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The Life of William Roscoe
Chapter I. 1753-1781

Vol I. Contents
‣ Chapter I. 1753-1781
Chapter II. 1781-1787
Chapter III. 1787-1792
Chapter IV. 1788-1796
Chapter V. 1795
Chapter VI. 1796-1799
Chapter VII. 1799-1805
Chapter IX. 1806-1807
Chapter X. 1808
Chapter XI. 1809-1810
Vol II. Contents
Chapter XII. 1811-1812
Chapter XIII. 1812-1815
Chapter XIV. 1816
Chapter XV. 1817-1818
Chapter XVI. 1819
Chapter XVII. 1820-1823
Chapter XVIII. 1824
Chapter XIX. 1825-1827
Chapter XX. 1827-1831
Chapter XXI.
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Family of Mr. Roscoe—his birth—loses his mother at an early age—his own narrative of his childhood—his reluctance to the discipline of a school—quits school at twelve years of age—assists his father in gardening—is placed with a bookseller—articled to an attorney—his attachment to reading and to poetry—imitations of Shenstone—attention to his profession—his early friends.—Memoir of Francis Holden—Robert Rigby—Miss Done.—Causes which led to the formation of Mr. Roscoe’s poetical character—his early poems.—Ode on the formation of a society for encouraging the arts of design, &c.—Mount Pleasant.—Letter from Sir Joshua Reynolds—smaller poems—other studies—“Christian Morality.”

The family of Mr. Roscoe, for a considerable period before his birth, had been settled in the central part of Lancashire, where they lived in humble circumstances. The name, which in other parts of the country is an uncommon one, occurs not unfrequently in those districts.* Mr.

* No record of the family is found in the Heralds’ College, except the information furnished by Mr. Roscoe himself, to Sir Isaac Heard, Garter Principal King at Arms, who had expressed a wish to trace its origin. In a letter to that gentleman, written in the year 1797, Mr. Roscoe says, “From all that I can learn, it appears, that whilst other families have rolled on for centuries in distinct and appropriate channels, mine has always been mingled in the common mass, and has composed a part of the immense tide that daily falls into the ocean of oblivion. The Origines Guelficæ occupy five folio volumes, whilst the origines in question will find ample space in five lines. I shall return the pedigree you have been so good as to sketch; and if any of my descendants 500 years hence should be desirous of knowing who was their ancestor, I hope that your kindness will not be lost, and that your records will remain to give them the information.” In a letter written about the same time to his brother-in-law, Mr. Daulby, Mr. Roscoe says, “Amongst my new acquaintances is Sir Isaac Heard, who has been extremely civil to me, and is desirous of tracing the pedigree of the noble family of the Roscoes, which has

Roscoe was the only son of
William Roscoe and Elizabeth his wife, who had also an only daughter, Margaret, afterwards the wife of Daniel Daulby, Esq.

At the period of Mr. Roscoe’s birth, his father kept a public-house, called “The Bowling-Green,” in the neighbourhood of Liverpool, a place much frequented for the recreation afforded by its garden and bowling-green. His father continued for many years in the same business, to which he united the cultivation of an extensive market-garden.* He was a man below the middle stature, but of remarkable bodily strength and activity; of much vivacity of temperament, and greatly attached to field-sports and other amusements, for which his son never displayed any taste. He lived to attain a very considerable age; and two years before his death, which took place in 1796, he was removed by Mr. Roscoe to his own house at Birchfield, where his latter days were soothed by the continued attentions of his children.

hitherto, I find, baffled all his researches. I told him I was a good patriarch, and the proper person to begin a family, as I had six sons, &c. Accordingly, the whole descent is registered; and the Roscoes and Daulbys may now go on in sæcula sæculorum. Amen.”

* In the latter part of his life he retired to his native place, Charnock, where he was supported for many years by his son.


Mr. Roscoe’s mother, a woman of superior mind and warm affections, exercised an influence over his character, the effects of which, to the latest period of his life, were never obliterated. The grateful respect and attachment which he bore her memory, were frequently evinced when he referred to the period of his childhood; and he always dwelt with particular pleasure on the years during which he had experienced her watchful and affectionate care. The following lines, written soon after her death, though evidently a juvenile production, are interesting, as expressive of his feelings towards her:—
“O! best of Mothers! Thou, whose guardian care
Sustain’d my infant life, when, weak and faint,
I pour’d the feeble cry! Thou, whose kind hand
Through scenes of childhood led my devious steps
Towards Virtue’s arduous way, and bade my soul
With ceaseless assiduity attempt
The glorious road! Thou, whose preserving hand
With friendly aid restrain’d my boist’rous speed
When maddening passions ruled! To thee I owe
Health and existence! and shalt thou not claim
One filial sigh, and bid one starting tear
Fall from my eye?—
What splendid scenes had Hope too fondly sketch’d
Of future bliss? But ah! at Death’s approach
The fairy colours faded, and the piece
Remain’d a gloomy void. No more I saw
In distant view, through Fancy’s magic glass,
The best of Mothers, when by age oppress’d,
Beneath my roof retired, my care to tend
Her sinking frame, to raise her drooping heart,
With converse sweet—or, if deprived of sight—
To lead her where the opening roses shed
Ambrosial odours round; and vernal gales
Breathe gently o’er the field.”

