Page images



[ocr errors]

unknown among authors, happening to turn his Thomson, having been some time entertained eye upon it, was so delighted that he ran from in the family of the Lord Binning, was desirous place to place celebrating its excellence. Thom- of testifying his gratitude by making him the son obtained likewise the notice of Aaron Hill, patron of his “ Summer;” but the same kind. whom, being friendless and indigent, and glad ness which had first disposed Lord Binning to of kindness, be courted with every expression of encourage him determined him to refuse the servile adulation.

dedication, which was by his advice addressed “ Winter" was dedicated to Sir Spencer to Mr. Dodington, a man who had more power Compton, but attracted no regard from him to to advance the reputation and fortune of a poet. the author, till Aaron Hill awakened his atten- “ Spring" was published next year, with a tion by some verses addressed to Thomson, and dedication to the Countess of Hertford; whose published in one of the newspapers, which cen- practice it was to invite every summer some sured the great for their neglect of ingenious poet into the country, to hear her verses and

Thomson then received a present of assist her studies. This honour was one sumtwenty guineas, of which he gives this account mer conferred on Thomson, who took more deto Mr. Hill:

light in carousing with Lord Hertford and his " I hinted to you in my last, that on Saturday friends than assisting her ladyship's poetical morning I was with Sir Spencer Compton. A operations, and therefore never received another certain gentleman without my desire spoke to him concerning me: his answer was, that I had “ Autumn,” the season to which the “Spring" never come near him. Then the gentleman put and “ Summer" are preparatory, still remained the question, If he desired that I should wait unsung, and was delayed till he published (1730) on him ? He returned, he did. On this, the his works collected. gentleman gave me an introductory letter to He produced in 1727 the tragedy of “ Sophonhim. He received me in what they commonly isba,” which raised such expectation, that every call a civil manner; asked me some common rehearsal was dignified with a splendid audience, place questions, and made me a present of twenty collected to anticipate the delight that was preguineas. I am very ready to own that the pre- paring for the public. It was observed, howsent was larger than my performance deserved; ever, that nobody was much affected, and that and shall ascribe it to his generosity, or any the company rose as from a moral lecture. other cause, rather than the merit of the ad

It had upon the stage no unusual degree of

success. Slight accidents will operate upon the The poem, which, being of a new kind, few taste of pleasure. There is a feeble line in the would venture at first to like, by degrees gained play: upon the public; and one edition was very speedily succeeded by another.

O Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O!
Thomson's credit was now high, and every | This gave occasion to a waggish parody
day brought him new friends; among others
Dr. Rundle, a man afterwards unfortunately

O Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O! famous, sought his acquaintance, and found his which for a while was echoed through the qualities such, that he recommended him to the town. Lord Chancellor Talbot.

I have been told by Savage, that of the pro“ Winter" was accompanied, in many edi- logue to “ Sophonisba" the first part was written tions, not only with a preface and dedication, by Pope, who could not be persuaded to finish but with poetical praises by Mr. Hill, Mr. it, and that the concluding lines were added by Mallet (then Malloch,) and Mira, the fictitious Mallet. name of a lady once too-well-known. Why the Thomson was not long afterwards, by the indedications are to “ Winter" and the other Sea-fluence of Dr. Rundle, sent to travel with Mr. sons, contrarily to custom, left out in the col- Charles Talbot, the eldest son of the Chancellor. lected works, the reader may inquire.

He was yet young enough to receive new imThe next year (1727) he distinguished himself pressions, to have his opinions rectified, and his by three publications: of “ Summer,” in pursu- views enlarged; nor can he be supposed to have ance of his plan; of “ A Poem on the Death of wanted that curiosity which is inseparable from Sir Isaac Newton," which he was enabled to an active and comprehensive mind. He may perform as an exact philosopher by the instruc- therefore now be supposed to have revelled in all tion of Mr. Gray; and of “ Britannia,” a kind the joys of intellectual luxury; he was every of poetical invective against the ministry, whom day feasted with instructive novelties; he lived the nation then thought not forward enough in splendidly without expense; and might expect resenting the depredations of the Spaniards. when he returned home a certain establishBy this piece he declared himself an adherent ment. 10 the opposition, and had therefore no favour At this time a long course of opposition to to expect from the court.

