LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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The Life of William Roscoe
Chapter IV. 1788-1796

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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Motives which led Mr. Roscoe to take a part in politics.—Celebration of the Revolution of 1688—song on that occasion.—Commencement of the French Revolution.—Publication of the “Ode to the People of France,” “Unfold, Father Time,” “O’er the vine-cover’d hills.”—Progress of the Revolution.—Execution of the Brissotines.—Letter to Lord Lansdawne.—Publication of “Strictures on Mr. Burke’s Two Letters.”—“The Life, Death, and wonderful Achievements of Edmund Burke”—State of parties at Liverpool—public meeting there.—Address written by Mr. Roscoe.—Singular proceedings.—Publication of “Thoughts on the Causes of the present Failures.”—The Literary Society—forced to abandon their meetings.—Letter to Lord Lansdawne.—Sonnet by the Rev. W. Shepherd.—Visit to London.—Domestic correspondence.—Count Rantzau—correspondence with him and with the Countess Rantzau.—Removal of Mr. Roscoe from the town of Liverpool.—“Inscription.”—Removal to Birchfield.

The motives by which men are induced to take an active part in political affairs, are of a very varied character. In many instances high birth and party connections lead, as it were naturally, into public life. Others, destitute of these advantages, are allured by the prospects which ambition opens, or by the hopes of profit which place affords; while others, again, are actuated by the love of popular distinction,—perhaps the most common feeling which leads men into the ceaseless anxieties, the ever-recurring disappointments, and the unthankful duties of political life. Governed by different motives, a few individuals are found, who, in their exertions on behalf of the public, disregard the rewards which power, place, and popular applause bestow; satisfied with the conviction that, in directing their best efforts to the public good, they have not unworthily performed one of the first and most honourable of human duties. It is to this class of men alone that a country can look for faithful counsellors and for zealous servants. It is these alone, who, in their freedom from all sinister
interests, and still more from all ill-directed ambition, will be neither warped nor misled in the performance of their lofty duties.

The motives which induced Mr. Roscoe, at an early age, to take a lively interest, and, so far as his station in life permitted, an active part in public affairs, were unmixed with any views of personal advantage or distinction. The opinions entertained by him on all the more important subjects of public discussion were far from finding general favour, even in the eyes of the populace; while those who professed them were avowedly obnoxious to the government, and to a great proportion of the wealthy and powerful part of the community. The advocates of French principles, as those who ventured to express liberal opinions were termed, incurred an odium which it required some fortitude of mind to withstand; and no one, who was not a witness to the state of English society at that period, can justly appreciate the merit of the persons who not only retained opinions so generally obnoxious, but continued publicly to profess them, and to despise the obloquy to which that profession gave rise.

Though the theatre of Mr. Roscoe’s public exertions at this period of his life was remote and confined, it must not therefore be supposed that to others they were without any useful results, or that on his own part they demanded no sacrifices.
The town of Liverpool had not, indeed, at that time, acquired the station in the country which it now occupies; but its rapidly increasing importance rendered the opinion of its inhabitants of some consequence in estimating the general state of public feeling. In forming and directing that opinion, Mr. Roscoe possessed no inconsiderable influence; arising from the respect which his personal character inspired, and from the general confidence reposed in his sincerity and integrity. The state of society in Liverpool was at this time such, that there were few of its principal inhabitants with whom he did not enjoy a personal acquaintance; and of the opportunities thus afforded him, in public and in private, of directing the minds of those around him to just views of political affairs, he always eagerly availed himself.

The character of his political opinions, which were formed at an early age, resulted from the mode in which his mind had been cultivated, and from the absence of that control and superintendence, in matter of opinion, to which in general the formation of political principles in early life is owing. His native disposition, therefore, displayed itself, in an attachment to the principles of freedom, in an opposition to injustice and oppression under every form, and in a zealous and generous desire to benefit his fellow creatures.

Although the intervals of leisure which he was
able to snatch from his daily employments were usually devoted to literary studies, his mind was yet actively alive to what was passing in the political world. The first occasion upon which he appears to have taken any public part in politics was on the celebration, in 1788, of the centenary of the Revolution. Several gentlemen of Liverpool having met to commemorate that great event,
Mr. Roscoe formed one of the party; and the following lines, written by him, were recited on the occasion:—

“Since Freedom here fix’d her immutable throne,
A hundred long years wing’d with blessings are past;
Our fathers the sweets of her favour have known,
But ’t is ours to complete the full circle at last:
Then grasp the deep bowl, the full chorus prolong,
To William and Freedom be sacred the song!
“When James, the worst heir of a tyrannous line,
Had trampled on reason, religion, and laws,
Like an angel commission’d by goodness divine,
Then William arose, and asserted our cause;
Then grasp the deep bowl, the full chorus prolong,
To William and Freedom be sacred the song!
“Could the sons of Britannia, supine and unjust,
Be dead to the transports the season inspires,
The spirits of those who now moulder in dust,
Would speak from their ashes to kindle our fires:
Then grasp the deep bowl, the full chorus prolong,
To William and Freedom be sacred the song!
“To Nature the boon of existence we owe,
But ’t is Liberty crowns it with honour and joy
The worth of her smile by experience we know,
To enjoy it we live, to preserve it we’ll die:
Then grasp the deep bowl, the full chorus prolong,
To William and Freedom be sacred the song!
“Round this altar of Freedom united we bow,
Our libations shall aid her unquenchable flame,
Which here to transmit to our children we vow,
Bright and vivid as when from our fathers it came:
Then grasp the deep bowl, the full chorus prolong,
To William and Freedom be sacred the song!”

