1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Rogers

V. A., "Samuel Rogers, a Biographical and Literary Sketch" Living Poets of England: Specimens of the Living British Poets (1827) 1:59-62.



SAMUEL ROGERS, Esq. a banker of the city of London, is the son of a gentleman of the same profession, who, in 1780, had a severe contest with the present Lord Sheffield, then Colonel Holroyd, for the representation of Coventry. Mr. Rogers received a most liberal education, and has greatly distinguished himself by his urbanity and refined taste.

Didactic poetry, when it treats of human passions, as it is commonly devoted to the description of general feelings, unmarked by those traits and peculiarities which distinguish the individual, does not create that deep and powerful interest which is excited when those feelings are exemplified and brought home to the affections of the reader, by the portraiture of the enjoyments or sufferings of real or imaginary personages. — It can, therefore, no more be expected to interest the common reader, than philanthropy or cosmopolitism can be thought to actuate the mass of mankind: for, unless we are enabled to picture to ourselves vividly and distinctly those objects which are intended to excite our sympathies, it is not the bare recital of the most alarming and horrible catastrophes that will affect in the slightest degree even those of the most delicate sensibility.

Samuel Rogers is the Goldsmith of the nineteenth century. It is the great merit of this writer, that he appeals to the heart: we are born along by an impulse, which evinces how strongly our personal feelings are interested; and while we admire the poet, we esteem the man. Thus, in the Pleasures of Memory, the recollections of the past stand before us in palpable array. As we read, we are perpetually reminded of our own experience, and are delighted with the fidelity of the picture. It is for this reason, that the gratification we derive from the perusal of his writings is permanent. The mind recurs to them as to a subject that is interwoven with its own sensations; and they acquire an importance from their truth.

The Pleasures of Memory, whether we consider the comprehensiveness of its plan, the correctness of its delineations, or the skilfulness of its execution, is an admirable poem. No point of advantage seems to be omitted; and the author appeals to have dived for his materials into the inmost recesses of the human heart. The recollections of our youth, the associations of age, or reflections of the mind, as excited by the remembrance of sensible objects, or personal attachments and feelings, are all minutely but powerfully delineated. Even the instinct of brutes, as referred to the operations of the memory, is not forgotten.

Undamp'd by time, the generous instinct glows
Far as Angola's sands, as Zembla's snows;
Glows in the tiger's den, the serpent's nest,
On every form of varied life imprest.
The social tribes its choicest influence hail;
And, when the drum beats briskly in the gale,
The war worn courser charges at the sound,
And with young vigour wheels she pasture round....
Recal the traveller, whose alter'd form
Has borne the buffet of the mountain-storm;
And who will first his fond impatience meet?
His faithful dog's already at his feet.

The love of country also refers itself to the same principle:

The intrepid Swiss, that guards a foreign shore,
Condemn'd to climb his mountain cliffs no more,
If chance he hears the song so sweetly wild,
Which on those cliffs his infant hours beguil'd,
Melts at the long lost scenes that round him rise,
And sinks a martyr to repentant sighs....
For this, Foscari, whose relentless fate
Venice should blush to hear she Muse relate
When exile wore his blooming years away,
To sorrow's long soliloquies a prey,...
Glad to return, tho' hope could grant no more,
And chains and torture hailed him to the shore.

In the delineation of minute points of interest, which associate themselves with the memory, the genius of Rogers is no less conspicuous, than is his comprehensive grasp of his subject as a whole. We have all experienced that objects, trifling in themselves, when viewed after a lapse of years, awaken a train of reflections and conjure up to the mind a thousand tender recollections; and that incidents, which time had partially obscured, are arrayed with a freshness, as green as if they were but of yesterday. — The Poet has not failed to seize these impressions. He has given them, by the magic of his genius, a more lively interest, while he has preserved all their truth and all their simplicity.

As o'er, the dusky furniture I bend,
Each chair awakes the feelings of a friend....
The screen unfolds its many-colour'd chart,
The clock still points its metal to the heart....
Those muskets, cas'd with venerable ruse,
Those once lov'd forms, still breathing thro' their dust;
Still from the frame, in mould gigantic cast,
Starting to life; — all whisper of the past!