Of the childhood and early life of Mr. Roscoe, the following account is derived from a letter addressed by him, a few months before his death, to one of the oldest and dearest of his friends; in which he proposed to amuse himself, during those hours which sickness now disabled him from devoting to more serious pursuits, by tracing for the eye of his friend a brief narrative of the principal events of his life:—

“I was born on the 8th day of March, 1753, at the Old Bowling-Green House, on Mount Pleasant, one of the oldest houses yet standing in Liverpool, and of which an excellent drawing, by that rising artist, Austin, is engraved, and given in the account of that town, now publishing by Fisher and Co.; but in the following year I was removed, with my family, to the New Bowling-Green House, on Mount Pleasant, which my father was building at the time of my birth, but which has since been taken down to make way for more modern dwellings.

“Of that interval of time I know little worth recording. Yet, when I tax my memory, I find some circumstances which give indications of my future character. One of these is, a decided
aversion to compulsion and restraint, insomuch that I remember, to this day, being carried to a schoolmistress by a servant with a rod, not without violent struggling and opposition, before I had the honour of being breeched; and throughout my future life, it was with great difficulty that I was induced to submit to the restraints and attendance necessary to acquire any share of learning.

“This incident reminds me of the following Address to Liberty, in the second part of ‘The Wrongs of Africa:’—
‘At my birth,
What though the Muses smiled not, nor distill’d
Their dews Hyblean o’er my infant couch;
What though they scatter’d not their fading flowers;
Yet thou wert present, thy diviner flame
Play’d round my head. Impatient of control,
My young step follow’d where thou led’st the way,
And, far as memory traces back my years,
My soul, though touch’d with human sympathies,
Revolted at oppression.’

“At six years of age, I was taken from under the care of my good old schoolmistress, and placed under the tuition of Mr. Martin, who kept a daily school for boys in Paradise Street, in the middle of Liverpool, where I improved myself in reading English, and where I was frequently admitted to the use of his little bookcase, filled with the best authors of that period. To his care, and the instructions of a kind
and affectionate mother, I believe I may safely attribute any good principles which may have appeared in my conduct during my future life. It is to her I owe the inculcation of those sentiments of humanity, which became a principle in my mind. Nor did she neglect to supply me with such books as she thought would contribute to my literary improvement. Amongst others, I still remember, with great pleasure, a periodical work, entitled ‘
The Library,’ in prose and verse. Many pieces of the latter description I committed to memory; some of which I retain to this day.

“After remaining about two years with Mr. Martin, I was removed to Mr. Sykes, who kept a school in the same house, for writing and arithmetic, to which were added, instructions in English grammar. As he had a numerous school of boys, I found myself here obliged to fight my way till I had taken a certain station, and could distinguish my superiors from my inferiors. With respect to my new master, he was a good instructor in what he professed to teach, and a kind-hearted man, although on one occasion I incurred his severe displeasure, by having been guilty of whipping a top, with one of my schoolfellows, a few minutes beyond the time appointed for commencing school in the afternoon. On this occasion, the master proposed to make an example of us to the scholars. His mode of cor-
rection was not by the shameful and indecent method of flogging yet so prevalent in England, but by means of a small cane, which he held in his right hand, whilst, taking that of the culprit in the other, he inflicted on his back a sufficient number of strokes, which, from a powerful man to a child, were at least an adequate punishment for any childish offence. He ordered me up to him, and, taking my hand, began to bestow the usual discipline upon me. It was the common practice of the unfortunate scholar who underwent this disgrace, to endeavour to free himself, as soon as the master relaxed his grasp, and to make his escape. On the contrary, I stood immovable on this occasion, and patiently received all that was administered. When, at last, the master stopped, expecting I should retire, I stood, without the slightest indication of emotion of any kind, till, provoked at my contumacy, he again seized his cane, and impressed on me such a memorial of his ability, as remained on my back a considerable length of time. This was the first and the last time that I ever experienced the punishment of a school, and I believe neither my master nor myself retained afterwards any sentiment of ill will towards each other.

“When I was twelve years of age I quitted school, my master having reported that I had learned all that he was capable of teaching me; which included a knowledge of the common
rules of arithmetic, mensuration, and algebra, and should have included an acquaintance also with English grammar, to which, however, I had rather imbibed a dislike than otherwise. The numerous occasions of leisure during this period of my life were devoted to other employments. Adjoining to my father’s property was a considerable manufactory of British china-ware. With the painters employed in these works I became intimate, and frequently assisted them in their labours, in which I was tolerably expert. Among these was
Hugh Mulligan, an engraver of copperplates, as well as a painter, who some years afterwards published a collection of his own poetical compositions in a quarto volume, some of which are not without merit. He became a kind of Mentor to my youthful years; and my acquaintance with him, under different circumstances, continued till his death, at an advanced period of my life. I also became a tolerable joiner, and about this period made for myself a bookcase with folding doors, which served me for many years, and which I filled with several volumes of Shakspeare, a great part of whose historical plays I committed to memory; to these were added the Spectator and other valuable works, which I perused with great pleasure. One of these books I have yet in my possession, marked with my name, on the 5th of June, 1765, when I was little more than
twelve years of age. The book referred to is, the poems of
Mrs. Catherine Philips, ‘the matchless Orinda,’ a writer of the time of Charles II., of considerable merit, who died, amidst the admiration of her contemporaries, at an early age, and is applauded by Cowley in his Odes, both living and dead. Nor can it be denied, at the present day, that her works have in them a depth of true feeling, and a spirit of poetry, which will keep them in remembrance.

