Front Page Titles (by Subject) ROGERS'S RECOLLECTIONS. 1 ( From The Saturday Review, 6 th August, 1859.) - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review)
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ROGERS’S RECOLLECTIONS. 1 ( From “ The Saturday Review, ” 6 th August, 1859.) - Walter Bagehot, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 9 (Essays from the Economist, the Saturday Review) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 9.
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Mr. Rogers is one of the authors who have taken too much pains with their writings. The Pleasures of Memory employed him seven years, Columbus fourteen, Human Life six, Italy fourteen; and even after the publication of these poems he did not cease to correct them. In these days of hasty composition it is impossible not to respect so much patience and so much concentrated labour, and well-known maxims would lead us to anticipate that very great excellence would be their result. We believe, however, that in most cases these maxims are erroneous. We incline to think that such extremely slow production is very rarely favourable to the perfection of works of genius. Writers forget what they mean to say. Who can answer for the exact shade of thought which he intended to express nine years ago? The author knows as little about it as any one else. If the subject is a favourite one, he is very apt to confuse it with other thoughts which have come and gone in the intermediate period. In consequence, when he is correcting, as he calls it, the work of former years, he is apt to substitute a thought materially different from the original one, and less suitable to the connection in which it occurs. The first thought, at any rate, arose out of the thought which preceded it in the course of composition. The interpolated idea was suggested by the circumstances of succeeding years. Again, even if the writer exactly remembers what he meant to say, the effect is often worse. Probably the idea is a fixed idea to him—a notion which he carries through the earth, and which never leaves him. In that case the thought is apt to be so familiar to him that he hardly knows whether any particular words convey it or not. All words on the same subject convey it to his mind, and he is apt to expect that they will convey it to others. Especially when he has altered his own words—as in the course of nine or ten years a man well may, in a short poem, many times—he cannot say whether the thought is adequately expressed or not. The very place in the poem calls up the idea to him; and not any words at all near the mark which satisfy his ear are very apt to satisfy his mind. Accordingly, a student of the most celebrated poems of Mr. Rogers will discover many expressions out of which a patient elaboration has extracted the whole meaning, and many paragraphs of which the first flow has been destroyed by interpolated thoughts and gradually modified ideas.
But however applicable the practice of very elaborate composition might be thought to be to the production of very exquisite poems, hardly anyone, we should have imagined, would have fancied that it was applicable to memoirs and anecdotes. We might as well apply it to letter-writing. Who would like to receive compositions which had been days under cultivation, and which worthily conveyed the elaborate dullness of patient attention? We may like the schoolboy scrawl, but we are certain to dislike the meritorious theme. Accordingly, the great pains and labour which we are told that Mr. Rogers spent on these Memoirs have been very perniciously spent. He had exceedingly valuable materials. He was in the habit of more or less constant intercourse with the best society in London for about fifty years, and he entered in careful journals what he heard there. If he had confined his attention to setting down with distinctness and accuracy the substance of what occurred on the occasions which interested him the most, we could not have failed to have a work full of valuable information, and exhibiting the sensitive taste, cool sense, and refined cultivation which he indisputably possessed. We could have borne with some triviality, for much of it would probably have been characteristic of the times, and even more of it of the writer. Mr. Rogers has unfortunately adopted a very different course. Instead of telling us that he went to dine with Horne Tooke at such and such a time, that he had such and such a coat on, that he was amusing or not amusing, he has given us selected scraps of his conversation on very many different occasions. We have sets of such sayings as the following:—“Plays and Epic poems mislead us. A leader is often led. He has a thousand opinions to struggle with. Pieces of money are so many tickets for sheep, oxen, etc. When a pension is given, or a salary, a draft is issued on the tiller of the soil.” Even if the sayings were in themselves happy, they would lose much of their interest from our not being told to whom they were said, before whom, and in what connexion; and when they have, as is the case with the dicta we have quoted, no intrinsic value at all, it is easy to imagine the folly of the labour which has separated them from all extrinsic sources of interest. We can conceive nothing duller than this book to a person who had never heard of Charles Fox, or Horne Tooke, or Lord Erskine. A reader who is familiar with their characters and their circumstances will occasionally, however, find something which is agreeable to him, because his imagination will enable him to supply the attendant circumstances and living details which Mr. Rogers spent some years in omitting.
