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In the Dies Boreales Buller asks North what he thinks of the thunder in Thomson's Seasons, and the reply is that, as all the world thinks, it is our very best British thunder: the poet gives the Gathering, the General Engagement, and the Retreat; in the Gathering there are touches and strokes that make all mankind shudder the foreboding-the ominous : and the terror, when it comes, aggrandises the premonitory symptoms"Follow the loosened aggravated roar" is a line of power to bring the voice of thunder upon your soul on the most peaceable day-and the "prevailing poet" shows, too, how he feels the grandeur of the rain when, instant on the words "convulsing heaven and earth," follow these, "down comes a deluge of sonorous hail, or prone-descending rain."* We have the same authority, in another place, for saying that nothing can be more vivid than such lines as these, on new-fallen snow, which have the very nature of an ocular spectrum:
The cherish'd fields
Put on their tender robe of purest white.
'Tis brightness all; save where the new snow melts
while there is a true poet's touch in the following epithet "brown," where all that is motionless is white :
The foodless wilds
Pour forth their brown inhabitants.
When, however, to his "true images," as Villemain calls them, Thomson seeks to add something beyond "simple emotions," the same authority allows him to have overshot his mark, and ceased to be perfectly natural: striving to be strongly pathetical, he becomes suspiciously fantastical: for example
Drooping, the ox,
Stands, cover'd o'er with snow, and then demands
-a demand highly reasonable on the ox's part, but a little eccentric maybe on the bard's :-or again
The bleating kind
Eye the bleak heaven, and next the glittering earth,
where, if the second line is perfect, the third, it is agreed by two such lovers of Nature, of Scotland, and of Thomson, as John Wilson and James Hogg, is an exaggeration and a mistake, for sheep do not deliver
"Thomson had been in the heart of thunderstorms many a time before he left Scotland; and what always impresses me is the want of method-the confusion, I might almost say-in his description. Nothing contradictory in the proceedings of the storm; they all go on obediently to what we know of Nature's laws. But the effects of their agency on man and nature are given-not according to any scheme-but as they happen to come before the Poet's imagination, as they happened in reality. The pine is struck first-then the cattle and the sheep below and then the castled cliff-and then the
Start at the flash, and from their deep recess
Wide flaming out, their trembling inmates shake.'
No regular ascending or descending scale here; but wherever the lightning chooses to go, there it goes-the blind agent of indiscriminating destruction." Dies Boreales, II.
themselves up to despair under any circumstances; and in fact Thomson here transfers what would have been his own feeling in a corresponding condition, to animals who dreadlessly follow their instincts.* It may be questioned, nevertheless, whether Thomson's most graphic passages are not rather illustrative of tamer and smoother scenery than the rugged and sublime-whether he is not more at home on low level soil this side the Tweed, than in his own land of brown heaths and shaggy wood, land of the mountain and the flood. As the acute author of a once much-vexed essay "On the Theory and the Writings of Wordsworth” observed on this matter, Thomson, although born in a land of mist and mountains, seems to alternate, in his Seasons, between gorgeous but vague representations of foreign climes, and faithful transcripts of England's milder scenery; appearing more pleased
To taste the smell of dairy, and ascend
Some eminence, Augusta, in thy plains,
than to climb the painful steeps of a Scottish mountain. He exclaims, indeed, "To me be Nature's volume wide displayed !"-but for what purpose ?" Some easy passage raptured to translate." And sometimes, good easy man, full surely, he would pen a description that, in some nostrils, either very keen or very dull of scent, have more the smell of the lamp than of fresh field or forest life. Mr. Charles Knight, for instance, roundly asserts that Thomson, professedly a descriptive poet, assuredly described many things that he never saw, but looked at nature very often with the eyes of others; and goes on to say: "To our mind his celebrated description of morning offers not the slightest proof that he ever saw the sun rise:" for although in this description we have a variety of charming items, the meek-eyed morn, the dappled east, brown night, young day, the dripping rock, the misty mountain, the hare limping from the field, the wild deer tripping from the glade, the woodland hymns of bird choristers, the driving of the flock from the fold, the lessening cloud, the kindling azure, and the illumination with fluid gold of the mountain's brow; yet, objects our Shakspeare's scholar, "this is conventional poetry, the reflection of books;-excellent of its kind, but still not the production of a poet-naturalist."§ Otherwise thought one Thomson, it is added, redeems himself in "Then sad dispersed,
*Winter Rhapsody. Fytte III. what immediately succeeds,
Dig for the wither'd herb through heaps of snow."
For as they disperse, they do look very sad-and no doubt are so-but had they been in despair, they would not so readily, and constantly, and uniformly, and successfully have taken to the digging-but whole flocks had perished.
