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with his mother, advised him to the journey, and promised some countenance or assistance, which at last he never received; however, he justified his adventure by her encouragement, and came to seek in London patronage and fame.
At his arrival he found his way to Mr. Mallet, then tutor to the sons of the duke of Montrose. He had recommendations to several persons ©f consequence, which he had tied up carefully in his handkerchief; but as he passed along the street, with the gaping curiosity of a new-comer, his attention was upon every thing rather than his poccket, and his magazine of credentials was stolen from him.
His first want was a pair of shoes. For the supply of all his necessities, his whole fund was his Winter which, for a time could find no purchaser 4 till, at last, Mr. Millan was persuaded to buy it at a low price; and this low price he had for some time reason to regret; but, by accident, Mr. Whatley, a man not wholly unknown among authors, happening to turn his eye upon it, was so delighted that he ran from place to place, celebrating its excellence. Thomson obtained likewise the notice of Aaron Hill, whom, being friendless and indigent, and glad of kindness, he courted with every expression of servile adulation.
Winter was dedicated to Sir Francis Compton, but attracted no regard from him to the author; till Aaron Hill awakened his attention by some verses addressed to Thomson, and published in one of the newspapers, which censured the great for their neglect of ingenious men. Thomson then received a present of twenty guineas, of which he gives this account to Mr. Hill.
"I hinted to you in my last, that on Saturday "morning I was with Sir Spencer Compton. A "certain gentleman, without my desire, spoke to "him concerning me; his answer was, that I had "never come near him. Then the gentleman put "the question, If he desired that I should wait on '' him? He returned, he did. On this, the gen"tleman gave me an introductory Letter to him. "He received me in what they commonly call a "civil manner; asked me some common-place "questions; and made me a present of twenty "guineas. I am very ready to own that the pre"sent was larger than my performance deserved; "and shall ascribe it to his generosity or any other "cause, rather than the merit of the address."
The poem, which, being of a new kind, few would venture at first to like, by degrees gained upon the public; and one edition was very speedily succeeded by another.
Thomson's credit was now high, and every day brought him new friends; among others Dr. Rundie, a man afterwards unfortunately famous, sought his acquaintance, and found his qualities such, that he recommended him to the Lord Chancellor Talbot.
. Winter was accompanied, in many editions, not only with a preface and dedication, but with poetical praises by Mr. Hill, Mr. Mallett, (then Malloch), and Mira, the fictitious name of a lady once too well known. Why the dedications are, to Winter and the other Seasons, contrarily to 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 Isaac "Newton," which he was enabled to perforin 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
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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 r
O, Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, 0!' 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 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 attendance by the place of secretary of the Briefs, pays 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 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 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