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James Thomson, the son of a minister well | couragement, and came to seek in London esteemed for his piety and diligence, was born patronage and fame. September 7, 1700, at Ednam, in the shire of At his arrival he found his way to Mr. Mallet, Roxburgh, of which his father was pastor. His then tutor to the sons of the Duke of Montrose. mother, whose name was Hume, * inherited as He had recommendations to several persons of co-heiress a portion of a small estate. The re-consequence,
which he had tied up carefully in venue of a parish in Scotland is seldom large; his handkerchief; but as he passed along the and it was probably in commiseration of the street, with the gaping curiosity of a new-comer, difficulty with which Mr. Thoinson supported his attention was upon every thing rather than his family, having nine children, that Mr. Ric- his pocket, and his magazine of credentials was carton, a neighbouring minister, discovering in stolen from him. James uncommon promises of future excellence, His first want was a pair of shoes. For the undertook to superintend his education and pro- supply of all his necessities, his whole fund was vide him books.
his "Winter,” which for a time could find no He was taught the common rudiments of purchaser; till, at last, Mr. Millan was perlearning at the school of Jedburg, a place which suaded to buy it at a low price; and this low he delights to recollect in his poem of “Au- price he had for some time reason to regret; but tumn;" but was not considered by his master as by accident, Mr. Whatley, a man not wholly superior to common boys, though in those early unknown among authors, happening to turn his days he amused his patron and his friends with eye upon it, was so delighted that he ran from poetical compositions; with which, however, he place to place celebrating its excellence. Thomso little pleased himself, that on every new-year's son obtained likewise the notice of Aaron Hill, day he threw into the fire all the productions of whom, being friendless and indigent, and glad the foregoing year.
of kindness, he courted with every expression of From the school he was removed to Edinburgh, servile adulation. where he had not resided two years when his "Winter" was dedicated to Sir Spencer father died, and left all his children to the care of Compton, but attracted no regard from him to th-ir mother, who raised upon her little estate the author, till Aaron Hill awakened his atten what money a mortgage could afford, and remov- tion by some verses addressed to Thomson, and ing with her family to Edinburgh, lived to see published in one of the newspapers, which cenher son rising into eminence.
sured the great for their neglect of ingenious The design of Thomson's friends was to breed men. Thomson then received a present of twenhin a minister. He lived at Edinburgh, as at ty guineas, of which he gives this account to Mr. school, without distinction or expectation, till, at Hill: the usual time, he performed a probationary ex- “I vinted to you in my last, that on Saturday ercise by explaining a psalm. His diction was morning I was with Sir Spencer Compton. A 80 poetically splendid, that Mr. Hamilton, the certain gentleman without my desire spoke to Professor of Divinity, reproved him for speaking him concerning me: his answer was, that I had language unintelligible to a popular audience; never come near him. Then the gentleman put and he censured one of his expressions as inde- the question, If he desired that I should wait cent, if not profane.
on him? He returned, he did. On this, the This rebuke is reported to have repressed his gentleman gave me an introductory letter to thoughts of an ecclesiastical character, and he him. He received me in what they commonly probably cultivated with new diligence his blos- call a civil manner; asked me some commonsoms of poetry, which, however, were in some place questions, and made me a present of twendanger of a blast; for, submitting his produc- ty guineas. I am very ready to own that the tions to some who thought themselves qualified present was larger than my performance deto criticise, he heard of nothing but faults; but served ; and shall ascribe it to his generosity, finding other judges more favourable, he did not or any other cause, rather than the merit of the suffer himself to sink into despondence.
address.” He easily discovered that the only stage on The poem, which being of a new kind, few which a poét could appear with any hope of ad-would venture at first to like, by degrees gained vantage was London ; a place too wide for the upon the public; and one edition was very operation of petty competition and private ma- speedily succeeded by another. lignity, where merit might soon become con- Thomson's credit was now high, and every spicuous, and would find friends as soon as it day brought him new friends; among others became reputable to befriend it. A lady who Dr. Rundle, a man afterwards unfortunately was acquainted with his mother advised him to famous, sought his acquaintance, and found his the journey, and promised some countenance or qualities such, that he recommended him to the assistance, which at last he never received; Lord Chancellor Talbot. however, he justitied his adventure by her en- "Winter" was accompanied, in many edi.
tions, not only with a preface and dedication, but *. His mother's name wag Beatrix Trotter. Ilis grand with poetical praises by Mr. Hill, Mr. Mallet, mother's naine was Hume.-C.
