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It does not appear that he had much sense of the pathetic; and his diffusive and descriptive style produced declamation rather than dialogue. His friend Mr. Lyttelton was now in power, and
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 caught a disorder, which, with some careless exasperation, ended in a fever that put an end to his life, August 27, 1748. He was buried in the church of Richmond, without an inscription ;* but a monument has been erected to his memory in Wesminster-abbey.
Thomson was of a stature above the middle size, and “more fat than bard beseems,” of a dull countenance, and a gross, unanimated, uninviting appearance;
silent in mingled company, but cheerful among select friends, and by his friends very tenderly and warmly beloved.
He left behind him the tragedy of “Coriolanus," which was, by the zeal of his patron, Sir George Lyttelton, brought upon the stage for the benefit of his family, and recommended by a Prologue, which Quin, who had long lived with Thomson in fond intimacy, spoke in such a manner as shewed him “ to be," on that occasion, “ no actor.” The commencement of this benevolence is very honourable to Quin; who is reported to have delivered Thomson, then known to him only for his genius, from an arrest by a very considerable present; and its continuance is honourable to both; for friendship is not always the sequel of obligation. By this tragedy a considerable sum was raised, of which part discharged his debts, and the rest was remitted to his sisters, whom, however removed from them by place or condition, he regarded with great tenderness, as will appear by the following Letter, which I communicate 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.
* By the laudable exertions of Thomas Park, Esq. in conjunctiou with lord Buchan, a tablet has since been placed on the wall of Richmond Church, to denote the spot of Thomson's interment,
Hagley in Worcestershire,
October the 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 am a bad correspondent, that “I can ever prove an unkind friend and brother. “I must do myself the justice to tell you, that my “ affections are naturally very fixed and constant; “and if I had ever reason of complaint against you
(of which by the bye I have not the least shadow,)
“I am conscious of so many defects in myself, as
dispose me to be not a little charitable and for "giving
" It gives me the truest heartfelt satisfaction to " hear you have a good, kind husband, and are in
easy, contented circumstances : but were they * otherwise, that would only awaken and heighten “my tenderness towards you. As our good and “ tender-hearted parents did not live to receive any " material testimonies of that highest human grati“ tude I owed them (than which nothing could have "given me equal pleasure,) the only return I can “ make them now is by kindness to those they left “ behind them. Would to God poor Lizy had lived “ longer, to have been a farther witness of the truth " of what I say, and that I might have had the
pleasure of seeing once more a sister who so truly “ deserved my esteem and love! But she is happy, “ while we must toil a little longer here below; " let us however do it cheerfully and gratefully, * supported by the pleasing hope of meeting yet “again on a safer shore, where to recollect the * storms and difficulties of life will not perhaps be «inconsistent with that blissful state. You did
right to call your daughter by her name ; for you " must needs have had a particular tender friend“ship for one another, endeared as you were by “nature, by having passed the affectionate years " of your youth together; and by that great softener "and engager of hearts, mutual hardship. That “it was in my power to ease it a little, I account "one of the most exquisite pleasures of my life.“ But enough of this melancholy, though not un* pleasing strain.
“I esteem you for your sensible and disinterested " advice to Mr. Bell, as you will see by my Letter “ to him: as I approve entirely of his marrying " again, you may readily ask me why I don't marry " at all. My circumstances have hitherto been so “ variable and uncertain in this fluctuating world,
as induce to keep me from engaging in such a “ state : and now, though they are more settled, and " of late (which you will be glad to hear) consider“ably improved, I begin to think myself too far “ advanced in life for such youthful undertakings, “ not to mention some other petty reasons that are " apt to startle the delicacy of difficult old bachelors. “I am, however, not a little suspicious that, was I “ to pay a visit to Scotland (which I have some
thoughts of doing soon) I might possibly be “ tempted to think of a thing not easily repaired if “ done amiss. I have always been of opinion that “none make better wives than the ladies of Scot" Jand; and yet, who more forsaken than they, “while the gentlemen are continually running \ abroad all the world over ? Some of them, it is “ true, are wise enough to return for a wife. You “ see I am beginning to make interest already with “ the Scots ladies. But no more of this infectious
subject.--Pray let me hear from you now and “then ; and though I am not a regular correspon“dent, yet perhaps I may mend in that respect. “Remember me kindly to your husband, and be, « lieve me to be “Your most affectionate brother,
« JAMES THOMSON." (Addressed) “To Mrs. Thomson in Lanark.
The benevolence of Thomson was fervid, but not active; he would give on all occasions what assistance his purse would supply; but the offices of intervention or solicitation he could not conquer his sluggishness sufficiently to perform. The affairs of others, however, were not more neglected than
He had often felt the inconveniences of idleness, but he never cured it; and was so conscious of his own character, that he talked of writing an Eastern Tale “ of the Man who loved to be “ in distress.”
Among his peculiarities was a very unskilful and inarticulate manner of pronouncing any lofty or solemn composition. He was once reading to Dodington, who, being himself a reader eminently elegant, was so much provoked by his odd utterance, that he snatched the paper from his hands, and told him that he did not understand his own verses.
The biographer of Thomson has remarked, that an author's life is best read in his works: his observation was not well-timed. Savage who lived much with Thomson, once told me, he heard a lady remarking that she could gather from his works three parts of his character, and that he was a great Lo“ ver, a great Swimmer, and rigorously abstinent;" but, said Savage, he knows not any love but that of the sex; he was perhaps never in cold water in his life ; and he indulges himself in all the luxury that comes within his reach. Yet Savage always spoke with the most eager praise of his social qualities, his warmth and constancy of friendship, and his adherence to his first acquaintance when the advancement of his reputation had left them behind him.