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ier and poet, and in both characters he figures till past eighty. In his youth Young was gay and dissipated. The dissolute and notorious Duke of Wharton, who was, it is said, "the scorn and wonder of his day," was his patron and companion. When upward of fifty he entered the Church, wrote a panegyric on the King, and was made one of his Majesty's chaplains, and, as Swift has it, was
"Compelled to torture his invention,
In 1730 the poet obtained from his college the living of Welwyn, in Hertfordshire, where he was destined to close his days. He was, all his life long, an indefatigable courtier, and was eager to obtain royal preferment; but having unluckily professed in his poetry a strong love of retirement, the ministry, it is said, seized upon this as a pretext for keeping him out of a bishopric.
In 1731 Young married Lady Elizabeth Lee, daughter of the Earl of Lichfield, and widow of Colonel Lee; this ambitious alliance proved a happier union than the titled marriages of Dryden and Addison. By her first marriage the lady had two children, to whom Young was warmly attached; both died, and when in 1741, ten years after their marriage, the mother also followed, Young produced the " Night Thoughts."
This long poem, founded on family misfortune, colored and exaggerated for poetical effect, "shows," as has been remarked, "the poetical artist fully as much as the humble and penitent Christian." Swift had asserted that hypocrisy was less mischievous than open impiety, yet no man had a greater dread of this sin than he; and it has been said of him that "instead of wishing to seem better, he contrived ever to seem worse, than he really was, and not only carefully hid the good he did, but willingly Incurred the suspicion of evil which he did not." The character of Young affords the most striking contrast to that of Swift. In his poetry he is a severe moralist and ascetic divine, yet it can hardly be inferred that he felt the emotions he described, as they seem not to have influenced his conduct. After a youth of dissipation and a manhood of bustling ambition, we find him unweaned from the world till age has incapacitated him for its pursuits. In 1761 he was made Clerk of the Closet to the Princess Dowager of Wales, and died four years afterward, in April, 1765.
Of Young's numerous works, "The Night Thoughts," "The Universal Passion," and the tragedy of " Revenge," are thought to be the best. "This poet," as Hazlitt observes, "has been overrated, from the popularity of his subject, and the glitter and lofty pretensions of his style." He is all art and effort, and though in his "Night Thoughts" we find poetical imagery, sound maxims, and passages of great force, it is a poem that few care to peruse continuously. With all its epigrammatic point and wit, its religious sentiment is morbid and unwholesome; and the gloomy views it presents of life, even Mrs. Gummidge with all her " contrairy " experiences could scarcely be justified in indulging. Its want of plot and progressive interest, combined with its tedious length; the tenacity with which the poet holds on to his illustrations, — only equalled by the twenty-seventhlies in the good old sermons, — are a weariness to flesh and spirit . In epic poetry, where the interest is sustained by action, long stories may be tolerated; but sermons, either poetical or prosaic, lose in pith, as they gain in "linked sweetness long drawn out." "Young," says Hazlitt, "has false ornament, labored conceit, false fancy, false sublimity, and mock tenderness." Yet we must still accord to him genius and true poetical inspiration. • His verse has been aptly termed,—
"The glorious fragments of a fire immortal
One of the most poetical passages in the "Night Thoughts" is this apostrophe to Night: —
"And art thon still unsung,
Oh majestic Night!
Nature's great ancestor! Day's elder born!
This apostrophe has been called "magnificent," and said "scarcely to be equalled in English poetry since the epic strains of Milton." This seems now exaggerated praise. The same fine poetic conception, rendered in simple, natural, and concise style, and irradiated by a hopeful, helpful philosophy, would have been far more admirable; as we shall see by turning to these fine stanzas from Longfellow's "Hymn to the Night" : —
"I felt her presence, by its spell of might,
Stoop o'er me from above:
"O holy Night! from thee I learn to bear
What man hath borne before:
As Young was all art and effort, Thomson was all negligence and Nature, pouring forth his "uupremeditated lay" with the wild luxuriance of the bird in the greenwood, — Nature's thriftless prodigal, showering with lavish melody the heedless air, careless of a listening ear.
James Thomson was born at Ednam near Kelso, County of Roxburgh, September, 1700. His father, then minister of the parish of Ednam, removed a few years afterward to that of South-dean in the same county, — a primitive and retired district situated among the lower slopes of the Cheviots. Here the young poet spent his boyish years. At eighteen he was sent to Edinburgh College. His father died when he had passed but two years there, and the poet proceeded to London, to push his fortunes. A friend procured him the situation of tutor to the son of Lord Binney; and he was now advised to connect some of his descriptions of winter into one regular poem. This was done, and "Winter" (the copyright sold for only three guineas) was published in March, 1726.
The poem was immediately popular, and a second and third edition appeared the same year. In 1727 "Summer " appeared; and the following year Thomson issued proposals for publishing by subscription the " Four Seasons." The number of subscribers, at a guinea each copy, was three hundred and eighty-seven, but many took more than one copy; and Pope, it is said, showed his generous appreciation of the poet who of all his cotemporaries was perhaps most directly his antipodes, by taking three copies.
In 1731 Thomson, in the capacity of tutor, or travelling companion, had the good fortune to visit France, Switzerland, and Italy. On his return, he published his poem of "Liberty," and obtained a situation as secretary, which he is said with his characteristic indolence to have lost at last by failing to solicit a continuation of the office. His circumstances were at length brightened by a yearly pension of one hundred pounds from the Prince of Wales, and an appointment to the office of Surveyor-General of the Leeward Islands, the duties of which he was allowed to perform by deputy, and which brought an annual income of three hundred pounds.
The poet now resided in comparative opulence at Kewlane, near Richmond, where his domain is said to have been "the scene of social enjoyment and luxurious ease." Thomson appears to have been utterly devoid of that predilection for a garret commonly ascribed to poets.
His cottage at Kewlane — a very Castle of Indolence — is described as elegantly furnished, with spacious grounds, and ample cellar, which after his death was found well-stocked with wines and good Scotch ale. In this comfortable and elegant retreat, where "retirement and Nature" are said to have "become more and more his passion every day," he died suddenly, in August, 1748.
Thomson is the best of our descriptive poets; and in the "Seasons" his subject — comprehensible and interesting both to the ignorant and refined — renders him the most popular of poets. In describing a landscape he transfers to the imagination of his readers the vivid impression which as a whole it makes upon his mind, rather than the minute inventory of objects which, however perfect, cannot fail to weary the mind of the reader. "Thomson," says Dr. Johnson, " thinks in a peculiar train, and he thinks always as a man of genius; he looks around on