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was a writer who could do nothing ill, and his poem of Liberty' will therefore be found ample in design, unblemished in execution, and classical in style; and if it is not more read, and oftener quoted, the reason plainly is, that in England the theme of it is too frequently agitated, and too fully understood, to leave much interest for the general illustration he has given of all the benefits it procured, and the praises it deserves.
Thomson was now at ease in his fortune, and, as is too commonly the case, his Muse participated in the relaxation which plenty occasioned. But the duration of this happiness was brief; his patron died; Lord Hardwicke became Chancellor, and, after some delay, superseded him in his office. The friends of the nobleman stated, that the act was deferred purposely to allow Thomson full leisure to solicit for his continuance in the post, which was ultimately forfeited, only because the Chancellor would not give what the poet would not solicit. But the ex. cuse is mean, and the fact deserves reprobation. If merit is only to be rewarded when it courts power, the page which commemurates the life of genius must ever continue what it has too often been, the record of misery and injustice. Thus thrown back into his original poverty, Thomson was again urged to write upon the spur of necessity, and produced, in 1738, his tragedy of • Agamemnon.' Pope, who always evinced a sincere regard for him, took a warm interest in the success of the piece, and attended the theatre upon the first night of its representation, where he was no sooner recognized, than a general round of applause was given to him by the company. But no personal influence, nor private interest, can pervert the bias of popular tastr; a mere mythological story never has nor ever can succeed upon the English stage; and in future, instead of wondering at such failures, we should rather express astonishment at the hardi. hood of such attempts.
It was about this time that Sir Robert Walpole got that act of Parliament passed which required a license from the Lord Chamberlain for the performance of every play intended for representation at either of the great houses. The occasion of this legislative measure was said to be the conduct of a body of French comedians, who, not content with mimicking the leading
men of the day, went even to the length of personating the sovereign himself under the broadest traits of ridicule. The provocation was certainly scandalous ; but the act is not withstanding a disgrace to a literary people, and a free nation. The law was open to the punishment of the offence, and most obnoxious scenes may still find a vent from the press. The first play that was forbidden under this new rule, was the “Gustavus Vasa' of Brooke ; and the second, the • Edward and Eleonora' of Thomson. What reason there was for these restrictions, except in the spirit of party, no man could even then divine: both tragedies have since been performed, under circumstances perfectly harmless; and even before that proof of the weakness of the measure, the public sympathised with the injurcd authors in loud murmurs, and rewarded them by liberal subscriptions.
• Tancred and Sigismunda,' the most successful of Thomson's tragedies, was first introduced on the stage in the year 1745 ; and for some time afterwards enjoyed its turn of revival. That fortune, however, is not likely soon to recur; and the fact may be taken as decisive of the capacity which the subject of this sketch had for theatrical compositions. His plays are good poems; but they fail to excite that tenderness, or rouse those terrors, which the deeper incidents and finer characters of older authors are sure to awaken. Thomson is diffuse in his stories, and prolix in his narrations; whereas tragedy, to earn its meed and command acclamation, should be concise and pithy in its action, and always have its plot rather actually developed than finely recounted.
Once more did Thomson's friends resume the seats ot' power, and again was he fortunate enough to share in the fruits brought forth by their political sunshine. His friend Mr. Lyttleton made him Surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands, a post which, after paying a deputy for the toils of service, left the principal a clear income of 3001. a year. It was under this enjoyment that he sent into the world the Castle of Indolence,' the last poem he lived to finish: for a final labour it was most studiously laboured, and accurately polished. It is a rich picture of luxury, finely imagined and floridly told ; but has neither been read as carefully as the splendour of its beauties and the variety of its image
requires, nor praised as loudly as the exuberance of its charms deserves.
Thus doubly blessed with fortune and reputation was Thomson, when passing on the Thames from London to Kew, in the autumn of 1748, he caught a cold, which turned to a fever, and put an end to his life on the 27th of August, in the same year. He was buried at Richmond, without either monument or inscription, but his memory has been honourably dealt with in other places, and by various means. The tribute which entitles him to rank in these pages supplies a proof of the one fact, and the classical elegy of Collins may be gratefully referred to for evidence of the other.
After Thomson's death, his works were edited by his friend and patron, Sir George Lyttleton, and a tragedy, entitled · Corio lanus, was acted for the benefit of his family. It has met the fate which every effort deserves, which presumes to emulate the Muse of Shakspeare, whether the hope be to rise where he soared, or to escape a fall where he failed. The • Coriolanus' of Thomson is utterly forgotten. But there are more grateful observations to be made, not only upon his writings but upon his actions also. He was a fond relation and a faithful friend; his heart was generous and his hand open ; and he never refused to give when he had the power to confer. He has been censured as a man infirm in purpose and frail in system ; so much so, that even in his most prosperous days, his affairs were generally deranged; and we are also told, that he was so humbly convinced of this unconquerable fatuity, as to have designed an eastern tale, exemplary of his own character, the title of which was to have been The Man who Loved to be in Distress.' As a poet, he is entitled to the highest rank and the greatest praise. The “Seasons' are a composition of the most popular celebrity, and eminently merit all the eulogy that has been lavished upon them. The style of verse in them, the fashion of thought, and mode of expression, are all peculiar to the author and each happily successful. He sees every thing that can charm and delight in nature, and sets his copy before the reader, with the addition of every beauty which fancy can add, or genius conceive. His descriptions of scenery are admirably appropriate : when Nature varies, he changes sympathetically with her ; is always light when she is lively, splendid when
she is magnificent, and awful when she is sublime. The Seasons' display at every turn and in every vicissitude, a mind the most forid, and an eloquence the most luxuriant—in fine, next to Milton, as the poet of blank verse, Thomson may justly rank without the fear of rejection or contempt.
To quote from the Seasons' were superfluous; they are exquisite and universally known; but from his tragedies, which are less frequently read, an extract may be made with interest, to prove that he was always a poet. The following description of Providence is finely true and imposing:
There is a power
Similar feelings of delight rise upon the following glowing description of the Princess, who was Scipio's prize by right of victory, but whom virtue nerved him to restore to her impassioned lover :
But what with admiration most
The Roman legions languished, and hard war
Again, the energy with which these lines are expressed, is not less admirable than the truth they unfold—that virtue is the only true nobility :
I tell thee, then, whoe'er among the sons
· There is no passage which can be quoted from the · Castle of indolence that does not uphold the high character it has received, and perhaps there are no lines which exemplify it in a stronger style, than those with which it opens. The description is perfect.
In lowly vale, fast by a river's side,
A listless climate made, where, sooth to say,
Was nought around but images of rest ;