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impressions, to have his opinions rectified, and his views enlarged; nor can he be supposed to have wanted that curiosity which is inseparable from an active and comprehensive mind. He may therefore now be supposed to have revelled in all the joys of intellectual luxury; he was every day feasted with instructive novelties; he lived splendidly without expence, and might expect when he returned home a certain establishment.
At this time a long course of opposition to Sir Robert Walpole 22 had filled the nation with clamours for liberty, of which no man felt the want, and with care for liberty, which was not in danger. Thomson, in his travels on the continent, found or fancied so many evils arising from the tyranny of other governments, that he resolved to write a very long poem, in five parts, upon Liberty.
While he was busy on the first book Mr. Talbot died 3, and 23 Thomson, who had been rewarded for his attendance by the place of secretary of the Briefs, pays in the initial lines a decent tribute to his memory 5.
Upon this great poem two years were spent, and the author 24 congratulated himself upon it as his noblest work'; but an author and his reader are not always of a mind 3. Liberty called in vain upon her votaries to read her praises and reward her encomiast: her praises were condemned to harbour spiders, and to gather dust; none of Thomson's performances were so little regarded 9.
The judgement of the publick was not erroneous; the recur- 25 rence of the same images must tire in time; an enumeration of examples to prove a position which nobody denied, as it was from the beginning superfluous, must quickly grow disgusting.
The poem of Liberty does not now appear in its original state, 26 but when the author's works were collected after his death was
1 Ante, ADDISON, 91 n. 5.
Ante, SAVAGE, 114. For those 'who most loudly clamour for liberty' see ante, MILTON, 170.
3 On Sept. 27, 1733. Gent. Mag. 1733, P. 496.
In the Court of Chancery.
5 Eng. Poets, lv. 5. See also ib. P. 162.
6 It appeared in five separate parts. The first part appeared in Dec. 1734, Gent. Mag. 1734, p. 708; the second
LIVES OF POETS. III.
in Feb. 1735, ib. 1735, p. 111; the
8 Ante, MILTON, 146.
9 Thomson wrote that he thought ' of annulling the bargain I made with my bookseller, who would else be a considerable loser.' Tovey's Thomson, Preface, p. 51.
shortened by Sir George Lyttelton, with a liberty which, as it has a manifest tendency to lessen the confidence of society, and to confound the characters of authors by making one man write by the judgement of another, cannot be justified by any supposed propriety of the alteration or kindness of the friend". -I wish to see it exhibited as its author left it 2.
Thomson now lived in ease and plenty, and seems for a while to have suspended his poetry; but he was soon called back to labour by the death of the Chancellor3, for his place then became vacant, and though the lord Hardwicke delayed for some time to give it away, Thomson's bashfulness, or pride, or some other motive perhaps not more laudable, withheld him from soliciting 5; and the new Chancellor would not give him what he would not ask.
' In the library at Hagley there is a copy of The Seasons, corrected by Lyttelton, with the following entry in his hand: In this edition, conformably to the intention and will of author, which [sic] have justly been thought too harsh or obscure, or not strictly grammatical, have been corrected, some lines transposed, and a few others left out.' Phillimore's Lyttelton, i. 319.
Lyttelton told Samuel Rogers's elder brother that when 'a very young man' he heard Thomson read aloud to his father at Hagley 'what he had but just then written of his Autumn. On the first line I ventured to remark that "crown'd with the wheaten sheaf" was a beautiful image, but that I could not understand what was meant by "crown'd with the sickle." Thomson was evidently confused, and said something, in no very clear manner, of a custom the reapers have in Scotland of putting their sickles round their heads in the intervals of labour.' H. D. Best's Memorials, p. 266.
'Crown'd with the sickle and the wheaten sheaf,
While Autumn, nodding o'er the yellow plain,
Comes jovial on.'
[This was done by Murdoch in the subscription quarto of 1762. Cunningham's Lives of the Poets, iii.
232. In Wool's Memoirs of Joseph Warton (p. 252) there is a letter to Millar, the publisher, in which Murdoch insists that Thomson's poems should be printed as the poet left them.]
3 He died on Feb. 14, 1737. Gent. Mag. 1737, p. 124.
He succeeded as Chancellor on Feb. 21. Parl. Hist. x. Table of Contents, p. 6.
5 'He was so dispirited, so listless to every concern of that kind, that he never took one step in the affair.' Works, Preface, p. 21.
For Smith's loss of a place by the same neglect see ante, SMITH, 48.
