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necessary part of epic narration, when employed in forming a scenery suitable to the events. The simple tale of pastoral life could scarcely without their aid be rendered in any degree interesting. The precepts of an art, and the systems of pbilosophers, depend upon the adventitious ornaments afforded by them for almost every thing which can render them fit subjects for.poetry.
Thus intermixed as they are with almost all, and essential to some species of poetry, it was, however, thought that they could not legitimately constitute the whole, or even the principal part, of a capital piece. Something of a more solid nature was required as the ground-work of a poetical fabric; pure description was opposed to sense ; and, binding together the wild flowers which grew obvious to common sight and touch, was deemed a trifling and unprofitable amusement.
Such was the state of critical opinion, when T'HOMson published, in succession, but not in their present order *, the pieces which compose the Seasons; the first capital work in which natural description was professedly the principal object. To paint the face of nature as changing through the changing seasons; to mark the approaches, and trace the progress of these vicissitudes, in a series of landscapes all formed upon images of grandeur or beauty; and to give animation and variety to the whole by interspersing manners and incidents suitable to the scenery; appears to be the general design of this Poem. Essentially different from a didactic piece, its business is to describe, and the occupation of its leisure to teach. And as in the Georgics, whenever the poet has, for a while borne away by the warmth of fancy, wandered through the
• They appeared in the following order: Winter, Summer, Spring, Autumn.
flowery wilds of description, he suddenly checks himself, and returns to the toils of the husbandman; so Thomson, in the midst of his delightful lessons of morality, and affecting relations, recurs to a view of that state of the season which introduced the digression.
It is an attention to this leading idea, that in this piece there is a progressive series of descriptions, all tending to a certain point, and all parts of a general plan, which alone can enable us to range through the vast variety and quick succession of objects presented in it, with any clear conception of the writer's method, or true judgment concerning what may be regarded as forwarding his main purpose, or as merely ornamental deviation. The particular elucidation of this point will constitute the principal part of the present Essay.
Although each of the Seasons appears to have been intended as a complete piece, and contains within itself the natural order of beginning, middle, and termination, yet as they were at length collected and modelled by their author, they have all a mutual relation to each other, and concur in forming a more comprehensive whole. The annual space in which the earth performs its revolution round the sun is so strongly marked by nature for a perfect period, that all mankind have agreed in forming their computations of time upon it. In all the temperate climates of the globe, the four seasons are so many progressive stages in this circuit, which, like the acts in a well-constructed drama, gradually disclose, ripen, and bring to an end the various business transacted on the great theatre of Nature. The striking analogy which this period with its several divisions bears to the course of human existence, has been remarked and pursued by writers of all ages and countries. Spring has been represented as the youth of the year-the a
season of pleasing hope, lively energy, and rapid increase Summer has been resembled to perfect manhood—the season of steady warmth, confirmed strength, and unremitting vigour. Autumn, which, while it bestows the rich products of full maturity, is yet ever hastening to decline, has been aptly compared to that period, when the man, mellowed by age, yields the most valuable fruits of experience and wisdom, but daily exhibits increasing symptoms of decay. The cold, cheerless, and sluggish Winter has almost without a metaphor been termed the decrepid and hoary old age of the year. Thus the history of the year, pursued through its changing seasons, is that of an individual, whose existence is marked by a progressive course from its origin to its termination. It is thus represented by our poet ; this idea preserves an unity and connection through his whole work; and the accurate observer will remark a beautiful chain of circumstances in his description, by which the birth, vigour, decline, and extinction of the vital principle of the year are pictured in the most lively manner.
This order and gradation of the whole runs, as has been already hinted, through each division of the poem. Every season has its incipient, confirmed, and receding state, of which its historian ought to give distinct views, arranged according to the succession in which they appear. Each, too, like the prismatic colours, is distinguishably blended in its origin and termination with that which precedes, and which follows it; and it may be expected from the pencil of an artist to hit off these mingled shades so as to produce a pleasing and picturesque effect. Our poet has not been inattentive to these circumstances in the conduct of his plan. His SPRING begins with a view of the season as yet unconfirmed, and partaking of the roughness of Winter*;, and it is not till after several steps in gradual progression, that it breaks forth in all its ornaments, as the favourite of Love and Pleasure. His AUTUMN, after a rich prospect of its bounties and splendors, gently fades into “the sere, the yellow leaf,” and with the lengthened night, the clouded sun, and the rising storm,' sinks into the arms of Winter. It is remarkable, that in order to produce something of a similar effect in his SUMMER, a season which, on account of its uniformity of character, does not admit of any stronglymarked gradations, he has comprised the whole of his description within the limits vf a single day, pursuing the course of the sun from its rising to its setting. A Summer's day is, in reality, a just model of the entire season. Its beginning is moist and temperate; its middle, sultry and parching; its close, soft and refreshing. By thus exhibiting all the vicissitudes of Summer under one point of view, they are rendered much more striking than could have been done in a series of feebly contrasted and scarcely distinguishable periods. .
With this idea of the general plan of the whole work, and of its several parts, we proceed to take a view of the various subjects composing the descriptive series of which it principally consists.
Every grand and beautiful appearance in nature, that distinguishes one portion of the annual circuit from another, is a proper source of materials for the Poet of the Seasons. Of these, some are obvious to the common observer, and require only justness and elegance of taste for the selection : others discover themselves only to the mind opened and enlarged
* A descriptive piece, in which this very interval of time is represented, with all the accuracy of a naturalist, and vivid colouring of a poet, has lately appeared in a poem of Mr. Warton's, entitled “The First of April."
by science and philosophy. All the knowledge we acquire concerning natural objects by such a train of observation and reasoning as merits the appellation of science, is comprehended under the two divisions of Natural Philosophy and Natural History. Both of these may be employed to advantage in descriptive poetry : for although it be true, that poetical composition, being rather calculated for amusement than instruction, and addressing itself to the many who feel, rather than to the few who reason, is improperly occupied about the abstruse and argumentative parts of a science ; yet, to reject those grand and beautiful ideas which a philosophical view of nature offers to the mind, merely because they are above the comprehension of vulgar readers, is surely an unnecessary degradation of this noble art. Still more narrow and unreasonable is that critical precept, which, in conformity to the received notion that fiction is the soul of poetry, obliges the poet to adopt ancient errors in preference to modern truths; and this even where truth has the advantage in point of poetical effect. In fact, modern philosophy is as much superior to the ancient in sublimity as in solidity; and the most vivid imagination cannot paint to itself scenes of grandeur equal to those which cool science and demonstration offer to the enlightened mind. Objects so vast and magnificent as planets rolling with even pace through their orbits, comets rushing along their devious track, light springing from its unexhausted source, mighty rivers formed in their subterranean beds, do not require, or even admit, a heightening from the fancy. The most faithful pencil here produces the noblest pictures ; and Thomson, by strictly adhering to the character of the Poet of Nature, bas treated all these topics with a true sublimity, which a writer of less knowledge and accuracy could never have attained. The strict propriety with which subjects from Astronomy and the other parts of Natural Philosophy are