Page images

hero. But his play, guiltless as it was, being presented for a licence, no sooner had the cenfor cast his eyes on the hand-writing in which he had seen Edward and Eleonora, than he cried out, “ Away with it!" and the author's profits were reduced to what his bookseller could afford for a tragedy in distress.

Mr. Thomson's next dramatic performance was the Masque of Alfred; written, jointly with Mr. Mallet, by command of the Prince of Wales, for the entertainment of His Royal Highness's court, at his summer-residence. This piece, with some alterations, and the music new, has been since brought upon

the stage by Mr. Mallet : but the edition we give is from the original, as it was acted at Clifden, in the year 1740, on the birth-day of her Royal Highness the Princess Augufta.

In the year 1745, his Tancred and Sigismunda, taken from the novel in Gil Blas, was performed with applause ; and from the deep romantic distress of the lovers, continues to draw crouded houses. The success of this piece was indeed insured from the first by Mr. Garrick and Mrs. Cibber, their appearing in the principal characters; which they heighten and adorn with all the magic of their never-failing art. 7 ai!,

He had, in the mean time, been finishing his Castle of Indolence, in two Cantos. It was, at first, little more than a few detached stanzas, in the way

of rail. lery on himself, and on fome of his friends, who would reproach him with indolence; while he thought them, at least, as indolent as himself. But he saw


soon, that the subject deserved to be treated more seriously, and in a form fitted to convey one of the most important moral lessons.

The stanza which he uses in this work is that of Spenser, borrowed from the Italian poets; in which he thought rhymes had their proper place, and were even graceful : the compass of the stanza admitting an agreeable variety of final sounds : while the sense of the poet is not cramped or cut short, nor yet too much dilated; as must often happen, when it is parcelled out into rhymed couplets; the usual measure indeed of our elegy and satire ; but which always weakens the higher poetry, and, to a true ear, will sometimes give it an air of the burlesque.

This was the last piece Mr. Thomson himself published; his tragedy of Coriolanus being only prepared for the theatre, when a fatal accident robbed the world of one of the best men, and best poets, that lived in it.


He had always been a timorous horseman ; and more so, in a road where numbers of giddy or unskilful riders are continually paffing: so that, when the weather did not invite him to go by water, he would commonly walk the distance between London and Richmond, with any acquaintance that offered ; with whom he might chat and reft himself, or perhaps dine, by the way. One summer evening, being alone, in his walk from town to Hammersmith, he had overheated himself, and, in that condition, imprudently took a boat to carry him to Kew; apprehending no bad consequence from the chill air on the river, which his walk to his house, at the upper end of Kew-lane, had always hitherto prevented. But now the cold had so seized him, that next day he found himself in a high fever, so much the more to be dreaded that he was of a full habit. This, however, by the use of proper medicines, was removed, so that he was thought to be out of danger: till the fine weather having tempted him to expose himself once more to the evening dews, his fever returned with violence, and with such symptoms as left no hopes of a cure. Two days had passed before his relapse was known in town; at last, Mr. Mitchell and Mr. Reid, with Dr. Armstrong, being informed of it, pofted out at mid

night to his affiftance: but, alas! came only to endure a fight of all others the most shocking to nature, the last agonies of their beloved friend. This lamented death happened on the 27th day of August 1748.

His teftamentary executors were, the Lord Lyttelton, whose care of our poet's fortune and fame ceased not with his life; and Mr. Mitchell, a gentleman equally noted for the truth and conftancy of his private friendships, and for his address and spirit as a public minifter. By their united interest, the orphan play of Coriolanus was brought on the stage to the best advantage: from the profits of which, and the sale of manuscripts, and other effects, all demands were duly satisfied, and a handsome sum remitted to his sisters. My Lord Lyttelton's prologue to this piece was admired as one of the best that had ever been written : the best spoken it certainly was. The sympathizing audience saw that then, indeed, Mr. Quin was no actor; that the tears he shed were those of real friendship and grief.

Mr. Thomson's remains were deposited in the church of Richmond, under a plain stone, without any infcription: nor did his brother poets at all exert themselves on the occasion, as they had lately done for one who had been the terror of poets all his life-time.

[ocr errors][merged small][ocr errors]

This filence furnished matter to one of his friends for an excellent satirical epigram, which we are sorry we cannot give the reader. Only one gentleman, Mr. Collins, who had lived some time at Richmond, but forsook it when Mr. Thomson died, wrote an Ode to his memory. This, for the dirge-like melancholy it breathes, and the warmth of affection that seems to have dictated it, we shall subjoin to the present account.

Our author himself hints, fomewhere in his works, that his exterior was not the most promising ; his make being rather robust than graceful: though it is known that in his youth he had been thought handfome. His worst appearance was, when you saw him walking alone, in a thoughtful mood : but let a friend accost him, and enter into conversation, he would instantly brighten into a most amiable aspect, his features no longer the fame, and his eye darting a peculiar animated fire. The case was much alike in company; where, if it was mixed, or very numerous, he made but an indifferent figure : but with a few select friends, he was open, sprightly, and entertaining. His wit flowed freely, but pertinently, and at due intervals, leaving room for every one to contribute his share. Such was his extreme sensibility, so

« PreviousContinue »