In The Critical Review, 1765, xix. 141, it is stated that 'Thomson's place fell under the cognisance of a Commission of the Great Officers of State for enquiring into public offices. He made a speech explaining the duty, &c., of his place in terms that, though very concise, were so perspicuous and elegant, that Lord Chancellor Talbot publicly said he preferred that single speech to the best of his poetical compositions. The income of the place was by the Commissioners reduced from about £300 to 100 a year; but Mr. Thomson offered to resign it; nor did he ever receive a shilling from it during its reduced state. We have his own authority for saying that it was not optional to him whether he should
He now relapsed to his former indigence; but the prince of 28 Wales was at that time struggling for popularity, and by the influence of Mr. Lyttelton professed himself the patron of wit to him Thomson was introduced, and being gaily interrogated about the state of his affairs, said 'that they were in a more poetical posture than formerly,' and had a pension allowed him of one hundred pounds a year'.
Being now obliged to write he produced (1738) the tragedy 29 of Agamemnon3, which was much shortened in the representation. It had the fate which most commonly attends mythological stories*, and was only endured, but not favoured. It struggled with such difficulty through the first night that Thomson, coming late to his friends with whom he was to sup, excused his delay by telling them how the sweat of his distress had so disordered his wig, that he could not come till he had been refitted by a barber 5.
He so interested himself in his own drama that, if I remember 30 right, as he sat in the upper gallery he accompanied the players by audible recitation, till a friendly hint frighted him to silence". Pope countenanced Agamemnon by coming to it the first night, and was welcomed to the theatre by a general clap; he had much regard for Thomson, and once expressed it in a poetical Epistle sent to Italy, of which, however, he abated the value by transplanting some of the lines into his Epistle to Arbuthnot.
remain in the place after his patron's death.'
* Ante, POPE, 217; post, MALLET, 12; LYTTELTON, 6. Smollett describes him as " a munificent patron of the arts, an unwearied friend to merit.' Hist. of Eng. iii. 307.
Post, LYTTELTON, 6. In Britannia he had made the Queen of Nations,' speaking of the Prince, tell how
"Yon sail... wafts the Royal Youth A freight of future glory to my shore.' Eng. Poets, liv. 264. Shenstone, on his way to London, 'had taken a tailor of Hales Owen to carry his portmanteau. The trusty squire, having walked out to view the Thames at Maidenhead, returned saying, “Lord, Sir, what do you think? I have seen the Prince of Wales and all his nobles walking by
About this time the Act was passed for licensing plays ', of which the first operation was the prohibition of Gustavus Vasa, a tragedy of Mr. Brooke, whom the publick recompensed by a very liberal subscription; the next was the refusal of Edward and Eleonora3, offered by Thomson. It is hard to discover why either play should have been obstructed. Thomson likewise endeavoured to repair his loss by a subscription, of which I cannot now tell the success *.
When the publick murmured at the unkind treatment of Thomson, one of the ministerial writers remarked that he had taken a Liberty which was not agreeable to Britannia in any Season!'
He was soon after employed, in conjunction with Mr. Mallet,
he had 'sent the other day to a particular friend.' Corrected theyconclude the Prol. Sat. Pope's Works (E. & C.), iii. 274, x. 30.
Warton, in a note on Prol. Sat. 1. 15, mentions Pope sending some lines to Thomson. Warton's Pope's Works, iv. 10. Thomson was in Italy in 1731. Ante, THOMSON, 21.
Before the Licensing Act was passed (in 1737) the Master of the Revels licensed plays. 'When,' writes Cibber, Richard III (as I altered it from Shakespeare) came from his hands he expunged the whole first act. The reason he gave for it was that the distresses of Henry VI would put weak people too much in mind of King James, then living in France. We were forced for some few years to let the play take its fate with only four acts divided into five.' Cibber's Apology, 1826, p. 159.
Adams said he was sorry to hear sermons compared to plays. "Not by me, I assure you," cried the bookseller; "though I don't know whether the licensing act may not shortly bring them to the same footing; but I have formerly known a hundred guineas given for a play." Joseph Andrews, Bk. i. ch. 17.
This Act led, no doubt, to the republication of Milton's Areopagitica (ante, MILTON, 58) with a new preface, price Is.' Gent. Mag. 1738, p. 56. The preface is attributed to Thomson. Johnson's Works, viii. 372 n.
For Johnson's attack on the Licensing Act see Boswell's Johnson, i.
