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[From The Tea-Table Miscellany.]
THROUGH THE WOOD, LADDIE.
Thy presence would ease me
When naething could please me,
While lavrocks are singing
And primroses springing,
I'm fashed wi’ their scorning
Baith evening and morning ;
But quick as an arrow,
Haste here to thy marrow, Wha's living in languor till that happy day, When through the wood, laddie, we'll dance, sing, and play.
AN THOU WERE MY AIN THING.
An thou' were my ain thing,
How dearly I would love thee.
And gar the gods envý me. Sae lang 's I had the use of light I'd on thy beauties feast my sight, Syne in saft whispers through the night
I'd tell how much I loved thee. How fair and ruddy is my Jean ! She moves a goddess o'er the green. Were I a king thou should be queen
Nane but myself aboon thee. I'ld grasp thee to this breast of mine, Whilst thou like ivy on the vine Around my stronger limbs should twine,
Formed handy to de end thee. Time's on the wing and will not stay, In shining youth let's make our hay ; Since love admits of no delay,
O let na scorn undo thee. While love does at his altar stand Hae, here's my heart, gie me thy hand, And with ilk smile thou shalt command
The will of him who loves thee. An thou were my ain thing,
I would love thee, I would love thee; An thou were my ain thing,
How dearly I would love thee.
[JAMES THOMSON was born at Ednam in Roxburghshire on the 11th of September, 1700, and died at Kew on the 27th of August, 1748. His first published work, Winter, appeared in 1726. The next year Summer, Britannia, and a few minor poems followed. Spring was not published till 1728, and Autumn in 1730 completed The Seasons. Sophonisba, the first of several dramas, appeared in the same year as Spring. The first three parts or cantos of Liberty were given to the world in 1735, the two last in 1737. The Castle of Indolence appeared in 1746, two years before Thomson's death.]
No competent criticism of any school has ever denied Thomson's claim to a place, high if not of the highest, among poets of the second order. His immense and enduring popularity would settle the question, if it had ever been seriously debated. For the orbis terrarum may indeed judge without hesitation on such a point, when its judgment is ratified beforehand by many generations. Popularity which outlasts changes of manners and fashions is a testimony to worth which cannot be left out of the account, and Thomson's popularity is eminently of this kind. Neither the somewhat indiscriminate admiration of the romantic style, of which Percy set the fashion, nor the naturalism of Cowper, nor the great revolution championed in various ways by Scott, by the Lakists, and by Byron, nor the still more complete revolution of Shelley and Keats, availed to shake the hold of The Seasons on the popular mind. Every one knows Coleridge's remark on seeing a dogs-eared copy on an inn window-sill. During the last century the reading of poetry, except that of contemporary authors, has somewhat gone out of fashion, yet no one who does read The Seasons, much more
The Castle of Indolence, fails to admit their charm. It would hardly be too much to say that, making allowance for the time over which his influence has extended, no poet has given the special pleasure which poetry is capable of giving to so large a number of persons in so large a measure as Thomson.
A critical examination of the characteristics of his poetry enables us at once to justify and explain this widespread popularity. Like many of his contemporaries, Thomson is a very unequal poet. Every one who has really endeavoured to read his favourite Liberty must endorse Johnson's contemptuous verdict on it. It is not only not good as a whole, but (which is more remarkable) it is scarcely even good in parts. It is with considerable difficulty that one is able to pick out a few lines here and there where the admirable descriptive faculty of the writer has had room to make itself felt. Most of the minor poems (it is true there are not many of them) are also quite devoid of poetical merit. The graceful · Tell me, thou soul of her I love' is perhaps the only exception to the rule worth mentioning, and certainly the only one worth quoting. It is curious too that on the few occasions on which Thomson attempted the heroic couplet, the special and favourite metre of his time, he produced very bad work. Blank verse and the Spenserian stanza he understood admirably, and his blank verse in especial cannot receive too much commendation With that of Milton, and that of the present Poet Laureate, it must rank as one of the chief original models of the metre to be found in English poetry. Nothing again can be more exquisite than the ) opening stanzas of The Castle of Indolence in respect of metrical proficiency. I Now this excellence of_form, whatever some critics may think, is a very important element in enduring popularity, because it is not liable to danger from changes of fashion. The qualities which strike the ear pleasantly remain very much the same at all times, unless--and sometimes even when—the language employed has become hopelessly dead. We have at this moment (with the good leave of certain persons of distinction) hardly the faintest idea how the opening of the De Rerum Natura sounded when Lucretius read it, and still less of what the choruses of the Agamemnon conveyed to the ears of an Athenian audience. But the abiding charm of their form is not lost for us. How much more must this be the case in such work as Thomson's, when the language has undergone merely unimportant modifications. But the metrical charm of Thomson is not his only or indeed his chief
one to the general. He has the peculiar merit of choosing a subject which appeals to and is comprehensible by everybody ; which no one can scorn as trivial and yet which no one can feel to be too fine or too esoteric for him. And though he treats this in the true poetical spirit of making the common as though it were uncommon, he does not make it too uncommon for the general taste to relish. No spread of culture, no pressure of fashion, will ever make The Witch of Atlas genuinely popular. No degeneracy of education or of fashion, short of an absolute return to barbarism, can prevent The Seasons from attracting admiration as soon as they are read or heard. They are not perhaps in any single point possessed of the qualities of the highest poetry. But such poetry as they do possess is perfectly genuine and singularly suitable for its purpose. Literal accuracy and poetical truth are blended in Thomson's descriptions in a way rarely to be found. Every one feels that he has seen what Thomson has put into words for him : every one also feels that Thomson has added a charm for him to the scene when he shall happen to see it again. Although his style is too often deformed by the prevalent Latinisms in language and construction, his reader soon feels that he is after all independent of them. They are not a crutch to him, hardly even a staff, whereby he hopes to climb Parnassus, but a mere clouded cane which, as he mistakenly thinks, is an appropriate ornament. His single 'phrases, by which a poet is perhaps most safely to be judged, stamp him at once to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. It is bad enough no doubt that any man of Thomson's genius should give us the words
‘See where the winding vale its lavish stores
in which the whole poetical capital is to be found in the use of the fine word 'irriguous,' and the artificial derangement of the epithets, but that this is a mere accident of his time must strike every one who turns the page and finds
“The yellow wallflower stained with iron-brown.'
Here there is not a single violence done to language or arrangement, and yet the effect is as good as it can be. Even where the words are unnecessarily grandiose, and the images not such as in strict nature or art would present themselves, the stamp of