« PreviousContinue »
Hard exercise and harder fare
Such is the poet fresh in pay (The third night's profits of his play); His morning-draughts till noon can swill, Among his brethren of the quill; With good roast beef his belly full, Grown lazy, foggy, fat, and dull, Deep sunk in plenty and delight, What poet e'er could take his flight? Or, stuff'd with phlegm up to the throat, What poet e'er could sing a note ? Nor Pegasus could bear the load Along the high celestial road;
The steed, oppress'd, would break his girth,
JAMES THOMSON, a distinguished British poet, stage of Drury-lane, his tragedy of " Sophonisba." born at Ednam, near Kelso, in Scotland, in 1700, It was succeeded by "Agamemnon;" "Edward was one of the nine children of the Rev. Mr. and Eleonora ;" and "Tancred and Sigismunda :” Thomson, minister of that place. James was sent but although these pieces were not without their to the school of Jedburgh, where he attracted the merits, the moral strain was too prevalent for the notice of a neighboring minister by his propensity public taste, and they have long ceased to occupy to poetry, who encouraged his early attempts, and the theatre. Through the recommendation of Dr. corrected his performances. On his removal from Rundle, he was, about 1729, selected as the travschool, he was sent to the university of Edinburgh, elling associate of the Hon. Mr. Talbot, eldest son where he chiefly attended to the cultivation of of the Chancellor, with whom he visited most of his poetical faculty; but the death of his father, the courts of the European continent. During this during his second session, having brought his mother tour, the idea of a poem on "Liberty" suggested to Edinburgh for the purpose of educating her itself, and after his return, he employed two years children, James complied with the advice of his in its completion. The place of secretary of the friends, and entered upon a course of divinity. briefs, which was nearly a sinecure, repaid him for Here, we are told, that the explanation of a psalm his attendance on Mr. Talbot. 'Liberty" at length having been required from him as a probationary appeared, and was dedicated to Frederic, Prince of exercise, he performed it in language so splendid, Wales, who, in opposition to the court, affected the that he was reproved by his professor for employing patronage of letters, as well as of liberal sentiments a diction which it was not likely that any one of his in politics. He granted Thomson a pension, to future audience could comprehend. This admo- remunerate him for the loss of his place by the nition completed the disgust which he felt for the death of Lord-Chancellor Talbot. In 1746, approfession chosen for him; and having connected peared his poem, called "The Castle of Indolence," himself with some young men in the university who which had been several years under his polishing were aspirants after literary eminence, he readily hand, and by many is considered as his principal listened to the advice of a lady, the friend of his performance. He was now in tolerably affluent mother, and determined to try his fortune in the circumstances, a place of Surveyor-general of the great metropolis, London. Leeward Islands, given him by Mr. Lyttleton,
In 1725 Thomson came by sea to the capital, bringing him in, after paying a deputy, about 3001. where he soon found out his college acquaintance, a year. He did not, however, long enjoy this state Mallet, to whom he showed his poem of "Winter," of comfort; for returning one evening from London then composed in detached passages of the descrip- to Kew-lane, he was attacked by a fever, which tive kind. Mallet advised him to form them into a proved fatal in August 1748, the 48th year of his connected piece, and immediately to print it. It age. He was interred without any memorial in was purchased for a small sum, and appeared in Richmond church; but a monument was erected to 1726, dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton. Its his memory, in Westminster Abbey, in 1762, with merits, however, were little understood by the pub-the profits arising from an edition of his works public; till Mr. Whateley, a person of acknowledged lished by Mr. Millar.
