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papers in the 'Spectator' with the letters forming the name of Clio The couplet which gratified Johnson so highly is as follows:
When panting virtue her last efforts made,
You brought your Clio to the virgin's aid. In welcoming Addison to the banks of Avon, Somervile does not scruple to place him above Shakspeare as a poet!
In heaven he sings; on earth your muse supplies
With equal genius, but superior art. Gross as this misjudgment is, it should be remembered that Voltaire also fell into the same. The cold marble of 'Cato' was preferred to the living and breathing creations of the myriad-minded magician.
The publication of the Seasons' was an important era in the history of English poetry. So true and beautiful are the descriptions in the poem, and so entirely do they harmonise with those fresti feelings and glowing impulses which all would wish to cherish, that a love of nature seems to be synonymous with a love of Thomson. It is difficult to conceive a person of education in this country, imbued with an admiration of rural or woodland scenery, not entertaining a strong affection and regard for that delightful poet, who has painted their charms with so much fidelity and enthusiasm. The same features of blandness and benevolence, of simplicity of design and beauty of form and colour, which we recognise as distinguishing traits of the natural landscape, are seen in the pages of Thomson, conveyed by his artless mind as faithfully as the lights and shades on the face of creation. No criticism or change of style has, therefore, affected his popularity. We may smile at sometimes meeting with a heavy monotonous period, a false ornament, or tumid expression, the result of an indolent mind working itself up to a great effort, and we may wish that the subjects of his description were sometimes more select and dignified ; but this drawback does not affect our permanent regard or general feeling; our first love remains unaltered; and Thomson is still the poet with whom some of our best and purest associations are indissolubly joined. In the Seasons' we bave a poetical subject poetically treated-filled to overflowing with the richest materials of poetry, and the emanations of benevolence. In the 'Castle of Indolence' we have the concentration or essence of those materials applied to a subject loss poetical, but still affording room for luxuriant fancy, the most exquisite art, and still greater melody of numbers.
JAMES THOMson was born at Ednam, near Kelso, county of Roxburgh, on the 11th of September 1700. His father, who was then minister of the parish of Ednam, removed a few years afterwards to that of Southdean in the same county, a primitive and retired district situated among the lower slopes of the Cheviots. Here the young poet spent his boyish years. The gift of poesy came early, and some lines written by him at the age of fourteen, shew how soon his manner was formed :
Now I surveyed my native faculties.
In his eighteenth year, Thomson was sent to. Edinburgh College. His father died in 1720, and the poet proceeded to London to push his fortune. His college friend, Mallet, procured him the situation of lutor to the son of Lord Binning, and being shown some of his descriptions of 'Winter,' advised him to connect them into one regular poem. This was done, and Winter' was published in March 1726, ihe poet having received only three guineas for the copyright. A second and a third edition appeared the same year.
· Summer' appeared in 1727. In 1728 he issued proposals for publishing, by subscription, the ‘ Four Seasons'; the number of subscribers, at a guinea each copy, was 387; but many took more than one, and Pope (to whom Thomson had been introduced by Mallet) took three copies. The tragedy of Sophonisba' was next produced; and in 1731 the poet accompanied the son of Sir Charles Talbot, afterwards lord chancellor, in the capacity of tutor or travelling-companion, to the continent. They visited France, Switzerland, and Italy, and it is easy to conceive with what pleasure Thomson must bave passed or sojourned among scenes which he had often viewed in imagination. In November of the same year the poet was at Rome, and no doubt indulged the wish expressed in one of his letters, 'to see the fields where Virgil gathered his immortal honey, and tread the same ground where men have thought and acted so greatly. On his return next year he published his poem of ‘Liberty,' and obtained the
* This curious fragment was first published in 1841, in a life of Thomson by Mr. Allan Cunningham, prefixed wo au illustrated edition of the Seasons.
sinecure situation of Secretary of Briefs in the Court of Chancery, which he held till the death of Lord Talbot, the chancellor.
The succeeding chancellor bestowed the situation on another, Thomson not having, it is said, from characteristic indolence, solicited a continuance of the office. He again tried the drama, and produced 'Agamemnon,' which was coldly received. “Edward and Eleonora' followed, and the poet's circumstances were brightened by a pension of £100 a year, which be obtained through Lyttelton from the Prince of Wales. He further received the appointinent of Surveyor-general of Leeward Islands, the duties of which he was allowed to perform by deputy, and which brought him £300 per annum.
He was now in comparative opulence, and his residence at Kew Lane, near Richmond, was the scene of social enjoyment and lettered ease. Retirement and nature became, he said, more and more bis passion every day. I have enlarged my rural domain,' he writes to a friend : 'the two fields next to me, from the first of which I have walled—no, no-paled in, about as much as my garden consisted of before, so that the walk runs round the hedge, where you may figure me walking any time of the day, and sometimes at night.' His house appears to have been elegantly furnished : the sale catalogue of his effects, which enumerates the contents of every room, prepared after his death, fills eight pages of print, and his cellár was stocked with wines and Scotch ale. In this snug suburban retreat Thomson now applied himself to finish the Castle of Indolence,' on which he had been long engaged, and a tragedy on the subject of Coriolanus. The poem was published in May 1748. In August following, he took a boat at Ham. mersinith to convey him to Kew, after having walked from London. He caught cold, was thrown into a fever, and, after a short illness, died (27th of August 1748). No poet was ever more deeply lamented or more sincerely mourned.
