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Scotland, in 1700, was one of the nine children of the Rev. Mr. Thomson, minister of that place. James was sent to the school of Jedburgh, where he attracted the notice of a neighbouring minister by his propensity to poetry, who encouraged his early attempts, and corrected his performances. On his removal from school, he was sent to the university of Edinburgh, where he chiefly attended to the cultivation of his poetical faculty ; but the death of his father, during his second session, having brought his mother to Edinburgh for the purpose of educating her children, James complied with the advice of his friends, and entered upon a course of divinity. Here, we are told, that the explanation of a psalm having been required from him as a probationary exercise, he performed it in language so splendid, that he was reproved by his professor for employing a diction which it was not likely that any one of his future audience could comprehend. This admonition completed the disgust which he felt for the profession chosen for him ; and having connected himself with some young men in the university who were aspirants after literary eminence, he readily listened to the advice of a lady, the friend of his mother, and determined to try his fortune in the great metro. polis, London.
“ In 1725 Thomson came by sea to the capital, where he soon found out his college acquaintance, Mallet, to whom he showed his poem of Winter,' then composed in detached passages of the descriptive kind. Mallet advised him to form them into a connected piece, and immediately to print it. It was purchased for a small sum, and appeared in 1726, dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton. Its merits, however, were little understood by the public ; till Mr. Whateley, a person of acknowledged taste, happening to cast an eye upon it, was struck with its beauties, and gave it vogue. His dedicatee, who had hitherto neglected him, made him a present of twenty guineas, and he was introduced to Pope, Bishop Rundle, and Lord-Chancellor Talbot. In 1727, he published another of his seasons, ‘Summer,' dedicated to Mr. Doddington, for it was still the custom for poets to pay this tribute to men in power. In the same year he gave to the public his 'Poem, sacred to the memory of Sir Isaac Newton,' and his · Britannia. His ‘Spring' was pub. lished in 1728, addressed to the Countess of Hertford ; and the Seasons' were completed by the addition of • Autumn,' dedicated to Mr. Onslow, in 1730, when they were published collectively.
“As nothing was more tempting to the cupidity of an author than dramatic com. position, Thomson resolved to become a competitor for that laurel also, and in 1728 he had the influence to bring upon the stage of Drury-lane his tragedy of 'Sophonisba.' It was succeeded by “Agamemnon ;'Edward
and Eleonora ;' and 'Tancred and Sigis. munda ;' but although these pieces were not without their merits, the moral strain was too prevalent for the public taste, and they have long ceased to occupy the theatre. Through the recommendation of Dr. Rundle, he was, about 1729, selected as the travelling asso. ciate of the Hon. Mr. Talbot, eldest son of the Chancellor, with whom he visited most of the courts of the European continent. During this tour, the idea of a poem on ‘Liberty' suggested itself, and after his return, he em. ployed two years in its completion. The place of secretary of the briefs, which was nearly a sinecure, repaid him for his attendance on Mr. Talbot. Liberty' at length appeared, and was dedicated to Frederick, Prince of Wales, who, in opposition to the court, affected the patronage of letters, as well as of liberal sentiments in politics. He granted Thomson a pension, to remunerate him for the loss of his place by the death of Lord Chancellor Talbot. In 1746 appeared his poem, called • The Castle of Indolence,' which had been several years under his polishing hand, and by many is considered as his principal performance. He was now in tolerably affluent circumstances, a place of Surveyor-General of the Leeward Islands, given him by Mr. Lyttle. ton, bringing him in, after paying a deputy, about £300 a year. He did not, howerer, long enjoy this state of comfort ; for returning one evening from London to Kew-lane, he was attacked by a fever, which proved fatal in August, 1748, the 48th year of his age. He was interred without any memorial in Richmond Church; but a monument was erected to his memory, in Westminster Abbey, in 1762, with the profits arising from an edition of his works published by Mr. Millar.
“ Thomson in person was large and ungainly, with a heavy, unanimated countenance, and having nothing in his appearance in mixed society indicating the man of genius or refine. ment. He was, however, easy and cheerful with select friends, by whom he was singularly beloved for the kindness of his heart, and his freedom from all the malignant passions which too often debase the literary character. His temper was much inclined to indolence, and he was fond of indulgence of every kind ; in particular he was more attached to the pleasures of sense, than the sentimental delicacy of his writings would induce a reader to suppose. For the moral tendency of his works, no author has deserved more praise ; and no one can rise from the perasal of his pages, without being sensible of a melioration of his principles or feelings.
