Imágenes de páginas
[ocr errors]

yet perhaps I may mend in that respect. Remember me kindly to your husband, and believe me to be,

Your most affectionate brother,

JAMES THOMSON.' (Addressed) ‘To Mrs. Thomson in Lanark?'

The benevolence of Thomson was fervid, but not active ? ; he 43 would give on all occasions what assistance his purse would supply; but the offices of intervention or solicitation he could not conquer his sluggishness sufficiently to perform 3. The affairs of others, however, were not more neglected than his

He had often felt the inconveniences of idleness, but he never cured it"; and was so conscious of his own character, that he talked of writing an Eastern Tale of The Man who loved to be in Distress.

Among his peculiarities was a very unskilful and inarticulate 44 manner of pronouncing any lofty or solemn composition. He was once reading to Doddington, who, being himself a reader eminently elegant, was so much provoked by his odd utterance, that he snatched the paper from his hand, and told him that he did not understand his own verses 5.

The biographer of Thomson has remarked that an author's 45 life is best read in his works 6: his observation was not welltimed. Savage, who lived much with Thomson?, once told me how he heard a lady remarking that she could gather from his

* Boswell, in 1777, put his wife's two nephews 'to school in Lanark, under the care of Mr. Thomson, the master of it, whose wife is sister to the author of The Seasons. She is an old woman, but her memory is very good.' Boswell's Johnson, iii. 116.

• His inoffensive disposition' is mentioned in his obituary notice in Gent. Mag. 1748, p. 380. He is attacked for inhumanity in a letter to the same Magazine (1754, p. 409) on field-sports.Thomson, who was one of these preachers of benevolence, encourages the rage of sportive cruelty against the fox.'

3 Dr. Burney, one day finding him in bed at two o'clock in the afternoon, 'asked how he came to lie so long. Ecod, mon, because I had no mot-tive to rise."' Prior's

Malone, p. 415.

* Much of this character belonged also to Johnson.

s Ante, CONGREVE, 7; SWIFT, 1191. "Thomson, in reading his Agamemnon to the actors in the green-room, pronounced every line with such a broad Scotch accent that they could not restrain themselves from a loud laugh. He goodnaturedly said to the manager: "Do you, Sir, take my play and go on with it; for though I can write a tragedy I find I cannot read one.' DAVIES, Dram. Misc. iii. 498. • Works, 1775, Preface, p. 33.

Savage officiated as Master when, on Sept. 13, 1737, Thomson was admitted free and accepted Mason at Old Man's Coffee-House, Charing Cross.' N. & l. 2 S. i. 131.

[ocr errors]


[ocr errors]

works three parts of his character, that he was 'a great lover', a great swimmer”, and rigorously abstinent 3'; but, said Savage, he knows not any love but that of the sex * ; he was perhaps never in cold water in his lifes; and he indulges himself in all the luxury that comes within his reach. Yet Savage always spoke with the most eager praise of his social qualities, his warmth and constancy of friendship, and his adherence to his first acquaintance when the advancement of his reputation had

left them behind him. 46 As a writer he is entitled to one praise of the highest kind :

his mode of thinking and of expressing his thoughts is original. His blank verse is no more the blank verse of Milton or of

any other poet than the rhymes of Prior are the rhymes of Cowley 6. His numbers, his pauses, his diction, are of his own growth, without transcription, without imitation. He thinks in a peculiar train, and he thinks always as a man of genius; he looks round on Nature and on Life with the eye which Nature bestows only on a poet?, the eye that distinguishes in every thing presented


Spring ends with a description sons; yet I am not over fond of of wedded love:

them, because they are all descrip• What is the world to them, tion, and nothing is doing; whereas Its pomp, its pleasure and its non- Milton engages me in actions of the sense all ?

highest importance.' Works, xvii.

398. The Seasons thus "Thomson's blank verse was exeAs ceaseless round a jarring world crably bad.' COLERIDGE, Table Talk, they roll

1884, p. 280. Still find them happy.'

