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WILLIAM ROSCOE, Esq.
WITH A PORTRAIT, DRAWN AND ENGRAVED BY J. THOMPSON.
"Full many a gem of purest ray serene
THESE lines are peculiarly applicable to the birth and parentage, of Mr. Roscoe. He was a 66 gem, produced in obscurity, whose lustre did not seem intended for the gaze and admiration of mankind; but, happily, he was destined to emerge from the lowliness of his situation, and to surmount the difficulties, which the humility of his birth had opposed to his advancement and literary fame. He was born at Liverpool, of obscure parents. Both his father and mother were engaged in the service of a batchelor, a gentleman of the most amiable and generous disposition, in whose service it is probable they first became acquainted. A mutual attachment became the consequence of this acquaintance, and it was approved of by their master, to whom their fidelity had strongly recommended them. They were, consequently, married with his consent, and young Roscoe, their first-born, was brought up at his expense. Having died without an heir, he left the greater part, if not the entire of his property, to the subject of
It does not appear that his patron paid any attention to his early education, and his father had no higher ambition than of making him ac
quainted with writing and arithmetic. Through an obstinacy of temper, however, which, in many minds, is the forerunner of genius, Roscoe could not be prevailed upon to submit to the tame drudgery of scholastic discipline; and, consequently, he did not avail himself even of the small advantages of education, which his parents were able to afford him. Indolence, however, was not the character of his mind; and though he would not attend school, he studied assiduously at home. He began early to perceive the advantages of thinking for himself, on every occasion, and the habits of thought and mental application soon gave evidence of that genius, which has since shone forth with so pure a lustre. At this period, however, he studied things, not words. He endeavoured to resolve into their individual elements, all his general conceptions, and to form general theories from an aggregate of individual principles. He pursued nature through her mazy march, and the wizard perplexity of her course was not more unaccountable to him, than the va riety of appearances and dresses which she assumed, at every deviation from her direct course, But
while he was thus endeavouring to combine the kindred, and separate the heterogeneous attributes of things, he seemed to be perfectly free from the dominion of that restless spirit which pants after fame; and his studies to have been determined by no other stimulus than the desire of gratifying that immediate thirst of knowledge, which, in nim, was rather an instinct than the result of mature deliberation. never reflected, that the treasures of intellectual knowledge, which he was amassing at this early period, might lead either to the promotion of his future interests, or literary reputation. He studied, because study was pleasing to him,-because the charms of science, the captivating scenes of ideal creations, and the syren images of imagination and the
were perpetually hovering around him in sportive maze, and communicating, a secret gratification to the most simple occurrences and occupations of his youth. As present enjoyment and not prospective advantages was, therefore, the secret magnet by which he was attracted, he totally neglected the study of languages, in which there is nothing to gratify or enchant the youthful mind. A knowledge of Greek and Latin is an endless source of pleasure to him who possesses it, but until a language is known, this pleasure can have no existence, and Roscoe entered only into those regions of science, where every prospect presented some romantic imagery. He was awoke, however, from his fairy dreams, by engaging in more active pursuits, pursuits, in which the idealisms of the poet, and the hypotheses of the philosopher, are equally unknown. He was articled to Mr. Eyes, a respectable attorney in Liverpool, and now, for the first time, he was made acquainted with the difference be tween practical and speculative acquirements. A clerk in the office boasted one day of having read Cicero de Amicitia, and commented largely on the classic elegance and simplicity of the illustrious Roman; and Roscoe, though much more deeply versed in general literature, was obliged to remain silent, and tacitly acknowledge a conscious sense of his own inferiority. He
felt his situation very poignantly, but it was not a feeling that remained dormant in his breast. He found a new passion awake in his bosom, and he was no longer prompted riosity, which proposes to itself no to study by that spirit of idle cufinal object. Pride and ambition and he henceforth yielded to their took immediate possession of him, restless but inspiring influence. He now thirsted after knowledge, because he felt its value, and he spurned ger in the softer recesses of science, that effeminacy which delights to linand darcs not pursue her to her most formidable and difficult retreats.He immediately procured Cicero's petual recurrence to his Grammar treatise de Amicitia, and, by a perquainted with elegancies of style, and Dictionary, he soon became acand beauties of diction, which no art He did not rest his career, however, could transfer to his native tongue. till he became a perfect master of acquainted with the best Latin poets the Roman language, and intimately ment of this arduous task, he derived and historians. In the accomplishvery considerable assistance from his intercourse with Mr. Francis Holden.
