining any substantial advantages, that the utmost efforts we have been able to make, have hitherto served to open to him an opportunity for still greater success."
Mr. Roscoe proceeds to shew that all the pretexts which had been successively advanced to justify the commencement, the renewal, and continuance of the war, had been successively abandoned. The infection of French principles, the restoration of the Bourbons, the inability of the revolutionary governments "to maintain the accustomed relations of peace and amity," the necessity of continuing hostilities till we had obtained indemnity for the past and security for the future, were no longer (in 1807) the alleged obstacles to a pacification. In adverting "to the short experimental truce of Amiens," he labours hard to throw the blame of its infraction on the war-party in England, on the French emigrants, and the French counter-revolutionary papers, published in London; and on "another, and still more formidable party, consisting of the innumerable bands of journalists and hireling writers, who feed upon the credulity, and fatten upon the calamities of a nation; men who flourish most in the midst of tumult; to whom the disasters of the country are as valuable as her triumphs; a destructive battle as a rich triumph, and a new war as a freehold estate." In treating this part of his subject, our author falls upon expressions less favourable to the press than the general liberality of his opinions would lead us to expect. He has anticipated the arguments so frequently urged by Tory writers, against the impunity given to all attacks on foreign governments emanating from writers in this country, and seems to blame the ministry of 1801 for not taking such decisive measures as Talleyrand suggested, to put a stop to those animadversions which the Premier Consul complained of so bitterly. Yet such could not surely have been Roscoe's meaning. He would not have purchased even peace by stifling the public voice of England, far less by the extrusion of the unfortunate exile from her shores.
But he was intent to prove that the peace might have been adjusted, confirmed, and preserved, — and that the resumption of hostilities was mainly to be attributed to exasperated passions and national antipathies, inflamed by prejudiced and interested individuals. Peace was an object so dear to Roscoe's heart, that he was willing to recommend it by a little special pleading; and having persuaded himself that the French ruler really desired peace (which no ruler, legitimate or usurper, whose power is built on military glory does or can) he thought he was promoting conciliatory dispositions, when endeavouring to convince his unconvincible countrymen, that nothing but their own ill tongues and perverse humours prevented their deadly foe becoming their best and truest friend.
To the "'impediments' as to the evacuation of Egypt and Malta by the English troops, and the evacuation of Holland by the French," he alludes very slightly, as matters admitting an easy settlement; the invasion of Switzerland, and the inhospitable aggressions on English commerce, he passes wholly without observation. It is true, that none of these, nor all of them, were either the real or the justifying causes of the war, but they have been supposed sufficient proofs of that reckless ambition and irreconcilable hatred, which rendered amity impossible, and an armistice perilous.
Having taken a rapid review of the events from the rupture of 1803, till the battle of Austerlitz, he adverts to the death of Mr. Pitt, and draws a character of that statesman, rather distinguished for the mildness of its phraseology, and an air of gentlemanly candour, than for any strong or vivid traits of portraiture. Such candid pictures, as they never much resemble the original, so they satisfy neither his admirers nor their opponents. After some handsome compliments to Mr. Pitt's talents, and regret that such accomplishments as his should be rendered mischievous instead of beneficial, by the predominance of a single passion, "inherited from his father," (whether a passion for power simply, or a passion for war, or a passion for popularity, any of which he might have inherited from his father, we are not certified), our author proceeds thus: — "Unfortunately, the system of education of Mr. Pitt was in politics, that which Lord Chesterfield's is in private life. It was founded on too narrow a basis, and aimed too directly at its object. A cultivated mind, and a humane disposition, will render their possessor truly polite; sound principles and a real love of mankind, truly patriotic; but without these neither the patriotism nor the politeness are any thing more than a whited sepulchre. The system was however successful, the young orator began his career in a manner the best calculated to display his powers. As he spoke the hopes of freedom revived; corruption shrunk from his glance, and the nation hailed him as her deliverer; but no sooner was the prize within his grasp than he seized it with an eagerness, and retained it with a tenacity, which all the efforts of his opponents could neither impede nor relax. Having thus obtained the supreme power, the talents which had acquired it were employed with equal success to preserve it. The correction of abuses, the removal of peculation and corruption, the reform of the representation, the extension of civil and religious liberty, were now no longer the objects in view, or were only recalled at stated periods to shew with what dexterity the minister could blast his promise without breaking his faith. Well schooled in all the routine and arcana of office, an adept in the science of finance and taxation, Mr. Pitt's great accomplishment was a thorough knowledge of the artificial and complex machine of government; and his great defect a total insensibility to the feelings of mankind, and an utter ignorance of the leading principles of human nature."
Our author does not scruple to attribute both the horrors of the French revolution, and the subsequent successes of the French arms, to the misadventurous attacks upon French liberty, of which he accounts Mr. Pitt the primum mobile. It is our business to record, not to confute or approve, Mr. Roscoe's sentiments. He shall utter them in his own words:—
"To what circumstance is it to be ascribed that a people so restless in their disposition, so changeful in their views, should have been united together through all the variations of their government, and have acted in all their external relations with one heart and as one man? To what but the continued pressure of external force? To the successive combinations formed under the auspices of Mr. Pitt, to compel them to submission. That France has suffered in the contest, that her best blood has flowed on time scaffold, that the luminaries of science have been extinguished, and the brightest gems of the human intellect trampled under foot; that jealousy, ambition, cruelty, and revenge, have acted their dreadful parts in awful succession, and have produced a scene of calamity unexampled in history, is but too true; but such was the price that France was compelled by Europe to pay for her independence on foreign powers, and in this view the purchase was after all cheaply made. The principle which carried that nation through all her difficulties, was the determination of the people to rally round the existing government, whatever that government might be, and to join in repelling with one hand, and one voice, the common enemy. To this they have sacrificed their ease, their property, their friends, their families, their lives, with a prodigality, which excites at the same time horror and admiration."
From the tone and passion of this eloquent effusion, we might almost have imagined that the author was exhorting his countrymen to perseverance in a deadly contest by French example, than breathing counsels of meekness and conciliation. If the exemption of a people from foreign interference be so necessary a blessing, that no horrors, no bloodshed, no anarchy, no tyranny should be declined to secure it, what could war, even a war entailed from generation to generation, like that of the Jews and Philistines, or of the Spaniards and Moors, bring with it that England ought not to endure rather than hold her peace, wealth, and happiness dependent upon the forbearance of a haughty foe? Mr. Roscoe, however, intended no such inference; his sole purpose was, to shew that France was grown formidable in consequence of the measures taken to crush her — that the confederacy of states and princes had awakened that intense spirit of nationality which neither disasters without, nor disorders within, can ever extinguish in the heart of a Frenchman, who, however excellent, or however depraved, is a Frenchman still, as long as he is anything.