Thomson wrote his blank verse See also Summer, Il. 890, 1284.

before his ear was formed as it was · Summer, 1. 1243.

when he wrote The Castle of Indo3 Spring, 'll. 233, 335; Summer, lence and some of his short rhyme 1.67; Britannia, 1.247; Liberty, v.166. poems.' WORDSWORTH, Memoirs,

Savage could never have seen ii. 386. Thomson after July, 1739. Ante, W. Allingham recorded in his SAVAGE, 274. For Elizabeth Young, Journal:- Mr. Barnes (the Dorsetwhom Thomson wished to marry, shire poet] said, “I like Thomson's see Tovey's Thomson, Preface, p. 69. blank verse," to which Tennyson, She was the 'Amanda' of his songs. stretching out his arms, returned in Eng. Poets, lv. 174-7.

an emphatic voice, “I hate it like sNor when cold winter keens the poison,” at which we all laughed.”' brightening flood

1 JOHNSON. Thomson, I think, Would I, weak shivering, linger had as much of the poet about him as on the brink.'

most writers. Everything appeared Summer, 1. 1258. to him through the medium of his 6 Post, YOUNG, 167. Swift, writing favourite pursuit. He could not have of blank verse in 1732, says :-One viewed those two candles burning but Thomson, a Scotchman, has suc- with a poetical eye.' Boswell's Johnceeded the best in that way, in four son,


453. poems he has writ on the four sea- Hazlitt, in a criticism of Crabbe, to its view whatever there is on which imagination can delight to be detained, and with a mind that at once comprehends the vast, and attends to the minute. The reader of The Seasons wonders that he never saw before what Thomson shews him, and that he never yet has felt what Thomson impresses.

His is one of the works in which blank verse seems properly 47 used'; Thomson's wide expansion of general views, and his enumeration of circumstantial varieties, would have been obstructed and embarrassed by the frequent intersection of the sense, which are the necessary effects of rhyme.

His descriptions of extended scenes and general effects bring 48 before us the whole magnificence of Nature, whether pleasing or dreadful. The gaiety of Spring, the splendour of Summer, the tranquillity of Autumn, and the horror of Winter, take in their turns possession of the mind. The poet leads us through the appearances of things as they are successively varied by the vicissitudes of the year, and imparts to us so much of his own enthusiasm that our thoughts expand with his imagery and kindle with his sentiments ?. Nor is the naturalist without his part in the entertainment ; for he is assisted to recollect and to combine, to arrange his discoveries, and to amplify the sphere of his contemplation.

The great defect of The Seasons is want of method * ; but for 49 this I know not that there was any remedy. Of many appear

says:—'Even Thomson describes not describing the various appearances so much the naked object as what he of nature; but that he failed when he sees in his mind's eye, surrounded ventured to step out of this path, and and glowing with the mild, bland, particularly when he attempted to be genial vapours of his brain.' The moral, in which attempt he always Spirit of the Age, ed. 1825, p. 199. became verbose. Mitford's Gray, v.

*Thomson,' writes Southey, brought 36. with him from his own beautiful Goldsmith describes him as 'in country a deep perception and true general a verbose and affected poet.' love of the beauties of nature.' Works, iii. 438. Southey's Cowper, ii. 144.

3 The naturalist would be surprised 'In chastity of diction and the to find in the first edition of Winter, harmony of blank verse Cowper leaves 1. 44, that Thomson immeasurably below him ; "Sad Philomel, perchance, pours forth yet still I feel the latter to have been the born poet.' COLERIDGE, Biog. Far, thro' the withering copse.' Lit. 1847, i. 25.

But what did a Scotchman know Johnson says the same of Paradise of the nightingale? When the poet Lost, ante, MILTON, 276, and The transferred the passage to Autumn, Night Thoughts, post, YOUNG, 160. 1. 974, 'sad Philomel became some

Gray thought Thomson had one widowed songster.' talent beyond all other poets, that of Ante, POPE, 315.

her plaint

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


ances subsisting all at once, no rule can be given why one should be mentioned before another; yet the memory wants the help of order, and the curiosity is not excited by suspense or

expectation. 50 His diction is in the highest degree florid and luxuriant, such

as may be said to be to his images and thoughts 'both their lustre and their shade?'; such as invests them with splendour, through which perhaps they are not always easily discerned. It is too exuberant, and sometimes may be charged with

filling the ear more than the mind'. 51 These poems, with which I was acquainted at their first

appearance, I have since found altered and enlarged by subsequent revisals, as the author supposed his judgement to grow more exact, and as books or conversation extended his knowledge and opened his prospects? They are, I think, improved 'The moon pullid off her veil of intervening between the publication light,

of the Paradise Lost and The Seasons That hides her face by day from does not contain a single new image sight,

of external nature. .. We are not Mysterious veil of brightness made, able to collect any unquestionable That's both her lustre and her proofs that the true characteristics of shade.'