taste, happening to cast an eye upon it, was struck Thomson in person was large and ungainly, with with its beauties, and gave it vogue. His dedicatee, a heavy, unanimated countenance, and having who had hitherto neglected him, made him a present nothing in his appearance in mixed society indiof twenty guineas, and he was introduced to Pope, cating the man of genius or refinement. He was, Bishop Rundle, and Lord-Chancellor Talbot. In however, easy and cheerful with select friends, by 1727, he published another of his seasons, "Sum-whom he was singularly beloved for the kindness mer," dedicated to Mr. Doddington, for it was still of his heart, and his freedom from all the malignant the custom for poets to pay this tribute to men in passions, which too often debase the literary charpower. In the same year he gave to the public his acter. His temper was much inclined to indolence, "Poem, sacred to the memory of Sir Isaac Newton," and he was fond of indulgence of every kind; in and his "Britannia." His "Spring," was published particular he was more attached to the pleasures of in 1728, addressed to the Countess of Hertford; sense, than the sentimental delicacy of his writings and the Seasons were completed by the addition of would induce a reader to suppose. For the moral "Autumn," dedicated to Mr. Onslow, in 1730, tendency of his works, no author has deserved more when they were published collectively. praise; and no one can rise from the perusal of his pages, without being sensible of a melioration of his principles or feelings.
As nothing was more tempting to the cupidity of an author than dramatic composition, Thomson resolved to become a competitor for that laurel also, and in 1728, he had the influence to bring upon the
The poetical merits of Thomson, undoubtedly stand most conspicuous in his Seasons, the first long
composition, perhaps, of which natural description tion to his fame has principally arisen from his was made the staple, and certainly the most fertile Castle of Indolence," an allegorical composition of grand and beautiful delineations, in great mea- in the manner and stanza of Spenser; and among the sure deduced from the author's own observation. imitators of this poet, Thomson may deserve the Its diction is somewhat cumbrous and labored, but preference, on account of the application of his fable, energetic and expressive. Its versification does not and the moral and descriptive beauties by which it denote a practised ear, but is seldom unpleasantly is filled up. This piece is entirely free from the harsh. Upon the whole, no poem has been more, stiffness of language perceptible in the author's and more deservedly, popular; and it has exerted blank verse, which is also the case with many of a powerful influence upon public taste, not only in his songs, and other rhymed poems. this country, but throughout Europe. Any addi
Et nunc omnis ager, nunc omnis parturit arbos,
COME, gentle Spring, ethereal Mildness, come,
O Hertford, fitted or to shine in courts
Th' expansive atmosphere is cramp'd with cold;
Lifts the light clouds sublime, and spreads them
And see where surly Winter passes off,
As yet the trembling year is unconfirm'd,
Fleecy and white, o'er all-surrounding heaven.
The subject proposed. Inscribed to the Countess
The master leans, removes th' obstructing clay,
Lies in the furrow, loosen'd from the frost.
With measur'd step; and liberal throws the grain
Be gracious, Heaven! for now laborious man
Ye generous Britons, venerate the plow;
O'er every land, the naked nations clothe, And be th' exhaustless granary of a world!
Nor only through the lenient air this change, Delicious, breathes; the penetrative Sun, His force deep-darting to the dark retreat Of vegetation, sets the steaming power At large, to wander o'er the vernant Earth, In various hues; but chiefly thee, gay Green! Thou smiling Nature's universal robe! United light and shade! where the sight dwells With growing strength, and ever-new delight.
From the moist meadow to the wither'd hill, Led by the breeze, the vivid verdure runs, And swells, and deepens, to the cherish'd eye. The hawthorn whitens: and the juicy groves Put forth their buds, unfolding by degrees, Till the whole leafy forest stands display'd, In full luxuriance, to the sighing gales; Where the deer rustle through the twining brake, And the birds sing conceal'd. At once array'd In all the colors of the flushing year,
By Nature's swift and secret-working hand,
If, brush'd from Russian wilds, a cutting gale
Joyless and dead, a wide-dejected waste.
Within his iron cave, th' effusive south
Thus all day long the full-distended clouds
Be patient, swains; these cruel-seeming winds Blow not in vain. Far hence they keep repress'd Those deepening clouds on clouds, surcharg'd with rain,
That, o'er the vast Atlantic hither borne,
The north-east spends his rage; he now shut up
Full swell the woods; their very music wakes,