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couragement, and came to seek in London patronage and fame.
JAMES THOMSON, the son of a minister well | esteemed for his piety and diligence, was born September 7, 1700, at Ednam, in the shire of At his arrival he found his way to Mr. Mallet, Roxburgh, of which his father was pastor. His then tutor to the sons of the Duke of Montrose. mother, whose name was Hume,* inherited as He had recommendations to several persons of co-heiress a portion of a small estate. The re- consequence, which he had tied up carefully in venue of a parish in Scotland is seldom large; his handkerchief; but as he passed along the and it was probably in commiseration of the street, with the gaping curiosity of a new-comer, difficulty with which Mr. Thomson supported his attention was upon every thing rather than his family, having nine children, that Mr. Ric-his pocket, and his magazine of credentials was carton, a neighbouring minister, discovering in stolen from him. James uncommon promises of future excellence, His first want was a pair of shoes. For the undertook to superintend his education and pro-supply of all his necessities, his whole fund was vide him books. his "Winter," which for a time could find no purchaser; till, at last, Mr. Millan was persuaded to buy it at a low price; 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.
He was taught the common rudiments of learning at the school of Jedburg, a place which he delights to recollect in his poem of "Autumn;" but was not considered by his master as superior to common boys, though in those early days he amused his patron and his friends with poetical compositions; with which, however, he so little pleased himself, that on every new-year's day he threw into the fire all the productions of the foregoing year.
From the school he was removed to Edinburgh, where he had not resided two years when his father died, and left all his children to the care of their mother, who raised upon her little estate what money a mortgage could afford, and removing with her family to Edinburgh, lived to see her son rising into eminence.
The design of Thomson's friends was to breed him a minister. He lived at Edinburgh, as at school, without distinction or expectation, till, at the usual time, he performed a probationary exercise by explaining a psalm. His diction was so poetically splendid, that Mr. Hamilton, the Professor of Divinity, reproved him for speaking language unintelligible to a popular audience; and he censured one of his expressions as indecent, if not profane.
"Winter" was dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton, but attracted 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 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 This rebuke is reported to have repressed his gentleman gave me an introductory letter to thoughts of an ecclesiastical character, and he him. He received me in what they commonly probably cultivated with new diligence his blos-call a civil manner; asked me some commonsoms of poetry, which, however, were in some danger of a blast; for, submitting his productions to some who thought themselves qualified to criticise, he heard of nothing but faults; but finding other judges more favourable, he did not suffer himself to sink into despondence.
He easily discovered that the only stage on which a poet could appear with any hope of advantage was London; a place too wide for the operation of petty competition and private malignity, where merit might soon become conspicuous, and would find friends as soon as it became reputable to befriend it. A lady who was acquainted with his mother advised him to the journey, and promised some countenance or assistance, which at last he never received; however, he justified his adventure by her en
His mother's name was Beatrix Trotter. His grand.
mother's name was Hume.-C.
place questions, and made me a present of twen ty 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
The poem, which being of a new kind, few would venture at first to like, by degrees gained upon the public; and one edition was very speedily succeeded by another.
Thomson's credit was now high, and every day brought him 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.
"Winter" was accompanied, in many editions, not only with a preface and dedication, but with poetical praises by Mr. Hill, Mr. Mallet, (then Malloch,) and Mira, the fictitious name
of a lady once too-well known. Why the dedi- | cations are, to "Winter" and the other Seasons, contrarily to custom, left out in the collected works, the reader may inquire.
The next year (1727) he distinguished himself by three publications: of "Summer," 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. Gray; 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.
Thomson, having been some time entertained in the family 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 Countess of Hertford; 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
"Autumn," the season to which the "Spring" and "Summer" are preparatory, still remained unsung, and was delayed till he published (1730) his works collected.
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 public. It was observed, however, that nobody was much affected, and that the company rose as from a moral lecture.
It had upon the stage no unusual degree of success. Slight accidents will operate upon the taste of pleasure. There is a feeble line in the play:
O Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O!
O Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O!
splendidly without expense; and might expect when he returned home a certain establishment. At this time a long course of opposition to Sir Robert Walpole 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; and 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.