“According to my best recollection, I was at this period of my life of a wild, rambling, and unsocial disposition; passing many of my hours in strolling along the shore of the river Mersey, or in fishing, or in taking long walks alone.* On one occasion, I determined to become a sportsman; and, having procured a gun, and found an unfortunate thrush perched on the branch of a tree, I brought him to the ground

* “Most persons,” says Mr. Roscoe, in his Life of Pope, “can relate some dangers of their youth from which they have escaped with difficulty.” He has, however, himself forgotten to relate, in this narrative, an incident which had nearly proved fatal to him. During one of his strolls along the shore of the Mersey, while the tide was out, he lingered so long, that the returning waters had closed round the bank on which he was standing, before he perceived the danger of his situation. Being unable to swim, his only chance of escape was by fording the water while it was yet passable. This he was fortunately able to accomplish, with considerable difficulty.

with fatal aim; but I was so horrified and disgusted with the agonies I saw him endure in death, that I have never since repeated the experiment.

“Having quitted school, and committed my English grammar to the flames, I now began to assist my father in his agricultural concerns, particularly in his business of cultivating potatoes for sale, of which he every year grew several acres, and which he sold, when produced early in the season, at very advanced prices. His mode of cultivation was entirely by the spade; and, when raised early, they were considered in that part of Lancashire as a favourite esculent. When they had attained their proper growth, we were accustomed to carry them to the market on our heads, in large baskets, for sale, where I was generally intrusted with the disposal of them, and soon became a very useful assistant to my father. In this and other laborious occupations, particularly in the care of a garden, in which I took great pleasure, I passed several years of my life, devoting my hours of relaxation to reading my books. This mode of life gave health and vigour to my body, and amusement and instruction to my mind; and to this day I well remember the delicious sleep which succeeded my labours, from which I was again called at an early hour. If I were now asked whom I consider to be happiest of the
human race, I should answer, those who cultivate the earth by their own hands.*

“Being now in my fifteenth year, I was called upon to make choice of a profession, when my attachment to reading induced me to prefer that of a bookseller. I was accordingly placed with Mr. Gore, a respectable tradesman in Liverpool; but, after remaining there for a month, and not finding the attendance on a shop reconcilable to my disposition, I quitted him, and returned to my labours. In the following year (1769) I was, however, articled, for six years, to Mr. John Eyes, jun., a young attorney and solicitor in Liverpool; and thus entered upon an anxious

* This narrative of Mr. Roscoe’s early history resembles, in very many of its circumstances, the account he has himself given of the youth of Pope. The Poet left school at the age of twelve, and went to reside with his father, who, like Mr. Roscoe’s, supported himself partly by the cultivation of a garden. The same desultory studies, amongst which an attachment to poetry appears pre-eminent, were pursued by both; and the description which Pope has given of himself, at this period of his life, might well be applied to the youth of his biographer:—“I followed every where as my fancy led me, and was like a boy gathering flowers in the woods and fields, just as they fell in my way; and these five or six years I still look upon as the happiest part of my life.” (Life of Pope, p. 16.) In their aversion to compulsory instruction, also, they closely resembled each other. “I never learned any thing,” says Pope, “at the little schools I was at afterwards, and never should have followed any thing that I could not follow with pleasure.” Both Pope and Mr. Roscoe may “be properly ranked amongst that class of remarkable persons who have been their own instructors.”

and troublesome profession. I passed all the hours I had to spare in perusing such authors as fell in my way, among whom
Shenstone was my great favourite, till from admiring I began to imitate him. Amongst several of these early productions, I find I have preserved the following verses in his praise:—

O Shenstone, favourite of the Nine,
What sweetly varying powers are thine!
’Tis thou canst bid the soul to glow
With purest joy, or melt with woe;
O’er thee bright Fancy waves her wings,
And strikes for thee the trembling strings,
And soft Simplicity combines
To warble through thine artless lines.
Far from the glitt’ring scenes of care,
Thou breathed content thy native air;
Too good for wealth, too great for pride,
Thou lived beloved—respected died.
When first thy genuine warblings stole
With gentlest magic on my soul,
So soft, so sweet, so clear, so strong
The tide of music roll’d along,
That, quite enraptured by the strains,
Methought with thee I trod the plains,
Reclined with thee in shady bowers,
Survey’d with thee the opening flowers,
The spacious lawn, the rising hill,
The rural cot and sparkling rill;
But soon the dear delusion fled,
And left reflection in its stead.’

* Written January, 1771.


“On one occasion, my master having unexpectedly made his appearance in our office intended for business, into which he seldom entered, found a copy of these lines lying on the desk, which, having read, he asked if they were mine, and being answered in the affirmative, paid me what I then thought a great compliment, by observing, that I must have copied them from some other writer. This admiration of Shenstone, I retained for several years, as I find by some lines, written at a subsequent period, where, referring to the animosity with which poets too often regard the talents of each other, I have said,—
‘Why pour’d sweet Shenstone his enchanting lay,
Stamp’d as a trifler in the page of Gray,
Or why should Gray deserve a better fate,
Below the good, but far above the great,
While Johnson tears the laurel from his bust,
Degrades his memory, and profanes his dust?’