A knowledge of the Latin tongue his ambition. He now applied himwas not, however, sufficient to satisfy self to the study of French and Italian, in the latter of which, he is universally allowed to be as profoundly versed as the most distinguished of its native writers. When knowledge during the interval of we reflect, that he acquired this business, and never absented himself from the duties of his office, we must acknowledge it is an instance of ap plication which has few parallels in the history of literature
His first passion for poetry and works of imagination, though it was moderated for a time by the toil of more rigid pursuits, assumed its he became acquainted with the Latin, original strength and energy, after French, and Italian poets. His first production, accordingly, was a brilliant effusion of imagination. He wrote "Mount Pleasant" in his sixteenth year; and, we must say, that we know of no poem, composed at so early a period, that combines such fertility of idea with such correctness of taste.
We are told that, after the expiration of his clerkship, he was taken into partnership by Mr. Aspinwall, a very respectable attorney of Liverpool; and the entire management of an office, extensive in practice, and high in reputation, devolved upon him alone. In this situation," he conducted himself in such a manner, as to gain universal respect, for not withstanding his various pursuits, he paid strict attention to his profession, and acquired a liberal and minute knowledge of law. In clearness of comprehension, and rapidity of dispatch, he had few equals.
About this time he formed an intimacy with the late Dr. Enfield, who was at the academy of Warrington, a tutor in the belles lettres. When he published the second volume of the Speaker, Mr. Roscoe supplied him with an "Elegy to Pity," and an "Ode to Education." About the same time, he became acquainted with Dr. Aikin, who was then resident at Warrington. These gentlemen were not less admirers of his refined and elegant manner as a writer, than of his chaste and classical taste in painting and sculpture. In December, 1773, he recited before the society formed in Liverpool for the encouragement of drawing, painting, &c. an ode which was afterwards published with "Mount Pleasant," his first poetical production. He occasionally gave lectures on subjects connected with the object of this institution, and was a very active member of the society. He also wrote the preface to Dalby's Catalogue of Rembrandt's Etchings, in which he displays not only an original view of engraving and painting, but an intimate acquaintance with the opinions of the best writers on the subject. No person saw more clearly the excellencies and defects of Rembrandt, and the causes to which his faults were properly owing.
While the Combined Powers were engaged in restoring the ancient order of things in France, Mr. Roscoe animated by the rapid glow of youthful emotions, and the enthusiasm inspired by the love of freedom, attuned his lyre to the cause of liberty, and composed his celebrated poems "The Vine-covered Hills," and "Millions be Free." He also translated one of Petrarch's Odes, which
was inserted in the Mercurio Italico. These compositions are deservedly classed among the most elegant and classical productions in the English language.
While France maintained her long contested struggle with this country and the combined powers, Mr. Roscoe devoted himself to his immortal work, the History of Lorenzo de Medici. It was began in 1790, and completed in 1796. Its reputation did dot stand in need of adventitious aid. Public feeling had determined its character even before the tribunal of criticism had time to derogate from, or emblazon its merits. Even the cynical Mathias, who seems to have prided himself in scoffing at merit of the highest order, has not ventured to impeach the character of this work, and we believe the lines which he has devoted to its praise are some of the happiest in his "Pursuits of Literature."
