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In conjunction with Mr. Mallet, his early friend, he wrote the Masque of Alfred, acted before the Prince at Cliefden House, in which was introduced our national naval air, “Rule Britannia,” since so universally popular.
Of his tragedies, Sophonisba and Agamemnon were barely endured on their appearance, and are now forgotten; Tancred and Sigismunda was the most successful, though seldom taking its turn upon the stage. Johnson says, “It may be doubted whether he was, either by the bent of nature or habit of study, much qualified for tragedy. It does not appear that he had much sense of the pathetic; and his diffusive and descriptive style produced declamation rather than dialogue."
His friend Mr. Lyttleton conferred upon him the office of Surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands, a sinecure place, from which he derived three hundred pounds a year; and which, together with his pension, gave him the consolation of hoping to enjoy the evening of his days in that independence which all men desire, but which perhaps is more absolutely necessary to none than to him who has led the dreamy, unworldly, and unsolicitous life of a true poet.
“He was now at ease, but was not long to enjoy it; for by taking cold on the water between London and Kew, he caught a disorder, which, with some careless exasperation, ended in a fever, that put a period to his life in August 1748.
“ Thomson was of a stature above the middle size, and more fat than bard beseems;' of a dull countenance, and a gross, unanimated, uninviting appearance; silent in mingled company, but cheerful among select friends, and by his friends very tenderly and warmly beloved.”
An exquisite proof of this tenderness among the friends of Thomson, has been bequeathed to us by one equally gifted but less fortunate—his brother poet Collins
“ In yonder grave a Druid lies,
Where slowly steals the winding wave;
To deck its poet's sylvan grave !
The house in which Thomson resided at Richmond was purchased, after his death, by George Ross, Esq., who, out of veneration to his memory, forbore to pull it down, but cnlarged and improved it at the
of 90007. It then became the property of the Hon. Mrs. Boscawen, who
repaired the poet's favourite seat in the garden, and placed in it the table on which he wrote his verses—
“ Here Thomson sung the seasons and their change."
The inside is adorned with suitable quotations from authors who have paid due compliments to his talents, and in the centre appears the following inscription :-“Within this pleasing retirement, allured by the music of the nightingale, which warbled in soft unison to the melody of his soul in unaffected cheerfulness, and genial though simple elegance, lived JAMES Thomson. Sensibly alive to all the beauties of nature, he painted their images as they rose in review, and poured the whole profusion of them into his inimitable Seasons; warmed with intense devotion to the sovereign of the universe, its flame glowed through all his compositions; animated with unbounded benevolence, with the tenderest social sensibility, he never gave one moment's pain to any of his fellow creatures, save only by his death, which happened at this place on the 27th of August, 1748.” This delightful retreat is now the property of Lady Shaftesbury. Thomson was buried at the west end of the north aisle of Richmond Church. There was nothing to point out the spot of his interment till a brass tablet, with the following inscription, was lately put up by the Earl of Buchan :-“In the earth below this tablet are the remains of James Thomson, author of the beautiful poems entitled The Seasons, The Castle of Indolence, &c.; who died at Richmond on the 27th of August, and was buried on the 29th, O.S. 1748. The Earl of Buchan, unwilling that so good a man, and so sweet a poet, should be without a memorial, has denoted the place of his interment for the satisfaction of his admirers, in the year of our Lord 1792."
Collins resided at Richmond a considerable time, and is, with justice, supposed to have at this place composed many of his poems. He left
Richmond after the death of his friend Thomson, whose loss he so eloquently and pathetically bewails in the lines we have quoted.
William Collins was the son of a hatter at Chichester, and was born there December 25th, 1720. At the age of thirteen he was admitted scholar of Winchester College, and at nineteen was elected upon the foundation to New College, Oxford. While pursuing the studies necessary to take his degree of bachelor of arts, he applied himself to poetry, producing the Persian or Oriental Eclogues, which, notwithstanding their merit, were not attended with any great success. Of late years, more justice has been done to their merit. Dr. Langhorne says of them, that “in simplicity of description and expression, in delicacy and softness of numbers, and in natural and unaffected tenderness, they are not to be equalled by anything of the pastoral kind in the English language.”
Upon his coming to town a literary adventurer, with many projects in his head, and little money in his pocket, he published proposals of a History of the Revival of Learning; he planned several tragedies, and produced his “Odes Descriptive and Allegorical,” which were so poorly received by the public, that the poet returned the amount of copyright to his publisher, indemnified him for the loss he had sustained, and destroyed the portion of the impressions which remained unsold.
About this time Dr. Johnson became acquainted with our poet, and says of him “that his appearance was decent and manly, his views extensive, his conversation elegant, and his disposition cheerful.” “By degrees,” continues the Doctor, “I gained his confidence, and one day was admitted to him when he was immured by a bailiff that was prowling in the street. On this occasion recourse was had to the booksellers, who, on the credit of a translation of Aristotle's Poetics, which he engaged to write with a large commentary, advanced as much money as enabled him to escape into the country. He showed me the guineas safe in his hand.
“Soon afterwards his uncle, Mr. Martin, a lieutenant-colonel, left him about two thousand pounds, a sum which Collins could scarcely think exhaustible, and which he did not live to exhaust. The guineas were then repaid, and the translation neglected. But man is not born for happiness. Collins, who, while he studied to live, felt no evil but poverty, no sooner lived to study, than his life was assailed by more dreadful calamities, disease and insanity.
“He languished some years under that depression of mind which enchains the faculties without destroying them, and leaves reason the knowledge of right, without the power of pursuing it. These clouds which he perceived gathering in his intellect he endeavoured to disperse by travel, and passed into France, but found himself constrained to yield to his malady, and returned. He was for some time confined in a house of lunatics, and afterwards retired to the care of his sisters in Chichester, where death, in 1756, came to his relief.
“Such was the fate of Collins, with whom I once delighted to converse, and whom I yet remember with tenderness.”
The tenderness with which Dr. Johnson remembered the author of the “Ode to the Passions,” did not extend, it would appear, to his works. In a strain of haughty, severe, and, as has been proved by one of the first, if not the first, of our living critics (Professor Wilson), unjust dogmatism, the great Cham of literature has animadverted upon the supposed defects of the poetry of Collins, with what injustice the event-popularity long continued, as it is well deserved,-has long since determined.
At Richmond resided the poet Savage for a time; hence he went to town to search for lodgings, and while there was involved in that melancholy and fatal broil which exercised such a lamentable influence upon the future fortunes of that gifted, but unhappy man.
Before leaving the church, we will pause to contemplate the tablet to the memory of Edmund Kean, a memorial erected by his son.
Edmund Kean was one of the shuttlecocks of fortune. He was born, some say, in 1787, others, in 1789, and was the son of Edmund Kean, then in the service of a Mr. Wilmot, the builder of the Royalty Theatre, by Anne Carey, an actress. A brother of his father, Moses Kean, is said to have possessed considerable talents for mimicry, and to have imitated with success the matchless Garrick. Miss Carey was the daughter of George Savill Carey, a person who, after acting without much success at Covent Garden, borrowed Stevens' idea of the “ Lecture on Heads” for a subsistence. Her grandfather was author of forgotten interludes and operas. Both by the paternal and maternal sides of the house, therefore, we find a predisposition, as it were, to theatricals; and necessity compelled the youthful Kean to tread the stage almost as soon as he was able to crawl. At the tender age of two years, recommended by his