Possessing principles and feelings like these, it cannot be supposed that Mr. Roscoe witnessed the commencement of the French Revolution without sentiments of the most intense interest. The spectacle of a great nation rising up, as one man, to regain the station and the happiness from which it had been debarred by centuries of misgovernment, was one which might well awaken the sympathies of his heart. Nor was the splendour which surrounded the first efforts of the French to recover their freedom obscured by any clouds. In this glory of the first days of their Revolution it was that Mr. Roscoe dedicated his muse to the celebration of French liberty. In the prosecution of his studies he had been struck with the fine canzone of Petrarch
“Quel ch’ ha nostra natura in se più degno,”
which seemed susceptible of being applied to the great struggle for freedom then taking place
in France; and he accordingly imitated the Italian poem in “
An Ode to the People of France,” which was published at Liverpool, in the year 1789. The invocation to Liberty, “Libertà! dolce e desiato bene,” is perhaps the most spirited part of the translation:—
“Freedom! blest gift, whom none condemn who know;
Dear is thy presence to this world below!
Life vigorous grows where’er thy steps have trod,
And man walks forth the semblance of a God;
If thou be absent, life no joy affords,
Despised its titled pomps, its useless hoards;
But in thy presence every cottage charms,
And Peace reposes in thy sheltering arms.”

At a period long subsequent to the publication of this Ode, Mr. Roscoe transmitted a copy of it, together with some other of his works, to Mr. Fox, who, in a letter to the author, expresses his admiration of the poem.

The interest which the friends of liberty in Liverpool felt in the progress of the French Revolution was manifested by a meeting held on the 14th July, 1790, to celebrate the taking of the Bastile; on which occasion Mr. Roscoe produced his well-known song, “Unfold, Father Time.”

“Unfold, Father Time! thy long records unfold,
Of noble achievements accomplish’d of old,
When men, by the standard of Liberty led,
Undauntedly conquer’d or cheerfully bled;
But know, ’midst the triumphs these moments reveal,
Their glories shall fade, and their lustre turn pale;
While France rises up, and confirms the decree
That tears off her chains, and bids millions be free.
“As spring to the fields, or as dew to the flower,
To the earth parch’d with heat as the soft dropping shower;
As health to the wretch that lies languid and wan;
Or as rest to the weary—is Freedom to man.
Where Freedom the light of her countenance gives,
There only he revels, there only he lives;
Seize, then, the glad moment, and hail the decree
That bids millions rejoice, and a nation be free!
“Too long had Oppression and Terror entwined
Those fancy-form’d chains that enslave the free mind,
Whilst dark Superstition, with Nature at strife,
Had lock’d up for ages the fountains of life:
But the demons are fled, the delusion is past,
And Reason and Virtue have conquer’d at last;
Seize, then, the glad moment, and hail the decree
That bids millions rejoice, and a nation be free!
“France! we share in the rapture thy bosom that fills,
When the spirit of Liberty bounds o’er thy hills;
Redundant henceforth may thy purple juice flow,
Prouder wave thy green woods, and thy olive trees grow,
For thy brow may the hand of Philosophy twine,
Blest emblems! the myrtle, the olive, and vine;
And Heaven through all ages confirm the decree,
That tears off thy chains, and bids millions be free!”

But the pen of Mr. Roscoe was, in the following year, exerted still more successfully in the composition of his celebrated lines, “O’er the vine-cover’d hills and gay regions of France,”—a song which, as might be expected from its
beauty and its animating spirit, immediately became highly popular.

This composition, like the former, was written for the purpose of being recited on the anniversary of the 14th August. Upon that day, in the year 1791. the riots at Birmingham took place, and the celebration was afterwards discontinued in Liverpool, as well as in other places.

“O’er the vine-cover’d hills and gay regions of France,
See the day-star of Liberty rise;
Through the clouds of detraction unsullied advance,
And hold its new course through the skies.
An effulgence so mild, with a lustre so bright,
All Europe with wonder surveys;
And, from deserts of darkness and dungeons of night,
Contends for a share of the blaze.
“Ah! who ’midst the horrors of night would abide,
That can breathe the pure breezes of morn?
Or who, that has drunk the pure crystalline tide,
To the feculent flood would return?
When the bosom of Beauty the throbbing heart meets,
Ah, who can the transport decline?
Or who, that has tasted of Liberty’s sweets,
The prize but with life would resign?
“Let Burke like a bat from its splendour retire,
A splendour too strong for his eyes;
Let pedants and fools his effusions admire,
Entrapt in his cobwebs like flies.
Shall insolent Sophistry hope to prevail
Where Reason opposes her weight,
When the welfare of millions is hung in the scale,
And the balance yet trembles with fate?
“But ’tis over—high Heaven the decision approves,
Oppression has struggled in vain,
To the hell she has form’d Superstition removes,
And Tyranny bites his own chain.
In the records of Time a new era unfolds,
All nature exults in its birth;
His creation benign the Creator beholds,
And gives a new charter to earth.
“O catch the high import, ye winds, as ye blow;
O bear it, ye waves, as ye roll,
From regions that feel the sun’s vertical glow,
To the farthest extremes of the Pole.
Equal rights, equal laws, to the nations around,
Peace and friendship its precepts impart,
And wherever the footsteps of Man shall be found,
He shall bind the decree on his heart.”

As the revolution proceeded,—as the confidence of the people in the sincerity of the king decreased,—as the passions of various parties became more and more exasperated,—as the threats of foreign interference were redoubled, the aspect of political affairs in France grew darker and darker. It now became evident that despotism, amongst its most hateful qualities, possesses that of rendering those who suffer under its influence unfit for the wise enjoyment of freedom, until after a long and too often a sanguinary education;—that it is vain to expect from slaves, the discretion, the forbearance, and the magnanimity of freemen; and that the fatal retribution of the crimes of governments is found in the madness of the people. The oppression
of the atmosphere is carried off in lightnings and in storms, and despotism expires in tumults and in blood. The crimes of the French revolution have been by many absurdly charged on those alone by whose hands they were committed; while their governors, who had industriously extirpated the principles and feelings which would have prevented such excesses, have been represented as their martyrs. Time, and calm reflection, will teach the better lesson, that, to render a people humane, just, and moderate, their government must first set them an example of humanity, of justice, and of moderation.

