1806 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Thomson

Peter L. Courtier, in Lyre of Love (1806) 2:8-10.



Among the illustrious men that Scotland has had the honour of producing, is the Poet of the Seasons, who was born at Ednam, near Kelso, in Roxburghshire, September the 11th, 1700. He studied at Edinburgh, where, perhaps, influenced by the example of his father, who had been minister of Ednam, in the presbytery of Kelso, his attention was directed to theological pursuits; but the ardour of his mind, discovered early in some poetical exercises, soon induced him to relinquish divinity for poetry; and, in the year 1725, Thomson arrived in London, a youthful adventurer, in search of protection and patronage. Here the friendship of Mallet, commenced at the university, enabled him to effect the publication of Winter, the part that first appeared of his Seasons. Notwithstanding the celebrity this production has since obtained, it struggled painfully into existence, and remained for some time unnoticed.

But the day of retribution was at hand. Thomson became at length known to those who were qualified to estimate and recompense his talents. A place was conferred on him by Chancellor Talbot, on his return from accompanying the son of that nobleman in his travels: afterwards introduced to Lyttelton, he obtained through him a pension of 100 from Frederic Prince of Wales; and received, in addition to this favour, when his Lordship came into power, the appointment of Surveyor General to the Leeward Islands, by which, deducting the, payment of a deputy in office, he acquired an income of 300 per annum. His theatrical reputation induced the Prince to request the Masque of Alfred, which was acted at Cliefden House, on the, birth-day of the Princess Augusta, before his Royal Highness. Though this piece was the joint effort of Mallet and Thompson, to the latter is attributed the national Song of "Rule Britannia." Thomson died at his house in Kew Lane, August 27, 1748. He has a plain monument in Westminster Abbey, the charge of which was defrayed by the profits arising from a splendid edition of his works, published by Millar. A tablet, with a memorial inscription, has also been placed in the wall of Richmond Church, to denote and preserve the site of his interment. It is to the present Earl of Buchan, in conjunction with Thomas Park, Esq. that the public are indebted for this useful and honourable attention to the memory of an admired bard!

No calumny seems at one period to have been circulated with more malicious industry, than the assertion that Thomson was insensible to the delicacies of love; to the blandishments of that delightful intercourse, which he has described with such beauty, force, and tenderness. His writings must be permitted to vindicate him from this unmerited obloquy; since. his raptures, far from being fictitious, were inspired by the impulse of affection, For Miss Stanley, whose perfections are so fondly commemorated in his Summer, and in the epitaph for her tomb, he may be concluded to have felt a regard something exceeding the limited formality of friendship: — to her appear to allude those affecting stanzas beginning, "Tell me, thou Soul of her I love?" If his AMANDA were Miss Young, of Richmond, he must have loved her with the constancy characteristic of virtuous attachment. She is introduced in the Summer, published in 1727: in the Spring, 1728, she is again adverted to, with increasing solicitude

AMANDA, come! pride of my song!
Form'd by the Graces, loveliness itself!
Come with those downcast looks, sedate and sweet,
Those looks demure that deeply pierce the soul;
Where, with the light of thoughtful reason mix'd,
Shines lively fancy and the feeling heart:
O come! and while the rosy-footed May
Steals blushing on, together let us tread
The morning dews, and gather in their prime
Fresh blooming flowers, to grace thy braided hair,
And thy lov'd bosom, that improves their sweets.

The conclusion of this portion of the Seasons, devoted entirely to love, and anticipations of domestic bliss, sufficiently evince the sincerity of the poet's feelings, and the purity of his views. His attentions to Miss Young are believed to have continued till 1740, if not longer. His personal effect, heavy and uninviting, presented nothing that immediately attracted the regard of women in general; and his notions respecting property seem to have prohibited him from hastily engaging in any union, to the demands of which he considered his resources inadequate.