Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

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Literary Chronicle
New Monthly Magazine
Monthly Review
Notes and Queries
Gibson and Laing
Halkett and Laing
Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
James the First
Thomas the Rhymer
John Barbour
Andrew Wyntoun
Gavin Douglas
Allan Ramsay
William Meston
John Home
James Beattie
Robert Burns

Part II. (Volume I.)
James the Fifth
William Dunbar
Sir James Inglis
Henry the Minstrel
Sir David Lyndsay
Alexander Barclay
Alexander Montgomerie
William Alexander
William Drummond
James Thomson
John Oswald

Part III. (Volume II.)
James the Sixth
Sir Richard Maitland
Arthur Johnston
Hamilton of Bangour
Hamilton of Gilbertfield
Samuel Colvil
Alexander Ross
John Armstrong
John Ogilvie
James Macpherson
Charles Salmon

Part IV. (Volume II.)
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Robert Henryson
Alexander Scott
Walter Kennedy
John Ogilby
Alexander Pennecuik
Alexander Cunningham
David Mallet
William Falconer
Francis Garden
Robert Blair
James Moor
James Graeme
Caleb Whitefoord
James Grainger
Hector Macneill
John Wilson

Part VI. (Volume III.)
Robert Kerr
Richard Lord Maitland
Thomas Hamilton
Charles Hamilton
Michael Bruce
Thomas Blacklock
John Logan
Andrew Macdonald
James Mercer

Appendix. (Volume III.)
James I
Allan Ramsay
John Home
Robert Burns
William Drummond
Robert Fergusson
Alexander Scott
John Wilson



The parish of Ednam, in Roxburghshire, has the honor of having given birth to the poet of the Seasons. [note] He was the son of the Rev. Thomas Thomson, minister of that parish, and was born on the 11th of September, 1700. His mother's name was Beatrix Trotter, the co-heiress of a small estate, called Widhope. Young James is said to have very soon given marks of extraordinary genius; and it is certain, that from his infancy, he attracted more of the notice of the friends and visitors of his father, than is usual with boys at so early an age. Among these, Mr. Riccarton, [note] a neighbouring clergyman, a man of penetration, and somewhat of a poet, took particular interest in his welfare; and contributed greatly, both by his lessons and his benefactions of books, to expand those seeds of genius which he thought he discerned in the mind of his young favorite. After the usual course of school education at the neighbouring school of Jedburgh, Thomson was sent to Edinburgh, with a view of being reared to his father's profession.


Thomson was even now a writer of verses; but according to the opinion of many under whose eyes they fell, of verses in which there was little poetry, and little promise of any. He half thought so himself; and every new-year's day was wont to commit
all the pieces which he had written, during the preceding twelve months, to the flames, in their due order, crowning the solemnity with a copy of verses in which were humorously recited the several grounds of their condemnation. His chief encourager was still the worthy Mr. Riccarton, who urged the young poet to go on writing and burning, in the confidence that from the ashes of sterility might yet spring a harvest of rich vegetation. He had also the honor of being noticed and countenanced in his poetical perseverance by Sir William Bennet,
[note] a gentleman of some eminence among the amateur literati of the early part of the eighteenth century, who frequently invited Thomson to pass his periods of vacation at his country seat; a kindness which Thomson always remembered with peculiar pleasure.


In the second year of his attendance at the university, his father died. He left a numerous family, not well provided for, to the care of their mother; but with the aid of some money, raised on her patrimonial property, she was shortly after enabled to remove with her children to Edinburgh, where, by her frugal management, she contrived to support them in a respectable manner, while James, her favorite son, pursued his studies at college.


When he had completed the requisite preparatory course of humanity and philosophy, Thomson, agreeably to his original destination to the church, entered himself of the Divinity Hall. He had not, however, continued his attendance here more than a year, when a circumstance occurred which, awakening all his early prepossessions gave a complete change to his views in life. Mr. Hamilton, [note] the professor of
divinity, happened to prescribe, for the subject of an exercise, a psalm, in which the glory and power of God are celebrated. Of this psalm, Thomson gave a paraphrase in a style so extremely poetical, that the professor, while he praised it highly, was pleased to remark, that, if the author thought of being useful in the ministry, he must keep a stricter rein upon his imagination, and express himself in language more suited to ordinary understandings. Thomson, not ill-pleased to be reproved for an excellence to which the natural bias of his mind had led him, and for which it had been the earliest object of his ambition to be distinguished, was stirred by this admonition to reflect more seriously than he had yet done on his qualifications for the church; and feeling, perhaps willingly, conscious, that his call was not to the sacred function, he resolved, at once, to abandon it, and to throw himself on the many other chances which the world affords to every new man of ordinary capacity, so rise to fame and fortune.