Upon this great poem two years were spent, and the author congratulated himself upon it, as his noblest work; but an author and his reader are not always of a mind. 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.
The judgment of the public was not erroneous; the recurrence 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; but, when the author's works were collected after his death, was shortIened by Sir George Lyttleton, 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 judgment 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.
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 Chancellor, 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; and the new Chancellor would not give him what he would not ask.
He now relapsed to his former indigence; but the Prince of Wales was at that time struggling which for a while was echoed through the town. tleton professed himself the patron of wit: to for popularity, and by the influence of Mr. LytI have been told by Savage, that of the pro-him Thomson was introduced, and being gayly logue to "Sophonisba" the first part was written interrogated about the state of his affairs, said, by Pope, who could not be persuaded to finish that they were in a more poetical posture than it, and that the concluding lines were added by formerly;" and had a pension allowed him of one hundred pounds a year.
Thomson was not long afterwards, by the influence of Dr. Rundle, sent to travel with Mr.
(1738*) the tragedy of "Agamemnon," which Being now obliged to write, he produced 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
Charles Talbot, the eldest son of the Chancellor. He was yet young enough to receive new 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 of Milton's Areopagitica" was published by Millar, to * It is not generally known that in this year an edition day feasted with instructive novelties; he lived I which Thomson wrote a preface.-C.
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.
He so interested himself in his own drama, that, if I remember 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 translating some of the lines into his epistle to Arbuthnot.
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 public recompensed by a very liberal subscription; the next was the refusal of "Edward and Eleonora," 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 public 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
prologue, which Quin, who had long lived with Thomson in fond intimacy, spoke in such a manner as showed him "to be," on that occasion, "no actor." The commencement of this benevolence is very honourable to Quin; who is reported to have delivered Thomson, then known to him only for his genius, from an arrest by a very considerable present; and its continuance is honourable to both, for friendship is not always the sequel of obligation. By this tragedy a considerable sum was raised, of which part discharged his debts, and the rest was remitted to his sisters, whom, however removed from them by place or condition, he regarded with great tenderness, as will appear by the following letter, which I communicate with much pleasure, as it gives me at once an opportunity of recording the fraternal kindness of Thomson, and reflecting on the friendly assistance of Mr. Boswell, from whom I received it.
"Hagely, in Worcestershire, "October the 4th, 1747.
"My dear Sister,
"I thought you had known me better than to interpret my silence into a decay of affection, especially as your behaviour has always been such as rather to increase than to diminish it. Don't imagine, because I am a bad correspondent, that I can ever prove an unkind friend and brother. I must do myself the justice to tell you, that my affections are naturally very fixed and constant; and if I had ever reason of com
He was soon after employed, in conjunction with Mr. Mallet, to write the mask of "Alfred," which was acted before the Prince at Cliefden-plaint against you, (of which by-the-by I have House.
His next work (1745) was "Tancred and Sigismunda," the most 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. It does not appear that he had much sense of the pathetic; and his diffusive and descriptive style produced declamation rather than dialogue.
His friend Mr. Lyttleton was now in power, and conferred upon him the office of surveyorgeneral 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 Indolence," which was many years under his hand, but was at last finished with great accuracy. The first canto opens a scene of lazy luxury that fills the imagination.
He was now at ease, but was not long to enjoy it; for, by taking cold on the water between London and Kew, he caught a disorder, which, with some careless exasperation, ended in a fever that put an end to his life, August 27, 1748. He was buried in the church of Richmond, without an inscription; but a monument has been erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey.
not the least shadow,) I am conscious of so many defects in myself, as dispose me to be not a little charitable and forgiving.
"It gives me the truest heartfelt satisfaction to hear you have a good, kind husband, and are in easy, contented circumstances; but were they otherwise, that would only awaken and heighten my tenderness towards you. As our good and tender-hearted parents did not live to receive any material testimonies of that highest human grati tude I owed them, (than which nothing could have given me equal pleasure,) the only return I can make them now is by kindness to those they left behind them. Would to God poor Lizy had lived longer, to have been a farther witness of the truth of what I say, and that I might have had the pleasure of seeing once more a sister who so truly deserved my esteem and love! But she is happy, while we must toil a little longer here below; let us, however, do it cheerfully and gratefully, supported by the pleasing hope of meeting yet again on a safer shore, where to recollect the storms and difficulties of life will not perhaps be inconsistent with that blissful state. You did right to call your daughter by her name; for you must needs have had a particular tender friendship for one another, endeared as you were by nature, by having passed the affectionate years of your youth together, and by that great softener and engager
Thomson was of a stature above the middle size, and "more fat than bard beseems," of a dull countenance, and a gross, unanimated, un-of hearts, mutual hardship. That it was in my inviting appearance; silent in mingled company, but cheerful among select friends, and by his friends very tenderly and warmly beloved.
