Samuel Rogers 1763-1855
During his lifetime, Samuel Rogers was a successful and popular poet, counting Wordsworth and Byron among his admirers. He was a prominent member of London's literary and cultured society, renowned for his extensive, tasteful collection of art and his conversation laced with sarcastic wit. However, his literary reputation has not endured. Rogers's work, despite its recognized polish and elegance, has been criticized for its antiquated blandness. Since the mid-nineteenth century, most critics have relegated him to the rank of a minor poet, and Rogers is remembered more for his ability as a conversationalist.
Samuel Rogers was born in Newington Green, a London suburb, into an affluent family. From a young age, Rogers harbored poetic aspirations, fondly learning the poems of Gray, Goldsmith, and Dryden, whose influences are evident in his work. After attending school in Hackney, London, Rogers studied in Stoke Newington under the auspices of James Burgh, whose belief in liberty left an enduring impression on his pupil. Rogers supported unpopular causes, such as American independence. At the age of 16 or 17 Rogers entered his father's bank, where he worked as a clerk during the day and filled his evenings with writing. His earliest published works were not poems, but a series of well received short essays in the style of Samuel Johnson that appeared in Gentleman's Magazine. In 1782 Rogers began composing poems. A decade later he paid a publisher, T. Cadell, to publish his first substantial poetic work, The Pleasures of Memory. It earned the praise of critics, contemporary poets, and the public, and gave Rogers the unusual reputation of a banker-poet. The title remained, although Rogers soon ended his banking career and devoted himself to poetry. He moved to London and courted many eminent literati of his day, including Wordsworth, Byron, Coleridge, and Scott. Rogers became famous as a host and a man of great taste; his conversations were worthy of record and were later published in Alexander Dyce's Recollections and G. H. Powell's Reminiscences, although his fast tongue was too sharp for some. A wealthy and generous man, Rogers often helped needy literary figures; he provided financial support to Thomas Moore and Richard Brinsley Sheridan among others. In 1850 Rogers was offered the position of Poet Laureate, but ailing in health and recognizing a better poet, he relinquished the honor to Tennyson.
Rogers's long life straddled the Augustan, Romantic, and Victorian poetic movements, although most of his work reflected his favored childhood influences, Gray and Goldsmith. Rogers was not a revolutionary or innovative poet; during his lifetime his verse was read for its urbane refinement and elegance. He polished and reworked his poetry, producing only a handful of works and is principally remembered for two: The Pleasures of Memory and Italy. The Pleasures of Memory, published in 1792, established Rogers's reputation as a poet, gaining praise from several literary magazines of the day including the Monthly Review. Inspired by a trip to Italy in 1815, Rogers began composing Italy (1822-28). Written in blank verse that departed from his earlier adherence to iambic meter, the poem marked a mild transition from his earlier highly polished works. The first publications of Italy received little enthusiasm from the public, so Rogers commissioned Turner and Stothard to lavishly illustrate a second edition. The addition of illustrations made the book wildly popular; Rogers sold many copies of the book, although some critics recognized that without the illustrations, the volume held little value.
Around the turn of the nineteenth century Rogers was one of England's most popular poets. Many of Rogers's contemporaries, now considered among England's greatest poets, regarded Rogers as one of their generation's leading poets. Byron so admired Rogers that he chose to publish his Lara with Rogers's Jacqueline (1814), in the hope that the latter's popularity would boost sales. The Pleasures of Memory brought fame, critical acclaim, and respect to Rogers, selling 30,000 copies between 1792 and 1830. His popularity waned with The Voyage of Columbus (1810) and was only renewed with the highly successful Turner and Stothard illustrated editions of Italy. Overshadowed by Romantic greats, Rogers fell quickly to the status of a minor poet. The elegant polish that was appreciated in his lifetime, has been strongly criticized for its lack of originality, critics preferring the emotional intensity of the Romantics. Writing in 1952, Morchard Bishop pronounced that, "His poetry .. . is dead beyond much hope of resurrection," echoing the opinion of most critics in the twentieth century, who have generally ignored Rogers.