Thomson's genius as an imaginative Hudibras, ii. i. 905; post, AKEN- poet were perceived till the elder

Warton, almost forty years after the Post, COLLINS, 17. 'Dr. Johnson publication of The Seasons, pointed said, “ Thomson's fault is such a them out by a note in his Essay on cloud of words sometimes that the Pope [ii. 244]. In The Castle of sense can hardly peep through. Shiels Indolence (of which Gray speaks so (ante, HAMMOND, I] was one day coldly) these characteristics were alsitting with me. I took down Thom- most as conspicuously displayed, and son, and read aloud a large portion in verse more harmonious and diction of him, and then asked, 'Is not this more pure. Yet that fine poem was fine?'' Shiels having expressed the neglected on its appearance, and is highest admiration, 'Well, Sir (said I), at this day the delight only of a few!' I have omitted every other line.'” Wordsworth's Works, vi. 368–72. Boswell's Johnson, iii. 37.

"Thomson recalled the nation to Grimm says of The Seasons :-'A the study of nature, which since force d'être riche et Aeuri il devient Milton had been utterly neglected.' monotone et fatigant; c'est le re- SOUTHEY, Specimens, Preface, p. 32. proche qu'on a fait au poëme des Sir Walter Scott, in 1828, said of Plaisirs de l'imagination [post, Milton and Thomson :- Thomson AKENSIDE, 16].' Grimm's Mémoires, is the most read of the two.' Life of 1814, ii. 23.

W. Bell Scott, 1892, i. 73. Wordsworth wrote of The Seasons : Hazlitt records Northcote as saying 'It is a work of inspiration; much about 1830 :-'For boarding-school of it is written from himself, and misses Thomson's Seasons has an nobly from himself. ... It is remark- immense attraction, though I never able that, excepting the nocturnal could read it.' Conversations of Reverie of Lady Winchelsea and a Northcote, p. 198. passage or two in the Windsor Forest 'The original text of The Seasons,' of Pope, the poetry of the period writes Judge Willis, 'consisted of

SIDE, 16.


in general; yet I know not whether they have not lost part of what Temple calls their race, a word which, applied to wines, in its primitive sense, means the flavour of the soil".

Liberty, when it first appeared, I tried to read, and soon 52 desisted. I have never tried again, and therefore will not hazard either praise or censure?.

The highest praise which he has received ought not to be 53 supprest; it is said by Lord Lyttelton in the Prologue to his posthumous play that his works contained

'No line which, dying, he could wish to blot 3.'

3,902 lines. The edition of 1746, the Lyttelton, both on a priori grounds last that received the poet's revision, and from a careful comparison of his consists of 5,423 lines.' Winter, p. 6. handwriting with the MS. alterations For the alterations see ib. Preface, in Mitford's interleaved Seasons, now and N. & l. 4 S. xi. 419.

in the Brit. Mus. Mr. Tovey, on the Johnson defines race as a parti- other hand, considers that‘Lyttelton's cular strength or taste of wine, ap- hand is neat and scholarly, and quite plied by Temple to any extraordinary unlike the unknown's manuscript.' natural force of intellect,' and quotes Thomson's Works, 1897, i. 195.] a passage from his Essay of Garden- In the first edition this Life ends ing: Temple's Works, 1757, iii. 229. here. The Prologue to Sophonisba,

Thomson was admirable in de by Pope and Mallet' followed. scription; but it always seemed to me 3 Not one immoral, one corrupted that there was somewhat of affecta- thought, tion in his style. . . . I could wish too, One line which dying he could with Dr. Johnson, that he had con- wish to blot.' fined himself to this country. ... He Prologue to Coriolanus, Works, iv. was however a true poet.' COWPER, 182. Works, vi. 169.

‘M. Despréaux (Boileau) s'applau'I possess,' writes Mitford, 'an dissait fort à l'âge de soixante et onze interleaved copy of The Seasons (ed. ans, de n'avoir rien mis dans ses 1738) which belonged to Thomson, vers qui choquât les bonnes meurs. with his own alterations, and with

C'est une consolation, disait-il, pour numerous alterations and additions les vieux poètes qui doivent bientôt by Pope, in his own writing. Almost rendre compte à Dieu de leurs acall the amendments made by Pope tions."Euvres, 1747, v. 41. were adopted by Thomson. Mitford's 'I remember St. Austin in one of Gray, ii. Preface, p. 7n. Whether his epistles tells us that Tully says of these alterations are by Pope is very one of the great orators, Nullum doubtful. See Tovey's Thomson, i. unquam verbum quod revocare vellet 189; N. & l. 8 S. xii. 327, 389, 437; emisit. “ That no word ever fell from 9 S. i. 23, 129, 289, 415. [Mr. G. C. him that he could wish to have reMacaulayin a letter to the Athenaeum, called." ' TILLOTSON, Sermons, 1757, Oct. 1, 1904 (p. 446), rejects the Pope xi. 93. theory and identifies the corrector as

« AnteriorContinuar »