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...
(The entire section is 2133 words.)