The form of the Rolliad is excellently contrived to avoid tediousness. An epic is imagined closely following the structure of the Aeneid, with the ancestor of a certain Mr. Rolle, member for Devonshire, for hero; and solemn criticisms of this poem and copious extracts were the work of various hands working with perfect freedom and independence. One qualification all contributors shared: these wits, men of the world and politicians, were as familiar with Virgil as we are with nothing but the multiplication-table. There must have gone infinite mirth to the making of the Rolliad, — ideas flying from brain to brain, eager talking, bursts of explosive laughter. The meetings probably took place at Brooks's Club. Sheridan would flash in making suggestions, though no actual lines have been attributed to him; Laurence, Burke's devoted echo, was the leading spirit, unwieldy in person, awkward in society, full of witty inventions; Fitzpatrick, Fox's "fidus Achates," was another, arbiter of waistcoats, mainstay of private theatricals, but a gallant officer and a Whig, staunch even in Anti-Jacobin days; Tickell, Sheridan's brother-in-law, was a fourth, famous for political squibs; a fifth was General Burgoyne, most ill-fated of commanding officers, but credited by his contemporaries with the only comedy that really reproduced genteel society; yet another was Richard Burke, of whom Goldsmith writes—
In short, so provoking a devil was Dick,
That we wished him full ten times a-day at Old Nick;
But missing his mirth and agreeable vein,
As often we wished to have Dick back again.
Lastly, there was our Mr. Ellis, with his hatchet-face and "sapient prominence of nose," a manner perfect in its urbanity, and a humour delicate and lambent in social intercourse but pointed and personal in satiric verse.