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The Life of William Roscoe

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.
‣ Appendix
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No. I.

The following notice, on the subject of Mr. Roscoe’s Monument, appeared, shortly after his death, in one of the Liverpool newspapers:—


“The grave has just closed over the remains of the most distinguished individual among us, and centuries may revolve before this place shall again produce a name so celebrated and illustrious as that of Roscoe. We have loved him; we have honoured him; we have valued his literary fame as our own; we have been proud of the distinction he secured to his native town, not only throughout England, but among nations. The learned of all countries have heard with surprise that Liverpool, once only known for its enormous commercial wealth, and its local and political importance, has given birth to the most distinguished of the historians of Europe; and that, from this great mercantile city, as from a second Florence, have issued works which have shed light upon the most important era in the annals of Italy, and which have illustrated the progress of the arts and of literature throughout all countries and all ages.


“Here he has lived and here he has died: here he commenced his literary labours, and pursued and perfected his historical researches. ‘Whatever his hand found to do’ has been accomplished; he has gone from us in the fulness of his days, and in the unalienated possession of his faculties: decay had touched him gently, had spared the fine qualities of his imagination and his heart; and the poem which he prefixed to the last of his works that issued from the press is marked with all the vigour of the maturity of genius. His long and useful life has been spent among those who loved him and those who honoured him; who would have valued his affectionate disposition, his lofty disinterestedness and independence, his fearless sincerity, and the pure and almost patriarchal simplicity of his character, if they had not been united to a mind capable of the most extensive, the most elevated views, if they had not been combined with the most brilliant literary attainments.

“We possess him no more, a treasure to our hearts and our society; we can no longer show him to our children as one whose name is to live when those of all around him are forgotten; we can no longer present him with pride to strangers of the highest rank and most distinguished celebrity; who were all, of whatever class, or sect, or country, unanimous in their desire to show respect to the moral worth and extended literary reputation of Roscoe.

“He is gone from among us; but let us be the first to offer some tribute to his name; to raise some memorial to the fame which will be awarded to him by the voices of thousands and the suffrages of nations. The meed assigned to his literary celebrity may be safely intrusted to surrounding countries and succeeding generations: let ours be the heartfelt testimony that may be paid by respect and affection; now, while his noble and vener-
able image still bends before us, while the gracious and benevolent expression of his features is still present to us, while the remembrance of his mild worth and unassuming excellence is still vividly impressed upon our memories and our hearts.

“Let those, then, who knew him and loved him, assist in raising this memorial; let the humblest of his friends (and who ever had so many amid all classes and conditions among us?) be invited to offer their contributions. Let the erection of this monument be intrusted to one whom he loved, whose early talents he fostered, whose singular and perfect success in one of the noblest of the arts he was so proud to contemplate—to John Gibson; and to whom more efficient or more distinguished could it be assigned, even if he had not been the favourite of Roscoe and the pupil of Canova? if he had not been born in our town, and entitled to claim from us every recompense, every distinction which liberality and munificence can award to genius?

“The remains of our beloved fellow-citizen have been committed to a humble grave: he sleeps reunited to those he loved best in life; and the place of his rest has been assigned to him by feelings of filial love and affection too pure and too sacred to be blended for a moment with any thought of fame or distinction; but it is in the centre of our beautiful cemetery that a memorial of him will be sought by the traveller and stranger; it is near the relics of the most distinguished and lamented of those who rest among us, even near the grave of Huskisson, that must be raised the monument of Roscoe.

“July 15th, 1831.”
No. II.

The following letters, selected from a number of others, relating to various applications made to Mr. Roscoe for advice and assistance, are of so original a character, that the perusal of them cannot fail to amuse the reader.

The first letter must excite a feeling of no inconsiderable interest for the fate of the writer:—

“Honoured Sir,

“Knowing you to be a friend to those who are unjustly oppressed, and as a calamity is now threatened me, which will most certainly fall upon me, unless by your timely interference it is warded off, I have flown to you as a sure refuge and protector.

“Without premising further, my trouble is as follows:—It is my misfortune to have a father who is a rigid Roman Catholic. I have also been brought up to the same religion, but I don’t like it. My mother is dead; she was a Protestant. My father has lately discovered I had been to a Protestant church frequently; and he told me, on Thursday evening, for so doing, he would send me on board a man of war; and that he considered he should be doing God a good service by banishing a heretic for ever from his friends and country; that for his part he was so firm, he would die for the Catholic cause.

“O Sir! you are a man of knowledge and experience; and you must know how I am circumstanced from what I have said. I cannot express my trouble to you; for
as I have a great desire to signalise myself in trade, and have pryed into that knowledge which is essential to a merchant; and as I am utterly averse to either army or navy, should my father succeed in his design, all my hopes in this world would be for ever blasted.

