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Autumn James Thomson Analysis Essay

Crown'd with the sickle and the wheaten sheaf,
While Autumn, nodding o'er the yellow plain,
Comes jovial on; the Doric reed once more,
Well pleased, I tune. Whate'er the wintry frost
Nitrous prepared; the various blossom'd Spring
Put in white promise forth; and Summer-suns
Concocted strong, rush boundless now to view,
Full, perfect all, and swell my glorious theme.
Onslow! the Muse, ambitious of thy name,
To grace, inspire, and dignify her song,
Would from the public voice thy gentle ear
A while engage. Thy noble cares she knows,
The patriot virtues that distend thy thought,
Spread on thy front, and in thy bosom glow;
While listening senates hang upon thy tongue,
Devolving through the maze of eloquence
A roll of periods, sweeter than her song.
But she too pants for public virtue, she,
Though weak of power, yet strong in ardent will,
Whene'er her country rushes on her heart,
Assumes a bolder note, and fondly tries
To mix the patriot's with the poet's flame.
When the bright Virgin gives the beauteous days,
And Libra weighs in equal scales the year;
From Heaven's high cope the fierce effulgence shook
Of parting Summer, a serener blue,
With golden light enliven'd, wide invests
The happy world. Attemper'd suns arise,
Sweet-beam'd, and shedding oft through lucid clouds
A pleasing calm; while broad, and brown, below
Extensive harvests hang the heavy head.
Rich, silent, deep, they stand; for not a gale
Rolls its light billows o'er the bending plain:
A calm of plenty! till the ruffled air
Falls from its poise, and gives the breeze to blow.
Rent is the fleecy mantle of the sky;
The clouds fly different; and the sudden sun
By fits effulgent gilds the illumined field,
And black by fits the shadows sweep along.
A gaily chequer'd heart-expanding view,
Far as the circling eye can shoot around,
Unbounded tossing in a flood of corn.
These are thy blessings, Industry! rough power!
Whom labour still attends, and sweat, and pain;
Yet the kind source of every gentle art,
And all the soft civility of life:
Raiser of human kind! by Nature cast,
Naked, and helpless, out amid the woods
And wilds, to rude inclement elements;
With various seeds of art deep in the mind
Implanted, and profusely pour'd around
Materials infinite, but idle all.
Still unexerted, in the unconscious breast,
Slept the lethargic powers; Corruption still,
Voracious, swallow'd what the liberal hand
Of bounty scatter'd o'er the savage year:
And still the sad barbarian, roving, mix'd
With beasts of prey; or for his acorn-meal
Fought the fierce tusky boar; a shivering wretch!
Aghast, and comfortless, when the bleak north,
With Winter charged, let the mix'd tempest fly,
Hail, rain, and snow, and bitter-breathing frost:
Then to the shelter of the hut he fled;
And the wild season, sordid, pined away.
For home he had not; home is the resort
Of love, of joy, of peace and plenty, where,
Supporting and supported, polish'd friends,
And dear relations mingle into bliss.
But this the rugged savage never felt,
E'en desolate in crowds; and thus his days
Roll'd heavy, dark, and unenjoy'd along:
A waste of time! till Industry approach'd,
And roused him from his miserable sloth:
His faculties unfolded; pointed out,
Where lavish Nature the directing hand
Of art demanded; show'd him how to raise
His feeble force by the mechanic powers,
To dig the mineral from the vaulted earth,
On what to turn the piercing rage of fire,
On what the torrent, and the gather'd blast;
Gave the tall ancient forest to his axe;
Taught him to chip the wood, and hew the stone,
Till by degrees the finish'd fabric rose;
Tore from his limbs the blood-polluted fur,
And wrapt them in the woolly vestment warm,
Or bright in glossy silk, and flowing lawn;
With wholesome viands fill'd his table, pour'd
The generous glass around, inspired to wake
The life-refining soul of decent wit:
Nor stopp'd at barren bare necessity;
But still advancing bolder, led him on
To pomp, to pleasure, elegance, and grace;
And, breathing high ambition through his soul,
Set science, wisdom, glory, in his view,
And bade him be the Lord of all below.
Then gathering men their natural powers combined,
And form'd a Public; to the general good
Submitting, aiming, and conducting all.
For this the Patriot-Council met, the full,
The free, and fairly represented Whole;
For this they plann'd the holy guardian laws,
Distinguish'd orders, animated arts,
And with joint force Oppression chaining, set
Imperial Justice at the helm; yet still
To them accountable: nor slavish dream'd
That toiling millions must resign their weal,
And all the honey of their search, to such
As for themselves alone themselves have raised.
Hence every form of cultivated life
In order set, protected, and inspired,
Into perfection wrought. Uniting all,
Society grew numerous, high, polite,
And happy. Nurse of art! the city rear'd
In beauteous pride her tower-encircled head;
And, stretching street on street, by thousands drew,
From twining woody haunts, or the tough yew
To bows strong-straining, her aspiring sons.
Then Commerce brought into the public walk
The busy merchant; the big warehouse built;
Raised the strong crane; choked up the loaded street
With foreign plenty; and thy stream, O Thames,
Large, gentle, deep, majestic, king of floods!
Chose for his grand resort. On either hand,
Like a long wintry forest, groves of masts
Shot up their spires; the bellying sheet between
Possess'd the breezy void; the sooty hulk
Steer'd sluggish on; the splendid barge along
Row'd, regular, to harmony; around,
The boat, light-skimming, stretch'd its oary wings;
While deep the various voice of fervent toil
From bank to bank increased; whence ribb'd with oak,
To bear the British thunder, black, and bold,
The roaring vessel rush'd into the main.
Then too the pillar'd dome, magnific, heaved
Its ample roof; and Luxury within
Pour'd out her glittering stores: the canvass smooth,
With glowing life protuberant, to the view
Embodied rose; the statue seem'd to breathe,
And soften into flesh; beneath the touch
Of forming art, imagination-flush'd.
All is the gift of Industry; whate'er
Exalts, embellishes, and renders life
Delightful. Pensive Winter cheer'd by him
Sits at the social fire, and happy hears
The excluded tempest idly rave along;
His harden'd fingers deck the gaudy Spring;
Without him Summer were an arid waste;
Nor to the Autumnal months could thus transmit
Those full, mature, immeasurable stores,
That, waving round, recall my wandering song.
Soon as the morning trembles o'er the sky,
And, unperceived, unfolds the spreading day;
Before the ripen'd field the reapers stand,
In fair array, each by the lass he loves,
To bear the rougher part, and mitigate
By nameless gentle offices her toil.
At once they stoop, and swell the lusty sheaves;
While through their cheerful band the rural talk,
The rural scandal, and the rural jest,
Fly harmless, to deceive the tedious time,
And steal unfelt the sultry hours away.
