« PreviousContinue »
More we perceive by dint of thought alone;
we have a poetical subject poetically treated-filled The rich must labour to possess their own,
to overflowing with the richest materials of poetry, To feel their great abundance, and request
and the emanations of benevolence. In the Castle Their humble friends to help them to be blest; of Indolence we have the concentration or essence To see their treasure, hear their glory told,
of those materials applied to a subject less poetical, And aid the wretched impotence of gold.
but still affording room for luxuriant fancy, the But some, great souls ! and touched with warmth most exquisite art, and still greater melody of divine,
numbers. Give gold a price, and teach its beams to shine; JAMES THOMSON was born at Ednam, near Kelso, All hoarded treasures they repute a load,
county of Roxburgh, on the 11th of September, 1700. Nor think their wealth their own, till well bestowed. His father, who was then minister of the parish of Grand reservoirs of public happiness,
Ednam, removed a few years afterwards to that of Through secret streams diffusively they bless,
Southdean in the same county, a primitive and And, while their bounties glide, concealed from view, retired district situated among the lower slopes of Relieve our wants, and spare our blushes too. the Cheviots. Here the young poet spent his boyish
years. The gift of poesy came early, and some JAMES THOMSON.
lines written by him at the age of fourteen, show
how soon his manner was formed :The publication of the Seasons was an important era in the history of English poetry. So true and
Now I surveyed my native faculties, beautiful are the descriptions in the poem, and so
And traced my actions to their teeming source :
Now I explored the universal frame, entirely do they harmonise with those fresh feelings
Gazed nature through, and with interior light and glowing impulses which all would wish to cherish, that a love of nature seems to be synony
Conversed with angels and unbodied saints mous with a love of Thomson. It is difficult to con
That tread the courts of the Eternal King! ceive a person of education in this country, imbued
Gladly I would declare in lofty strains
In his eighteenth year, Thomson was sent to Edinburgh college. His father died, and the poet proceeded to London to push his fortune. His college friend Mallet procured him the situation of tutor 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, the 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 James Thomson.
than one, and Pope (to whom Thomson had been
introduced by Mallet) took three copies. The with an admiration of rural or woodland scenery, tragedy of Sophonisba was next produced ; and in not entertaining a strong affection and regard for 1731 the poet accompanied the son of Sir Charles that delightful poet, who has painted their charms Talbot, afterwards lord chancellor, in the capacity with so much fidelity and enthusiasm. The same of tutor or travelling companion, to the continent. features of blandness and benevolence, of simplicity They visited France, Switzerland, and Italy, and it of design and beauty of form and colour, which we is easy to conceive with what pleasure Thomson recognise as distinguishing traits of the natural must have passed or sojourned among scenes which landscape, are seen in the pages of Thomson, con- he had often viewed in imagination. In November veyed by his artless mind as faithfully as the of the same year the poet was at Rome, and no lights and shades on the face of creation. No criti: doubt indulged the wish expressed in one of his cism or change of style has, therefore, affected his letters, “to see the fields where Virgil gathered his popularity. We may smile at sometimes meeting immortal honey, and tread the same ground where with a heavy monotonous period, a false ornament, men have thought and acted so greatly. On his reor tumid expression, the result of an indolent mind turn next year he published his poem of Liberty, and working itself up to a great effort, and we may wish obtained the sinecure situation of Secretary of Briefs the subjects of his description were sometimes more in the Court of Chancery, which he held till the select and dignified; but this drawback does not death of Lord Talbot, the chancellor. The succeedaffect our permanent regard or general feeling; our first love remains unaltered ; and Thomson is still 1 This curious fragment was first published in 1841, in a life the poet with whom some of our best and purest of Thomson by Mr Allan Cunningham, prefixed to an illusassociations are indissolubly joined. In the Seasons trated edition of the Seasons.'