Those who, like Mr. Roscoe, had witnessed with delight the birth of freedom in France, and watched anxiously over its cradle,—who had looked for peace, and happiness, and improvement, as the great results of the revolution, beheld with grief and dismay the alarming vicissitudes of its progress. The last hope of the friends of France seemed to expire on the scaffold of the Brissotines.

It was soon after this event, the intelligence of which he received with the deepest emotion, that the following letter was addressed by Mr. Roscoe to the late Marquis of Lansdowne:—

“The event which has pressed upon me with more weight than almost any other I ever as yet experienced, either of a public or private nature, is the execution of the Deputies in France,—
men whom I had long been accustomed to look up to as the best friends of their country and of mankind; and for whom, if affection be acquired without a personal acquaintance, I may say I had a real esteem. Of these men,
Verniaux was the most particular object of my regard. He seems to have possessed a grandeur and sublimity of imagination, coupled with an accuracy of judgment, beyond any of his associates; and if ever the love of his country was apparent in any man, it was so in him. In lamenting the fate of these great men, I cannot, however, forget their errors, which, I am convinced, they themselves discovered when too late. Their graves were dug on the 10th of August, and the 2d of September passed their sentence. The remainder of their lives was a struggle to repair either their mistake in assenting to, or their want of energy in resisting, the violence that then took place. Fatal day! that overthrew the labour of years, and placed the fortunes of the human race on the chance of a die. Surely, nothing less than absolute despotism can admit of the application of the principle of force.

“Wherever the sense of a whole community can be peaceably taken, the insurrection of a part is treason. This forms the distinction between the destroyers of the Bastile and the heroes of the 10th of August, or their rivals of the 2d of September.


“As to the great point which the French think they have gained by the destruction of their monarchy, I think it of little consequence; not that I am become a believer in the maxim, that ‘whate’er is best administered is best,’ but because I think that a monarchy is capable of being as well constituted for the happiness of a people as a republic. And though, I hope, not superstitious, I cannot help thinking that the voluntary and solemn oath of a whole nation, to abide by a constitution which they took three years in framing, ought, if there be any thing serious or binding in human affairs, to have some weight. I will not trouble your Lordship with my feelings on the conduct of the French rulers subsequent to this shocking event. The horrid industry employed in the discovery of the other proscribed Deputies, the deliberate mockery of their trial, and the bloody indifference of the people at large, on the execution of such men as Rabaut, who first rescued them from despotism, freezes my affections, and gives me a dislike, not only to the French, but to my species. Sorry am I to say, that this dislike is not much removed by any thing I can see in my own country, where the same selfish and slavish spirit that has contributed to bring on the enormities of France is apparent in the prosecution of all those who aim, by a cool, rational, and deliberate reform, to prevent a similar catastrophe here. With
what face can our present administration commit
Thomas Muir to the hulks, preparatory to his transportation to Botany Bay, when it is apparent to all the nation, that if he has been guilty, Mr. Pitt and the Duke of Richmond ought to accompany him? But the leaders have apostatised, and the disciples perish. This is enough. The founders of a sect become its persecutors! To whom shall we compare those who punish what they have themselves endeavoured to promote?

“I cannot conceive what can be the views of the people assembled in Edinburgh, under the name of the British Convention; but the whole is so ill-timed, and so ill-conducted, that I should easily be persuaded it was intended to bring additional odium on the cause of reform, did I not know, that one person appeared amongst them whose motives are beyond suspicion. I mean Lord Daer, whom I have seen in Liverpool, and whose heart, I am sure, is right. Why has he committed himself in such a business, and nipt his usefulness in the bud? Great harm has been done by the doctrine, so industriously inculcated by a sect of which I am a professing member, that whatever is ultimately right is to be pursued at all times. Perhaps, however, this arises rather from a misapprehension of the precept, than from the precept itself. It might be admitted in its general purport, but then, what-
ever is right is always to be sought for by means likely to obtain it, and not by such as can directly tend only to the injury of the cause, and the ruin of the individual. If I wish for a prosperous voyage, I must wait for the wind and the tide; but if I resolve to attempt it in spite of both, I become the unpitied cause of my own destruction.”

As the atrocities of the Revolution increased, it became the fashion in this country to attribute their origin, not to the degraded and servile state in which the people had been so long plunged, but to the operation of those principles upon which the Revolution itself was founded; as though freedom and equal laws produced nothing but oppression; justice and public order nothing but confusion; and peace and goodwill the most barbarous and bloody actions. Amongst the foremost advocates of this doctrine stood Mr. Burke, who, wholly abandoning the guidance of his reason, laboured to inflame the passions of his countrymen, till he almost made his own madness theirs. Every principle, by which the freedom and happiness of man in civil society can be protected or vindicated, was unhesitatingly denounced; while those who professed such principles were pointed out for proscription. His Thoughts on the French Revolution were followed by his Two Letters addressed to a Member of the present Parliament;
in which the war he had waged with the principles of the Revolution in France was extended to those opinions at home. Eighty thousand converts in this country were stated to have imbibed the dangerous doctrine, and to have become “pure Jacobins, utterly incapable of amendment.” To stem this fatal tide of rebellion, infidelity, and anarchy, and to prevent the least approach towards pacific sentiments, was the object of the “Two Letters.” To that publication,
Mr. Roscoe, in the year 1796, sent to the press a brief answer, under the title of “Strictures on Mr. Burke’s Two Letters, addressed to a Member of the present Parliament.”* In this pamphlet, after remarking upon the exaggerations of Mr. Burke’s statements, he exposes the real object of his writings,—the extermination of liberal principles,—an act not to be accomplished by the means recommended by Mr. Burke.

