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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 inse. parable from an active and comprehensive mind. He may therefore now be supposed to have revelled in alt the joys of intellectual luxury ; he was every day feasted with instructive novelties; he lived splendidly without expense; and might expect when he returned bome a certain establishment.
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 attenda ance by the place of secretary of the briefs, pays in the initial lines a decent tribute to his memory.
Upon this great poein 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 regard. ed.
The judginent 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 Do
body 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. Lyttleton 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 poslure 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 com
It is not generally known that in this year an edition of Milton's Areopagitica was published by Millar, to which Thomson wrote a preface. C.
ionly 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 friend. ly 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 translating 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 Elenora," 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 teil the success.
When the public ‘murmured at the unkind treat. ment 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 66 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. 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 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 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 Westminster-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 is 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 thein 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.
“ 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 it than diminish it. Don't imagine, because I
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 forgiving.
6 It gives me the truest-heart-felt satisfaction to hear you have a good, kind husband, and are in easy, contented circumstances ; but were they otherwise,