Sir Robert Walpole had filled the nation with


clamours for liberty, of which no man felt the was much shortened in the representation. It want; and with care for liberty, which was had the fate which most commonly attends mynot in danger. · Thomson, in his travels on the thological stories, and was only endured, but Continent, found or fancied so many evils aris- not favoured. It struggled with such difficulty ing from the tyranny of other governments, through the first night, that Thomson, coming that he resolved to write a very long poem, in late to his friends with whom he was to sup, five parts upon Liberty.

excused his delay by telling them how the sweat While he was busy on the first book, Mr. of his distress had so disordered his wig, that Talbot died; and Thomson, who had been re- he could not come till he had been refitted by a warded for his attendance by the place of secre- barber. tary of the briefs, pays in the initial lines a de- He so interested himself in his own drama, cent tribute to his memory.

that, if I remember right, as he sat in the upUpon this great poem two years were spent, per gallery, he accompanied the players by auand the author congratulated bimself upon it, dible recitation, till a friendly hint frighted him as his noblest work; but an author and his to silence. Pope countenanced“ Agamemreader are not always of a mind. Liberty call- non,” by coming to it the first night, and was ed in vain upon her votaries to read her praises welcomed to the theatre by a general clap; he and reward her encomiast; her praises were had much regard for Thomson, and once excondemned to harbour spiders and to gather pressed it in a poetical epistle sent to Italy, of dust; none of Thomson's performances were so which however he abated the value, by tranlittle regarded.

slating some of the lines into his epistle to The judgment of the public was not errone- Arbuthnot. ous ; the recurrence of the same images must About this time the act was passed for licenstire in time; an enumeration of examples to ing plays, of which the first operation was the prove a position which nobody denied, as it was prohibition of “ Gustavus Vasa,” a tragedy of from the beginning superfluous, must quickly | Mr. Brooke, whom the public recompensed by grow disgusting.

a very liberal subscription; the next was the The poem of “ Liberty” does not now appear refusal of “ Edward and Eleonora,” offered in its original state ; but, when the author's by Thomson. It is hard to discover why eiworks were collected after his death was short-ther play should have been obstructed. Thomened by Sir George Lyttleton, with a liberty son likewise endeavoured to repair his loss by a which, as it has a manifest tendency to lessen subscription, of which I cannot now tell the the confidence of society, and

confound the success. characters of authors, by making one

When the public murmured at the unkind write by the judgment of another, cannot be treatment of Thomson, one of the ministerial justified by any supposed propriety of the alter-writers remarked, that “ he had taken a liberty ation, or kindness of the friend. I wish to see which was not agreeable to Britannia in any it exhibited as its author left it.

Thomson now lived in ease and plenty, and He was soon after employed, in conjunction seems for awhile to have suspended his poetry; with Mr. Mallet, to write the mask of " Albut he was soon called back to labour by the fred,” which was acted before the Prince at death of the Chancellor, for his place then be Cliefden-House. came vacant; and though the Lord Hardwicke His next work (1745) was “ Tancred and delayed for some time to give it away, Thom- Sigismunda,” the most successful of all his trason's bashfulness or pride, or some other motive gedies, for it still keeps its turn upon the stage. perhaps not more laudable, withheld him from It may be doubted whether he was, either by soliciting; and the new Chancellor would not the bent of nature or habits of study, much give him what he would not ask.

qualified for tragedy. It does not appear that He now relapsed to his former indigence;) he had much sense of the pathetic; and his difbut the Prince of Wales was at that time fusive and descriptive style produced declamastruggling for popularity, and by the influence tion rather than dialogue. of Mr. Lyttleton professed himself the patron His friend Mr. Lyttleton was now in power, of wit: to him Thomson was introduced, and and conferred upon him the office of surveyorbeing gaily interrogated about the state of bis general of the Leeward Islands; from which, affairs, said, “ that they were in a more poetical when his deputy was paid, he received about posture than formerly ; ' and had a pension al- three hundred pounds a year. lowed him of one hundred pounds a year. The last piece that he lived to publish was