P. W. Clayden (essay date 1887)
SOURCE: "Early Writings," in The Early Life of Samuel Rogers, Smith, Elder, and Company, 1887, pp. 52-72.
[In the following excerpt, Clayden examines some of Rogers's earliest works and quotes from some favorable early reviews and comments.]
[Rogers's] first poetical composition has never been published. It took the unexpected form of a comic opera. The world might never have heard of this production, of which Rogers himself did not desire much to be said, but for a Note which, in his Table Talk, Mr. Dyce has appended to an account given by Rogers of the time occupied in the composition of his poems. In this Note Mr. Dyce writes, "I was with Mr. Rogers when he tore to pieces and threw into the fire a manuscript operatic drama—The Vintage of Burgundy—which he had written early in life. He told me that he offered it to a manager, who said, 'I will bring it on the stage if you are determined to have it acted, but it will certainly be damned.'s" . . . This statement is only partly true. The manuscripts, for there were two copies, were indeed torn, but only a portion of each was burned, and the remainder is still preserved. The story of the offer of the opera to a manager, like many others which Mr. Dyce has reported, was told by Rogers when his memory was failing. The manager to whom it was submitted seems, from a letter which has been preserved, to have been George Colman the elder. His letter, returning it is dated from Soho Square, April 8th, without the year, and merely says, "The little piece, herewith returned, is, I think, a pretty drama of the sentimental kind, but its success upon the stage must depend much upon the music. Is not it a translation from the French?" This faint praise from the eminent author of the "Jealous Wife" and the "Clandestine Marriage," was probably regarded by Rogers as equivalent to condemnation, and may have convinced him that his chance of literary success was to be found in a different direction.
The piece was called The Vintage of Burgundy—a Comic Opera in Two Acts. The larger fragment shows that the manuscript covered eight-and-twenty pages of small, clear writing; two of these have been completely cut away, eighteen are roughly torn down the middle, and eight are entire. Of the smaller manuscript much less is left; but it contains a few lines which are obliterated in the other copy. So far as the two can be compared, the difference between them is considerable. The description of it as a "comic opera" is not borne out by what remains of it; but it exactly answers to George Colman's description, "a pretty drama of the sentimental kind." . . .
From the date of 1782 given to the song "Dear is my little Native Vale" it is evident that it was the first of Rogers's completed productions, and embodied much of his early poetical effort. He had kept it by him very many years, and had probably re-written and published several of the songs it contained, besides the two already mentioned. He might have said of The Vintage of Burgundy—as he did of the Ode to Superstition—that it was written in his teens, and afterwards touched up. This elaborate method was followed in everything he did—even in the writing of a letter of more than common importance. He wrote nothing in haste, yet he always reconsidered every line at leisure. He said to Mr. Dyce: "During my whole life I have borne in mind the speech of a woman to Philip of Macedon—'I appeal from Philip drunk to Philip sober.' After writing anything in the excitement of the moment, and being greatly pleased with it, I have always put it by for a time, and then, carefully considering it in every possible light, I have altered it to the best of my judgment." This rule has the testimony of all antiquity in its favour; but it belongs to antiquity. The custom of the present day is to print at once that which is flung off in the heat of the kindled fancy, and the haste is justified of its children by the gain in strength and fire, though the gain is made at some expense of that grace and polish of which Rogers is one of the latest examples in English literature.
His second poetical composition was the Ode to Superstition, which has been already mentioned. The writing of this poem was one of the chief occupations of his evening leisure in 1784 and 1785. Like The Vintage of Burgundy it was written and re-written, and was published anonymously in the spring of 1786, with the title, An Ode to Superstition, with some other Poems. It was issued by Mr. Cadell as a thin quarto, at the price of eighteenpence. The other poems were: "The Alps at Daybreak," which had been included in the unpublished opera, The Vintage of Burgundy; "Lines to a Lady on the Death of her Lover," which were afterwards omitted in the republication of his poems; "The Sailor," which is dated 1786 in his collected works; and the pretty song, often set to music and included in collections of poetry, entitled "A Wish," and beginning "Mine be a cot beside the hill." In describing this first venture many years afterwards, Rogers said, "I paid...