Behind the master walks, builds up the shocks;
And, conscious, glancing oft on every side
His sated eye, feels his heart heave with joy.
The gleaners spread around, and here and there,
Spike after spike, their scanty harvest pick.
Be not too narrow, husbandmen! but fling
From the full sheaf, with charitable stealth,
The liberal handful. Think, oh grateful think!
How good the God of Harvest is to you;
Who pours abundance o'er your flowing fields;
While these unhappy partners of your kind
Wide-hover round you, like the fowls of heaven,
And ask their humble dole. The various turns
Of fortune ponder; that your sons may want
What now, with hard reluctance, faint, ye give.
The lovely young Lavinia once had friends;
And Fortune smiled, deceitful, on her birth.
For, in her helpless years deprived of all,
Of every stay, save Innocence and Heaven,
She with her widow'd mother, feeble, old,
And poor, lived in a cottage, far retired
Among the windings of a woody vale;
By solitude and deep surrounding shades,
But more by bashful modesty, conceal'd.
Together thus they shunn'd the cruel scorn
Which virtue, sunk to poverty, would meet
From giddy passion and low-minded pride:
Almost on Nature's common bounty fed;
Like the gay birds that sung them to repose,
Content, and careless of to-morrow's fare.
Her form was fresher than the morning rose,
When the dew wets its leaves; unstain'd and pure
As is the lily, or the mountain snow.
The modest Virtues mingled in her eyes,
Still on the ground dejected, darting all
Their humid beams into the blooming flowers:
Or when the mournful tale her mother told,
Of what her faithless fortune promised once,
Thrill'd in her thought, they, like the dewy star
Of evening, shone in tears. A native grace
Sat fair-proportion'd on her polish'd limbs,
Veil'd in a simple robe, their best attire,
Beyond the pomp of dress; for loveliness
Needs not the foreign aid of ornament,
But is when unadorn'd, adorn'd the most.
Thoughtless of beauty, she was Beauty's self,
Recluse amid the close-embowering woods.
As in the hollow breast of Appenine,
Beneath the shelter of encircling hills,
A myrtle rises, far from human eye,
And breathes its balmy fragrance o'er the wild;
So flourish'd blooming, and unseen by all,
The sweet Lavinia; till, at length, compell'd
By strong Necessity's supreme command,
With smiling patience in her looks, she went
To glean Palemon's fields. The pride of swains
Palemon was, the generous, and the rich;
Who led the rural life in all its joy
And elegance, such as Arcadian song
Transmits from ancient uncorrupted times;
When tyrant custom had not shackled man,
But free to follow Nature was the mode.
He then, his fancy with autumnal scenes
Amusing, chanced beside his reaper-train
To walk, when poor Lavinia drew his eye;
Unconcious of her power, and turning quick
With unaffected blushes from his gaze:
He saw her charming, but he saw not half
The charms her down-cast modesty conceal'd.
That very moment love and chaste desire
Sprung in his bosom, to himself unknown;
For still the world prevail'd and its dread laugh,
Which scarce the firm philosopher can scorn,
Should his heart own a gleaner in the field;
And thus in secret to his soul he sigh'd:—
“What pity! that so delicate a form,
By beauty kindled, where enlivening sense
And more than vulgar goodness seem to dwell,
Should be devoted to the rude embrace
Of some indecent clown! She looks, methinks,
Of old Acasto's line; and to my mind
Recalls that patron of my happy life,
From whom my liberal fortune took its rise;
Now to the dust gone down; his houses, lands,
And once fair-spreading family, dissolved.
'Tis said that in some lone obscure retreat,
Urged by remembrance sad, and decent pride,
Far from those scenes which knew their better days,
His aged widow and his daughter live,
Whom yet my fruitless search could never find.
Romantic wish! would this the daughter were!”
When, strict inquiring, from herself he found
She was the same, the daughter of his friend,
Of bountiful Acasto; who can speak
The mingled passions that surprised his heart,
And through his nerves in shivering transport ran?
Then blazed his smother'd flame, avow'd, and bold;
And as he view'd her, ardent, o'er and o'er,
Love, gratitude, and pity wept at once.
Confused, and frighten'd at his sudden tears,
Her rising beauties flush'd a higher bloom,
As thus Palemon, passionate and just,
Pour'd out the pious rapture of his soul:
“And art thou then Acasto's dear remains?
She, whom my restless gratitude has sought,
So long in vain? O heavens! the very same,
The soften'd image of my noble friend;
Alive his every look, his every feature,
More elegantly touch'd. Sweeter than Spring!
Thou sole surviving blossom from the root
That nourish'd up my fortune! say, ah where,
In what sequester'd desert hast thou drawn
The kindest aspect of delighted Heaven?
Into such beauty spread, and blown so fair;
Though Poverty's cold wind and crushing rain
Beat keen and heavy on thy tender years?
O let me now into a richer soil
Transplant thee safe! where vernal suns and showers
Diffuse their warmest, largest influence;
And of my garden be the pride and joy!
Ill it befits thee, oh, it ill befits
Acasto's daughter, his, whose open stores,
Though vast, were little to his ampler heart,
The father of a country, thus to pick
The very refuse of those harvest fields,
Which from his bounteous friendship I enjoy.
Then throw that shameful pittance from thy hand,
But ill applied to such a rugged task;
The fields, the master, all, my fair, are thine;
If to the various blessings which thy house
Has on me lavish'd, thou wilt add that bliss,
That dearest bliss, the power of blessing thee!”
Here ceased the youth: yet still his speaking eye
Express'd the sacred triumph of his soul,
With conscious virtue, gratitude, and love,
Above the vulgar joy divinely raised.
Nor waited he reply. Won by the charm
Of goodness irresistible, and all
In sweet disorder lost, she blush'd consent.
The news immediate to her mother brought,
While, pierced with anxious thought, she pined away
The lonely moments for Lavinia's fate;
Amazed, and scarce believing what she heard,
Joy seized her wither'd veins, and one bright gleam
Of setting life shone on her evening-hours:
Not less enraptured than the happy pair;
Who flourish'd long in tender bliss, and rear'd
A numerous offspring, lovely like themselves,
And good, the grace of all the country round.
Defeating oft the labours of the year,
The sultry south collects a potent blast.
At first, the groves are scarcely seen to stir
Their trembling tops; and a still murmur runs
Along the soft-inclining fields of corn.
But as the aërial tempest fuller swells,
And in one mighty stream, invisible,
Immense, the whole excited atmosphere
Impetuous rushes o'er the sounding world;
Strain'd to the root, the stooping forest pours
A rustling shower of yet untimely leaves.
High beat, the circling mountains eddy in,
From the bare wild, the dissipated storm,
And send it in a torrent down the vale.