Being now obliged to write, he produced the “ Castle of Indolence,” which was many (1738*) the tragedy of “ Agamemnon,” which



[ocr errors]

edi ion of Milton's “ Areopagitica" was published * It is not generally known that in this year an by Millar, to which Thomson wrote a prelace.--C.



sion, «

years under bis hand, but was at last finished otherwise, that would only awaken and heightwith great accuracy. The first canto opens a en my tenderness towards you. As our good scene of lazy luxury that fills the imagination. and tender-bearted parents did not live to re

He was now at ease, but was not long to en. ceive any material testimonies of that highest joy it ; for, by taking cold on the water between human gratitude I owed them (than which no London and Kew, he caught a disorder, which, I thing could have given me equal pleasure,) the with some careless exasperation, ended in a only return I can make them now is by kind. fever that put an end to his life, August 27, ness to those they left behind them. Would to 1748. He was buried in the church of Rich-| God poor Lizy had lived longer, to have been a mond, without an inscription ; but a monument farther witness of the truth of what I say, and has been erected to his memory in Westminster that I might have had the pleasure of seeing Abbey.

once more a sister who so truly deserved my Thomson was of a stature above the middle esteem and love! But she is happy, while we size, and “ more fat than bard beseems,” of a must toil a little longer here below; let us howdull countenance, and a gross, unanimated, un- ever do it cheerfully and gratefully, supported inviting appearance ; silent in mingled company, by the pleasing hope of meeting yet again on a bat cheerful among select friends, and by his safer shore, where to recollect the storms and friends very tenderly and warmly beloved. difficulties of life will not perhaps be inconsist..

He left behind him the tragedy of “ Coriola- ent with that blissful state. You did right to call nus,” which was, by the zeal of his patron, Sir your daughter by her name; for you must needs

i George Lyttleton, brought upon the stage for have had a particular tender friendship for one the benefit of his family, and recommended by a another, endeared as you were by nature, by havprologue, which Quin, who had long lived with ing passed the affectionate years of your youth Thomson in fond intimacy, spoke in such a together, and by that great softener and engager manner as showed him “ to be," on that occa

of hearts, mutual hardship. That it was in my no actor.” The commencement of this power to ease it a little, I account one of the benevolence is very honourable to Quin; who most exquisite pleasures of my life. But enough is reported to have delivered Thomson, then of this melancholy, though not unpleasing strain. known to him only for his genius, from an ar

“ I esteem you for your sensible and disinterrest by a very considerable present; and its con

ested advice to Mr. Bell, as you will see by my tinuance is honourable to both, for friendship is letter to him; as l approve entirely of his marnot always the sequel of obligation. By this rying again, you may readily ask me why I tragedy a considerable sum was raised, of which don't marry at all. My circumstances have part discharged his debts, and the rest was re

hitherto been so variable and uncertain in this mitted to his sisters, whom, however removed fluctuating world, as induce to keep me from enfrom them by place or condition, he regarded gaging in such a state ; and now, though they with great tenderness, as will appear by the fol- are more settled, and of late (which you will be lowing letter, which I communicate with much glad to hear) considerably improved, I begin to pleasure, as it gives me at once an opportunity of think myself too far advanced in life for such recording the fraternal kindness of Thomson, youthful undertakings, not to mention soine and retlecting on the friendly assistance of Mr. other petty reasons that are apt to startle the Boswell, from whom I received it.

delicacy of difficult old bachelors. I am, how

ever, not a little suspicious that, was I to pay a “ Hagely, in Worcestershire, visit to Scotland (which I have some thoughts

“ October the 4th, 1747. of doing soon), I might possibly be tempted to “ My dear Sister,

think of a thing not easily repaired if done “ I thought you had known me better than to amiss. I have always been of opinion, that interpret my silence into a decay of affection, none make better wives than the ladies of Scotespecially as your behaviour has always been land ; and yet, who more forsaken than they, such as rather to increase than diminish it. while the gentlemen are continually running Don't imagine, because I am a bad correspon- abroad all the world over? Some of them, it is dent, that I can ever prove an unkind friend true, are wise enough to return for a wife. You and brother. I must do myself the justice to see I am beginning to make interest already tell you, that my affections are naturally very

with the Scots ladies. But no more of this infixed and constant; and if I had ever reason of fectious subject. --Pray let me hear from you complaint against you (of which by-the-bye I now and then; and though I'am not a regular have not the least shadow,) I am conscious of so correspondent, yet perhaps I may mend in that dany defects in myself, as dispose me to be not respect. Remember me kindly to your huslittle charitable and forgiving.