With a pocket scantily supplied with money, but amply filled with certificates and letters of recommendation, Thomson set off for London. It is said,* that a day or two after his arrival his budget of credentials was stolen from him, at he was pasting along the street with the gaping curiosity of a new-corner. The fact may have been so, and the loss he suffered not very great. He appears, with or without them, to have found his way to Mr. Mallet, by whom he was

* Johnson. [note]
introduced to the sons of the Duke of Montrose;
[note] to Mr. Forbes, [note] afterwards Lord President of the Court of Session; to Mr. Aikman, [note] the painter; and through Mr. Aikman, after a short time, to the greatest man in point of influence, at that time, in England, Sir Robert Walpole; [note] but that Thomson obtained any thing but good wishes from any of these introductions, has never appeared. There is great truth in what Dr. Johnson [note] says, that London is a place “where merit may soon become conspicuous, and will find friends as soon as it becomes reputable to befriend it;” or, in other words, where merit, when it has made its own way, but not till then, will find many ambitious enough to be thought among the number of its patrons. London is nothing, and to the honour of Scotsmen be it said, never to them was any thing more. To be recommended as “a young person of merit,” or, in the more cant phrase, as “a very deserving young man,” has rarely been of any other use, than to procure the individual the pain of a supercilious, perhaps expensive, acquaintance; and, generally speaking, it is not till a young Scotsman has got rid of all his letters of recommendation,—whether by losing or delivering them is matter of indifference,—not till he has made himself of value by the spontaneous and active exertion of his abilities in some way or other,—that he has any chance of rising above obscurity and misery. Nor is it any reproach to England, or to the Scotsmen resident in England, that such should be the case. It is but right, that a man should give severe proof of superior talent, before he is encouraged to eat the bread of
strangers. The adage, that no man is a prophet in his own country, was never meant to be a passport from it, to all the fools in it.*


Johnson, [note] in his life of Thomson, says, that “his first want was a pair of shoes,” and that “for the support of all his necessities, his whole fund was his Winter. ” This statement must have proceeded from very erroneous information, and for the credit of the “Lives of the English Poets” ought to be expunged. His “Winter” was not written till after he was in London some time; and so far from being in want of a pair of shoes, he appears to have wanted nothing

* Some member of the society has made on this passage the following note: “Considerable deductions must surely be made from these statements. While the satire of Ben Jonson [note] and the invectives of Junius [note] are remembered, it will be difficult to make the world believe, that Scotsmen have never been favorites at St. James's, except for merit's sake. And, on the other hand, it ought not to be forgotten, that by the removal of the court from Edinburgh to London, the latter became a common field for honest ambition to Scotsmen as well as Englishmen, and where the one had as little reason to be regarded as “strangers” as the other.”
The writer of the memoir, it may be observed, speaks of the man who has no other recommendation than his personal merit, and no family interest to secure his advancement, in spite of the want of it. Of such individuals, he has probably said no more than the truth. A. S.
which credit, well sustained, could command. A letter, written by Thomson, at this period, to “ Dr. Cranstoun, at Ancrum by Berwick,” has fortunately come to the light, which establishes not only this fact but so many other interesting and important particulars respecting the poet's character, that no apology can be necessary for copying it at length.


Dear Doctor,
I would chide you for the slackness of your correspondence, but having blamed you wrongfully last time, I shall say nothing till I hear from you, which I hope will be soon.


There is a little piece of business I would communicate to you before I come to the more interesting part of our correspondence.


I am going (hard task) to complain and beg your assistance. When I came up here, I brought very little money along with me, expecting some more upon selling of Widehope, which was to have been sold that day my mother was buried. Now 'tis unsold yet, but will be disposed of as soon as it can conveniently be done, though indeed 'tis perplexed with some difficulties.


I was a long time here, living at my own charges, and you know how expensive that is. This, together with the furnishing of myself with clothes, linens, one thing and another to fit me for any business of this nature here, necessarily obliged me to contract some debts. Being a stranger here, 'tis a wonder how I got any credit, but I can't expect it will be long sustained, unless I immediately clear the debts
already contracted. Even now I believe it is at a crisis with me; my friends have no money to send me 'till the land is sold, and my creditors will not wait 'till then; you know what the consequence would be. Now, the assistance I would beg of you, and which I know, if in your power, you won't refuse me, is a letter of credit on some merchant, banker, or such like person in London, for the matter of twelve pounds, 'till I get some money upon the selling of the land, which I am at last certain of. If you could either give me it yourself, or procure it to me any way, though you do not owe it to my merit, yet you owe it to your own good nature, which I know so well as to say no more on the subject; only allow me to add, that when I first fell upon such a project, (the only thing I have for it in my present circumstances,) knowing the selfish and inhuman temper of the bulk of mankind, you were the first person that offered to my thoughts as one to whom I had the confidence to make such an address.


Now I imagine you seized with a fine romantic kind of melancholy on the fading of the year: now I figure you wandering, philosophical and pensive, amidst the brown withered groves, while the leaves rustle under your feet,* the sun giving you a farewell

* Thomson has introduced this circumstance in his Autumn, and Dr. Warton [note] remarks upon it, “what (other) poet hath ever taken notice of the leaf, that, towards the end of Autumn,
Incessant rustles from the mournful grove,
Oft startling such as, studious, walk below
And slowly circles through the waving air?”
parting gleam, and the birds
“Stir the faint notes, and but attempt to sing.”
Then, again, when the heavens wear a more gloomy aspect, the winds whistle, and water spout, I see you in the well known cleugh, beneath the solemn arch of tall, thick, embowering trees, listening to the amusing lull of the many steep moss-grown cascades; while deep divine contemplation, the genius of the place, prompts each swelling awful thought. I am sure you would not resign your part in that scene at an easy rate none ever enjoyed it to the height you do, and you are worthy of it; there I still walk in spirit, and disport in its beloved gloom.


