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A POEM to the memory of the Right Honourable the Lord Talbot, late Chancellor of Great Britain.
The CASTLE of INDOLENCE: an Allegorical
3 II I
VERSES Occafioned by the Death of Mr AIK
SONG. One day the God of fond Defire,
SONG. For ever, Fortune, wilt thou prove:
ODE. To Aeolus's Harp.
EPITAPH on Mifs STANLEY.
To the Rev. Mr MURDOCH, Rector of Straddifhall in Suffolk.
A Paraphrase on the latter part of the fixth Chap-:\ ter of St Matthew.
O F THE
LIFE and WRITINGS
Mr JAMES THOMSON.
T is commonly faid, that the life of a good writer is best read in his works; which can scarce fail to receive a peculiar tincture from his temper, manners, and habits: the diftinguishing character of his mind, his ruling paffion, at leaft, will there appear undifguifed. But however just this obfervation may be; and although we might fafely rest Mr Thomson's fame, as a good man, as well as a man of genius, on this fole footing; yet the defire which the public always fhews of being more particularly acquainted with the histo. ry of an eminent author, ought not to be disappointed; as it proceeds not from mere curiofity, but chiefly from affection and gratitude to those by whom they have been entertained and inftructed.
To give fome account of a deceased friend is often a piece of justice likewise, which ought not to be refused to his memory: to prevent or efface the imper-¡ tinent fictions which officious biographers are so apt to collect and propagate. And we may add, that the t VOL. I. circumstances
circumftances of an author's life will fometimes throw the beft light upon his writings; inftances whereof we fhall meet with in the following pages.
Mr Thomson was born at Ednam, in the fhire of Roxburgh, on the 11th of September, in the year 1700. His father, minifter of that place, was but little known beyond the narrow circle of his co-prefbyters, and to a few gentlemen in the neighbourhood; but highly refpected by them for his piety, and his diligence in the pastoral duty; as appeared afterwards in their kind offices to his widow and orphan family..
The Reverend Meff. Riccarton and Guflhart particularly, took a most affectionate and friendly part in all their concerns. The former, a man of uncommon penetration and good taste, had very early difcovered, through the rudeness of young Thomson's puerile effays, a fund of genius well deferving culture. and encouragement. He undertook therefore, with the father's approbation, the chief direction of his ftudies, furnished him with the proper books, corrected his performances, and was daily rewarded with the pleasure of feeing his labour fo happily employed.
The other reverend gentleman, Mr Gußhart, who is ftill living, one of the minifters of Edinburgh, and fenior of the Chapel Royal, was no less serviceable to Mrs Thomfon in the management of her little affairs; which, after the decease of her husband, burdened as fhe was with a family of nine children, required the prudent counfels and assistance of that faithful and ge nerous 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 fummer-vacation at his country-feat; a fcene of life
which Mr Thomson always remembered with particular pleasure. But what he wrote during that time, either to entertain Sir William and Mr Riccarton, or for his own amusement, he deftroyed every new-year's day; committing his little pieces to the flames in their due order; and crowning the folemnity with a copy of verfes, 'in which were humorously recited the feveral grounds of their condemnation.
After the ufual course of school-education, under an able mafter at Jedburgh, Mr Thomson was fent to the univerfity of Edinburgh. But in the fecond year of his admiffion, his ftudies were for fome time interrupted by the death of his father; who was carried off so sud. denly, that it was not poffible for Mr Thomfon, with all the diligence he could use, to receive his last blessing. This affected him to an uncommon degree; and his re. lations ftill remember fome extraordinary instances of his grief and filial duty on that occasion.
Mrs Thomfon, whose maiden name was Hume, and who was co-heirefs of a fmall eftate in the country, did not fink under this misfortune. She confulted her friend Mr Gufthart; and having, by his advice, mortgaged her moiety of the farm, repaired with her family to Edinburgh; where the lived in a decent frugal manner, till her favourite son had not only finished his academical course, but was even diftinguished and patroni zed as a man of genius. She was, herself, a person of uncommon natural endowments; poffeffed of every focial and domestic virtue; with an imagination, for vivacity and warmth, fearce inferior to her fon's, and which raised her devotional exercifes to a pitch bordering on enthusiasm.
But whatever advantage Mr Thomson 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 facred writings contributed. greatly to that fublime, by which his works will be for ever diftinguished. In his firft pieces, the Seafons, we fee him at once affume the majestic freedom of an Eastern writer; feizing the grand images as they rise, clothing them in his own expreffive language, and preferving, throughout, the grace, the variety, and the dignity which belong to a just composition; unhurt by the stiffness of formal method.
About this time, the study of poetry was become general in Scotland, the best English authors being univerfally read, and imitations of them attempted. Addifon had lately difplayed the beauties of Milton's immortal work; and his remarks on it, together with. Mr Pope's celebrated Effay, 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; tafte being a gift of nature, the want of which, Ariftotle and Boffu cannot supply ; nor even the study of the best originals, when the reader's. faculties are not tuned in a certain confonance to those of the poet and this happened to be the case with certain learned gentlemen, into whofe hands a few of Mr Thomson's firft effays had fallen. Some inaccuracies of style, and those luxuriances which a young writer can hardly avoid, lay open to their cavils and cenfure; fo far indeed they might be competent judges: but the fire and enthusiasm of the poet had entirely efcaped their notice. Mr Thomfon, however, confcious of his own ftrength, was not difcouraged by this treatment; especially as he had fome friends on whose judgment he could better rely, and who thought very differently of his performances. Only, from that time,