Mr. Roscoe appears to have had more than a political attachment to Mr. Fox — a warm personal affection, and a lasting regret. This amiable feeling may account for the somewhat extravagant, if not invidious praise, he accords to his departed friend for rejecting, with indignation, a proposal made by some hungry fellow to shoot Bonaparte from a house at Passy. In all probability the man was a spy, ready to serve or shoot any king, emperor, or private gentleman whatever, for a consideration. But surely it was no remarkable virtue in Mr. Fox to decline the offer. Did Mr. Roscoe imagine that Mr. Pitt, or any other minister, would have closed with it? But, says our author, "the political opponents of Mr. Fox ought to have felt rightly on such a subject. They ought to have known that it was no effort to his great and generous mind to reject the proposals of an avowed assassin. It is not on this account that he is intitled to our applause; but it is because he had the virtue and the courage to bring forwards into public life, and to exemplify in the most striking manner, one of the most important maxims of morality — that it is never expedient to do evil in the hope of producing an eventual good." What eventual good could Mr. Fox have expected from engaging his country in the ill-concerted conspiracy of a low bravo? What personal wrong had he to forgive Bonaparte? On the very improbable supposition that this precious scheme had been put into execution, what could Mr. Fox expect for himself or for his country, by a participation in it? What for himself but disgrace and impeachment? What for his country, but a massacre of all the English in the French prisons, of all suspected royalists throughout France? Mr. Fox acted as he ought to have done, and is entitled to our approbation, but not to the rapturous panegyric of Mr. Roscoe.
We are not forgetful that the old question concerning the lawfulness of tyrannicide was very frequently mooted both in conversation and in print, with an express reference to the case of Bonaparte. Something of the kind had probably passed in our author's hearing. But no person, whose opinions were worth confuting, ever imagined that Englishmen ought to take the punishment of a French tyrant into their own hands, or that they ought to regard Bonaparte otherwise than as the chief of a hostile state, under the protection of the law of nations.
The disclosure of this plot produced some very polite correspondence between Mr. Fox and M. Talleyrand, in which the latter conveyed the thanks of his master to the British minister, with an assurance, that "he recognized in the conduct of Mr. Fox those principles of honour and virtue by which he had ever been actuated, and which had already given a new character to the war." Affairs were quickly put in train for a negociation, of the progress of which, and its ultimate failure, Mr. Roscoe gives a particular, and at this time, rather tedious account. It may furnish a subject of speculation for future historians whether Napoleon, on this or any other occasion, sincerely desired peace with England, and what effect the longer life of Fox might have had on the policy of this country. Mr. Roscoe's main object is to prove that the French were disposed to pacific measures, that the treaty was broken off in consequence of the determination of the English ministry to make no peace in which Russia was not included, and that at the time when he was writing, (1808,) no obstacle could exist to the renewal of negociations, inasmuch as Russia was no longer our ally, but our enemy. He speaks with severe reprobation of the attack upon Copenhagen, and seems to have regarded the ministry, by which it was undertaken, with something more than political dislike. The shortest, but most important part of the pamphlet, relates to the dangers of continuing the war, the madness of contemplating interminable hostilities, and the great advantages to be derived from a secure peace.
As he could not suppose that his arguments would obtain so much as a hearing from the government, his intentions in this publication must have been, first, to vindicate his political connections; secondly, to assuage the antigallican animosity, which he justly considered to be the fuel and bellows of the war: and thirdly, to produce an overwhelming army of petitions for peace. For this last, and only practical purpose, we cannot think his arguments very well chosen. Should a prudent adviser, in order to dissuade a fiery and exasperated youth from a duel, tell him with a tremulous voice, that his adversary was never known to miss his man, the peace-maker would perhaps succeed if he had to deal with a coward, ambitions of the honours of bloodless conflict, but in any other case, he would only make him the more resolute to meet a foe who might attribute any explanation to fear. There was, in the English people at large, an eager desire to measure swords with the conqueror of the continent. They thought, and rightly thought, that the more formidable the foe, the greater danger of trusting him. There is one argument which might, perhaps, have been applied with some success in 1807, but it was not in Roscoe's generous nature to use it. Had he insinuated that the dread of Napoleon was a vain panic; that in peace or war the French could do nothing to hurt us; that the ministry were husbanding the war, which a vigorous conduct might bring to a glorious conclusion, for their own purposes, for the patronage which it placed at their disposal, the taxes it furnished a pretext for exacting, the force it enabled them to levy, nominally against the enemy, but really against the people: or that the whole scheme was an understood arrangement between the treasury and the loan-jobber, it is very probable that a ferment might have been excited which would have compelled the government either to make peace on any terms, or to risk the whole strength of the country on some single effort, the defeat of which would have rendered the continuance of the war impossible. Assertions of a very similar character were plentifully scattered by the disaffected in the reign of Queen Anne, and succeeded in producing the disgrace of Marlborough, the change of administration, and the peace of Utrecht; and there were periods in the late war, when they might have been made with quite enough of plausibility for popular credence. But Roscoe had not the heart to do evil that good might come of it. Neither were his talents at all calculated to excite the passions and jealousies of a nation. He was not a good hater; and (it is to his praise that we say it) he was not a good polemic. There is a languid ease in his style by no means suited to produce temporary effect. There are no stings in his sentences.
Very shortly after his "Considerations," he published "Remarks on the Proposals made to Great Britain for opening Negotiations for Peace, in 1807." The purpose of this pamphlet, which, though ably written, has now lost great part of its interest, is to convict the British Ministry of insincere conduct towards the allies, who offered their mediation to adjust the differences between France and England. Nothing can be dryer, or to any but a diplomatist, more obscure than the history of an abortive negotiation. To this treatise Mr. Roscoe prefixed a preface of thirty-one pages, from which we extract a single passage, wherein he apologizes for his severity upon English, and his lenity towards French errors appear.
"Can it be allowable, it may be asked, that any person shall point out the errors or the faults of his own country, and its rulers, and pass over without still greater reprobation the misconduct of other nations with which she is at enmity; the crimes of whose people and of whose government are of the deepest die? The answer is, that it is allowable, and for this very reason, that our country has a claim upon our services which a foreign country has not. The one bears a near resemblance to the self-examination, without which the sense of morals in individual characters would soon be lost, the other is the admonishing of a stranger of whose motives we can only imperfectly judge, and for whose conductive are not accountable. But it may be said, that virtue and vice admit of degrees, and that however we may ourselves have erred, it may be proper to shew the guilt of other nations has far exceeded our own. To what purpose? Will the crimes of others be an apology for ours? and is it desirable that we should diminish the sense of our own misconduct by comparing it with the more enormous offences of others. This however is the fashion of the present day."