“ The poetical merits of Thomson undoubtedly stand most conspicuous in his * Seasons,' the first long composition, perhaps, of which natural description was made the staple, and certainly the most fertile of grand and beautiful delineations, in great measure deduced from the author's own observation.
Its diction is somewhat cumbrous and la- living in Leicestershire. This he exchanged boured, but energetic and expressive. Its for one in Lincolnshire; but the fenny country versification does not denote a practised ear, in which he was placed did not agree with his but is seldom unpleasantly harsh. Upon the health, and he complained of the want of whole, no poem has been more, and more books and company. In 1757 he published deservedly, popular; and it has exerted a his largest work, · The Fleece,' a didactic powerful influence upon public taste, not only poem, in four books, of which the first part in this country, but throughont Europe. Any is pastoral, the second mechanical, and the addition to his fame has principally arisen third and fourth historical and geographical. from his Castle of Indolence,' an allegorical This poem has never been very popular, many composition in the manner and stanza of of its topics not being well adapted to poetry; Spenser, and among the imitators of this poet yet the opinions of critics have varied con. Thomson may deserve the preference, on cerning it. It is certain that there are many account of the application of his fable, and pleasing, and some grand and impressive pas. the moral and descriptive beauties by which sages in the work; but, upon the whole, the it is filled up. This piece is entirely free from general feeling is, that the length of the perthe stiffness of language perceptible in the formance necessarily imposed upon it a degree author's blank verse, which is also the case of tediousness. with many of his songs, and other rhymed “ Dyer did not long survive the completion poems.”—Aikin's “Select Brit. Poets." See of his book. He died of a gradual decline in Gilfillan's Ed. of Thomson's Poems”; 1758, leaving behind him, besides the reputaScrymgeour's Poetry and Poets of Bri. tion of an ingenious poet, the character of an tain ” ; Shaw's “Hist. Eng. Lit.”
honest, humane, and worthy person.”—Aikin's “ Select Poets of Brit." See Allibone's “Crit. Dict. Eng. Lit.”; “Life of Dyer," by Dr. Samuel Johnson ; Drake's “ Literary Hours,"
vol. i., p. 160, et seq. ; vol. ii., p. 35. A col. JOHN DYER.
lective edition of Dyer's Works was pub.
lished in 1761, 8vo.; Gilfillan's Ed. of “ Dyer's “ John Dyer, an agreeable poet, was the son Poems"; Campbell's “Specimens.” of a solicitor at Aberglasney, in Carmarthenshire, where he was born in 1700. He was brought up at Westminster School, and was designed by his father for his own profession ; but being at liberty, in consequence of his
WILLIAM HAMILTON. father's death, to follow his own inclination, he indulged what he took for a natural taste “ William Hamilton, of Bangour, was born in painting, and entered as pupil to Mr. in Ayrshire in 1704. He was of an ancient Richardson. After wandering for some time family, and mingled from the first in the most about South Wales and the adjacent counties fashionable circles. Ere he was twenty he as an itinerant artist, he appeared convinced wrote verses in Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscel. that he should not attain to eminence in that lany. In 1745, to the surprise of many, he profession. In 1727 he first made himself joined the standard of Prince Charles, and known as a poet, by the publication of his wrote a poem on the battle of Gladsmuir, or • Grongar Hill,' descriptive of a scene afforded Prestonpans. When the reverse of his party by his native country, which became one of came, after many wanderings and hair's. the most popular pieces of its class, and has breadth escapes in the Highlands, he found been admitted into numerous collections. refuge in France. As he was a general faDyer then travelled to Italy, still in pursuit vourite, and as much allowance was made for of professional improvement; and if he did his poetical temperament, a pardon was soon not acquire this in any considerable degree, procured for him by his friends, and he rehe improved his poetical taste, and laid in a turned to his native country. His health, store of new images. These he displayed in however, originally delicate, had suffered by a poem of some length, published in 1740, his Highland privations, and he was compelled which he entitled “The Ruins of Rome,' that to seek the milder clime of Lyons, where he capital having been the principal object of his died in 1754. journeyings. Of this work it may be said, “ Hamilton was what is called a ladies'-man, that it contains many passages of real poetry, but his attachments were not deep, and he and that the strain of moral and political re- rather flirted than loved. A Scotch lady, who flection denotes a benevolent and enlightened was annoyed at his addresses, asked John mind.
