Abbildungen der Seite

to its view whatever there is on which imagination can delight to be detained, and with a mind that at once comprehends the vast, and attends to the minute. The reader of The Seasons wonders that he never saw before what Thomson shews him, and that he never yet has felt what Thomson impresses.

His is one of the works in which blank verse seems properly 47 used'; Thomson's wide expansion of general views, and his enumeration of circumstantial varieties, would have been obstructed and embarrassed by the frequent intersection of the sense, which are the necessary effects of rhyme.

His descriptions of extended scenes and general effects bring 48 before us the whole magnificence of Nature, whether pleasing or dreadful. The gaiety of Spring, the splendour of Summer, the tranquillity of Autumn, and the horror of Winter, take in their turns possession of the mind. The poet leads us through the appearances of things as they are successively varied by the vicissitudes of the year, and imparts to us so much of his own enthusiasm that our thoughts expand with his imagery and kindle with his sentiments 2. Nor is the naturalist without his part in the entertainment; for he is assisted to recollect and to combine, to arrange his discoveries, and to amplify the sphere of his contemplation 3.

The great defect of The Seasons is want of method; but for 49 this I know not that there was any remedy. Of many appear

says:-'Even Thomson describes not so much the naked object as what he sees in his mind's eye, surrounded and glowing with the mild, bland, genial vapours of his brain.' The Spirit of the Age, ed. 1825, p. 199.

'Thomson,' writes Southey, brought with him from his own beautiful country a deep perception and true love of the beauties of nature.' Southey's Cowper, ii. 144.

'In chastity of diction and the harmony of blank verse Cowper leaves Thomson immeasurably below him; yet still I feel the latter to have been the born poet.' COLERIDGE, Biog. Lit. 1847, i. 25.


Johnson says the same of Paradise Lost, ante, MILTON, 276, and The Night Thoughts, post, YOUNG, 160. Gray thought Thomson had one talent beyond all other poets, that of

[blocks in formation]

ances subsisting all at once, no rule can be given why one should be mentioned before another; yet the memory wants the help of order, and the curiosity is not excited by suspense or expectation.


His diction is in the highest degree florid and luxuriant, such as may be said to be to his images and thoughts 'both their lustre and their shade''; such as invests them with splendour, through which perhaps they are not always easily discerned. It is too exuberant, and sometimes may be charged with filling the ear more than the mind 2.


These poems, with which I was acquainted at their first appearance, I have since found altered and enlarged by subsequent revisals, as the author supposed his judgement to grow more exact, and as books or conversation extended his knowledge and opened his prospects3. They are, I think, improved

'The moon pull'd off her veil of

That hides her face by day from

Mysterious veil of brightness made,
That's both her lustre and her


Hudibras, ii. i. 905; post, AkEn-
SIDE, 16.


Post, COLLINS, 17. Dr. Johnson said, "Thomson's fault is such a cloud of words sometimes that the sense can hardly peep through. Shiels [ante, HAMMOND, 1] was one day sitting with me. I took down Thomson, and read aloud a large portion of him, and then asked, 'Is not this fine?' Shiels having expressed the highest admiration, 'Well, Sir (said I), I have omitted every other line.'"' Boswell's Johnson, iii. 37.

Grimm says of The Seasons:-'A force d'être riche et fleuri il devient monotone et fatigant; c'est le reproche qu'on a fait au poëme des Plaisirs de l'imagination [post, AKENSIDE, 16].' Grimm's Mémoires, 1814, ii. 23.

Wordsworth wrote of The Seasons: -'It is a work of inspiration; much of it is written from himself, and nobly from himself. . . . It is remarkable that, excepting the nocturnal Reverie of Lady Winchelsea and a passage or two in the Windsor Forest of Pope, the poetry of the period

intervening between the publication of the Paradise Lost and The Seasons does not contain a single new image of external nature. We are not able to collect any unquestionable proofs that the true characteristics of Thomson's genius as an imaginative poet were perceived till the elder Warton, almost forty years after the publication of The Seasons, pointed them out by a note in his Essay on Pope [ii. 244]. In The Castle of Indolence (of which Gray speaks so coldly) these characteristics were almost as conspicuously displayed, and in verse more harmonious and diction more pure. Yet that fine poem was neglected on its appearance, and is at this day the delight only of a few!' Wordsworth's Works, vi. 368–72.

'Thomson recalled the nation to the study of nature, which since Milton had been utterly neglected.' SOUTHEY, Specimens, Preface, p. 32.

Sir Walter Scott, in 1828, said of Milton and Thomson:-' Thomson is the most read of the two.' Life of W. Bell Scott, 1892, i. 73.

Hazlitt records Northcote as saying about 1830:-' For boarding-school misses Thomson's Seasons has an immense attraction, though I never could read it.' Conversations of Northcote, p. 198.

3 'The original text of The Seasons,' writes Judge Willis, 'consisted of

in general; yet I know not whether they have not lost part of what Temple calls their race, a word which, applied to wines, in its primitive sense, means the flavour of the soil'.

Liberty, when it first appeared, I tried to read, and soon 52 desisted. I have never tried again, and therefore will not hazard either praise or censure 2.

The highest praise which he has received ought not to be 53 supprest; it is said by Lord Lyttelton in the Prologue to his posthumous play that his works contained

'No line which, dying, he could wish to blot 3.'

3,902 lines. The edition of 1746, the last that received the poet's revision, consists of 5,423 lines.' Winter, p. 6. For the alterations see ib. Preface, and N. & 2. 4 S. xi. 419.

Johnson defines race as 'a particular strength or taste of wine, applied by Temple to any extraordinary natural force of intellect,' and quotes a passage from his Essay of Gardening. Temple's Works, 1757, iii. 229.

Thomson was admirable in description; but it always seemed to me that there was somewhat of affectation in his style. . . . I could wish too, with Dr. Johnson, that he had confined himself to this country.... He was however a true poet.' COWPER, Works, vi. 169.

'I possess,' writes Mitford, 'an interleaved copy of The Seasons (ed. 1738) which belonged to Thomson, with his own alterations, and with numerous alterations and additions by Pope, in his own writing. Almost all the amendments made by Pope were adopted by Thomson.' Mitford's Gray, ii. Preface, p. 7 n. Whether these alterations are by Pope is very doubtful. See Tovey's Thomson, i. 189; N. & 2. 8 S. xii. 327, 389, 437; 9 S. i. 23, 129, 289, 415. [Mr. G. C. Macaulay ina letter to the Athenaeum, Oct. 1, 1904 (p. 446), rejects the Pope theory and identifies the corrector as

Lyttelton, both on a priori grounds and from a careful comparison of his handwriting with the MS. alterations in Mitford's interleaved Seasons, now in the Brit. Mus. Mr. Tovey, on the other hand, considers that 'Lyttelton's hand is neat and scholarly, and quite unlike the unknown's manuscript.' Thomson's Works, 1897, i. 195.]

2 In the first edition this Life ends here. The 'Prologue to Sophonisba, by Pope and Mallet' followed. 3Not one immoral, one corrupted thought,

One line which dying he could wish to blot.'

Prologue to Coriolanus, Works, iv. 182.

'M. Despréaux [Boileau] s'applaudissait fort à l'âge de soixante et onze ans, de n'avoir rien mis dans ses vers qui choquât les bonnes mœurs. "C'est une consolation, disait-il, pour les vieux poètes qui doivent bientôt rendre compte à Dieu de leurs actions." Euvres, 1747, v. 41.

'I remember St. Austin in one of his epistles tells us that Tully says of one of the great orators, Nullum unquam verbum quod revocare vellet emisit. "That no word ever fell from him that he could wish to have recalled." TILLOTSON, Sermons, 1757, xi. 93.



HE Poems of Dr. WATTS were by my recommendation inserted in the late Collection; the readers of which are to impute to me whatever pleasure or weariness they may find in the perusal of Blackmore, Watts, Pomfret, and Yalden1.

ISAAC WATTS was born July 17, 1674, at Southampton, where his father, of the same name, kept a boarding-school for young gentlemen, though common report makes him a shoemaker. He appears, from the narrative of Dr. Gibbons 3, to have been neither indigent nor illiterate.


Isaac, the eldest of nine children, was given to books from his infancy, and began, we are told, to learn Latin when he was four years old, I suppose at home. He was afterwards taught Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, by Mr. Pinhorne, a clergyman, master of the Free-school at Southampton, to whom the gratitude of his scholar afterwards inscribed a Latin ode *.



His proficiency at school was so conspicuous that a subscription was proposed for his support at the University; but he declared his resolution to take his lot with the Dissenters 5.

To the collection of English Poets,' wrote Johnson, 'I have recommended the volume of Dr. Watts to be added; his name has long been held by me in veneration, and I would not willingly be reduced to tell of him only that he was born and died. Yet of his life I know very little.... My plan does not exact much; but I wish to distinguish Watts, a man who never wrote but for a good purpose.' Boswell's Johnson, iii. 126; see also ib. iii. 358.

[For Johnson's statement that 'he recommended only Blackmore on the Creation and Watts' see John. Letters, ii. 275 n., and ante, BLACKMORE, 22.]

Of the four poets Pomfret and Yalden were clergymen, Watts a

[blocks in formation]

Such he was as every Christian Church would rejoice to have adopted.

He therefore repaired in 1690 to an academy taught by 5 Mr. Rowe, where he had for his companions and fellowstudents Mr. Hughes the poet', and Dr. Horte, afterwards Archbishop of Tuam3. Some Latin Essays, supposed to have been written as exercises at this academy, shew a degree of knowledge, both philosophical and theological, such as very few attain by a much longer course of study.

He was, as he hints in his Miscellanies, a maker of verses from 6 fifteen to fifty 5, and in his youth he appears to have paid attention to Latin poetry. His verses to his brother, in the glyconick measure, written when he was seventeen, are remarkably easy and elegant. Some of his other odes are deformed by the Pindarick folly then prevailing, and are written with such neglect of all metrical rules as is without example among the ancients; but his diction, though perhaps not always exactly pure, has such copiousness and splendour, as shews that he was but at a very little distance from excellence.

[blocks in formation]

amusement in the younger years of life, and published some religious composures to assist the worship of God.... The gay colours of imagery and the spritely relish of verse die away and vanish in my advancing age; for I have almost left off to read as well as to write that which once was so much engaging.' Gent. Mag. 1734, P. 746.

Gibbons, p. 64; Eng. Poets, lvi. 7 Ante, COWLEY, 143; Gibbons, p. 59.


In Two Happy Rivals, Devotion and the Muse, Watts writes:'Wild as the lightning, various as the


Roves my Pindarick song:

Are my thoughts and wishes free,
And know no number nor degree?
Such is the Muse: Lo, she dis-

The links and chains,

Measures and rules of vulgar

And o'er the laws of harmony a
Sovereign Queen she reigns.'
Eng. Poets, lv. 129.

« ZurückWeiter »