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Biographical Sketch



JAMES THOMSON, a celebrated Poet, was born at Ednam, near Kelso, in Scotland, in 1700. He was taught in Jedburgh, where he attracted the attention of Mr. Riccarton, a neighbouring winis. ter, by his taste for poetry, who encouraged his carly attempts, and corrected his performances. On his removal from school, he was sent to the University of Edinburgh, where le chiefly attended to the cultivation of his poetical faculty; but the death of his father, during his second session, having brought his mother to Edinburgh for the purpose of educating her children, James complied with the advice of his friends, and entered upon a course of divinity. Here, we are told, that the explanation of a psalm having been required from him, as a probationary exercise, he performed it in language so splendid, that he was reproved by his professor for employing a diction which it was not likely that any one of his future audience could comprehend. This rebuke is said to have repressed his thoughts of an ecclesiastical character, and he probably cultivated with new diligence his talent for poetry, which, however, was in some danger of a blast; for, submitting his productions to some who thought themselves qualified to criticise, he judges more favourable, he did not suffer himself to sink into absolute despondence.

He easily discovered that the only stage on which

a poet could appear, with any hope of advantage, was London; a place too wide for the operation of petty competition and private malignity; where merit night soon become conspicuous, and would find friends as soon as it became reputable to be. friend it. A lady, who was acquainted with his mother, advised him to the journey, and promised soine countenance and assistance, which, however, he never received.

In 1725 Thomson came by sea to the capital, where he soon found out his college acquaintance, Mallet, to whom he showed his poem of Winter, then composed in detached passages of the descriptive kind. Mallet advised him to form them into a connected piece, and immediately to print it. It was purchased for a small sum, and appeared in 1726, dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton. Its merits, however, were little understood by the public; till Mr. Whateley, a person of acknowledged taste, happening to cast an eye upon it, was struck with its beauties, and gave it vogue. His delicatve, who had hitherto neglected him, made him a present of twenty

guineas, and he was introduced to Pope, Bishop Rundle, and Lord-chancellor Talbot. In 1727, he published another of his seasons,

Summer," dedicated to Mr. Dodington, for it was still the custom for poets to pay this tribute to men in power. In the same year he gave to the public his “Poem, sacred to the memory of Sir Isaac Newton," and his “Britannia." His“ Spring" was published in 1728, addressed to the Countess of Hertford and the Seasons were completed by the addition of « Autumn," dedicated to Mr. Onslow, in 1730, when they were published collectively.

As nothing was more tempting to the cupidity of an author than dramatic composition, Thomson resolved to become a competitor for that laurel also, and in 1728, he had the influence to bring upon the stage of Drury.lane, his tragedy of “Sophonisba." It was succeeded by “Agamemnon;"

Edward and Eleonora ;" and " Tancred and Sigismunda :" but although these pieces were not without their merits, the moral strain was too prevalent for the public taste, and they have long ceased to occupy the theatre. Through the recommendation of Dr. Rundle, he was, about 1729, selected as the travelling associate of the Hon. Mr. Talbot, eldest son of the Chancellor, with whom he visited most of the courts of the European continent. During this tour, the idea of a poem on “Liberty” suggested itself, and after his return, he employed two years in its completion. The place of secretary of the briefs, which was nearly a sinecure, repaid him for his attendance on Mr. Talbot. "Liberty” at length appeared, and was dedicated to Frederic, Prince of Wales, who, in opposition to the court, affected the patronage of letters, as well as of liberal sentiments in politics. He granted Thomson a pension, to remunerate him for the loss of his place by the death of Lord-chancellor Talbot. In 1746, ap. peared his poem, called “The Castle of Indolence, which had been several years under his polishing hand, and by many is considered as his principal performance. He was now in tolerably affluent circumstances, a place of Surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands, given him by Mr. Lyttleton, bringing him

in, after paying a deputy, about 3001. a year. He did not, however, long enjoy this state of comfort, for returning one evening from London to Kew-lane, he was attacked by a fever, which proved fatal in August 1748, the 48th year of his

He was interred without any memorial in Richmond church; but a monument was erected to his memory, in Westminter Abbey, in 1762, with the profits arising from an edition of his works published by Mr. Millar.

Thomson was of stature above the middle size, and "more fat than bard beseems;" of a duli countenance, and a gross, unanimated, uninviting appearance; silent in mingled company, but cheerful among select friends, and by his friends very tenderly and warmly beloved.

The benevolence of Thomson was fervid, but not active: he would give on all occasions what assist. ance his purse would supply; but the offices of intervention or solicitation he could not conquer his sluggishness sufficiently to perform.

As for the distinguishing qualities of his mind and heart, they are better represented in his writings than they can be by the pen of a biographer i


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