Romance of London: Strange Stories, Scenes And Remarkable Person of the Great Town in 3 Volumes
John Timbs (1801-1875), who also wrote as Horace Welby, was an English author and aficionado of antiquities. Born in Clerkenwell, London, he was apprenticed at 16 to a druggist and printer, where he soon showed great literary promise. At 19, he began to write for Monthly Magazine, and a year later he was made secretary to the magazine’s proprietor and there began his career as a writer, editor, and antiquarian.
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Samuel Rogers (30 July 1763 – 18 December 1855) was an English poet, during his lifetime one of the most celebrated, although his fame has long since been eclipsed by his Romantic colleagues and friends Wordsworth, Coleridge and Byron. His recollections of these and other friends such as Charles James Fox are key sources for information about London artistic and literary life, with which he was intimate, and which he used his wealth to support. He made his money as a banker and was also a discriminating art collector.
John Timbs’s Reflections
A few days after the death of Mr. Rogers, in 1855, there appeared the following interesting record of him from the practised pen of Mr. Robert Carruthers, who long enjoyed the friendship of the distinguished poet and patron of artists and men of letters.
It is not our intention to speak of the poetry of Mr. Rogers. In noticing it some time since we characterised it generally as presenting a classic and graceful beauty; with no slovenly or obscure lines; with fine cabinet pictures of soft and mellow lustre, and occasionally with trains of thought and association that awaken or recall tender and heroic feelings. No that personal interest in a living poet is withdrawn, and kindness and respect towards him are of no avail, it may be questioned whether Rogers’s poetry will maintain any prominent place in our literature. He will always be esteemed one of the purest disciples of the old classic school of Pope and Dryden—and to turn to him from the mystic ravings, tortures, and Red Indian chants of some modern poets, is like emerging from the wards of an hospital to fresh air and sunshine; but he wants vital interest, passion and strength, for universal popularity. He had not what Gray terms the “golden keys” that can unlock the gates of joy or horror, or open the “sacred source of sympathetic tears.”
It is a man of taste and letters, as a patron of artists and authors, and as the friend of almost every illustrious man that has graced our annals for the last half century and more, that Mr. Rogers has of late years challenged public attention. He was a link between the days of Johnson, Burke, and Reynolds, and the present time. He had rambled over St. Anne’s Hill with Fox and Grattan. Sheridan addressed to him the last letter he ever wrote, begging for pecuniary assistance, that the blanket on which he was dying might not be torn from his bed by bailiffs; and Rogers answered the call with a remittance of 100 l. No man had so many books dedicated to him. Byron inscribed to him his “Giaour,” in token of “admiration of his genius, respect for his character, and gratitude for his friendship.” Moore was no less laudatory, and Moore owed substantial favours to the old poet. By his mediation his quarrel with Byron was adjusted, and when Moore fell into difficulties, the liberal hand of Rogers was opened. His benefactions in this way were almost of daily occurrence. “There is a happy and enviable poet!” said Thomas Campbell one day on leaving Rogers’s house; “he has some four or five thousand pounds a year, and he gives away fifteen hundred in charity.” And next to relieving the distress of authors and others, it was the delight of Mr. Rogers to reconcile differences and bring together men who might otherwise never meet. At his celebrated breakfast-parties persons of almost all classes and pursuits were found. He made the morning meal famous as a literary rallying point; and during the London season there was scarcely a day in which from four to six persons were not assembled at the hospitable board in St. James’s Place. There discussion as to books or pictures, anecdotes of the great of old, some racy sayings of Sheridan, Erskine, or Horne Tooke, some apt quotation or fine passage read aloud, some incident of foreign travel recounted all flowed on without restraint, and charmed the hours till mid-day. Byron has described the scene of these meetings:—
“Rogers is silent, and it is said, severe. When he does talk, he talks well; and, on all subjects of taste, his delicacy of expression is pure as his poetry. If you enter his house, his drawing-room, his library, you of yourself say, this is not the dwelling of a common mind. There is not a gem, a coin, a book thrown aside on his chimney-piece, his sofa, his table, that does not bespeak an almost fastidious elegance in the possessor. But this very delicacy must be the misery of his existence. Oh, the jarrings his disposition must have encountered through life!”