“Let us endeavour to prevent the rising of the sun, or to stay the swelling of the ocean, for the material world is, in some degree, subject to the control of mechanical force; but the intellectual world scoffs at the weak attempt which would limit its operations by the coarse and clumsy restrictions of bolts and chains.”

The principal part of the tract is directed to

* This pamphlet is reprinted in the “Occasional Tracts on the War.” London. 1810.

the subject of peace, with the view of showing that the French nation had not been, and was not, averse to a pacification, and that the interests of both countries would be secured by the termination of the war. The pamphlet concludes with the following remarks upon
Mr. Burke’s political character:—

“It is wonderfully, and, no doubt, wisely directed by the Author of nature, that from the same soil and climate from which some plants draw their healthful and nutritive juices, others collect a poison the most destructive to the human race. It would seem, too, as if the human character displayed a similar diversity, and that some were intended by a natural rectitude and benevolence of disposition to select, from surrounding circumstances, causes of peace, charity, and good-will, whilst others can deduce from the same circumstances only the motives of hatred, envy, jealousy, and destruction. Wherever the latter disposition appears, there is no proceeding so open and generous, no transaction so honest, no purpose so virtuous, as not to afford food for its malignity. With whatever it comes in contact, it appropriates it by a kind of chemical affinity to its own nature; and if it does not find, creates, in every thing around it, gall and bitterness. I shall not press on my reader the application of these remarks; but I confess it has always appeared
to me extraordinary, that the same man, who persevered during a long course of years, in instigating the people of America to resistance against this country, and, by measures which in these days would infallibly have brought him to the bar of a criminal court, encouraged them to the defence of their independence, should, when a similar circumstance occurred in France, and when there was every reason to presume this great and desirable event might be accomplished without contention and without bloodshed, have excited a general outcry against the attempt.

“That the cases of America and France are exactly similar will not indeed be pretended; but the difference between them was such, as, upon all reasonable grounds, should have redoubled the energies of his mind in favour of the latter. If the actuating principle of Mr. Burke had been a generous and disinterested love of liberty, it is not possible that he should have beheld the rising efforts of the people of France with the obliquity of jealousy, or the frown of hostility; nay, it is not possible that he should not have felt that prepossession in their favour, that solicitude for their success, which in the early part of the Revolution agitated the bosom of those who had been his associates in the cause of freedom: but, when the moment of decision arrived,—
‘’Twas then, O shame! O trust, how ill repaid!’—
he, with a perversity without precedent in the annals of apostasy, seized the operative moment to pour his drug into the healthful mass, and it curdled into poison. From that instant, his exertions to prolong, and by all possible methods to increase, the calamities of the war which he had excited, have been unremitting and successful; and lest some more fortunate combination of circumstances, some returning gleam of human commiseration for human sufferings, should lead the contending parties to listen to the voice of reconciliation, he sedulously collects the ingredients of discord from every passing transaction, and hoards up the phial of his vengeance till the moment when it is most likely to produce its effect. Ardent and impassioned in the cause of freedom in America, whilst the assertion of that freedom led to contention and blood, equally impassioned against the liberties of France, and prolonging by every means in his power the duration of the war, his character acquires a degree of consistency which his opponents have unjustly refused to his pretensions. Tros Tyriusve, it is not the cause that interests him. Alternately the advocate of liberty or despotism, just as his support or his opposition may serve to keep alive the flames of discord, he acts up to the constitution of his nature, and in the economy of the moral world performs an unwelcome, but, perhaps, a necessary part.”


Aware that ridicule is sometimes as effectual a weapon as argument, Mr. Roscoe attacked the opinions of Burke in verse as well as in prose. In the year 1791 he wrote and printed a ballad, containing “The Life, Death, and wonderful Achievements of Edmund Burke,” which he accompanied by a frontispiece etched by himself*, representing Burke armed like a knight-errant, assailing Mr. Fox in the House of Commons.

“Full tilt he ran at all he met,
And round he dealt his knocks,
Till with a backward stroke at last,
He hit poor Charley Fox.
“Now Charley was, of all his friends,
The warmest friend he had;
So when he felt this graceless blow,
He deem’d the man was mad.
“With grief his generous bosom rose,
A grief too great to hide;
And as the stroke was somewhat hard,
He sat him down and cried.
“But not a whit did Edmund feel;
For at his friend he flew,
Resolved, before the neighbours round,
To beat him black and blue.

* “I was unluckily out of town,” says Fuseli, in a letter to Mr. Roscoe, “when your letter came with the enclosed bill and ballad. The ballad has some admirable stanzas, but I like the tune of the bill still better. Your modesty is great in thinking you could not have etched as well as the frontispiece.”

“Then Charles indignant started up,
The meagre form he took,
And with a giant’s awful grasp
His rusty armour shook.
“Oh, have ye seen a mastiff strong
A shivering lap-dog tear?—
Then may ye judge how Edmund did,
When claw’d by Charles, appear.”

