1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Thomson

Anonymous: "Thomson — The Poet" The New-York Mirror 5 (22 September 1827) 85.



I have often thought, that after what Thomson has written, no one need describe the seasons; he has said all that can be said, and as well too. He is the most perfect of the descriptive poets, because he sets us in the midst of that which he describes. The colours with which he paints seem yet wet and breathing, and nature is seen growing around us; the sights, the sounds, the smells of nature, are all present to us. We hear the first drops of the shower pattering among the leaves; we see the reapers going out to the harvest, while "yellow autumn gilds the fields," and we recline with the bard "on the sunless side of a romantic mountain," while "languid nature pants beneath the fervid sun." Next to the actual enjoyment of nature in her profuse and ever-changing charms, is the enjoyment of reading Thomson's delineations of them: though one must have seen and felt, and enjoyed the reality, before the picture can delight; because the pleasure we derive from the picture arises solely from associations with that which it imagines: it would be hopeless to expect a relish for the descriptions of Thomson in one whose life had been spent in the city. As I am speaking of Thomson, let me mention a fact relating to his writings; one not uninteresting to those who desire to look into the crucible in the poet's workshop. When we read a fine poem, we are apt to suppose that it owes nothing to labour, hardly even to thought: this is peculiarly the case with descriptive poetry, and with none more than Thomson's Seasons; but it is a deception: the best poetry is the most laboured; and of this truth Thomson is himself an example. I have seen and read the manuscript of his Winter, which is in the possession of the present Earl of Buchan, at whose seat, Dryburgh Abbey, that portion of the Seasons was written. Winter is admitted to be the most excellent of all the productions of the bard of the Seasons; and the first manuscript of this poem, in Thompson's hand-writing, evinces the extraordinary labour that has been employed upon it. There is about an inch between each of the original lines; but these are, for the most part, scratched through with a pen, and in the intervening space there are generally two, three, or even four lines, written in a smaller hand, all of which are blotted out, excepting the one which corresponds with the printed text. It seems almost unfair, thus to expose the secrets of the prison-house; but the promulgation of fact can rarely be improper, especially if it tends to dispel false notions. The truth is, nothing in this world is perfected without labour. A bright thought may, indeed, be struck out in a moment of inspiration; but many moments may be required to clothe it in words, and hours of labour may have been expended in refining, pruning, and polishing, ere it be expressed as we find it in the smooth and flowing stanza.