(then Malloch,) and Mira, the fictitious name
of a lady once too well known. Why the dedi- | splendidly without expense; and might expect cations are, to "Winter" and the other Seasons, when he returned home a certain establishment. contrarily to custom, left out in the collected At this time a long course of opposition to works, the reader may inquire.
Sir Robert Walpole had filled the nation with The next year (1727) he distinguished him- clamours for liberty of which no man felt the self by three publications: of “Summer,” in want; and with care for liberty, which was not pursuance of his plan; of “A Poem on the in danger. Thomson, in his travels on the ConDeath of Sir Isaac Newton,” which he was en- tinent, found or fancied so many evils arising abled to perform as an exact philosopher by the from the tyranny of other govemments, that he instruction of Mr. Gray; and of “ Britannia,” resoived to write a very long poem, in five parts, a kind of poetical invective against the ministry, upon Liberty whom the nation then thought not forward While he was busy on the first book, Mr. enough in resenting the depredations of the Talbot died; and Thomson, who had been Spaniards. By this piece he declared himself rewarded for his attendance by the place of an adherent to the opposition, and had therefore secretary of the briefs, pays in the initial lines a no favour to expect from the court.
decent tribute to his memory. Thomson, having been some time entertained Upon this great poem two years were spent, in the family of the Lord Binning, was desirous and the author congratulated himself upon it, as of testifying his gratitude by making him the his noblest work; but an author and his reader patron of his “ Summer;" but the same kind- are not always of a mind. Liberty called in ness which had first disposed Lord Binning to vain upon her votaries to read her praises and encourage him determined him to refuse the reward her encomiast; her praises were condedication, which was by his advice addressed demned to harbour spiders and to gather dust; to Mr. Doddington, a man who had more power none of Thomson's performances were so little to advance the reputation and fortune of a poet. regarded.
“Spring” was published next year, with a The judgment of the public was not erroneous; dedication to the Countess of Hertford; whose the recurrence of the same images must tire in practice it was to invite every summer some time; an enumeration of examples to prove a poet into the country, to hear her verses and position which nobody denied, as it was from assist her studies. This honour was one sum- the beginning superfluous, must quickly grow mer conferred on Thomson, who took more de- disgusting. light in carousing with Lord Hertford and his The poem of “Liberty” does not now appear friends than assisting her ladyship's poetical in its original state; but, when the author's operations, and therefore never received another works were collected after his death, was shortsummons.
ened by Sir George Lyttleton, with a liberty "Autumn," the season to which the “Spring" | which, as it has a manifest tendency to lessen and "Summer” are preparatory, still remained the confidence of society, and to confound the unsung, and was delayed till he published (1730) characters of authors, by making one man write his works collected.
by the judgment of another, cannot be justified He produced in 1727 the tragedy of “ Sopho- by any supposed propriety of the alteration, or nisba,' which raised such expectation, that every kindness of the friend. I wish to see it exhibited rehearsal was dignified with a splendid audience, as its author left it. collected to anticipate the delight that was pre- Thomson now lived in ease and plenty, and paring for the public. It was observed, however, seems for a while to have suspended his poetry; ihat nobody was much affected, and that the but he was soon called back to labour by the company rose as from a moral lecture.
death of the Chancellor, for his place then be It had upon the stage no unusual degree of came vacant; and though the Lord Hardwicke
Slight accidents will operate upon delayed for some time to give it away, Thomthe taste of pleasure. There is a feeble line in son's bashfulness or pride, or some other matire the play:
perhaps not more laudable, withheld him from O Sopbonisba, Sophonista, o !
soliciting; and the new Chancellor would not This gave occasion to a waggish parody
give him what he would not ask.
