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The first part of "Liberty," which took him two years to write, appeared in 1734, dedicated to the memory of his young friend Talbot, with a prose dedication to the Prince of Wales; but its last part was not issued till 1736.
Its reception by the public disappointed the poet's expectations; for he considered it his best poem, and attributed its non-success to mistaken public opinion. Dr Johnson, who never read it, remarks, that "an enumeration of examples to prove a position which nobody denied, as it was at the beginning superfluous, must quickly grow disgusting." According to this dictum, everything that is not a matter of dispute must quickly grow disgusting; yet it is obvious that in a country where every one is in the full enjoyment of liberty, the subject must create less enthusiasm than where it is an aspiration still to be realized. The treatment of the subject | is also too severely classical, uniform, and heavy, for popular appreciation. To have made a didactic poem popular, required a skill of which Thomson was not possessed.
In 1736, he went to live in Richmond, and occupied a cottage in Kew Lane, which has since been associated with his name, and with the Seasons, three successive editions of which he here revised and enlarged.
In his prosperity he did not forget his family in Edinburgh; for, besides taking his only brother to live with him at Richmond, he assisted his sisters in setting up a millinery business. But he was of too indolent a disposition to be careful of his own interests; and on the death of the Lord Chancellor Talbot,
his Clerkship of Chancery was given to another, on account of his not apply. ing for a renewal of the appointment. About this time he was confined for a debt of seventy pounds, when Mr Quin the actor called upon him, and said he owed the poet a debt of a hundred pounds. Thomson, not knowing for what it could be, was told by the actor that that was the lowest estimate he could place upon the pleasure he derived from reading his poems; and laying down the money on the table, he left the room. Soon after this, the Prince of Wales settled a pension of £100 a-year upon him.
Thomson's next work was his "Agamemnon," produced in Drury Lane in April 1738, and dedicated to the Prince of Wales, who went with the Princess to see it acted. Pope also attended its representation, and assisted Thomson in removing some of its defects. Notwithstanding his influential patronage, and the excellence of Quin's acting, the piece never became popular. His next play, "Edward and Eleanora," written in the interest of the Prince of Wales, was prohibited on account of the prince's political antagonism to the ministry. In 1740, he composed the masque of "Alfred" jointly with Mallet, and in it appeared his famous song, "Rule Britannia." Mallet's friends claim the authorship for him, though not on very convincing grounds. When, in 1751, Mallet largely rewrote the masque of "Alfred," he substituted three stanzas, by Lord Bolingbroke, for three of the original; but these have been justly discarded by the public as out of harmony with the broad catholic
spirit of the original, which is much more characteristic of Thomson's style than of Mallet's.
although he was not unsocial in his habits, and anything but narrow or 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.
The "Castle of Indolence," his second best poem, was published in 1748, and his pension from the Prince of Wales was discontinued; but as he died in the autumn of this year, the loss did not much faffect his circumstances. The cause of his death was fever, brought on by having taken a boat in the chill air of the Thames, after being overheated with walking. He was attended by his fellow-poet and countryman, Dr Armstrong, author of The Art of Preserving Health, but his constitution was not sufficiently robust to throw off the disease.
Besides the works published under his own supervision, the tragedy of "Coriolanus" was published the year after his death.
Thomson was of an easy, indolent, and retiring disposition, not unlike Goldsmith in some aspects of his character; but wanting that simplicity, comic vanity, and utter forgetfulness of self, which, with his sprightly vivacity, formed such delightful features of Goldsmith's nature. Thomson's genius was grave and slow, but deep and devout; and
most striking characteristics of the Seasons-which forms part of their elevated tone-is the catholicity of the treatment, both as to the sentiment and the points of observation; they have no nationality, and no local colouring-a want which in some respects gives them an aspect of indefiniteness, and which, if a gain in breadth, is a loss in intensity. Numerous editions of his poems, especially of the Seasons, have been published.
COME, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness,
And from the bosom of yon dropping cloud,
Of shadowing roses, on our plains descend!
O Hertford ! fitted, or to shine in courts
Is blooming and benevolent, like thee.
And see where surly Winter passes off, Far to the north, and calls his ruffian blasts:
His blasts obey, and quit the howling hill, The shattered forest, and the ravaged vale; While softer gales succeed, at whose kind touch
Dissolving snows in livid torrents lost, The mountains lift their green heads to the sky.
