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JAMES THOMSON.

1700-1748.

“ Thou canst not learn, nor can I show,

Delighted me to hear thee sing, To paint with Thomson's landscape glow,"

What comes o' thee?

Whare wilt thou cow'r thy chittering wing, is the verdict upon himself which Burns

And close thy ee?" puts into the mouth of his poetical genius Yet Burns is not the poet of inaniCoila ; and in a sense it is not more candid than true. Burns could even

mate nature as Thomson is; neither rise above Thomson in associating the

is Wordsworth, nor any other poet.

Others may woo her occasionally, like tumult of human passion with the “roar

ardent but inconstant lovers ; but he is of the elements," as in “Tam o' Shan

her devoted worshipper, who loves to ter;" or in describing the wondrous

trace her every feature, and study her sympathy that the face of nature, in

every mood, not at second-hand, but her "tragic moods,” awakens in the sus

face to face. ceptible breast of the poet :

Thomson's father, the Rev. Thomas I saw thee seek the sounding shore,

Thomson, was minister of the parish of
Delighted with the dashing roar ;
Or when the North his fleecy store

Ednam, in Roxburghshire; and the
Drove through the sky,

poet, the eldest of a family of nine, I saw grim Nature's visage hoar was born there on the nith September

Struck thy young eye." 1700. His mother, Beatrix Trotter, was Also in defining that gentler joy of the daughter of Mr Trotter of Fogo, in the soul, responsive to the genial throb- the same shire. In November 1700, bings of Spring :

his father was appointed to the parish Or when the deep green-mantled earth

of Southdean, near Jedburgh, where he Warm cherished every flow'ret's birth, remained till his death, And joy and music pouring forth

Thomson would appear to have been In every grove ;

educated at home till he was twelve, at I saw thee eye the general mirth

which age he was sent to the grammarWith boundless love."

school at Jedburgh. An anecdote is These are strains as catholic in their told of his boyhood, which indicates that treatment, and as pure and elevated in he was not an expert scholar. Being style, as anything of Thomson's Nor overheard by the teacher to “Confound does he lose in power when, with a the tower of Babel !” he was asked slight admixture of his native Doric, what he meant; when he replied, that he pours forth his compassion for the

“ but for it there would be no lanvictims of the storm :-“Ilk happing bird, wee helpless thing! Though perhaps a backward linThat in the merry months o' Spring guist, like Scott, he was a precocious

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guages to learn!”

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poet ; and his juvenile effusions attrac- Leith for London, bidding adieu to his ted the notice of several gentlemen of mother, whom he never saw again. On the neighbourhood, of whom the Rev. his arrival in the metropolis, he sought Mr Riccaltoun, of the neighbouring his friend Mallet, but on his way

his parish of Hobkirk, a man of literary pocket was emptied of his letters of tastes, undertook to assist him in his introduction. By the assistance of his studies. He was also a favourite with poetical countrywoman, Lady Grizell Sir William Bennet of Grubbat, the Baillie, he obtained the situation of tutor friend of Ramsay, at whose house at in the family of Lord Binning, near Chesters he used to spend his school East Barnet, but he did not remain in vacations. His first known poem, it over a few months ; yet here he apwritten at the age of fifteen, is an epistle pears to have commenced “Winter," to Sir William.

the first written of his Seasons. He In 1715, Thomson was sent to Edin- soon returned to London ; and with the burgh University to study for the advice and assistance of Mallet, whose Church, but he manifested great reluc- talents in matters of practical detail tance to sever his connection with the were as conspicuous as his friend's country. On the death of his father, in were the reverse, he had the detached 1718, his mother removed with her fragments in which it was composed family to Edinburgh, where, by mort- arranged in proper sequence. gaging the small property of Windhope, Thomson was at this time living at of which she was co-heiress, she was the house of Millan, bookseller, Charing enabled to keep the poet at the Uni-Cross, and completed the poem in the versity till the end of his course. Among room above the shop ; but failing to other college friends, he made the ac- find a purchaser, Millan was persuaded quaintance of David Mallet, the author of to venture the sum of three guineas for “William and Margaret,” and the two the copyright. It made its appearance poets became fast friends. Their first pub- in 1726, inscribed to Sir Spencer lished poems, which appeared together, Compton, speaker of the House of Comin 1720, in The Edinburgh Miscellany, mons, but for what reason does not conducted by the “ Athenian Society appear ; for the poet and his patron knew club of wits, obtained such a reception nothing of one another. Its first refrom the critics as not to encourage their ception could not be less propitious, continuing long to cultivate the home and the venturesome bookseller was like field. Mallet, who received the to make a loss by his investment, when appointment of tutor in the Duke of the Rev. Mr Whately, afterwards preMontrose's family, removed to London ; bendary of York, happening accidenand Thomson, feeling the incompati. tally to look into it, discovered its bility of his disposition for the clerical genius, and spread the news of the profession, resolved to quit his country advent of a new poet. Its success is and it at the same time.

