1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. William Thompson

Peter L. Courtier, in Lyre of Love (1806) 2:1-3.



William Thompson, second son of the Reverend Francis Thompson, was probably born at Brough in Westmoreland, of which his father was vicar, about the year 1712. He was sent early to the University of Oxford, where he became a Fellow of Queen's College. Few anecdotes are recorded of his life; nor is the time of his death ascertained.

Two years before his entering into orders (1736), he appears to have been attracted by the charms of a lady named Woodford, but it is not certain that she was the same who is celebrated as IANTHE, in most of his subsequent poems. IANTHE, however, could not be unknown to him about the year 1740, since she is introduced in his description of an illness that terminated in the smallpox, from which he was at that time recovering.

The Day was Valentine's, when lovers' wounds
Afresh begin to bleed, and sighs to warm
The chilly rigour of relenting skies!
Sacred the day to innocence and mirth;
The festival of Youth! In seeming health,
As custom bids, I hail'd the year's fair morn,
And with its earliest purple braid my brows;
The violet or primrose breathing sweets,
New to the sense. IANTHE, by my side,
More lovely than the season! rais'd her voice,
Observant of its rites, in festal lays,
And thus address'd the patron of the Spring:

"Hail Valentine! at thy approach benign,
Profuse of gems, the bosom of the earth
Her fragrant stores unfolds: the fields rejoice,
And in the infancy of plenty smile:
The vallies laugh and sing: the woods, alive
Sprout into floating verdure, to embower
Those happy lovers who record thy praise.
Hail Valentine! at thy approach benign,
Inhaling genial raptures from the sun,
The plumy nations swell the song of joy,
Thy soaring choristers! The lark, the thrush,
And all the' aerial people, from the wren
And linnet to the eagle, feel the stings
Of amorous delight, and sing thy praise.
Hail Valentine! at thy approach benign,
Quick o'er the softening soul the gentle gales
Of Spring, awaking bliss, instinctive move
The ardent youth to breathe the sighs of faith
Into the virgin's heart; who, sick of love,
With equal fires and purity of truth
Consenting, blushes while she chaunts thy praise."

So Sung, IANTHE! to my heart I prest
Her spotless sweetness: when, (with wonder hear!)
Though she shone smiling by, the torpid powers
Of heaviness weigh'd down my beamless eyes,
And press'd them into night. The dews of death
Hung clammy on my forehead, like the damps
Of midnight sepulchres; which silent op'd,
By weeping widow or by friendship's hand,
Yawn hideous on the moon, and blast the stars
With pestilential reek. My head is torn
With pangs insuff'rable; pulsive starts
And pungent aches now grinding through the brain,
To madness hurrying the tormented sense,
And hate of being. — Poor IANTHE wept
In bitterness, and took me by the hand
Compassionately kind: "Alas," she cried,
"What sudden change is this?" — Again she wept!
"Say, can IANTHE prove the source of pain
To Thamalin? forbid it, gracious Heaven!"
"No, beauteous Innocence! as soon the rose
Shall poison with its balm; as soon the dove
Become a white dissembler; and the stream
With lulling murmurs, creeping through the grove,
Offend the shepherd's slumber" — Scarce my tongue
These faltering accents stammer'd, down I sink,
And a lethargic stupor steeps my sense
In dull oblivion.

More than six years after this affecting event, IANTHE is still described as the associate of his walks, and the inspirer of his poetical feelings. Circumstances doubtless occurred inimical to the intercourse that had so long subsisted between these lovers; but in what those circumstances consisted, or at what period the anticipations of happiness were exchanged for the regrets of disappointment, is wholly uncertain. Bacchus, as we learn from the poet's lines "beneath a Vine, under the picture of Horace," though generally the auxiliary of Venus, was at length implored to counteract the influence to which he once contributed.—

With social joys we raise the hour,
But banish Cupid from the bow'r:
Seven lustres past, ah! why should I,
And why should Horace pine and sigh?
No more he beckons Pyrrha to the grot,
His Lydia, my IANTHE, both forgot.

From the existing effusions of his amatory muse, it may be regretted that Thompson has not been solicitous to preserve the three books of love-elegies, entitled Stella, which he published in 1736. His verse is polished and mellifluous, his sentiments are delicate and tender, his imagery is often beautifully luxuriant. His greatest defect is the want of originality.