Amidst the anxieties which every friend of freedom experienced with regard to the issue of public affairs on the Continent, the state of political feeling at home was such as to cause the most serious apprehensions. The government and the more wealthy and powerful part of the community, alarmed at the progress of opinions which aimed, as they imagined, at the overthrow of the settled institutions of the country, regarded with a timid jealousy the movements of their opponents. The lower orders, whose prejudices and ignorance suffered them to be easily misled, were prompted to acts of violence against those whom they were taught to view as the enemies of the king and of the constitution. The feelings of all classes of the nation were roused to a state of excitement which threatened the most dangerous consequences, and the fever of the public mind was designedly heightened by the government itself. The apprehensions of the weak and the passions of the violent were confirmed by a proclamation, representing, in strong colours, the dangers to
which the nation was exposed by treasonable and seditious designs, and exhorting all persons to make diligent enquiry after the authors of the wicked and seditious writings which were disseminated over the country. The friends of the government were not slow in answering the appeal thus made to them, and loyal addresses to the king were poured in from every quarter.

In the town of Liverpool the loyal party, as they termed themselves, were not idle. The mayor of the borough, Mr. Tarleton (a younger brother of Sir Banastre Tarleton), desirous of distinguishing himself by his zeal, caused the celebrated charge of Mr. Justice Ashurst, and the address of the London Association, to be reprinted and circulated through the town. To counteract the effect of these papers, several persons, whose principles were regarded as ultra-liberal, formed themselves into a society, and published their resolutions in one of the Liverpool papers. To so high a pitch had party feeling risen, that those who were known to be members of this society were publicly insulted, and, after a very short time, were compelled to discontinue their meetings. At this juncture appeared Mr. Pitt’s celebrated proclamation already referred to, and the load of opprobrium under which the friends of peace and reform laboured was doubled. Unwilling that objects and motives, the most false and unjust, should
be imputed to those who professed the same principles with himself,
Mr. Roscoe drew up a declaration expressing the attachment of those who signed it, to the constitution, and, at the same time, their resolution to seek a parliamentary reform by all legal, temperate, and constitutional means. This declaration was communicated to his friends, and was already extensively signed, when the mayor of Liverpool convoked a public meeting of the inhabitants to consider the propriety of addressing the king. An opportunity being thus afforded for a more open expression of opinion, the parties who had promoted the signing of the Declaration resolved to lay it aside, and to reserve their sentiments for the public meeting. Accordingly, on the previous evening, Mr. Roscoe prepared the form of an address, pursuing, in a great measure, the sentiments of the Declaration, but containing a more delicate allusion to the subject of reform. Three addresses having been proposed by different friends of the government, Mr. Birch (now Sir Joseph Birch) introduced that which had been drawn up by Mr. Roscoe. A stormy debate arose upon it, and violent efforts were made by their opponents to prevent the advocates of peace and reform from being heard. Mr. Roscoe, however, and some of his friends, succeeded in addressing the meeting; and after a contest of nearly two hours his address was
carried, on a show of hands, by a considerable majority. The mayor, who presided, having declared the address carried, appointed the following Monday (the meeting being held on Saturday) for its signature in the Town Hall.

On that day a singular scene took place. The populace, who in the mean time had been excited by placards posted on the walls, assembled round the doors of the Town Hall, and insulted those who attended for the purpose of signing the address, which they defaced and destroyed, no peace officers being in attendance to prevent this outrage. They then sent for the mayor, called for his address; and upon one of the addresses rejected at the former meeting being produced, they voted it to be the Liverpool address. It was signed as such by the mayor and the persons present; and with 12,000 signatures attached to it was presented to the king.

In a letter to Lord Lansdowne, giving an account of these transactions, Mr. Roscoe adds, “The loss of an address, which I was in hopes would have conciliated all parties, and put an end to our political dissensions in Liverpool, is not, however, our only cause of regret. In order to justify the violence of their measures, our antagonists find it necessary to load us with all possible odium; to struggle against it only renders it more oppressive; and all we have now
to do is to submit in silence, lest we occasion others of a more personal nature, with which several of us have been threatened, both anonymously and openly.

* * * * * *

“In the course of the last fortnight, the only newspaper that would admit an article on the cause of Reform has been obliged, by the violence and threats of some intolerant individuals, to disavow its principles, and profess a thorough devotion to the prevailing frenzy; and though there are four weekly papers published, there is not one that will admit a contradiction to the grossest calumnies that can be devised against the friends of Reform, who have not now a public organ by which they can address the town of Liverpool.”

Not satisfied with repressing by every means in their power the progress of French principles at home, the government ultimately resolved to attempt the extermination of them in the country where they had their birth. There have been few periods in our history at which a war with France has been unpopular; and when hostilities with the French Republic were announced, the intelligence was received with a general expression of satisfaction throughout the nation. As yet we had not been taught the bitter lesson, that the triumphs of our arms may be too dearly purchased, and that a few years of
successful achievements in war may be followed by ages of national difficulty and distress. To those who, like
Mr. Roscoe, regarded all wars not resorted to from the most urgent necessity as iniquitous and wicked, and who looked with peculiar aversion upon an attempt like this to repress the liberties of a foreign country by force of arms, the war with France was doubly odious. The commercial difficulties in which the country became deeply involved, soon after the commencement of hostilities, gave him an opportunity, in attempting to trace out the causes of these embarrassments, to express publicly his opinion of the injustice and impolicy of the war. The extensive mercantile failures which took place in the year 1793 were accounted for in various ways. By some, their origin was attributed to the undue extension of paper circulation; and by others, to the improvident speculations of individuals; but a different cause was assigned to them by Mr. Roscoe. He justly regarded them as owing to the sudden transition from a state of peace to that of war; which, by affecting all the foreign commercial relations of the country, was destructive to mercantile credit. These opinions he embodied in a short pamphlet, which he published under the title of “Thoughts on the Causes of the present Failures.”* The

* London: J. Johnson. 1793. Republished in “Occasional Tracts relative to the War.” London. 1810.