He left behind him the tragedy of "Coriolanus," which was, by the zeal of his patron, Sir George Lyttleton, brought upon the stage for the benefit of his family, and recommended by a
power to ease it a little, I account one of the most exquisite pleasures of my life.—But enough of this melancholy, though not unpleasing strain.
"I esteem you for your sensible and disinterested advice to Mr. Bell, as you will see by my letter to him; as I approve entirely of his marrying again, you may readily ask me why I don't
marry at all. My circumstances have hitherto been so variable and uncertain in this fluctuating world, as induce to keep me from engaging in such a state; and now, though they are more settled, and of late (which you will be glad to hear) considerably improved, I begin to think myself too far advanced in life for such youthful undertakings, not to mention some other petty reasons that are apt to startle the delicacy of difficult old bachelors. I am, however, not a little suspicious that, was I to pay a visit to Scotland, (which I have some thoughts of doing soon,) I might possibly be tempted to think of a thing not easily repaired if done amiss. I have always been of opinion, that none make better wives than the ladies of Scotland; and yet, who more forsaken than they, while the gentlemen are continually running abroad all the world over? Some of them, it is true, are wise enough to return for a wife. You see I am beginning to make interest already with the Scots ladies. But no more of this infectious subject.-Pray let me hear from you now and then; and though I am not a regular correspondent, 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 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. | The affairs of others, however, were not more neglected than his own. 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 manner of pronouncing any lofty or solemn composition. He was once reading to Dodington, who, being himself a reader eminently elegant, was so much provoked by his odd utterance, that he snatched the paper from his hands, and told him that he did not understand his own verses.
The biographer of Thomson has remarked, that an author's life is best read in his works: his observation was not well-timed. Savage, who lived much with Thomson, once told me, he heard a lady remarking that she could gather from his works three parts of his character, that he was "a great lover, a great swimmer, and rigorously abstinent;" but, said Savage, he knows not any love but that of the sex; he was perhaps never in cold water in his life; 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.
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. 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 to its view, whatever there is on which imagination can delight to be detained, and with a mind that at once compre hends the vast and attends to the minute. The reader of "The Seasons" wonders that he never saw before what Thomson shows him, and that he never yet has felt what Thomson impresses.
His is one of the works in which blank verse seems properly used. Thomson's wide expansion of general views, and his enumeration of circumstantial varieties, would have been obstructed and embarrassed by the frequent inter sections of the sense which are the necessary effects of rhyme.
His descriptions of extended scenes and gene ral effects bring before us the whole magnifi cence of Nature, whether pleasing or dreadful. The gayety 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 range his discoveries and to amplify the sphere of his con templation.
The great defect of "The Seasons" is want of method; but for this I know not that there was any remedy. Of many appearances 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 curi osity is not excited by suspense or expectation.
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 invest them with splendour, through which perhaps they are not always easily discerned. It is too exuberant, and some times may be charged with filling the ear more than the mind,
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 judgment to grow more exact, ard as books or conversation extended his knowledge and opened his prospects. They are, I think, improved 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 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 suppressed: it is said by Lord Lyttleton, in the prologue to his posthumous play, that his works contained
No line which, dying, he could wish to blot.
THE poems of Dr. WATTS were by my recommendation inserted in the late Collection; the readers of which are to impute to me whatever pleasure or weariness they may find in the perusal of Blackmore, Watts, Pomfret, and Yalden.
