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"Heavens! can you then thus waste in shameful wise
Heirs of eternity! yborn to rise
Through endless states of being, still more near
To bliss approaching and perfection clear;
Can you renounce a fortune so sublime,
Such glorious hopes, your backward steps to steer,
And roll with vilest brutes through mud and slime?
No! no!-your heaven-touch'd hearts disdain the sordid crime!"
It is a pleasure to find that the spot where these noble sentiments were penned is still preserved sacred to the memory of the poet of truth and virtue. As far as the restless and rapid change of property would permit so near London, the residence of Thomson has been kept from destruction: changed it is, it is true, but that change has been made with a veneration for the muse in the heart of the new inhabitant. The house of Thomson, in what is called Kew-foot-lane at Richmond, as shown in the woodcut at the head of this article, was a simple cottage; behind this lay his garden, and in front he looked down to the Thames, and on the fine landscape beyond. The cottage now appears to be gone, and in the place stands the goodly villa of the Earl of Shaftesbury; the cottage, however, is not really gone, it is only swallowed up in the larger house of the present time. After Thomson's death his cottage was purchased by George Ross, Esq., who, out of veneration for his memory, forbore to pull it down, but enlarged and improved it at the expense of 9,000l. The walls of the cottage were left, though its roof was taken off, and the walls continued upwards to their present height. Thus, what was Thomson's cottage forms now the entrance hall to Lord Shaftesbury's house. The part of the hall on the left hand was the room where Thomson used to sit, and here is preserved a plain mahogany Pembroke table, with a scroll of white wood let into its surface, on which is inlaid, in black letters, this piece of information:—
"On this table James Thomson constantly wrote. It was therefore purchased of his servant, who also gave these brass hooks, on which his hat and cane were hung in this his sitting room. These initials, F. B., are those of the Hon. Frances Boscawen, the widow of Admiral Boscawen, who came into possession of the property after the death of Mr. Ross, whose name, however, still attaches to it, being called Rossdale, or more commonly, Rosedale, House. Mrs. Boscawen it was who repaired the poet's favourite seat in the garden, and placed there the table on which he wrote his poems; she it was too, no doubt, who hung the inscriptions there, her initials being again found appended to one of them. Her son, Lord Falmouth, sold the place. No brass hooks are now to be seen, that I could discover or learn anything of.
The garden of Thomson, which lay behind the house, has been preserved, in the same manner and to the same extent as his house; the garden and its trees remain, but these now form only part of the present grounds, as the cottage forms only part of the present house. Mr. Ross, when he purchased the cottage and some adjoining grounds, and came to live here after Thomson, not only enlarged the house, but threw down the partition fence, and enlarged the grounds to their present extent. A pleasanter lawn and shrubberies are rarely to be seen; the turf, old and mossy, speaks of long duration and great care; the trees, dispersed beautifully upon it, are of the finest growth and of the greatest beauty. In no part of England are there so many foreign trees as in the grounds of gentlemen's villas near London; in many of them the cedars of Lebanon are of a growth and majesty which probably Lebanon itself cannot now show. In these grounds are some fine specimens, and one of especial and surpassing loveliness; it is the pinus picea, or silver cedar. The growth is broad, like that of the cedar of Lebanon, though its boughs do not throw themselves out in that exact horizontal direction that those of the cedar of Lebanon do; they sweep down to the ground in a style of exquisite grace. Heavy, full of life, rich in hue as masses of chased silver, their effect with the young cones sitting birdlike on them resembles that of some tree of heaven, or of some garden of poetic romance. Besides this superb tree, standing on its ample portion of lawn, there are here the evergreen ilex, hickory, white sassafras, scarlet and Ragland oaks, the tulip-tree, the catalpa, the tupelo, the black American ash, etc. The effect of their large growth, their varied hues and foliage, their fine branches sweeping over the soft velvet turf, is charming; for trees display the effects of breeding and culture quite as much as horses, dogs, or men.
A large elm not far from the house is pointed out as the one under which Thomson's alcove stood; this alcove has, however, been removed to the extremity of the grounds, and stands now under a large Spanish chestnut-tree in the shrubbery. It is a simple wooden construction, with a plain back and two outward sloping sides, a bench running round it within, a roof and boarded floor, so as to be readily removable altogether. It is kept well painted of a dark green, and in it stands an old small walnut table with a drawer which belonged to Thomson. On the front of the alcove overhead is painted, on a white oval tablet
"Here Thomson sang
and their change."
Within the alcove hang three loose boards, on which are painted the following inscriptions:
"Hail, Nature's Poet, whom she taught alone
On a brass tablet in the top of the table in the alcove is inscribed -"This table was the property of James Thomson, and always stood in this seat."
Such is the state of the former residence of James Thomson at Richmond. Here, no doubt, he was visited by many of his literary cotemporaries, though it does not appear that Pope, who was so near a neighbour, was of this number. Poets, with advancing years, grow exclusive. Wordsworth, in his old age, said that he read no new poets, but left them to their cotemporaries; so, in the correspondence of Pope, you find no further mention of Thomson, than that "Thomson and some other young men have published lately some creditable things;" and Gray, writing to one of his friends, says"Thomson has just published a poem called 'The Castle of Indolence,' which contains some good stanzas."
The view down to the Thames, and over the country beyond, which he enjoyed, is now much obstructed by the walls, including part of the royal property, on which the Queen has erected her laundry-sending, it seems, all the royal linen, from Windsor, the Isle of Wight, and elsewhere, to be washed and got up here, sufficiently, as one would think, near enough to the smoke of London.
The vicinity of the royal washhouse certainly does not improve Lord Shaftesbury's residence here, especially as a tall, square, and most unsightly tower, most probably intended to carry the soot from the drying fires pretty high, overlooks his grounds. But it will not disturb the remains of the poet; and let us hope that the Queen's inen will enjoy the benefit of all the Seasons, from this close neighbourhood.
Thomson is buried in Richmond church, at the west end of the north aisle. There is a square brass tablet, well secured into the wall with ten large screws, bearing this inscription
"In the earth below this Tablet
Are the remains of
Author of the beautiful Poems entitled, The Seasons, Castle of Indolence, etc. etc
so good a man and sweet a poet should be without a
ment for the satisfaction of his
our Lord 1792."
"Father of light and life, thou Good Supreme!
From every low pursuit! and feed my soul
No poet of the same pretensions has been so much known through his residence as Shenstone. Without the Leasowes he would have been nothing. His elegies and pastorals would have lain on the dustiest of book-shelves, and his Schoolmistress, by far the best of his productions, would hardly have retained vitality enough to make herself noticeable in the crowd of poetical characters. The Leasowes was the chief work of Shenstone's life, and it is the chief means of that portion of immortality which he possesses. Into every quarter of the kingdom the fame of this little domain has penetrated. Nature there formed the grand substratum of his art, and nature is always beautiful. But I do confess, that in the Leasowes, I have always found so much ado about nothing; such a parade of miniature cascades, lakes, streams conveyed hither and thither; surprises in the disposition of woods and the turn of walks, with a seat placed here, and another there; with inscriptions, Latin and English; and piping Fauns fauning upon you in half-a-dozen places, that I have heartily wished myself out upon a good rough heath, with the winds blowing away the cobwebs of so many conceits from my
The remarks of Dr. Johnson appear to me, in the case of Shenstone, who was amiable but trifling, very just :-"Whether to plant a walk in undulating curves, and to place a bench at every turn