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Countess of Hertford, who consequently invited Thomson to her country seat. She found him, however, not only more “fat than bard beseems,” but fonder of carousing with her lord than assisting the elegant studies of her ladyship, and he was never again asked. “Autumn" did not appear till 1730, when his poems were collected.
[In 1729, the drama of “Sophonisba” was acted with tolerable success. It is heavy as a whole; but contains much that is striking, and more that is sonorous. It is chiefly now remembered for a line it no longer contains
“O Sophonisba ! Sophonisba O!"7 and the famous parody thereupon,
“O Jemmy Thomson ! Jemmy Thomson O!” which made a town, where as yet Punch was not, merry for a whole season.
In 1730 appeared the complete edition of the “Seasons," rounded off with that glorious Hymn which seems the essence of their beauty collected in a cloud of fragrance, and, by the breath of devotion, directed upwards to heaven. The same year, through the influence of Dr Rundle, Thomson was chosen to accompany the eldest son of the future Lord Chancellor Talbot on his travels, and spent accordingly nearly two years upon the Continent. This seems to have been one of the happiest portions of Thomson's life. He saw most of the scenes, pictures, statues, &c., usually seen by travellers in France and Italy, and seems to have surveyed them with a certain languid admiration characteristic of his temperament. The same objects which infused sublime awe into the soul of Milton, and which stirred Byron into passionate rapture, threw Thomson into a state of dreamy delight, in which, unliko brady Macbeth, his eyes were half shut, but their sense was open. He was not one of those travellers who go from Dan to Beersheba and find all barren ; nor one of those who are perpetually “exclaiming,” and ready to explode with the violent reality, or still more violent affectation, of their feelings. He took things calmly; and the Rhine, and the Alps, and St Peter's, and the two Gladiators, were allowed quietly to daguerreotype themselves upon his brain till the proper time for using them artistically should arrive.
He returned to England in the end of 1731. During his travels he had meditated a great poem on “Liberty," and when he reached home he sat down laboriously to indite it. During its progress, his pupil, Mr Talbot, died, and Thomson mourned over him very sincerely and eloquently in his poem
-the first part of which appeared in December 1734, the second and third paxts in the following year, and the fourth and fifth in 1736. It made very little impression upon the public, and has never become more popular than it was at first. About this time, Thomson's only brother, John, came to London to act as his amanuensis, but was seized with consumption, returned to Scotland, and died.
In the same year that “Liberty " appeared, the Poet, through Lord Talbot, was appointed Secretary of Briefs to the Court of Chancery. This situation he retained till 1737, and during its continuance he was quite independent, rather indolent, but very kind to his two sisters in Edinburgh, Jean and Elizabeth, to whom he advanced money to set them up in a little milliner's shop. In 1737. the Lord Chancellor died; and Thomson wrote a fine poem to his memory. He had many reasons to lament him. In him he lost his best friend, and his easy situation. He was cast once more upon the precarious waters of literature. Soon after his patron's death, he was arrested for debt, and saved only through the generosity of Quin, the actor, from a spunging-house; and in 1738 his tragedy of “Agamemnon," produced after many vexatious delays, met with an unfavourable reception, to the great annoyance of the author, who sat perspiring with anxiety and chagrin during the representation. In 1739 another tragedy from his pen, entitled “Edward and Eleonora,” was offered to the stage, but was rejected owing to the political allusions in which it abounded. One of the Ministerial writers, referring to it, said, with some humour, that Thomson had taken “a 'Liberty' which was not agreeable to · Britannia' in any Season.''
In 1740, he prefaced a new edition of Milton's " Areopagitica." From that period his pen continued idle till 1745, with the exception of the Masque of “ Alfred,” which was written in 1740 at the command of the Prince of Wales, and performed at Clifden, to a select audience, with great applause. The famous song, “ Rule Britannia," was a portion of this Masque; although some have claimed it as Mallet's production, who was conjoined with Thomson in getting up the whole.
Through Prince Frederick (who gave him a pension of £100 per annum till his own death) he became intimate with Lord Lyttelton, and this amiable nobleman remained his steadfast patron and friend to the last. About the year 1744 he took up house in Kew Lane, Richmond, and formed an acquaintance with the Amanda of the “ Seasons,” a Miss Young, of Richmond, of whom he was deeply enamoured. Nothing, however, resulted from the intimacy. She was afterwards married to Admiral Campbell.