Exposed, and naked, to its utmost rage,
Through all the sea of harvest rolling round,
The billowy plain floats wide; nor can evade,
Though pliant to the blast, its seizing force;
Or whirl'd in air, or into vacant chaff
Shook waste. And sometimes too a burst of rain,
Swept from the black horizon, broad, descends
In one continuous flood. Still over head
The mingling tempest weaves its gloom, and still
The deluge deepens; till the fields around
Lie sunk, and flatted, in the sordid wave.
Sudden, the ditches swell; the meadows swim.
Red, from the hills, innumerable streams
Tumultuous roar; and high above its banks
The river lift; before whose rushing tide
Herds, flocks, and harvests, cottages, and swains,
Roll mingled down; all that the winds had spared
In one wild moment ruin'd; the big hopes,
And well earn'd treasures of the painful year.
Fled to some eminence, the husbandman
Helpless beholds the miserable wreck
Driving along; his drowning ox at once
Descending, with his labours scatter'd round,
He sees; and instant o'er his shivering thought
Comes Winter unprovided, and a train
Of claimant children dear. Ye masters, then,
Be mindful of the rough laborious hand
That sinks you soft in elegance and ease;
Be mindful of those limbs in russet clad,
Whose toil to yours is warmth and graceful pride;
And, oh! be mindful of that sparing board,
Which covers yours with luxury profuse,
Makes your glass sparkle, and your sense rejoice!
Nor cruelly demand what the deep rains
And all-involving winds have swept away.
Here the rude clamour of the sportsman's joy,
The gun fast-thundering, and the winded horn,
Would tempt the muse to sing the rural game:
How in his mid-career the spaniel struck,
Stiff, by the tainted gale, with open nose,
Outstretch'd and finely sensible, draws full,
Fearful and cautious, on the latent prey;
As in the sun the circling covey bask
Their varied plumes, and watchful every way,
Through the rough stubble turn the secret eye.
Caught in the meshy snare, in vain they beat
Their idle wings, entangled more and more:
Nor on the surges of the boundless air,
Though borne triumphant, are they safe; the gun,
Glanced just, and sudden, from the fowler's eye,
O'ertakes their sounding pinions: and again,
Immediate, brings them from the towering wing,
Dead to the ground; or drives them wide dispersed,
Wounded, and wheeling various, down the wind.
These are not subjects for the peaceful Muse,
Nor will she stain with such her spotless song;
Then most delighted, when she social sees
The whole mix'd animal-creation round
Alive and happy. 'Tis not joy to her,
The falsely cheerful barbarous game of death,
This rage of pleasure, which the restless youth
Awakes, impatient, with the gleaming morn:
When beasts of prey retire, that all night long,
Urged by necessity, had ranged the dark,
As if their conscious ravage shunn'd the light,
Ashamed. Not so the steady tyrant Man,
Who with the thoughtless insolence of power
Inflamed, beyond the most infuriate wrath
Of the worst monster that e'er roam'd the waste,
For sport alone pursues the cruel chase,
Amid the beamings of the gentle days.
Upbraid, ye ravening tribes, our wanton rage,
For hunger kindles you, and lawless want;
But lavish fed, in Nature's bounty roll'd,
To joy at anguish, and delight in blood,
Is what your horrid bosoms never knew.
Poor is the triumph o'er the timid hare!
Scared from the corn, and now to some lone seat
Retired: the rushy fen; the ragged furze,
Stretch'd o'er the stony heath; the stubble chapt;
The thistly lawn; the thick entangled broom;
Of the same friendly hue, the wither'd fern;
The fallow ground laid open to the sun,
Concoctive; and the nodding sandy bank,
Hung o'er the mazes of the mountain brook.
Vain is her best precaution; though she sits
Conceal'd, with folded ears; unsleeping eyes,
By Nature raised to take the horizon in;
And head couch'd close betwixt her hairy feet,
In act to spring away. The scented dew
Betrays her early labyrinth; and deep,
In scatter'd sullen openings, far behind,
With every breeze she hears the coming storm.
But nearer, and more frequent, as it loads
The sighing gale, she springs amazed, and all
The savage soul of game is up at once:
The pack full-opening, various; the shrill horn
Resounded from the hills; the neighing steed,
Wild for the chase; and the loud hunter's shout;
O'er a weak, harmless, flying creature, all
Mix'd in mad tumult, and discordant joy.
The stag too, singled from the herd, where long
He ranged the branching monarch of the shades,
Before the tempest drives. At first, in speed
He, sprightly, puts his faith; and, roused by fear,
Gives all his swift aërial soul to flight;
Against the breeze he darts, that way the more
To leave the lessening murderous cry behind:
Deception short! though fleeter than the winds
Blown o'er the keen-air'd mountain by the north,
He bursts the thickets, glances through the glades,
And plunges deep into the wildest wood;
If slow, yet sure, adhesive to the track
Hot-steaming, up behind him come again
The inhuman rout, and from the shady depth
Expel him, circling through his every shift.
He sweeps the forest oft; and sobbing sees
The glades, mild opening to the golden day;
Where, in kind contest, with his butting friends
He wont to struggle, or his loves enjoy.
Oft in the full-descending flood he tries
To lose the scent, and lave his burning sides:
Oft seeks the herd; the watchful herd, alarm'd,
With selfish care avoid a brother's woe.
What shall he do? His once so vivid nerves,
So full of buoyant spirit, now no more
Inspire the course; but fainting breathless toil,
Sick, seizes on his heart: he stands at bay;
And puts his last weak refuge in despair.
The big round tears run down his dappled face;
He groans in anguish: while the growling pack,
Blood-happy, hang at his fair jutting chest,
And mark his beauteous chequer'd sides with gore.
Of this enough. But if the sylvan youth,
Whose fervent blood boils into violence,
Must have the chase; behold, despising flight,
The roused up lion, resolute, and slow,
Advancing full on the protended spear,
And coward band, that circling wheel aloof.
Slunk from the cavern, and the troubled wood,
See the grim wolf; on him his shaggy foe
Vindictive fix, and let the ruffian die:
Or, growling horrid, as the brindled boar
Grins fell destruction, to the monster's heart
Let the dart lighten from the nervous arm.
These Britain knows not; give, ye Britons, then
Your sportive fury, pitiless, to pour
Loose on the nightly robber of the fold;
Him, from his craggy winding haunts unearth'd,
Let all the thunder of the chase pursue.
Throw the broad ditch behind you; o'er the hedge
High bound, resistless; nor the deep morass
Refuse, but through the shaking wilderness
Pick your nice way; into the perilous flood
Bear fearless, of the raging instinct full;
And as you ride the torrent, to the banks
Your triumph sound sonorous, running round,
From rock to rock, in circling echoes tost;
Then scale the mountains to their woody tops;
Rush down the dangerous steep; and o'er the lawn,
In fancy swallowing up the space between,
Pour all your speed into the rapid game.