This country I am in is not very interesting; no variety but that of woods, and these we have in abundance; but where is the living stream, the airy mountain, and the hanging rock? with twenty other things that elegantly please the lover of nature? Nature delights me in every form! I am just new painting her in her most lugubrious dress, merely for my own amusement, describing Winter as it now presents itself. After my first proposal of the subject,

I sing of Winter and his gelid reign,
Nor let a rhyming insect of the spring
Deem it a barren theme to me 'tis full
Of manly charms; to me who court the shade,
Whom the gay seasons suit not, and who shun
The glare of summer, welcome, kindred gloom!
Drear awful wintery horrors, welcome all! &c.*

* A first sketch. How amended in the beautiful introduction to Winter, as published!

After this introduction, which insists for a few lines farther, I prosecute the purport of the following lines:—

Nor can I, O departing somber, choose,
But consecrate one pitying line to you;
Sing your last temper'd days and sunny calms,
That cheer the spirits and revive the soul.*

The terrible floods and high winds that usually happen about this time of the year, and have already happened here, (I wish you have not felt them too dreadfully,) these first produced the inclosed lines; the last are not completed. Mr. Riccarton's [note] poem on Winter, which I still have, first put the design into my head. In it are some masterly strokes that awakened me, but being only a present amusement 'tis ten to one but I drop it whenever another fancy comes across me.


I believe it had been much more proper for me, if, for your entertainment in this letter, I had cited others instead of myself, but I most defer that 'till another time.


If you have not seen it, I have just now in my possession an original of Sir Alexander Brand's [note] (the crazed knight with the woeful countenance;) you might please believe, it would make Mess John

See, Winter comes, to rule the varied year,
Sullen and sad, with all his rising train;
Vapours, and clouds, and storms! &c.
* A purpose abandoned in the finished poem; when the poet had it probably in anticipation to make Summer the subject of a separate production.
catch hold of his knees, which I take in him to he a degree of mirth only inferior to that of falling hack again with an elastic spring. 'Tis very elegantly printed in the
Evening Post, so perhaps on may have seen it. The panegyrics of a declining bard—one on the princess's birthday, and the other on his majesty's, in three cantos. They are written in the true spirit of complicated craziness.


I was lately in London a night, and in the old play-house saw a comedy acted, called Love makes a Man, or the Fop's Fortune, [note] where I beheld Miller and Cibber [note] shine, to my infinite entertainment. In and about London, this month of September, near a hundred people have died by accidents and suicide: there was one blacksmith, who, tired of the hammer, hanged himself, and left written behind him this concise epitaph:
I, Joe Pope,
Liv'd without hope,
And died by a rope!
Or else some epigrammatical muse has belyed him.


Mr. Muir has ample fund for politics in the present posture of affairs, as you will discover by the public news. I should be glad to know that great minister's frame just now—keep it to yourself—you may whisper it only in Mess John's ear. Far otherwise is his lately mysterious brother, Mr. Tate, employed—started a superannuated fortune—just now upon the full scent; 'tis comical enough to see him just started from amongst the rubbish of his politics and controversial divinity, polishing up his ancient rusty gallantry.


Remember me to all friends, Mr. Riccarton, Mess John, and Br. John.

Your's, sincerely,
James Thomson.


From this letter it appears, that Thomson's mother had not long survived his departure from Edinburgh, and that, though she could not therefore have had the happiness which many of his biographers bestow on her, of living to see her son “distinguished and patronized as a man of genius,” she had, at least, the satisfaction of leaving him in a state far above “the want of a pair of shoes.” The simplicity with which Thomson talks of his affairs being near a crisis, from having incurred the enormous debt of a dozen pounds, is agreeably contrasted with the warmth of confidence, with which, in this extremity, he resorts to his friend for aid. It presents an early proof of the regard in which Thomson had the singular fortune through life to be held by all who knew him. The literary part of this letter establishes a fact of some interest to the curious in poetical history, the source from which he derived the idea of “Winter,” the first of his admirable series of poems on “The Seasons.” [note] Of the piece by Mr. Riccarton, [note] which Thomson alludes to, there is, however, it is believed, no trace.


When Thomson had completed his “Winter,” he found (notwithstanding all the introductions with which he had been honored) great difficulty in procuring a publisher; and when Mr. Miller [note] was, at last, persuaded to buy it at a low price, and in March, 1726, brought it forth to the world, so slow were the public in discovering its merits, that Miller began
to repent his bargain. The poem was dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton; [note] but even from him it attracted no regard, until Aaron Hill, [note] one of a few who interested themselves in the poet's fortunes, awakened the knight's attention by some verses addressed to Thomson, and published in one of the newspapers which censured the great for their neglect of ingenious men. Sir Spencer then sent for Thomson, who in a letter to Mr. Hill, gives the following account of his visit.


“He received me in what they commonly call a civil manner; asked me some common-place questions, and made me a present of twenty guineas. I am very ready to own, that the present was larger than my performance deserved, and shall ascribe it to his generosity, or any other cause, rather than the merit of the address.”


The poem gained by degrees upon the public, and soon brought the author new and more substantial friends. Among others, Dr. Rundle, [note] afterwards Bishop of Derry, had no sooner read it, than with that prompt generosity which distinguished his character, he sought Thomson out, and was so pleased with him, that he recommended him to Lord Chancellor Talbot, [note] from whose patronage he afterwards derived the most essential benefit.


