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Indeed, the finest descriptions in the Seasons are those in which the poet indulges his enthusiastic delight in images of power.
In many of the productions of our best poets we can trace the imitation of some model, which their authors seem to have adopted as the guide of their labours. It might be supposed that the Georgics of Virgil furnished the idea of the Seasons; but although many of the subjects treated of in the Georgics form, also, the themes of the Seasons, yet there is no affinity between the labours of the Roman poet and those of Thomson, except that both, in choosing an apparently unpoetick subject, has redeemed the error by the skill and poetical genius displayed in its treatment. The idea of writing the Seasons, Thomson himself informed Mr. Collins, was taken from the four pastorals published by Pope in 1709, entitled, Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter*: but they have no resemblance in common, and indeed we can find no poetick prototype for the Seasons; so that we may unhesitatingly affirm, that their poet, filled with the admiration of his subject, sought no model to work by but that which Nature presented to him; consequently, he has produced a truly original poem. There is, also, much truth in the remark of Dr. Murdoch, one of his biographers, "that to judge from the imitations of his
*It is a curious coincidence that Dr. Armstrong, the author of The Art of preserving Health, had just finished a poem on Winter, when the Winter of Thomson appeared. — Corney's Ed. of the Seasons, Life of Thomson, p. xxxiii.
manner, which have been following him close from the very first publication of Winter, he seems to have fixed no inconsiderable æra of English poetry." How far this absence of similarity of the Seasons to prior poetical productions may be regarded as complimentary to the taste of the author, may be questioned; for taste can be improved and perfected only by the careful study of the accumulated productions of genius; and to the neglect of such sources of improvement of taste, we may venture to attribute some of the few faults of the Seasons.
In the first place, the parts of the poems do not always hang well together: they do not naturally suggest one another; they seem as if each portion were a detached poem, and all these portions arranged without a strict regard to method. In the second place, although their style is bold and approaching sublimity, yet it is not altogether free from censurable matter; its failing is turgidity; for, although the poet should employ all the charms of language as so many instruments of his art, yet much judgment is required in their application. The employment of ornament does not imply exuberance, which not unfrequently appears in the style of our author, his words sometimes rather filling the ear than wholly satisfying the mind. But, notwithstanding this fondness of gaudy epithets, justice must oblige the most severe critic to acknowledge that the verse of our poet is wholly free from that absurd pomposity, which is deservedly termed fustian. With regard to the structure of his
verse, it has been not untruly said that it sometimes disappoints the ear, and occasionally deforms some of the finest ideas in the poem. All these defects, however, are but a grain of sand in the balance when weighed against the intrinsic merits of the Seasons. No poet, indeed, ever more truly merited the eulogy in those lines, penned by himself, on philosophy, and justly inscribed on the monument of their author in Westminster Abbey, –
"Tutor❜d by thee, sweet Poetry exalts
Her voice to ages; and informs the page
The present edition of the poem is printed from the edition by Bolton Corney, Esq., which was "printed from the edition of 1746, containing the final revision of the author, who died in 1748." No pictorial illustrations are appended to this edition, the object being to produce a volume of such a moderate price that it can be introduced into schools, and become available to a class of readers who cannot afford to purchase illustrated, expensive works.
I have not given any biographical sketch of Thomson, because his life has been so frequently written, and I have nothing to add to the narratives already in the hands of the public.
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