Shenstone was not, however, long the sole object of my poetical adoration; his claims being divided with Goldsmith, whose ‘Deserted Village’ was first published about this period, and passed through several editions. That these authors have fallen into neglect, when compared with the more energetic and ambitious poets of the present day, I am well aware, and yet I know not whether these writers are not as deserving of estimation as those of modern times, who, in
endeavouring to become more natural, have too often fallen into the vulgar and the mean, and, instead of improving, have debased the public taste.”

Here, unfortunately, the manuscript abruptly concludes. The lassitude of illness, and the unfavourable effect produced upon Mr. Roscoe’s health by any mental exertion for the last year or two of his life, prevented him from proceeding with his projected sketch,—a circumstance the more to be regretted, as the materials which remain for delineating the incidents and feelings of his youth are few and imperfect.

Absence of restraint, and perfect freedom of thought and of action, during the early period of life, though favourable to originality of mind, do not always contribute to form a useful and well-balanced character. The sequestered studies which add strength and fervour to the poetical temperament, and which inspire a love of intellectual pleasures, too often unfit those who pursue them for the irksome duties and the active engagements of life. We, consequently, seldom find, in the history of men of letters, that they unite with their mental pre-eminence that capacity for affairs which is often possessed by persons of meaner endowments. In youth, more especially, it is difficult to impress upon the mind devoted to intellectual pursuits, the wisdom and the necessity of a strict regard to the routine of
common duties, and to the active business of life. It might have been expected, from the strong attachment of
Mr. Roscoe, at this period, to literary studies, and especially from the cultivation of his poetical taste, that the graver business of his profession would sometimes have been neglected; but the circumstances in which he was placed, as well as the peculiar character of his mind, prevented him from falling into this dangerous error. The total dependence, not only of himself, but of his father and his sister, upon his future exertions, afforded a most powerful motive for assiduity; while the natural energy of his mind prevented him from remaining satisfied with pursuits, however pleasant or instructive, not leading to that independence, which ought to be to every man the first object of his exertions.

Throughout the whole of his clerkship, therefore, his literary improvement was made a secondary object; his great design being to acquire a competent knowledge of his profession, and to render himself useful to his employers. After the death of Mr. Eyes, he served the remainder of his clerkship with Mr. Peter Ellames, an eminent attorney of Liverpool, to whom his industry and talents gave great satisfaction. During the whole of this period he resided with his father, having had the misfortune to lose his mother some years previously.


Notwithstanding his strict attention to business, some hours were still left vacant, and these were gladly devoted by him to the improvement of his mind and to the cultivation of his taste. In this agreeable task he was stimulated by the sympathy and society of several friends of his own age, with whom he passed much of his leisure time, and in the selection of whom the character of his own mind was clearly manifested. An attachment to elegant literature, a love of study, a relish for the beauties of nature, and a heart capable of returning the warmth of friendship, were the qualities which distinguished the early companions of Mr. Roscoe. Of these, no one was more loved or admired by him than Francis Holden, of whom he has said, in recalling the superior qualifications of his friend, “that he seemed to realise in himself the accomplishments both of body and mind which have been attributed to the admirable Crichton.”*

Francis Holden was descended from a family, many members of which had distinguished themselves by their progress in scientific pursuits. At fifteen years of age he had arrived at manhood

* The following account of Francis Holden is derived from Mr. Roscoe’s own notes. He appears to have had, when he made them, some intention of recording the incidents of his own early life; but he did not persevere in his design; and the pages contain merely the history of that youthful friend, whose genius and acquirements first excited his literary ambition.

in person, in manners, and in mental acquirements. His figure was powerfully yet elegantly formed; and his strength and agility were such, that he scarcely ever took a walk into the fields without exhibiting, for the amusement of his companions, feats of bodily dexterity which might have extorted the applause of a crowded theatre. To the extraordinary endowments which he possessed, he added such a cheerful vivacity, and so unassuming a modesty, as to relieve his friends from the sense of inferiority which his splendid talents and extraordinary accomplishments were so well calculated to inspire. To those who knew Francis Holden, the accounts of
Pico of Mirandola, and of Leo Battista Alberti, ceased to appear incredible.

At a very early age he became an assistant in the school of his uncle, Richard Holden, at Liverpool, where he taught the mathematics, and the Greek, Latin, French, and Italian languages. In his extemporaneous translations his talents were very conspicuous. So correct, elegant, unembarrassed, and concise were his versions, that they might, without correction, have been committed to the press. Soon after his arrival in Liverpool, he became accidentally acquainted with Mr. Roscoe, who, although he was at that time very deficient in the acquirements by which Holden was so much distinguished, attracted the regard and friendship of the youthful scholar.
They became, during their leisure hours, almost inseparable companions; and it was at the solicitation of his friend that Mr. Roscoe first commenced the study of languages, receiving from him gratuitous instructions in French. In these studies he made a rapid progress; and the capacity of enjoying the same authors in the same language became a new bond of union between the friends.

After remaining a few years in Liverpool, Holden removed to Glasgow, with the view of improving himself by attending the lectures of the professors in that University. He resided there with the widow of his uncle, John Holden, well known by his learned treatise on music. “My uncle,” he says in one of his letters to Mr. Roscoe, “died the morning after I arrived. He declared all along that he only lived to see me. I cannot say any more. You shall hear more of this shortly.” In the midst of his studies, which he describes as extending to twelve hours a day, Holden found time to maintain a correspondence with his friend; and his letters, many of which still remain, are full of the animation and intelligence which distinguished their writer.