Essay on the Theory and the Writings of Wordsworth. (Blackwood. 1829.)
§ Mr. Knight contrasts Thomson's sunrise with one by Chaucer in the Knight's Tale" (beginning "The besy larke, the messanger of day," &c.), in which he recognises a brilliancy and freshness as true as they are beautiful— e. g. the sun drying the dewdrops on the leaves is no book image: of such stuff, he adds, are the natural descriptions of Shakspeare always made. He is as "minute and accurate as White," and "more philosophical than Davy." His carrier in the inn-yard at Rochester exclaims, "An't be not four by the day, I'll be hanged: Charles' wain is over the new chimney." (I. Henry IV. II. 1.) Here is the very commonest remark of a common man; and yet the principle of ascertaining the time of the night by the position of a star in relation to a fixed object must have been the result of observation in him who dramatised the scene. But see for illustrative cases in point KNIGHT'S Biography of Shakspeare, p. 137.
who, from the internal evidence alone of the "Seasons," would fearlessly affirm that Thomson was, must have been, an early riser. The lamentable fact being, that Thomson lay a-bed till noon, and got up not over briskly then.
He was constitutionally sluggish, and became habitually more and more averse from exertion. Est qui, says Horace, and Thomson would
make a very good nominative case for the predicate
Est qui nec veteris pocula Massici,
Nec partem solido demere de die
Spernit; nunc viridi membra sub arbuto
Eating apricots and apricating himself the while on a garden wall, his hands in his pockets,† he forms a pretty pendant to the Horatian picture. He had often, moralises Doctor Johnson, felt the inconveniences of idleness; but, the Doctor adds, he never cured it. Idleness he loved to abuse-in blank verse. Lazy lubbers he could rebuke indignantly-by a poetical fiction. Among the foremost praises he bestows on Lord Chancellor Talbot is this
Nor could he brook in studious shade to lie,
mais, que voulez-vous? when will precept and practice be identical? and is it not a curious fact that the most urgent remonstrant, among all Thomson's remonstrant friends, against Thomson's indolence, was himself the most indolent,-Dr. Armstrong, to wit, the shy, sequestered, selfabsorbed, yet kindly, author of the "Art of Preserving Health?" Let who will dispute our poet's competency, by right of personal scrutiny and experience, to depict the Seasons, none may deny his fitness to paint the Castle of Indolence, con gusto the most appreciative, con amore the most sincere. If it was but a Castle in the air, such a thing as dreams are made of, when the dreamer is a man of genius, to him it was dear as the actual, and dearer; and so it is to us. Irresistible is the charm of that region, too delicious the languor of that listless climate,-the sleepsoothing groves, the streamlets bickering through sunny glades with a lulling murmur, the lowing of herds along the vale, the bleating of flocks from the distant hills, the piping of shepherd dalesmen, the forest-deep plaint of the stockdove, the forest itself rustling drowsily to the sighing gale-while
whate'er smacked of 'noyance or unrest,
Was far, far off expell'd from this delicious nest. Thomson would have made a prize lotos-eater. His sensual temperament is traceable in most of his works. Johnson, indeed, fired up once when somebody called Thomson a very good man, and declared him to have been, on the contrary, a gross sensualist and profligate in private life. However this may have been-and let us hope the Doctor was in a passion when he said it, and irritably irrational accordingly-the poetry
Horat. Carm. i. 1.
"You would fancy Thomson an early riser, yet that placid poet, who rented the Castle of Indolence, and made it the House Beautiful, so that all who pass are fain to tarry, used to rise at noon, and sauntering into the garden, eat fruit from the trees with his hands in his pockets, and then and there composed sonorous apostrophes to the rising sun."-Nile Notes, chap. xvi.
"To the Memory of Lord Talbot." Bell's Thomson, i. 210.
of Thomson is anything but ideally refined, when love is the theme. Damon's sweet confusion and dubious flutterings on the bank, in souldistracting view of Musidora hydropathising,-why did not Thomson live in a day when indignant seniors write letters to the Times, at summerheat, from Ramsgate and Margate, to complain of the doings on the sands?-or Palemon, and the passion that through his nerves in mingled transport ran, and the blaze of his smothered flame, as he viewed (or run) Lavinia, ardent, o'er and o'er, and pouring out the pious rapture of his soul with the query, "And art thou then Acasto's dear remains?" (a vile phrase, an undertaker's phrase:)-how shall we hail such tender passages, but as the wag in the pit hailed the immortal apostrophe to Sophonisba―
Oh, Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, oh!
