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which they copy originals more or less excellent. A good original, therefore, forms an æra in the art itself ; and the history of every art divides itself into periods comprehending the intervals between the appearance of different approved originals. Sometimes, indeed, various models of a very different cast may exercise the talents of imitators during a single period; and this will more frequently be the case, as arts become more generally known and studied; difference of taste being always the result of liberal and varied pursuit.
How strongly these periods are marked in the history of Poetry, both ancient and modern, a cursory view will suffice to shew. The scarcity of originals here is universally acknowledged and lamented, and the prefent race of poets are thought particularly chargeable with this defect. It ought, however, to be allowed in their favour, that if genius has declined, taste has improved; and that if they imitate more, they choose better models to copy
after. That Thomson's Seasons is the original whence our modern descriptive poets have derived that more elegant and correct style of painting natural objects which distinguishes them from their immediate predeceffors, will, I think, appear evident to one who examines their several casts and manners. That none
of them, however, have yet equalled their master ; and that his performance is an exquisite piece, replete with beauties of the most engaging and delightful kind; will be sensibly felt by all of congenial taste :and perhaps no poem was ever composed which addressed itself to the feelings of a greater number of readers. It is, therefore, on every account, an object well worthy the attention of criticism; and an enquiry into the peculiar nature of its plan and the manner of its execution may be an agreeable introduction to a re-perusal of it in the elegant edition now offered to the public.
The description of such natural objects as by their beauty, grandeur, or novelty, agreeably impress the imagination, has at all times been a principal and favourite occupation of poetry. Various have been the methods in which such descriptions have been introduced. They have been made subservient to the purposes of ornament and illustration, in the more clevated and abstracted kinds of poetry, by being used as objects of fimilitude. They have constituted a pleasing and 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 philosophers, 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 folid 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 trilling and unprofitable amusement. Such was
the state of critical opinion, when THOMSON published, in fucceffion, but not in their present order *, the pieces which compofe his 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 feasons ; to mark the approaches, and trace the progress of these viciffitudes, in a series of landscapes all
* They appeared in the following order: Winter, Summer, Spring, Autumn.
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 flowery wilds of description, he suddenly checks himself, and returns to the toils of the husbandman; fo 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 vaft 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 pre
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 fun is fo 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 progreffive stages in this circuit, which, like the acts in a well-constructed drama, gradually disclofe, ripen, and bring to an end the various bufiness transacted on the great theatre of Nature. The striking analogy which this period with its several divifions 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 seafon of pleafing hope, lively energy, and rapid increase. Summer has been resembled to perfect manhood-the seafon of steady warmth, confirmed strength, and unremitting vigour. Autumn, which, while it bestows the rich products of full maturity, is yet ever haften