ing chancellor bestowed the situation on another, refinement of taste. The natural fervour of the Thomson- not having, it is said, from characteristic man overpowered the rules of the scholar. The indolence, solicited a continuance of the office. He first edition of the Seasons' differs materially from again tried the stage, and produced Agamemnon, the second, and the second still more from the third. which was coldly received. Edward and Eleonora Every alteration was an improvement in delicacy of followel, and the poet's circumstances were bright- thought and language, of which we may mention ened ty a pension of L.100 a-year, which he ob- one instance. In the scene betwixt Damon and tained through Lyttelton from the Prince of Wales. Musidora— the solemnly-ridiculous bathing,' as He further received the appointment of Surveyor Campbell has justly termed it—the poet had origiGeneral of the Leeward Islands, the duties of which nally introduced three damsels! Of propriety of he was allowed to perform by deputy, and which language consequent on these corrections, we may brought him L.300 per annum. He was now in cite an example in a line from the episode of Lacomparative opulence, and his residence at Kew-vinialane, near Richmond, was the scene of social enjoyment and lettered ease. Retirement and nature
And as he viewed her ardent o'er and o'er, became, he said, more and more his passion every stood originally day. “I have enlarged my rural domain,' he writes to a friend : 'the two fields next to me, from
And as he run her ardent o'er and o'er. the first of which I have walled—no, no-paled in,
One of the finest and most picturesque similes in about as much as my garden consisted of before, so the work was supplied by Pope, to whom Thomson that the walk runs round the hedge, where you had given an interleaved copy of the edition of 1736. may figure me walking any time of the day, and The quotation will not be out of place here, as it is sometimes at night.' His house appears to have honourable to the friendship of the brother poets,
and tends to show the importance of careful revision,
Thoughtless of beauty, she was Beauty's self,
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 Thomson's Cottage
the period of his composing the Seasons and the
Castle of Indolence,' says Mr Campbell, ‘he wrote been elegantly furnished: the sale catalogue of his several works which seem hardly to accord with the effects, which enumerates the contents of every improvement and maturity of his taste exhibited in room, prepared after his death, fills eight pages of the latter production. To the Castle of Indolence print, and his cellar was stocked with wines and he brought not only the full nature, but the perfect Scotch ale. In this snug suburban retreat Thomson art of a poet. The materials of that exquisite poem now applied himself to finish the Castle of Indo- are derived originally from Tasso ; but he was more lence, on which he had been long engaged, and a immediately indebted for them to the Faery Queen: tragedy on the subject of Coriolanus. The poem and in meeting with the paternal spirit of Spenser, was published in May 1748. In August following, he seems as if he were admitted more intimately he took a boat at Hammersmith to convey him to to the home of inspiration. If the critic had gone Kew, after having walked from London. He caught cold, was thrown into a fever, and, after a short ill
* The interleaved copy with Pope's and Thomson's alteraness, died (27th of August 1748). No poet was ever tions is in the possession of the Rev. J. Mitford. See that more deeply lamented or more sincerely mourned.
gentleman's edition of Gray's works, vol. ii. p. 8, where other Though born a poet, Thomson seems to have instances are given. Au Pope's corrections were adopted by advanced but slowly, and by reiterated efforts, to 1 Thomson.
over the alterations in the ‘Seasons,' which Thomson only strikes us by its unwieldy difference from the had been more or less engaged upon for about six- common costume of expression.' Cowper avoided teen years,
he would have seen the gradual improve this want of keeping between his style and his, subment of his taste, as well as imagination. So far as jects, adapting one to the other with inimitable ease, the art of the poet is concerned, the last corrected grace, and variety ; yet only rising in one or two edition is a new work. The power of Thomson, instances to the higher flights of Thomson. however, lay not in his art, but in the exuberance of In 1843, a Poem to the Memory of Mr Congreve, his genius, which sometimes required to be dis- Inscribed to her Grace Henrietta, Duchess of Marlciplined and controlled. The poetic glow is spread borough, was reprinted for the Percy Society (under over all. He never slackens in his enthusiasm, nor the care of Mr Peter Cunningham) as a genuine tires of pointing out the phenomena of nature which, though unacknowledged production of Thomson, indolent as he was, he had surveyed under every first published in 1729. We have no doubt of the aspect, till he had become familiar with all. Among genuineness of this poem as the work of Thomson. the mountains, vales, and forests, he seems to realise it possesses all the characteristics of his style-its his own words,
exaggeration, enthusiasm, and the peculiar rhythm
of his blank verse. The poet's praise of Congreve Man superior walks Amid the glad creation, musing praise,
is excessive, and must have been designed rather to And looking lively gratitude.
