The privilege which my father in his official capacity enjoyed of taking with him a friend or two to "inspect" the private apartments at Windsor Castle was the remote cause of our becoming acquainted with the Rev. John Mitford, the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine, and one of the most delightful companions as well as the most intellectual man whom it has ever been my lot to know. Our intimacy with Mr. Mitford came about after this wise. It chanced that three authors of note, namely, the historian of the Middle Ages [Henry Hallam], William Wordsworth, and Samuel Rogers, were simultaneously seized with a desire to see the interior of the private apartments at Windsor Castle. This harmless wish having been gratified, the trio returned with my father to dine with us in the charming old Elizabethan home in which we had taken up our quarters. The day was a warm one in Mid-July, and it is possible that the heat as well as the fatigue of sightseeing might have had a depressing effect upon the spirits of our guests; but whatever the cause, certain is it that they were far from realising any ideas regarding the conversational gifts of distinguished literary men which I in my ignorance had formed. Of the three, Rogers, as we sat after dinner under the shade of a spreading cedar tree, was the most inclined to be talkative, for, speaking of Windsor Castle and the sights which they had seen there, he mentioned the Queen as having been so gracious as to allow them to obtain a glimpse of her royal person.
"I saw Her Majesty," Rogers said, "peeping round the corner when we were in the corridor. I suppose she was anxious to catch a sight of the Poets."
This remark, which I thought savoured greatly of vanity, created a prejudice in my mind against one whose refined and delicately finished poems I had always so greatly admired; but amongst his other few and far between remarks, there was one which, inasmuch as it related to Mr. Mitford, has clung as one of importance to my memory.
The remark in question arose out of my father's tastes being so much in sympathy with those of Wordsworth, and with the latter's appreciation of Nature's ever-varying charms. My father's love for the trees and flowers which had been placed, as it were, under his guardianship, caused the conversation (if anything devoid of exciting interest could be so called) to turn more than once upon the veneration which trees that have for centuries past played their silent parts in life ought to inspire in the human mind. One so entirely devoid of imagination as Mr. Hallam could hardly be expected to enter into the ideas which this community of tastes in the great poet and his host conjured up. To him it mattered nothing that Queen Elizabeth might have sat "in maiden meditation" beneath the spreading branches of Herne's oak; whilst Samuel Rogers, whose love for the "sweet shady side" of Pall-Mall was as great as that of Madame de Sevigne for the "ruisseau" in the Rue du Bac, was one of the last men living to see in an ancient tree an object of reverence, or one that afforded food for thought.
Notwithstanding, however, this absence in the banker-poet of congenial tastes and feeling, I hold his memory, as regards that summer's day's repast, in gratitude and respect, for apropos of trees, he made the remark which led to our after friendship with the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine.
"You ought to know Mitford, Mr. Jesse," he said; "he has as great an affection for old trees as you have. Trees and butter, those are what he lives for, it seems to me. He is in town just now; so if you will meet him some Tuesday at breakfast in St. James's Place, I shall be glad to make you acquainted with him. Poor fellow! his going into the Church was a great mistake. He is no more fit to be a parson than I am to be the Angel Gabriel."
I quote the words as they appear in a rough diary which in early life I used to keep, and methinks I can see before me now the sneering, cadaverous face of the speaker. It was my first as well as last opportunity of forming a judgment, such as it was, of Samuel Rogers, and that he was vain, selfish, and cynical was the opinion concerning him to which in my old relation's cosy little sanctum I gave voice. I have since that time become acquainted with several poets, and, strange as the assertion may appear, not one of them has on a "nearer view" conveyed to me the impression that tenderness of heart was amongst his mental gifts. I am glad that neither Tom Hood nor Charles Kingsley are amongst the poets I have known, for, as regards their genuine powers of sympathy, I should indeed regret to have my belief disturbed.