« PreviousContinue »
burgh, and senior of the Chapel Royal, was no less serviceable to Mrs. Thomson in the management of her little affairs; which, after the decease of her husband, burdened as she was with a family of nine children, required the prudent counsels and affiftance of that faithful and generous friend.
Sir William Bennet likewise, well known for his gay humour and ready poetical wit, was highly delighted with our young poet, and used to invite him to pass the summer vacation at his country seat: a scene of life which Mr. Thomson always remembered with particular pleasure. But what he wrote during that time, either to entertain Sir Wil. liam and Mr. Riccarton, or for his own amusement, he destroyed every new year's day; committing his little pieces to the flames, in their due order; and crowning the folemnity with a copy of verses, in which were humorously recited the several grounds of their condemnation.
After the usual course of school education, under an able master at Jedburgh, Mr. Thomson was sent to the University of Edinburgh. But in the second
year of his admission, his studies were for some time interrupted by the death of his father; who was carried off so suddenly, that it was not possible for Mr. Thomson, with all the diligence he could use, to receive his last blessing. This affected him to an uncommon degree; and his relations still remember fome extraordinary instances of his grief and filial duty on that occafion.
Mrs. Thomson, whose maiden name was Hume, and who was co-heiress of a small estate in the
THE LIFE OF
country, did not sink under this misfortune. She consulted her friend Mr. Gufthart; and having, by his advice, mortgaged her moiety of the farm, repaired with her family to Edinburgh; where she lived in a decent frugal manner, till her favourite fon had not only finished his academical course, but was even distinguished and patronised as a man of genius. She was, herself, a person of uncommon natural endowments; possessed of every social and domestic virtue; with an imagination, for vivacity and warmth, scarce inferior to her fon's, and which raised her devotional exercises to a pitch bordering on enthusiasm.
But whatever advantage Mr. Thomfon might derive from the complexion of his parent, it is certain he owed much to a religious education; and that his early acquaintance with the sacred writings contributed greatly to that sublime, by which his works will be for ever distinguished. In his first pieces, the Seasons, we see him at once assume the majestic freedom of an Eastern writer ; seizing the grand images as they rise, clothing them in his own expressive language, and preserving, throughout, the grace, the variety, and the dignity which belong to a just composition; unhurt by the stiffnefs of formal method.
About this time, the study of poetry was become general in Scotland, the best English authors being universally read, and imitations of them attempted. Addison had lately displayed the beauties of Milton's immortal work; and his remarks on it, together with Mr. Pope's celebrated Elay,
had opened the way to an acquaintance with the best poets and critics.
But the most learned critic is not always the best judge of poetry; taste being a gift of nature, the want of which, Aristotle and Bolju cannot fupply; nor even the study of the best originals, when the reader's faculties are not tuned in a certain con. fonance to those of the poet: and this happened to be the case with certain learned gentlemen, into whose hands a few of Mr. Thomson's first essays had fallen. Some inaccuracies of style, and those luxuriancies which a young writer can hardly avoid, lay open to their cavils and censure ; so far indeed they might be competent judges : but the fire and enthusiasm of the poet had entirely escaped their notice. Mr. Thomson, however, conscious of his own strength, was not discouraged by this treatment; especially as he had some friends on whose judgment he could better rely, and who thought very differently of his performances. Only, from that time, he began to turn his views towards London; where works of genius may always expect a candid reception and due encouragement; and an accident soon after entirely determined him to try his fortune there.
The divinity chair at Edinburgh was then filled by the reverend and learned Mr. Hamilton; a gentleman universally respected and beloved; and who had particularly endeared himself to the young divines under his care, by his kind offices, his candor and affability. Our author had attended his lectures for about a year, when there was pre
THE LIFE OF ,
scribed to him for the subject of an exercise, a pfalm, 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 surprised 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 stricter 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, soon after, received some 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 Sellion, then attending the service of Parliament, having seen a specimen of Mr. Thomson's poetry in Scotland, received him very kindly, and recommended
pears in the
him to some of his friends: particularly to Mr. dikman, who lived in great intimacy with many persons of distinguished 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, ap
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, fo well known afterwards as an able and gallant fea officer. To Mr. Mallet he likewise owed his first acquaintance with several of the wits of that time; an exact information of their characters, personal 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