In 1727, Thomson gave a companion to his “Winter,” by the publication, on the same plan, of “Summer,” dedicated to Mr. Doddington; [note] and, contrary to what usually occurs in the extension of a happy design, lost nothing in reputation by the effort. During the same year, he also produced “A poem on the death of Sir Isaac Newton,” which, says Dr.
[note] “he was enabled to perform as an exact philosopher, by the instruction of Mr. Gray.” [note] It is more probable, that, if he required any instruction on the subject, he derived it from the Rev. Patrick Murdoch, [note] a fellow-countryman, with whom Thomson was on very intimate terms, and who published “Maclaurin's [note] Account of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophical Discoveries, together with a Life of the Author.” Murdoch is supposed to have himself afterwards sat for the picture of “the oily man of God,” in the “Castle of Indolence.” [note]


The resentment of our merchants running, at this period, very high against the Spaniards, for interruptions to their trade, Thomson wrote his “Britannia,” a poetical appeal, designed to rouse the nation to the assertion of its rights.


The next year was distinguished by the addition to his Seasons of “Spring,” dedicated to the Countess of Hertford. [note]


Thomson was now tempted to vary the walk of his muse, and in the winter of 1728-29 produced his tragedy of “Sophonisba.” Great expectations were raised by its announcement; but very moderately gratified on the representation. The public discovered that splendid diction and poetic imagery, on the faith of which all their anticipations of a good play were founded, did not necessarily imply a high degree of dramatic talent. Slight accidents, too, as Dr. Johnson remarks, will operate upon the taste of pleasure. There is a feeble line in the tragedy,
O Sophonisba! Sophonisba, O!
This gave occasion to a waggish parody;—
O Jemmy Thomson! Jemmy Thomson, O!
which, for a while, was echoed through the town.


In the year 1730, he completed the round of the Seasons, [note] by the addition of “Autumn,” which he published that year in a collection of the whole of his works in quarto.


The Lord Chancellor Talbot having a son, the Hon. Charles Talbot, [note] who was about to proceed on his travels, Thomson was, by the advice of Dr. Rundle, [note] selected to accompany him. With this young gentleman, he visited most of the courts in Europe; and, strong in patriotic feeling, as all his poems evince, he appears to have surveyed with an inquisitive eye of comparison, not only those peculiarities in the civil and religious institutions of foreign countries, by which they are reduced so far below us in social happiness; but those celebrated monuments of art which place them, at the same time, so much above us in their recollections of former greatness. How acute and judicious his observations were, we see in his poem on Liberty, begun soon after his return to England. The design of it was, to shew, by a contrast between ancient and modern Greece and Rome, and a view of the present and probable future state of Britain, the means by which the precious freedom we enjoy may be lost or preserved in its primitive purity to the remotest ages. In proposing this important task to himself, he appears to have resolved to make it the master effort of his mind; he employed more than two years in composing it; and when finished, he valued himself more upon it than on any thing he had ever written. The leisure which he required for
its composition, he was happily enabled to command through the just consideration entertained by Lord Chancellor Talbot for his services to his son. Immediately on his arrival in England, his lordship made him his secretary of briefs; a situation of little duty, and equal in emolument to all his wants.


Before the completion of this poem, however, Thomson had the misfortune to lose, by death, both his friend and fellow-traveller, Charles Talbot, and his patron, Lord Talbot himself. The premature fate of the one he has lamented in the initial lines to his poem on Liberty, and the departure of the other he has recorded in a poem dedicated to his memory, which is one of the most enviable tributes ever paid by poetry to the virtues of the judicial office.


The sinecure place which Thomson held fell with his patron, and chusing rather to trust to the chapter of accidents, than to abate any thing in his style of life, which joined to elegance some degree of luxury, he became involved in a few debts, and exposed himself more than once to the gripe of the law. One of these occasions furnished Quin, [note] the celebrated actor, with an opportunity of displaying, at once, the generosity of his disposition, and his friendship for genius. Being informed that the author of the Seasons was confined in a sponging-house for a debt of about 70 l. he hastened to the place, although personally unacquainted with Mr. Thomson, and desired to be introduced to him. On being admitted to Thomson, “Sir,” said he, “you don't know me, I believe; but my name is Quin.” Mr. Thomson said, that though he could not boast of the honour of a personal acquaintance, he was no stranger either
to his name or his merit, and very politely invited him to take a seat. Quin then told him, he was come to sup with him; but that, as he presumed, it would have been inconvenient to have had the supper dressed in the place they were in, he had used the freedom to order it from an adjacent tavern. The supper accordingly soon made its appearance, with ass ample supply of the best claret. After the cloth had been removed, and the bottle had moved briskly between them, Mr. Quin then took occasion to explain the cause of his visit, by saying, “it was now time to enter upon business.” Mr. Thomson, conceiving that he probably desired his poetical assistance in some dramatic speculation, very handsomely declared his readiness to do any thing in his power to serve him. “Sir,” says Mr. Quin, “you mistake my meaning. Soon after I had read your
Seasons, I took it into my head, that as I had something in the world to leave behind me when I died, I would make my will; and among the rest of my legatees, I set down the author of the Seasons, an hundred pounds; and this day, hearing that you was in this house, I thought I might as well have the pleasure of paying the money myself, as to order my executors to pay it, when perhaps you might have less need of it. And this, Mr. Thomson, is the business I came about.” Saying which, he laid before him a bank note for 100 l. and, without leaving the astonished bard time to express his gratitude, took his leave.