work attracted some attention; and was noticed by the late
Marquis of Lansdowne in the House of Lords “I was so much delighted with your little tract,” says that nobleman, in a letter to Mr. Roscoe, “that I could not help mentioning both it and the author, in the House of Lords, in the terms which they deserve. The ministry, when I mentioned it, affected to sneer at it; but I have the pleasure to tell you, that several members of both Houses have been as much struck with it as myself. Your principles do you as much honour, as I feel your friendship must always do me. * * * It will give me always pleasure to hear from you, and I hope you won’t forget the public.”*

But the interest felt by Mr. Roscoe in political affairs did not prevent him from prosecuting his schemes of literary improvement. The study of the Italian writers employed at this time the greater part of his leisure; and he was thus gradually familiarising himself with that extensive subject, which he afterwards so successfully illustrated. In the society, also, of the intelligent friends by whom he was surrounded, he found a relief, both from the anxieties of his profession and from the disappointment of his political views. The occasional meetings, which took place in an evening at the houses of Mr. Roscoe and his friends, assumed so agreeable a

* Letter dated 14th May, 1795.

character, that it was determined to give them a more permanent form; and “The Literary Society” was consequently founded. Amongst the members of this friendly association were
Dr. Currie, the Rev. W. Shepherd, the Rev. John Yates, Professor Smyth, Mr. Rathbone, Dr. Rutter, and Mr. Roscoe. Their meetings were held every fortnight, at their respective houses; and the hour before supper was devoted to the reading of papers or the discussion of literary questions. But even this peaceful and unoffending company was not exempt from the violence of party feeling. Upon the appearance of Mr. Pitt’s proclamation against seditious meetings, and the consequent odium in which all who professed liberal principles were involved, the Literary Society found their meetings viewed with so much suspicion and jealousy, that it was thought proper, for the time, to discontinue them, nor were they afterwards resumed. This circumstance is referred to in the following extract from a letter addressed at the time to the Marquis of Lansdowne:—

“It was my intention to have stated to your Lordship some other instances of the consequences felt under the present system, where every man is called on to be a spy upon his brother; but I have already intruded much too far on your Lordship’s time. I must, however, mention that I have, for upwards of ten years, been a member
of a little society of about a dozen persons (
Dr. Currie and others), who have, during that time, met in rotation at each other’s houses. The object of our meeting was merely literary; but suspicion has for some time gone abroad about us, and I have good reason to believe we have been thought of importance enough to be pointed out to government by the collector of the customs here. Some of us having openly appeared on the late address, has, I believe, completed the business; and, in the present state of things, we have thought it expedient to suspend our future meetings.”

It was at this stormy and threatening period that the following sonnet was addressed by Mr. Shepherd to his friend:—

“When darkening clouds surcharge the moistened air,
And frowning tempests roll along the sky,
The prudent shepherd drives his fleecy care
Where the grey rock uplifts its head on high:
There, undisturb’d, he hears the roaring wind,
And sees before him sweep the driving rain;
Or ’tween the gusts, beneath the crag reclined,
In fading distance eyes the troubled main:
So, when intestine broils or foreign rage
With angry tumult fire the public breast,
Let us, my Roscoe, fly the maddening age,
And ’mid domestic comforts calmly rest,
When wrath and discord through the nations roam,
Thrice happy who possess and prize a peaceful home.


Early in life Mr. Roscoe had acquired a lively taste for country pleasures and agricultural pursuits; a taste which, for many years, he had little opportunity of indulging. About the year 1792, in travelling from Manchester to Liverpool, he was struck with the extensive track of uncultivated moss-land, which runs for some miles along the road in the neighbourhood of Manchester; and it occurred to him, that the draining and improvement of this land might be made a source of profit, as well as a work of public utility. In conjunction, therefore, with his friend, Mr. Thomas Wakefield, who had been engaged in a similar undertaking, he resolved to apply for a lease of the moss; for the purpose of procuring which they visited London in the winter of 1792. Being detained in town for some weeks by this business, Mr. Roscoe had an opportunity of enjoying the society of many friends whom he highly valued, and of gratifying his taste by the purchase of a few works of art. The following short extracts are selected from his letters to Mrs. Roscoe, written during this visit:—

“You must not conceive, because I have not troubled you with the particulars of our transactions and disappointments, we had not a specific object in view. The truth is, we have been led on day by day, always hoping the accomplishment of our purpose, and as often frustrated.
To-day has, however, brought us to a point; and
W. and I have offered a sum of money, which, I believe, will remove further objections, and put matters in train, in which case it is probable that two or three weeks may restore me to the place where all my affections are centered.

“On Saturday I dined with the Marquis of Lansdowne, in a family party, and am to breakfast with him some day this week. On Thursday I am to meet Dr. Priestley at Dr. Aikin’s. In short, I endeavour to amuse myself as well as I can, and (don’t be alarmed) am not altogether unsuccessful. Fuseli sat with me at my lodgings last night. We dined with him a few days since; so that you see there is nothing to be apprehended for my health and safety.

* * * * *

“Should D. D.* tell you that I have bought a large and magnificent collection of pictures, don’t believe him—it’s no such thing—a few trifles by which I shall gain cent per cent., and Dan shall be the first man I take in.

“I have many hopes of accomplishing our purpose; and if that be done, perhaps your vision of the little comfortable cot, and peace and contentment, and laughing at the follies and faults of the world, may be realised. For my own part, I

* Mr. Daulby.

am indifferent as to every thing but being restored to the bosom of my family, whether it be in town or country.”

The same strong attachment to domestic society is expressed in the following letter:—

“This negotiation, with other affairs I have on hand, has kept me in close and perpetual employment; and it was with great difficulty I got to dine at Dr. Aikin’s yesterday, where I met with Dr. Priestley, Dr. Rees, Mr. Belsham, &c., and passed a few agreeable hours.

