« 上一頁繼續 »
But his merit did not long lie concealed. Mr. Forbes, after vards 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 recommended 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 bim 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 wel. «nown 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 high 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 his 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 $till, 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 his 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 Public, as well as the dark manquvres that were employed : but Thomson, who had access to the best information, places it to the account of
+ -Slanderous zeal, and politics infirm,
Meanwhile our poet's chief care had been, in return for the public favour, to finish the plan which their wisbes laid out for bim; 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 be. ginning 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 philosophical dialogues, Il Neutonianismo per le dame: this was in part owing to the assistance he bad 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, thc 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 accomaplished 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, génerous, 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 institutionis. How particular and judicious his observations were, we see in his poem of Liberty, begun soon after bis return to England. We see, at the same time, to what a high pitch his love of his country was raised, by the comparisons he 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 depend, ence, 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 had made 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