It is by these minor touches of exquisite skill, that we recognize the poet of nature and of truth. Nor is the genius of Rogers less conspicuous in the choice of his subjects, than in his mode of treating them. Leaving to others, on the one hand, those powerful delineations of terrific objects and emotions, front which we rather recoil with dread, than regard with sympathy; and, on the other, that morbid exuberance of fancy, which associates with inanimate objects a thousand extravagant sensations, treating to itself a world of fiction, in which every thing is as it is not; he pursues the path to fame through a less romantic, but more certain road, — by ennobling the best impulses of our nature, and making common cause with its purest sympathies.

But if in the Pleasures of Memory we find so much to admire on the score of kindred recognition, his Human Life brings the mirror of our thoughts, our feelings, and our experience, still closer to our view. It is indeed the microcosm of man, and pourtrays with singular elegance and fidelity this "strange, eventful history," this "tale, told by and idiot, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing." The introduction, comprising in thirty-three lines the various stages of existence, for simplicity, interest, compressiveness and beauty, may fairly challenge competition with any poem in the English language; and who can deny the fidelity of the following picture?

Our pathway leads but to a precipice;
And all must follow, fearful as it is!
From the first step 'tis known; but — No delay!
On, 'tis decreed. We tremble and obey.
A thousand ills beset us as we go.
"Still could I shun the fatal gulph" — Ah! no;
'Tis all in vain: — the inexorable law!
Nearer and nearer to the brink we draw.
Verdure springs up; and fruits and flowers invite,
And groves and fountains; — all things that delight.
"Oh! I would stop, and linger, if I might!"
We fly no resting for she foot we find;
All dark before; all desolate behind?
At length the brink appears -but one step more!
We faint — On! on! — We faulter — and 'tis o'er!

Perhaps one of the strongest arguments in favour of the immorality of the soul (to us at least, it has always appeared so) is the little progress the longest life affords, for the attainment of mental perfection. How few are allowed time to execute what the ambition of their minds has conceived! They advance to the end in view with gradual improvement; they never retrograde; but death cuts them off ere the object is accomplished; and may we not indulge in the hope, that in a future life we shall he permitted to continue our progress, till we ultimately reach that perfection of intellect, which is denied us here, but which the very longing of our nature seems to imply will not be for ever withheld from us? A similar idea appears to be entertained by Mr. Rogers, who thus beautifully expresses it:

Do what he will, man cannot realise
Half he conceives; — the glorious vision flies....
Passions that slept are stirring in his frame,
Thoughts undefined, feelings, without a name!
And some, not here called forth, may slumber on,
'Til this vain pageant of a world is gone;
Lying too deep for things that perish here,
Waiting for life — but in a nobler sphere!

The poem of Human Life is fertile in beauty. His picture of maternal love and infantine simplicity is most exquisite, and presents a faithfulness and a richness of colouring, that cannot be excelled. It is a delineation of nature, which we instantly recognize; and needs not the aid of fancy to give it loveliness or interest. Who does not sympathize with a mother's feelings in the following beautiful lines?

As with soft accents round her neck he clings,
And cheek to cheek her lulling song she sings,
How blest to feel the beatings of his heart!
Breathe his sweet breath, and kiss for kiss impart;
Watch o'er his slumbers like the brooding dove,
And, if she can, exhaust a mother's love!

He who can peruse these lines without feeling the best emotions of his heart awakened, is "either more or less than man." It is poetry like this, that will stamp the literary character of the present age with an unfading immortality; like the genius of Shakespeare, it is a structure erected on the rock of truth; and the poems of Rogers will be perused with delight by posterity, while the monstrous abortions of some of his contemporaries will be lost in the ocean of oblivion.

We are not very fond of Jacqueline. There is in this poem as in the Lines on a tear a factitious and far-fetched sensibility.

His Voyage of Columbus is only a fragment; but there are fine pictures and poetry in Italy.

The Verses on Loch Long have been quoted in all monthly journals. The Boy of Egremont, is termed a Lakish ditty by the Edinburgh review.