Not many months after the appearance of this appeal, the rising of the Spaniards gave a new aspect to the war, and rendered every whisper of peace so dissonant to the British ear, that for a while there seemed to be but one mind in the nation. And even in the darkest intervals of that protracted contest, when Spain seemed to despair of herself, and many denounced the Spaniards as unworthy of another drop of British blood, those who hoped least for the cause, would hardly think of peace with the faithless invader. We are not aware that Mr. Roscoe commented on the war in any subsequent publications. He never ceased to think peace desirable, or to express his opinion to that effect in public or private; but he must have known that till Spain was evacuated, or entirely subdued, no ministry could dare to sheath the sword, which according to the faith of thousands was drawn in a holy warfare.
We have now said quite enough of Mr. Roscoe's endeavours to allay the military fervour of his countrymen. Disliking the war at first, because he conceived it to be a war against liberty, and then disliking it as a war without hope, he perhaps saw little to congratulate in its conclusion, except the cessation of bloodshed. Possibly he might have gained more disciples, had he maintained the utter unlawfulness of war in the abstract; or restricted its lawfulness to the case of actual invasion. Certain it is, that on few points did so many good men differ with him, as in his specific objection to the war against Bonaparte.
Politics never ruffled the serenity of Mr. Roscoe's mind, or blunted his taste for those studies which were its natural element. Of his devotion to botany, we have already had occasion to speak. Being a science requiring a minute investigation of forms, displaying in the clearest light, how nature loves beauty for its own sake, and moreover dependent upon the pencil for much of its material, it seems naturally associated with a love of the fine arts. In 1809 our author presented to the Linnoean Society a paper on the Scitamineae, a singular and important class of plants, few or none of which are natives of Europe, (though some of them, as ginger, by no means strangers to European palates.) The structure of the Scitamineae being peculiar, and opportunities of seeing the plants in their natural state not common, neither Linnaeus, nor any of the French or German botanists had been able to distinguish or arrange them in a satisfactory method. This feat, the difficulty and merit of which only scientific botanists can appreciate, Mr. Roscoe is allowed to have performed, and was rewarded, as botanists are wont to reward whom they delight to honour, by giving his name to the new scitaminean genus, Roscoea, of which only one species is known to exist, a purple flower, discovered by Dr. Buchanan in Upper Nepaul.
It is doubtless pleasant to be remembered in connection with the lovely productions of nature, but the Linnaean names will never do for poetry, though some of those which Linnaeus himself invented are fanciful and well sounding.
In 1810, Roscoe addressed to the present Lord Chancellor a letter on parliamentary reform, which has recently been re-published.
At the general election in 1812, he was proposed, without his own consent or knowledge, as a candidate for Leicester, and polled a respectable minority. In the same year, he indulged his pen in a sarcastic review of Mr. Canning's Liverpool election speeches, which some zealous partizan had published in a well-sized volume. Such productions should be suffered to pass away with the election head-aches.
In 1814, Mr. Roscoe paid a long and pleasant visit to a man united to him by accordant politics and sympathetic love of agriculture, the venerable Coke of Norfolk. The farm and the library of Holkham were almost equal sources of gratification. The magnificent collection made by Lord Leicester, uncle to Mr. Coke, is peculiarly rich in Italian literature. There Roscoe saw, touched, explored, and enjoyed six hundred MSS. volumes of ecclesiastical annals, and Italian civil history. Here he discovered, in thrice-hallowed penmanship, one of the lost volumes of Leonardo Da Vinci's Treatise on Mechanics, and the long deplored and precious tome in which Raffaello, at the request of the Roman Pontiff, had made pen sketches of the remains of Rome, illustrated by short descriptions in his own hand writing. The manuscripts had been little attended to for many years; they were in confusion and disorder, but so much the better; Roscoe must have had as great delight in arranging them as in arranging the Scitamineae, but alas! some of them were injured by damp and time — a sad proof of the perishable nature of earthly things, and of the base ingratitude of mankind. But in Roscoe they had a friend who could arrest the hand of time, and make amends for the ingratitude of men. The whole MS. collection were confined to Mr. Roscoe's care, who put them into the hands of that eminent binder, the late Mr. John Jones, (of Liverpool,) who, by great industry and skill, succeeded in restoring crumpled vellum to its original smoothness, and in pasting torn leaves with wonderful neatness, and who bound the whole collection in a durable and elegant manner. An ancient and admirable copy of the Hebrew Pentateuch, believed to be more than a thousand years old, written in a beautiful hand on deer skins, forming a roll thirty-eight feet in length, was mounted by the same ingenious artist on rollers, ornamented with silver bells, under the direction of an ingenious Rabbi who believed the MS. to be an eastern transcript of great antiquity.
A catalogue of these invaluable manuscripts was drawn up by Mr. Roscoe, and Mr. Madan of the British Museum, extending to four or five thick folios, enriched with engraved fac-similes and illuminated ornaments. To the genuine Bibliomaniac, this catalogue must be a treasure indeed, but is a luxury within the reach of few. Mr. Roscoe continued to work at it till within a few months of his death.
It is painful to turn from such a scene of happiness as Holkham Library, with Roscoe rummaging its riches, to record how misfortune overtook the good man in his "chair-days" when he might have counted on the reward of a life of industry in a quiet old age. Various commercial calamities which we are unable to particularize, brought a pressure on the bank in which he was a partner, and obliged it to stop payment, in 1815. Mr. Roscoe struggled with his difficulties for four years, "entertaining throughout, the most sanguine hopes of being able finally to discharge all their engagements, as the joint property of the partners was valued, at the time of suspension of payment, at considerably more than the amount of their debts. The depreciation, however, of that property, combined with other circumstances over which Mr. Roscoe had no controul, prevented the accomplishment of his most earnest wishes, and in 1820 he became a bankrupt."
During this four years' struggle, he alienated those treasures of art and learning which it had been the pride and pleasure of his life to gather together. Books, prints, drawings, pictures, all went, rather to testify his honour, than to satisfy his creditors. Yet his feelings were not aggravated either by the world's reproach or his own. Those who lost by his losses never questioned his integrity; and he never complained, or had cause to complain, of any superfluous rigour from the persons to whom he was indebted. It was a common misfortune, which was to be divided as equally as possible.
Nothing can better display the composure or the vigour of his mind, under these trials, than the beautiful sonnet with which he took leave of his library:—
As one who, destined from his friends to part,
Regrets their loss, yet hopes again erewhile
To share their converse and enjoy their smile,
And tempers, as he may, affliction's dart—
Thus, lov'd associates! chiefs of elder art!
