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his necessities his whole fund was his Winter', which for a time could find no purchaser; till, at last, Mr. Millan was persuaded to buy it at a low price 3: and this low price he had for some time reason to regret; but, by accident, Mr. Whatley, a man not wholly unknown among authors, happening to turn his eye upon it, was so delighted that he ran from place to place celebrating its excellence. Thomson obtained likewise the notice of Aaron Hill, whom, being friendless and indigent, and glad of kindness, he courted with every expression of servile adulation 5.
Winter was dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton, but attracted
'Of all the griefs that harass the
Eng. Poets, liv. 159. 'The Winter was first written in detached pieces, or occasional descriptions; it was by the advice of Mr. Mallet they were made into one connected piece.' Cibber's Lives, v. 195 n. See Spence's Anec. p. 327. It was published in March, 1726. Judge Willis shows good reason for the belief that 'before Thomson finished Winter he contemplated a poem on each of the Seasons.' Winter, 1900, pp. 6, 17.
Collins told Warton 'that Thomson informed him that he took the first hint of writing his Seasons from the titles of Pope's four Pastorals.' Warton's Pope's Works, i. 115.
2 On the title-page of the first edition of Winter he is described as 'J. Millan, at Locke's-Head, in Shug Lane, near the Upper End of the Hay-market.'
[He would advance no more than £3 for it.' The Seasons, 1770, Pref. p. 9 n. If the sum is correctly stated it is probable, as M. Morel points out in James Thomson, sa vie et ses œuvres, Paris, 1895 (p. 46), that it was only an advance. In 1728 Thomson received fifty guineas for Spring from A. Millar. This was Millar's first connexion with Thomson. It was Millar who published Sophonisba in 1730. For this tragedy he gave Thomson 137 10s. od., but the sum included the price already paid for
Spring. In 1730 J. Millan and A. Millar together published a complete edition of Thomson's Works, and again in 1735 a collected edition. In 1738 Millar became Thomson's sole publisher by the purchase of the copyrights in Summer, Autumn, Winter, Britannia, A Poem to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton and The Hymn. For all these Millan is said to have given Thomson £105. Donaldson v. Beckett in Brown's Parliamentary Cases, ii. 129. In 1769 Millar's executors sold the Thomson copyrights to Beckett for £505. Ib. p. 130. For the two famous cases, Millar v. Taylor (1769) and Donaldson v. Beckett, decided in the House of Lords in 1774, both arising from alleged perpetual copyright in The Seasons, see Burrow's Reports, 2303, Speeches or Arguments of the Judges of the King's Bench in Millar v. Taylor, 1771, and Brown's Parl. Cases. The facts are differently stated, but the account given in Brown's Parl. Cases has been followed in this note.]
4 'One Mr. Whatley [Rev. Robt. Whatley, Nichols's Lit. Anec. vi. 119], a man of some taste in letters... went from Coffee-house to Coffee-house, calling upon all men of taste to exert themselves in rescuing one of the greatest geniuses that ever appeared from obscurity. In a short time the impression was bought up.' Cibber's Lives, v. 196.
5 In the Preface to Winter, third edition, 1726, pp. 14, 18. For Aaron Hill see ante, SAVAGE, 55; POPE, 154; post, MALLET, 8.
In the complete edition of The Seasons, 1730, Thomson omitted the
no regard from him to the author; till Aaron Hill awakened his attention by some verses addressed to Thomson, and published in one of the newspapers, which censured the great for their neglect of ingenious men'. Thomson then received a present of twenty guineas, of which he gives this account to Mr. Hill:
'I hinted to you in my last that on Saturday morning I was 10 with Sir Spencer Compton. A certain gentleman without my desire spoke to him concerning me; his answer was, that I had never come near him. Then the gentleman put the question, if he desired that I should wait on him? he returned, he did. On this, the gentlemen gave me an introductory letter to him. He received me in what they commonly call a civil manner; asked me some common-place questions, and made me a present of twenty guineas. I am very ready to own that the present was larger than my performance deserved; and shall ascribe it to his generosity, or any other cause, rather than the merit of the address.'
The poem, which, being of a new kind, few would venture at 11 first to like, by degrees gained upon the publick; and one edition was very speedily succeeded by another.
Thomson's credit was now high, and every day brought him 12 new friends; among others Dr. Rundle, a man afterwards unfortunately famous, sought his acquaintance, and found his qualities such, that he recommended him to the lord chancellor Talbot 3.
According to Dr. Warton (Essay on Pope, i. 151) it was 'the honourable mention by Spence in his Essay on the Odyssey [ante, POPE, 137] which made the poem universally known.'
'Winter was in a fourth [? third] edition before Spence's Essay appeared.' Cunningham's Lives of the Poets, iii. 228.