Byron’s sensitiveness coloured all he saw with his own feeling. There was none of this misery resulting from Rogers’s taste. He enjoyed life—had money, fame, honour, love, and troops of friends. His recipe for long life was “temperance, the bath, flesh-brush, and don’t fret.” But his house was really a magazine of marvels—the saloon of the Muses!—and its opening view on the garden and lawn of the Green Park in itself a picture. Paintings by Titian, Guido, Rubens, Claude, Raphael, and English artists, covered the walls. Every school, Italian and Spanish, had the representative, and not the least prized were the native landscapes of Wilson and Gainsborough, and the “Strawberry Girl” and “Puck” of Sir Joshua Reynolds. In the hall were Greek sculptures, busts, and vases, with endless articles of virtu. The library had its rare and choice editions—a drawing by Raphael, an original bust of Pope by Roubiliac, antique gems and cameos, and many precious manuscripts. Two of these he lately presented to the British Museum—Milton’s agreement with his bookseller for the copyright of “Paradise Lost” (for which he gave a hundred guineas), and Dryden’s contract with his publisher, Jacob Tonson. The whole arrangement of these rooms bespoke consummate taste and carelessness of cost. The chimney-piece of the drawing-room was of Carrera marble, sculptured with bas-reliefs and miniature statues by Flaxman; and the panels of a small library displayed the “Seven Ages of Man,” painted by Stothard. To comprehend how so much was done by one less than a noble, we must recollect Rogers’s bank, his exquisite taste, and his long life. He had written Journals of Conversations with Fox, Erskine, Horne, Tooke, and the Duke of Wellington (some of which we have seen), and those can scarcely fail to be both interesting and valuable.
The severity of remark alluded to by Byron as characteristic of his friend, was displayed in a certain quaint shrewdness and sarcasm with which his conversation abounded, though rarely taking an offensive form. He could pay compliments as pointed as his sarcasm. Moore has recorded the pleasure he derived from one of Rogers’s remarks—”What a lucky fellow you are! Surely you must have been born with a rose on your lips and a nightingale singing on the top of your bed.” These and many other sayings, pleasant and severe, will now be remembered. But higher associations, even apart from his genius, will be associated with the name of Samuel Rogers. His generosity and taste—his readiness to oblige and serve, or to encourage and reward the humblest labourer in the literary vineyard—his devotion to all intellectual and liberal pursuits—the jealousy with which he guarded the dignity and rights of literature—the example of a straight path and spotless life extended to more than ninety-two years; these are honours and distinctions which will “gather round his tomb,” and outlast his monument.
Romance of London Series
- Romance of London: The Lord Mayor’s Fool… and a Dessert
- Romance of London: Carlton House and the Regency
- Romance of London: The Championship at George IV’s Coronation
- Romance of London: Mrs. Cornelys at Carlisle House
- Romance of London: The Bottle Conjuror
- Romance of London: Bartholomew Fair
- Romance of London: The May Fair and the Strong Woman
- Romance of London: Nancy Dawson, the Hornpipe Dancer
- Romance of London: Milkmaids on May-Day
- Romance of London: Lord Stowell’s Love of Sight-seeing
- Romance of London: The Mermaid Hoax
- Romance of London: The Bluestocking and the Sweeps’ Holiday
- Romance of London: Comments on Hogarth’s “Industries and Idle Apprentices”
- Romance of London: The Lansdowne Family
- Romance of London: St. Margaret’s Painted Window at Westminster
- Romance of London: Montague House and the British Museum
- Romance of London: The Bursting of the South Sea Bubble
- Romance of London: The Thames Tunnel
- Romance of London: Sir William Petty and the Lansdowne Family
- Romance of London: Marlborough House and Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough
- Romance of London: The Duke of Newcastle’s Eccentricities
- Romance of London: Voltaire in London
- Romance of London: The Crossing Sweeper
- Romance of London: Nathan Mayer Rothschild’s Fear of Assassination
- Romance of London: Samuel Rogers, the Banker Poet
- Romance of London: The Eccentricities of Lord Byron
- Romance of London: A London Recluse