For happy he! who tops the wheeling chase;
Has every maze evolved, and every guile
Disclosed; who knows the merits of the pack;
Who saw the villain seized, and dying hard,
Without complaint, though by a hundred mouths
Relentless torn: O glorious he, beyond
His daring peers! when the retreating horn
Calls them to ghostly halls of gray renown,
With woodland honours graced; the fox's fur,
Depending decent from the roof: and spread
Round the drear walls, with antic figures fierce,
The stag's large front: he then is loudest heard,
When the night staggers with severer toils,
With feats Thessalian Centaurs never knew,
And their repeated wonders shake the dome.
But first the fuel'd chimney blazes wide;
The tankards foam; and the strong table groans
Beneath the smoking sirloin, stretch'd immense
From side to side; in which, with desperate knife,
They deep incision make, and talk the while
Of England's glory, ne'er to be defaced
While hence they borrow vigour: or amain
Into the pasty plunged, at intervals,
If stomach keen can intervals allow,
Relating all the glories of the chase.
Then sated Hunger bids his Brother Thirst
Produce the mighty bowl; the mighty bowl,
Swell'd high with fiery juice, steams liberal round
A potent gale, delicious, as the breath
Of Maia to the love-sick shepherdess,
On violets diffused, while soft she hears
Her panting shepherd stealing to her arms.
Nor wanting is the brown October, drawn,
Mature and perfect, from his dark retreat
Of thirty years; and now his honest front
Flames in the light refulgent, not afraid
E'en with the vineyard's best produce to vie.
To cheat the thirsty moments, Whist a while
Walks his dull round beneath a cloud of smoke,
Wreath'd, fragrant, from the pipe; or the quick dice,
In thunder leaping from the box, awake
The sounding gammon: while romp-loving miss
Is haul'd about, in gallantry robust.
At last these puling idlenesses laid
Aside, frequent and full, the dry divan
Close in firm circle; and set, ardent, in
For serious drinking. Nor evasion sly,
Nor sober shift, is to the puking wretch
Indulged apart; but earnest, brimming bowls
Lave every soul, the table floating round,
And pavement, faithless to the fuddled foot.
Thus as they swim in mutual swill, the talk,
Vociferous at once from twenty tongues,
Reels fast from theme to theme; from horses, hounds,
To church or mistress, politics or ghost,
In endless mazes, intricate, perplex'd.
Meantime, with sudden interruption, loud,
The impatient catch bursts from the joyous heart;
That moment touch'd is every kindred soul;
And, opening in a full-mouth'd cry of joy,
The laugh, the slap, the jocund curse go round;
While, from their slumbers shook, the kennel'd hounds
Mix in the music of the day again.
As when the tempest, that has vex'd the deep
The dark night long, with fainter murmurs falls;
So gradual sinks their mirth. Their feeble tongues,
Unable to take up the cumbrous word,
Lie quite dissolved. Before their maudlin eyes,
Seen dim and blue, the double tapers dance,
Like the sun wading through the misty sky.
Then, sliding soft, they drop. Confused above,
Glasses and bottles, pipes and gazetteers,
As if the table e'en itself was drunk,
Lie a wet broken scene; and wide, below,
Is heap'd the social slaughter: where astride
The lubber Power in filthy triumph sits,
Slumbrous, inclining still from side to side,
And steeps them drench'd in potent sleep till morn.
Perhaps some doctor, of tremendous paunch,
Awful and deep, a black abyss of drink,
Outlives them all; and from his buried flock
Retiring, full of rumination sad,
Laments the weakness of these latter times.
But if the rougher sex by this fierce sport
Is hurried wild, let not such horrid joy
E'er stain the bosom of the British Fair.
Far be the spirit of the chase from them!
Uncomely courage, unbeseeming skill;
To spring the fence, to rein the prancing steed;
The cap, the whip, the masculine attire;
In which they roughen to the sense, and all
The winning softness of their sex is lost.
In them 'tis graceful to dissolve at woe;
With every motion, every word, to wave
Quick o'er the kindling cheek the ready blush;
And from the smallest violence to shrink
Unequal, then the loveliest in their fears;
And by this silent adulation, soft,
To their protection more engaging Man.
O may their eyes no miserable sight,
Save weeping lovers, see! a nobler game,
Through love's enchanting wiles pursued, yet fled,
In chase ambiguous. May their tender limbs
Float in the loose simplicity of dress!
And, fashion'd all to harmony, alone
Know they to seize the captivated soul,
In rapture warbled from love-breathing lips;
To teach the lute to languish; with smooth step,
Disclosing motion in its every charm,
To swim along, and swell the mazy dance;
To train the foliage o'er the snowy lawn;
To guide the pencil, turn the tuneful page;
To lend new flavour to the fruitful year,
And heighten Nature's dainties: in their race
To rear their graces into second life;
To give society its highest taste;
Well order'd home man's best delight to make;
And by submissive wisdom, modest skill,
With every gentle care-eluding art,
To raise the virtues, animate the bliss,
And sweeten all the toils of human life:
This be the female dignity, and praise.
Ye swains, now hasten to the hazel bank;
Where, down yon dale, the wildly winding brook
Falls hoarse from steep to steep. In close array,
Fit for the thickets and the tangling shrub,
Ye virgins, come. For you their latest song
The woodlands raise; the clustering nuts for you
The lover finds amid the secret shade;
And, where they burnish on the topmost bough,
With active vigour crushes down the tree;
Or shakes them ripe from the resigning husk,
A glossy shower, and of an ardent brown,
As are the ringlets of Melinda's hair:
Melinda! form'd with every grace complete;
Yet these neglecting, above beauty wise,
And far transcending such a vulgar praise.
Hence from the busy joy-resounding fields,
In cheerful error, let us tread the maze
Of Autumn, unconfined; and taste, revived,
The breath of orchard big with bending fruit,
Obedient to the breeze and beating ray,
From the deep-loaded bough a mellow shower
Incessant melts away. The juicy pear
Lies, in a soft profusion, scatter'd round.
A various sweetness swells the gentle race;
By Nature's all-refining hand prepared;
Of temper'd sun, and water, earth, and air,
In ever changing composition mix'd.
Such, falling frequent through the chiller night,
The fragrant stores, the wide projected heaps
Of apples, which the lusty-handed Year,
Innumerous, o'er the blushing orchard shakes.
A various spirit, fresh, delicious, keen,
Dwells in their gelid pores; and, active, points
The piercing cyder for the thirsty tongue:
Thy native theme, and boon inspirer too,
Philips, Pomona's bard, the second thou
Who nobly durst, in rhyme-unfetter'd verse,
With British freedom sing the British song:
How, from Silurian vats, high sparkling wines
Foam in transparent floods; some strong, to cheer
The wintry revels of the labouring hind;
And tasteful some, to cool the summer hours.
