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custom, 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 Ifaac "Newton," which he was enabled to perform as an exact philofopher by the inftruction of Mr. Gray; and of "Britannia," a kind of poetical invective against the miniftry, whom the nation then thought not forward enough in refenting the depredations of the Spaniards. By this piece he declared himself an adherent to the oppofition, and had therefore no favour to expect from the Court.
Thomfon, having been fome time entertained in the family of the lord Binning, was defirous of teftifying his gratitude by making him the patron of his "Summer;" but the fame kindness which had first disposed lord Binning to encourage him, determined him to refuse the dedication, which was by his advice addreffed to Mr. Dodington, 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; whofe practice it was to invite every fummer fome poet into the country, to hear her verfes and affift her studies. This honour was one fummer conferred on Thomson, who took more delight in caroufing with lord Hertford and his friends than affifting her ladyfhip's poetical operations, and therefore never received another fummons.
"Autumn," the feafon to which the "Spring" and "Summer" are preparatory, ftill remained unfung, VOL. XI.
and was delayed till he published (1730) his works collected.
He produced in 1727 the tragedy of " Sophonisba," which raised fuch expectation, that every rehearsal was dignified with a fplendid audience, collected to anticipate the delight that was preparing for the publick. It was obferved, however, that nobody was much affected, and that the company rose as from a moral lecture.
It had upon the ftage no unufual degree of fuccefs. Slight accidents will operate upon the taste of pleafure. There is a feeble line in the play:
O Sophonisba, Sophonifba, O!
gave occafion to a waggifh 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 Sophonisba," the first part was written by Pope, who could not be perfuaded to finish it; and that the concluding lines were added by Mallet.
Thomfon was not long afterwards, by the influence of Dr. Rundle, fent to travel with Mr. Charles Talbot, the eldest fon of the Chancellor. He was yet young enough to receive new impreffions, to have his opinions rectified, and his views enlarged; nor can he be supposed to have wanted that curiofity which is infeparable from an active and comprehenfive mind. He may therefore now be supposed to have reveled in all the joys of intellectual luxury; he was every day feafted with inftructive novelties; he lived fplendidly without expence; and might expect
expect when he returned home a certain establish
At this time a long courfe of oppofition 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 arifing from the tyranny of other governments, that he refolved to write a very long poem, in five parts, upon Liberty.
While he was bufy on the firft book, Mr. Talbot died; and Thomson, who had been rewarded for his attendance by the place of fecretary of the Briefs, pays in the initial lines a decent tribute to his memory.
Upon this great poem two years were fpent, and the author congratulated himself upon it as his nobleft work; but an author and his reader are not always of a mind. Liberty called in vain upon her votaries to read her praifes, and reward her encomiaft her praifes were condemned to barbour fpiders, and to gather duft: none of Thomfon's performances were fo little regarded.
The judgement of the publick was not erroneous; the recurrence of the fame images muft tire in time; an enumeration of examples to prove a pofition which nobody denied, as it was from the beginning fuperfluous, muft quickly grow difgufting.
The poem of " Liberty" does not now appear in its original state; but, when the author's works were collected after his death, was fhortened by Sir George Lyttelton, with a liberty which, as it has a manifeft tendency to leffen the confidence of fociety, and to confound the characters of authors, by making one
man write by the judgement of another, cannot be justified by any fuppofed propriety of the alteration, or kindness of the friend.-I wish to fee it exhibited as its author left it.
Thomson now lived in ease and plenty, and seems for a while to have fufpended his poetry; but he was foon called back to labour by the death of the Chancellor, for his place then became vacant; and though the lord Hardwicke delayed for fome time to give it away, Thomfon's bafhfulness or pride, or fome 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 ftruggling for popularity, and by the influence of Mr. Lyttelton profeffed himself the patron of wit; to him Thomfon was introduced, and being gaily interrogated about the ftate of his affairs, faid, "that they were "in a more poetical pofture than formerly;" and had a penfion allowed him of one hundred pounds a year.
Being now obliged to write, he produced (1738) the tragedy of Agamemnon, which was much fhortened in the reprefentation. It had the fate which most commonly attends mythological ftories, and was only endured, but not favoured. It ftruggled with fuch difficulty through the first night, that Thomfon, coming late to his friends with whom he was to fup, excused his delay by telling them how the fweat of his diftrefs had fo difordered his wig, that he could not come till he had been refitted by a barber.
He fo interested himself in his own drama, that, if I remember right, as he fat in the upper gallery, he accompanied the players by audible recitation, till a friendly hint frighted him to filence. 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 expreffed it in a poetical Epiftle fent to Italy, of which however he abated the value, by tranfplanting fome of the lines into his Epiftle to " Arbuthnot."
About this time the Act was paffed for licenfing plays, of which the firft operation was the prohibition of "Guftavus Vafa," a tragedy of Mr. Brooke, whom the publick recompenfed by a very liberal fubfcription; the next was the refufal of "Edward "and Eleonora," offered by Thomfon. It is hard to discover why either play fhould have been obftructed. Thomson likewife endeavoured to repair his lofs by a subscription, of which I cannot now tell the fuccefs.
When the publick murmured at the unkind treatment of Thomson, one of the minifterial writers remarked, that "he had taken a Liberty which was "not agreeable to Britannia in any Seafon."
He was soon after employed, in conjunction with Mr. Mallet, to write the mafque of "Alfred," which was acted before the Prince at Cliefden-house,
His next work (1745) was " Tancred and Sigif"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. It does not appear that he had much sense of the paQ3 thetick;