Having finished his studies at Glasgow, Holden accepted an offer to accompany a young gentleman of fortune to France, where he resided for some time. Upon his return to
England, he again visited Liverpool, improved in his acquirements, but unaltered in his affections. The friend who had enjoyed the benefit of his society, and of his instructions, had not, in the mean time, been idle.

During the absence of Holden, Mr. Roscoe had devoted much of his leisure to the acquisition of the dead languages,—a study which he prosecuted in conjunction with two other friends, Mr. William Clarke and Mr. Richard Lowndes, with whom, to the close of their lives, he remained in habits of the strictest intimacy. After the return of Holden, the four associates were accustomed to meet early in the morning, and to pursue their classical studies till the hours of business arrived. Hitherto Mr. Roscoe had made no attempt to acquire a knowledge of the Italian language; and it was by Francis Holden that his attention was first directed to the literature of that country. In their evening walks, Holden was accustomed to repeat passages from the most celebrated poets of Italy; and the pleasure with which he recited their verses, producing a strong impression upon the mind of Mr. Roscoe, led him to apply himself to the study of the Italian language; which, however, he describes himself as having acquired rather by slow degrees, and by gradual application, than by any sudden and laborious effort. The first idea of writing the life of Lorenzo de’ Medici appears
to have occurred to him in the course of these studies.

Having now no certain occupation, Holden determined to engage in the study of the law; for which purpose he went to London, and became a member of one of the Inns of Court. In this design he relied much upon the advice of his friend, whose kind offices towards him he acknowledges in the following letter:—

“My dear Roscoe,

“The day after I received your inexpressibly kind letter, I waited upon Messrs. Lyons*, who received me with all the marks of a sincere friendship, and promised to do all in their power for me—particularly to recommend me to the gentleman you spoke of. I have heard no more of that business as yet, but I cannot refrain from writing to you. My time now goes on more pleasantly. I have met with one or two Glasgow friends, who treat me with an affection something like yours, if they did but know how to express it, or to entertain me as well. No, my dear Roscoe; it will never be my fate, it will never be my wish, to meet with so faithful, so engaging a friend. I would not learn to do without you, for fear of inconstancy. * * * I will make you my director in matters of law, and will prepare myself in such a manner as to be of

* The professional agents of Mr. Roscoe.

real service to him who will please to employ me; for nothing is more oppressive to a generous heart, than to be in arrears for favours received. Must I tell you, my friend, that this thought has given me no small uneasiness? I know it is not in my power to repay your kindnesses to me, nor to be of half the service to you which you can be to me; and you have always done all you could. What I would desire is, not that you should waste your time in reading law books with me, which you know already; but that you would answer those questions, and explain those difficulties, which must occur of course to a young beginner; and that you would furnish me with books, which I cannot at this time afford to purchase. But above all, that you will not put me upon the footing of one whom you think yourself obliged to entertain at the expense of your time, &c., but use me as one whose duty and desire is to render himself as useful to you as possible, and as little burdensome. If you will promise me these things, I shall be happy if Mr. Lyon succeeds with Mr. Crompton the special pleader; and if not, I will console myself, conscious that want of merit, not of friends, was my loss; and that want of merit is one of Epictetus’s “τα έϕ ημιν,” or things in our own power; and consequently I will take care not to be long without it, by your assistance, who are a part of myself. Adieu, my dear Will.”


The difficulties which Holden had to encounter in putting into execution his design of qualifying himself for the bar, sometimes threw a gloom over his spirits, which communicated itself to his letters. “There is nothing,” he says, in a letter written from London, “I more ardently desire, than that our friendship may continue through life. It began at an early period, and perhaps before either of us was able to judge what were the essential qualities of a friend. I have learned since, by disappointments, to know and value them; and may truly pay you that compliment which Hamlet pays to Horatio. I only fear you will become too serious and too wise, not to discover imperfections in me, which will outweigh the few good qualities to which I can have any pretensions. Believe me, Roscoe, reflections of this nature, co-operating with retirement, hard study, and bad health, sometimes throw a gloominess upon the prospect of my future life, which makes me regard it with an indifference amounting to disgust. ’Tis a most disagreeable situation, to have nothing to do but study in hope of some distant advantage, and only exist at present, that we may begin to live some years after. I long to be in some active employment,—no matter what, provided I can get called to the bar when the time comes. * * * If something does not fall out to my mind, you will see me in Liverpool
in June, where I shall be happy, at least while with you. But pray write to me often before that, and put me in humour with the world and myself. I often see
David Samwell, and philosophise with him upon the comparative merits of a savage and a civilised life; and we seem both to be of our friend Rousseau’s sentiments. Samwell is a man of humour, and a great genius, but indolent: he is going out again with a Captain King, who had long been Cooke’s lieutenant. * * * I have called once or twice upon Mr. Deare, who got the medal for a piece of sculpture, and find him a very agreeable young man, though rather deficient in other branches of education. It gives me pleasure to be informed of your progress in Italian; but I do not agree with you in thinking it inferior to the Latin in any respect; to the Greek, I own, it is infinitely inferior,—I mean, when the Greek is pronounced as it ought to be. If you can spare the plan I gave you for the Italian verbs, pray send it me with your next letter, for I do not remember it perfectly.”

