Samuel Rogers - Encyclopedia

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SAMUEL ROGERS (1763-1855), English poet, was born at Newington Green, London, on the 30th of July 1763. His father, Thomas Rogers, was the son of a Stourbridge glass manufacturer, who was also a merchant in Cheapside. Thomas Rogers had a place in the London business, and married Mary,. the only daughter of his father's partner, Daniel Radford, becoming himself a partner shortly afterwards. On his mother's. side Samuel Rogers was connected with the two well-known Nonconformist divines Philip and Matthew Henry, and it was in Nonconformist circles at Stoke Newington that he was brought up. He was educated at private schools at Hackney and Stoke Newington. He wished to enter the Presbyterian ministry, but at his father's desire he joined the banking business in Cornhill. In long holidays, necessitated by delicate health, Rogers became a diligent student of English literature, particularly in Johnson, Gray and Goldsmith. Gray's poems, he said, he had by heart. He had already made some contributions to the Gentleman's Magazine, when in 1786 he published a volume containing some imitations of Goldsmith and an "Ode to Superstition" in the manner of Gray. In 1788 his elder brother Thomas died, and Samuel's business responsibilities were increased. In the next year he paid a visit to Scotland, where he met Adam Smith, Henry Mackenzie, the Piozzis and others. In 1791 he was in Paris, and enjoyed a. hurried inspection of the art collection of Philippe Fgalite at the Palais Royal, many of the treasures of which were later on to pass into his possession. With Gray as his model, Rogers. took great pains in polishing his verses, and six years elapsed after the publication of his first volume before he printed his elaborate poem on The Pleasures of Memory (1792). This poem may be regarded as the last embodiment of the poetic diction of the 18th century. Here is carried to the extremest pitch. the theory of elevating and refining familiar themes by abstract treatment and lofty imagery. In this art. of "raising a subject," as the 18th-century phrase was, the Pleasures of Memory is much more perfect than Thomas Campbell's Pleasures of Hope, published a few years later in imitation. The acme of positive praise for the fashionable serious poetry of the time was given by Byron when he said, "There is not a vulgar line in the poem." In 1793 his father's death gave Rogers the principal share in the banking house in Cornhill, and a considerable income.

XXIII. r5 a He left Newington Green in the same year and established himself in chambers in the Temple. In his circle of friends at this time were "Conversation" Sharp and the artists Flaxman, Opie, Martin Shee and Fuseli. He also made the acquaintance of Charles James Fox, with whom he visited the galleries in Paris in 1802, and whose friendship introduced him to Holland House. In 1803 he moved to 22 St James's Place, where for fifty years he entertained all the celebrities of London. Flaxman and Stothard had a share in the decorations of the house, which Rogers had almost rebuilt, and now proceeded to fill with pictures and other works of art. His collections at his death realized £50,00o. An invitation to one of Rogers's breakfasts was a formal entry into literary society, and his dinners were even more select. His social success was due less to his literary position than to his powers as a conversationalist, his educated taste in all matters of art, and no doubt to his sarcastic and bitter wit, for which he excused himself by saying that he had such a small voice that no one listened if he said pleasant things. Above all, he seems to have had a genius for benevolence. "He certainly had the kindest heart and unkindest tongue of any one I ever knew," said Fanny Kemble. He helped the poet Robert Bloomfield, he reconciled Moore with Jeffrey and with Byron, and he relieved Sheridan's difficulties in the last days of; his life. Moore, who refused help from all his friends, and would only be under obligations to his publishers, found it possible to accept assistance from Rogers. He procured a pension for H. F. Cary, the translator of Dante, and obtained for Wordsworth his sinecure as distributor of stamps.

It is difficult to realize the length of time that Rogers played the part of literary dictator in England. He made his reputation by The Pleasures of Memory when Cowper's fame was still in the making. He became the friend of Wordsworth, Scott and Byron, and lived long enough to give an opinion as to the fitness of Alfred Tennyson for the post of poet laureate. Alexander Dyce, from the time of his first introduction to Rogers, was in the habit of writing down the anecdotes with which his conversation abounded. From the mass of material thus accumulated he made a selection which he arranged under various headings and published in 1856 as Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers, to which is added Porsoniana. Rogers himself kept a notebook, in which he entered impressions of the conversation of many of his distinguished friends - Charles James Fox, Edmund Burke, Henry Grattan, Richard Porson, John Horne Tooke, Talleyrand, Lord Erskine, Sir Walter Scott, Lord Grenville and the duke of Wellington. They were published by his nephew William Sharpe in 1859 as Recollections by Samuel Rogers; and Reminiscences and Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers, Banker, Poet, and Patron of the Arts, 1763 - z8 55 (1903), by G. H. Powell, is an amalgamation of these two authorities. Rogers held various honorary positions: he was one of the trustees of the National Gallery; and he served on a commission to inquire into the management of the British Museum, and on another for the rebuilding of. the Houses of Parliament.

Meanwhile his literary production was slow. A poem of some autobiographical interest, An Epistle to a Friend (Richard Sharp), published in 1798, describes Rogers's ideal of a happy life. This was followed twelve years later by The Voyage of Columbus (r8ro), and by Jacqueline (1814), a narrative poem, written in the four-accent measure of the newer writers, and published in the same volume with Byron's Lara. His reflective poem on Human Life (1819), on which he had been engaged for twelve years, is written in his earlier manner.

In 1814 Rogers made a tour on the Continent with his sister Sarah. He travelled through Switzerland to Italy, keeping a full diary of events and impressions, and had made his way to Naples when the news of Napoleon's escape from Elba obliged him to hurry home. Seven years later he returned to Italy, paying a visit to Byron and Shelley at Pisa. Out of the earlier of these tours arose his last and longest work, Italy. The first part was published anonymously in 1822; the second, with his name attached, in 1828. The production was at first a failure, but Rogers was determined to make it a success. He enlarged and revised the poem, and commissioned .illustrations from J. M. Turner, Thomas Stothard and Samuel Prout. These were engraved on steel in the sumptuous edition of 1830. The book then proved a great success, and Rogers followed it up with an equally sumptuous edition of his Poems (1838). In 1850, on Wordsworth's death, Rogers was asked to succeed him as poet laureate, but declined the honour on account of his great age. For the last five years of his life he was confined to his chair in consequence of a fall in the street. He died in London on the 18th of December 1855.

A full account of Rogers is given in two works by P. W. Clayden, The Early Life of Samuel Rogers (1887) and Rogers and his Contemporaries (2 vols., 1889). One of the best accounts of Rogers, containing many examples of his caustic wit, is by Abraham Hayward in the Edinburgh Review for July 1856. See also the Aldine edition (1857) of his Poetical Works, and the Journals of Byron and of NI oore.

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