1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Rogers

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:316.



There is a poetry of taste as well as of the passions, which can only be relished by the intellectual classes, but is capable of imparting exquisite pleasure to those who have the key to its hidden mysteries. It is somewhat akin to that delicate appreciation of the fine arts, or of music, which in some men amounts to almost a new sense. MR. SAMUEL ROGERS, author of the Pleasures of Memory, may be considered a votary of this school of refinement. We have everywhere in his works a classic and graceful beauty; no slovenly or obscure lines; fine cabinet pictures of soft and mellow lustre; and occasionally trains of thought and association that awaken or recall tender and heroic feelings. His diction is clear and polished — finished with great care and scrupulous nicety. On the other hand, it must be admitted that he has no forcible or original invention, no deep pathos that thrills the soul, and no kindling energy that fires the imagination. In his shadowy poem of Columbus, he seems often to verge on the sublime, but does not attain it. His late works are his best. Parts of Human Life possess deeper feeling than are to be found in the Pleasures of Memory; and in the easy half conversational sketches of his Italy, there are delightful glimpses of Italian life, and scenery, and old traditions. The poet was an accomplished traveller, a lover of the fair and good, and a worshipper of the classic glories of the past. The life of Mr. Rogers has been as calm and felicitous as his poetry: he has for more than half a century maintained his place in our national literature. He was born at Newington Green, a village now included in the growing vastness of London, in the year 1762. His father (well-known and respected among the dissenters) was a banker by profession; and the poet, after a careful private education, was introduced into the banking establishment, of which he is still a partner. He was fixed in his determination of becoming a poet by the perusal of Beattie's Minstrel, when he was only nine years of age. His boyish enthusiasm led him also to sigh for an interview with Dr. Johnson, and to attain this, he twice presented himself at the door of Johnson's well-known house in Bolt Court, Fleet Street. On the first occasion the great moralist was not at home; and the second time, after he had rung the bell, the heart of the young aspirant misgave him, and he retreated without waiting for the servant. Rogers was then in his fourteenth year. Notwithstanding the proverbial roughness of Johnson's manner, we have no doubt he would have been flattered by this instance of youthful admiration, and would have received his intended visitor with fatherly kindness and affection. Mr. Rogers appeared as an author in 1786, the same year that witnessed the glorious advent of Burns. The production of Rogers was a thin quarto of a few pages, an Ode to Superstition, and other poems. In 1792 he produced the Pleasures of Memory; in 1812 the Voyage of Columbus (a fragment); and in 1814 Jacqueline, a tale, published in conjunction with Byron's Lara — "Like morning brought by night." In 1819 appeared Human Life, and in 1822 Italy, a descriptive poem in blank verse. The collected works of Mr. Rogers have been published in various forms — one of them containing vignette engraving, from designs by Stothard, and forming no inconsiderable trophy of British art. The poet has been enabled to cultivate his favourite tastes, to enrich his house in St. James's Place with some of the finest and rarest pictures, busts, books, and gems, and to entertain his friends with a generous and unostentatious hospitality. His conversation is rich and various, abounding in wit, eloquence, shrewd observation, and interesting personal anecdote. He has been familiar with almost every distinguished author, orator, and artist for the last forty years. Perhaps no single individual has had so many works dedicated to him as memorials of friendship or admiration. It is gratifying to mention, that his benevolence is equal to his taste: his bounty soothed and relieved the deathbed of Sheridan, and is now exerted to a large extent, annually, in behalf of suffering or unfriended talent.

Nature denied him much,
But gave him at his birth what most he values:
A passionate love for music, sculpture, painting,
For poetry, the language of the gods,
For all things here, or grand or beautiful,
A setting sun, a lake among the mountains,
The light of an ingenuous countenance,
And, what transcends them all, a noble action.
ITALY.