Teachers of wisdom, who could once beguile
My tedious hours, and brighten every toil,
I now resign you, nor with fainting heart:
For, pass a few short years, or days, or hours,
And happier seasons may their dawn unfold,
And all your sacred fellowships restore;
When, freed from earth, unlimited its powers,
Mind shall with mind direct communion hold,
And kindred spirits meet, to part no more.
His books, consisting of more than two thousand works, produced no less a sum than £5150; the prints, £1886; the drawings, £750; the pictures, £3239 total, £11,025.
A selection of books, to the value of £600, was purchased by his friends at the sale, and presented for his acceptance; but this offer he thought proper to decline, and the books were deposited in the Athenaeum, where they occupy a distinct compartment by themselves. A few of his pictures, to the amount of £50, were also bought in, and given to the Liverpool Royal Institution, an establishment of which Dr. Traill was the original suggester, and in which Mr. Roscoe had taken a lively interest. The sale took place in 1816.
In the course of that year, his labours and anxiety in winding up his affairs were so intense, as seriously to endanger his health; and upon one occasion he was attacked with a slight loss of memory at the bank, but a short interval of repose soon restored his faculties.
When the inevitable termination of his difficulties in bankruptcy delivered him from the trouble of an ever-lessening hope, he returned to his studies with his wonted calm assiduity, not vainly repining after worldly goods, on which he never set more than a due value. Whatever he had lost, he had not lost his friends; and he had soon to experience a proof of their continued regard, alike honourable to him and to themselves. We will relate this circumstance in the words of the memorialist who bore so large a part in it:
"It would be unjust to omit, that the misfortunes of our distinguished fellow-citizen called forth the warm sympathy of his numerous friends, and prompted them to take steps for securing him against their immediate consequences. It is more necessary to state this, because many unjust imputation's have been vented against the inhabitants of Liverpool, on account of their supposed neglect of Mr. Roscoe in his adversity. There was considerable delicacy necessary in the steps which were taken to testify their esteem and attachment. Mr. Roscoe had a noble and independent mind. He had steadily refused the proffered gift of a valuable selection from his library, even after it had been for that purpose bought by his friends at the sale; and those who had the pleasure of being intimate with him, well knew how necessary it would be to keep him in ignorance of what was intended, until it was accomplished. During a second visit which he made to Holkham, a private fund was quickly subscribed among his friends, for the purchase of an annuity on the lives of Mr. and Mrs. Roscoe. The delicate task of communicating what was done, devolved on me; and in the correspondence which ensued between us, the example of his friend Charles James Fox, under similar circumstances, was successfully urged to reconcile his mind to receive this spontaneous homage to his talents and his worth, from sincerely attached friends."
Thus rescued from all apprehension of wanting the comforts which old age requires, Mr. Roscoe passed the remainder of his life in much tranquility; and the works that he executed, at that advanced period, were neither few nor trifling. But for a mind like his, stored with much and various knowledge, and long inured to composition, to produce a book was no more than healthy exercise. The track of literature which he pursued requiring rather taste, judgment, and research, than strong effort and violent excitement, was smooth and easy to his declining years. He never was an ambitious writer, never aimed at saying striking things, or constructing sentences which should seem to mean a great deal in a narrow space. His powers were not dependent on the flow of youthful spirits, on mercurial agility of thought, or fiery animation of feeling; neither did his studies demand that long-continued, abstract attention and introversion, which, as it is the latest faculty that man achieves, so is it the first to suffer by bodily decay.
In 1822, he published "Illustrations of the Life of Lorenzo de' Medici," in which he defends his former works from the criticisms of Sismondi: and about the same time, a "Memoir of Richard Roberts," a self-taught linguist, no less distinguished for the dirtiness of his person, than for the number of languages which be could read. A very curious work might be written on men of a single talent. Nothing goes farther to prove the organic theory of the phrenologists, than the wonderful facility in acquiring languages occasionally exhibited by beings not far removed from fatuity. Perhaps the secret consists in preserving an infantile passiveness of mind, or more properly, in never outgrowing that condition of intellect in which children learn to speak. The profits of Mr. Roscoe's memoir were given to poor Roberts, who had hardly sense enough to take care of himself, and used to carry his polyglot library, as wanderers of more worldly wisdom, in better begging days, did their hoarded gold and silver — between his rags and his body.
In the year 1824, Mr. Roscoe appeared as the editor and biographer of Pope, an office which he executed with his wonted ability, and with the zeal of a disciple. Had Pope been his own bosom friend, he could not have dilated his virtues more fondly, or touched his failings with greater tenderness. In the court of fame Roscoe was always counsel for the panel, and has pleaded in mitigation of sentence for some very desperate reputations, such as Pope Alexander VI., Lucretia Borgia, and Bonaparte. It must therefore have been a delightful employment to him to vindicate the memory of a poet whose style of excellence was highly congenial to his sympathies, whose literary merit he thought unjustly depreciated, and whose moral character had been most ungently handled. Pope owes small thanks to his former biographers: Johnson, to whom he must needs have appeared the greatest of poets, (for of any higher order of poetry than that in which Pope is greatest, Johnson seems to have had no conception,) had so little respect for him as a man, that he exerted more than his usual industry in collecting anecdotes to render him odious and contemptible. But Johnson appears to have written the lives of the poets with no other view but to convince the world that they were no more than "indifferent children of the earth." By later writers, Pope has been yet more unfavourably depicted. Some have taken upon them the functions of the Devil's Advocate, whose place was, whenever a saint was to be made, to shew cause why he should not be canonized. It would, we think, have been very easy to assign to Pope his proper rank among poets, so as to restore the highest seats to their original and legitimate possessors, without repeating every aspersion which his satire provoked in an age of calumny. But Mr. Roscoe has propitiated his manes by a bloodless offering of milk and honey; and though he has not removed all unfavourable impressions as to Pope's temper and disposition, he has boldly met, and triumphantly overthrown, the more serious charges against his veracity, integrity, and moral worth.
The circumstances of Pope's life which have given rise to most animadversion, are 1st. his quarrel with Addison; 2nd. his equivocal gallantry with Lady Wortley Montague, and his subsequent gross attacks upon her; 3rd. his clandestine satire upon the Duke of Chandos, under the character of Timon, aggravated by the subterfuges by which he evaded the Duke's indignation; 4th. his circuitous plot to get his letters published, and throw the onus of the publication on others; 5th. his printing the character of Atossa, after receiving money to suppress it; 6th. his connection with Martha Blount. For the last mentioned lady, Mr. Roscoe is a determined champion. Indeed he displays more warmth than the occasion justifies. In the name of honour, conscience, and humanity, what right has the world, the public, posterity, or whatever else a knot of busy individuals may think proper to call themselves, to institute an inquisitorial examination into the feelings with which a valetudinarian regarded a female to whose society and attentions he was indebted for making his life endurable, and perhaps mankind are indebted for some of the noblest works which make him the object of their prurient curiosity. Before such self-appointed coroners, it was unworthy of Roscoe to give evidence. We must not omit to mention, however, that he completely exculpates Miss Blount from the charge of cold and unfeeling behaviour to Pope in his last moments. We are not sure, however, that "it was not till our own days that an attempt has been made to defame the memory of an elegant and accomplished woman, who passed through life honoured and respected." Defamation was quite as much the vice of Pope's age as of ours, though perhaps the poison was not then so rapidly and extensively diffused as by the machinery of the modern press. The truth is, that it was not till our age that such liaisons as that supposed to exist between Pope and his female friend were judged by the rigid rule of morals. The slanderers of no age are particularly eager to ascribe vices which that age will not think the worse of a man for having. In Pope's time it was necessary to impute extravagant follies, or horrid vices; now slight imperfections will serve the turn as well. That we are more moral than our forefathers it were presumptuous to say; but we certainly fix the standard of social morality much higher.
But it is very different with regard to those charges, which, if true, must convict Pope of gross ingratitude, duplicity, and malignity, in the discharge of his public office as a Poet. Here the world is the legitimate judge of his fame, and owes a satisfaction to the memory of those whom he is supposed to have injured. Here his advocate pleads before a competent tribunal, and rests his defence not on vain surmises and hypotheses, but on fair induction and comparison of evidence. We cannot help thinking that Mr. Roscoe's habits of business, and particularly his legal occupations, greatly assisted him in that most important part of an historian's duty, the adducing of documentary evidence. Two thirds of the grounds on which the later biographers of Pope have built their most unfavourable inferences, is cut away from under them by a careful revision of dates. Now a merchant always looks at the date of a paper, an author seldom or never. It will, however, sometimes occur to a historian, as to a judge, that he has to choose between conflicting testimonies, without any other guide than the general credibility and character of the witnesses, and in these cases the simple denial of an accused party, unsupported by circumstantial evidence, goes for nothing in a court of law. But not so in the courts of conscience and of history. Indeed where the question concerns motives and meanings, the bare affirmation of an honest man ought to weigh against the suspicions and asseverations, and hearsay reports of a thousand others. Upon these principles Mr. Roscoe has conducted his defence of Pope, which is not a shewy piece of special pleading, such as might suit any case however flagrant, but the honest endeavour of a good man to arrive at the truth.
The charge which perhaps lays heaviest upon Pope's reputation, is that of having suborned some person or persons to carry his letters to Curl, in order to gain a pretext for publishing them himself. Johnson has taken the most unfavourable view of this transaction, and yet spoken of it with an indifference not very consistent with his duty as first moralist. If his representation of it be true, Pope was a scoundrel. But Mr. Roscoe has satisfactorily shewn, that, unless credit be given to the self-contradictory evidence of Curl, a man who had no character to lose, there is not a shadow of proof that Pope was privy to this dirty business, though he might probably enough be anything but sorry that it was as it was. The case is made out with peculiar clearness and legal acumen; but for the details, we must refer to the "Life" itself, which ought to be, and we hope soon will be, published separately from the bulky edition of Pope's writings to which it is prefixed, though that too is worthy a place in the libraries of such as can afford expensive luxuries.
The characters of Atticus and of Atossa, and the description of Timon's villa, are perhaps the finest pieces of satire in the English language; and it would be most grievous to think that Pope was a villain, when he was enriching our literature so bountifully. As to the first, he had a perfect right to compose it, if he thought it true, and to publish it, unless he had promised the contrary, which is not asserted. Whether it be, or be not, a true portrait of Addison, is now of as little consequence, as whether Justice Shallow be a correct resemblance of Sir Thomas Lucy. The character is true — its prototype is to be found in every generation: happy will it be when the picture has no living original.
The Atossa is by no means so perfect. It is, in the true sense of the word, personal; for though the separate features may be found in nature every day, yet they have no necessary coherence or interdependence. If you were not told that there had been such a woman, you could find no reason in general nature that there should be such a one. Atticus is a hundred men, but Atossa must always be Sarah Duchess of Marlborough. This is the test that distinguishes legitimate satire from lampooning, a Hogarth from a caricaturist, a Fielding from a fashionable novelist. The question should be, not, Is the picture taken from individual life? but, Does its effect require that the individual likeness he recognized?
Yet there is one line in this character which is worth a volume of morality, and explains all the misanthropy, and no small part of the suicide in the world: — "Sick of herself, for very selfishness," notwithstanding which line, Pope would have been a much better man if he had never written the character at all. For his virulent personality, for the rancorous and unprovoked hatred which he cherished against that high-minded woman and her illustrious spouse, his generous advocate offers no apology; but for the story of his taking money to suppress the verses, Mr. Roscoe has proved that it rests on no sufficient foundation. This point had been cleared up before, in an excellent article of the "Quarterly Review."
As to the supposed breach of hospitality committed in the description of Timon's gardens, &c., there is not much in it after all. There is no indication of a "malus animus"; and Pope, as Mr. Roscoe says, ought to be believed when he declared, that the passage had no specific application to Canons. It is a false taste of magnificence, a cumbrous and ungenial hospitality — not any individual Duke — that is held up to ridicule. Gratitude for a wearisome dinner could never fairly require of Pope to suppress his animadversions on "trees cut to statues," and such like enormities, because they happened to be found at Canons. If the Curate dine now and then with the Squire, are all the Squire's vices to be left out of the litany? There is no fouler accusation than that of ingratitude, and yet there is none which is scattered so much at random.
We cannot say that Mr. Roscoe has been equally successful in treating of Pope's conduct to Lady Wortley Montague. It says little indeed for her Ladyship's conscience, that she should suppose a piece of gross ribaldry applied to her; and still less for her prudence, that she should openly resent an allusion which a delicate lady of our times would not be supposed to understand. But Pope's denial, which Mr. Roscoe takes seriously, appears to us to be malignantly ironical; this, indeed, is not the only occasion whereon Roscoe betrays a simplicity, which, taken in concert with his high intellectual powers, evinces no less genius than virtue.
All things considered, he has certainly left the character of Pope much clearer than he found it. It is plain enough, that the faults of that little man were in a great measure owing to his infirmities; while his virtues, and they were not few nor small, were his own. It is needless to say, that Roscoe was not of those who maintain that Pope is no Poet. He calls him the most harmonious, correct, and popular of English Poets, and we shall not argue the point here. Undoubtedly he was the best writer in his line. He could not have been Milton: and is it not better to have a Milton and a Pope, than two Miltons? or, which is likelier to befal, a great Milton and a little Milton?
In the year 1824, Mr. Roscoe was chosen "A Royal Associate of the Royal Society of Literature," an institution, of which the best design (and a truly excellent one) was, to give £100 a year each to ten literary gentlemen of mature age and narrow means. They were selected impartially, without regard to party, and were only required to produce and read an occasional essay, by way of quit rent. This association was broken up at the decease of King George IV., no funds having been provided for its continuance. May the poor, and the poor in spirit, be the better for the saving. Perhaps it is best as it is. Literary men now must understand, that they have nothing but their own industry and frugality to depend upon, and have no temptation to turn aside from the direct path of truth. Augustus and Louis XIV. did not benefit literature half so much by their liberality, as they disgraced it by the adulation with which that liberality was solicited and repaid.
In the year following his appointment, Mr. Roscoe received the gold medal of the society, value 50 guineas, for his merits as an historian.
Two great works, of very unequal importance indeed, remain to be spoken of, which occupied the declining years of Roscoe's life, and sufficiently proved at once the versatility of his talents, and the perfection in which he retained them to the last.
The one was a series of plates and descriptions, illustrative of his adopted family, the Scitamineae. This was printed at Liverpool, and is said to be "the most splendid work that every issued from a provincial press." We confess we never saw any part of it; nor should we be able to judge of its scientific merits if we had; but the most uninformed may understand that it was no trifling honour, for a man divided between many studies, and distracted by many cares, to gain a lasting fame in a walk of investigation, which men of considerable renown have thought a sufficient employment for their undivided powers. The plates were many of them from his own drawings, but the greater part from those of two ladies, his daughter-in-law Mrs. Edward Roscoe, and Miss R. Miller. In the execution of this design, he found great benefit from that botanic garden, which he had himself so great a share in establishing. What reception the work met with is testified by the fact, that before the second number was published, there was a call for more of the first than had originally been struck off.
The other, and greater labour, led his observation into a far less pleasing class of subjects, and called him to consider the most painful and perhaps the most difficult problem in civil polity, that of criminal jurisprudence, which engaged the last serious thoughts he devoted to earth.
We have more than once adverted to his political writings, and have not scrupled to declare our conviction that they shew him to have been a better man than a pamphleteer. Neither his heart nor his head seem suited to the trade. But when a great question of moral policy was to be argued; when the reason of man was to be reconciled with his noblest feelings, mercy to be identified with justice, and humanity with wisdom; there was a call as apt as meet for the ripest fruits of Roscoe's powers, and he obeyed it promptly and joyfully.
In 1819, he published his "Observations on penal Jurisprudence, and the reformation of Criminals; with an Appendix, containing the latest Reports of the State-Prisons, or Penitentiaries of Philadelphia, New-York, and Massachusetts, and other Documents." As the subject has been so frequently reconsidered since that time, and so many recruits have been continually added to the once little band of the champions of justice, much of what Roscoe advanced as neglected truth, will already appear as stale truism. We have discovered little in the treatise which he was the first to utter; but he has put the arguments against excessive punishment in a peculiarly concise and tangible form, and has expressed his conviction that reformation is the sole legitimate end of punishment, and moral improvement the only effective mean of reformation, with an outpouring of the heart, a meek solemnity, which cannot fail to make the most positive supporters of "things as they are," confess that there is a view of the subject neither, absurd nor unchristian, very different from that which themselves have taken. The first head he considers is, "the motives and ends of punishment." And here we cannot help noticing a remarkable omission. Mr. Roscoe seems to take it for granted, that the ends of all penal enactments have been either vindictive, or preventive, or corrective; either intended for satisfaction to the offended parties, or to prevent the repetition of the offence by terror and example, or to amend the criminal by suffering. But he does not recollect, that men in past ages considered the punishment of the guilty as an atonement, an expiation, a sacrifice, an indefeasible duty, the neglect of which involved the whole community in the guilt of the individual offender; that this supposed duty had no reference to the angry feelings of the injured persons, far less to general consequences, and least of all to any contingent benefit of the criminal, but to an everlasting law of retribution, of which the municipal law was only the exponent and instrument. The feeling on which this doctrine is founded, had probably never been cherished in Roscoe's bosom; nor was the doctrine often formally broached in his hearing, except, it may be, in reference to the eternal dealings of Divine Justice, which his good sense must have shewn him could be no authority for the dealings of sinful man with his fellow sinners. Still he might have found traces of the prevalence of such a doctrine, in scripture and in history; he might have found it in Shakspeare, in the rites and laws of honour, and in the feelings of the multitude. We are very, very far from assenting to the doctrine. It is, we conceive, a fearfully false inference from an awful truth; an inference recognized neither by Reason nor by Christianity. That the crime of each contains the sin of all, admonishes all to repent, proves to all the necessity of some Expiation, we do most firmly believe; but not that the sufferings or the death of the guilty can deliver either himself or the avenger from guiltiness. The blood of a murderer can no more atone for the murder, than it call resuscitate the murdered.
But without entering into further discussion of this doctrine of penal atonement, which, false as we esteem it, should never be confounded with the animal passion of revenge, it is sufficient to remark, that it is of considerable historical importance, in accounting for the ferocity of certain codes. The principle of sacrificing lives at the altar of expediency, and multiplying punishments for the security of property, is a heresy of later origin, founded in nothing but cowardice and selfishness. Roscoe is perfectly right in rejecting anger as a right motive to punishment; and it is a wonder that any rational being should assert that it is so. Indeed, one object in the appointment of fixed laws and official judges, is to exclude the influence of anger. If not, every man ought to be judge in his own cause, for who else can tell how much vengeance the stomach of his anger may require? If it be said, that, according to the terms of the social contract, each individual resigns his right of revenge to the state, which is bound to see that he does not lose by the surrender, we reply that neither Reason nor Religion acknowledge any such right. If acts of retaliation be ever justifiable, it is not on the principle of vengeance, but of self-defence.
Mr. Roscoe's second head is "On punishment by way of example," under which he treats the sophistries of Paley with no more respect than they deserve. The following passage is so admirable that we can not forbear it: — "Example can only be legitimately obtained through the medium of justice; but as there is no rule to determine what degree of punishment is necessary to be inflicted in order to deter others from crimes, legislators have in all ages been induced to carry punishments to their utmost possible extent, so as to make examples still more horrible and striking; and thus this idea of the prevention of crimes by the severity of punishment, when carried to such a degree, has been a principal cause of the calamities of the human race, and has rendered the world a constant theatre of injustice and bloodshed.
