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ences of idleness, but he never cured it: and was so conscious of his own character, that he talked of writing an Eastern Tale of “the Man who loved to be in Distress.”
Among his peculiarities was a very unskilful and inarticulate manner of pronouncing any lofty or solemn composition. He was once reading to Doddington,' who, being himself a reader eminently elegant, was so much provoked by his odd utterance, that he snatched the paper from his hand, and told him that he did not understand his own
The biographer of Thomson has remarked, that an author's life is best read in his works: his observation was not well-timed. Savage, who lived much with Thomson, once told me, how he heard a lady remarking that she could gather from his works three parts of his character, that he was a great Lover, a great Swimmer, and rigorously abstinent; but, said Savage, he knows not any love but that of the sex; he was perhaps never in cold water in his life; and he indulges himself in all the luxury that comes within his reach. Yet Savage always spoke with the most eager praise of his social qualities, his warmth and constancy of friendship, and his adherence to his first acquaintance when the advancement of his reputation had left them behind him.”
As a writer, he is entitled to one praise of the highest kind: his mode of thinking, and of expressing his thoughts, is original. His blank verse is no more the blank verse of Milton, or of any other poet, than the rhymes of Prior are the rhymes of Cowley. His numbers, his pauses, his diction, are of his own growth, without transcription, without imitation. He thinks in a peculiar train, and he thinks always as a man of genius; he looks round on Nature and on Life, with the eye which Nature bestows only on a
1 Vid. supr. p. 167.
? See Boswell's Johnson, vol. ii. p. 73.
poet; the eye that distinguishes, in every thing presented
; 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 ” I 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 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 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. 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.
The great defect of the “Seasons” is want of method; but for this I know not that there was any remedy. Of many appearances 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,
Ald. T. vol. i. p. 1.
such as may be said to be to his images and thoughts both their lustre and their shade ; such as invest 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.
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 prospects. They are, I think, improved 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,
y,”' when it first appeared, I tried to read, and soon desisted. I have never tried again, and therefore will not hazard either praise or censure.
The highest praise which he has received ought not to be 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.”
| Wordsworth observes (Works, vol. iii. p. 335, ed. 1837) that even the 2nd edition of Thomson's Seasons does not contain the most striking passages which Warton (in his Essay on Pope) points out for admiration, and that these and other improvements in the whole work, must have been added at a later period.
2 For an account of Boswell's friend, the Rev. William Johnson Temple, and the strange recovery of Boswell's letters to him, see Boswell's Johnson, vol. i. p. 347.
3 Ald. T. vol. ii. p. 5.