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left out in the collected works, the reader may enquire.
The next year (1727) he distinguished himself by three publications; of "Summer," in pursuance of his plan; of "A Poem on the Death of Sir Isaac Newton," which he was enabled to perform as an exact philosopher by the instruction of Mr. Gray: and of "Britannia," a kind of poetical invective against the ministry, whom the nation then thought not forward enough in resenting the depredations of the Spaniards. By this piece he declared himself an adherent to the opposition, and had therefore no favour to expect from the Court.
Thomson, having been some time entertained in the family of the Lord Binning, was desirous of testifying his gratitude by making him the patron of his "Summer;" but the same kindness which had first disposed Lord Binning to encourage him, determined him to refuse the dedication, which was by his advice addressed to Mr. Doddington, a man who had more power to advance the reputation and fortune of a poet.
"Spring" was published next year, with a dedication to the Countess of Hertford; whose practice it was to invite every summer some poet into the country, to hear her verses, and assist her studies. This honour was one summer conferred on Thomson, who took more delight in carousing with Lord Hertford and his friends than assisting her ladyship'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 public. 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:
O, Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O!
This gave occasion to a waggish parody:
O, Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O! which for a while 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 enough 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 expence; and might
expect when he returned home a certain establish
At this time a long course of opposition to Sir Robert Walpole had filled the nation with clamours for liberty, of which no man felt the want, and with care for liberty, which was not in danger. Thomson, in his travels on the Continent, 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, 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 yotaries 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 public 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 a while to have suspended his poetry; but he was soon called back to labour by the death of the Chancellor, for his place then became vacant; and though the Lord Hardwicke delayed for some time to give it away, Thomson's bashfulness or pride, or some other motive perhaps not more laudable, withheld him from soliciting; and the new Chancellor would not give him what he would not ask.
He now relapsed to his former indigence; but the Prince of Wales was at that time struggling for popularity, and by the influence of Mr. Lyttelton professed himself the patron of wit; to him Thomson was introduced, and being gaily interrogated about the state of his affairs, said, "that they were "in a more poetical posture than formerly;" and had a pension allowed him of one hundred pounds a year.
Being now obliged to write, he produced (1738) the tragedy of "Agamemnon," which was much shortened in the representation. It had the fate which most commonly attends mythological stories, and was only endured, but not favoured. It struggled with such difficulty through the first night, that Thomson, coming late to his friends with whom he was to sup, excused his delay by telling them how the sweat of his distress had so disordered his wig, that he could not come till he had been refitted by a barber..
He so interested himself in his own drama, that if I remember right, as he sat in the upper gallery, he accompanied the players by audible recitation, till a friendly hint frighted him to silence. Pope countenanced "Agamemnon," by coming to it the first night, and was welcomed to the theatre by a general clap; he had much regard for Thomson, and once expressed it in a poetical epistle sent to Italy, of which however he abated the value, 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 public 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 public 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 masque of "Alfred," which was acted before the Prince at Cliefden-house.
His next work (1745) was "Tancred and Sigis"munda," 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.