Probably it was some good-natured friend whose voice de profundis thus startled the good-natured bard-a friend who understood him, as most of his friends easily might, and who liked him, as they all seem to have done ;-Hammond, whom he used to call a burnished butterfly; and Mallet, with whom he had begun life in the "tippeny cells" of Edinburgh, and whom he loved inter pocula to nickname Moloch; and Mitchell, the parliament-man and diplomatist; and Lyttleton, with whose worldly fortunes his own were so closely linked; and the future Lords Chatham and Temple, who prized in him the "gentleman" as well as the poet; and that egregious tuft-hunter, Bubb Dodington, whom he flattered (as he did many others) with such fulsome and florid words, words, words; and Aaron Hill, another notable subject of his lavish panegyrics; and Parson Cromer, with whom he used to booze at the old Orange Tree, in Kew-lane; and Collins, who tenderly bewailed him in an elegy known to all; and Shenstone, who, brief as was their acquaintance, erected an urn to his memory at the Leasowes; and Quin, whom Mrs. Hobart, Thomson's housekeeper, "often wished dead, he made Thomson drink so," and who gave him a hundred pounds when arrested for a debt of seventy, and who, five months after his death, could scarcely speak the prologue to his posthumous tragedy ("Coriolanus") because of the hysterica passio at his own kind heart, and the big larmes dans sa voix.
Mr. Robert Bell's edition of the poet should command an extensive, not to say universal, sale: those who are without a "Thomson" on their shelves, cannot do better than supply the defect by a copy so worthy of all acceptation; while those who already possess him, even in half a dozen or more forms, will not repent the purchase of what costs so little and is worth so much. Mr. Bell has been at particular pains in illustrating certain points in the poet's history and poetics, such as his liaison with "Amanda," Miss Young-the emendations and secundæ curæ of his "Seasons," &c.,-adding, too, an interesting collection of supplemental notes, on the subject of the lines attributed to Thomson in memory of Congreve on the poet's connexion with Savage and others-his prose dedications-the prices of his copyrights-the sale of his effects at Kewfoot-lane-and the "commemoration" at Ednam Hill, in 1791, by that whimsical, fussy, close-fisted (though would-be open-handed) MacMæcenas, David, Earl of Buchan.
It seems as if it was only just beginning to be generally felt and understood that the common life of man is full of wonders chemical and physiological. It appears as if hosts had passed away without seeing or being sensible of such, though every day our existence and our comforts ought to recal them to our minds. The cause of this it is well known is, that our schools tell us nothing about them; they do not even teach those rudiments of science which would fit us for seeing them. Strange to say that what most concerns the things that daily occupy our attention and cares is in early life almost sedulously kept from our knowledge. Those who would learn anything regarding them must subsequently teach themselves through the help of the press or of lectures. Take, for example, Mr. James F. W. Johnston's admirable little book on the "Chemistry of Common Life." It treats of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we cultivate, and the plant we rear, the bread we eat and the beef we cook, the beverages we infuse, the sweets we extract, the liquors we ferment, the narcotics we indulge in, the odours we enjoy, the smells we dislike, and the body we cherish. All know what such topics mean, but few how much they imply in a philosophical sense; and still fewer have considered them in their true relations to human life and health, merely because they wanted the simplest elements of knowledge upon which alone they could proceed.
The air we breathe, for example, though apparently pure and elementary, is a compound. One of its ingredients, separated from the others, destroys life by excess of excitement; the other two by suffocation. Carbonic acid, the most pernicious ingredient, is also the heaviest, and lingers in sheltered hollows, as the Poison Valley in the island of Java, which it is death to enter, and which is strewn with the bones of its victims. Watery vapour also forms a part of the air we breathe; and were it entirely deprived of such, a human being would dry up into a withered and ghastly mummy. Added to these, we find also less essential, but generally present, ozone and nitric acid; ozone, the presence of which indicates extreme purity of atmosphere, and the absence, according to accumulating evidence, a fitness for cholera and other diseases; and nitric acid, developed by every flash of lightning, and supposed to be very favourable to vegetable growth when washed down by the shower that follows upon the thunderstorm.
The water we drink is no more a simple substance than the air we breathe. It consists partly of oxygen-one of the constituents of the air we breathe and of hydrogen, an inflammable gas. It is interesting to consider how much the unheeded property of freedom from smell and taste in pure water as well as in pure air, are important to animal comfort. Sweet odours are grateful to our nostrils at times, and pleasant savours give a relish to our food; but health fails in an atmosphere which
* The Chemistry of Common Life. By James F. W. Johnston, M.A., F.R.SS. L. and E., &c. William Blackwood and Sons.
Food and its Adulterations. By Arthur Hill Hassall, M.D. Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans.