James Thomson

Thomas Park, "Memoranda of Thomson; communicated by James Robertson, Esq. of Richmond, in Surrey, late Surgeon to the household of Kew, October 17, 1791" in Goodhugh, in The English Gentleman's Library Manual (1827) 274-82.

Have you any objection, sir, to my taking down memorandums to a conversation?

Not in the least, I will procure you pen, ink, and paper immediately.

I understand, sir, you knew Thomson long?

I became acquainted with him in the year 1726, when he published his poem of Winter. He lived opposite to me, in Lancaster Court, in the Strand. I went to the East Indies soon after, which caused a chasm in our acquaintance; but on my return our intimacy was strengthened, and continued to the hour of his death. I do not know any man, living or dead, I ever esteemed more highly, and he was attached to me. I had once a complaint of a consumptive nature, which confined me much at home, and be was so good as to come often from Kew-lane to sit with me.

Did you know Amanda?

Know her? — Yes, sir, I married her sister. Amanda was a Miss Young, daughter to Captain Gilbert Young, of the Gulyhill family, in Dumfriesshire, and was married afterwards to Admiral Campbell. She was a fine sensible woman; and poor Thomson was desperately in love with her. Mr. Gilbert Young, her nephew, left my house this very morning. Thomson, indeed, was never wealthy enough to marry.

His circumstances were said to have been in a flourishing way at the latter period of his life?

Sir, his circumstances never were very good, and would have been much worse, I believe, without my friendly interference.

He was governed by the vis inertia, I think, to a great degree?

He was, sir. Mr. Collins, the brewer, has told me, that he was so heedless in his money concerns, that in paying him a bill for beer, he gave him two bank notes rolled together, instead of one. Collins did not perceive the mistake till he got home, and when he returned the note, Thomson appeared perfectly indifferent about the matter, and said he had enough to go on without it! Mr. Robertson smiled at this anecdote, and said it was like him.

He was not, I believe, one of the weeping philosophers. He was no Heraclitus?

No, he was not indeed. I remember his being stopped once, between London and Richmond, and robbed of his watch, and when I expressed my regret for his loss, "Pshaw, damn it," said he, "I am glad they took it from me, 'twas never good for any thing."

Was he national in his affections?

He had no prejudices whatever; he was the most liberal of men in all his sentiments.

I have been told he used to associate with Parson Cromer and some other convivials, at the Old Orange Tree, in Kew Lane?

Relaxation of any kind was, to him, frequently desirable, and he could conform to any company. He was benevolent and social, both in his writings and in his life, as his friend, Dr. Armstrong, said on another occasion, he practised what he preached. Lord L's character of him, as an author, was perfectly just, that in his last moments he had no cause to wish any thing blotted he had ever written.

I hear he kept very late hours?

No, sir, very early: he was always up at sunrise but then he had never been in bed.

Did you ever correspond with him?

Very seldom. We were so much together there was little opportunity or occasion for it.

You do not happen to have any reliques of his hand writing?

I don't think I have; but when I get my breath a little better I will look among my papers to try if I can find any.

The kind old gentleman was warmed with the subject, and even set forward to his escritoire in the pursuit, but returned only with a letter from the late Dr. Armstrong, which he flattered himself contained something relative to Thomson. In this he was mistaken. It was a rhapsody of thanks in return for being presented with a large bottle of spirits; but it was well worth an airing. This, said Mr. R. will show you the intimate terms I was upon with Johnny Armstrong, who wrote that beautiful poem, "The Art of Preserving the Health." He was a very ingenious and excellent man.

Did you know Dr. Patrick Murdoch, who wrote Thomson's Life.

Ay, very well, and esteemed him. Pattie, as I always called him, had a good heart.

Pope, as I have heard, used often to visit Thomson?

Yes, frequently. Pope has sometimes said, Thomson, I'll walk to the end of your garden, and then set off to the bottom of Kew-foot-lane and back. Pope, sir, courted Thomson, and Thomson was always admitted to Pope whether he had company or not; but Pope had a jealousy of every eminent writer; he was a viper that gnawed the file.

Was Pope a great talker?

Pope, when he liked his company, was a very agreeable man. He was fond of adulation, and when he had any dislike, was a most bitter satirist.

Thomson, I think, was very intimate with David Mallet, the editor of Bolingbroke?

Sir, that person's name was properly Malloch; but I used to call him Moloch in our festive moments, and Thomson enjoyed the jest. Sir, he had not Thomson's heart; he was not sound at the core; he made a cat's-paw of Thomson, and I did not like the man on that account.

Thomson had two cousins or nephews, who were gardeners, did they live with him?