He now relapsed to his former indigence; but O Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, o ! the Prince of Wales was at that time struggling which for a while was echoed through the town. tleton professed himself the patron of wit: 10
for popularity, and by the influence of Mr. LvI have been told by Savage, that of the pro- him Thomson was introduced, and bring garis logue 10 “Sophonisba” the first part was written interrogated about the state of his affairs, sard, by Pope, who could not be persuaded to finish that they were in a more poetical posture than it, and that the concluding lines were added by formerly, and had a pension allowed him of Mallet. Thomson was mot long afterwards, by the
one hundred pounds a year. influence of Dr. Rundle, sent to travel with Mr. (1739*) the tragedy of “Agamemnon," which
Being now obliged to write, he produced Charles Talbot, the eldest son of the Chancellor. He was yet young enough to receive new im- had the fate which most commonly attends my
was much shortened in the representation. It pressions, to have bis opinions rectitied, and his thological stories, and was only endured, but views enlarged; nor can he be supposed to have not favoured. It struggled with such difficulty wanted that curiosity which is inseparable from through the first night, that Thomson, coming an active and comprehensive mind. He may therefore now be supposed to have revelled in all the joys of intellectual luxury; he was every
* It is not generally known that in this year an edition day reasted with instructive novelties; he lived I which Thomson srote a prefacer.
of Milion's "Areopagitica " was published by Millar, to
late to his friends with whom he was to sup, ex- | prologue, which Quin, who had long lived with cused his delay by telling them how the sweat | Thomson in fond intimacy, spoke in such a of his distress had so disordered his wig, that manner as showed him “to be," on that occahe could not come till he had been refitted by a sion, "no actor.” The commencement of this barber.
benevolence is very honourable to Quin; who He so interested himself in his own drama, is reported to have delivered Thomson, then that
, if I remember right, as he sat in the upper known to him only for his genius, from an arrest gallery, he accompanied the players by audible by a very considerable present; and its conti. recitation, till a friendly hint frighted him to nuance is honourable to both, for friendship is silence. Pope countenanced " Agamemnon,” not always the sequel of obligation. By ihis by coming to it the first night, and was wel- tragedy a considerable sum was raised, of which comed to the theatre by a general clap; he had part discharged his debts, and the rest was remitmuch regard for Thomson, and once expressed ted to his sisters, whom, however removed from it in a poetical epistle sent to Italy, of which them by place or condition, he regarded with however he abated the value, by translating great tenderness, as will appear by the following some of the lines into his epistle to Arbuthnot. letter, which I communicate with much pleasure,
About this time the act was passed for licensing as it gives me at once an opportunity of recordplays, of which the first operation was the pro- ing the fraternal kindness of Thomson, and hibition of “Gustavus Vasa,” a tragedy of Mr. reflecting on the friendly assistance of Mr. Bos. Brooke, whom the public recompensed hy a very well, from whom I received it. liberal subscription; the next was the refusal of “Edward and Eleonora," offered by Thomson.
“ Hagely, in Worcestershire, It is hard to discover why either play should
“October the 4th, 1747. have been obstructed. Thorson likewise en- “My dear Sister, deavoured to repair his loss by a subscription, of “I thought you had knowri me better than to which I cannot now tell the success.
interpret my silence into a decay of affection, When the public murmured at the unkind especially as your behaviour has always been treatinent of Thomson, one of the ministerial such as rather to increase than to diminish it. writers remarked, that “ he had taken a liberty Don't imagine, because I am a bad correspond. which was not agreeable to Britannia in any ent, that I can ever prove an unkind friend and season."
