« ZurückWeiter »
Our author went first to Newcastle, by land, where he took shipping, and landed at Billingsgate. When he arrived, it was his immediate care to wait on Mr. Mallet, who then lived in Hanover-square, in character of private tutor to his Grace the Duke of Montrose, and his brother the Lord George Graham, so well known afterwards as an able and gallant sea-officer. With this gentleman, though much his junior, our author had contracted an early intimacy when at school, which improved with their years ; nor was it ever disturbed by any casual mistake, envy or jealousy on either side : A proof that two writers of merit may agree, in spite of the common observation to the contrary. Before Mr. Thomson reached Hanover-square, an accident happened to him, which, as it may divert some of our readers, we shall here insert.
When our author left Scotland, he had received letters of recommendation from a gentleman of rank there, to some persons of distinction in London, which he had carefully tied up in his handkerchief. As he sauntered along the streets, he could not withhold his admiration of the magnitude, opulence, and various objects this great metropolis continually presented to his view. These must naturally have diverted the imagination of a man of less reflection ; and it is not greatly to be wondered at, if Mr. Thomson’s mind was so engrossed by these newpresented scenes, as to be absent to the busy crowds around him. He often stopped to gratify his curiosity, the consequences of which he afterwards experienced. With an honest simplicity of heart, unsuspecting, as unknowing of guilt, he was ten times longer in reaching Hanover-square, than one less sensible and curious would have been. When he arrived, he found he had paid for his curiosity ; his pocket was picked of his handkerchief, and all the letters that were wrapt up in it. This accident would have proved very mortifying to a man less philosophical than Mr. Thomson : But he was of a temper never to be agitated ; he then smiled at it, and frequently made his companions laugh at the relation. Mr. Thomson, upon his coming to London, was like. wise very kindly received by Mr. Forbes, afterward Lord President of the Session, then attending the service of Parliament : who having seen a specimen of his poetry in Scotland, was highly delighted with our author's genius, and recommended him to several of his friends; particularly to Mr. Aikman, who lived in great intimacy with many persons of distinguished rank and worth. This gentleman, from a connoisseur in painting, was become a professed painter; and his taste being no less just and delicate in the kindred art of descriptive po etry, than his own, no wonder that he soon conceived a friendship for our author. With what a warm return he met with, and how Mr. Thomson was affected by his friend's premature death, appears in the copy of verses which he wrote on that occasion. In the mean time, our author’s reception, wherever he was introduced, emboldened him to risque the publication of his Winter : in which, as himself was a novice in such matters, he was kindly assisted by Mr. Mallet.— This poem, the first finished of all the Seasons, and the first performance he published, was originally written in detached peices, or occasional descriptions. It was by the advice of Mr. Mallet they were made into one connected piece ; and it was by the further advice, and at the earnest request of this gentleman, he wrote the other three Seasons. . The approbation the poem of Winter might meet with from some of our author’s friends, was not, however, a sufficient recommendation to introduce it to the world He had the mortification of offering it to several book.
sellers, without success, who perhaps, not being themselves qualified to judge of the merit of the performance, refused to risque the necessary expences on the work of an obscure stranger, whose name could be no recommendation to it. These were severe repulses; but at last the difficulty was surmounted. Mr. Mallet offered it to Mr. Millar, afterwards a bookseller in the Strand, who, without making any scruples, readily printed it. For some time Mr. Millar had reason to believe that he should be a loser by his frankness ; for the impression lay, like waste-psper, on his hands, few copies being sold, till, by an accident, its merit was discovered. One Mr. Whately, a man of some taste in letters, but perfectly enthusiastic in the admiration of any thing which pleased him, happened to cast his eyes upon it ; and finding something which delighted him, perused the whole, not without growing astonishment, that the poem should be unknown, and the author obscure. In the ecstacy of his admiration, he went from coffee-house to coffee-house, pointing out its beauties, and calling upon all men of taste to exert themselves in rescuing from obscurity one of the greatest geniuses that ever appeared. This had a very happy effect ; for, in a short time, the impression was bought up. Nor had those who read the poem any "reason to complain of Mr. Whateley’s exaggeration ; for they found it so completely beautiful, that they could not but think themselves happy in doing justice to a man of so much merit. Such heretofore was the fate of the great Milton, whose works were only to be found in the libraries of the curious, or judicious few, till Addison's remarks spread a taste for them ; and at length it be. came unfashionable not to have read them. As soon as the poem of Winter was published, Mr. Thomson sent a copy of it as a present to Mr. Joseph Mitchell, his countyman, and brother poet, who, not liking many parts of it, inclosed to him the following couplet:
Beauties and faults so thick lie scattered here,
To which Mr. Thomson answered extempore :
Why all not faults 2 injurious Mitchell, why Appears one beauty to thy blasted eye Damnation worse than thine, if worse can be, Is all I ask, and all I want from thee. Upon a friend's remonstrating to Mr. Thomson, that the expression of blasted eye would look like a personal reflection, as Mr. Mitchell had realy that misfortune, he changed the epithet blasted into blasting:—But to return: The poem of Winter is, perhaps, the most finished, as well as most picturesque of any of the four Seasons : . The scenes are grand and lively; it is in that season that the creation appears in distress, and nature assumes a melancholy air ; and an imagination so poetical as Mr. Thomson's, was admirably fitted to paint those vapours, and storms, and clouds, the very description of which fill the soul with solemn dread. It is told of Mr. Riccar. ton, that when he first saw this poem, which was in a book-seller's shop in Edinburgh, he stood amazed ; and, after he had read the sublime introductory lines, he dropt the poem from his hand, in an ecstacy of admiration. Mr. Thomson's digression’s too, the overflowings of a tender benevolent heart, charm the reader no less ; leaving him in doubt, whether he should more admire the poet, or love the man. From this time Mr. Thomson's acquaintance was courted by all men of taste ; and several ladies of high rank and distinction became his declared patronesses; among whom were the Countess of Hartford, Miss Drelincourt, afterwards Viscountess Primrose, Mrs. Stanley, and others. But the chief happiness which his Winter
procured him was, that it brought him acquainted with Dr. Rundle, afterwards Lord Bishop of Derry : who, upon conversing with our author, and finding in him qualities greater still, and of more value, than those of a poet, received him into his intimate confidence and friendship; promoted his character every where ; introduced him to his great friend Lord Chancellor Talbot; and some years after, when the eldest son of that nobleman was to make the tour of Europe, recommended Mr. Thomson as a proper companion for him. His affection and gratitude to Dr. Rundle, and his indignation at the treatment that worthy prelate had met with, are finely expressed in his poem to the Lord Talbot. The true cause of that undeserved treatment has been secreted from the public, as well as the dark manoeuvres that were employed : but our author, who had the best information, places it to the account of
“ —Slanderous zeal, and politics infirm,
The poem of Winter meeting with such general applause, Mr. Thomson was induced to write the other three Seasons, which he finished with equal success.... Summer made its first appearance in the year 1727; Spring, in the beginning of the following year; and Autumn, in a quarto edition of his works, printed in 1780. In that edition, the Seasons are placed in their natural order ; and crowned with that inimitable Hymn, kn which we view them in their beautiful succession, as one whole, the immediate effect of infinite Power and GoodIness.
Summer has many manly and striking beauties; in particular the Hymn to the Sun, in which some hints are taken from Mr. Cowley's hymn to Light, and is one of the sublimest and most masterly efforts of genius we