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An additional mark of homage to the merit and genius of Thomson is sure to delight those who are familiar with his writings; and it claims the notice of all persons who can appreciate just sentiments, vivid description, or the melody of verse.
We have the union of those qualities in The Seasons. No poem surpasses it in felicity of theme; in ethical tendency; in the pathos of its episodes ; in the truth, the richness, the variety of its details of scenery. The mutable circumstances of taste or fashion can never diminish its value. It is the perpetual calendar of nature - which may be read with profit and pleasure in each 'revolving year.'
A poem of so elevated a character is entitled to the best attire; and this edition has been prompted by such feelings. The publishers, aware of the objections which attach to previous attempts, were anxious to produce a volume which should merit confidence as to the fidelity of its text, and become the favourite of all classes by the superiority of its graphic accompaniments.
An admirer of Thomson, and of the spirit in which this project was conceived, I could not resist the offer of editorship; and I have therefore to describe the course pursued, and the precise amount of my responsibility.
The form which has been adopted, while it gives scope to ornament, invites to perusal by its convenience. The paper, the type, and the various minor essentials, have received all the consideration which experience could dictate. As the result is obvious, there can be no necessity for comment. The
poem is printed from the edition of 1746, which contains the final revision of the author—who died in 1748. This valuable edition, afterwards in part mutilated, has escaped the researches of his numerous biographers; and the text of the subsequent editions proves to be more or less defective. The memoir of the poet is printed from the revised edition of 1768, and the ode to his memory from the original edition of 1749; both which have also escaped notice. This concurrence of editorial over
sights, in works so frequently printed, is a very remarkable circumstance in the history of literature.
If I notice the text before the engraved illustrations, it is in obedience to the rules of bibliography; and not from insensibility to the charms which they possess. By others, this order may be reversed.
The illustrations, seventy-seven in number, have been executed from designs furnished by various eminent artists, members of The Etching Club; which, though of recent date, has deservedly obtained celebrity. The designs were drawn on the wood by the artists themselves; and have been engraved with the utmost attention to similitude, so that we behold, in effect, the very drawings. I anticipate, as to the designs, the entire approbation of the public. The artists have established their relationship to the poet : they have evinced a similar intimacy with the forms and phases of nature; and a capability of giving each idea its apt expression. Accustomed to co-operation, they have also imparted to the series a harmony which we too frequently miss in ornamented works. A more extended encomium would be unsuitable to an advertisement. The list of illustrations records the subject of each design, the name of the artist by whom it was drawn, and of the engraver by whose skill it received permanency.
It may be interesting to the scientific reader to know that the illustrations are printed from copper blocks formed by the electrotype process. This method has been found to be attended with several advantages in printing, besides the means which it affords of preserving the original blocks, and of renewing the electrotypes, thus forming a perpetual security against inferior impressions of the designs.
A witness to the care bestowed on this volume in the typographic and artistic departments, I have felt a proportionate solicitude as to the editorial operations; which alone remain to be described. In a Memorandum on the text of The Seasons, which appeared in the patriarchal columns of Mr. Sylvanus Urban, I pointed out its defective state, and called attention to the authoritative edition of 1746. I afterwards undertook to correct the proofs by that edition ; recommended the adoption of the memoir now prefixed ; and made some additions to it in the shape of notes. Perhaps it may be expedient to add, with reference to a certain resolution contained in the Memorundum, that I have acted on this occasion as an amateur. Greenwich, May 6. 1842.
THE LIFE AND WRITINGS
MR. JAMES THOMSON,
BY PATRICK MURDOCH, D.D. F.R.S.
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 habits : the distinguishing character of his mind, his ruling passion, at least, will there appear
The life of Thomson has been frequently written. The most important narratives are those of Robert Shiels, published in 1753; of Murdoch, published in 1762, and revised in 1768 ; of Johnson, published in 1781, and revised in 1783 ; of the earl of Buchan, published in 1792 ; of sir Harris Nicolas, in 1830; and of the Rev. Robert Lundie, of Kelso, in 1830. — Shiels wrote with intelligence, but is very sparing as to dates. Murdoch, the next biographer of the poet, was one of his most intimate friends; and this circumstance, added to the merit of his narrative as a composition, stamps it with a peculiar value. Each of the other biographers enumerated, and especially sir Harris Nicolas, has produced some additional information, the substance of which I have endeavoured to express in the notes. I have, moreover, had recourse to Spence, to Joseph Warton, and to Boswell ; to the Memoranda of Thomson by Mr. Park; to the Culloden papers ; to the recent Statistical account of Roxburghshire ; to the letters of the poet which were published by Seward, and by Lundie; to the works of his principal contemporaries, etc.
I have also been indebted to David Laing, Esq. F.S. A.L. and Sc., for various communications; to the Rev. Joseph Thomson, minister of Ednam, and to the Rev. John Richmond, minister of Southdean, for documentary materials; and to William Jerdan, Esq. M.R.S. L. etc., for the favour of some instructive colloquies on his native Teviotdale.
undisguised. ? But however just this observation may be, and although 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 shows of being more particularly acquainted with the history of an eminent author ought not to be disappointed ; as it proceeds not from mere curiosity, but chiefly 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 so apt 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; instances whereof we shall 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 1700.3. His father, minister of that placet, 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.
1 Johnson, relying on the testimony of Savage, censures this observation as not well-timed. I shall prove, in a future note, the incompetency of his witness.
9 The village of Ednam is within a short distance of the Tweed. This circumstance explains the epithet "parent-stream Autumn, line 889.
3 Johnson says the 7th of September, but cites no authority. I prefer the date which appears in the text. The poet was baptized on the 15th.
4 The Rev. Thomas Thomson was admitted minister of Ednam in 1692. He was appointed to Southdean, a more extensive parish in the same shire, soon after the poet was born; and preached his farewell sermon at Ednam in November 1700. The manse of Southdean is near the sylvan Jed.