After some time, Thomson was partially relieved from this precarious state of dependence, by the patronage of Frederick Prince of Wales, [note] who, upon the recommendation of Mr. (afterwards Lord) Lyttelton, [note]
then his royal highness's chief favorite, settled on him a pension of 100 l. a year. To the honour of Mr. Lyttelton, this recommendation came altogether unsolicited, and before he knew any thing more of Thomson than his works.


In 1738, Thomson produced on the stage a second tragedy, called Agamemnon. Although not very favorably received, it brought him a handsome sum. Mr. Pope [note] interested himself greatly in its success. He not only wrote to the managers in its favour, but attended the first representation of it in person, which, as he had for some time given over appearing at the theatre, was regarded as a high mark of esteem. His entrance was welcomed by the audience with a general clapping of hands. Thomson himself is said to have taken his seat on the occasion in the upper gallery, in order that he might witness the representation, without being recognized as the author. But so absorbed did he become in the progress of the piece, that he began to accompany the players by audible recitation; and even so far forgot himself as now and then to let those about him know what was to come next. Some gentlemen, whom the crowded state of the house had driven to the same obscure part for a seat, were much amused by observing these unconscious workings of paternal anxiety.


In the year following, he offered to the stage another tragedy, called Edward and Eleonora, but the censor appointed by the act for licensing plays, which had then recently passed, refused to sanction its performance. It was the second play which shared this fate; the first was the “Gustavus Vasa” of Mr.
[note] Thomson was indebted for this piece of kindness to his connection with the Prince of Wales; [note] the hostility shewn to whom by the ministers of the day was ungenerously extended even to the humble sons of genius whom he patronized; an early and striking proof of the danger of admitting a licensing power in matters of literature. Nobody has ever been able to point out any thing politically or morally faulty in the piece; and there can be no doubt, that party malevolence must retain the entire credit of its rejection. The public were pleased to recompense Mr. Brooke by a liberal subscription for the treatment which his tragedy received from the government censor; a subscription was also opened for Mr. Thomson, but with what success is not recorded.


The next dramatic performance in which Thomson engaged was “The Masque of Alfred,” written in 1740 jointly by him and Mallet, by the command of the Prince of Wales, for the entertainment of his royal highness's court at Cliefden, his summer residence. Ten years afterwards, this piece, with some alterations and new music, was brought on the London stage by Mr. Mallet.


In 1745, Thomson produced “Tancred and Sigismunda,” the most successful of all his plays. It was received with great applause, and still keeps its turn upon the stage.


Mr. Lyttelton, [note] his friend, being now in power, procured for Thomson the appointment of surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands; a situation, the duties of which are performed by a deputy, leaving an income of about 300 l. to the principal. Mr. Thomson gave the deputyship to a poetical friend of the
name of Paterson, to whom, indeed, he owed this recompense for a piece of bad fortune which he had unwittingly been the means of bringing upon him. Mr. Paterson used to write out fair copies of his friend's pieces, when such were required for the press or the stage. He was, at the same time, himself a writer of plays, and had written one on the story of Arminius, the German hero. When this play was presented for a licence, the censor had no sooner 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 he could obtain by the publication of a tragedy, branded with the stigma of rejection.


The last piece which Mr. Thomson lived to publish was his “Castle of Indolence.” [note] It had, we are told, occupied his occasional attention for many years. At first, it consisted of little more than a few detached stanzas, by way of raillery on himself and some of his friends, with whom indolence was a sin confessed, yet luxuriously indulged. But he saw very soon, that the subject deserved to be treated more at large; and gradually extended it to the length in which this admirable poem now appears before us.


While engaged in the preparation of another tragedy for the stage, Thomson was seized with an illness which snatched him from the world in the prime of life. He was, at this time, living at Richmond, and, when he visited town, would commonly walk the distance back with any friend that offered; with whom he might chat and rest himself, or perhaps dine by the way. One summer evening, being alone in his walk from town, he overheated himself by the
time he had reached Hammersmith; and, in that situation, taking imprudently a boat to go the rest of the way by water, he caught cold on the river, and found himself next day in a high fever. By the aid of medicine, however, this was so far removed, that he was thought to be out of danger; but, being tempted by fine weather to expose himself once more to the evening dews, his fever returned with fatal violence, and on the 22d of August, 1748, he expired.


His remains were interred at the western end of the south aisle of the church of Richmond. A costly monument was afterwards erected to his memory in Westminster Abbey; the execution of which, however, does no honour to the sculpture of the age.


The celebrated Collins, [note] who had also chosen the delightful village of Richmond for his poetical retirement, and between whom and Thomson the most tender intimacy subsisted, mourned his loss in the celebrated Ode, [note] beginning,

“In yonder grave a Druid lies.”

With this ode, too, Collins bade adieu to Richmond; which, without his lamented friend, had for his sensitive spirit no longer any charms.

But thou, lorn stream! whose sullen tide
No sedge-crown'd sisters now attend,
Now waft me from the green hill's aide,
Whose cold turf hides the buried friend.
And see, the fairy valleys fade,
Dun Night has veil'd the solemn view!
Yet once again, dear parted shade,
Meek Nature's child, again, adieu!