Home how she could get rid of them. He, “ His health being now in a delicate state, knowing Hamilton well, advised her to appear he was advised by his friends to take orders; to favour him. She acted on the advice, and and he was accordingly ordained by Dr. he immediately withdrew his suit. And yet Thomas, Bishop of Lincoln; and entering his best poem is a tale of love, and a tale, too, into the married state, he sat down on a small told with great simplicity and pathos. We
It is the highest praise we can bestow upon Hamilton's ballad that it ranks in merit near Wordsworth's fine trinity of poems, · Yarrow Unvisited,' 'Yarrow Visited,' and 'Yarrow Revisited.'”-Gilfillan's “ Less-known Brit. Poets,” vol. iii., pp. 102, 103. See Allibone's “ Crit. Dict. Eng. Lit." ; Lord Woodhouselee's “Life of Lord Kames”; Professor Richardson; Boswell's Life of Johnson”
"; Anderson's “ Brit. Poets”; “ The Lounger”; “ Transac. of Scot. Antiq.”; Chambers's and Thompson's “Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen."
English dictionary addressed to Lord Chesterfield. The price agreed upon between himself and the booksellers for the last work was £1,575. In 1749 Garrick produced his friend's tragedy upon the stage of Drury Lane Theatre, but it was unsuccessful. In 1750 he com. menced his “Rambler,' a periodical paper, which was continued till 1752. In this work only five papers were the production of other writers. About the period of his relinquishing the • Rambler' he lost his wife, a circumstance which greatly affected him, as appears from his . Meditations,' and the sermon which he wrote on her death. In 1754 he visited. Oxford. The next year appeared his dictionary, which, instead of three, had occupied eight years. Lord Chesterfield endeavoured to assist it by writing two papers in its favour in the World;' but, as he had hitherto neglected the author, Johnson treated him with contempt. The publication of his great work did not relieve him from his embarrassments, for the price of his labour had been consumed in the progress of its compilation, and the year following we find him under an arrest for five guineas, from which he was released by Ri. chardson, the printer. In 1758 he began the * Idler,' which was published in a weekly newspaper. On the death of his mother, in 1759, he wrote the romance of · Rasselas,' to defray the expenses of her funeral, and to pay her debts. In 1762, George III. granted him a pension of £300 per annum. In 1763, Boswell, his future biographer, was introduced to him, a circumstance to which we owe the most minute account of a man's life and character that has ever been written. Boswell, though a very ordinary mortal, has immor. talized himself by this performance. In his book everything about Johnson is supplied to us; in Lord Macaulay's words, we have his coat, his wig, his figure, his face, his scrofula, his St. Vitus's dance, his rolling walk, his blinking eye, the outward signs which too clearly marked the approbation of his dinner; his insatiable appetite for fish-sauce and vealpie with plums; his inextinguishable thirst for tea ; his trick of touching the posts as he walked; his mysterious practice of treasuring up scraps of orange-peel; his morning slum. bers; his midnight disputations; his contortions; his mutterings; his gruntings; his puffings; his vigorous, acute, and ready eloquence; his sarcastic wit; his vehemence ; his insolence; his fits of tempestuous rage; his queer inmates-old Mr. Levett and blind Mrs. Williams, the cat Hodge, and the negro Frank -all are as familiar to us as the objects by which we have been surrounded from childhood.' Johnson had the honour of a conversation with the king in the royal library, in 1765, when his Majesty asked if he intended to publish any more works. To this he an. swered, that he thought he had written enough ; on which the king said, “So should I too, if you had not written so well.' About
DR. SAMUEL JOHNSON. “ Dr. Samuel Johnson, a learned English critic, lexicographer, and miscellaneous writer, was the son of a bookseller at Lichfield. His education was commenced at the free school of Lichfield, and in 1728 he was admitted of Pembroke College, Oxford ; but being too poor to remain at the university, he, in 1731, quitted it without a degree. He soon afterwards lost his father, who left him in such poor circumstances that he sought the post of usher of a school at Market-Bosworth, Leicestershire, where, however, he did not continue long. He next resided with a printer at Birmingham, where he translated Lobo's account of Abys. sinia. In 1735 he married Mrs. Porter, a widow lady of that town, who was possessed of the sum of £800; and with this capital he the same year opened a school at Edial, near Lich. field; but he obtained only three scholars, one of whom was David Garrick. About this time he began his tragedy of 'Irene.' In 1737 he set out for the metropolis, accompanied by Garrick. On fixing his residence in London, he formed a connection with Cave, the publisher of the Gentleman's Magazine,' for which work he wrote during several years, his principal employment being an account of the parliamentary debates. At this period he con. tracted an intimacy with Richard Savage, whose name he has immortalized by one of the finest pieces of biography ever written. In 1749 appeared his 'Vanity of Human Wishes,' an imitation of Juvenal's tenth Satire. Two years previously, he had printed proposals for an edition Shakspere, and the plan of his
this time he instituted the Literary Club, con- oppress humanity. He was educated at sisting of some of the most celebrated men of Winchester School, and afterwards at Mag
In 1773 he went on a tour with dalen College, Oxford, and entered upon the Boswell to the western islands of Scotland, of career of professional literature, full of golden which journey he shortly afterwards published dreams, and meditating vast projects. His an account, which occasioned a controversy first publication was a series of Eclogues, between him and Macpherson, relative to the transferring the usual sentiments of pastoral poems of Ossian. In 1775 the university of to the scenery and manners of the East. him the degree of , which
, or Persianwere for the
diploma, ten years before, had been conferred first time made the subjects of compositions
on him by the university of Dublin. In 1779 retaining in their form and general cast of he began his “Lives of the English Poets,' . thought and language the worn-ont type of which was the last of his literary labours. pastoral. Thus the lamentation of the shepAfter a long illness, during part of which he herd expelled from his native fields is replaced had fearful apprehensions of death, his mind by a camel-driver bewailing the dangers and became calm, composed, and resigned, and he solitude of his desert journey; and the died full of that faith which he had so vigo. dialogues so frequent in the bucolics of rously defended and inculcated in his writings. | Virgil or Theocritus are transformed into His remains were interred in Westminster the amabæan complaints of two Circassian Abbey, and a statue, with an appropriate exiles. The national character and sentiments inscription, has been erected to his memory in of the East, though every effort is made by St. Paul's Cathedral. A complete list of his the poet to give local colouring and appro. works is prefixed to Boswell's 'Life.' As a priate costume and scenery, are in no sense writer, few have done such essential service to more true to nature than in the majority of his country, by fixing its language and regu- pictures representing the fabulous Arcadia of lating its morality. In his person he was the poets, and though these Eclogues exhibit large, robust, and unwieldy; in his dress he traces of vivid imagery and melodious verse, was singular and slovenly; in conversation the real genius of Collins must be looked for positive, and impatient of contradiction. But in his Odes.' Judged by these latter, though with all his singularities he had an excellent they are but few in number, he will be found heart, full of tenderness and compassion, and entitled to a very high place : for true warmth his actions were the result of principle. He of colouring, power of personification, and was a stout advocate for truth, and a zealous dreamy sweetness of harmony, no English champion for the Christian religion as pro- poet had till then appeared that could be comfessed in the Church of England. In politics pared to Collins. His most commonly quoted he was a Tory, and at one period of his life a lyric is the ode entitled "The Passions,' in friend to the house of Stuart. He had a which Fear, Rage, Pity, Joy, Hope, Melannoble independence of mind, and would never choly, and other abstract qualities are succes. stoop to any man, however exalted, or disguise sively introduced trying their skill on different his sentiments to flatter another. Born at musical instruments. Their respective choice Lichfield, 1709; died in London, 1784."- of these, and the manner in which each Passion Beeton's “Dict. Univ. Biog." See Gilfillan's acquits itself, is very ingeniously conceived. Ed. of “ Johnson's Poems'' ; Allibone's “ Crit. Nevertheless, many of the less popular odes, Dict. Eng. Lit.”; Lord Brougham's “Lives of as that addressed to 'Fear,' to 'Pity,' to Men of Letters," &c.; Cumberland's “M * Simplicity, and that on the Poetical moirs" ; Orme; Hazlitt, “On the Periodical Character, contain happy strokes, someEssayists”; Christopher North.
times expressed in wonderfully laconic language, and singularly vivid portraiture. Collins possessed to an unusual degree the power of giving life and personality to an
abstract conception, and that this power 18 WILLIAM COLLINS.
exceedingly rare may be seen by the pre
dominant coldness and pedantry which gene“ William Collins, born 1721, died 1759. rally prevail in modern lyric poetry, where His career was brief and unhappy. He ex- personification has been abused till it has hibited from very early years the strong become a mere mechanical artifice. In Collins poetical powers of a genius which, ripened the prosopopæia is always fresh and vivid. by practice and experience, would have made In the unfinished “Ode on the Superstitions him the first lyrical writer of his age ; but his of the Highlands,' there are many fine touches ambition was rather feverish than sustained ; of fancy and description; but the reader he led a life of projects and dissipation ; and cannot divest himself of a consciousness that the first shock of literary disappointment the pictures are rather transcripts from books drove him to despondency, despondency to than vivid reflection from personal knowledge. indulgence, and indulgence to insanity. This Collins writes of the Highlands and their ingifted being died at 38, after suffering the habitants not like a native, but like an English cruelest affliction and humiliation that can hunter after the picturesque. Some of the
smaller and less ambitious lyrics, as the forget the improbability of the Arcadian · Verses to the Memory of Thomson,' the manners,
such as never existed in any age * Dirge in Cymbeline,' and the exquisite verses or country, or the querulous and childish tone ' How sleep the Brave,' are perhaps destined of thought."-Shaw's “Hist. Eng. Lit." to a more certain immortality: for a tender, Dr. Angus speaks more generously and luxuriant richness of reverie, perhaps there is kindly :-“ Nature and description flourish nothing in the English language that surpasses again in Shenstone and Goldsmith. William them. All the qualities of Collins's finest Shenstone (1714-1763) was born at the Leasthought and expression will be found united owes, in Shropshire, a small estate which he in the lovely little • Ode to Evening,' consist- made by his taste the envy of the great and ing of but a few stanzas in blank verse, but so the admiration of the skilful. He was first subtly harmonized that they may be read a taught at a dame-school, and has immortalized thousand times without observing the absence his teacher in the ' School-mistress.' In 1732, of rhyme, and exhibiting such a sweet, sooth- he entered Pembroke College, Oxford, and, on ing, and yet picturesque series of images, all the Leasowes coming into his own hand, he appropriate to the subject, that the sights and retired to that place, and there remained most sounds of evening seem to be reproduced with of his life, influenced therein partly by his a magical fidelity : the whole poem seems fondness for gardening, and partly by disdropping with dew and breathing the frag- appointed love and disappointed ambition. rance of the hour. It resembles a melody of Here he wrote his Pastorals and his ElegiesSchubert."
vorks which, if not remarkable for genius, are certainly among the best of the class to which they belong. They abound in sim
plicity and pathos, though they are wanting JOHN BYROM.
in force and variety. Campbell thinks, and
probably with justice, that if he had gone "John Byrom, born at Manchester, 1691, more into living nature for subjects, and had died 1763, educated at Cambridge, inventor described their realities with the same fond of a patented system of shorthand, and at last and naive touches which give so much delight. a private gentleman in his native place, is fulness to his 'School-mistress,' he would have best known for a pastoral which first appeared increased his fame. in the 'Spectator,' — My time, O ye Muses,
“ His Schoolmistress' was published in was happily spent.' He wrote several other 1742, though it was written at college. The small poems, which have lately been published poem is a descriptive sketch in imitation of by a local society in Manchester. His writings Spenser's style, ‘so quaint and ludicrous, yet exhibit ease and fancy.”—Shaw's “Hist. Eng. so true to nature,' that it reminds the reader Lit.;” Allibone's “Crit. Dict. Eng. Lit.” of the paintings of Wilkie or of Webster.
His · Pastoral Ballad' is a happy specimen of that kind of composition, and, it may be added, one of the latest; the Arcadianisms in
which it indulges having given place to the WILLIAM SHENSTONE.
real-life descriptions which are found in Burns
and Hogg. The whole is written in the well. “ William Shenstone, born 1714, died 1763, known metre : a poet, whose popularity, once considerable, has now given place to oblivion ; but whose
'She gazed as I slowly withdrew, pleasing and original poem “The School-mis
My path I could hardly discern; tress' will deserve to retain a place in every
So sweetly she bade me adieu, collection of English verse.
He is still more
I thought that she bade me return.' remarkable as having been one of the first to
“ His prose essays and letters occupy two cultivate that picturesque mode of laying out volumes of the three of his works as published gardens, and developing by well-concealed art
by Dodsley ; the former are good specimens of the natural beauties of scenery, which, under
English style ; without the learning of Cowley, the name of the English style, has supplanted
but with a good deal of his ease and elethe majestic but formal manner of Italy,
gance.” France, and Holland. In the former, Nature is followed and humoured, in the latter she is forced. The · School-mistress' is in the Spenserian stanza and antique diction, and,
DAVID MALLETT. with a delightful mixture of quaint playfulness and tender description, paints the dwell- " David Mallett was the son of a small inning, the character, and the pursuits of an old keeper in Crieff, Perthshire, where he was born village dame who keeps a rustic day-school. in the year 1700. Crieff, as many of our The Pastoral ballads of Shenstone are me. readers know, is situated on the western side lodious, but the thin current of natural feeling of a hill, and commands a most varied and which pervades them cannot make the reader l. beautiful prospect, including Drummond