No, they did not live with him, they lived upon him. He was so generous a man that if he had but two eggs he would have given them both away.

Were you acquainted with Mr. Gray, who lived at Richmond Hill?

Yes, I knew a John Gray, who was a victualler. He purchased Thomson's collection of prints and drawings after his decease, but I believe purely out of ostentation.

You must have had great influence over him, sir, from several circumstances you have mentioned, but wish to be suppressed?

Without ostentation or vanity, sir, I really very often have wondered how I came to have so much, and the rest of his friends wondered too; for I do say it most sincerely, that I never could find out what made Thomson and many of these geniuses so partial to me as they appeared.

Then, sir, I suspect you are the only one who could not make the discovery?

Sir, I was not fishing for a compliment, I do assure you.

If you had, sir, I should not have snatched so eagerly at your bait. I suppose you attended Thomson in a medical as well as in a social capacity?

Yes, Armstrong and myself were with him till his last moments. I was in the room with him when he died. A putrid fever carried him off in less than a week. He seemed to me to be desirous not to live, and I had reason to think that my sister-in-law was the occasion of this. He could not bear the thoughts of her being married to another.

Pray did you attend his funeral?

Indeed I did, and a real funeral it was to me, as Quin said when he spoke the prologue to Coriolanus, "I was in truth no actor there."

Did you hear Quin speak that prologue, sir?

Yes, I could not have been absent.

Were you the only intimate friend who paid the last tribute of respect to Thomson's remains?

No, sir, Quin attended, and Mallet, and another friend, whose name I do not recollect. He was interred in the north-west corner of Richmond church, just where the christening pew now stands. I pointed out the place to the sexton's widow, that she might show it to strangers.

Did you know Andrew Millar, the bookseller?

I knew him well. He took a box near Thomson's, in Kew-lane, to keep in with him as an author who might be profitable to him. Andrew was a good natured man, and not an unpleasant companion, but he was a little contracted in mind by his business, and had the dross of a bookseller about him.

Did you know Paterson?

Yes. Paterson had been clerk to a counting-house in the city, went for some time abroad, and on his return was amanuensis to Thomson, was his deputy as surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands, and succeeded him in that office, but he did not live long to enjoy it, I believe not more than two years.

Collins, the poet, and Hammond, author of the Love Elegies, visited Thomson?

Yes. Ah! poor Collins, he had much genius, but half mad. Hammond was a gentleman, and a very pleasant man. Yet Thomson, I remember one day called him a burnished butterfly. Quin, the comedian, was a sincere friend of Thomson; he was naturally a most humane and friendly man, and only put on the brute when he thought it was expected from him by those who gave him credit for the character.

Was the anecdote of Quin and Thomson true?

Yes, I believe it was.

Boswell surmised that Thomson was a much coarser man than is commonly allowed?

Sir, Thomson was neither a petit maitre nor a boor; he had simplicity without rudeness, and a cultivated manner without being courtly. He had a great aversion to letter writing, and did not attempt much of prose composition of any kind. His time for composition was generally at the dead of night, and was much in his summer house, which, together with every memorial of his residence, is carefully preserved by the Honourable Mrs. Boscawen.

Did you know, sir, of any other attachments of Thomson's except that to his Amanda?

No, I believe he was more truly attached to my little wife and her sister than to any one else, next to Amanda. Mr. H. of Bangor, said he was once asked to dinner by Thomson, but could not attend; one of his friends, who was there, told him that there was a general stipulation agreed on by the whole company, that there should be no hard drinking. Thomson acquiesced, only requiring that each man should drink his bottle. The terms were accepted unconditionally, and when the cloth was removed, a three quart bottle was set before each of his guests. Thomson had much of this kind of agreeable humour. Mr. Aikman the painter, and Dr. De la Cour, a physician and ingenious writer, were intimate and beloved friends of Thomson. Mr. Aikman was a gentleman of competent estate, and was always friendly to Thomson.

Sir, I cordially thank you for this kindness, in suffering yourself to be teased with interrogations; and when Lord Buchan's tablet on the grave of the poet, shall be imposed in Richmond church, I shall hope to see you tripping across the green to take a peep at it.

Sir, if I can crawl across for such a gratification, I shall certainly do it.

We then twice shook hands and parted. Intelligent old gentleman! Little was I aware that his lengthened eve of life was so very near its close! He was taken seriously ill a few hours after I left him, Monday, October 24, and on the Friday following he died, and was buried on Saturday the 4th of November, by the south side of Richmond church.

"Mors ultima linea rerum est."

(Signed) T. P.