As yet the trembling year is unconfirmed;
And Winter oft at eve resumes the breeze, Chills the pale morn, and bids his driving sleets
Deform the day delightless; so that scarce The bittern knows his time, with bill ingulfed,
To shake the sounding marsh; or from the shore
Meanwhile, incumbent o'er the shining share
The master leans, removes th' obstructing clay,
Winds the whole work, and sidelong lays the glebe.
While through the neighbouring field the sower stalks
With measured step, and liberal throws the grain
Into the faithful bosom of the ground: The harrow follows harsh, and shuts the
Be gracious, Heaven! for now laborious
Has done his part. Ye fostering breezes,
The plovers when to scatter o'er the heath, Ye softening dews, ye tender showers, deAnd sing their wild notes to the listening
And temper all, thou world-reviving sun,
At last from Aries rolls the bounteous Into the perfect year! Nor ye who live
And the bright Bull receives him. Then
In luxury and ease, in pomp and pride, Think these lost themes, unworthy of your
Th' expansive atmosphere is cramp'd Such themes as these the rural Maro sung
But, full of life, and vivifying soul,
Lifts the light clouds sublime, and spreads them thin,
Fleecy and white, o'er all surrounding heaven.
Forth fly the tepid airs; and unconfined,
Unbinding earth, the moving softness
Joyous, the impatient husbandman perceives
Relenting nature, and his lusty steers Drives from their stalls, to where the wellused plough
Lies, in the furrow, loosened from the frost. There, unrefusing, to the harnessed yoke They lend their shoulder, and begin their toil,
Cheered by the simple song and soaring lark.
To wide-imperial Rome, in the full height Of elegance and taste, by Greece refined.
Now when the first foul torrent of the brooks,
Swelled with the vernal rains, is ebbed away;
And whitening, down their mossy-tinctur'd stream,
Descends the billowy foam; now is the
While yet the dark-brown water aids the guile,
To tempt the trout. The well-dissembled fly,
The rod fine-tapering with elastic spring, Snatched from the hoary steed the floating line,
And all thy slender watery stores prepare.
A worthless prey scarce bends your pliant rod,
Him piteous of his youth and the short space
But let not on thy hook the tortured worm,
And light o'er ether bear the shadowy And oft attempts to seize it; but as oft
High to their front, this day, amid the hills
The dimpled water speaks his jealous fear.
The next, pursue their rocky-channelled With sullen plunge. At once he darts
Down to the river, in whose ample wave
Deep struck, and runs out all the lengthened line;
Then seeks the furthest ooze, the sheltering weed,
Is mixed the trembling stream, or where The caverned bank, his old secure abode;
That feels him still, yet to his furious course
Across the stream, exhaust his idle rage;
And to his fate abandoned, to the shore
NATURE AND NATURE'S GOD. BEHOLD, yon breathing prospect bids the Muse
With various hand proportioned to their Throw all her beauty forth. But who can
If yet too young, and easily deceived,
Like Nature? Can imagination boast,
Amid its gay creation, hues like hers? Or can it mix them with that matchless skill,
And lose them in each other, as appears, In every bud that blows? If fancy then Unequal fails beneath the pleasing task, Ah, what shall language do? ah, where find words
Of blossomed beans. Arabia cannot boast A fuller gale of joy than, liberal, thence Breathes through the sense, and takes the ravished soul.
Nor is the mead unworthy of thy foot; Full of fresh verdure, and unnumber'd flowers,
The negligence of Nature, wide and wild, Tinged with so many colours, and whose Where, undisguised by mimic art, she
To life approaching, may perfume my lays With that fine oil, those aromatic gales That inexhaustive flow continual round? Yet, though successless, will the toil delight.
Unbounded beauty to the roving eye. Here their delicious task the fervent bees, In swarming millions, tend: around, athwart,
Through the soft air, the busy nations fly,
Come then, ye virgins and ye youths, Cling to the bud, and, with inserted tube,
Fresh blooming flowers, to grace thy Now meets the bending sky; the river now
See, where the winding vale its lavish Th' ethereal mountain, and the distant
Irriguous spreads. See, how the lily drinks The latent rill, scarce oozing through the grass,
Of growth luxuriant; or the humid bank, In fair profusion, decks. Long let us walk Where the breeze blows from yon extended field
But why so far excursive? when at hand, Along these blushing borders, bright with dew,
And in yon mingled wilderness of flowers, Fair-handed Spring unbosoms every grace, Throws out the snowdrop and the crocus first,