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during that time, either to entertain Sir William and Mr. Riccarton, or for his own amusement, he destroyed every new year's day; committing his little pieces to the flames, in their due order; and crowning the solemnity with a copy of verses, in which were humorously recited the several grounds of their condemnation.
After the usual course of school education, under an able master at Jedburgh, Thomson was sent to the University of Edinburgh. But in the second year of his admission, his studies were for some time interrupted by the death of his father; who was carried off so suddenly, that it was not possible for Thomson, with all the diligence he could use, to receive his last blessing. This affected him to an uncommon degree; and his relations still remember some extraordinary instances of his grief and filial duty on that occasion.
Mrs. Thomson, whose maiden name was Hume, and who was co-heiress of a small estate in the country, did not sink under this misfortune. She consulted her friend Mr. Gusthart: and having, by his advice, mortgaged her moiety of the farm, repaired with her family to Edinburgh; where she lived in a decent, frugal manner, till her favourite son had not only finished his academical course, but was even distinguished and patronised as a man of genius. She was, herself, a person of uncommon natural endowments; possessed of every social and domestic virtue; with an imagination, for vivacity and warmth, scarce inferior to her son's, and which raised her devotional exercises to a pitch bordering on enthusiasm.
But whatever advantage Thomson might derive from the complexion of his parent, it is certain he owed much to a religious education; and that his early acquaintance with the
sacred writings, contributed greatly to that sublime, by which his works will be for ever distinguished. In his first pieces, the Seasons, we see him at once assume the majestic freedom of an Eastern writer; seizing the grand images as they rise, clothing them in his own expressive language, and preserving, throughout, the grace, the variety, and the dignity, which belong to a just composition, unhurt by the stiffness of formal method.
About this time, the study of poetry was become general in Scotland, the best English authors being universally read, and imitations of them attempted. Addison had lately displayed the beauties of Milton's immortal work; and his remarks on it, together with Pope's celebrated Essay, had opened the way to an acquaintance with the best poets and critics.
But the most learned critic is not always the best judge of poetry; taste being a gift of nature, the want of which Aristotle and Bossu cannot supply; nor even the study of the best originals, when the reader's faculties are not tuned in a certain consonance to those of the poet : and this happened to be the case with certain learned gentlemen, into whose hands a few of Thomson's first essays had fallen. Some inaccuracies of style, and those luxuriances which a young writer can hardly avoid, lay open to their cavils and censure ; so far indeed they might be competent judges : but the fire and enthusiasm of the poet had entirely escaped their notice. Thomson, however, conscious of his own strength, was not discouraged by this treatment; especially as he had some friends on whose judgment he could better rely, and who thought very differently of his performances. Only, from that time, he began to turn his views towards London ; where works of genius may always expect a candid reception and due encourage
ment; and an accident soon after entirely determined him to try his fortune there,
The divinity chair at Edinburgh was then filled by the reverend and learned Mr. Hamilton; a gentleman universally respected and beloved ; and who had particularly endeared himself to the young divines under his care, by his kind offices, his candour and affability. Our author bad attended his lectures for about a year, when there was prescribed to him, for the subject of an exercise, a psalm, in which the power and majesty of God are celebrated. Of this psalm he gave a paraphrase and illustration, as the nature of the exercise required; but in a style so highly poetical as surprised the whole audience. Mr. Hamilton, as his custom was, complimented the orator upon his performance, and pointed out to the students the most masterly striking parts of it; but at last, turning to Thomson, he told him, smiling, that if he thought of being useful in the ministry, he must keep a stricter rein upon his imagination, and express himself in language more intelligible to an ordinary congregation.
This gave Thomson to understand, that his expectations from the study of theology might be very precarious ; even though the Church had been more his free choice than probably it was. So that having, soon after, received some encouragement from a lady of quality, a friend of his mother's, then in London, he quickly prepared himself for his journey, And although this encouragement ended in nothing beneficial, it served for the present as a good pretext, to cover the imprudence of committing himself to the wide world, unfriended and unpatronised, and with the slender stock of money he was then possessed of.
But his merit did not long lie concealed. Mr. Forbes, afterwards Lord President of the Session, then attending the service of Parliament, having seen a specimen of Thomson's poetry in Scotland, received him very kindly, and recoinmended him to some of his friends ; particularly to Mr. Aikman, who lived in great intimacy with many persons of distinguished rank and worth. This gentleman, from a connoisseur in painting, was become a professed painter; and his taste being no less just and delicate in the kindred art of descriptive poetry, than in his own, no wonder that he soon conceived a friendship for our author. What warm return he met with, and how Thomson was affected by his friend's premature death, appears in the copy of verses which he wrote on that occasion.
In the mean time, our author's reception, wherever he was introduced, emboldened him to risque the publication of his Winter: in which, as himself was a mere novice in such matters, he was kindly assisted by Mr. Mallet, then private tutor to his Grace the Duke of Montrose, and his brother the Lord George Graham, so well known afterwards as an able and gal. lant sea-officer. To Mr. Mallet he likewise owed his first acquaintance with several of the wits of that time; an exact information of their characters, personal and poetical, and how they stood affected to each other.
The poem of Winter, published in March 1726, was no sooner read than universally admired; those only excepted who had not been used to feel, or to look for, any thing in poetry, beyond a point of satirical or epigrammatic wit, a smart antithesis richly trimmed with rhyme, or the softness of an elegiac complaint. To such his manly classical spirit could not readily recommend itself; till, after a more attentive perusal, they had got the better of their prejudices, and either acquired or affected a truer taste. A few others stood aloof, merely because they had long before fixed the articles of their poetical creed, and resigned themselves to an absolute despair of ever seeing any thing new and original. These were somewhat mortified to find their notions disturbed by the appearance of a poet, who seemed to owe nothing but to nature and his own genius. But, in a short time, the applause became unanimous; every one wondering how so many pictures, and pictures so familiar, should have moved them but faintly to what they felt in his descriptions. His digressions too, the overflowings of a tender, benevolent heart, charmed the reader no less ; leaving him in doubt, whether he should more admire the Poet, or love the Man.
From that time, Thomson's acquaintance was courted by all men of taste; and several ladies of bigh rank and distinction became his declared patronesses : the Countess of Hertford, Miss Drelincourt, afterwards Viscountess Primrose, Mrs. Stanley, and others. But the chief happiness which bis Winter procured him was, that it brought him acquainted with Dr. Rundle, afterwards Lord Bishop of Derry ; who, upon conversing with Thomson, and finding in him qualities greater still, and of more value, than those of a poet; received him into his intimate confidence and friendship ; promoted his character every where; introduced him to his great friend the Lord Chancellor Talbot ; and, some years after, when the eldest son of that nobleman was to make bis tour of travelling, recommended Thomson as a proper companion for him. His affection and gratitude to Dr. Rundle, and his indignation at the treatment that worthy prelate had met with, are finely expressed in his poem to the memory of Lord Talbot. The true cause of that undeserved treatment has been secreted from the