Thomson left a will, appointing Mr., now become Sir George, Lyttelton, [note] and Mr. Mitchell, [note] the well-known diplomatist, his executors. By their united exertions, the tragedy of Coriolanus, which was that on which Thomson had been occupied previous to his death, was brought on the stage for the benefit of his relatives. It was recommended by a prologue, written by Lyttelton, and spoken by Quin, [note] whose early generosity to the bard had been succeeded by a friendship the most ardent. When Quin came to the following lines, all the endearments of a long intimacy rising at once to his imagination, brought the tears into his eyes.

He lov'd his friends, (forgive this gushing tear,
Alas! I feel I am no actor here;)
He lov'd his friends with such a warmth of heart,
So clear of interest, so devoid of art;
Such gen'rous freedom, such unshaken zeal
No words can speak it, but our tears may tell.

The skilful break at the commencement of these lines must have had a most pathetic effect. Mr. Quin [note] is said never to have appeared so great an actor, as at the moment when he declared himself none. The profits arising from this play, and from the sale of his books, prints, and other effects, more than satisfied all demands on Thomson's estate, and left a very handsome sum to be remitted to his sisters in Scotland, for whom he had always evinced the most brotherly affection.


Mr. Murdoch, [note] the friend of Thomson, who prefixed a life of him to a collection of his works in 4to. published in 1762, informs us, that “his exterior was not the most promising, his make being rather robust than graceful, and he appeared worst when seen walking alone in a thoughtful mood; but when accosted by a friend, and entered into conversation, he would instantly brighten into a most agreeable aspect; his features no longer the same, and his eye darting a peculiarly animated fire. The case was much the same 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.” Dr. Johnson's [note] description, also written from personal acquaintance, is nearly to the same purpose. “ Thomson was of a stature above the middle size, and ‘more fat than bard beseems,’ of a dull 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.”


Mr. Murdoch has remarked, that the more distinguishing qualities of Thomson's mind and heart are to be best discovered from his works; an observation which Dr. Johnson [note] very properly takes notice of as singularly unfortunate. Savage, [note] who lived much with Thomson, told Dr. J. that he heard a lady once remark, that she could gather from the works of the author of the Seasons three parts of his character, that “he was a great lover, a great swimmer, and rigorously abstinent.” Nothing, indeed, could be more natural than these inferences. Need we refer for symptoms of the lover to the charming picture in Spring, of the virgin
Flush'd by the spirit of the genial year;
or, of the youth
When on his heart the torrent-softness pours;
or, of Musidora, when “fair-expos'd she stood,” while
———the latent Damon drew
Such mad'ning draughts of beauty to the soul,
As, for a while, o'er-whelm'd his rapturous thought
With luxury too daring?


Of his skill in swimming, what evidence could apparently be more derisive than his own brave declaration:
Nor when cold winter keens the bright'ning flood,
Would I, weak, shiv'ring, linger on the brink?
And that he was abstinent, one might well conclude from his description of the happiest of men:
———he, who far from public rage,
Deep in the vale, with a choice few retir'd,
Drinks the pore pleasures of the rural life;
and has not his “insatiate table” heaped with dainties “from utmost land and sea purveyed,” nor “bowl flaming with costly juice;” but is
Rich in content, in Nature's bounty rich,
In herbs and fruits.


Very far, however, was any one of these inferences from being correct. Savage's [note] words, in remarking on them to Dr. Johnson, [note] were, “he knows not any love but that of the sex; he was perhaps never in
cold water in his life; and he indulges himself in all the luxury that comes within his reach.” The coarse colouring of Savage may be discerned in these remarks, but there is every reason to believe that they were substantially true.


Several idle stories have been told of Thomson's lazy efforts to be in love; but it is extremely doubtful that the passion ever disturbed his peace of mind for a single hour. He was too habitually and luxuriously indolent to be at the trouble of courtship; and not being of a very engaging appearance, no love-struck fair was tempted to reverse the order of society, by wooing him to a happiness which he disdained to pursue. The Amanda, whom he frequently invokes in the Seasons, [note] is supposed by some to have been a real personage, but on no better authority, it is believed, than some lines alleged to have been written by Thomson to this fair unknown, with a copy of the Seasons. The lines are not unworthy of Thomson; but so unlike in sentiment to any thing he ever evinced in his life, as to carry strong evidence of fiction along with them.

Lines written by Thomson to his Amanda, with of copy of the Seasons.
Accept, dear Nymph! a tribute due
To sacred friendship and to you;
But with it take, what breeath'd the whole,
O! take to thine the poet's soul!
If Fancy here her pow'r displays,
Or if a heart exalts these lays,
You, fairest, in that fancy shine,
And all that heart is fondly thine!

The same shrewd guesser, who discovered from Thomson's works that he was a great lover, great swimmer, and great frugalist, might also have drawn from the same source that he was a very early riser. Was ever the bed of sloth more eloquently reprobated than in the following lines?

Falsely luxurious, will not man awake;
And, springing from the bed of sloth, enjoy
The cool, the fragrant, and the silent hour,
To meditation due and sacred song?
For is there aught in sleep can charm the wise?
To lie in dead oblivion, losing half
The fleeting moments of too short a life;
Total extinction of th' enhighten'd soul!
Or else, to feverish vanity alive,
Wilder'd and tossing thro' distemper'd dreams?
Who would in such a gloomy state remain
Longer than Nature craves; when every Muse
And every blooming pleasure wait without,
To bless the wildly-devious morning walk?

