1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Thompson

Samuel Jackson Pratt, in Cabinet of Poetry (1808) 5:87-88.



Few are the memorials of the personal history of William Thompson, a poet of considerable genius, and as it appears, a very worthy man.

His father was rector of Brough, in Westmoreland, and once fellow of Queen's college, Oxford, at which house the son was brought up, and in due time became a fellow likewise. Early in life he discovered a vein for poetry; and after writing some pastorals, which are lost, on the banks of his native Eden, he composed his Stella, or three books of Elegies, in 1736. The same year he wrote an epithalamium on the royal nuptials, which procured him considerable reputation; and in 1738, entering into orders, was presented by his college to the livings of South Weston and Hampton Poyle, both in Oxfordshire.

A collection of his poems appeared by subscription in 1757, together with Gondibert and Bertha, a tragedy, which was never acted; nor indeed is it calculated for the stage. His longest performance is Sickness, a poem in blank verse, in which we find boldness of personification united with pathetic description, and ennobled with christian and moral truth. But we have to regret that it is too extended for our selection. His Hymn to May, however, is the most popular of his productions, and even deserves a much higher degree of celebrity than has hitherto fallen to its lot. It is a professed imitation of Spenser; and in more modern phraseology, it possesses all the vigour of description, opulence of imagery, and brilliancy of colouring, of that great master of the lyre. The Magi, a sacred eclogue, is Likewise a masterly performance; and many of his other poems evince the versatility of his genius, and the exuberance of his fancy.

Neither the year of his birth nor of his death is known, though the latter might be ascertained from the records of his college. It appears, that he intended to republish Browne's Britannia's Pastoral, on which he left some short notes, inserted in the edition by Davies in 1772.

Thompson was of the school of Spenser and Milton. Of nature he seems to have been an enthusiastic admirer and an accurate observer. His compositions abound in minute rural imagery and picturesque description: and in general are distinguished by fertility of invention, tenderness of sentiment, splendour of imagination, and harmony of numbers.

It is admitted, his early conceptions of love, of friendship, and of virtue, were very warm and elevated, and prompted a variety of poetical effusions, amatory, sentimental, and serious; but many of his pastorals, love elegies, &c. written when the young poet's love was high toned to the tender emotions of nature, without any design of printing them, have not been collected into his works.

He was once a candidate for the poetry-professorship at Oxford; but did not succeed in his application.

Soon after he published Gratitude, a poem, on the Countess of Pomfret's benefactions to the university of Oxford, which has eluded the inquiries of the present writer.