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ears, but does not go to our souls."* And, assuredly, without concurring altogether in this opinion, if instruction can be conveyed in the graceful language of poetry, so as to enlighten the understanding while it delights the imagination, no poems are better fitted than the Seasons to accomplish such an object; and to point out to the young and inquiring mind those obvious indications of design, both in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, which exhibit the finger of the Creator himself impressed upon this our abiding spot in his magnificent universe.
The necessity for cultivating not only a taste for the beauties of Nature, but inquiring into the secrets of her works, cannot be doubted. In early life it is a source of exalted gratification; and, besides, it adds to our happiness in every step of our mortal progress. Without the previous acquisition of such a taste, the mind may be justly pronounced incomplete. With it, to borrow the language of the most eloquent of our writers on ethicst, "the intellectual eye is purged of its film, and things the most familiar and unnoticed disclose beauties invisible before. The same objects and events which were lately beheld with indifference, occupy now all the powers and capacities of the soul, the contrast between the present and the past serving only to enhance and to endear
* Phillimore's Mem. and Correspondence of George Lord Lyttelton, vol. i. p. 323. † Dugald Stewart.
so unlooked for an acquisition."* It is true, that the volume of Nature is open to every one, although every eye which looks upon it is not fitted to profit by the perusal of its pages; but when aided, to even a moderate degree, by the light of science, everything appears in a new and interesting point of view. Each passing cloud varying its form, its colour, and its altitude; the pendent drops upon the blades of grass, radiant of every hue in the morning beam; weeds trodden under foot and passed unnoticed; the insect tribes filling the noonday air with their drowsy hum; the simple notes from every sheltering copse; the habits of the larger animals; the earth, the air, the morn and even,—all afford objects of interest to the mind enlarged by education, which, blending with the pleasures of imagination, not only exalt the character, but heighten the moral feeling. It is to afford this assistance to the readers of the Seasons, that I have ventured to lay the annotations appended to this edition before the public. The want of such guides for the complete understanding of the poem was seriously felt by myself in my early years; and I am disposed to hope that my notes will be found to prevent any similar regrets of future readers.
In my attempts to elucidate the scientific parts of the poems, I have endeavoured to convey my explanations in simple and intelligible language, so that the information contained in the notes may prove
* Philosophical Essays, p. 508.
not only acceptable, but useful, to many who would never think of acquiring it from any other source. Our poet was only moderately acquainted with philosophy, but he was deeply read in natural history, voyages, and travels; he had also successfully cultivated a taste for the fine arts and architecture; and, although he did not perform on any instrument, yet, he was passionately fond of music. With his attention directed to such a variety of subjects, it is not surprising that he should have implicitly adopted several erroneous theories of natural phenomena. We must admit, however, that those he adopted were generally received as correct at the time when he wrote. They have, since, been altogether rejected for others more consonant with truth; the result of the advancement of philosophical and scientific research in the present period. These errors, consequently, required to be pointed out, and the opinions which have superseded them placed before the reader; and, assuredly, it is of the greatest importance that the prejudices of one age should not be perpetuated in that which succeeds it.
The details explanatory of the numerous objects of natural history mentioned in the poem are intended for those who would not search for them elsewhere; and to impress the youthful reader with a desire to obtain further information on subjects which, when understood, never fail to add an additional charm to existence. The doctrines promulgated are those which are now most generally adopted. I venture, also, to trust that the historical sketches, connected with the
classical allusions, brief as they necessarily must be, will be found not devoid of interest. Finally, I have endeavoured, in the biographical notices, to select those traits of character most likely to bring out the portraits of the celebrated men intended to be pourtrayed in the boldest relief, so that all who look upon the pictures may at once recognise the originals.
With regard to the poems themselves, their merits are so universally acknowledged, that little is required from me, the editor, upon that head. It has been justly remarked, "that poetical genius is almost always united with an exquisite sensibility to the beauties of Nature." This sensibility was a prominent feature in the character of Thomson, and its influence is displayed conspicuously in the Seasons. An enthusiast himself, he studied Nature in all her most graceful and fascinating forms; he faithfully transferred the beauties he observed to his pages, and his object evidently was to animate his readers with the same enthusiasm for her worship which he himself experienced.
"To me be Nature's volume broad-display'd;
Or, haply catching inspiration thence,
Such, indeed, is the province of the poet: to him "all the glories of external nature; all that is amiable,
* Stewart's Elements, p. 117.
or interesting, or respectable in human character; all that excites and engages our benevolent affections; all those truths which make the heart feel better and more happy ;-all these supply materials out of which he forms and peoples a world of his own, where no inconveniences damp our enjoyments, and where no clouds darken our prospects." * From such materials the poet of the Seasons has drawn largely; and the scenes he has represented are pourtrayed with the most truthful pencil. But it is not solely the beautiful in Nature that he has painted with such magical colouring; he has, also, displayed abundant proofs that the awful and sublime, the hurricane and the whirlwind, are equally within the grasp of his genius. The following description of a storm at sea is scarcely surpassed by that of Eschylus in the Prometheus, after Mercury has delivered his message to the doomed victim of the vengeance of Jupiter, chained to the rock :
"Lash'd into foam, the fierce conflicting brine
* Stewart's Elements, p. 499.