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Richard Ellis Roberts (essay date 1910)
SOURCE: "The Man and the Poet," in Samuel Rogers and His Circle, E. P. Dutton and Company, 1910, pp. 65-94.
[In the following excerpt, Roberts reviews Rogers's major poems.]
. . . Rogers' own poetry, while it is careful, regular, smooth, finished, full of the most unexceptionable sentiment, is almost entirely devoid of life and of personal truth. And it is in this last that we mark the distinction between accomplished verse and real poetry. Just as religion is not the repetition of creed or formula, not the acceptance of orthodoxy, not the following of a theological fashion, but an emotional truth personally discerned and followed: so true poetry is not the composition...
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Morchard Bishop (essay date 1952)
SOURCE: Introduction to Recollections of the Table-Talk of Samuel Rogers, First Collected by The Revd. Alexander Dyce, edited by Morchard Bishop, The Richards Press, Ltd., 1952, pp. v-xxvi.
[In the following excerpt, Bishop, finding little of merit within Rogers's work, discusses the author's popularity.]
It would be idle to pretend that Rogers is a figure of importance, or one whose works literary fashion will some day rediscover. His poetry—and I have read most of it before considering myself entitled to make such a statement—is dead beyond much hope of resurrection. There was never a great deal of it, and it is one of the lasting miracles of literary history...
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J. R. Watson (essay date 1978)
SOURCE: "Samuel Rogers: The Last Augustan," in Augustan Worlds, edited by J. C. Hilson, M. M. B. Jones, and J. R. Watson, Barnes and Noble Books, 1978, pp. 281-97.
[In the following essay, Watson discusses the sentimentality in Rogers's Augustan verse.]
Samuel Rogers was born in 1763 and died in 1855. He was 20 years old when Johnson died (as a young man he was too timid to knock at the great man's door), and he lived to refuse the laureateship when it went to Tennyson; so not only did he live through the Romantic Period, but had one foot either side of it. From Augustan to Victorian, from Strawberry Hill to the Great Exhibition, from Reynolds (whom he heard lecture)...
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Avery F. Gaskins (essay date 1985)
SOURCE: "Samuel Rogers: A Revaluation," The Wordsworth Circle, Vol. XVI, No. 3, Summer, 1985, pp. 146-49.
[In the following excerpt, Avery discusses Rogers's poetic development, countering the popular opinion that Rogers's style remained static]
A scholar who announces today that he is studying Samuel Rogers can expect from his colleagues little more than quizzical stares. However, in the period from 1800 to 1855, Samuel Rogers himself would have been recognized everywhere in the English-speaking world. He was as well known to the social and literary elite of London in his day as was T. S. Eliot in the London of the 1950's. . . .
However, all this...
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Peter T. Murphy (essay date 1994)
SOURCE: "Climbing Parnassus, and Falling Off," in At the Limits of Romanticism: Essays in Cultural, Feminist, and Materialist Criticism, edited by Mary A. Favret and Nicola J. Watson, Indiana University Press, 1994, pp. 40-58.
[In the following essay, Murphy examines why Rogers's work is considered "boring" by many critics by comparing Rogers 's The Pleasures of Memory with Wordworth's "An Evening Walk "]
Students of British romantic culture have always known that their canon of major writers is and has been for a long time an unusually revisionary one. We know that the list of the "big six" excludes all the popular and important women writers (like Felicia...
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Clayden, P. W. The Early Life of Samuel Rogers. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1887, 461 p.
Details the first forty years of Rogers's life, from his wealthy ancestral origins to his move to St. James's Place.
Firebaugh, Joseph J. "Samuel Rogers and American Men of Letters." American Literature 13, No. 4 (January 1942): 331-45.
Describes Rogers's American sympathies and his friendships with American literary figures, including Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and William Cullen Bryant.
Hall, Elizabeth. "Samuel Rogers...
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