Pecuniary considerations rendered it necessary that Holden, while engaged in the study of the law, should adopt some measures for his present subsistence; and the plan which he pursued ultimately led him to abandon his legal studies. He removed to Cambridge; where his very remarkable acquirements, and engaging manners,
soon procured him friends. Having obtained a competent number of pupils to afford him a liberal income, he took a house at Chesterton, and married; but he had not resided more than two or three years at that place, when the symptoms of approaching consumption threw a gloom over his prospects, and compelled him to take a voyage to Lisbon, as the only chance for his recovery. Whatever might have been the effects of a southern climate, he did not live to experience them.

Another of the friends to whom Mr. Roscoe was attached by a similarity of pursuits, and especially by a mutual taste for poetry, was Robert Rigby, a young man of fine talents, who, like himself, occasionally devoted his pen to poetical compositions. The two friends were accustomed, not only to study together, but, when their occupations permitted them, to make excursions into the country,—a circumstance alluded to in the following lines addressed to Mr. Rigby:—
“Friend of my heart! how blest, with thee,
Of late I traversed with unwearied feet
The wide champaign—o’erjoy’d to see
The woodland charms, and breathe an air more sweet;
To taste that unreproved delight
Which the keen breast with thrilling transport warms,
When full upon the unbounded sight
Luxuriant Nature opens all her charms,
Where smiles the extended lawn in glowing pride,
Sinks the green vale, or swells the airy hill,
Waves the rude grove its hoary branches wide,
And down its bosom steals the darkling rill.
This, this is transport; but, alas!
Too soon the transient Eden disappears,
And, fraudful as the artist’s magic glass,
The faded prospect now dissolves in tears.
Ah! what avails the gentler heart,
That beats to every finer feeling true,
Can taste each bliss that genius can impart,
And catch from nature’s face each varied hue—
The breast with sympathy that glows,
When on the houseless head the rude storm showers—
If Poverty her hateful form oppose,
Damp all their fires, and deaden all their powers—
For the sweet hour of leisure doom’d to sigh,
Yet waste in ceaseless toils the inglorious year,
To see the friendless child of woe pass by,
And only pay the tribute of a tear?
Yet envy not the wretch whose countless hoards
To narrow bounds have circumscribed his soul;
More bliss to generous minds one hour affords;
Than he can feel whilst circling ages roll.”

The spirit of despondency which breathes through many of Mr. Roscoe’s early pieces, and with which, in his youthful life, he had sometimes to contend, is forcibly displayed in the foregoing lines.

To the early and sudden death of Robert Rigby, who was drowned while crossing the Irish Channel, Mr. Roscoe alludes in some lines addressed, many years afterwards, to Dr. Currie.
“‘Twas thus, in health’s high bloom and youth elate,
My Rigby yielded to his early fate.”


To the friends already mentioned, in whose society Mr. Roscoe spent many of the happiest years of his early life, may be added a young lady, who, to the usual accomplishments of her sex, united high cultivation of mind, and considerable poetical talents. Miss Maria Done, with her sisters, Mrs. Bewley and Mrs. Holmes, resided in Westmorland; but an intimacy with some of Mr. Roscoe’s friends in Liverpool, and temporary visits to that place, led to an acquaintance with him, which gradually ripened into friendship. They occasionally corresponded, and exchanged the productions of their Muse. Several of Mr. Roscoe’s early pieces are addressed to this lady; and to her he originally inscribed his poem of “Mount Pleasant,” in some lines which do not appear in the printed copy. The character of Miss Done was of the most admirable and elevated class, as appears both from her poetry and her correspondence. She afterwards married Mr. John Barton. Subsequent to this event, she, with her sisters, still continued on the same friendly footing with Mr. Roscoe and his family for many years; and Mr. Barton became one of his warmest friends, and most frequent correspondents. Her son, Mr. Bernard Barton, to whom her poetical talents have descended, and her daughter, Mrs. Hack, the author of many valuable works for children, are well known in the literary world.
Some idea of her powers as a poet, and of her feelings as a friend, as well as of her fine discernment and just appreciation of the promise held out by Mr. Roscoe’s early years, may be formed from the following lines. They occur at the conclusion of a poem “On Pride,” dedicated to him, and written in the year 1774.
“But cease, my Muse! unequal to the task,
Forbear the effort, and to nobler hands
Resign the lyre—thee, Roscoe, every Muse
Uncall’d attends, and uninvoked inspires.
In blooming shades and amaranthine bowers
They weave the future laurel for thy brow,
And wait to crown thee with immortal fame.
Thee Wisdom leads in all her lonely walks;
Thee Genius fires, and moral Beauty charms:
Be it thy task to touch the feeling heart,
Correct its passions, and exalt its aims;
Teach Pride to own, and owning, to obey
Fair Virtue’s dictates, and her sacred laws:
To brighter worlds show thou the glorious road,
And be thy life as moral as thy song.”

The causes which led to the formation of that lively taste for poetry, which was so early developed in Mr. Roscoe, are not difficult to be traced. Strong natural feelings, and an ardent and sanguine temperament, form the foundation upon which the poetical character is built. This native susceptibility to the influence of poetry received, in his case, no check from that strict attention to other pursuits which the ordinary education of young persons imposes upon them;
and his desultory studies were more frequently directed to the pages of the poets, than to the writers whose works are generally put into the hands of the young. The habits of his early life were also favourable to the same influences, as may be clearly traced in the account he has given of his childhood—of his meditative and retiring disposition—and of his solitary walks along the shores of the Mersey. The love of poetical composition continued to acquire power, as it will ever do under such favouring circumstances; and before he had attained the age of twenty, he had produced some poems of no inconsiderable merit. In these, the youthful efforts of his Muse, may be discovered the dawnings of his character.