brother. I must do myself the justice to tell He was soon after employed, in conjunction you, that my affections are naturally very fixed with Mr. Mallet, to write the mask of “ Alfred," and constant; and if I had ever reason of com. which was acted before the Prince at Cliefden- plaint against you, (of which by-the-by I have House.
not the least shadow,) I am conscious of so His next work (1745) was “Tancred and many defects in myself, as dispose me to be not Sigismunda,” the most successful of all his a little charitable and forgiving. tragedies, for it still keeps its turn upon the “It gives me the truest heartfelt satisfaction stage. It may be doubted whether he was, either to hear you have a good, kind husband, and are by the bent of nature or habits of study, much in easy, contented circumstances; but were they qualified for tragedy. It does not appear that he otherwise, that would only awaken and heighten had much sense of the pathetic; and his diffusive my tenderness towards you. As our good and and descriptive style produced declamation rather tender-hearted parents did not live to receive any than dialogue.
material testimonies of that highest human grati. His friend Mr. Lyttleton was now in power, tude I owed them, (than which nothing could and conferred upon him the office of surveyor- have given me equal pleasure,) the only return general of the Leeward Islands; from which, I can make them now is by kindness to those when his deputy was paid, he received about they left behind them. Would to God poor three handred pounds a year,
Lizy had lived longer, to have been a farther The last piece that he lived to publish was the witness of the truth of what I say, and that I “Castle of Indolence,” which was many years might have had the pleasure of seeing once more under his hand, but was at last finished with a sister who so truly deserved my esteem and great accuracy. The first canto opens a scene love! But she is happy, while we must toil a of lazy luxury that fills the imagination. little longer here below; let us, however, do
He was now at ease, but was not long to en- it cheerfully and gratefully, supported by the jor it ; for, by taking cold on the water between pleasing hope of meeting yet again on a safer London and Kew, he caught a disorder, which, shore, where to recollect the storms and difficul. with some careless exasperation, ended in a fever ties of life will not perhaps be inconsistent with that put an end to his life, August 27, 1748. that blissful state. You did right to call your He was buried in the church of Richmond, with daughter by her name ; for you must needs have out an inscription ; but a monument has been had a particular tender friendship for one anerected to luis memory in Westininster Abbey. other, endeared as you were by nature, by having
Thomson was of a stature above the middle passed the affectionate years of your youth tosize, and “ more fat than bard beseems,” of a gether, and by that great softener and engager du! countenance, and a gross, unanimated, un- of hearts, mutual hardship. That it was in my inviting appearance; silent in mingled company, power to case it a little, I account one of the but cheerful among select friends, and by his most exquisite pleasures of my life.-But enough friends very tenderly and warmly beloved. of this melancholy, though not unpleasing strain.
He left behind him the tragedy of “Coriola- “I esteem you for your sensible and disinteDU," which was, by the zeal of his patron, Sir rested advice to Mr. Bell, as you will see by my George Lyttleton, brought upon the stage for letter to him; as I approve entirely of his marthe benefit of his family, and recommended by a lrying again, you may readily ask me why I don't
him to return to them with redoubled vigour and careful to improve the opportunities which condelight. Had it not been for this most happy versation offered of diffusing and increasing the event, he might, as to outward view, have feebly, influence of religion. it may be painfully, dragged on through many By his natural temper he was quick of resentmore years of languor, and inability for public ment; but by his established and habitual pracservice, and even for profitable study, or perhaps tice he was gentle, modest, and inoffensive. His might have sunk into his grave under the over- tenderness appeared in his attention to children, whelming load of infirmities in the midst of his and to the poor. To the poor, while he lived in days; and thus the church and world would the family of his friend, he allowed the third part have been deprived of those many excellent ser- of his annual revenue, though the whole was not mons and works which he drew up and published a hundred a year; and for children he condeduring his long residence in this family. In a scended to lay aside the scholar, the philosopher, few years after his coming hither, Sir Thomas and the wit, to write little poems of devotion, and Abney dies; but his amiable consort survives, systems of instruction, adapted to their wants who shows the Doctor the same respect and and capacities, from the dawn of reason through friendship as before, and most happily for him its gradations of advance in the morning of life. and great numbers besides; for, as her riches Every man, acquainted with the common princiwere great, her generosity and munificence were ples of human action, will look with veneration in full proportion; her thread of life was drawn on the writer, who is at one time combating out to a great age, even beyond that of the Locke, and at another making a catechism for Doctor's; and thus this excellent man, through children in their fourth year. A voluntary deher kindness, and that of her daughter, the scent from the dignity of science is perhaps the present Mrs. Elizabeth Abney, who in a like hardest lesson that humility can teach. degree esteemed and honoured him, enjoyed all As his mind was capacious, his curiosity crthe benefits and felicities he experienced at his cursive, and his industry continual, his writings first entrance into this family, till his days were are very numerous, and his subjects various. numbered and finished; and, like a shock of corn With his theological works I am only enough in its season, he ascended into the regions of per- acquainted to admire his meekness of opposition fect and immortal life and joy."
and his mildness of censure. It was not only in If this quotation has appeared long, let it be his book, but in his mind, that orthodony was considered that it comprises an account of six- united with charity. and-thirty years, and those the years of Dr. Of his philosophical pieces, his “Logic” has Watts.
been received into the universities, and therefore From the time of his reception into this family, wants no private recommendation; if he owes his life was no otherwise diversified than by suc- j part of it to Le Clerc, it must be considered that cessive publications. The series of his works I no man, who undertakes merely to methodize or am not able to deduce; their number and their illustrate a system, pretends to be its author. variety show the intenseness of his industry, and In his metaphysical disquisitions, it was obthe extent of his capacity.
served by the late learned Mr. Dyer, that he conHe was one of the first authors that taught founded the idea of space with that of emply spec., the dissenters to court attention by the graces of and did not consider that though space might bu language. Whatever they had among them without matter, yet matter being extended could before, whether of learning or acuteness, was not be without space. commonly obscured and blunted by coarseness Few books have been perused by me with and inelegance of style. He showed them, that greater pleasure than his "Improvement of the zeal and purity might be expressed and enforced Mind," of which the radical principles may indeed by polished diction.
be found in Locke's “Conduct of the UnderHe continued to the end of his life the teacher standing;" but they are so expanded and ramified of a congregation; and no reader of his works by Watts, as to confer upon him the merit of a can doubt his fidelity or diligence. In the pulpit, work in the highest degree useful and pleasing. though his low stature, which very little exceeded Whoever has the care of instructing others na five feet, graced him with no advantages of ap- be charged with deficience in his duty if this book pearance, yet the gravity and propriety of his is not recommended. utterance made his discourses very efficacious. I have mentioned his treatises of theology as I once mentioned the reputation which Mr. Fos- distinct from his other productions, but the truth ter had gained by his proper delivery to my friend is, that whatever he took in hand was, by his inDr. Hawkesworth, who told me, that in the art of cessant solicitude for souls, converted to theology. pronunciation he was far inferior to Dr. Watts. As piety predominated in his mind, it is diffused
Such was his flow of thoughts, and such his over his works; under his direction it may be promptitude of language, that in the latter part of truly said, theologiæ philosophia ancillatur, philosohis life he did not precompose his cursory ser- phy is subservient to evangelical instruction; it is mons, but having adjusted the heads, and sketch- difficult to read a page without learning, or at ed out some particulars, trusted for success to his least wishing, to be better. The attention is extemporary powers.
caught by indirect instruction, and he that sat He did not endeavour to assist his eloquence down only to reason is on a sudden compelled to by any gesticulations; for, as no corporeal actions pray. have any correspondence with theological truth, It was therefore with great propriety that, in he did not see how they could enforce it.
1728, he received from Edinburgh and Aberdeen At the conclusion of weighty sentences he gave an unsolicited diploma, by which he became a time, by a short pause, for the proper impression. doctor of divinity. Academical honours would
To stated and public instruction he added fa- have more value, if they were always bestowed miliar visits and personal applicrtion, and was with equal judgment.
of his age.
