« 上一頁繼續 »
Public, as well as the dark manoeuvres that were employed : but Thomson, who had access to the best information, places it to the account of
- Slanderous zeal, and politics infirm, Jealous of worth.
Meanwhile our poet's chief care had been, in return for the public favour, to finish the plan which their wishes laid out for him; and the expectations which his Winter had raised, were fully satisfied by the successive publication of the other Seasons : of Summer in the year 1727 ; of Spring, in the beginning of the following year; and of Autumn, in a quarto edition of his works, printed in 1730.
In that edition, the Seasons are placed in their natural order: and crowned with that inimitable Hymn, in which we view them in their beautiful succession, as one whole, the immediate effect of infinite Power and Goodness. In imitation of the Hebrew Bard, all nature is called forth to do homage to the Creator, and the reader is left enraptured in silent adoration and praise.
Besides these, and his tragedy of Sophonisba, written and acted with applause, in the year 1729, Thomson had, in 1727, published his poem to the memory of Sir Isaac Newton, then lately deceased ; containing a deserved encomium of that incomparable man, with an account of his chief discoveries ; sublimely poetical; and yet so just, that an ingenious foreigner, the Count Algarotti, takes a line of it for the text of his pbilosophical dialogues, N Neutonianismo per le dame: this was in part owing to the assistance he had of his friend Mr. Gray, a gentleman well versed in the Newtonian Philosophy, who,
on that occasion, gave him a very exact, though general, abstract of its principles.
That same year, the resentment of our merchants, for the interruption of their trade by the Spaniards in America, running very high, Thomson zealously took part in it; and wrote his poem Britannia, to rouse the nation to revenge. And although this piece is the less read, that its subject was but accidental and temporary, the spirited generous sentiments that enrich it, can never be out of season : they will at least remain a monument of that love of his country, that devotion to the Public, which he is ever inculcating as the perfection of virtue, and which none ever felt more pure, or more intense, than himself.
Our author's poetical studies were now to be interrupted, or rather improved, by his attendance on the Honourable Mr. Charles Talbot in his travels. A delightful task indeed! endowed as that young nobleman was by nature, and accomplished by the care and example of the best of fathers, in whatever could adorn humanity: graceful of person, elegant in manners and address, pious, humane, generous; with an exquisite taste in all the finer arts.
With this amiable companion and friend, Thomson visited most of the courts and capital cities of Europe ; and returned with his views greatly enlarged; not of exterior nature only, and the works of art, but of human life and manners, of the constitution and policy of the several states, their connexions, and their religious institutions. How particular and judicious his observations were, we see in his poem of Liberty, begun soon after his return to England. We see, at the same time, to what a high pitch his love of his country was raised, by the comparisons be had all along been making of our happy wellpoised government with those of other nations. To inspire his fellow-subjects with the like sentiments, and to shew them by what means the precious freedom we enjoy may be preserved, and how it may be abused or lost, he employed two years of his life in composing that noble work: upon which, conscious of the importance and dignity of the subject, he valued himself more than upon all his other writings.
While Thomson was writing the first part of Liberty, he received a severe shock, by the death of his noble friend and fellow-traveller; which was soon followed by another that was severer still, and of more general concern; the death of Lord Talbot himself; which Thomson so pathetically and so justly laments in the poem dedicated to his memory. In him the nation saw itself deprived of an uncorrupted patriot, the faithful guardian of their rights, on whose wisdom and integrity they had founded their hopes of relief from many tedious vexations : and Thomson, besides his share in the general mourning, had to bear all the affliction which a heart like his could feel, for the person whom, of all mankind, he most revered and loved. At the same time, he found himself, from an easy competency, reduced to a state of precarious dependence, in which he passed the remainder of his life ; excepting only the two last years of it, during which he enjoyed the place of Surveyor-General of the Leeward Islands, procured for him by the generous friendship of my Lord Lyttelton.
Immediately upon his return to England with Mr. Talbot, the Chancellor bad inade him his Secretary of Briefs ; a place of little attendance, suiting his retired indolent way of life, and equal to all his, wants. This place fell with his patron; and although the noble Lord who succeeded to Lord Talbot in office, kept it vacant for some time, probably till Thomson should apply for it, he was so dispirited, and so listless to every concern of that kind, that he never took one step in the affair: a neglect which his best friends greatly blamed in him.
Yet could not his genius be depressed, or his temper hurt, by this reverse of fortune. He resumed, with time, his usual cheerfulness, and never abated one article in his way of living; wbich, though simple, was genial and elegant. The profits arising from his works were not inconsiderable : his tragedy of Agamemnon, acted in 1738, yielded a good sum ; Mr. Millar was always at hand, to answer, or even to prevent his demands; and he had a friend or two besides, whose hearts, he knew, were not contracted by the ample fortunes they had acquired; who would, of themselves, interpose, if they saw any occasion for it.
But his chief dependence, during this long interval, was on the protection and bounty of his Royal Highness Frederic Prince of Wales; who, upon the recommendation of Lord Lyttelton, then his chief favourite, settled on him a handsome allowance. And afterwards, when he was introduced to his Royal Highness, that excellent prince, who truly was what Thomson paints him, the friend of mankind and of merit, received him very graciously, and ever after honoured him with many marks of particular favour and confidence. A circumstance, which dues equal honour to the patron and the poet, ought not here to be omitted; that iny Lord Lyttelton's recommendation came altogether unsolicited, and long before Thomson was personally known to him.
It happened, however, that the favour of his Royal Highness was in one instance of some prejudice to our author; in the refusal of a licence for his tragedy of Edward and Eleonora, which he had prepared for the stage in the year 1739. The reader may see that this play contains not a line which could justly give offence; but the ministry, still sore from certain pasquinades, which had lately produced the stage act; and as little satisfied with some part of the prince's political conduct, as he was with their management of the public affairs, would not risque the representation of a piece written under his eye, and, they might probably think, by his command.
This refusal drew after it another; and in a way which, as it is related, was rather ludicrous. Mr. Paterson, a companion of Thomson, afterwards his deputy and then his successor in the general-surveyorship, used to write out fair copies for his friend, when such were wanted for the press or for the stage. This gentleman likewise courted the tragic muse, and had taken for his subject the story of Arminius the German hero. But his play, guiltless as it was, being presented for a licence, no sooner had the censor cast his eyes on the handwriting in which he had seen Edward and Eleonora, than he cried out, “ Away with it !” and the author's profits were reduced to what his bookseller could afford for a tragedy in distress.
Thomson's next dramatic performance was the Masque of Alfred; written, jointly with Mr. Mallet, by command of the Prince of Wales, for the entertainment of his Royal Highness's court, at his summer residence. This piece, with some alterations, and the music new, has been sinee brought upon the stage by Mr. Mallet. It was acted at Clifden, in the year 1740, on the birth-day of her Royal Highness the Princess Augusta.
In the year 1745, his Tancred and Sigismunda, taken from