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famous by Walter Scott. Soon after the poet's birth his father moved to the near-by town of Jedburgh; and here the poet received his early education. At the age of fifteen he entered Edinburgh University. Although he was connected with this institution for ten years, first in the college of arts and later in the college of divinity, and although he completed the arts course, he took no degree. According to his most
The grammar school was kept here in Thomson's day.
recent biographer,' the degree had then "fallen into disregard," and was applied for by few.
"The Seasons." In February, 1725, Thomson went to London to try his fortune in literature; and thirteen months later published a poem called Winter. It was well received, four editions were sold within a year, and the author aban
1 G. C. Macaulay, in English Men of Letters series.
doned all thought of pursuing further his studies in divinity. In the succeeding four years appeared Summer, Spring, and Autumn, following the same plan, subject, and form; and in 1730 the four were collected in one volume called The Seasons.
Thomson then secured a position as travelling tutor to a nobleman's son, and spent something more than a year on the Continent. Neither this nor any subsequent outward experience of his life, it appears, had any important influence on his poetry. He held office under the government for a time, enjoyed for ten years a pension from the Prince of Wales, and in other ways profited by the favor of great folk. In 1736 he took up residence in Richmond, a suburb of London about a mile from Twickenham, where he made his home until his death. A close friendship between Pope and Thomson grew up, and the great man appreciated his neighbor's genius thoroughly.
Death. - Thomson was buried in Richmond Church. Another Richmond poet, William Collins, wrote a noteworthy Ode on the Death of Thomson, beginning:
"In yonder grave a druid lies,"
and containing, among many memorable lines, these:
"The genial meads, assigned to bless
Thy life, shall mourn thy early doom;
Fourteen years after the "druid's "death a monument to him was erected in Westminster Abbey.
Although Thomson wrote several dramas, a long patriotic poem called Liberty, and a few minor poems, his fame rests on two productions The Seasons, and The Castle of
Indolence, composed during the twelve years of his residence at Richmond and published a few months before his death. Of The Seasons enough has been said, it is hoped, to send the reader to its pages, at least for specimens of the author's descriptive power. Of the later work something should be said.
"The Castle of Indolence."
The Castle of Indolence has been called an apology for the author, whose besetting sin was generally known, and a warning to those who were tempted to indulge in the same sin. The poem is "writ in the manner of Spenser;" that is, in the Spenserian stanza with a fondness for obsolete words, and with an uncompleted allegory. Although it has unquestionable claims to
immortality as a whole, and still greater claims for individual portions, the greatest value of the Castle is as a milestone in the course of the Romantic movement. The reversion to one of the most artistic of Elizabethan poetic forms is of great significance in the movement; and the departure from accepted subjects hardly less so.
Thomson's Great Historic Value. To assign a writer to "a place, high if not of the highest, among poets of the second order," as Saintsbury does Thomson, is to give him about as inexact a rating as one can think of. It seems, moreover, aside from the point. Whatever may be Thomson's intrinsic worth, his place will be, in the minds of most readers, that indicated at the beginning of our sketch-a
forerunner of the movement in poetry which half a century later announced its arrival with the writings of Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats.
THE AGE OF JOHNSON
Although the name of Samuel Johnson stands out conspicuously in English literature between 1744 and 1798, he wielded no such influence as did Pope. The reasons are numerous. In the first place, Johnson was essentially a conservative, had nothing new or better to offer the age, and the age was beginning to weary of things that had been the glory of the previous period. In the second place, the wave of Romanticism was too strong to be stemmed by any man's influence, and Johnson lacked qualifications necessary to ride on its crest. In the third place and this is by much the weightiest reason-Johnson was emphatically and whole-heartedly English, "the typical Englishman among our men of letters," while the tendencies of his time were to make English literature European. To this last point we must return later.
Johnson's Acceptance of Augustan Standards. So far as Johnson's influence counted at all, it counted in favor of maintaining Augustan standards. His verse is in the heroic couplet; fear of his disapproval probably led Goldsmith to adopt the couplet for his great descriptive poems, for which it was but ill suited. The titles of Johnson's poems London, and The Vanity of Human Wishes indicate his entire acquiescence in the Augustans' choice of subjects. He undertook to revive the periodical essay, and was followed by Goldsmith. He, like Pope (and others whom it
1 At this point the student may well review pages 135-139.
has not seemed necessary to mention), edited Shakspere. Following the lead of Defoe and Swift he wrote a didactic treatise in the form of a novel.
His critical bias may be indicated by two passages from his Lives of the Poets: "Surely no man could have read Lycidas with pleasure, had he not known the author "; " If the writer of the Iliad were to class his successors, he would assign a very high place to his translator (i.e., Pope), without requiring any other evidence of his genius." The critic who assigns a low place to Lycidas on its intrinsic value, and a high place to Pope's Iliad, is an unsafe guide.
- But Johnson's lit
Limitations on Johnson's Influence. erary influence was not great beyond a select group in London known as "The Club," of which he was the centre. When Pope "held court' at Twickenham, all classes of writers sought his advice, and acted on it; when Johnson sat with the Club at the Turk's Head Tavern, his hearers were few, and most of them were not primarily men of letters. Not only were there too many writers to be dominated by one individual they were too widely scattered. The pursuit of letters was not confined to the metropolis; it was carried on in the shades of the universities, in Scotch cities and towns, in obscure hamlets.
Greater than all other dictate successfully was The importance of the
World-trend toward Democracy. reasons for the failure of Johnson to the progress of the democratic idea. individual, be he king or peasant, was slowly but surely fixing itself in men's minds. Johnson wrote a pamphlet called Taxation No Tyranny, defending England for her conduct toward America; but some forward-looking men Burke, Pitt, and Fox, for example - realized that England's conduct could not longer be defended against the great world