ISAAC WATTS was born July 17, 1674, at Southampton, where his father, of the same name, kept a boarding-school for young gentlemen, though common report makes him a shoemaker. He appears, from the narrative of Dr. Gibbon, to have been neither indigent nor illi
Isaac, the eldest of nine children, was given to books from his infancy; and began, we are told, to learn Latin when he was four years old; I suppose, at home. He was afterwards taught Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, by Mr. Pinhorn, a clergyman, master of the free-school at Southampton, to whom the gratitude of his scholar afterwards inscribed a Latin ode.
His proficiency at school was so conspicuous, that a subscription was proposed for his support at the university; but he declared his resolution of taking his lot with the dissenters. Such he was as every Christian church would rejoice to have adopted.
He therefore repaired, in 1690, to an academy taught by Mr. Rowe, where he had for his companions and fellow-students Mr. Hughes the poet, and Dr. Horte, afterwards archbishop of Tuam. Some Latin essays, supposed to have been written as exercises at this academy, show a degree of knowledge both philosophical and theological, such as very few attain by a much longer course of study.
and in that time particularly devoted himself to the study of the Holy Scriptures; and, being chosen assistant to Dr. Chauncey, preached the first time on the birth-day that completed his twenty-fourth year; probably considering that as the day of a second nativity, by which he entered on a new period of existence.
In about three years he succeeded Dr. Chauncey; but soon after his entrance on his charge, he was seized by a dangerous illness, which sunk him to such weakness, that the congregation thought an assistant necessary, and appointed Mr. Price. His health then returned gradually; and he performed his duty till (1712) he was seized by a fever of such violence and continuance, that from the feebleness which it brought upon him he never perfectly recovered.
This calamitous state made the compassion of his friends necessary, and drew upon him the attention of Sir Thomas Abney, who received him into his house; where, with a constancy of friendship and uniformity of conduct not often to be found, he was treated for thirty-six years with all the kindness that friendship could prompt, and all the attention that respect could dictate. Sir Thomas died about eight years afterwards; but he continued with the lady and her daughters to the end of his life. The lady died about a year after him.
A coalition like this, a state in which the notions of patronage and dependence were overpowered by the perception of reciprocal benefits, deserves a particular memorial; and I will not withhold from the reader Dr. Gibbon's representation; to which regard is to be paid, as to the narrative of one who writes what he knows, and what is known likewise to multitudes besides.
He was, as he hints in his Miscellanies, a maker of verses from fifteen to fifty, and in his youth he appears to have paid attention to Latin "Our next observation shall be made upon poetry. His verses to his brother, in the gly- that remarkably kind Providence which brought conick measure, written when he was seventeen, the Doctor into Sir Thomas Abney's family, and are remarkably easy and elegant. Some of his continued him there till his death, a period of no other odes are deformed by the Pindaric folly less than thirty-six years. In the midst of his then prevailing, and are written with such ne- sacred labours for the glory of God, and good of glect of all metrical rules, as is without example his generation, he is seized with a most violent among the ancients; but his diction, though and threatening fever, which leaves him oppressperhaps not always exactly pure, has such copi-ed with great weakness, and puts a stop at least ousness and splendour, as shows that he was but a very little distance from excellence.
His method of study was to impress the contents of his books upon his memory by abridging them, and by interleaving them to amplify one system with supplements from another."
With the congregation of his tutor, Mr. Rowe, who were, I believe, independents, he communicated in his nineteenth year.
to his public services for four years. In this distressing season, doubly so to his active and pious spirit, he is invited to Sir Thomas Abney's family, nor ever removes from it till he has finished his days. Here he enjoyed the uninterrupted demonstrations of the truest friendship. Here, without any care of his own, he had every thing which could contribute to the enjoyment of life, and favour the unwearied pursuits of his studies. Here he dwelt in a family, which for piety, order, harmony, and every virtue, was an house of God. Here he had the privilege of a country recess, the fragrant bower, the spreading lawn, the flowery garden, and other advantages, to sooth his mind and aid his restoration to health; to He was then entertained by Sir John Har-yield him, whenever he chose them, most grateful topp five years, as domestic tutor to his son; intervals from his laborious studies, and enable
At the age of twenty he left the academy, and spent two years in study and devotion at the house of his father, who treated him with great tenderness; and had the happiness, indulged to few parents, of living to see his son eminent for literature, and venerable for piety.