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“I hinted to you in my last, that on Saturday morning I was with Sir Spencer Compton. A certain gentleman, without my desire, spoke to him concerning me;
his answer was, that I had never come near him. Then the gentleman put the question, if he desired that I should wait on him ? he returned, he did. On this, the gentleman gave me an introductory Letter to him. He received me in what they commonly call a civil manner; asked me some common-place questions, and made me a present of twenty guineas. I am very ready to own that the present was larger than my performance deserved ; and shall ascribe it to his generosity, or any other cause, rather than the merit of the address.” The
poem, which, being of a new kind, few would venture at first to like, by degrees gained upon the publick; and one edition was very speedily succeeded by another.
Thomson's credit was now high, and every day brought him new friends; among others Dr. Rundle,' a man afterwards unfortunately famous, sought his acquaintance, and found his qualities such, that he recommended him to the lord Chancellor Talbot.
“Winter" was accompanied, in many editions, not only with a preface and a dedication, but with poetical praises by Mr. Hill, Mr. Mallet (then Malloch), and Mira, the fictitious name of a lady once too well known. Why the dedications are, to “ Winter" and the other seasons, contrarily to custom, left out in the collected words, the reader may enquire.
The next year (1727) he distinguished himself by three publications; of “Summer,” ? in pursuance of his plan; of
1 Afterwards Bishop of Derry. He incurred the suspicion of heresy, and was defended by Thomson as, “ Driven from your friends, By slanderous zeal, and politics infirm, jealous of worth.” Ald. T. vol. ii.
· Summer, Ald. T. vol. i. p. 41.
Poem on the Death of Sir Isaac Newton," which he was enabled to perform as an exact philosopher by the instruction of Mr. Gray ;' and of “Britannia," a kind of poetical invective against the ministry, whom the nation then thought not forward enough in resenting the depredations of the Spaniards. By this piece he declared himself an adherent to the opposition, and had therefore no favour to expect from the Court.
Thomson, having been some time entertained in the family of the lord Binning, was desirous of testifying his gratitude by making him the patron of his “Summer;" but the same kindness which had first disposed lord Binning to encourage him, determined him to refuse the dedi. cation, which was by his advice addressed to Mr. Doddington;* a man who had more power to advance the reputation and fortune of a poet. “Spring
was published next year, with a dedication to the countess of Hertford; whose practice it was to invite every Summer some poet into the country, to hear her
? To the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton. Ald. T. vol. ii. p. 175. Sir Isaac Newton died March 20, 1727, and this poem appeared in the following June in folio; it was dedicated in very flattering terms to Sir Robert Walpole, but the dedication was omitted in subsequent editions.
2 John Gray, F.R.S., author of a treatise on Gunnery, who in 1765 was elected Rector of Mareschal College, Aberdeen, and died 1769. Ald. T. vol. i. p. xlix.
3 Ald. T. vol. ii. p. 183. This poem was not published till 1729.
4 The celebrated Bubb Dodington, afterwards Lord Melcombe (died 1762).
5 Spring was published by Andrew Millar (died 1768), who continued Thomson's publisher, and contributed largely to the handsome quarto edition of 1762, the profits of which were spent on the poet's monument in Westminster Abbey. For Spring he received fifty guineas. —P. CUNNINGHAM.
8 The lady who interceded for Savage with the Queen; she became afterwards Duchess of Somerset. Vid. supr. vol. ii. p. 342.
verses, and assist her studies. This honour was Summer conferred on Thomson, who took more delight in carousing with lord Hertford and his friends then assisting her ladyship's poetical operations, and therefore never received another summons.
“Autuinn,"? the season to which the “ Spring” and “Summer” are preparatory, still remained unsung, and was delayed till he published (1730) his works collected.”
He produced in 1727 the tragedy of “ Sophonisba,” which raised such expectation, that every rehearsal was dignified with a splendid audience, collected to anticipate the delight that was preparing for the publick. It was observed howevery, that nobody was much affected, and that the company rose as from a moral lecture.