gratify the Duchess of Marlborough than to record
Thomson's own deliberate convictions. Jeremy But he looks also, as Johnson has finely observed, such a tribute as the following :
Collier would have started with amazement from with the eye which nature bestows only on a poet - the
that distinguishes, in everything presented to its view, whatever there is on which imagination What art thou, Death! by mankind poorly feared, can delight to be detained, and with a mind that at
Yet period of their ills. On thy near shore once comprehends the vast, and attends to the Trembling they stand, and see through dreaded mists minute.' He looks also with a heart that feels for The eternal port, irresolute to leave all mankind. His sympathies are universal. His This various misery, these air-fed drums touching allusions to the condition of the poor and Which men call life and fame. Mistaken minds ! suffering, to the hapless state of bird and beast in 'Tis reason's prime aspiring, greatly just; the snow, the Siberian exile, or the Arab pilgrims, or dark futurity, with heaven our guide, winter; the description of the peasant perishing in Tis happiness supreme, to venture forth
quest of nobler worlds; to try the deeps all are marked with that humanity and true feeling The unerring Hand that led us safe through time. which shows that the poet's virtues formed the That planted in the soul this powerful hope, magic of his song.' The genuine impulses under This infinite ambition of new life, which he wrote he has expressed in one noble stanza And endless joys, still rising, ever new. of the Castle of Indolence :
These Congreve tastes, safe on the ethereal coast, I care not, Fortune, what you me deny ;
Joined to the numberless immortal quire You cannot rob me of free Nature's grace,
Of spirits blest. High-seated among these, You cannot shut the windows of the sky,
He sees the public rathers of mankind,
The greatly good, those universal minds,
For liberty and right ; to check the rage
Such, high-lorn Marlbro', be thy sire dirine
With ronder named ; fair freedom's champion he,
By heaven approved, a conqueror without guilt ; • The love of nature,' says Coleridge, seems to have and such on earth his friend, and joined on high led Thomson to a cheerful religion ; and a gloomy By deathless love, Godolphin's patriot worth, religion to have led Cowper to a love of nature. The Just to his country's fame, yet of her wealth one would carry his fellow-men along with him into With honour frugal; above interest great. nature; the other flies to nature from his fellow- Hail men immortal! social virtues hail! men. In chastity of diction, however, and the har. First heirs of praise! But I, with weak essay, mony of blank verse, Cowper leaves Thomson im- Wrong the superior theme; while heavenly choirs, measurably below him; yet, I still feel the latter to in strains high warbled to celestial harps, have been the born poet.' The ardour and fulness Resound your names; and Congreve's added voice of Thomson's descriptions distinguish them from In heaven exalts what he admired below. those of Cowper, who was naturally less enthusias- With these he mixes, now no more to swerve tic, and who was restricted by his religious tenets, From reason's purest law; no more to please, and by his critical and classically formed taste. The Borne by the torrent down a sensual age. diction of the Seasons is at times pure and musical; Pardon, loved shade, that I with friendly blame, it is too elevated and ambitious, however, for ordi- Slight note thy error; not to wrong thy worth, nary themes, and where the poet descends to minute Or shade thy memory (far from my soul description, or to humorous or satirical scenes (as Be that base aim), but haply to deter, in the account of the chase and foxhunters' din- From flattering the gross vulgar, future pens ner in Autumn), the effect is grotesque and absurd. Powerful like thine in every grace, and skilled Mr Campbell has happily said, that as long as
To win the listening soul with virtuous charms. Thomson dwells in the pure conteinplation of nature, and appeals to the universal poetry of the human The gentle and benevolent nature of Thomson is breast, his redundant style comes to us as something seen in this slight shade of censure. He, too, flatvenial and adventitious—it is the flowing vesture oftered the 'gross vulgar,' but it was with adulation, the Druid; and perhaps to the general experience, not licentiousness. is rather imposing ; but when he returns to the We subjoin a few of the detached pictures and familiar narrations or courtesies of life, the same descriptions in the Seasons,' and part of the diction ceases to seem the mantle of inspiration, and I. Castle of Indolence.'