band, and believe me to be “ It gives me the truest heart-felt satisfaction “ Your most affectionate brother, whear you have a good, kind husband, and are

“ JAMES THomson.' in easy, contented circumstances; but were they | Addressed “ To Mrs. Thomson in Lanark."

[ocr errors]


The benevolence of Thomson was fervid, but , sion of general views, and his enunieration of not active; he would give on all occasions what circumstantial varieties, would have been obassistance his purse would supply; but the offi- structed and embarrassed by the frequent interces of intervention or solicitation he could not sections of the sense which are the necessary conquer his sluggishness sufficiently to perform. effects of rhyme. The affairs of others, however, were not more His descriptions of extended scenes and geneneglected than his own. He had often felt the ral effects bring before us the whole magnifiinconveniences of idleness, but he never cured cence of Nature, whether pleasing or dreadful it; and was so conscious of his own character, The gayety pf Spring, the splendour of Sumthat he talked of writing an eastern tale “ of mer, the tranquillity of Autumn, and the horror the Man who loved to be in Distress."

of Winter, take in their turns possession of the Among his peculiarities was a very unskilful mind. The poet leads us through the appearand inarticulate manner of pronouncing any ances of things as they are successively varied lofty or solemn composition. He was once by the vicissitudes of the year, and imparts to reading to Dodington, who, being himself a us so much of his own enthusiasm, that our reader eminently elegant, was so much provoked thoughts expand with his imagery and kindle by his odd utterance, that he snatched the pa- with his sentiments. Nor is the naturalist per from his hands, and told him that he did without his part in the entertainment; for he not understand his own verses.

is assisted to recollect and to combine, to range The biographer of Thomson has remarked, his discoveries and to amplify the sphere of his that an author's life is best read in his works : contemplation his observation was not well-timed. Savage,

The great defect of “ The Seasons" is want who lived much with Thomson, once told me, of method; but for this I know not that there he heard a lady remarking that she could gather was any remedy. Of many appearances subfrom his works three parts of his character, sisting all at once, no rule can be given why that he was a great lover, a great swimmer, and one should be mentioned before another; yet rigorously abstinent;” but, said Savage, he the memory wants the help of order, and the knows not any love but that of the sex; be curiosity is not excited by suspense or was perhaps never in cold water in his life; pectation. and he indulges himself in all the luxury that His diction is in the highest degree florid and comes within his reach. Yet Savage always luxuriant, such as may be said to be to his imaspoke with the most eager praise of his social ges and thoughts “ both their lustre and their qualities, his warmth and constancy of friend- shade;" such as invest them with splendour, ship, and his adherence to his first acquaintance through which perhaps they are not always when the advancement of his reputation had easily discerned. It is too exuberant, and left them behind him.

sometimes may be charged with filling the ear As a writer, he is entitled to one praise of the more than the mind. bighest kind : his mode of thinking, and of ex- These poems, with which I was acquainted pressing his thoughts, is original. His blank at their first appearance, I have since found alverse is no more the blank verse of Milton, or tered and enlarged by subsequent revisals, as of any other poet, than the rhymes of Prior are the Author supposed his judgment to grow the rhymes of Cowley. His numbers, his more exact, and as books or conversation expauses, his diction, are of his own growth, tended his knowledge and opened his prospects. without transcription, without imitation. He They are, I think, improved in general ; yet I thinks in a peculiar train, and he thinks always know not whether they have not lost part of as a man of genius: he looks round on Nature what Temple calls their “race;" a word which, and on Life with the eye which Nature bestows applied to wines in its primitive sense, means only on a poet; the eye that distinguishes, in the flavour of the soil. every thing presented to its view, whatever “ Liberty,” when it first appeared, I tried to there is on which imagination can delight to be read, and soon desisted. I have never triea detained, and with a mind that at once compre- again, and therefore will not hazard either hends the vast and attends to the minute. The praise or censure. reader of 66 The Seasons" wonders that he The highest praise which he has received never saw before what Thomson shows him, ought not to be suppressed : it is said by Lord and that he never yet has felt what Thomson Lyttelton, in the prologue to his posthumous impresses.

play, that his works contained His is one of the works in which blank verse seems properly used. Thomson's wide expan- No line which, dying, he could wish to blot.