“I thought he was prompted to say what he did through passion; but I find (though not from himself, for he keeps it secret,) that he was yesterday (Friday) at a rendezvous house, and has actually engaged some of the press-gang to take me by surprise. I must also inform you, that, in consequence of the failure of a mercantile house in this town, I am now out of employment; but I am now engaging with a Portuguese house, in this town, to go out to the Brazils, there to remain, in the capacity of book-keeper.

“O Sir! if you will but protect me from so unjust a doom that I am menaced with, I will constantly offer up my prayers for your happiness.

“I will say no more, but conclude by hoping you will pardon the liberty I have taken; for I have been emboldened through hearing of your many acts of greatness, and which redounds eternal honour to you.

“P. S. Advise me, if you please, how to act.”

Amongst those who solicited his literary advice and assistance, was the writer of the ensuing letter:—

“Kind Sir I take this oportunity of wrighting to you being advised by a Ladey of Liverpool to do so in order to tell you i am a Brittich Sailor that as Lateley arived in England after aving maid moy escaape from the Cost of New Zeland ware i was ten years a prisner and is Most beautifull tatued over the face and bodey, and as wrote a manuscript of every think Consirning the interior of New Zeland, the wars, Mariges, Berings, and
the Discriptions of every Animals of Birds Beasts and Reptiles and Menney others of the South Sceas, the Manuscript is valuable and wold make a Book of 200 Pages if wrote by a good Editor being such enformation as Never yet being in print not aving the menes of printing it moy Self i wish to Dispose of it and being advised to wright to you Concerning it i shold wish for you to send me a note wether i must atend at your house or whether you will whait on me at Mr. Calvert’s Exibition in the Market Liverpool where the are exibiting me as a curiosity your obedunt Sirvent

John Rotherfoot.”

The following letter, displaying rather more scholarship than that of the New Zealand traveller, is no less remarkable in its way:—

“O tu, vir illustrissime, note quamvis mihi fama tantum virtutum, et lectione librorum tuorum, tibi clamo, opem petens ex faucibus averni. Ob trigenta et quinque libras incarceratus pereo. Semper pessimum malorum incarcerationem duxi; semper stabilissimâ mente statui, propriâ me manu ab isto malo, si unquam mihi accederit, memet liberaturum.”—“Tametsi re angustissimâ domi a primâ pueritia implicitus, ad doctrinam nihilominus haud vulgarem αυτοδιδακτος perveni. Semper cum fortunâ bellum gessi, internecionem vereor, et illa victoriâ evadet. Pater meus mortutis est—mater superstes, cujus solas sum ego divitiæ, sola voluptas, sola spes. Si ipse iti carcere maneam, illa morietur. Sed non manebo. Ipse, ipse me solvam, omni alio deficiente auxilio.”—“Multa pro te facere possum. Codices Græcos, Latinos, Italicos exarabo; libros evolvam; auctoritates colligam. Nihil est quod ferre aut facere recusem, modo ex hac rerum inquinatarum sentina et
colluvie me in libertatem vitamque vindices. Nam libertas et vita unum idemque mihi. Responsum tuum, aut vitae aut mortis nuncium certissimum, anxius expecto. O serva me, te obsecro; non vilem animam servaveris.”

Amongst the many singular events in which Mr. Roscoe was called upon to bear a part, was one of great delicacy, the general outline of which may be gathered from the following letter. The young and accomplished lady to whom it was, nearly half a century ago, addressed, was indebted to Mr. Roscoe and his family for services of no ordinary kind, rendered under circumstances of peculiar difficulty:—


“As I have been unexpectedly led to take an interest in your concerns, I trust my addressing a few lines to you will not be thought impertinent. The commission intrusted to me was not a voluntary one on my part, and was only intended to suit the present occasion; but I should think I had ill discharged my duty were I to suffer you to return without endeavouring, as far as in my power, to promote your future happiness. Whatever may be the result, the motive is surely excusable. Though a stranger, I cannot but feel for the peculiarity of your situation; deprived of those relatives who would have been your protection, you have confided your happiness to others. It is a heavy misfortune to be friendless, but a still heavier to mistake an enemy for a friend: that this has been your lot I greatly suspect, and sincerely wish I may be mistaken in the supposition.

“Before I proceed farther give me leave to say, once for all, that your own situation was the sole inducement with me to interfere on your account, and not any recommendation from any person. The commission was
not, indeed, personally to me, as I have not the pleasure of your friend’s acquaintance; but I cheerfully accepted it, and am happy it has hitherto been favourable—whatever I can do further on your account I will willingly comply with; but the idea that your friend had the most distant right to expect a compliance with a request of this kind is not pleasing to me, and I have therefore thought it necessary to place this matter in its proper light.