also attributed to other causes; and it is In March 1725, he embarked at quite probable its merits struck several

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minds about the same time. It brought made its appearance ; and in 1729-30, its author into contact with the literary his Sophonisba, a tragedy, dedicated to men of the day, and a second edition the Queen, was played at Drury Lane was wanted before the end of the year.

theatre. Its success was not commenOne of his literary friends having surate with the expectations of his directed the attention of his patron to friends; and it has now sunk into the poet's merits, that gentleman ex- oblivion. pressed a desire to see him, when an In 1730, the addition of “Autumn," interview took place. At parting, Sir with the closing Hymn, completed the Spencer made Thomson a present of Seasons, which were now brought out twenty guineas. The first look of such by subscription in a handsome quarto a style of patronage appears somewhat volume; and the number and rank of degrading, at least in the eyes of present

his subscribers indicated the increase of day literary men ; but this is an unfair his popularity. standpoint from which to regard it; and He was introduced by Dr Rundle, if neither the poet nor his patron felt any afterwards Bishop of Derry, to Sir incompatibility with the ideas that then Charles Talbot, who invited him to prevailed about such matters, we may accompany his eldest son on a tour on pass it over, hoping that nothing worse

the Continent. This was an engagement has crept into the usages of later times. much to Thomson's taste, and he readily

While the second edition of "Winter" accepted it. His observation of Conwas being printed, Thomson accepted tinental life and politics during the year the situation of tutor to a young gen

to which their tour extended, confirmed tleman at Mr Watt's Academy, in Little him in his preference for the social and Tower Street ; but the success of his political habits and usages of his native poem brought him into influential land ; and his poem of “ Liberty," which society, and he resigned his tutorship embodies his opinions upon political in a short time.

freedom, was the outcome of his obserIn 1727, “Summer was published, vations and their effects on his mind dedicated to Mr Doddington, afterwards during his travels. His winter on the Lord Melcombe ; also a poem on the Continent was spent in Rome ; but imdeath of Sir Isaac Newton, dedicated mediately on his return to England, beto Sir Robert Walpole.

fore the end of 1731, he commenced the “Spring,” which appeared in 1728, writing of “Liberty.” with a dedication to the Countess of While he was engaged upon this poem, Hertford, sold for fifty guineas ; and the his friend Mr Talbot, who was equally poet was invited to spend the summer enthusiastic on the subject of liberty, at Marlborough Castle, the seat of the died; and shortly afterwards his father Earl of Hertford. He now resolved to was raised to the woolsack. One of the complete the Seasons, and issued pro- earliest exercises of his patronage was to posals for publislung them by subscrip- confer upon Thomson the Secretaryship tion. In the meantime, Britannia of Briefs in the Court of Chancery.

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The first part of “Liberty,” which his Clerkship of Chancery was given to took him two years to write, appeared another, on account of his not apply. in 1734, dedicated to the memory of his ing for a renewal of the appointment. young friend Talbot, with a prose dedi- About this time he was confined for a cation to the Prince of Wales; but its debt of seventy pounds, when Mr Quin last part was not issued till 1736. the actor called upon him, and said he

Its reception by the public dis owed the poet a debt of a hundred appointed the poet's expectations ; for pounds. Thomson, not knowing for he considered it his best poem, and what it could be, was told by the actor attributed its non-success to mistaken that that was the lowest estimate he public opinion. Dr Johnson, who never could place upon the pleasure he derived read it, remarks, that “an enumeration from reading his poems; and laying of examples to prove a position which down the money on the table, he left the nobody denied, as it was at the beginning room. Soon after this, the Prince of superfluous, must quickly grow disgust- Wales settled a pension of £100 a-year ing.” According to this dictum, every- upon him. thing that is not a matter of dispute Thomson's

work

his must quickly grow disgusting ; yet it is “Agamemnon,” produced in Drury Lane obvious that in a country where every in April 1738, and dedicated to the one is in the full enjoyment of liberty, Prince of Wales, who went with the the subject must create less enthusiasm Princess to see it acted. Pope also than where it is an aspiration still to be attended its representation, and assisted realized. The treatment of the subject Thomson in removing some of its deis also too severely classical, uniform, fects. Notwithstanding his influential and heavy, for popular appreciation. To patronage, and the excellence of Quin's have made a didactic poem popular, acting, the piece never became popular. required a skill of which Thomson was His next play, “Edward and Eleanora," not possessed.

written in the interest of the Prince of In 1736, he went to live in Richmond, Wales, was prohibited on account of the and occupied a cottage in Kew Lane, prince's political antagonism to the which has since been associated with ministry. In 1740, he composed the his name, and with the Seasons, three masque of “Alfred” jointly with successive editions of which he here Mallet, and in it appeared his famous revised and enlarged.

song,

" Rule Britannia." Mallet's In his prosperity he did not forget his friends claim the authorship for him, family in Edinburgh ; for, besides taking though not on very convincing grounds. his only brother to live with him at When, in 1751, Mallet largely rewrote Richmond, he assisted his sisters in set. the masque of “ Alfred,” he substituted ting up a millinery business. But he three stanzas, by Lord Bolingbroke, was of too indolent a disposition to be for three of the original ; but these have careful of his own interests; and on the been justly discarded by the public as death of the Lord Chancellor Talbot, out of harmony with the broad catholic spirit of the original, which is much although he was not unsocial in his more characteristic of Thomson's style habits, and anything but narrow or than of Mallet's.

bigoted in his religious and moral Thomson's political friend, Mr sentiments, yet serious subjects best Lyttleton, having come into power in harmonized with the tone of his mind; 1744, conferred upon him the appoint- and he seemed to have a lofty and conment of Surveyor-General of the Lee- scientious conception of the function ward Isles; from which office, after and responsibilities of the poet's mission. paying a deputy, he derived £300 a. He had all the undemonstrative shyyear. In 1745, his most successful

ness and depth of natural feeling of his tragedy, “Tancred and Sigismunda,” | countrymen, with more of the cosmowas produced. Garrick played the lead-politan in his composition than is genering character, and Pitt and Lyttleton ally placed to their credit. One of the attended the rehearsal.

most striking characteristics of the The “Castle of Indolence,” his second Seasons—which forms part of their best poem, was published in 1748, and elevated tone—is the catholicity of the his pension from the Prince of Wales treatment, both as to the sentiment and was discontinued; but as he died in the the points of observation; they have no autumn of this year, the loss did not nationality, and no local colouring-a much saffect his circumstances. The want which in some respects gives them cause of his death was fever, brought on an aspect of indefiniteness, and which, if by having taken a boat in the chill air

a gain in breadth, is a loss in intensity. of the Thames, after being overheated Numerous editions of his poems, eswith walking. He was attended by his pecially of the Seasons, have been fellow-poet and countryman, Dr Arm- published. strong, author of The Art of Preserving Ilealth, but his constitution was not

SPRING. sufficiently robust to throw off the

Specimens. ] disease.

Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness, Besides the works published under his own supervision, the tragedy of | And from the bosom of yon dropping cloud, “Coriolanus" was published the year While music wakes around, veiled in a after his death.

shower Thomson was of an easy, indolent, and of shadowing roses, on our plains descend! retiring disposition, not unlike Gold- O Hertford I fitted, or to'shine in courts smith in some aspects of his character; With unaffected grace, or walk the plain

With innocence and meditation joined but wanting that simplicity, comic vanity, and utter forgetfulness of self

, which thy own Season paints, when na

In soft assemblage, listen to my song ; which, with his sprightly vivacity, formed

ture all such delightful features of Goldsmith's

Is blooming and benevolent, like thee. nature. Thomson's genius was grave And see where surly Winter passes off, and slow, but deep and devout; and Far to the north, and calls his ruffian blasts:

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come,

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