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The Euchantments of the Wizard Iudolence, and Exploits
of the Kuight žir Judustry.
FROM THE "CASTLE OF INDOLENCE," BY THOMSON.
The sequestered mansion in which, either in reality or in imagination, we may be reading this poem, must not itself be a Castle of Indolence; yet everybody delights occasionally in being indolent, or in fancying that he shall have a right to be so some day or other. We please ourselves with pictures of perfect rest, even when we can neither enjoy them, nor mean to do so. We would fain have the luxury without the harm or the expense; there is a corner in every one's mind in which we nestle to it; and hence the enjoyment of such poems as this by Thomson, in which every delight of the kind is set before us.
The second part is not so good as the first. Thomson found himself more inspired by the vice than by its consequences. And we secretly feel as he and his fellow-idlers did, when Sir Industry first interrupted them. We resent the termination of our pleasures, and look upon the reforming knight as a dull and meddling fellow. Why should he wake us from such a pleasant dream? On reflection, however, we see that the fault is not his, but our own; that we should wake up in a far worse manner, if Sir Industry did not
There is beautiful poetry in the second part, even exquisite indolent bits, or places at least in which we might be indolent; in fine, we congratulate ourselves on our virtue, and begin, like the knight, to abuse the old rascally wizard who had pretended to make us his victims. We have retained the best passages in both parts, and
the best only; not without linking them in such a manner as the stanzas luckily enabled us to do, with no violation to a syllable, except the occasional loss of connection with a rhyme. Alteration was out of the question; every word retained is the poet's, and no other is admitted.
Thomson, who was once seen eating a peach off a tree with his hands in his waistcoat pockets, was fourteen or fifteen years writing the Castle of Indolence ;
;-a fitting period! We are not to suppose he did nothing between whiles. He was both very indolent and very industrious, for his mind was always at work on his enjoyments, as the world has good reason to know in possessing his Seasons. And he wrote tragedies besides, not so good, but full of humane and generous sentiments, with passages worth picking out. He had the luck to be made easy in his circumstances by men in power before it was too late for him to enjoy what he made others enjoy ; so he lived at Richmond, singing like one of the birds whom he so justly describes as singing the better, the better they are fed; that is to say, if the genius of singing be in them; for this implies the necessity of giving vent to it.
" What you observe concerning the pursuit of poetry,” says he, in a letter to a friend, “ so far engaged in it as I am, is certainly just. Besides, let him quit it who can, and 'erit mihi magnus Apollo,' or something as great. A true genius, like light, must be beaming forth, as a false one is an incurable disease. One would not, however, climb Parnassus, any more than your mortal hills, to fix forever on the barren top. No; it is some little dear retirement in the vale below that gives the right relish to the prospect, which, without that, is nothing but enchantment; and though pleasing for some time, at last leaves us in a desert. The great fat doctor of Bath* told me that poets should be kept poor, the more to animate their genius. This is like the cruel custom of putting a bird's eye out that it may sing the sweeter; but, surely, they sing sweetest amid the luxuriant woods, while the full spring blossoms around them.”
Beautifully said is this, and well reasoned too. It is a final answer to all the grudgers of a poet's comfort. Singing, it is true, might and does console him under any circumstances; but why should we
* Supposed to be Dr. Cheyne, who got fat and melancholy with good living, whereas Thomson got fat and merry; for Cheyne was an owl, not a singing bird.
wish him to be consoled, when he can be made happy ? as happy as he would make ourselves ?
Thomson is a greater poet than the style of the Seasons would lead us to suppose. He was too modest to approach Nature in the garb of his natural simplicity, so he put on a sort of court suit of classicality, stuffed out with “ taffeta phrases" and "silken terms precise.” But the true genius is underneath. Perhaps there was something in it of a heavy temperament, and of the “indolence” to which it inclined him. He had a warm heart in a gross body. The Castle of Indolence has been thought his best poem, because the style was imitated from that of Spenser. It certainly contains as good poetry as any he wrote; and the tone of Spenser is charmingly imitated, with an arch but delighted reverence.
The castle bight of Indolence,
And its false luxury ;
We liv'd right jollily.
who livest here by toil,
Withouten that would come a heavier bale,
In lowly dale, fast by a river's side,
Half prankt with spring, with summer half embrown'd,
A listless climate made; where, sooth to say,
Was naught around but images of rest,
That, as they bicker'd through the sunny glade, Though restless still themselves, a lulling murmur made.
Join'd to the prattle of the purling rills,
And still a coil the grasshopper did keep;
Full in the passage of the vale, above,
up the hills, on either side, a wood
And where this valley winded out, below, The murmuring main was heard, and scarcely heard, to flow.
A pleasing land of drowsy-head it was,
But whate'er smack'd of noyance and unrest
The landskip such, inspiring perfect ease,
While solitude and perfect silence reign’d,
almost was constrain'd.
A vast assembly moving to and fro,
The doors that knew no shrill alarning bell,