Having become, in the year 1773, one of the founders of a Society for the Encouragement of the Arts of Painting and Design, in the town of Liverpool, he commemorated the event by an Ode, which was his first published piece. It was afterwards reprinted, with the poem of “Mount Pleasant,” in the year 1777. This was favourably noticed in some of the Reviews of the day; and the following passage, containing a comparison between music and painting, was selected as a specimen of the author’s manner:—
“When just degrees of shade and light
Contend in sweetest harmony,
Then bursts upon the raptured sight
The silent music of the eye.
Bold as the base’s deeper sound,
We trace the well imagined ground;
Next, in the varying scenes behind,
The sweet melodious tenor find;
And as the softening notes decay,
The distant prospect fades away;
Their aid if mingling colours give,
To bid the mimic landscape live;
The visual concert breaks upon the eyes,
With every different charm that Music’s hand supplies.”

A similar comparison between the great masters of poetry and painting, displays the early taste of the author for the arts as well as for literature.
“Majestic, nervous, bold, and strong,
Let Angelo with Milton vie;
Opposed to Waller’s amorous song,
His art let wanton Titian try;
Let great Romano’s free design
Contend with Dryden’s pompous line;
And chaste Correggio’s graceful air
With Pope’s unblemish’d page compare;
Loraine may rival Thomson’s name;
And Hogarth equal Butler’s fame;
And still, where’er the aspiring Muse
Her wide unbounded flight pursues,
Her sister soars on kindred wings sublime,
And gives her favourite names to grace the rolls of Time.”

Before attaining his twentieth year, he made a bolder attempt; and in imitation of the “Grongar Hill” of Dyer, and the “Edgehill” of Jago, he selected, as the subject of his poem, Mount Pleasant, an eminence overlooking the town of Liverpool.
“The shades of Grongar bloom secure of fame;
Edgehill to Jago owes its lasting name;
When Windsor Forest’s loveliest scenes decay,
Still shall they live in Pope’s unrivall’d lay:
Led on by Hope, an equal theme I choose;
Oh! might the subject boast an equal Muse!
Then should her name the force of time defy,
When sunk in ruins Liverpool shall lie.”

In this poem he not only celebrates the growing importance of his native town, its commerce, and its public institutions, but attempts, as he often did in after life, to direct the attention of his townsmen to the more liberal pursuit of literature and science, “and to abate that spirit of enterprise and thirst of gain, which, when too much indulged, is seldom productive either of virtue or happiness.”*
“Ah! why, ye sons of wealth, with ceaseless toil,
Add gold to gold, and swell the shining pile?
Your general course to happiness ye bend,
Why, then, to gain the means, neglect the end?
To purchase peace requires a scanty store;—
Oh, spurn the groveling wish that pants for more!
And thirst not with the same unconquer’d rage,
Till nature whitens in the frost of age;
But rather on the present hour rely,
And catch the happier moments ere they fly;
And whilst the spring of life each bliss inspires,
Improve its gifts, and feed the social fires;
Let Friendship soften, Love her charms disclose,
Peace guard your hours and sweeten your repose: /
Yet, not regardless how your joys endure,
Let watchful Prudence make those joys secure.”

* Advertisement to “An Ode on the Institution of a Society in Liverpool, for the Encouragement of Designing,” &c.


The temper and tastes of Mr. Roscoe, at this period of his life, are manifested in the following lines:—
“Oh still, at midnight’s milder hour, be mine
To trace with raptured eye the dear decline!
Catch the pure gale as from the main it springs,
Salubrious freshness dropping from its wings;
—Then, cares forgot and sorrow soothed to rest,
Each ruder passion banish’d from the breast,
Mild as the hour, and cloudless as the skies,
The mind on stronger pinions loves to rise;
And loosen’d from the dull restraints of day,
Expansive gives the springs of thought to play.
Bold, active, vigorous, through the enfranchised soul
The nobler trains of fair ideas roll:
The ardent glow that wakes at friendship’s name,
The thirst of science, and the patriot flame;
The generous fear, that wounds the youthful breast,
To live inglorious, and to die unblest;
A liberal scorn of every low desire,
Of all that knaves pursue, and fools admire,
Of fortune’s stores, of splendour’s sickly blaze,
Precarious bliss, and unsubstantial praise.”

That inhuman traffic, against which, throughout the whole length of a life extended beyond the common period, the voice of Mr. Roscoe was unceasingly raised, was not unnoticed in this early poem. “Mount Pleasant” contains his first protest against the Slave Trade.

Mount Pleasant,” which was not published until the year 1777, met with a favourable reception in many quarters. It had previously been submitted to the cultivated judgment of Dr.
Enfield, who returned it to Mr. Roscoe with the following letter:—

“I cannot take leave of your excellent poems, without thanking you for the pleasure they have afforded me. They cannot fail of being highly acceptable to every reader of classical taste, and will, I am persuaded, obtain for their author no inconsiderable share of reputation. The few liberties which I have taken, have been rather with a view to express my respect for the writer, than in expectation of making any material improvement in the poems.”

Amongst other persons to whom Mr. Roscoe presented a copy of his poems, was Sir Joshua Reynolds, from whom he had the gratification of receiving an opinion favourable to their merits, and of learning that the suffrage of Mason had been given in their favour.

