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THE LIFE OF
It is commonly said that the life of a good writer is best read in his works, which can scarce fail to receive
a peculiar tincture from his temper, manners, and haco bits: the distinguishing character of his mind, his ru
ling passion, at least, will there appear undisguised. But however just this observation may be, and altho' we might safely rest Mr. Thomson's fame as a good man, as well as a man of genius, on this sole footing,
yet the desire which the public always shews of being por more particularly acquainted with the history of an
eminent author ought not to be disappointed, as it proceeds not from mere curiosity, butchiefly from affection and gratitude to those by whom they have been entertained and instructed.
To give some account of a deceased friend is often a piece of justice, likewise, which ought not to be refused to his memory, to prevent or efface the impertinent fictions which officious biographers are soapt to collect and propagate: and we may add, that the circumstances of an author's life will sometimes throw the best light upon his writings, ii:stances whereof we fhall meet with in the following pages.
Mr. Thomson was born at Ednam, in the shire of Roxburgh, on the 11th of September,in the year 1960. His father, minister of that place, was but little known
beyond the narrow circle of his co-presbyters, and to a few gentlemen in the neighbourhood, but highly respected by them for his piety and his diligence in the pastoral duty, as appeared afterwards in their kind offices to his widow and orphan family.
The reverend Messrs. Riccarton and Gusthart particularly, took a most affectionate and friendly part in all their concerns. The former, a man of uncommon penetration and good taste, had very early discovered, through the rudeness of young Thomson's puerile esa says, a fund of genius well deserving culture and encouragement: he undertook, therefore, with the father’s'approbation, the chief direction of his studies, furnished him with the proper books, corrected his performances, and was daily rewarded with the pleafure of seeing his labour soʻhappily employed.
The other reverend gentleman, Mr. Gusthart, who is still living *, one of the ministers of Edinburgh, and senior of the Chapel-Royal, was no less serviceable to Mrs. Thomson in the management of her little affairs, which, after the decease of her husband, burdened as she was with a family of nine children, required the prudent counsels and assistance of that faithful and generous friend.
Sir William Bennet likewise, well known for his gay humour and ready poetical wit, was highly delighted with our young Poet, and used to invite him to pats
* This life was first published in the year 1762.
ihe summer vacation at his country-seat, a scene of life which Mr. Thomson always remembered with particular pleasure: but what he wrote during that time, either to entertain Sir William and Mr. Riccarton, or for hisown amusement, he destroyed every new-year's day, committing his little pieces to the flames in their due order, and crowning the solemnity with a copy of verses, in which were humourously recited the several grounds of their condemnation.
After the usual course of school education, under an able master at jedburgh, Mr. Thomson was sent to the University of Edinburgh: but in the second year of his admission, his studies were for some time interjupted by the death of his father, who was carried off so suddenly, that it was not poslible for Mr. Thomson, with all the diligence he could use, to receive his last blcling. This affected him to an uncommon degree, and his relations still remember fome extraordinary instances of his grief and filial duty on that occasion.
Mrs. Thomson,whose maiden name was Hume,and who was co-heiress of a small estate in the country, did not sink under this misfortune. She consulted her friend Mr. Gusthart, and having, by his advice, mortgaged her moiety of the farm, repaired with her fa. mily to Edinburgh, where the lived in a frugal decent manner, till her favourite son had not only finished bis academical course, but was even distinguished and patronized as a man of genius. She was, herself, a
person of uncommon natural endowments, possessed of every social and domestic virtue, with an imagination for vivacity and warmth scarce inferior to her fon's, and which raised her devotional exercises to a pitch bordering on enthusiasm.
But whatever advantage Mr.Thomson might derive from the complexion of his parent,it is certain he owed much to a religious education; and that his early acquaintancewith theSacred Writings contributed greatly to that sublime by which his works will be for ever distinguished. In his first pieces, the Seasons, we see him at once assume the majestic freedom of an Eastern writer, seizing the grand images as they rise, clothing them in his own expressive language, and preserving, throughout, the grace, the variety, and the dignity, which belong to a just composition, unhurt by the stiffness of formal method.
About this time the study of poetry was become general in Scotland, the best English authors being universally read, and imitations of them attempted. Addison had lately displayed the beauties of Milton's immortal work, and his Remarks on it, together with Mr. Pope's celebrated Essay, had opened the way to an acquaintance with the best poets and critics. ·
But the most learned critic is not always the best judge of poetry, tafte being a gift of Nature, the want of which Aristotle and Bossu cannot supply, nor even the study of the best originals, when the reader's fa
culties are not tuned in a certain consonance to those of the poet; and this happened to be the case with certain learned gentlemen into whose hands a few of Mr. Thomson's first essays had fallen. Some inaccuracies of style, and those luxuriancies which a young writer can hardly avoid, lay open to theircavils and censure; so far, indeed, they might be competent judges, but the fire and enthusiasm of the poet had entirely escaped their notice. Mr. Thomson, however,conscious of his own strength, was not discouraged by this treatment, especially as he had some friends, on whose judgment he could better rely, and who thought very differently of his performances: only, from that time, he began to turn his views towards London, where works of genius may always expect a candid reception and due encouragement; and an accident foon after entirely determined him to try his fortune there.
The divinity chair at Edinburgh was then filled by the reverend and learned Mr. Hamilton, a gentleman universally respected and beloved, and who had particularly endeared himself to the young divines under his care by his kind offices, his candour and affability. Our Author had attended his lectures for about a year, when there was prescribed to him, for the subject of an exercise, a psalm in which the power and majesty of God are celebrated. Of this psalm he gave a paraphrase and illustration, as the nature of the exercise required)