“In some of the short conversations we have had on your concerns, you will possibly have thought my enquiries might proceed from an idle curiosity; but I trust they sprung from a better motive. Was it possible for a man of any feeling to know so much of your history as you have thought proper to intrust me with, and not be deeply interested on your account? With family, with fortune, with accomplishments which promise more than a common share of happiness to their possessor, is it possible to stand by and see them become useless, or, rather, perverted into the means of misery, without one endeavour to prevent it? To be silent on such an occasion would be to become accessary to your ruin. In making an attempt to serve you, I have nothing to fear from any of the parties concerned; but from your prudence and good sense I have much to hope, that the language of truth, though from the pen of a stranger, will not be without its effect.

“I will candidly own my questions were directed to obtain information, whether the unfortunate event we were speaking of was the result of an attachment in which your heart was engaged, or not, and whether it was probable the evil might be speedily remedied by a union with some person whose future attention might in some degree compensate you for the danger and distress you have suffered on his account; but on this point no light
was thrown; and possibly, as this was foreign to the business on which we met, you might not think this subject alluded to.

“In what I have to say I must, therefore, proceed on supposition; only leaving it to yourself to apply it, in case any observations I may make should have a reference to your situation.

“Give me leave, then, Madam, to express my wonder and astonishment, that in your rank of life, with your fortune and endowments, any man, whatever his quality might be, who had so far engaged your affections, should have chosen to contribute to your destruction and disgrace, rather than to your true interest and happiness. From what has happened, I am almost authorised to suppose you would have honoured him with your hand. Could he refuse it? Whatever his pretence might be, rest assured he is not only undeserving of your confidence and esteem, but merits your contempt and aversion. Avoid him more than death; for depend upon it you are a sacrifice to his gratification; that instead o being your friend, he is your most unpardonable enemy, and pursues his selfish aims, at the risk of every thing that is dear and honourable to you in life. To see him again would be a circumstance of regret; but, still more, to listen to him, even so far as to give him an opportunity of apology for that which cannot possibly admit of apology, would be a degradation of which I cannot think you capable. Relax from your resolution of eternally discarding him, and you are lost for ever.

“But perhaps your heart may feel an attachment, against which reason and argument are of little avail. Love, it is said, is involuntary. I should, however, suppose (and, as a married man, I may be allowed to have had some experience), that the passion of love at least expects mutuality; and that it must be an un-
accountable disposition that could continue to love after unequivocal proofs had been given of the unworthiness of the object. Now, if there be in nature a monster to be avoided and dreaded beyond all others, it is the person who, under the sacred names of love and of friendship, inflicts a wound which he has neither inclination nor ability to heal. To love such a being is not only unaccountable, but preposterous; it is a prostitution of body and of mind which nothing can excuse. To be deceived is sometimes the lot of the wisest and best of mankind; but to remain enchanted by hypocrisy after she has dropped the mask, is a degree of culpability which can only be accounted for by a total extinction of every principle of goodness.

“I should be happy to think that these remarks are not in any degree applicable to your situation. Perhaps your future prospects in life are more favourable than, from want of information, they appear to me; and a short time may place you in a happy and respectable situation with a person deserving your esteem. If that be the case, you will have the goodness to consider this as a well-meant, though mistaken attempt to be serviceable to you in a point of the highest importance.

“Supposing, then, that there is some ground for my apprehensions (without which my letter may be considered as blank paper), give me leave to suggest to you a few considerations which may possibly assist you in your future conduct. That any further connection can subsist between you and the author of your misfortune, whoever he may be, I will not believe. But your unprotected situation, an attention to your character, a regard to your helpless infant, and, perhaps, other considerations, will still require no small degree of prudence and fortitude. In these, however, you have shown you are not deficient; and I am convinced that, by directing
them properly, you will surmount your difficulties. What more particularly strikes me is as follows:—

“If the person alluded to be resident in your neighbourhood, assert your own dignity, and immediately end all connection, at whatever risk it may be. Have no apprehension that the real object of your journey here may by these means be known. Your conduct in spurning your deceiver from you will, even in that case, exculpate you from the disgrace in the eyes of the world, and place it where it ought to rest.

“Attach yourself, as much as circumstances will admit, to your relatives and some of the most respectable of your friends; and whilst you remain at your house, never be without their company.

“Make a confidant of some person of worth of your own sex, in whom you can confide; this will be an inexpressible relief to your mind, and will probably preserve you from many dangers.

“Consider whether it would not be more advisable to fix your residence in some large town—as London, or Bath. A country residence cannot be favourable to you. But, above all, let me most earnestly advise you to accept of some of those offers of a connection for life, which, I am convinced, will be made to you. On this head I have only one thing to say. Never live in apprehension that your husband may discover a secret; never entertain the consciousness that you have in any manner misled him. The constant and habitual practice of deception will embitter your life and degrade your mind. An avowal of this transaction before marriage would, I confess, operate differently on different men; but it will be a test of affection, and his love of you and your sincerity will be the best pledges of your future happiness.