In 1744 Lord Lyttelton procured him the post of SurveyorGeneral of the Leeward Islands, the profits of which were £300 a-year. It was a sinecure, and he enjoyed it till his death. In 1745, “Tancred and Sigismunda” was enacted with considerable applause. Part of 1745 and 1746 was spent at Hagley Park with Lord Lyttelton. In 1747 he visited the Leasowes, and became acquainted with Shenstone. In 1748 his “Castle of Indolence,” which had been long on the stocks, appeared, and met with a very warm reception. His tragedy of “Coriolanus,” too, was nearly ready, but certain circumstances prevented its appearance till after its author's death.
That was very sudden. In a journey from London to Kew, he had, after heating himself with walking, imprudently taken a boat to convey him to his home; the evening air of the river chilled him, and next morning he found himself in a high fever. In a few days he rallied, but the exposure of himself one night to the dews brought on a relapse, and on the 27th August 1748 he breathed his last. It is consoling to hope, from Lord Lyttelton's Correspondence, that, whatever had been
ted the Lens Castle of la met with
his personal errors or sceptical moods of soul, he died a Christian-saying in effect, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” He was buried in Richmond churchyard, and in 1762 a monument was erected to him in Westminster Abbey.
No one was ever more cordially beloved. He seems to have been a being totally destitute of malice or guile, firm in his attachments, generous to his friends and foes alike; and his very indolence and sensuality were pardoned because they were his.
A certain careless greatness is the principal element of his genius. He was, as Coleridge truly said, “ rather a great than a good poet.” Except in passages of the “Castle of Indolence," there is little finish or true polish about his poetry. He did, indeed, labour much at the file, but it was seldom under the presence of a high ideal of Art; and his alterations, like those of John Foster, were often anything but improvements. His great power lay in his deep, glowing, childlike enthusiasm for nature, and in the fulness with which he retained this on to mature manhood; so that, while in understanding he was thirty, in freshness of feeling he was only thirteen. He excelled more in the wide landscape view, than in the cabinet picture or the miniature. He was better at describing the Torrid Zone than a lady bathing-coping with the aggregate terrors of Winter than telling a tale of individual woe. He is more a sublime and sensuous, than he is a refined, spiritualized, or beautiful poet. He resembles rather Byron in all but his elasticity, and the fierce and savage nature that burned in him, than such poets as Shelley, who seem half abstracted from earth, and to converse more with its hovering shadows than with its solid substance.
The “ Seasons" was his favourite, and is probably his best work. It contains, indeed, some sounding nonsense, and a great deal of description that misses its mark, and strays aimless and hookless as the dishevelled down of the thistle. But, on the other hand, what broad, large pictures constantly occur, blended with occasional touches so felicitous and exquisitely true to nature ! His knowledge of the theme so extensive and unaffectedly accurate-his love for it so enthusiastic and so catholic! Wherever a sun shines, or a green field expands, or a mountain checks, to glorify the landscape, there Thomson is at home ; and Nova Zembla and Cathay, California and Japan, are alike to his all-embracing genius.
“The Castle of Indolence," more thoroughly complete, more delicately finished, and aspiring to a certain plot and story, displays more of the artist, with very little less of the poet, than the “ Seasons.” It is, certainly, the sweetest piece of poetic seduction in the world. No hymn to Sleep ever was so soft-no“ dream within a dream," of rest beyond the dreaming land, was ever so subtle.
“ Britannia,” “To the Memory of Lord Talbot," and "To the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton,” are three strains of kindred although various merit. All have much volubility of language, sustained pomp, and occasional beauties. The third alone we think entirely worthy of Thomson. It ranks along with the second sermon of Dr Chalmers's Astronomical Discourses, as one of the most glowing panegyrics passed upon that great man, who reminds us always, in his simplicity and his achievements, of the first rude shape of the telescope—at once so plain, and yet shewing and prophesying so much. The greatest sentence in this poem is
" Have ye not listen'd while he bound the Suns
And Planets to their spheres ?” Yet it yields to a line in the “Seasons," where he calls Science
“ Mother severe of infinite delights.” “ Liberty" exhibits Thomson in a false position. He was not the man to sing of that
.“ Lord of the lion heart and eagle eye.” He was too lazy and too luxurious. We see him sweating at the work, in a hot summer day, with his coat off, and occasionally napping in the course of his lucubrations. And yet, clumsy and tedious as portions of this poem are, it has noble passages, and its paintings of historical events are