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Self-flattered, unexperienced, high in hope,
Too low they build who build beneath the stars.” This is a fair specimen of Young's manner and his philosophy. I think we should not greet it as great poetry if it were published for the first time to-day. In strong contrast to Young is JAMES THOMSON. To
read his poetry after the Night Thoughts is like 1700–1748
coming from thickest gloom to genial sunshine. Thomson's Seasons, in four parts, treats of the Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. They are like a series of pictures of the year, each with the color and atmosphere of the sea
son they describe. In Spring we see the tender green of budding plants and trees; in Summer, the brightness of blossoms; the Autumn is russet and purple, with ripened grain and fruits ; and the Winter is gray, cold, and comfortless, with mud, sleet, and bare boughs. No man could have written thus if he had not been an acute observer of Nature and in close sympathy with her.
He wrote his Winter when in college, and it aided him to gain the notice of a rich patron. In those days the patronage of a great man was as necessary to a poet as a good publisher is in these days. Thomson had the usual ups and downs of a man of talent who is poor: he went abroad as tutor to a rich man's sons; he acted as secretary to a
he wrote for the stage ; and at length got a pension from Frederic, Prince of Wales (the son of George II.), after which he lived in comparative ease.
He spent the last of his life in a pleasant home on the Thames, and died, when forty-eight, of a cold and fever brought on by a row on the river, taken when he was overheated. He was a popular man, beloved by his friends, among whom was Pope, who had given the Seasons encouraging praise, and had added to it a few lines when Thomson sent it to him for friendly criticism. In his retirement Thomson wrote The Castle of Indolence, a poem in Spenser's measure, which has some very fine bits of description, but is rather a close imitation of the older poet. His plays had some success, but have not added much of value to literature. Sophonisba, his chief tragedy, is remembered by a ridiculous incident on its first performance.
In one sentimental line the hero exclaims, –
“O Sophonisba ! Sophonisba, O!” As the actor uttered this on the first night, a mischievous person in the gallery groaned, “O Jemmy Thomson ! Jemmy Thomson, O!” which threw the audience into a fit of laughter, and spoiled the effect of the scene.
The Seasons is a book which, like Izaak Walton's Angler, I like to read out of doors under the trees; and I advise you to make it your companion some summer's day, and read to the acompaniment of birds and rippling water, as you recline under trees by the bank of a running stream.
The Hymn to the Seasons gives a summing up of the longer poem, and we will read the opening lines from this :
“These as they change, Almighty Father, these
WILLIAM SHENSTONE lived the sort of life that the poet
Cowley longed for, while he aspired to the life 1714-1763
that Cowley despised. You remember that Cowley, who was a courtier, was always picturing the delights of a little estate in the country which he could adorn as he chose, and where he might spend his days in peaceful quiet. Shenstone had just such a little estate inherited from his father, and spent all his time and fortune embellishing it in the most fanciful style of landscape gardening, till he made it a wonder of walks, mazes, arbors, gardens, and running waters. But although he amused himself with these occupations, he was ambitious for political honors, and a little soured and disappointed that he could never attain to them.
He wrote his poetry chiefly, it seems, for his amusement, and not in the hope of any special reward. In his childhood he had been sent to a village school (called in England a dame school), and his most noted poern, The Schoolmistress, written in Spenserian stanza, pictures the dame and her school. Here are a few verses from his description of the schoolmistress :
“ Her cap, far whiter than the driven snow,
And steadfast hate, and sharp affection joined,
“A russet stole was o'er her shoulders thrown;
For they in gaping wonderment abound,
“ One ancient hen she took delight to feed,
And if neglect had lavished on the ground
For well she knew, and quaintly could expound,
Right well she knew each temper to descry,
Forewarned, if little bird their pranks behold,
This picture of the old dame is very real ; but better than The Schoolmistress I like a pastoral by Shenstone, which, although written in a jingling, rather commonplace measure, has a taste of the old ballad in it, and recalls the fresh days of poetry. This pastoral is in four parts, — Absence, Hope, Solicitude, Disappointment, — and is addressed to
Phyllis by the Shepherd Corydon. These are a few stanzas from Part II. :
“I have found out a gift for my fair,
I have found where the wood-pigeons breed;
She will say 't was a barbarous deed.