In this glad season, while his sweetest beams
The sun sheds equal o'er the meeken'd day;
Oh lose me in the green delightful walks
Of, Dodington, thy seat, serene and plain;
Where simple Nature reigns; and every view,
Diffusive, spreads the pure Dorsetian downs,
In boundless prospect; yonder shagg'd with wood,
Here rich with harvest, and there white with flocks!
Meantime the grandeur of thy lofty dome,
Far splendid, seizes on the ravish'd eye.
New beauties rise with each revolving day;
New columns swell; and still the fresh Spring finds
New plants to quicken, and new groves to green.
Full of thy genius all! the Muses' seat:
Where in the secret bower, and winding walk,
For virtuous Young and thee they twine the bay.
Here wandering oft, fired with the restless thirst
Of thy applause, I solitary court
The inspiring breeze: and meditate the book
Of Nature ever open; aiming thence,
Warm from the heart, to learn the moral song.
Here, as I steal along the sunny wall,
Where Autumn basks, with fruit empurpled deep,
My pleasing theme continual prompts my thought:
Presents the downy peach; the shining plum:
The ruddy, fragrant nectarine; and dark,
Beneath his ample leaf, the luscious fig.
The vine too here her curling tendrils shoots;
Hangs out her clusters, glowing to the south;
And scarcely wishes for a warmer sky.
Turn we a moment Fancy's rapid flight
To vigorous soils, and climes of fair extent;
Where, by the potent sun elated high,
The vineyard swells refulgent on the day;
Spreads o'er the vale; or up the mountain climbs,
Profuse; and drinks amid the sunny rocks,
From cliff to cliff increased, the heighten'd blaze.
Low bend the weighty boughs. The clusters clear,
Half through the foliage seen, or ardent flame,
Or shine transparent; while perfection breathes
White o'er the turgent film the living dew.
As thus they brighten with exalted juice,
Touch'd into flavour by the mingling ray;
The rural youth and virgins o'er the field,
Each fond for each to cull the autumnal prime,
Exulting rove, and speak the vintage nigh.
Then comes the crushing swain; the country floats,
And foams unbounded with the mashy flood;
That by degrees fermented, and refined,
Round the raised nations pours the cup of joy:
The claret smooth, red as the lip we press
In sparkling fancy, while we drain the bowl;
The mellow-tasted burgundy; and quick,
As is the wit it gives, the gay champagne.
Now, by the cool declining year condensed,
Descend the copious exhalations, check'd
As up the middle sky unseen they stole,
And roll the doubling fogs around the hill.
No more the mountain, horrid, vast, sublime,
Who pours a sweep of rivers from his sides,
And high between contending kingdoms rears
The rocky long division, fills the view
With great variety; but in a night
Of gathering vapour, from the baffled sense
Sinks dark and dreary. Thence expanding far,
The huge dusk, gradual, swallows up the plain:
Vanish the woods: the dim-seen river seems
Sullen, and slow, to roll the misty wave.
E'en in the height of noon oppress'd, the sun
Sheds weak, and blunt, his wide-refracted ray;
Whence glaring oft, with many a broaden'd orb,
He frights the nations. Indistinct on earth,
Seen through the turbid air, beyond the life
Objects appear; and, wilder'd, o'er the waste
The shepherd stalks gigantic. Till at last
Wreath'd dun around, in deeper circles still
Successive closing, sits the general fog
Unbounded o'er the world; and, mingling thick,
A formless grey confusion covers all.
As when of old (so sung the Hebrew Bard)
Light, uncollected, through the chaos urged
Its infant way; nor Order yet had drawn
His lovely train from out the dubious gloom.
These roving mists, that constant now begin
To smoke along the hilly country, these,
With weightier rains, and melted Alpine snows,
The mountain-cisterns fill, those ample stores
Of water, scoop'd among the hollow rocks;
Whence gush the streams, the ceaseless fountains play,
And their unfailing wealth the rivers draw.
Some sages say, that, where the numerous wave
For ever lashes the resounding shore,
Drill'd through the sandy stratum, every way,
The waters with the sandy stratum rise;
Amid whose angles infinitely strain'd,
They joyful leave their jaggy salts behind,
And clear and sweeten as they soak along.
Nor stops the restless fluid, mounting still,
Though oft amidst the irriguous vale it springs;
But to the mountain courted by the sand,
That leads it darkling on in faithful maze,
Far from the parent-main, it boils again
Fresh into day; and all the glittering hill
Is bright with spouting rills. But hence this vain
Amusive dream! why should the waters love
To take so far a journey to the hills,
When the sweet valleys offer to their toil
Inviting quiet, and a nearer bed?
Or if by blind ambition led astray,
They must aspire; why should they sudden stop
Among the broken mountain's rushy dells,
And, ere they gain its highest peak, desert
The attractive sand that charm'd their course so long?
Besides, the hard agglomerating salts,
The spoil of ages, would impervious choke
Their secret channels; or, by slow degrees,
High as the hills protrude the swelling vales:
Old Ocean too, suck'd through the porous globe,
Had long ere now forsook his horrid bed,
And brought Deucalion's watery times again.
Say then, where lurk the vast eternal springs,
That, like creating Nature, lie conceal'd
From mortal eye, yet with their lavish stores
Refresh the globe, and all its joyous tribes!
O thou pervading Genius, given to man,
To trace the secrets of the dark abyss,
O lay the mountains bare! and wide display
Their hidden structure to the astonish'd view!
Strip from the branching Alps their piny load;
The huge incumbrance of horrific woods
From Asian Taurus, from Imaus stretch'd
Athwart the roving Tartar's sullen bounds;
Give opening Hemus to my searching eye,
And high Olympus pouring many a stream!
O from the sounding summits of the north,
The Dofrine hills, through Scandinavia roll'd
To farthest Lapland and the frozen main;
From lofty Caucasus, far seen by those
Who in the Caspian and black Euxine toil;
From cold Riphean rocks, which the wild Russ
Believes the stony girdle of the world:
And all the dreadful mountains, wrapp'd in storm,
Whence wide Siberia draws her lonely floods;
O sweep the eternal snows! hung o'er the deep,
That ever works beneath his sounding base,
Bid Atlas, propping heaven, as poets feign,
His subterranean wonders spread! unveil
The miny caverns, blazing on the day,
Of Abyssinia's cloud-compelling cliffs,
And of the bending Mountains of the Moon!
O'ertopping all these giant sons of earth,
Let the dire Andes, from the radiant line
Stretch'd to the stormy seas that thunder round
The southern pole, their hideous deeps unfold!
Amazing scene! Behold! the glooms disclose;
I see the rivers in their infant beds!
Deep, deep I hear them, labouring to get free;
I see the leaning strata, artful ranged;
The gaping fissures to receive the rains,
The melting snows, and ever dripping fogs.
Strow'd bibulous above I see the sands,
The pebbly gravel next, the layers then
Of mingled moulds, of more retentive earths
The gutter'd rocks and mazy-running clefts;
That, while the stealing moisture they transmit,
Retard its motion, and forbid its waste.