We are informed, that when Mr. Roscoe undertook his "Life of Lorenzo de Medici," he lived at the distance of two miles from Liverpool, whither he was obliged daily to repair, to attend the business of his office. The dry and tedious details of law occupied his attention during the whole of the morning and afternoon; his evenings, alone, he was able to dedicate to study: and it will be easily conceived, that a gentleman surrounded by a numerous family, and whose company was courted by his friends, must have experienced, even at these hours, a variety of interruptions. No public library provided him with materials. The rare books which he had occasion to consult, he was obliged to procure in London, at a considerable expense. But in the midst of all these difficulties, the work grew under his hands; and in order that it might be printed under his own immediate inspection, he established an excellent press in the town of Liverpool, and submitted to the disgusting toil of correcting the proofs.
Shortly after the publication of this work, Mr. Roscoe abandoned the profession of an attorney, and entered himself at Gray's-inn, with a view of becoming a barrister. He availed himself of the leisure which he derived from this circumstance, and began to study the Greek
language, in which, we are told, he made very considerable proficiency.
The "Life of Lorenzo de Medici" had made too strong an impression on the public mind to suffer its author to pursue in peace the practice of a profession for which, though he was one of its highest ornaments, nature had never intended him. He was called upon by the general voice of the public to write the life of that celebrated patron of literature," Leo the Tenth," the son of Lorenzo, who was also the Mecenas of his age. Mr. Roscoe engaged in the work with a sort of filial devotion to the memory of a family, whose fame will descend to the latest posterity. He found Leo not only to be the patron of genius and the Mecenas of his age, but in fact the actual reviver of literature in Europe. He recognized in him all those attributes of munificence and princely bounty which characterized his father Lorenzo. His popularity suffered considerably, however, for a time, because he dared to do justice to a man whose creed was at variance with his own, but whose actions and conduct through life have commanded the esteem and admiration of mankind. To do justice to an enemy is the distinguishing characteristic of a noble and liberal mind; and yet Mr. Roscoe's liberality has been termed bigotry and infidelity, by those whose expansion of sentiment never ventures to extend itself beyond the niggard pale of their theological creed. We are told he is an apologist for popery, by those very people who accuse him of republicanism and licentiousness of religious opinions. The public, however, have subsequently done justice to his Life of Leo the Tenth.
While he was engaged in the completion of this work, he was invited to become chief partner in the banking house of Clarke and Sons, at Liverpool; a situation, which he reluctantly, and we regret to say, unfortunately accepted. He was always a zealous advocate of Mr. Fox's political principles, and in 1806, stood candidate for the representation of his native town, at the solicitation of the whigs who were then in office. He was triumphantly returned, but his friends having retired from office the following year,
he judged it prudent to decline another contest. It should not however be forgotten that, during his short parliamentary career, he was very instrumental in abolishing the Af rican Slave Trade. He published some political pamphlets after retiring from parliament; and though they were received by one party with abuse, and by the other with unqualified applause, all parties acknowleged they were dictated by a spirit of moderation and mildness, which seldom characterize the productions of polemical controvertists.
While he was thus actively engaged, a series of unforeseen circumstances led the banking house in which he was engaged to suspend payment. The creditors, however, had so much confidence in Mr. Roscoe's integrity, that the bank was afforded time to recover from its embarrassments; and Mr. Roscoe, on first entering the bank after this accommodation, was loudly greeted by the populace. The difficulties, however, in which the bank was placed, rendered it impossible for the proprietors to make good their engagements. Mr. Roscoe did all that could be expected from an honest man: he gave up the whole of his property to satisfy his creditors. His library, which was very extensive, and consisted principally of Italian works, was the only sacrifice which he had reason to regret; as it deprived him of that intellectual society which he found in communing with, and imbibing the sentiments of kindred minds. The failure of the bank is supposed to have been principally occasioned by the great number of other failures which took place at the time.
Mr. Roscoe, when young, was extremely handsome. His countenance was open and generous, and his deportment dignified and majestic. He has long enjoyed the honour of ranking at the head of the circles of taste in Liverpool; and has always evinced himself the friend and patron of genius. Whoever was fortunate enough to receive a letter of recommendation to him was certain of being noticed and patronized in Liverpool. Minasi, the celebrated musician, was indebted to him for his early popularity. He was recommended to him by Mr.