“I am now to return you my thanks for the present of your poetical works, which I have read with the greatest pleasure. It is approaching to impertinence, to say that I was much surprised at seeing such excellence in a work which I had never heard of before, or the author’s name reached my ears; however, I found other people were not quite so ignorant. I mentioned the poem to Mr. Mason, who dined with me a few days ago. I do not recollect that he knew your name, but he was well acquainted with the poem, which he read when it was first published. I had the
satisfaction of hearing my opinion fully confirmed by his authority.”

Of the early poetical taste of Mr. Roscoe, a record remains in several manuscript volumes, in which he had made a selection from the writings of the popular poets of the day, together with such fugitive pieces as had attracted his notice. Shenstone holds a distinguished place in the collection, in which Goldsmith and Collins also appear to be favourites. Several original poems by himself are inserted in these volumes, as well as in the selections of one in whose studies he took the greatest interest. At the commencement of one of the volumes containing those selections, the following verses appear, written in his own hand:—
“In the blest round of youth’s delightful hours,
How sweet through Fancy’s flowery fields to stray,
Catch the wild notes inventive Genius pours,
And stamp on lasting leaves the genuine lay.
“Nor think those hours to trivial cares consign’d,
Thou with the favouring Muses may’st employ;
’Tis they who harmonise the youthful mind,
And waken every avenue to joy.
“Bid the free soul the groveling crew despise,
Whom humbler hopes of power and riches move;
Bid the free soul to nobler prospects rise—
To Fancy, Friendship, Harmony, and Love.”

It was not alone to the pursuits of elegant literature, and to the pleasures of poetical com-
position, that
Mr. Roscoe’s studies were directed. More serious enquiries occasionally engaged his attention. An early and careful perusal of the Sacred Writings had led him to reflect much upon subjects which do not usually engage the attention of the young, and gave a tone to his character observable throughout the whole course of his after life. Amongst his youthful writings is a small volume, to which he had given the title of “Christian Morality, as contained in the Precepts of the New Testament, in the Language of Jesus Christ.” To this little tract, Mr. Roscoe, towards the close of his life, added the following memorandum:—“Done when I was very young—very erroneous and imperfect.” It had been submitted to Dr. Enfield, apparently soon after it was written, and a few verbal corrections and occasional remarks occur in the handwriting of that excellent man.

In the introduction to this work, Mr. Roscoe points out the peculiar beauty and perfectness of the moral precepts contained in the New Testament, and explains his motives for the selection and arrangement which he had made.

“The object of the ensuing sheets is to collect, in one uniform and regular system, the moral duties which are inculcated in various parts of the New Testament, by the direct and immediate words of our Saviour, and thereby to promote the knowledge and practice of virtue,
and to render the study of the Scriptures more easy and pleasant.

“It is a melancholy but true observation, that whilst the speculative and abstruse parts of the New Testament have been the subject of endless debate, and enquiry, and contention, the moral or preceptive part has been too often overlooked and forgotten; and hence, in a great degree, has arisen that dreadful perversion which has so deeply injured the cause of true religion.

“If the Christian scheme was intended for no other purpose than to instruct mankind in Divine mysteries, the compiler of the following pages has deceived himself, and his work is useless; but he is bold to ascribe the Divine mission of Christ to another and more beneficent purpose; for it is his persuasion, that the Christian religion was designed by the Almighty to promote the eternal happiness of mankind, by the truest pursuit of their temporal welfare; to instruct them in the practice of virtue; and to prompt them, by every inducement that can influence rational and eternal beings, actively to pursue that course of conduct which alone can render them finally happy.”

The author enforces this remark from the precepts and example of Christ; and particularly, for this purpose, quotes the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. vii. 15.) as “so explicit and striking, that it must appear su-
perfluous to insist farther on an interpretation of the Christian doctrine.

“It is not intended to touch in the least on speculative points, nor even to demonstrate the belief necessary to salvation: these must be the employ of a much superior understanding. It must, however, be remembered, that innumerable volumes have been written to compile a system of belief from the Sacred Volume, and to separate its doctrines from its precepts; yet these authors are not accused of depreciating the necessity of a blameless conduct: for once, then, let us endeavour to render the practical part more useful, by connecting it under one point of view, without being censured as inimical to the belief of the more abstruse parts of the Sacred Scriptures. The excellence of these precepts cannot be too much insisted on, and equally command the attention of, and are necessary to be obeyed by, all sects, parties, and denominations.”

The author concludes, by saying, that he “believes this to be the first attempt to extract from the New Testament a complete rule of conduct.” It is, perhaps, worthy of notice, that in 1831, when Mr. Roscoe had the pleasure of a personal introduction to Rammohun Roy, he had the satisfaction of showing to the author of the “Precepts of Jesus,” the youthful pro-
duction of his first religious enquiries and impressions.

The work itself is divided into three heads: viz. Duty to God; Duty to our Fellow Creatures; and Duty to Ourselves. Each of these is illustrated by apposite quotations from the precepts of Christ, connected together by a “few short illustrations and reflections, suggested to the author by the plain and literal signification of the different passages.”

The spirit of purity, mercy, forgiveness, and charity, which breathes throughout the New Testament, seems peculiarly to have fixed the attention of Mr. Roscoe in the composition of this tract; and it was to the operation of these divine principles upon his conduct and temper throughout life, that may be attributed all that was most attractive and most exalted in his mind and character.