Beneath the incessant weeping of these drains,
I see the rocky siphons stretch'd immense,
The mighty reservoirs, of harden'd chalk,
Or stiff compacted clay, capacious form'd:
O'erflowing thence, the congregated stores,
The crystal treasures of the liquid world,
Through the stirr'd sands a bubbling passage burst;
And welling out, around the middle steep,
Or from the bottoms of the bosom'd hills,
In pure effusion flow. United, thus,
The exhaling sun, the vapour-burden'd air,
The gelid mountains, that to rain condensed
These vapours in continual current draw,
And send them, o'er the fair-divided earth,
In bounteous rivers to the deep again,
A social commerce hold, and firm support
The full-adjusted harmony of things.
When Autumn scatters his departing gleams,
Warn'd of approaching Winter, gather'd, play
The swallow-people; and toss'd wide around,
O'er the calm sky, in convolution swift,
The feather'd eddy floats: rejoicing once,
Ere to their wintry slumbers they retire;
In clusters clung, beneath the mouldering bank,
And where, unpierced by frost, the cavern sweats.
Or rather into warmer climes convey'd,
With other kindred birds of season, there
They twitter cheerful, till the vernal months
Invite them welcome back: for, thronging, now
Innumerous wings are in commotion all.
Where the Rhine loses his majestic force
In Belgian plains, won from the raging deep,
By diligence amazing, and the strong
Unconquerable hand of Liberty,
The stork-assembly meets; for many a day,
Consulting deep, and various, ere they take
Their arduous voyage through the liquid sky:
And now their route design'd, their leaders chose,
Their tribes adjusted, clean'd their vigorous wings;
And many a circle, many a short essay,
Wheel'd round and round, in congregation full
The figured flight ascends; and, riding high
The aërial billows, mixes with the clouds.
Or where the Northern ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule, and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides;
Who can recount what transmigrations there
Are annual made? what nations come and go?
And how the living clouds on clouds arise?
Infinite wings! till all the plume-dark air,
And rude resounding shore are one wild cry.
Here the plain harmless native his small flock,
And herd diminutive of many hues,
Tends on the little island's verdant swell,
The shepherd's sea-girt reign; or, to the rocks
Dire-clinging, gathers his ovarious food;
Or sweeps the fishy shore! or treasures up
The plumage, rising full, to form the bed
Of luxury. And here a while the Muse,
High hovering o'er the broad cerulean scene,
Sees Caledonia, in romantic view:
Her airy mountains, from the waving main,
Invested with a keen diffusive sky,
Breathing the soul acute; her forests huge,
Incult, robust, and tall, by Nature's hand
Planted of old; her azure lakes between,
Pour'd out extensive, and of watery wealth
Full; winding deep, and green, her fertile vales;
With many a cool translucent brimming flood
Wash'd lovely, from the Tweed (pure parent stream,
Whose pastoral banks first heard my Doric reed,
With, silvan Jed, thy tributary brook)
To where the north-inflated tempest foams
O'er Orca's or Betubium's highest peak:
Nurse of a people, in Misfortune's school
Train'd up to hardy deeds; soon visited
By Learning, when before the gothic rage
She took her western flight. A manly race,
Of unsubmitting spirit, wise, and brave;
Who still through bleeding ages struggled hard,
(As well unhappy Wallace can attest,
Great patriot-hero! ill requited chief!)
To hold a generous undiminish'd state;
Too much in vain! Hence of unequal bounds
Impatient, and by tempting glory borne
O'er every land, for every land their life
Has flow'd profuse, their piercing genius plann'd,
And swell'd the pomp of peace their faithful toil.
As from their own clear north, in radiant streams,
Bright over Europe bursts the boreal morn.
Oh! is there not some patriot, in whose power
That best, that godlike luxury is placed,
Of blessing thousands, thousands yet unborn,
Through late posterity? some, large of soul,
To cheer dejected industry? to give
A double harvest to the pining swain?
And teach the labouring hand the sweets of toil?
How, by the finest art, the native robe
To weave; how white as hyperborean snow,
To form the lucid lawn; with venturous oar
How to dash wide the billow; nor look on,
Shamefully passive while Batavian fleets
Defraud us of the glittering finny swarms,
That heave our friths, and crowd upon our shores;
How all-enlivening trade to rouse, and wing
The prosperous sail, from every growing port,
Uninjured, round the sea-encircled globe;
And thus, in soul united as in name,
Bid Britain reign the mistress of the deep?
Yes, there are such. And full on thee, Argyle,
Her hope, her stay, her darling, and her boast,
From her first patriots and her heroes sprung,
Thy fond imploring country turns her eye;
In thee with all a mother's triumph, sees
Her every virtue, every grace combined,
Her genius, wisdom, her engaging turn,
Her pride of honour, and her courage tried,
Calm, and intrepid, in the very throat
Of sulphurous war, on Tenier's dreadful field.
Nor less the palm of peace inwreathes thy brow:
For, powerful as thy sword, from thy rich tongue
Persuasion flows, and wins the high debate;
While mix'd in thee combine the charm of youth,
The force of manhood, and the depth of age.
Thee, Forbes, too, whom every worth attends,
As truth sincere, as weeping friendship kind,
Thee, truly generous, and in silence great,
Thy country feels through her reviving arts,
Plann'd by thy wisdom, by thy soul inform'd;
And seldom has she known a friend like thee.
But see the fading many-colour'd woods,
Shade deepening over shade, the country round
Imbrown; a crowded umbrage, dusk, and dun,
Of every hue, from wan declining green
To sooty dark. These now the lonesome Muse,
Low whispering, lead into their leaf-strown walks,
And give the Season in its latest view.
Meantime, light shadowing all, a sober calm
Fleeces unbounded ether: whose least wave
Stands tremulous, uncertain where to turn
The gentle current: while illumined wide,
The dewy-skirted clouds imbibe the sun,
And through their lucid veil his soften'd force
Shed o'er the peaceful world. Then is the time,
For those whom Wisdom and whom Nature charm,
To steal themselves from the degenerate crowd,
And soar above this little scene of things:
To tread low-thoughted Vice beneath their feet;
To soothe the throbbing passions into peace;
And woo lone Quiet in her silent walks.
Thus solitary, and in pensive guise,
Oft let me wander o'er the russet mead,
And through the sadden'd grove, where scarce is heard
One dying strain, to cheer the woodman's toil.
Haply some widow'd songster pours his plaint,
Far, in faint warblings, through the tawny copse:
While congregated thrushes, linnets, larks,
And each wild throat, whose artless strains so late
Swell'd all the music of the swarming shades,
Robb'd of their tuneful souls, now shivering sit
On the dead tree, a dull despondent flock;
With not a brightness waving o'er their plumes,
And nought save chattering discord in their note.
