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Τ Η O M S ο Ν. The benevolence of Thomson was fervid, but not active; he would give on all occasions what assistance his purse would supply; but the offices of intervention or solicitation he could not conquer his sluggishness sufficiently to perform. The affairs of others, however, were not more neglected than his own. He had often felt the inconvenience of idleness, but he never cured it; and was so conscious of his own character, that he talked of write ing 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 Dodington, who, being himself a reader eminently elegant, was so much provoked by his odd utterance, that he snatched the paper from his hands, and told him that he did not understand his own verses.
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 perba ps 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 hat left them behind him.
As a writer, he is entitled to one praise of the highest kind : his mode ci 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 Prior are the rhymes of Cowley. His numbers, his pauses, his diction, are of his own growth, without transcription, without imitation. He thinks in z 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 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” 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 circunastartial yarieties, would have been obstructed and embarrassed by the frequent intersection of the sense, shich are the necessary effects of rhyme.
Ilis 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
s through the appearances of things as they are successively varied by the cissitudes of the year, and imparts to us so much of his own enthusiasm, at our thoughts expand with his imagery, and kindle with his sentiments. or is the naturalist without' his part in the entertainment; for he is assisted ) recollect and to combine, to arrange his discoveries, and to amplify the here of his contemplation. The great defects of the “ Seasons" is want of method; but for this I now not that there was any remedy: Of many appearances subsisting all tonce, no rule can be given why one should be mentioned before another; et the memory wants the help of order, and the curiosity is not excited by uspence or expectation.
His diction is in the highest degree florid and luxuriant, such as may be aid to be to his images and thoughts" both their lustre and their shade;" uch as invest them with splendour, through which perhaps they are not lways easily discerned. It is too exuberant, and sometimes may be charged rith filling the ear more than the mind.
These poems, with which I was acquainted at their first appearance, I ave since found altered and enlarged by subsequent revisals, as the author upposed his judgment to grow more exact, and as books or conversation xtended his knowledge and opened his prospects. They are, I think, imjroved 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 ense, means the flavour of the soil.
“ Liberty,” when it first appeared, I tried to read, and soon desisted. I have never tried again, and therefore will not hazard either praise or cen
The highest praise which he has received ought not to be supprest: it is said by Lord Lyttleton, in the Prologue to his posthumous play, that his works contained
No line which, dying, he could wish to blot.
W AT T S
THI *HE Poems of Dr. WATTS were by my recommendation inserted in
this 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 Yalden.
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, 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 deciared his resolution of taking his lot with the Dissenters. Such he was as every Christian Church would rejoice to have adopted.
He therefore repaired in 1690 to an academy taught by Mr. Rowe, where he had for his companions and fellow-students Mr. Hughes the poet, and Dr. Horte, afterwards Archbishop of Tuam. 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 fifteen to fifty, 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.
His method of study was to impress the contents of his books upon his memory by abridging them; and by interleaving them to amplify one system with supplements from another.
With the congregation of his tutor Mr. Rowe, who were, I believe, Independents, he communicated in his nineteenth year
At the age of ewenty he left the academy, and spent two years in study and devotion at the house of his father, who treated bim with great tenderness; and had the happiness indulged to few parents, of living to see his son eminent for literature, and venerable for piety.
He was then entertained by Sir John Hartopp five years as domestick tutor to his son; and in that time particularly devoted himself to the study of the Holy Scriptures; and being chosen assistant to Dr. Chauncey, preached the first time on the birth-day that completed bis twenty-fourth year; probably considering that as the day of a second nativity, by which he entered on a new period of existence.
In about three years he succeeded Dr. Chauncey; but, soon after his entrance on his charge, he was seized by a dangerous illness, which sunk him to such weakness, that the congregation thought an assistant necessary, and appointed Mr. Price. His health then returned gradually; and he performed his duty, sill (1712). he was seized by a fever of such violence and continuance, that from the feebleness which it brought upon him, he never perfectly recovered.
This calamitous state made the compassion of his friends necessary, and drew upon him the attention of Sir Thomas Abney, who received him into his house; where, with a constancy of friendship and uniformity of conduct not often to be found, he was treated for thirty-six years with all the kindness that friendship could prompt, and all the attention that respect could dictate. Sir Thomas died about eight years afterwards ; but he continued with the lady and her daughters to the end of his life. The lady died about a year after him.
A coalition like this, a state in which the notions of patronage and dependence were overpowered by the perception of reciprocal benefits, deserves a particular memorial; and I will not withhold from the reader Dr. Gibbons's representation, to which regard is to be paid as to the narrative of one who writes what he knows, and what is known likewise to multitudes besides.
“ Our next observation shall be made upon that remarkably kind Provi« dence which brought the Doctor into Sir Thomas. Abney's family, and - continued him there till his death, a period of no less than thirty-six years. In the midst of his sacred labours for the glory of God, and good
« of his generation, he is seized with a most violent and threatening fever, “ which leaves him oppressed with great weakness, and puts a stop at least " to his publick services for four years. In this distressing season, doubly « so to his active and pious spirit, he is invited to Sir Thomas Abney's fa“ mily, nor ever removes from it till he had finished his days. Here he “enjoyed the uninterrupted demonstrations of the truest friendship. Here, “ without any care of his own, he had every thing which could contribute “ to the enjoyment of life, and favour the unweared pursuits of his studies. “ Here he dwelt in a family, which for piety, order, harmony, and every « virtue, was an house of God. Here he had the privilege of a country
recess, the fragrant bower, the spreading lawn, the flowery garden, and “ other advantages, to sooth his mind and aid his restoration to health; to
yield him, whenever he chose them, most grateful intervals from his la“ borious studies, and enable him to return to them with redoubled vigour « and delight. Had it not been for this most happy event, he might, as to « outward view, have feebly, it may be painfully, dragged on through many “ more years of languor, and inability for public service, and even for
pro“ fitable study, or perhaps might lave sunk into his grave under the over“ whelming load of infirmities in the midst of his days; and thus the church " and world would have been deprived of those many excellent sermons and “ works, which he drew up and published during his long residence in this
family. In a few years after his coming hither, Sir Thomas Abney dies; “ but his amiable consort survives, who shews the Doctor the same respect “ and friendship as before, and most happily for him and great numbers be“ sides; for, as her riches were great, her generosity and munificence were "in full proportion; her thread of life was drawn out to great age, even “ beyond that of the Doctor's; and thus this excellent man, through her “ kindness, and that of her daughter, the present Mrs. Elizabeth Abney, “who in a like degree esteemed and honoured him, enjoyed all the berre“nefits and felicities he experienced at his first entrance into this family, « till his days were numbered and finished, and, like a shock of corn in its
season, he descended into the regions of perfect and immortal life and “ joy."
If this quotation has appeared long, let it be considered that it comprises an account of six-and-thirty years, and those the years of Dr. Watts.
Froin the time of his reception into this family, his life was no otherwise diversified than by successive publications. The series of his works I am not able to deduce; their number, and their variety, shew the intenseness of his industry, and the extent of his capacity.
He was one of the first authors that taught the Dissenters to court atten tion by the graces of language. Whatever they had among them before, whether of learning or acuteness, was commonly obscured and blunted by coarseness and inelegance of style. He shewed them, that zeal and purity might be expressed and enforced by polished diction.