Mr. Fox is one of the best known persons of whom Mr. Rogers recollected much, and many persons will therefore feel a slight interest in looking over the disconnected memoranda which he has left us. Sometimes the bouyancy and life of Mr. Fox’s character almost prevails over the jejuneness of the reminiscent. We like to read the following of the great statesman:—“Very candid—Retracts instantly—Continually putting wood on the fire—His Trajan, his Venus, his Mosaics from Tivoli—His attachment to particular books—his common-place book—they keep a journal at home and abroad”. . . . “When Francis said that Wilberforce, if it was left to him to decide whether Pitt should go out of office for ten months and the slave-trade be abolished for ever, or Pitt remain in, with the slave-trade, would decide for Pitt—‘Yes,’ said Fox, ‘I’m afraid he would be for Barabbas’.” . . . “After all, Burke was a damned wrong-headed fellow through life, always jealous and contradictory.” There is something of the simple emphasis of real conversation in these phrases—we feel that they were said. Mr. Rogers observes that his memorials of Mr. Fox show “his playfulness, his love of letters, and his good nature in unbending himself to a young man”. There is no doubt that they do so; and if Mr. Rogers had told us the actual details of what happened, they would have shown these estimable qualities still more. Few statesmen have felt so ardent a love of letters as Fox—fewer still have recurred to them with the same fresh gaiety in the midst of a very unsuccessful political career. He thought poetry the “great thing, after all,” and agreed with Burke that there was “no truth”—no adequate representation, that is, of great subjects—elsewhere. His insensibility to the kindred art is in contrast curious:—“Mrs. Fox said the only fault she could find with him was his aversion to music. The utmost she could say for him was that he could read Homer, while she played and sung to herself.” But we cannot say that the undress conversations of this volume will tend to raise the fame of Mr. Fox as a statesman. His situation in later life was singularly unfortunate for a person who had spent his earlier life as he did. He had passed a youth of fashionable excess qualified by fractious debating. From neither of these pursuits had he acquired—for in neither of them had he an opportunity of acquiring—a great store of political reflection. On these subjects, as he declared in the House of Commons, he sat at the feet of Mr. Burke. If he had been thrown, as Mr. Pitt was, among the details of office, there is considerable evidence that he would have mastered them with real vigour—thought upon them with fresh originality. But he had no such opportunity. The twenty years of his life in which his mind would have been most fit for such a task were passed in opposition. His views, in consequence, were almost always defective—often singularly so for a man of his ability in his position. We do not dwell on his dislike of political economy, which is curiously shown in the Recollections. “We know nothing on that subject,” said Lord Lauderdale, “before Adam Smith wrote.” “Pooh,” says Fox, “your Adam Smiths are nothing.” We have no right to complain of a statesman of even the end of the eighteenth century for not having given a real attention to the true theory of trade. Those who then did so deserve great praise, but those who were deficient in it scarcely merit great blame. Lord Derby said he was born in the “prescientific period,” and Mr. Fox certainly was so. But the volume before us shows distinct traces of a very uncultivated mind on parts of politics which do not need so elaborate a treatment. Mr. Rogers heard him say—“I always say, and always think, that of all the countries in Europe, England will be the last to be free. Russia will be free before England. The Russians know no better, and knowledge might and would operate on them to good; but the English have the knowledge and the slavery too.” Of course such reflections are but childish absurdities.
The reminiscences of Horne Tooke, in Mr. Rogers’s Memorandum Book, are likewise occasionally curious. His literal kind of wit—set off, as tradition recounts, by a courteous manner and by imperturbable coolness—is not ill shown in the following:—“ ‘Power,’ said Lord —— to Tooke, ‘should follow property’. ‘Very well,’ he replied, ‘then we will take the property from you, and the power shall follow it.’ ” . . . “ ‘Now, young man, as you are settled in town,’ said my uncle, ‘I would advise you to take a wife.’ ‘With all my heart, sir; whose wife shall I take?’ ” It is a trait of manners that the “Rev. Mr. Horne” must have been a young clergyman at the time of this conversation; he did not, as is well known, take the name of Tooke till a later period. We have a trace, too, of his philological acuteness in Mr. Rogers’s pages:—“An illiterate people is most tenacious of their language. In traffic the seller learns that of the buyer before the buyer learns his. A bull in the field, when brought to town and cut up in the market, becomes bœuf, beef; a calf, veal; a sheep, mouton; a pig, pork;—because there the Norman purchased, and the seller soon learnt his terms; while the peasantry retained their own.” It is not surprising that a sharp logical wit should be an acute interpreter of language.
If, as is generally thought, the general reader be a person of no information, we do not recommend him to read the disconnected scraps to which the punctilious care of Mr. Rogers has reduced his reminiscences; but any one who knows a little of the principal people who have appeared in England during the last sixty or seventy years will find something to interest him, though much less than he would have found if the same materials had been used more freely and more naturally.
[1 ]Recollections, by Samuel Rogers. London: Longmans, 1859.