O let not, aim'd from some inhuman eye,
The gun the music of the coming year
Destroy; and harmless, unsuspecting harm,
Lay the weak tribes a miserable prey,
In mingled murder, fluttering on the ground!
The pale-descending year, yet pleasing still,
A gentler mood inspires; for now the leaf
Incessant rustles from the mournful grove;
Oft startling such as, studious, walk below,
And slowly circles through the waving air.
But should a quicker breeze amid the boughs
Sob, o'er the sky the leafy deluge streams;
Till choked, and matted with the dreary shower,
The forest walks, at every rising gale,
Roll wide the wither'd waste, and whistle bleak.
Fled is the blasted verdure of the fields;
And, shrunk into their beds, the flowery race
Their sunny robes resign. E'en what remain'd
Of stronger fruits falls from the naked tree;
And woods, fields, gardens, orchards, all around
The desolated prospect thrills the soul.
He comes! he comes! in every breeze the Power
Of Philosophic Melancholy comes!
His near approach the sudden starting tear,
The glowing cheek, the mild dejected air,
The soften'd feature, and the beating heart,
Pierced deep with many a virtuous pang, declare.
O'er all the soul his sacred influence breathes!
Inflames imagination; through the breast
Infuses every tenderness; and far
Beyond dim earth exalts the swelling thought.
Ten thousand thousand fleet ideas, such
As never mingled with the vulgar dream,
Crowd fast into the mind's creative eye.
As fast the correspondent passions rise,
As varied, and as high: Devotion raised
To rapture, and divine astonishment;
The love of Nature unconfined, and, chief,
Of human race; the large ambitious wish,
To make them blest; the sigh for suffering worth
Lost in obscurity; the noble scorn
Of tyrant pride; the fearless great resolve;
The wonder which the dying patriot draws,
Inspiring glory through remotest time;
The awaken'd throb for virtue, and for fame;
The sympathies of love, and friendship dear;
With all the social offspring of the heart.
Oh! bear me then to vast embowering shades,
To twilight groves, and visionary vales;
To weeping grottos, and prophetic glooms;
Where angel forms athwart the solemn dusk,
Tremendous sweep, or seem to sweep along;
And voices more than human, through the void
Deep sounding, seize the enthusiastic ear?
Or is this gloom too much? Then lead, ye powers,
That o'er the garden and the rural seat
Preside, which shining through the cheerful hand
In countless numbers blest Britannia sees;
O lead me to the wide extended walks,
The fair majestic paradise of Stowe!
Not Persian Cyrus on Ionia's shore
E'er saw such sylvan scenes; such various art
By genius fired, such ardent genius tamed
By cool judicious art; that, in the strife,
All beauteous Nature fears to be outdone.
And there, O Pitt, thy country's early boast,
There let me sit beneath the shelter'd slopes,
Or in that Temple where, in future times,
Thou well shalt merit a distinguish'd name;
And, with thy converse blest, catch the last smiles
Of Autumn beaming o'er the yellow woods.
While there with thee the enchanted round I walk,
The regulated wild, gay Fancy then
Will tread in thought the groves of attic land;
Will from thy standard taste refine her own,
Correct her pencil to the purest truth
Of Nature, or, the unimpassion'd shades
Forsaking, raise it to the human mind.
Or if hereafter she, with juster hand,
Shall draw the tragic scene, instruct her, thou,
To mark the varied movements of the heart,
What every decent character requires,
And every passion speaks: O through her strain
Breathe thy pathetic eloquence! that moulds
The attentive senate, charms, persuades, exalts,
Of honest Zeal the indignant lightning throws,
And shakes Corruption on her venal throne.
While thus we talk, and through Elysian vales
Delighted rove, perhaps a sigh escapes:
What pity, Cobham, thou thy verdant files
Of order'd trees shouldst here inglorious range,
Instead of squadrons flaming o'er the field,
And long embattled hosts! when the proud foe,
The faithless vain disturber of mankind,
Insulting Gaul, has roused the world to war;
When keen, once more, within their bounds to press
Those polish'd robbers, those ambitious slaves,
The British youth would hail thy wise command,
Thy temper'd ardour and thy veteran skill.
The western sun withdraws the shorten'd day;
And humid Evening, gliding o'er the sky,
In her chill progress, to the ground condensed
The vapours throws. Where creeping waters ooze,
Where marshes stagnate, and where rivers wind,
Cluster the rolling fogs, and swim along
The dusky-mantled lawn. Meanwhile the Moon
Full-orb'd, and breaking through the scatter'd clouds,
Shows her broad visage in the crimson'd east.
Turn'd to the sun direct, her spotted disk,
Where mountains rise, umbrageous dales descend,
And caverns deep, as optic tube descries,
A smaller earth, gives us his blaze again,
Void of its flame, and sheds a softer day.
Now through the passing cloud she seems to stoop,
Now up the pure cerulean rides sublime.
Wide the pale deluge floats, and streaming mild
O'er the sky'd mountain to the shadowy vale,
While rocks and floods reflect the quivering gleam,
The whole air whitens with a boundless tide
Of silver radiance, trembling round the world.
But when half blotted from the sky her light,
Fainting, permits the starry fires to burn
With keener lustre through the depth of heaven;
Or near extinct her deaden'd orb appears,
And scarce appears, of sickly beamless white;
Oft in this season, silent from the north
A blaze of meteors shoots; ensweeping first
The lower skies, they all at once converge
High to the crown of heaven, and all at once
Relapsing quick, as quickly reascend,
And mix, and thwart, extinguish, and renew,
All ether coursing in a maze of light.
From look to look, contagious through the crowd,
The panic runs, and into wondrous shapes
The appearance throws: armies in meet array,
Throng'd with aërial spears, and steeds of fire;
Till the long lines of full extended war
In bleeding fight commix'd, the sanguine flood
Rolls a broad slaughter o'er the plains of heaven.
As thus they scan the visionary scene,
On all sides swells the superstitious din,
Incontinent; and busy frenzy talks
Of blood and battle; cities overturn'd,
And late at night in swallowing earthquake sunk,
Or hideous wrapt in fierce ascending flame;
Of sallow famine, inundation, storm;
Of pestilence, and every great distress;
Empires subversed, when ruling fate has struck
The unalterable hour: e'en Nature's self
Is deem'd to totter on the brink of time.
Not so the man of philosophic eye,
And inspect sage; the waving brightness he
Curious surveys, inquisitive to know
The causes, and materials, yet unfix'd,
Of this appearance beautiful and new.
Now black, and deep, the night begins to fall,
A shade immense! Sunk in the quenching gloom,
Magnificent and vast, are heaven and earth.
Order confounded lies; all beauty void;
Distinction lost; and gay variety
One universal blot: such the fair power
Of light, to kindle and create the whole.