This subscription is recommended in Gent. Mag. March, 1739, p. 146. The play was published in the following May. Ib. May, 1739, p. 276. See also Boswell's Johnson, i. 140.
3 Works, iv. I; advertised in Gent. Mag. May, 1739, p. 276, price Is. 6d.
The sentiments are just and noble, the diction strong, smooth, and elegant, and the plot conducted with the utmost art, and wrought off in a most surprising manner.' WESLEY, Journal, 1827, iii. 465.
According to Biog. Brit. Supple. p. 169, the refusal was due to Court jealousy of one who was in favour with the Prince of Wales. The play was dedicated to the Princess, whose husband is likened to Prince Edward, as being 'the darling of a great and free people.' Works, iv. 4.
In Thomson's Works, Preface, p. 25, it is said that William Patterson, Thomson's deputy and successor in the Surveyorship (post,THOMSON, 35), who acted as his amanuensis, himself wrote a play on Arminius. No sooner had the censor cast his eyes on the handwriting in which he had seen Edward and Eleonora than he cried out, "Away with it!"'
Of Thomson's play '3,500 common and 1,000 fine royal copies were printed, and of Arminius 2,000 common and 400 fine copies.' N. & Q. I S. xii. 218.
to write the masque of Alfred, which was acted before the Prince at Cliefden-house '.
His next work (1745) was Tancred and Sigismunda, the most 34 successful of all his tragedies, for it still keeps its turn upon the stage. It may be doubted whether he was, either by the bent of nature or habits of study, much qualified for tragedy 3. It does not appear that he had much sense of the pathetick, and his diffusive and descriptive style produced declamation rather than dialogue*.
His friend Mr. Lyttelton was now in power 5, and conferred 35 upon him the office of surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands; from which, when his deputy was paid, he received about three hundred pounds a year.
The last piece that he lived to publish was The Castle of 36 Indolence', which was many years under his hand, but was at
Post, MALLET, 16. It is advertised in Gent. Mag. 1740, p. 416, price Is. 'Last night (Aug. 1, 1740) was performed in the Gardens of Cliefden (in commemoration of the Accession of his late Majesty King George, and in Honour of the Birth of the Princess Augusta. . .) a new Masque ... by Mr. Thomson.' The London Daily Post, Aug. 2, 1740, quoted in N. & Q. 2 S. iv. 415. Rule Britannia was sung by ‘a Bard.' The music was by Arne. Ib.
The refrain in the original is 'Rule Britannia, rule the waves, Britons never will be slaves.' Works, iii. 220. It is the English King who is thus absurdly assured by his Bard that Britons never will be slaves.
Southey, writing two years after Trafalgar, calls Rule Britannia 'a song which will be the political hymn of this country as long as she maintains her political power.' Specimens, &c., ii. 107.
Works, iv. 75. Its publication is advertised in Gent. Mag. Aug. 1745, p. 168, price 1s. 6d. Garrick took the part of Tancred. Pitt attended the rehearsal. Davies's Gar
rick, i. 85. 'It was some years afterwards revived with the highest applause.' Murphy's Garrick, p. 69. In the first edition, 'He seems not to be either,' &c.
In the 'Advertisement' Thomson states that 'the play is considerably shortened in the performance.' Works, iv. 78.
Horace Walpole wrote on March 29, 1745:- The town flocks to a new play of Thomson's. It is very dull; I have read it. I cannot bear modern poetry; these refiners of the purity of the stage and of the incorrectness of English verse are most wofully insipid.' Letters, i. 347.
Grimm in 1763, after mentioning Le mariage de vengeance in Gil Blas, bk. iv. ch. 4, continues:- Le célèbre poète anglais Thomson en a fait une tragédie qu'on joue à Londres, sous le titre de Tancrède et Sigismonde. Il y a environ deux mois qu'on a lu dans Le Mercure de France une traduction en prose de cette pièce. M. Saurin vient de la mettre sur le théâtre de Paris, sous le titre de Blanche et Guiscard, tragédie librement traduite en vers de l'anglais.' Mémoires, &c., de Grimm, 1814, ii. 229.
5 He was made a Lord of the Treasury in Dec. 1744. Post, LYTTELTON, II.
[According to Murdoch, his friend and biographer, Thomson enjoyed the Surveyorship the last two years of his life. Works, 1762, Pref. p. 11. See also ib. 1793, Pref. p. 39.]
7 Works, ii. 185. Published in