[ocr errors]



The poems of Dr. Watts were by my recom- them, and by interleaving them to amplify one mendation inserted in the late Collection; the system with supplements from another. readers of which are to impute to me whatever With the congregation of his tutor, Mr. pleasure or weariness they may find in the per- Rowe, who were, I believe, independents, he usal of Blackmorc, Watts, Pomfret, and Yalden. cominunicated in his nineteenth year.

At the age of twenty he left the academy, and Isaac Watts was born July 17, 1674, at spent two years in study and devotion at the Southampton, where his father, of the same house of his father, who treated him with great name, kept a boarding-school for young gentle- tenderness; and had the happiness, indulg men, though common report makes him a shoe- few parents, of living to see his son eminent for maker. He appears, from the narrative of Dr. literature, and venerable for piety. Gibbons, to have been neither indigent nor il- He was then entertained by Sir John Harliterate.

lopp five years, as domestic tutor to his son; Isaac, the eldest of nine children, was given and in that time particularly devoted himself to to books from his infancy; and began, we are the study of the Holy Scriptures; and, being told, to learn Latin when he was four years old; chosen assistant to Dr. Chauncey, preached the I suppose, at home. He was afterwards taught first time on the birth-day that completed his Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, by Mr. Pinborn, twenty-fourth year; probably considering that a clergyman, master of the free-school at South- as the day of a second nativity, by which he ampton, to whom the gratitude of his scholar entered on a new period of existence. afterwards inscribed a Latin ode.

In about three years he succeeded Dr. ChaunHis proficiency at school was so conspicuous, cey; but soon after his entrance on his charge, that a subscription was proposed for his support he was seized by a dangerous illness, which at the university; but he declared his resolution sunk him to such weakness, that the congregaof taking his lot with the dissenters. Such he tion thought an assistant necessary, and appointwas as every Christian church would rejoice to ed Mr. Price. His health then returned graduhave adopted.

ally; and he performed his duty till (1712) he He therefore repaired, in 1690, to an academy was seized by a fever of such violence and contaught by Mr. Rowe, where he had for his tinuance, that from the féebleness which it companions and fellow-students Mr. Hughes brought upon him he never perfectly recovered. the poet, and Dr. Horte, afterwards archbishop This calamitous state made the compassion of of Tuam. Some Latin essays, supposed to have his friends necessary, and drew upon him the been written as exercises at this academy, show attention of Sir Thomas Abney, who received a degree of knowledge both philosophical and him into his house; where, with a constancy of theological, such as very few attain by a much friendship and uniformity of conduct not ofteu longer course of study.

to be found, he was treated for thirty-six years He was, as he hints in his Miscellanies, a with all the kindness that friendship could maker of verses from fifteen to fifty, and in his prompt, and all the attention that respect could youth he appears to have paid attention to Latin dictate. Sir Thomas died about eight years poetry. His verses to his brother, in the gly- afterwards ; but he continued with the lady and conick measure, written when he was seventeen, her daughters to the end of his life. The lady are remarkably easy and elegant. Some of his died about a year after him. other odes are deformed by the Pindaric folly A coalition like this, a state in which the nothen prevailing, and are written with such ne- tions of patronage and dependence were overglect of all metrical rules, as is without example powered by the perception of reciprocal benefits, among the ancients; but his diction, though deserves a particular memorial; and I will not perhaps not always exactly pure, has such copi- withhold from the reader Dr. Gibbon's repreousness and splendour, as shows that he was but sentation ; to which regard is to be paid, as to a very little distance from excellence.

the narrative of one who writes what he knows, His method of study was to impress the con- and what is known likewise to multitudes be tents of his books upon his memory by abridging sides.

« PreviousContinue »