"But whilst severe punishments are ineffectually resorted to, for the purpose of securing society from injury, they seem to deteriorate and degrade the public character, and to weaken, in the people at large, those dispositions which ought to be cherished with the greatest care. Nor is it the lower classes alone whose moral feelings are corrupted, and whose sensibilities are destroyed, by the establishment of systems of severity and terror. As the contest increases between obstinacy and crime on the one hand, and resentment and cruelty on the other, a similar effect is produced on every rank of society, all of whom become, by degrees, prepared to inflict, to suffer, or to witness every extreme of violence. The result of the destructive maxim, that mankind are to be kept in awe by terror alone, then becomes apparent, and desolation and death stalk through the city at noon-day. Such were the times when Henry VIII. sat upon the throne of England, employed in devising the most plausible pretexts, and the most horrible modes of destroying his people, whilst the Judges and Peers of the land became the ready instruments of his most cruel measures. The number of executions in his reign is stated to have been seventy-two thousand persons, being upwards of two thousand in a year, who perished by the axe, by the halter, in the dungeon, or in the flames. So true it is, that the assent of a people to sanguinary laws, diffuses and maintains a sanguinary spirit throughout the country, which equally infects the rulers and the people, and becomes a more destructive, because a more permanent calamity than famine, pestilence, or war." P. 19.
Mr. Roscoe has here correctly enough depicted the effects of sanguinary punishments in a hardhearted age but he has not observed one bad effect which they have in a soft-hearted one like the present. But it is a most fatal effect, from the contagion whereof Mr. Roscoe himself was not absolutely free. They utterly destroy all abhorrence of crime. They absolutely enlist every good feeling in the service of the criminal. We say deliberately, every good feeling, because no feeling can be good which is not purely benevolent. The infliction of pain in any case, can only be justified by a lofty, cold, passionless reason. He that inflicts pain, without feeling pain, is brutal; he that has pleasure, in the pains even of the Eternal Enemy, is devilish. Therefore we say deliberately, that sanguinary laws enlist every good feeling in behalf of the criminal. It may be the duty of the legislator, of the judge, of the public to master these feelings; but then the reason which condemns them should be direct and plain to every capacity. In a free country, it is a sufficient motive for the abrogation of a penal enactment, that its justice requires to be demonstrated by argument. The discussion always excites a clamour, and that clamour encourages the vicious with hopes of impunity. Punishment for example can never be justified by high or abstract reasonings; because the example is intended to operate upon the ignorant and coarse-minded, who will not understand any thing but what is direct and palpable.. If the people at large were capable of comprehending the severe morality, or the long-drawn deduction of consequences, by which some have attempted to vindicate our ancient laws, would they need to be restrained by terror? Would there be any crimes, but those which arise from insanity, or sudden passion, for which there is no law? With the great bulk of mankind, a criminal is always an object either of lawless rage, or of mere compassion. Give the mob their own way, and they would either rescue or tear to pieces every man that is brought to execution. Law, to be effective for good, must not only be just, but be felt to be so. It should be a moral instructor, as well as a physical terror; but we do not hesitate to say, that under the late system, it tended far more to promote crime, by making the people worse, than to check it, by making them more wary. The best that can be said for multiplied hangings, is, that a rogue hanged is a rogue the fewer. But if the tendency of government is to corrupt the people, either by familiarizing them with scenes of horror, or by turning the tide of their sympathies into a wrong channel, the rogues will increase too fast for the utmost diligence of the hang-man, though the navy were unrigged to make halters.
In a truly Christian state, there would be no need for vindictive punishments at all. Every purpose of social order would be answered, and the Majesty of Righteousness fully asserted, by penances, the known and avowed object whereof should be, first, to substantiate the immutable distinction of right and wrong; and secondly, to impress on the offender the enormity of his sin, and make him meet for pardon and restoration. Such a state as this Mr. Roscoe manifestly contemplates, when he says that reformation is the sole legitimate end of punishment; but at that state no country has yet arrived. We can also conceive a community actuated and governed by a strict stoical virtue, a fierce Hebrew zeal against vice, wherein an extreme rigour of law would be required to satisfy the public sense of justice. Such was the Jewish Theocracy meant to be, and such a state was contemplated by the Puritan Parliament, who made adultery capital for the first offence, and simple incontinence for the second. But not such is the modern condition of society; nor is it to any such austerity of morals that the multiplication of capital punishments is to be ascribed. We are not virtuous enough to have any right to be severe, even if it were true (and if it be true, the New Testament is false), that severity is either part or sign of virtue. Let him that has no sin, throw the first stone. We are bid to imitate our Heavenly Father, not as a Lord of Hosts, and a God of battles, not as an avenger and a consuming fire, but as he is a God of mercy, for we all need mercy, as he is the Father that "maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust."
Under his third head, "On the prevention of crimes," Mr. Roscoe laments the utter want of discipline and moral education adapted to the great body of the English people. Of the worse than insufficiency of what has been called popular education, he speaks as a man should speak, who knows in what consists the true happiness of men and of nations. "Undoubtedly, the best preservative against the commission of crimes, is a correct sense of moral duty, so strongly inforced by the precepts of Christianity. To suppose that all efforts to inculcate these precepts are fruitless, is to admit that their author delivered them in vain. All persons will agree, that the inculcation of such sentiments on the minds of youth, would not only be the best, but the cheapest mode of preventing crimes. Yet if we compare the efforts that have been made for this purpose, with the immense task that yet remains unaccomplished, we cannot flatter ourselves with having made any extraordinary progress. We seem as yet to have had but an imperfect glance of the true principles upon which a virtuous education is founded, and to have allowed a scanty and partial cultivation of the intellect to supersede the more important cultivation of the heart. The further this kind of instruction is carried, the more doubtful is its expediency, if the affections and feelings have not had an equal share of attention, as it places a weapon in the hands of youth, without directing them in the use of it. To suppose that talents and virtue are inseparably united, is to close our eyes against daily experience; yet we neglect to avail ourselves of those tender years in which the deepest impressions are made, to form the character for the benefit of society, and to cultivate those seeds of social affection which nature has implanted in every human bosom. By a just retribution for our folly, it costs us more to punish crimes than it would to prevent them. Independent of all that the community suffers by plunder and depredation, in frequent bloodshed, and continual annoyance, it is harrassed a second time in bringing the offenders to justice; and it may safely be asserted, that the amount it expends for this purpose, more than doubles the spoliation sustained. Perhaps a day may yet arrive, when it may be thought worth while to consider whether the great and annually increasing amount expended in bringing criminals to justice, would not be better devoted to the inculcation, on the minds and temper of youth, of such principles and dispositions as might prevent the perpetration of those crimes which it is now employed to punish."