[Showers in Spring.] The north-east spends his rage; he now, shut up Within his iron cave, the effusive south Warms the wide air, and o'er the void of heaven Breathes the big clouds with vernal showers distent. At first, a dusky wreath they seem to rise, Scarce staining either, but by swift degrees, In heaps on heaps the doubled vapour sails Along the loaded sky, and, mingling deep, Sits on the horizon round, a settled gloom ; Not such as wintry storms on mortals shed, Oppressing life ; but lovely, gentle, kind, And full of every hope, of every joy, The wish of nature. Gradual sinks the breeze Into a perfect calm, that not a breath Is heard to quiver through the closing woods, Or rustling turn the many-twinkling leaves Of aspen tall. The uncurling floods, diffused In glassy breadth, seem, through delusive lapse, Forgetful of their course. 'Tis silence all, And pleasing expectation. Herds and flocks Drop the dry sprig, and, mute-imploring, eye The falling verdure. Hushed in short suspense, The plumy people streak their wings with oil, To throw the lucid moisture trickling off, And wait the approaching sign, to strike at once Into the general choir. Even mountains, vales, And forests, seem impatient to demand The promised sweetness. Man superior walks Amid the glad creation, musing praise, And looking lively gratitude. At last, The clouds consign their treasures to the fields, And, softly shaking on the dimpled pool Prelusive drops, let all their moisture flow In large effusion o'er the freshened world. The stealing shower is scarce to patter heard By such as wander through the forest-walks, Beneath the umbrageous multitude of leaves.
Though the whole loosened spring around her
blows, Her sympathising lover takes his stand High on the opponent bank, and ceaseless sings The tedious time away ; or else supplies Her place a moment, while she sudden flits To pick the scanty meal. The appointed time With pious toil fulfilled, the callow young, Warmed and expanded into perfect life, Their brittle bondage break, and come to light; A helpless family! demanding food With constant clamour: 0 what passions then, What melting sentiments of kindly care, On the new parent seize! away they fly Affectionate, and, undesiring, bear The most delicious morsel to their young, Which, equally distributed, again The search begins. Even so a gentle pair, By fortune sunk, but formed of generous mould, And charmed with cares beyond the vulgar breast, In some lone cot amid the distant woods, Sustained alone by providential heaven, Oft as they, weeping, eye their infant train, Check their own appetites, and give them all.
Nor toil alone they scorn ; exalting love,
[Birds Pairing in Spring.)
To the deep woods They haste away, all as their fancy leads, Pleasure, or food, or secret safety, prompts ; That mature's great command may be obeyed : Nor all the sweet sensations they perceive Indulged in vain. Some to the holly hedge Nestling repair, and to the thicket some; Some to the rude protection of the thorn Commit their feeble offspring; the cleft tree Offers its kind concealment to a few, Their food its insects, and its moss their nests : Others apart, far in the grassy dale Or roughening waste their humble texture weave: But most in woodland solitudes delight, In unfrequented glooms or shaggy banks, Steep, and divided by a babbling brook, Whose murmurs soothe them all the live-long
As thus the patient dam assiduous sits,
[A Summer Morning.]
With quickened step Brown night retires : young day pours in apace, And opens all the lawny prospect wide. The dripping rock, the mountain's misty top Swell on the sight, and brighten with the dawn. Blue, through the dusk, the smoking currents shine; And from the bladed field the fearful hare Limps awkward ; while along the forest glade The wild-deer trip, and often turning gaze At early passenger. Music awakes The native voice of undissembled joy ; And thick around the woodland hymns arise. Roused by the cock, the soon-clad shepherd leaves His mossy cottage, where with peace he dwells; And from the crowded fold, in order, drives His flock, to taste the verdure of the morn.