“My way of life here I contrive to make as agreeable as circumstances will permit. The affairs I have on hand employ my full attention all day; but you will easily judge I am not much pleased with my solitary parlour in the evening, when my thoughts all turn towards my own little fireside. I am not, however, foolish enough to torment myself because I cannot at all times enjoy the pleasures dearest to my heart. A temporary absence of this kind is at times inevitable; and if we have only the happiness of meeting again, and seeing our little fellows in good health, it will repay us for the anxiety of our separation.”

“After living a fortnight in the hurry of a coffee-room,” says Mr. Roscoe, in a letter written soon after the foregoing, “I am now writing this letter in private lodgings, which I find very comfortable. The impossibility of being alone
for a moment would, in another week, have made me half crazy; but here I hope to be able to summon up what little philosophy I have, and to learn to bear my present separation from the dear objects of my love, with temper and resolution, considering that what I am now endeavouring to attain will, probably, in the end, enable us to place ourselves in a situation somewhat more suitable to our wishes, and add to the many blessings we already experience, that of being able to render some services to those about us.

“I have seen my old friend, David Samwell*, who did not at first recognise me, as I should scarcely have done him; but, on mentioning my name, he was highly pleased to see me. He is to take me to the Leverian Museum, and to explain the South Sea curiosities, &c. In a world like this, where our friends are constantly slipping from our sides, it is highly gratifying to meet with an honest fellow, after an absence of nearly twenty-five years.”

The friendship of Mr. Roscoe with Lord Lansdowne, and the character which he had already acquired for liberal studies, were the means of introducing him to most of the dis-

* An early companion of Mr. Roscoe. He accompanied Captain Cook in one of his Voyages. A copious journal kept during this voyage by Mr. Samwell is now in the possession of Mr. Roscoe’s family.

tinguished foreigners who visited Liverpool. Amongst others, a young Danish nobleman, the
Count Rantzau, brought recommendations to him in the year 1793, which led to a friendship not commonly arising from so transient an acquaintance. The excellent dispositions of this young nobleman manifested themselves on his return to his estates, in an act of justice and humanity, referred to by Mr. Roscoe in the following letter, addressed to the Count in the year 1796:—

“Inexcusable as I must appear to you, in not having acknowledged the favour of your letter dated so long since as 11th February, 1794, I have not forgotten the very pleasant hours for which I am indebted to you on your visit to Liverpool, nor have I once ceased to feel those sentiments of sincere and respectful esteem to which that visit gave rise. The truth is, that having unavoidably deferred writing for a short time, and understanding from your letters that you were then undertaking a journey to Northern Jutland, I was at a loss to know your destination, till I had the pleasure, a few weeks since, to see your near relation and friend, Baron Buckwald, who honoured me with a visit, and gratified my enquiries respecting you. From him I learned (what I assure you gave me great pleasure) that you had entered into the matrimonial state, and
had reason to expect every happiness which it can afford. It was with no less satisfaction I found that you had executed the benevolent intention which you did me the honour of mentioning to me, and had liberated your numerous vassals within your estates in Holstein. The accomplishments of rank, or the acquisitions of science, may command respect and admiration; but I venerate the man who can break through the prejudices of an unjust, though long established custom, and who finds a gratification in exchanging the authority and name of a master, for the more honourable title of a benefactor, a father, and a friend. I hope and trust that such examples of a wise and enlightened policy will not be without their effect; and that the liberty and happiness of the northern kingdoms of Europe may be effected by just and gradual steps, without those dreadful commotions which have been occasioned in other countries by the blind obstinacy of the rulers, and the headlong impetuosity of the people.”

Of the noble act to which Mr. Roscoe refers, a more particular account is given by Count Rantzau, in his answer to the preceding letter.

“Having, since a long time, given up every hope of keeping any place in your memory, I was most agreeably surprised by receiving your favour of the 30th of September, and I seize with pleasure the opportunity you have the kindness of offering, to keep up a connection which I shall
always consider as one of the most interesting fruits of my travels.

“I may not conceal to you how much the approbation of my conduct, which a man in a far distant country, whom age and knowledge places far above me, flatters myself. It gives me the courage to entertain you further of those steps which are made in a small and peaceable country towards the civil accomplishment of the state of society.

“It was in the year 1794, I granted liberty and property to the glebæ adscriptis of my estate. In 1796, shortly after my return from Italy, the noblemen and country gentlemen instituted a committee to examine the state of slavery in Holstein. The lovers of ancient time endeavoured to abuse this measure as a mean for continuing in our former state. Having been so happy as to be elected a member of the committee, consisting of eight noblemen and four gentlemen, I proposed the total abolition of slavery in Holstein and Sleswick, and was so happy to carry the measure, after the debate had lasted about thirteen months. This resolution was signed the 11th of March, and is already submitted to the royal approbation. The latter part of this century has seen many examples of sovereigns restoring part of their subjects to the rights of which another part had deprived them, but I think it the very first instance, where a privileged order has volun-
tarily received their slaves into the rank of citizens. If you see
Lord Lansdowne, I beg you to do me the favour to inform him of this. I am sure a thing of this nature will, notwithstanding the remoteness of the theatre and the smallness of the object, merit the attention and interest of that great man.”

How long this interesting correspondence was kept up, does not appear. But the following letter, addressed by the Countess Rantzau to Mr. Roscoe, in 1814, evinces the confidence and attachment with which her husband had always continued to regard his friend:—

“Kiel, en Holstein, le 16 Fevrier, 1814.