Thus far Roscoe speaks like himself; but when he advises legislators to appeal to the sense of honour and of shame, and to substitute disgraceful for painful penalties, we are inclined to demur. Honour and shame are feelings bestowed by nature for wise ends: their extinction marks the last hopeless stage of depravity; but, like all other passions, they are good only so far as they are natural and necessary. They should never be artificially excited, or diverted from their instinctive course, — far less should they be enthroned in the seat of reason. But above all (and which is more to our present question), shame should never be made a punishment, nor should punishment be rendered unnecessarily shameful. If the punishment be capital, can it be right to distract the thoughts of the vilest malefactor, by withdrawing them from his own state to the opinions of curious or unfeeling gazers? Is it right to desecrate the awfulness of death, by associations of gratuitous ignominy? Surely a day of execution should be a day of mourning and general humiliation; but the correlative passion of shame is scorn, which makes Man proud, and what is worst of all, proud of others' disgrace, which he ought to consider his own. If, on the other hand, the punishment be not capital, the infliction of ignominy almost precludes the chance of reformation. It exiles the poor victim from all social sympathies; it begets either deadly resentment, or utter shamelessness; it induces, nay compels, a wretch, to whom solitude must needs be unindurable, to herd with those whose glory is in their shame. Bather let the code of Draco be executed by Rhadamanthus, and every offence be visited with the avenging sword, than condemn that man to live, whom the law has made a byeword, and a plague-spot.
In the ensuing parts of his work, Mr. Roscoe considers the subject of capital and secondary punishments minutely. The infliction of death he appears to disapprove in toto, and appeals to the good success attending its abolition by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, in 1786. Whatever may be the tendency of individual opinions on the lawfulness or expediency of taking life for life, it is highly unadvisable to moot the point in the present state of public feeling. Such discussions could only retard that mitigation at which the advocates of humanity are aiming, by weakening their most taking argument; viz., the apparent injustice of subjecting unequal crimes to equal penalties.
The consideration of punishments of inferior degree led him to speak of penitentiaries. We cannot follow him through his various details on this head, which occupy the most considerable part of his volume, and a long appendix. He was clearly of opinion that a prison might be rendered a school of reformation. But while he contends for the necessity of seclusion and strict superintendence, he deprecates all extreme harshness, and particularly disapproves of solitary confinement.
Some remarks on the penitentiary system in the United States, repeated and reinforced in subsequent pamphlets, engaged Mr. Roscoe in a controversy with several writers of that republic, which commenced in 1825, and was only finished with his last exertions in this world. His intense application to this labour perhaps tended to shorten his days. But it was a cause to which he begrudged not the remains of his strength. It was a point where he was happy to say,
"Hic coestus artemque repono."
My work is done: I here resign the pen,
And all my skill to plead the cause of men.
He had the comfort to hear that his arguments had not been vainly wafted over the Atlantic; that a milder plan had been adopted in the treatment of those unhappy beings, whom it was his hope, and struggle, and prayer to restore to the condition of useful citizens, and the higher dignity of good men. Dr. Traill mentions having heard him declare, not long before his departure, "that no literary distinction had ever afforded him half the gratification he received from the reflection on the part he had taken in this great question; and he expressed his satisfaction, that he now might be permitted to think that he had not lived altogether in vain."
He was then fast approaching the period when such reflections are most of all precious. In the winter of 1827, in consequence of intense application to his work on Penitentiaries, to which he was urged by the approaching departure of a vessel for America, he was attacked with paralysis of the muscles of the tongue and mouth. His friend and physician Dr. Traill was immediately called; the patient was freely bled, on which he recovered his speech, and the introduction of a seton into his neck removed the paralytic affection of his mouth. Intense study was forbidden, and after an interval of perfect relaxation from his literary occupations, he recovered sufficiently to be able to complete his botanical work and the catalogue of Mr. Coke's library, and to correct for the press his latest tracts on prison discipline. It was a great satisfaction to find his intellect quite entire; and it remained so to within an hour of his death .
For some time he had entertained a design of translating, in concert with Dr. Traill, Lanzi's "History of Italian Painting," a work which his own increasing years, and the various avocations of his associate, induced him to relinquish; with the less regret, as it devolved upon his son to execute the task, to his own and his father's honour.
The last public works of Mr. Roscoe were, a letter congratulating the Lord Chancellor Brougham on his elevation to the woolsack; and an earnest solicitation to La Fayette, on the arrest of Polignac and the other Carlist Ministers, urging him, by the utmost exertion of his authority and influence, not to let the triumph of the "three days" be stained by bloody and vindictive executions. So accordant were all the acts of Roscoe's life and pen.
Though he was now incapable of sustaining the excitement of promiscuous society, in the bosom of his family, and with a few old and valued friends, he still enjoyed an innocent cheerfulness. Death approached, not unforeseen, yet gently — rather announced by increasing weakness, than by actual pain. He looked calmly on the passage he had so soon to make. Not many days before his last, he was heard to declare, "that he thanked the Almighty for having permitted him to pass a life of much happiness, which, though somewhat checkered with vicissitudes, had been on the whole one of much enjoyment; and he trusted that he would be enabled to resign it cheerfully whenever it pleased God to call him."
That call was made on the 30th of June, 1831, when a fit of influenza ended the life of Roscoe.
His many friends, and many more who would gladly have been his friends, will look impatiently for the publication of his correspondence, and the more perfect picture of his mind and habits, the more minute narrative of his transactions, which may be expected from Mr. Henry Roscoe. Meanwhile, we trust we have done him no injustice, and have gratified our own feelings, by thus publicly testifying our respect to his memory.
From a general survey of what Roscoe was, did, and wrote, his character seems happily expressed in the words of Tacitus; "Bonum virum facile credas, magnum libenter." The goodness of his heart appears in every page ,of his writings, and was in all his ways; but to discover the extraordinary powers of his intellect, and the noble energy of his will, it is necessary to consider the variety of his accomplishments, and the perseverant efforts of his long life for the benefit of his kind. His brightest literary praise is unquestionably that of a biographer and historian; but it was a far higher glory, that he was a grey-headed friend of freedom. The Romans went forth from their city, when threatened with a siege, to thank the Consul who fled from Cannae, because he had not despaired of the republic. How should that man be honoured, who, after the disappointment of a hundred hopes, after a hundred vicissitudes of good and ill, never despaired of unman nature?
P.S. We are aware that Mr. Roscoe wrote many things in periodicals, &c., of which we have given no account. Among the rest, a poem on the progress of engraving. But we cannot forbear to mention "Butterflies Ball," which, though published merely as a child's book, has the true spirit of Faery poesy, and reminds one of the best things in Herrick.