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ship's poetical operations, and, therefore, never received another summons.
Autumn, the season to which the Spring and Summer are preparatory, still remained unsung, and was delayed till he published, 1730, his works collected.
He produced in 1727 the tragedy of Sophonisba, which raised such expectation, that every rehearsal was dignified with a splendid audience, collected to anticipate the delight that was preparing for the publick. It was observed, however, that nobody was much affected, and that the company rose as from a moral lecture.
It had upon the stage no unusual degree of success. Slight accidents will operate upon the taste of pleasure. There is a feeble line in the play:
0, Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O! This gave occasion to a waggish parody:
0, Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O! which for awhile was echoed through the town.
I have been told by Savage, that of the prologue to Sophonisba, the first part was written by Pope, who could not be persuaded to finish it; and that the concluding lines were added by Mallet.
Thomson was not long afterwards, by the influence of Dr. Rundle, sent to travel with Mr. Charles Talbot, the eldest son of the chancellor. He was yet young enougti to receive new impressions, to have his opinions rectified, and his views enlarged; nor can he be supposed to have wanted that curiosity which is inseparable from an active and comprehensive mind. He may, therefore, now be supposed to have revelled in all the joys of intellectual luxury; he was every day feasted with instructive novelties; he lived splendidly without expense; and might expect, when he returned home, a certain establishment.
At this time a long course of opposition to sir Robert Walpole had filled the nation with clamours for liberty, which no man felt the want, and with care for liberty, which was not in danger. Thomson in his travels on the conti
nent, found or fancied so many evils arising from the tyranny of other governments, that he resolved to write a very long poem, in five parts, upon liberty.
While he was busy on the first book, Mr. Talbot died ; and Thomson, who had been rewarded for his attendance by the place of secretary of the briefs, pays in the initial lines a decent tribute to his memory.
Upon this great poem two years were spent, and the author congratulated himself upon it as his noblest work; but an author and his reader are not always of a mind. Liberty called in vain upon her votaries to read her praises and reward her encomiast : her praises were condemned to harbour spiders, and to gather dust; none of Thomson's performances were so little regarded.
The judgment of the publick was not erroneous; the recurrence of the same images must tire in time; an enumeration of examples to prove a position which nobody denied, as it was from the beginning superfluous, must quickly grow disgusting.
The poem of Liberty does not now appear in its original state ; but, when the author's works were collected after his death, was shortened by sir George Lyttelton, with a liberty, which, as it has a manifest tendency to lessen the confidence of society, and to confound the characters of authors, by making one man write by the judgment of another, cannot be justified by any supposed propriety of the alteration, or kindness of the friend. I wish to see it exhibited as its author left it.
Thomson now lived in ease and plenty, and seems, for awhile, to have suspended his poetry; but he was soon called back to labour by the death of the chancellor, for his place then became vacantd; and though the lord Hardwicke
# An interesting anecdote respecting Thomson's deportment before a commission, instituted in 1732, for an inquiry into the state of the public offices under the lord chancellor, is omitted by Johnson and all the poet's biographers. We extract it from the nineteenth volume of the Critical Review, p. 141.
« Mr. Thomson's place of secretary of the briefs fell under the cognizance of this commission; and he was summoned to attend it, which he accordingly did, and irs 11. E. camne te u his friends sa
Irgens um u st. Pope crestenanced Agasenum, by coming to in the first night, and was welcomed to the theatre be a gooeral cap; be bad mach regard Lo Tumun, and onçe espressed it is a poetical epistie went to Italy, of which, however, he abated the value,
mundo, a susika, tx; basisg te mature, dety, and income of his place, interes thus, thankka very easis, were so perspicuous and elegant, that lord chancellor tullut, who was present, publicly said he preferred that single speech to the Want of hių puutical compositions." The above praise is precisely such as we much anticipau that an old lawyer would give, but it, at all events, exempts the poet's character from the imputation of listless indolence, advanced by Mere doch, and leaves lord Hardwicke little excuse for his conduct. Ed.
• It is not generally known that in this year an edition of Milton's Areopagi. w was published by Millar, to which Thomson wrote a preface.
by transplanting some of the lines into his epistle to Arbuthnot.
About this time the act was passed for licensing plays, of which the first operation was the prohibition of Gustavus Vasa', a tragedy of Mr. Brooke, whom the publick recompensed by a very liberal subscription; the next was the refusal of Edward and Eleonora, offered by Thomson. It is hard to discover why either play should have been obstructed. Thomson, likewise, endeavoured to repair his loss by a subscription, of which I cannot now tell the success.
When the publick murmured at the unkind treatment of Thomson, one of the ministerial writers remarked, that “ he had taken a liberty which was not agreeable to Britannia in any season."
He was soon after employed, in conjunction with Mr. Mallet, to write the mask of Alfred, which was acted before the prince at Cliefden-house.
His next work, 1745, was Tancred and Sigismunda, the most successful of all his tragedies ; for it still keeps its turn upon the stage. It may be doubted whether he was, either by the bent of nature or habits of study, much qualified for tragedy. It does not appear that he had much sense of the pathetick; and his diffusive and descriptive style produced declamation rather than dialogue.
His friend Mr. Lyttelton was now in power, and conferred upon him the office of surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands; from which, when his deputy was paid, he received about three hundred pounds. a year.
The last piece that he lived to publish was the Castle of Indolence, which was many years under his hand, but was, at last, finished with great accuracy. The first canto opens a scene of lazy luxury that fills the imagination.
He was now at ease, but was not long to enjoy it; for, by taking cold on the water between London and Kew, he
" See vol. v. p. 329 of this edition, and Mr. Roscoe's Life of Pope, for some anecdotes respecting Gay’s Beggars' Opera and Polly, illustrative of the efficacy of a lord-chamberlain's interference with the stage. Ed.
in4 FILL s nimi na, spate s such a
* 1 že,' a me acrio. *90 au' e umelcener i tis benevolence is very me 11 u. szerted to be delivered PUSTIL FI in mis ix is gesies, from an 2:59 259 sitemie present; and its continuance s more as dera: se friendship is not always the seei si a Bs sis tragedy a considerable sum was raised., se sanca part Escharged his debts, and the rest was remited to los sisters, bom, horever removed from toen br inte os omditis, be regarded with great tezders, as will appezz by the following letter, which I esamunicate with much pleasure, as it gives me, at once, an opportunity of recording the fraternal kindness of Thomson, and reflecting on the friendly assistance of Mr. Boswell, from whom I received it.
“ Hagley in Worcestershire, Oct. 4th, 1747. “ MY DEAR SISTER,– I thought you had known me better than to interpret my silence into a decay of affection, especially as your behaviour has always been such as rather to increase than diminish it. Don't imagine, because I
# Movoral anecdotes of Thomson's personal appearance and habits are scattered over the volumes of Boswell. ED.