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AUTHOR OF THE CITY OF DREADFUL Night," etc.
REEVES AND TURNER
77 CHARING CROSS ROAD
FEB 1 1915
Substituted for a copy lost (Mary lesgood find).
Printed by BALLANTYNE, HANSON & Co.
WHEN publishing, last year, the first collected edition of the poems of James Thomson, I expressed a hope that it might soon be followed by a collection of his prose writings. I hoped then that there would have been a somewhat more general welcome accorded to the poems than has proved to be the case, for though the zeal of Thomson's admirers leaves nothing to be desired, it must yet be confessed that their number is at present rather limited. It is, moreover, rather unfortunate that to the general public he is still known almost exclusively as the author of "The City of Dreadful Night," so that it is difficult to gain a hearing for him except as a poet, notwithstanding the remarkable excellence of his prose writings. It is the desire, however, of his publishers to issue a collected edition. of his prose works which shall comprise all that seems to be of permanent value in his remains. Such an edition, if carried out as intended, will extend to four volumes of original matter, and another containing his translations from Leopardi and Novalis. The book now issued is intended to form the first volume
of the proposed collection. But it must be understood that it will depend upon the reception of the present volume whether the publication of the remainder is proceeded with. The publishers, who, sixteen years ago, gave Thomson his first chance of appealing to the book-buying public, are anxious to see their work crowned during their lifetimes by a definitive edition of his works; but if it should prove that there is no corresponding desire on the part of the reading public for such an edition, they can hardly be censured if they do not proceed with their enterprise. If not now, the work will some day be accomplished; and it will matter little, so the work be done, by whom it is carried to completion.
The contents of the present volume consist chiefly of writings which have not hitherto been collected. The only articles included here which have previously appeared in book-form are the essays on “The Poetry of William Blake" and on Shelley. I have included these, not only because I think they show Thomson at his best as a critic, but also because I was anxious to bracket them and the article on Garth Wilkinson
("A Strange Book") together. The three essays, though written at wide intervals of time, will be found to be linked together, not only because they deal with the fundamental questions of poetical criticism, but because they unfold with a fair degree of completeness the views of a true poet upon the methods and
aims of his art. It will be well, however, to remember that the essay on Shelley was written when the author was still in his early manhood, and it may therefore require some slight allowance to be made on that account.* But the essays, taken together, are not more remarkable for their eloquent expression than for their entire sanity of judgment and sureness of appreciation of the distinctive qualities of the three poets, so like in some respects, and yet so entirely different in others. The article on Garth Wilkinson will be found to be of peculiar interest, since it is, so far as I know, the only article dealing with that remarkable writer which is in any degree adequate or satisfactory.
As to the other contents of this volume, it will be well for the reader to bear in mind that the articles on Rabelais, Saint-Amant, Ben Jonson, John Wilson, and James Hogg, are reprinted from Cope's Tobacco Plant. This will account for the rather frequent references in those articles to the subjects which would naturally interest the readers of that periodical. Almost one-half of the article on Ben Jonson, indeed, is devoted to the references in that author's writings to the practices of smoking and snuff-taking. Possibly this portion of the essay might have been omitted
* Thomson would not in later life have spoken of Carlyle's 'French Revolution" as "the unapproached model of history," nor would he have spoken in quite such enthusiastic terms of Ruskin and Emerson as he employs in this early essay.