Thomson's nature, however, craved no ordinary share of this “dead oblivion;” he was a late riser, sleeping often till noon, and when once reproached for his slothfulness, observed, “that he felt so comfortable that he saw no motive for rising.” It ought to be observed, however, that he had a strong apology for not rising early, in the late hours of his lying down. The deep silence of the night was the time he commonly chose for study; and he would often be heard walking in his library till near morning, humming over what he was to write out and correct next day.


Almost the only certain thing which we can learn from Thomson's works, respecting his habits, is that the Autumn was his favorite season for poetical composition.

When Autumn's yellow lustre gilds the world,
And tempts the sickled swain into the field;
Seiz'd by the gen'ral joy, his heart distends
With gentle throws; and thro' the tepid gleams
Deep musing, then he best exerts his song.

Thomson speaks, its his Autumn, of the delight which he used to experience in roaming through the grounds of his patron, Mr. Doddington, [note] and “stealing along the sunny wall,” which presented

———the downy peach, the shining plum,
The ruddy, fragrant nectarine; and dark
Beneath his ample leaf, the luscious fig.

It is related, that tempted with the fruit, but too lazy to take his hands out of his pocket to pluck it, he has been seen snatching it from the tree with his mouth.


He had often felt the inconveniences of indolence, especially in the management of his affairs, but never cured it; he was so conscious of his own character, that, Johnson [note] tells us, he talked of writing an Eastern tale of “The Man who loved to be in Distress.”


The opinion which Dr. Johnson pronounces on Thomson's claims as a writer, gives him a station in eminence which nothing that any new biographer can add can raise higher. “His mode of thinking,” says that great critic, “and of expressing his thoughts, is original. His blank verse is no more the blank verse
of Milton,
[note] or of any other poet, than the rhymes of Prior [note] are the rhymes of Cowley. [note] His numbers, his pauses, his diction, are of his own growth, without transcription, without imitation. He thinks in a peculiar train, and he thinks always as a man of genius: he looks round on Nature and on Life with the eye which Nature bestows only on a poet; the eye that distinguishes, in every thing presented to its view, whatever there is on which imagination can delight to be detained, and with a mind that at once comprehends the vast and attends to the minute. The reader of the Seasons [note] wonders that he never saw before what Thomson shews him, and that he never yet has felt what Thomson impresses.” Of his merits as a dramatist, however, Dr. J. says, in another place, “it may be doubted whether he was, either by the bent of nature or habits of study, much qualified for tragedy. It does not appear that he had much sense of the pathetic; and his diffusive and descriptive style produced declamation rather than dialogue.” His tragedies, it must be allowed, are the most inferior of his compositions.


The production of Thomson's, which is least favored by Dr Johnson, is that of which Thomson himself thought most—his poem of Liberty. “An author and a reader,” says Dr. J. “are not always of a mind. Liberty called in vain upon her votaries to read her praises and reward her encomiast; her praises were condemned to harbour spiders and to gather dust; none of Thomson's performances were so little regarded. The judgement of the public was not erroneous; the recurrence of the same images must tire in time; an enumeration of examples to prove a position which
nobody denied, as it was from the beginning superfluous, must quickly grow disgusting.” It detracts greatly, however, from the value of this opinion, to find Dr. J. afterwards candidly confessing that he never read the work which he condemns.
“Liberty,” he says,“when it first appeared, I tried to read and soon desisted. I have never tried again, and therefore will not hazard either praise or censure.” He had, however, as we see from the preceding passage, already hazarded a censure of a very pointed description, but on presumptions and principles as foreign to the real character of the piece, as (with due submission to so high an authority be it said) to every element of good poetry. Had he read the poem, he would have found, that instead of a “recurrence of the same images,” it is distinguished for the very great variety of its imagery. He would have encountered, indeed, a succession of noble examples to make him in love with the charms of liberty; but how he could have come to such a conclusion as that the enumeration was either “superfluous” or “disgusting,” it is hard to conceive. That the Spring is gay, the Summer splendid, the Autumn tranquil, the Winter gloomy, are all, as mach positions “which nobody denies from the beginning,” as that Liberty is precious; but let the pleasure which Dr. J. himself acknowledges he received from the varied descriptions, by which the general character of each of these Seasons has been illustrated by Thomson —let the Doctor's feelings attest against his criticism, whether it necessarily follows that an enumeration of examples to prove an admitted position “must quickly grow disgusting.” The essence of all poetry is to illustrate and enforce posi-
tions well known or feelings that are familiar; not to dive into deep wells in search of hidden truths, but to read the book of nature to others, with a grace which may discover to the bearer beauties which never struck him before, and raise in him a glow of enthusiasm to which his breast may as yet have been a stranger.


The “Castle of Indolence,” [note] which is written in imitation of Spenser's [note] style, was, next to Liberty, the piece on which Thomson bestowed must pains. It is of the two by far the better poem; it combines equal richness of sentiment, with far bolder flights of imagination, and is equally laboured with less appearance of being so. The Castle of Indolence, indeed, may be said to shew the ars celare artem in perfection. The simplicity of diction, bordering sometimes on the ludicrous, which he has adopted in some of the lines, in order to keep up the imitation of the old style, is often most skilfully happy. It has not, I believe, been noticed, that in the composition of the “Castle of Indolence,” Thomson had his eye on “The Castle of Labour,” by Alexander Barclay, which, though an almost forgotten work, he had undoubtedly perused. The commencement of Thomson's poem has a similarity to that of Barclay's, which could not be the effect of accident.