[Summer Evening.] Low walks the sun, and broadens by degrees, Just o'er the verge of day. The shifting clouds Assembled gay, a richly gorgeous train, In all their pomp attend his setting throne. Air, earth, and ocean smile immense. And now, As if his weary chariot sought the bowers Of Amphitrite, and her tending nymphs, (So Grecian fable sung) he dips his orb; Now half immersed ; and now a golden curve Gives one bright glance, then total disappears.
Confessed from yonder slow-extinguished clouds, All ether softening, sober evening takes Her wonted station in the middle air ; A thousand shadows at her beck. First this
She sends on earth; then that of deeper dye
Flis folded flock secure, the shepherd home
Among the crooked lanes, on every hedge, The glowworm lights his gem; and through the dark A moving radiance twinkles. Evening yields The world to night; not in her winter robe Of massy Stygian woof, but loose arrayed In mantle dun. A faint erroneous ray, Glanced from the imperfect surfaces of things, Flings half an image on the straining eye; While wavering woods, and villages, and streams, And rocks, and mountain-tops, that long retained The ascendiny gleam, are all one swimming scene, Uncertain if beheld. Sudden to heaven Thence weary vision turns; where, leading soft The silent hours of love, with purest ray Sweet Venus shines; and from her genial rise, When daylight sickens till it springs afresh, Unrivalled reigns, the fuirest lamp of night.
Haply some widowed songster pours his plaint,
The pale descending year, yet pleasing still,
The western sun withdraws the shortened day, And humid evening, gliding o'er the sky, In her chill progress, to the ground condensed The vapour throws. Where creeping waters ooze, Where marshes stagnate, and where rivers wind, Cluster the rolling fogs, and swim along The dusky-mantled lawn. Meanwhile the moon, Full-orbed, and breaking through the scattered
clouds, Shows her broad visage in the crimsoned east. Turned to the sun direct her spotted disk, Where mountains rise, umbrageous dales descend, And caverns deep as optic tube descries, A smaller earth, gives us his blaze again, Void of its flame, and sheds a softer day. Now through the passing clouds she seems to
cerulean rides sublime.
The lengthened night elapsed, the morning shines Serene, in all her dewy beauty bright, Unfolding fair the last autumnal day. And now the mounting sun dispels the fog; The rigid hoar-frost melts before his beam; And hung on every spray, on every blade Of grass, the myriad dew-drops twinkle round.
[Autumn Evening Scene.] But see the fading many-coloured woods, Shade deepening over shade, the country round Imbrown ; a crowded umbrage dusk and dun, Of every hue, from wan declining green To sooty dark. These now the lonesome muse, Low whispering, lead into their leaf-strown walks, And give the season in its latest view.
Meantime, light shadowing all, a sober calm Fleeces un bounded ether: whose least wave Stands tremulous, uncertain where to turn The gentle current: while illumined wide, The dewy-skirted clouds imbibe the sun, And through their lucid veil his softened force Shed o'er the peaceful world. Then is the time, For those whom virtue and whom nature charm, To steal themselves from the degenerate crowd, And soar above this little scene of things : To tread low-thoughted vice beneath their feet; To soothe the throbbing passions into peace; And woo lone Quiet in her silent walks.
Thus solitary, and in pensive guise, Oft let me wander o'er the russet mead, And through the saddened grove, where scarce is
heard One dying strain, to cheer the woodman's toil.
[Episode of Lavinia.] The lovely young Lavinia once had friends ; And Fortune smiled, deceitful, on her birth; For, in her helpless years deprived of all, Of every stay, save innocence and heaven, She, with her widowed mother, feeble, old, And poor, lived in a cottage, far retired Among the windings of a woody rale ; By solitude and deep surrounding shades, But more by bashful modesty, concealed. Together thus they shunned the cruel scorn Which virtue, sunk to poverty, would meet From giddy passion and low-minded pride: Almost on Nature's common bounty fed ;