Page images

when there was prescribed to him, for the subject of an exercise, a psalm, in which the power and majesty of God are celebrated. Of this psalm he gave a paraphrase and illustration, as the nature of the exercise required; but in a style so highly poetical as furprised the whole audience. Mr. Hamilton, as his custom was, complimented the orator upon his performance, and pointed out to the students the most masterly striking parts of it; but at last, turning to Mr. Thomson, he told him, smiling, that if he thought of being useful in the ministry, he must keep a ftricter rein upon his imagination, and express himself in language more intelligible to an ordinary congregation.

This gave Mr. Thomson to understand, that his expectations from the study of theology might be very precarious ; even though the Church had been more his free choice than probably it was. So that having, foon after, received fome encouragement from a lady of quality, a friend of his mother's, then in London, he quickly prepared himself for his journey. And although this encouragement ended in nothing beneficial, it served for the present as a good pretext, to cover the imprudence of committing himself to the wide world, unfriended and unpatronised, and with the slender stock of money he was then possessed of.

But his merit did not long lie concealed. Mr. Forbes, afterwards Lord President of the Session, then attending the service of Parliament, having seen a specimen of Mr. Thomson's poetry in Scotland, received him very kindly, and recommended him to fome of his friends: particularly to Mr. Aikman, who lived in great intimacy with many persons of diftinguished 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 poetry, than in his own, no wonder that he soon conceived a friendship for our author. What a warm return he met with, and how Mr. Thomson was affected by his friend's premature death, appears in the


of verses which he wrote on that occasion.

In the mean time, our author's reception, whereever he was introduced, emboldened him to risque the publication of his Winter: in which, as himself was a mere novice in such matters, he was kindly affifted by Mr. Mallet, then 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. To Mr. Mallet he likewise owed his first acquaintance with several of the wits of that time; an exact information of their characters, per

sonal and poetical, and how they stood affected to each other.

The Poem of Winter, published in March 1726, was no sooner read than universally admired; those only excepted who had not been used to feel, or to look for, any thing in poetry, beyond a point of satirical or epigrammatic wit, a smart antithesis richly trimmed with rhyme, or the softness of an elegiac complaint. To such his manly classical spirit could not readily recommend itself; till, after a more attentive perufal, they had got the better of their prejudices, and either acquired or affected a truer taste. A few others stood aloof, merely because they had long before fixed the articles of their poetical creed, and resigned themselves to an absolute despair of ever seeing any thing new and original. These were somewhat mortified to find their notions disturbed by the appearance poet, who seemed to owe nothing but to nature and his own genius. But, in a short time, the applause became unanimous; every one wondering how fo many pictures, and pictures fo familiar, should have moved them but faintly to what they felt in his descriptions. His digressions too, the overflowings of a tender, benevolent heart, charmed the reader no less; leaving him in doubt, whether he should more admire the Poet, or love the Man.

of a

From that time, Mr. Thomson's acquaintance was courted by all men of taste; and several ladies of high rank and distinction became his declared patronesses: the Countess of Hertford, 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 Mr. Thomson, and finding in him qualities greater still, and of more value, than those of a poet, received him into his intimate confidence and friend. fhip; promoted his character every where; introduced him to his great friend the Lord Chancellor Talbot ; and, some years after, when the eldest son of that nobleman was to make his tour of travelling, 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 memory of Lord Talbot. The true cause of that undeserved treatment has been secreted from the Public, as well as the dark manæuvres that were employed: but Mr. Thomson, who had access to the best information, places it to the account of

-Slanderous zeal, and politics infirm,
Jealous of worth.

Meanwhile, our poet's chief care had been, in return for the public favour, to finish the plan which their wishes laid out for him ; and the expectations which his Winter had raised, were fully satisfied by the fucceffive publication of the other Seasons : of Summer, in the year 1727; of Spring, in the beginning of the following year; and of Autumn, in a quarto edition of his works, printed in 1730.

In that edition, the Seasons are placed in their natural order; and crowned with that inimitable Hymn, in which we view them in their beautiful succession, as one whole, the immediate effect of infinite Power and Goodness. In imitation of the Hebrew Bard, all nature is called forth to do homage to the Creator, and the reader is left enraptured in silent adoration and praise.

Besides these, and his tragedy of Sophonisba, written and acted with applause, in the year 1729, Mr. Thomfon had, in 1727, published his poem to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton, then lately deceased; containing a deserved encomium of that incomparable man, with an account of his chief discoveries ; sublimely poetical; and yet so just, that an ingenious foreigner, the Count Algarotti, takes a line of it for the text of his philosophical dialogues, Il Neutonianismo per le dame :

« PreviousContinue »