Castle of Labour.
Ye mortal people! that desire to obtain
Eternal bliss by your labour diligent,
With mortal riches subdue your pain;
To read this treatise to the right intent,
Which shall shew you plain and evident,
That Idleness, mother of all adversity,
Her subjects bringeth to extreme poverty.
Castle of Indolence.
Canto I.
The Castle hight of Indolence
And its false luxury;
Where for a little time, alas!
We liv'd right jollily.
O mortal man! who livest here by toil,
Do not complain of this thy hard estate;
That like an emmet thou must ever moil,
Is a sad sentence of an ancient date;
And certes there is for it reason great,
For, tho' sometimes it makes thee weep and wail,
And curse thy star, and early drudge and late,
Withouten that would come an heavier bale,
Loose life, unruly passions, and diseases pale.

A very striking and engaging feature in the whole of Thomson's productions, is the tone of fervent piety and pure morality which pervades them. It was beautifully and truly said by Lyttelton, [note] in his prologue to Coriolanus,

His chaste muse employ'd her heaven-taught lyre,
None but the noblest passions to inspire;
Not one immoral, one corrupted thought,
One line which, dying, he would wish to blot.

The only exception which I ever knew to be taken to Thomson, on the ground of religious principles was by an orthodox divine of the Scottish church, who observed, at one of those feastings which distinguish “Sacrament Monday,” at Scottish parsonages, that “it was as unco weel Jamie Tamson did nae bide by the
kirk, for he had nae the principles o' saving grace; he did na believe in original sin.” The observation attracting, by its novelty, the curiosity of the company, and the authority of the worthy divine for this part of the poet's creed, being questioned, he brought from his library a copy of the Seasons,
[note] from which he read these lines:

———Welcome, kindred glooms!
Congenial horrors, hail! with frequent foot,
Pleas'd have I in my cheerful morn of life,
When nurs'd by careless solitude I liv'd
And sung of nature with unceasing joy,
Pleas'd have I wander'd thro' your rough domain,
Trod the pure virgin snows; myself as pure.

The sentiment is doubtless faulty; and forms, at least, one half line, which it would have been pleasing to have seen blotted out, were it only that there might be nothing common in morals between the pious Thomson and the profane Rousseau, [note] who is said, when dying, to have thus addressed the Divinity, “Eternal Being! the soul that I am now going to give thee back is as pure at this moment as it was when it proceeded from thee”!!


The spot in Richmond-church, where Thomson's remains are interred, remained, for a long time, distinguished only by a plain stone, till a brass tablet, with the following inscription, was erected by the Earl of Buchan: [note]


“In the earth, below this tablet, are the remains of James Thomson, author of the beautiful poems, entitled ‘ The Seasons, the Castle of Indolence, ’ &c., who died at Richmond, on the 22d of August, and was buried here on the 29th, o. s. 1748.


“The Earl of Buchan, unwilling that so good a man and sweet a poet should he without a memorial has denoted the place of his interment, for the satisfaction of his admirers, in the year of our Lord, 1792.

“Father of Light and Life, Thou Good Supreme,
Oh, teach me what is good! Teach me Thyself!
Save me from folly, vanity, and vice,
From every low pursuit! And feed my soul
With knowledge, conscious peace, and virtue pure:
Sacred, substantial, never-fading, bliss.”

Thomson's residence was at Rossdale House, in Ken-foot Lane, latterly in the possession of the Honorable Mrs. Boscawen. [note] This house was purchased, after the decease of Thomson, by George Ross, Esq. who forbore to pull it down, from veneration to his memory, but enlarged and improved it at a great expense. Mrs. Boscawen repaired the poet's favourite seat in the garden, and placed in it the table on which he used to write. Over the entrance, she inscribed,
“Here Thomson sung the Seasons and their change.”
And, in the centre,


“Within this pleasing retirement, allured by the music of the nightingale, which warbled, in soft unison to the melody of his soul, in unaffected cheerfulness, and genial, though simple, elegance, lived James Thomson. Sensibly alive to all the beauties of Nature, he painted their images as they rose in review, and poured the whole profusion of them into his inimitable Seasons. —Warmed with intense devotion to the Sovereign of the Universe, its flame glowing
through all his compositions, animated with unbounded benevolence, with the tenderest social sensibility, he never gave one moment's pain to any of his fellow-creatures, save only by his death, which happened at this place on the 22nd of August, 1748.”


The present notice cannot be better concluded, than in the words of an Address to the Shade of Thomson, written by Burns; the prophetic truth of which, every revolving season only tends to confirm.

While virgin Spring, by Eden's flood,
Unfolds her tender mantle green,
Or pranks the sod, in frolic mood,
Or tunes Eolian strains between:
While Summer, with a matron grace,
Retreats to Dryburgh's cooling shade;
Yet oft, delighted, stops to trace
The progress of the spiky blade:
While Autumn, benefactor kind,
By Tweed erects his aged head;
And sees, with self-approving mind,
Each creature on his bounty fed:
While maniac Winter rages o'er
The hills whence classic Yarrow flows,
Rousing the turbid torrent's roar,
Or sweeping, wild, a waste of snows.
So long, sweet poet of the year,
Shall bloom that wreath thou well hast won;
While Scotia, with exulting tear,
Proclaims that Thomson was her son.
C. C.