1825 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Thomson

Henry Mackenzie, Anecdotes and Egotisms, 1825 ca.; ed. Thompson (1927) 39-40.



Thomson, son of a clergyman in the south of Scotland, in the same district of which [John] Armstrong was a native. He was a student at the University of Edinburgh, and his circumstances obliged him to have a sharer of his humble apartment whom Thomson's late sitting up, reading or writing, much incommoded; but his chum contrived to force Thomson into bed by blowing out the candle and working on his terror for ghosts.

The beautiful stanza in his Castle of Indolence describing the tones of the instrument then recently invented, the Eolian Harp, he had left on his table unfinished, the concluding line being wanting, for which, not having pleased himself, he had left a blank; it was filled up by a young man of very limited talents and not a spark of poetical genius, who was the pupil of his intimate friend Murdoch, described in that poem as the "little oily man of God," young Forbes of Culloden, son of the illustrious President Duncan Forbes, who happened to come into the room in the absence of Thomson and filled up the blank with a most happy line. The preceding line, "And up the lofty diapason roll." Forbes's concluding line, "And let it down again into the soul."

Note: The Monthly Review of the time took the words in Gray's Ode on the Progress of Poetry, "Awake, Eolian lyre," as meaning the modern instrument called the Eolian harp, which had been lately invented, I believe by Oswald.