He continued many years to study and to was exact, and he noted beauties and faults with preach, and to do good by his instruction and very nice discernment; his imagination, as the example; till at last the infirmities of age disabled “Dacian Battle” proves, was vigorous and active, him from the more laborious part of his minister and the stores of knowledge were large by which rial functions, and, being no longer capable of his fancy was to be supplied. His ear was well public duty, he offered to remit the salary append. tuned, and his diction was elegant and copious, ant to it; but his congregation would not accept but his devotional poetry is, like that of others, the resignation.
unsatisfactory. The paucity of its topics enBy degrees his weakness increased, and at last forces perpetual repetition, and the sanctity of the confined him to his chamber and his bed; where matter rejects the ornaments of figurative diction. he was worn gradually away without pain, till he It is sufficient for Watts to have done better than expired, Nov. 25, 1743, in the seventy-fifth year others what no man bas done well.
His poems on other subjects seldom rise higher Few men have left behind such purity of cha- than might be expected from the amusements of racter, or such monuments of laborious piety. a man of letters, and have different degrees of He has provided instruction for all ages, from value as they are more or less laboured, or as the those who are lisping their first lessons, to the occasion was more or less favourable to invention. enlightened readers of Malbranche and Locke; He writes too often without regular measures, he has left neither corporeal nor spiritual nature and too often in blank verse; the rhymes are not unexamined; he has taught the art of reasoning, always sufficiently correspondent. He is par. and the science of the stars.
ticularly unhappy in coining names expressive of His character, therefore, must be formed from characters. His lines are commonly smooth and the multiplicity and diversity of his attainments, easy, and his thoughts always religiously pure; rather than from any single performance; for it but who is there that, to so much piety and innowould not be safe to claim for him the highest cence, does not wish for a greater measure of rank in any single denomination of literary dig- sprightliness and vigour! He is at least one of nity; yet perhaps there was nothing in which he the tew poets with whom youth and ignorance would not have excelled, if he had not divided may be safely pleased; and happy will be that his powers to different pursuits.
reader whose mind is disposed, by his verses or As a poet, had he been only a poct, he would his prose, to imitate him in all but his nonconprobably have stood high among the authors with formity, to copy his benevolence to man, and his whom he is now associated. For his judgment I reverence to God.
Of the birth or early part of the life of Am-) to many sections, for each of which if he received BROSE Philips I have not been able to find any half-a-crown, his reward, as writers then were account
His academical education he received paid, was very liberal ; but half-a-crown had a
From this time how he was employed, or in written with such depravity of genius, such mix
In 1712 he brought upon the stage "The He afterwards (1709) addressed to the uni- Distrest Mother,” almost a translation of Raversal patron, the Duke of Dorset, a "Poetical cine's “ Andromaque.” Such a work requires Letter from Copenlayea," which was published no uncommon powers; but the friends of Phiin the “ Tatler," and is by Fope in one of his lips exerted every art to promote his interest. first letters mentioned with high praise, as the Before the appearance of the play, a whole Specproduction of a man “who could write very tator, none indeed of the best, was devoted to its nobiv."
praise ; while it yet continued to be acted, anoPhilips was a zealous wliig, and therefore ther Spectator was written, to tell what impreseasily found access to Addison and Steele; bul sion it made upon Sir Roger; and on the first his ardour seems not to have procured him any night a select audience, says Pope, f was called thing more than kind words ; since he was re- together to applaud it. duced to translate the “Persian Tales" for It was concluded with the most successful Tonson, for which he was afterwards reproach- epilogue that was ever yet spoken on the Enged, with this addition of contempt, that he worked for half-a-crown. The book is diviiled in- lished in 1:00, when he appears to have obtained a sel
† This ought to have been noticed before. It was pub
lowship of St. John's.-C. • He took his degrera, A. B. 164, A. M. 1700.--. Spenco.