Though born a poet, Thomson seems to have advanced but slowly, and by reiterated efforts, to refinement of taste. The natural fervour of the man overpowered the rules of the scholar. The first edition of the Seasons' differs inaterially from the second, and the second still more from the third. Every alteration was an improvement in delicacy of thought and language.
One of the finest and most picturesque similes in the work was supplied by Pope, to whom Thomson had given an interleaved copy of the edition of 1736. The quotation will not be out of place here, as it is honourable to the friendship of the brother-poets, and tends to suew the importance of careful revision, without which no excellence can be attained in literature or the arts. How deeply must it be regretted that Pope did not oftener write in blank verse! In 'Autumn,'. describing Lavinia, the lines of Thomson were:
Thoughtless of beauty, she was Beauty's self,
By strong necessity, vith as serene
To glean Palemon's delds. Pope drew his pen through this description, and supplied the following lines, which Thomson must have been too much gratified with not 10 adopt with pride and pleasure—and so they stand in all the subsequent editions:
Thoughtless of beauty, she was Beauty's self,
To glean Palemon's fields. That the genius of Thomson was purifying and working off its alloys up to the termination of his existence, may be seen from the superiority in style and diction of the Castle of Indolence.' Between the period of his composing the ‘Seasons' and the Castle of IndoJence,' says Campbell, he wrote several works which seem hardly to accord with the improvement and muturity of his taste exhibited in the latter production. To the Castle of Iudolence he brought not only the full nature, but the perfect art of a poet. The materials of that exquisite poem are derived originally from Tasso ; but he was more immediately indebted for them to the “Faery Queen:” and in meeting with the paternal spirit of Spenser, he seems as if he were admitted more intimately to the home of inspiration. If the critic liad gone over the alterations in the Seasons, which Thomson bad been more or less engaged upon for about sixteen years, he would have seen the gradual improvement of his taste, as well as imagination. So far as the art of the poet is concerned, the last corrected edition, as compared with the early copies, is a new work. The power of Thomson, however, lay not in his art, but in the exuberance of his genius, which sometimes required to be disciplined and controlled. The poetic glow is spread over all. He never slackens in his enthusiasm, nor tires of pointing out the phenomena of nature, which, indolent as he was, he had surveyed under every aspect, till he had become familiar with all. Among the mountains, vales, and forests, he seems to realise his own words:
Man superior walks
And looking iively gratitude.
* See Milford's edition of Gray's works. All Pope's corrections were adopted by
ture bestows only on a poet—the eye that distinguishes, in everything presented 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.' He looks also with a heart that feels for all mankind. His sympathies are universal. His touching allusions to the condition of the poor and suffering, to the hapless state of bird and beast in winter; the description of the peasant perishing in the snow, the Siberian exile, or the Arab pilgrims-all are marked with that humanity and true feeling which shews that the poet's virtues formed the magic of his song. The genuine impulses under which he wrote he has expressed in one noble stanza of the • Castle of Indolence':
I care not, Fortune, what you me deny ;
Of fancy, reason, virtue, nought can me bereave. "The love of nature,' says Coleridge, seems to have led Thomson to a cheerful religion; and a gloomy religion to have led Cowper to a love of nature. The one would carry his fellow-men along with him into nature; the other flies to nature from bis fellow-men. In chaslity of diction, however, and the barmony of blank verse, Cowper leaves Thomson immeasurably below lim; yet, I still feel the latter 10 bave been the born poet.' The ardour and fulness of Thomson's descriptions distinguish them from those of Cowper, who was naturally less enthusiastic, and who was restricted by his religious tenets, and by his critical and classically formed taste. The diction of the 'Seasons' is at times pure and musical ; it is too elevated and ambitious, however, for ordinary themes, and where the poet descends to minute description, or to humorous or satirical scenes—as in the account of the chase and the fox-bunters' dinner in ‘Autumn' -the effect is grotesque and absurd. Campbell has happily said, that ' as long as Thomson dwells in the pure contemplation of nature, and appeals to the universal poetry of the human breast, bis redundant style comes to us as something venial and adventitious—it is the flowing vesture of the Druid; and perhaps, to the general experience, is rather imposing; but when he returns to the familiar narrations or courtesies of life, the same diction ceases to seem the mantle of inspiration, and only strikes us by its unwieldy difference from the common custom of expression.' Cowper avoided this want of keeping between his style and his subjects, adapting one to the other with inimitable ease, grace, and variety; yet only rising in one or two instances to the higher flights of Thomson.
In 1843, a 'Poem to the Memory of Mr. Congreve, inscribed to her