“May I be allowed, before I conclude, to request you
will call to mind who you are, from whom you are descended, and to whom you are accountable. Possessed, in point of fortune, of whatever you can wish, you are the absolute mistress of your own conduct. Let no person control you till you think proper publicly to authorise him; and consider all attempts to interfere with your property or your actions, as a web spread for your destruction. You had the misfortune of losing your father whilst you were young; you have lately lost a brother, who, had he lived a short time longer, might have been your guardian and protector;—but think! had they been spared to this day, how would their spirits have been roused against the author of your indignity! What they would have felt on such an occasion it is your duty to feel; and be assured, the false step you have taken is yet retrievable, and that there is an immense difference between an unpremeditated error and a wilful continuance in guilt.

“Let me then once more entreat you, Madam, if there be any veneration due to your lost relatives; if there be any respect of family and connections; if there be any thing honourable in female conduct; or any choice between innocence and guilt, lasting happiness or eternal misery,—to exert every power of your mind to disengage yourself from a connection which has already so deeply injured you, and which, if continued, can only prey upon your spirits, injure your health, impair your future hopes, and inevitably expose you to the pity or contempt of those who, with infinitely less advantages in every respect, have either resisted, or not experienced, the dangers to which you have been exposed.

“That a determined resolution of correcting the errors of your present conduct may be a consolation to your mind, and may accompany you, like a good angel, on your long and fatiguing journey; and that God may
give you prudence to judge what is for your true happiness, and strength of mind to attain it, is the very sincere wish of, Madam,” &c.

No. III.

The following character of Mr. Roscoe was introduced by the Hon. G. C. Verplanck, of New York, in a lecture delivered by him on the opening of a new institution for the encouragement of literature and science in that city:—

“I cannot refrain from adding to these memorable examples in the two most modern of the sciences, another, of eminence in literature, gained under similar circumstances. It is one that, whilst it illustrates my argument, affords me a most fitting occasion to pay a passing tribute to the memory of a venerable friend, the late William Roscoe of Liverpool. He has long ago received the richer offering of American eulogy. The praise which Washington Irving has bestowed upon him*, as a scholar and a gentleman, must be familiar to most of you. With his accustomed graceful and polished eloquence of style, he has painted Roscoe as having almost created his own mind, springing up and forcing its way through a thousand obstacles; as self-prompted, self-sustained, and almost self-educated; conquering every obstacle, and making his own road to fame and fortune; and, after becoming one of the ornaments of the nation, turning the whole force of his talents and

* Sketch Book.

influence to advance and embellish his native town. He has pointed out ‘his private life as peculiarly worthy the attention of the citizens of our young and busy country, where literature and the elegant arts must grow up side by side with the coarse plants of daily necessity, and must depend for their culture, not on the exclusive devotion of time or wealth, but on hours and seasons snatched from the pursuits of worldly interests, by intelligent and public-spirited individuals.’

“He has alluded to the dignity with which Roscoe sustained the reverses of fortune in his old age, and the solace he then found in the company of those much loved associates, whom his muse has hailed as the ‘teachers of wisdom, chiefs of elder art.’

“To the justice or the beauty of Irving’s eulogy in these regards I could add nothing; but it was my own good fortune to have viewed Roscoe under yet another aspect.

“The circumstance of my having, as a member of the legislature of this state, been officially engaged upon the improvement of the penitentiary system, which subject had attracted much of Mr. Roscoe’s attention, led to the renewal of a slight personal acquaintance that I had formed with him several years before, and to a correspondence that lasted till his death. I can bear testimony to the philanthropic zeal with which he entered into the examination of that and of every question of improvement on this side of the Atlantic; to the warm interest he took in every thing that concerned the cause of civil and religious liberty, of education, and of humanity; to his zeal, his courage, and his unwearied efforts in promoting the success of all of them.

“As teaching by his own example and by his writings the value of a union of commerce with intellectual pursuits; as showing, by his life, how they may be made to
harmonise, and benefit each other; as the founder of the Athenæum of Liverpool, upon which this and similar establishments in America were modelled,—we may most justly regard him as one of the fathers of this institution. Such, I am sure, would have been his own feeling toward it. He would have joyed over the advantages that it now affords to the youth of New York, with a truly paternal fondness.

“He died during last summer, at the venerable age of eighty years; retaining to the very last his activity of mind, his love of letters, and his zeal for the service of mankind. His death was mourned, by the intelligent and the good of Great Britain, as a public loss. Upon us, too, his memory has claims. I have therefore thought that this place, and the occasion of opening a course of varied instruction, before a commercial audience of New York, demanded this public tribute to the talents and worth of William Roscoe.”

Printed by A. Spottiswoode,