“C’est une inconnue, Monsieur, qui vous approche avec confiance. C’est la meilleure amie, la triste veuve, d’un homme qui a passe les plus beaux momens de sa jeûnesse dans votre pays, qui est resté à jamais le paradis de son imagination. Vous l’avez alors comblé de vos bontés; il ne m’en a jamais parlé sans émotion; plusieurs de vos lettres et des marques distinguées de votre souvenir l’ont honoré depuis et sensiblement réjouï. M. Nïebuhr, que le Cte. Rantzau a osé plus tard vous recommander, lui en a sû un gré inexprimable—et c’est moi qui viens aujourd’hui,—sans aucune mérite—sans aucune motif que la confiance dans votre noble cœur,—et le souvenir
que vous portez, peut-être encore, à l’homme aimable, adoré—qui n’est plus,—réclamer vos conseils.

“Je médite, Monsieur, d’envoyer mes deux fils ainés à Edinbourg,” &c. Madame Rantzau then states her views with regard to the education of her sons, and requests Mr. Roscoe’s advice and assistance in her arrangements for their benefit; she then concludes—

“Enfin, Monsieur, mettez-vous à la place d’une pauvre mère, triste, malheureuse, abandonnée trop tôt, hélas! par le soutien adoré, clairvoyant, qui guidait toutes ses démarches! Ah! vous ne savez pas à quel point l’homme incomparable, qui n’est plus, avait tenû parole.

“J’ose le dire sans aveuglement qu’il réunissait à l’esprit le plus mûr, le plus riche, le plus sérieux, le cœur le plus élevé, le plus disinteressé, le plus tendre; j’ai vû disparaître tout cela, je l’ai vû a la fleur de ses ans fermer les yeux. J’ai survecu, parceque Dieu l’a voulû; je suis faible, et malavisé, et je voudrais que ses enfans fûissent dignes d’un tel père.

“La confiance m’a entrainé vers vous, qu’il honorait d’une manière peu commune. Vous ne sauriez croire, Monsieur, combien il chérissait le souvenir des tems qu’il avoit passe avec vous, et que de fois, que de fois il m’en a parlé avec attendrissement. Daignez done me pardonner et de me le dire! J’ai perdu ce meilleur ami il y a
deux ans. Dites-moi que vous pardonnez, Monsieur, à votre très-humble et très-obligée servante,

La Contesse de Rantzau,
“née Baronne de Diede.

“Souffrez aussi que je vous remercie, Monsieur, du plaisir que m’a causé votre incomparable livre des Médicis; il m’a distrait dans des momens ou j’étais fort triste. Quoique vous écrivez en Français avec la même facilité, je préférais que vous voulûssiez répondre en Anglais, seulement je n’ai pas eu le courage de vous écrire dans cette langue.”

To this letter Mr. Roscoe returned the following answer:—


“I had lately the honour of receiving your letter, dated the 16th of February last, communicating to me your views and intentions with respect to the sons of my highly respected and amiable friend, of whose early loss I first received the painful account from your letter. Short as was the time during which I had the pleasure of Count Rantzau’s acquaintance, I know sufficient of him to be able to appreciate his many great and excellent qualities, and deeply to feel for you, Madam, who have been so early deprived of his affection and society.

“It is, however, gratifying to me to find, that this afflicting dispensation of Providence has been supported by you in a manner worthy the chosen companion of such a man, and that your attention and care are earnestly devoted to prevent, as much as possible, the disadvantages his children must experience from the loss of such a parent. Happy, indeed, should I be, were it in my power to suggest any thing that might assist your kind maternal efforts, or give any useful information as to the plans you propose to adopt.”

Mr. Roscoe concludes the letter with giving her the information she desired, and requesting to be honoured freely with her commands.

Hitherto the residence of Mr. Roscoe had been entirely confined to the town of Liverpool; but, in the course of the year 1790, he removed to a house pleasantly situated at Toxteth Park, about two miles from Liverpool. The principal attraction of this residence was the immediate vicinity of a small but beautiful dingle, leading to the shores of the Mersey, and presenting many delightful prospects of the river, and the country beyond. The distance from Liverpool was not such as to prevent Mr. Roscoe either from attending to his professional engagements with punctuality, or from enjoying the society of the friends to whom he was attached, some of whose residences were, indeed, brought nearer to him by the change. It was the beauty of
“the Dingle” that suggested to his mind the following little poem, certainly one of the most pleasing productions of his pen:—

Stranger! that with careless feet
Wanderest near this green retreat,
Where through gently bending slopes
Soft; the distant prospect opes;
Where the fern, in fringed pride,
Decks the lonely valley’s side;
Where the whitethroat chirps his song,
Flitting as thou tread’st along:
Know, where now thy footsteps pass
O’er the bending tufts of grass,
Bright gleaming through the encircling wood,
Once a Naiad roll’d her flood.
If her urn, unknown to Fame,
Pour’d no far extended stream,
Yet along its grassy side,
Clear and constant roll’d the tide.
Grateful for the tribute paid,
Lordly Mersey lov’d the maid;
Yonder rocks still mark the place
Where she met his stern embrace.
Stranger, curious, would’st thou learn
Why she mourns her wasted urn?
Soon a short and simple verse
Shall her hapless fate rehearse.
Ere yon neighbouring spires arose,
That the upland prospect close,
Or ere along the startled shore
Echoed loud the cannon’s roar;
Once the maid, in summer’s heat,
Careless left her cool retreat,
And by sultry suns opprest,
Laid her wearied limbs to rest;
Forgetful of her daily toil,
To trace each humid tract of soil,
From dews and bounteous showers to bring
The limpid treasures of her spring.
Enfeebled by the scorching ray,
She slept the circling hours away;
And when she oped her languid eye,
She found her silver urn was dry.
Heedless Stranger! who so long
Hast listen’d to an idle song,
Whilst trifles thus thy notice share,
Hast thou no urn that asks thy care?

Mr. Roscoe continued to reside at Toxteth Park for three years, when, having purchased some land at Birchfield, on the north side of Liverpool, he erected a house upon it for himself, to which he removed in the year 1793.