It had upon the stage no unusual degree of success. Slight accidents will operate upon the taste of pleasure. There was a feeble line in the play;
“O Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O!" This gave occasion to a waggish parody;
“O, Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O!” which for a while was echoed through the town.
I have been told by Savage, that of the Prologue to “Sophonisba" the first part was written by Pope, who could not be persuaded to finish it, and that the concluding lines were added by Mallet.
Thomson was not long afterwards,' by the influence of Dr. Rundle, sent to travel with Mr. Charles Talbot, the eldest son of the Chancellor. He was yet young enough to receive new impressions, to have his opinions rectified, and
1 Autumn. Ald. T. vol. i. p. 101.
2 In quarto, by subscription. 387 subscribers took 454 copies. Pope subscribed for three copies.-P. CUNNINGHAM.
3 In 1730.
his views enlarged ; nor can he be supposed to have wanted that curiosity which is inseparable from an active and comprehensive mind. He may therefore now be supposed to have revelled in all the joys of intellectual luxury; he was every day feasted with instructive novelties; he lived splendidly without expence, and might expect when he returned home a certain establishment.
At this time a long course of opposition to Sir Robert Walpole had filled the nation with clamours for liberty, of which no man felt the want, and with care for liberty, which was not in danger. Thomson, in his travels on the continent, found or fancied so many evils arising from the tyranny of other governments, that he resolved to write a very long poem, in five parts, upon Liberty."
While he was busy on the first book, Mr. Talbot died; a and Thomson, who had been rewarded for his attendance by the place of secretary of the Briefs, pays in the initial lines a decent tribute to his memory.
Upon this great poem two years were spent, and the author congratulated himself upon it as his noblest work ; but an author and his reader are not always of a mind. · Liberty” called in vain upon her votaries to read her praises and reward her encomiast: her praises were condemned to harbour spiders, and to gather dust; none of Thomson's performances were so little regarded.
The judgement of the publick was not erroneous ; the recurrence of the same images must tire in time; an enumeration of examples to prove a position which nobody denied, as it was from the beginning superfluous, must quickly grow disgusting.
1 This poem was originally published in 4to, in five separate parts, the first part appeared in 1734, the second and third in the following year, and the fourth and fifth parts in 1736. It was afterwards revised by Thomson for the 8vo. edition of his works. Ald. T. vol. ii. p. 1.
2 In September, 1733, aged 23.
The poem of “Liberty” does not now appear in its original state; but when the author's works were collected, after his death, was shortened by Sir George Lyttleton, with a liberty which, as it has a manifest tendency to lessen the confidence of society, and to confound the characters of authors, by making one man write by the judgement of another, cannot be justified by any supposed propriety of the alteration, or kindness of the friend.-I wish to see it exhibited as its author left it.'
Thomson now lived in ease and plenty, and seems for a while to have suspended his poetry; but he was soon called back to labour by the death of the Chancellor,” for his place then became vacant; and though the lord Hardwicke delayed for some time to give it away, Thomson's bashfulness, or pride, or some other motive perhaps not more laudable, withheld him from soliciting; and the new Chancellor would not give him what he would not ask.
He now relapsed to his former indigence; but the prince of Wales was at that time struggling for popularity, and by the influence of Mr. Lyttelton professed himself the patron of wit: to him Thomson was introduced, and being gaily interrogated about the state of his affairs, said, that they were in a more poetical posture than formerly; and had a pension allowed him of one hundred pounds a year.
Being now obliged to write, he produced (1738) the tragedy of “ Agamemnon,” which was much shortened in the representation. It had the fate which most commonly attends mythological stories, and was only endured, but not favoured. It struggled with such difficulty through the first night, that Thomson, coming late to his friends
i This was done Murdoch in the subscription quarto of 1762. (See Murdoch's Letter to Millar in Wooll's Warton, p. 252).—P. Cun
2 Sir Charles Talbot, died February, 1737. See Thomson's Poem to his Memory. Ald. T. vol. ii. p. 210.