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to one of the early presentation-copies, and transferred the stanza into their own pages.
The other two very charming stanzas in the second canto were omitted in Lord Lyttelton's edition of 1750, and in that of 1762 by Murdoch ; though they both find a place in the quarto and in the octavo edition of 1748.
Two things are remarkable in Thomson's literary history.
The first is, the exhibition of an accurate knowledge of the English language, even in his earliest and most careless productions; and his subsequently writing it with a purity seldom attained by any one who is not a native. So perfectly English is his poetry, that critical ingenuity has often been severely taxed to detect a single instance of northern phraseology.
The other singular circumstance concerning him is, his having produced no copy of verses worthy of his future fame till he was full twenty-five years of age ;* and then his genius burst forth with overpowering lustre, in his impressive “Verses on the Death of his Mother," and immediately afterwards in the hasty composition of his “ Winter.” In the latter of these, his biographer justly observes, “We see him at once assume the majestic freedom of an eastern writer, unhurt by the stiffness of formal method.” I do not recollect one of our eminent poets to have been in a more favourable position than Thomson was, for the developement of his poetic capabilities; and yet none was so tardy in the display of them. Nor do I remember any biographer who had to make such an apology for the imperfection of his hero's first attempts in verse, as Murdoch felt himself compelled to offer at the commencement of his brief Life of Thomson. But the brightness of Thomson's genius is not beclouded, nor is its strength attenuated, by these remarks : on the contrary, its force and brilliancy must have been of the highest order, since its first display suddenly elevated him far above all his former associates, and liberated' him from the bondage of poverty and indolence, under the malign influences of which he had previously suffered.
* See some remarks in note B, p. xxxviii. and note F, p. xlix.
I advert to the meagreness and inaccuracy of his youthful verses, that I may be exonerated from all blame, on account of having published so few of them in the recent edition of his “ Poetical Works" in one volume.
Every future editor of Thomson's Works must feel greatly indebted to Allan Cunningham, Esq., and his accomplished son, to Sir N. H. Nicolas, to Bolton Corney, Esq., to Robert Phillimore, Esq., and, above all, to the Rev. John Mitford, for the information concerning the poet and his works which they have severally afforded. Personally unknown to these gentlemen, I feel much pleasure in the performance of an act of literary justice, while thanking them for their labours, from which I profess to have derived important assistance. To the common stock of facts and sentiments respecting Thomson I have cheerfully contributed something: to have added more, would not have been in good keeping with the size of this volume.
The learned world has expressed its approval of the manner in which Bolton Corney, Esq., has mooted the question, “Which is the most authentic impression of the Seasons?'” and its gratitude for the very splendid and correct edition of that poem, which he has lately superintended. Till he called public attention to the consideration of this subject, the text of Thomson had been culpably neglected and perversely vitiated. Whenever I have wished to test the accuracy of a particular edition which I had not before seen, I have been in the habit of examining two short passages. The first is verse 1482 in “Summer,” containing part of the character of Alfred :
whose hallow'd name the Virtues saint,
And his own Muses love; the best of kings ! Here Virtues and Muses are familiar personifications, and saint is elegantly used as a verb. Yet I have found some editions, (and among them one in 8vo, and another in 4to, both superintended by clever men,) that have mangled the poet's language, and perverted his meaning, by this disgraceful substitution :
-whose hallow'd names the virtuous saint,
And his own Muses love ; the best of kings ! The other passage is verse 113 of the “Hymn ” at the close of the “ Seasons :"
Sustaining all yon orbs, and all their sons : in almost every incorrect copy in which the other spurious reading occurs, this is perverted into
Sustaining all yon orbs, and all their suns. The two faulty readings which I have here adduced, and which seem to be venial when compared with others, find no countenance whatever from any copy printed during the life of the author, or from those impressions which were subsequently published under the auspices of Lyttelton and Murdoch. Both of them are sheer inventions on the part of men who, possessed of little poetic perception, could not comprehend the poet's meaning, and attempted, after their own fashion, to render it more intelligible to others. It was high time, therefore, for those who were aware of these blemishes, and who had sufficient leisure, to unite their efforts in establishing a text of standard purity. This was deemed to be a desideratum by all the lovers of poetry; and in the laudable enterprise Mr. Corney has justly obtained the honour of chieftainship.
I have in this edition adhered to the commendable prac
tice of our old poets, in allowing every verb which ends in silent e invariably to retain that vowel in the imperfect tense and in the perfect participle, and all verbs which terminate with a consonant to suffer elision and receive an apostrophe. An instance of each kind is given in the subjoined lines :
Beyond the reach of art 't is copious bless'd.
Is now become the lion of the plain. Thomson has fewer SMALL CAPITALS and italics, to create emphatic distinctions, than any of his poetic contemporaries. He felt that good poetry requires little aid of this kind to render it easy of comprehension. His few distinctions I have usually retained ; and have commenced with capitals all the personifications with which his verses abound. Aaron Hill, who assumed the office of critical dictator to all the rising poets of his time, once gave Thomson this advice :-“Italic demands for emphasis have sometimes the plea of almost a necessity in their favour, else injustice would be done to a strength or to an elegance ; for these are infallibly lost to nine readers in ten : (I include even poetical readers :) so that it is not a vanity that would court admiration, but a help that would animate conception.” But this novel canon of criticism the poet very properly refused to adopt.
To evince a predilection for fanciful alliterations, has always been reckoned a sure sign of a poetaster. Thomson furnishes no indications of this petty propensity. A mental appreciation of the manifold beauties of poesy is, next to poetic inspiration itself, one of the greatest boons of Heaven. Those who are so happy as to possess this divine gift in perfection, find no difficulty in discerning between the spontaneous outpouring of these “sounds of
similarity” and their premeditated fabrication. Were Thomson's poems submitted to this mode of inquisition, the most refined taste would fail to discover even the semblance of intentional alliteration. Yet he, in common with our greatest poets, may be traced in the sparing use of this natural affinity of initial sounds. In his youthful productions his poetic appetency for the letter f and its cognate consonants is very apparent; and many verses in the “ Seasons” exhibit instances of it :
Desponding Fear, of feeble fancies full.-"Spring,” v. 286.
I subjoin a collection of various classes, from all the “ Seasons :"
Our drooping days are dwindled down to nought.--"Spring," v. 335.
While, broad and brown, below