1877 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Samuel Rogers

Bryan Waller Procter, in Procter: An Autobiographical Fragment (1877) 148-51.



I forget who introduced me to Mr. Rogers in the year 1820. He lived then and until his death in Saint James's Place, in a house that had previously belonged to one of the Dukes of St. Albans. It was not in a wide street, but it looked southward on to the Green Park. Upon the whole I never saw any residence so tastefully fitted up and decorated. Every thing was good of its kind, and in good order. There was no plethora; no appearance of display, no sign of superfluous wealth. There were good pictures, good drawings, and a few good books. He had choice statuettes, some coins, and vases, and some rare bijouterie. There was not too much of anything, not even too much welcome; yet no lack of it. His breakfast-table was perfect, in all respects; and the company — where literature mixed with fashion and rank, each having a fair proportion — was always agreeable. And in the midst of all his hospitable glory was the little old pleasant man, not yet infirm, with his many anecdotes, and sub-acid words that gave flavour and pungency to the general talk. He dwelt too much (too much for the taste of some of his hearers) on olden times, on the days of Fox and Pitt and Sheridan, all of whom he knew and mentioned with great respect, never omitting the "Mr." previously to each name. Like most other persons he was, perhaps, too much disposed to overvalue the times and people of his youth. Even the authors of the last century, so manifestly inferior to those of the present, found an advocate with him. He admired Gray prodigiously, and had great respect for Mr. Crowe, the Professor of Poetry at Oxford, whose Lewesdon Hill he thought to be almost unequalled. He had just begun to admit Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron into his list of deservedly distinguished writers. Crabbe he had always admitted amongst the great authors, because of his style, and Mr. Thomas Moore was rather a favourite by reason of his upholding the merits of Sheridan, whom he (Mr. Rogers) had generously assisted in his later days. He had no imagination, but give him the thing imagined, and (if he liked it) he was tolerably sure to suggest some improvement to it. "Rogers' rhymes" (which Lord Byron has praised) moved on harmonious hinges; but they on no occasion had that free spontaneous sound which the lines of the higher poets possess. I like the versification in his poem of "Jacqueline" the best.

It has been rumoured that he was a sayer of bitter things. I know that he was a giver of good things — a kind and amiable patron, where a patron was wanted; never ostentatious or oppressive, and always a friend in need. He was ready with his counsel; ready with his money. I never put his generosity to the test, but I know enough to testify that it existed, and was often exercised in a delicate manner, and on the slightest hint. "I have received the kindest letter in the world from Rogers," said X— one day, "inclosing a fifty pound note. God knows, it did not come before it was wanted." It appeared that a friend of mine had casually mentioned X—'s great distress, his struggles for bread, and his large family, a few days previously to Rogers, who made no observation beyond a little sympathy, but he took the opportunity of silently giving the money without parade.

He delighted in clever and pleasant anecdotes, and he told them well. Mr. Wordsworth was breakfasting with him one morning, he said; but he was much beyond the appointed time, and excused himself by stating that he and a friend had been to see Coleridge, who had detained them by one continuous flow of talk. "How was it you called so early upon him?" inquired Rogers. "Oh," replied Wordsworth, "we are going to dine with him this evening, and—" "And," said Rogers, taking up the sentence, "you wanted to take the sting out of him beforehand."