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“WHEN Rogers"-such was the commencement of a sentence, destined to be drowned for ever in the merriment of a pair of illustrious scapegraces. “When Rogers"-thus far Moore and Byron went, over and over again, upon one memorable evening ;-but what was to have followed never came--a roar of laughter at each attempt extinguished the sequel. “When Rogers"—a burst of eloquence was supposed to hang upon the words. They were the opening
of an epic. What followed ought to have been Homeric. Whatever it was, it was strangled at its birth it died in convulsions. But a time must come for all things it has come for Rogers. Nobody need fear that if the sentence “When Rogers" is now begun, it will be cut short by any one, contemporary or survivor. Strong in this conviction, we dare to pronounce the insuperable words, and fill up the chasm that has gaped for forty years.
When Rogers died, he left a large property behind him. Part of this was what is commonly called wealth; but the most important portion was a mass of memories, accumulated during seventy years of a literary and London life. Some of these had been converted into memoirs by himself, and might be said to represent the real property of the deceased. Some had been borrowed and treasured up by friends and associates, resembling mortgages and such regular securities. Others again had been long appropriated by the public, and passed freely from hand to hand, like money in the funds ;-While no small portion still floated airily within the brains of those who had intellectual dealings with the mental millionaire, after the manner of unascertained balances on current accounts.
One of these debts has lately been paid in.* A friend and associate of the clay which once was Rogers has has tened to relieve his estate-his conscience-of the burden upon it. The Rev. Alexander Dyce has refunded in one lodgment the advances made from time to time for so many years, and placed the sum total to the credit of the poet's true executors—the public.
Doubtless the obligation pressed heavily on the reverend gentleman's mind. He felt, in all probability, that the amount he had borrowed had swelled to an alarming sum. With commendable anxiety he has totted his book, and brought the balance, vast as it seemed to him, honestly to our credit.
Nobody can object to this proceed ing of the Rev. Alexander Dyce. On the contrary, every right-minded person will be inclined to praise him for what he has done. If he but act as conscientiously in all his worldly transactions, he need not dread being brought “to compt” at any future day of settlement.
But while the world will agree in appreciating and commending the reverend gentleman's motives, there may be considerable difference of opinion as to the amount of the debt, and consequently as to the actual value of what has just been refunded.
Samuel Rogers was a banker's son -nay, was a banker himself; and was not likely to under-estimate what he thus deposited in the hands of friendship; especially when he came to know, as he did early, that these successive loans were intended to fructify and to be repaid into the hands of those who were to follow him, with a large accumulation of interest. In point of fact, the whole of what we find here is not much. From Samuel Rogers—the poet-the wit-the banker'sson-the millionaire
-it is trifling. There must be a much larger amount coming to us, or we shall feel like legatees who have a right to be disappointed as to the testamentary dispositions of one from whom large expectations were reasonably formed.
What opportunities that man had of collecting memoirs ! Perhaps nobody was ever before so favorably circumstanced for the purpose of eliciting, preserving, and transmitting good things as the same Samuel Rogers. Born to comparative opulence, without the rank which might have brought that opulence to wastebred with care in habits of mingled industry and learned lucubration-induced to literature by association and to study by habit-- thrown early among wits and poets, with whom his tastes and his opportunities enabled him to associate without servilityhimself enabled to offer no mean contribution to the stock of his country's literature-escaping, nevertheless, the ordinary mischances of literary life, and able from first to last to patronise as well as court the muse— living out of one generation in which he learned, through another with which he worked, into a third which he taught-enabled, during all that time, to sit in placid observance, collecting the choice effects of society and social progress into a sort of silent camera obscura, where they were reproduced with a life-like fidelity,-- just as he collected into various apartments of his house the gems and chef d'æuvres of each age, so as to make it an epitome of the wonders and beauties of the world :-thus distinguished, thus gifted, and thus privileged, he
* " Recollections of the Table-talk of Samuel Rogers, to which is added Porsoniana." London: Moxon, 1856.
VOL. XLVII.-NO. CCLXXXI.
might naturally be looked to as himself a cabinet of curiosities illustrative of the times he belonged to. And such, in fact, he was. If the glass through which you view what he has to show has a slight tinge of green, you have only to make due allowance, and be thankful that there are no bulls-eyes. The effect upon the objects is not to distort, but to discolour—things appear as they are in reality, faithful to the shape and outline of truth; the light is at fault; and for this a due correction must be made. Indeed, we have only to look at the man, as he has been seen up to a few years ago-as he may still be seen in the fine portraits executed by the masterhands of his day-to account for and rectify these defects. Observe the feeling and appreciative yet wary eye,-the firm but lubricated and flexile lip,—the smooth sickliness of skin,--the delicate reticulation of wrinkle,--the slight sneer of nose, the expansion of the not quite noble forehead,—the shrunken chest and the raised shoulder, and you will have no difficulty in reading off the man's character. You will expect to find high refinement, polished taste, shrewd appreciation of character, considerable mental and eminent social powers. Along with these you will not look for very lofty qualities - great disinterestedness, high principle, warm philanthropy, generous devotedness, unshaken constancy. Somewhat of the stoic—a little of the cynic, perhaps, will colour his philosophy. His thoughts will be often those of Pascal ; but the maxims on which his estimate of others will be based will more nearly approach those of La Rochefoucauld.
Let us turn to a contemporary of his. What a contrast to all this was Sydney Smith! If ever there was a man altogether deficient in the acids which go to the composition of our nature, it was this. He was a perfect dairy of human kindness. Loud, boisterous, almost burlesque in his tone and temperament, he had a heart made of true, tender stuff; and we cannot choose but love him. A sound head, too. A man of vigorous understanding and of varied learning. A
high and gallant gentleman, if not a dignified clergyman(even that he could be when he chose); he might have risen to any eminence in a convulsed state of political society. Two mistakes were made in Sydney Smith. He ought not to have been a churchman, and he ought to have been a Tory. He was doubly out of his place. People may listen patiently to a ser mon from a man in a shooting-coat; but a joke in a cassock is not to be endured. And so also it came ill from the luxurious, institution-loving, constitutional, thoroughly aristocratic Englishman to assume the democrat. It became him as ill as the other. Men were outraged when they saw him don the fustian jacket and hobnailed shoes ; identifying himself with Hodge and Humphry. It was not for him to do this, though by others it might be becomingly done. Some thing there was indeed in the perfect fairness of his mind, which led him to hate with an instinctive hatred erclusiveness of privilege, and tyrannical demeanour from superiors to their inferiors. All this was revolting to him in theory. But in practice he was the gentleman-the member of the dominant caste—the Norman among Saxons—the lord amongst his serfs. It was absurd, if it escaped being ridiculous, to see a great, luxurious, laughter-loving gentleman like this, assuming the attitude of an injured artizan or trodden-down farm-labourer, and railing in the very caricature of an incongruous sympathy against the class and conduct he represented and practiced. Sydney Smith could not un-tory his nature. He was born in the purple, and could never dye himself any other colour in the tan-pits of whiggism. All the virtues and some of the faults and follies of the aristocrat were his. He had done well to avow and dignify them. With all the celebrity attained by this most learned of drôles and grotesque of wits, but little was known of him which could be quoted apart from a laugh or an aneodote, until his daughter, Lady Holland, gave to the world something which may by courtesy be admitted as a memoir,* calculated to exhibit him
* " Memoir of the Reverend Sydney Smith, by his daughter, Lady Holland; with Selection from his Letters, edited by Mrs. Austin. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longman, 1855.