2 He was famous for imputed heresy. Ante, SAVAGE, 188. Thomson describes him as
'from native sunshine driven By slanderous zeal and politics infirm.'
To the Memory of Lord Talbot, 236, Eng. Poets, Iv. 160.
3 In the same poem Thomson, speaking of Talbot, says :
And thou, O Rundle, lend thy strain, Thou darling friend, thou brother of his soul!' 1. 223.
Winter was accompanied in many editions not only with a preface and a dedication, but with poetical praises by Mr. Hill, Mr. Mallet (then Malloch), and Mira 3, the fictitious name of a lady once too well known. Why the dedications are, to Winter and the other seasons, contrarily to custom, left out in the collected works, the reader may enquire*.
The next year (1727) he distinguished himself by three publications of Summer 5, in pursuance of his plan; of A Poem on the Death of Sir Isaac Newton', which he was enabled to perform as an exact philosopher by the instruction of Mr. Gray7; and of Britannia, a kind of poetical invective against the ministry, whom the nation then thought not forward enough in resenting the depredations of the Spaniards. By this piece he declared himself an adherent to the opposition, and had therefore no favour to expect from the Court 9.
Thomson, having been some time entertained in the family 15 of the lord Binning', was desirous of testifying his gratitude by making him the patron of his Summer; but the same kindness which had first disposed lord Binning to encourage him determined him to refuse the dedication, which was by his advice addressed to Mr. Doddington; a man who had more power to advance the reputation and fortune of a poet.
Spring was published next year, with a dedication to the 16 countess of Hertford3, whose practice it was to invite every summer some poet into the country to hear her verses and assist her studies. This honour was one summer conferred on Thomson, who took more delight in carousing with lord Hertford and his friends than assisting her ladyship's poetical operations, and therefore never received another summons *.
Autumn, the season to which the Spring and Summer are 17 preparatory, still remained unsung, and was delayed till he published (1730) his works collected 5.
Sir Isaac Newton to Walpole, and two years afterwards his Sophonisba to the Queen. Eng. Poets, lv. 145; Works, iii. 1.
'He was Lady Grisell Baillie's sonin-law. See Morel's Thomson, and ante, THOMSON, 6 n. 2.
2 Afterwards Lord Melcombe. According to Mallet, 'he sent his services to Thomson by Dr. Young, and desired to see him.' Spence's Anec. p. 327. Hawkins had seen a letter from him to Johnson offering him his friendship. John. Misc. ii. 104.
Pope satirized him under the name of Bubo. Moral Essays, iv. 19; Epil. Sat. i. 68, and also in the first draft of Prol. Sat. 11. 231-44, in a passage afterwards applied to Halifax (ante, HALIFAX, 11). He is described as 'Fed with soft dedication all day long.'
Pope's Works (E. & C.), iii. 258. Horace Walpole says of him (Works, i. 458) Ostentatious in his person, houses, and furniture, he wanted in his expence the taste he never wanted in his conversation.'
According to Thomson he had
By decency chastis'd.'
Summer, 1. 24. Lamb, writing of Hogarth's Election
He produced in 1727 the tragedy of Sophonisba, which raised such expectation that every rehearsal was dignified with a splendid audience, collected to anticipate the delight that was preparing for the publick. It was observed, however, that nobody was much affected, and that the company rose as from a moral lecture 2.
It had upon the stage no unusual degree of success. Slight accidents will operate upon the taste of pleasure. There was a feeble line in the play:
'O Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O!'
This gave occasion to a waggish parody:
'O, Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O!31
which for a while was echoed through the town.
I have been told by Savage that of the Prologue to Sophonisba the first part was written by Pope, who could not be persuaded to finish it, and that the concluding lines were added by Mallet *.
Thomson was not long afterwards, by the influence of Dr. Rundle, sent to travel with Mr. Charles Talbot, the eldest son of the Chancellor 5. He was yet young enough to receive new
'Oh! Huncamunca, Huncamunca, Oh! ' Works, 1806, i. 472. Thomson might have quoted from Shakespeare's Coriolanus (not his own), v. 3. 185:
'Oh my mother, mother! Oh!' Thomson's line is not in the published play. Works, 1775, iii. Oh! Sophonisba,' however, is exclaimed seven times.
'I think it may be observed that the particle O! used at the beginning of a sentence always offends.' Ante, POPE, 422.
It might all be Mallet's. The most telling couplet in the first part is where the poet says of Britain:— 'When freedom is the cause, 'tis hers to fight,
And hers, when freedom is the
theme, to write.' Works, iii. 7. 5 Then Solicitor-General; he became Chancellor in Nov. 1733. Thomson was in Paris in Dec. 1730. He soon left for Italy, and returned to England before the end of 1731. [Bolton Corney's Seasons, Pref. pp. 22 n., 24 n.]