Drear is the state of the benighted wretch,
Who then, bewilder'd, wanders through the dark,
Full of pale fancies, and chimeras huge;
Nor visited by one directive ray,
From cottage streaming, or from airy hall.
Perhaps impatient as he stumbles on,
Struck from the root of slimy rushes, blue,
The wildfire scatters round, or gather'd trails
A length of flame deceitful o'er the moss:
Whither decoy'd by the fantastic blaze,
Now lost and now renew'd he sinks absorb'd,
Rider and horse, amid the miry gulf:
While still, from day to day, his pining wife
And plaintive children his return await,
In wild conjecture lost. At other times,
Sent by the better Genius of the night,
Innoxious, gleaming on the horse's mane,
The meteor sits; and shows the narrow path,
That winding leads through pits of death, or else
Instructs him how to take the dangerous ford.
The lengthen'd night elapsed, the Morning shines
Serene, in all her dewy beauty bright,
Unfolding fair the last autumnal day.
And now the mounting sun dispels the fog;
The rigid hoar frost melts before his beam;
And hung on every spray, on every blade
Of grass, the myriad dew-drops twinkle round.
Ah, see where, robb'd and murder'd, in that pit
Lies the still heaving hive! at evening snatch'd,
Beneath the cloud of guilt-concealing night,
And fix'd o'er sulphur: while, not dreaming ill,
The happy people, in their waxen cells,
Sat tending public cares, and planning schemes
Of temperance, for Winter poor; rejoiced
To mark, full flowing round, their copious stores.
Sudden the dark oppressive steam ascends;
And, used to milder scents, the tender race,
By thousands, tumble from their honey'd domes,
Convolved, and agonizing in the dust.
And was it then for this you roam'd the Spring,
Intent from flower to flower? for this you toil'd
Ceaseless the burning Summer heats away?
For this in Autumn search'd the blooming waste,
Nor lost one sunny gleam? for this sad fate?
O Man! tyrannic lord! how long, how long
Shall prostrate Nature groan beneath your rage,
Awaiting renovation? when obliged,
Must you destroy? of their ambrosial food
Can you not borrow; and, in just return,
Afford them shelter from the wintry winds;
Or, as the sharp year pinches, with their own
Again regale them on some smiling day?
See where the stony bottom of their town
Looks desolate, and wild; with here and there
A helpless number, who the ruin'd state
Survive, lamenting weak, cast out to death.
Thus a proud city, populous and rich,
Full of the works of peace, and high in joy,
At theatre or feast, or sunk in sleep,
(As late, Palermo, was thy fate) is seized
By some dread earthquake, and convulsive hurl'd
Sheer from the black foundation, stench-involved,
Into a gulf of blue sulphureous flame.
Hence every harsher sight! for now the day,
O'er heaven and earth diffused, grows warm, and high;
Infinite splendour! wide investing all.
How still the breeze! save what the filmy thread
Of dew evaporate brushes from the plain.
How clear the cloudless sky? how deeply tinged
With a peculiar blue! the ethereal arch
How swell'd immense! amid whose azure throned
The radiant sun how gay! how calm below
The gilded earth! the harvest-treasures all
Now gather'd in, beyond the rage of storms,
Sure to the swain; the circling fence shut up;
And instant Winter's utmost rage defied.
While, loose to festive joy, the country round
Laughs with the loud sincerity of mirth,
Shook to the wind their cares. The toil-strung youth
By the quick sense of music taught alone,
Leaps wildly graceful in the lively dance.
Her every charm abroad, the village-toast,
Young, buxom, warm, in native beauty rich,
Darts not unmeaning looks; and, where her eye
Points an approving smile, with double force,
The cudgel rattles, and the wrestler twines.
Age too shines out; and, garrulous, recounts
The feats of youth. Thus they rejoice; nor think
That, with to-morrow's sun, their annual toil
Begins again the never ceasing round.
Oh, knew he but his happiness, of men
The happiest he! who far from public rage,
Deep in the vale, with a choice few retired,
Drinks the pure pleasures of the Rural Life.
What though the dome be wanting, whose proud gate,
Each morning, vomits out the sneaking crowd
Of flatterers false, and in their turn abused?
Vile intercourse! what though the glittering robe
Of every hue reflected light can give,
Or floating loose, or stiff with mazy gold,
The pride and gaze of fools! oppress him not?
What though, from utmost land and sea purvey'd,
For him each rarer tributary life
Bleeds not, and his insatiate table heaps
With luxury, and death? What though his bowl
Flames not with costly juice; nor sunk in beds,
Oft of gay care, he tosses out the night,
Or melts the thoughtless hours in idle state?
What though he knows not those fantastic joys
That still amuse the wanton, still deceive;
A face of pleasure, but a heart of pain;
Their hollow moments undelighted all?
Sure peace is his; a solid life, estranged
To disappointment, and fallacious hope:
Rich in content, in Nature's bounty rich,
In herbs and fruits; whatever greens the Spring,
When heaven descends in showers; or bends the bough,
When Summer reddens, and when Autumn beams;
Or in the wintry glebe whatever lies
Conceal'd, and fattens with the richest sap:
These are not wanting; nor the milky drove,
Luxuriant, spread o'er all the lowing vale;
Nor bleating mountains; nor the chide of streams,
And hum of bees, inviting sleep sincere
Into the guiltless breast, beneath the shade,
Or thrown at large amid the fragrant hay;
Nor aught besides of prospect, grove, or song,
Dim grottos, gleaming lakes, and fountain clear.
Here too dwells simple Truth; plain Innocence;
Unsullied Beauty; sound unbroken Youth,
Patient of labour, with a little pleased;
Health ever blooming; unambitious Toil;
Calm Contemplation, and poetic Ease.
Let others brave the flood in quest of gain,
And beat, for joyless months, the gloomy wave.
Let such as deem it glory to destroy
Rush into blood, the sack of cities seek;
Unpierced, exulting in the widow's wail,
The virgin's shriek, and infant's trembling cry.
Let some, far distant from their native soil,
Urged or by want or harden'd avarice,
Find other lands beneath another sun.
Let this through cities work his eager way,
By legal outrage and establish'd guile,
The social sense extinct; and that ferment
Mad into tumult the seditious herd,
Or melt them down to slavery. Let these
Insnare the wretched in the toils of law,
Fomenting discord, and perplexing right,
An iron race! and those of fairer front,
But equal inhumanity, in courts,
Delusive pomp and dark cabals, delight;
Wreathe the deep bow, diffuse the lying smile,
And tread the weary labyrinth of state.
While he, from all the stormy passions free
That restless men involve, hears, and but hears,
At distance safe, the human tempest roar,
Wrapp'd close in conscious peace. The fall of kings,
The rage of nations, and the crush of states,
Move not the man, who, from the world escaped,
In still retreats and flowery solitudes,
To Nature's voice attends, from month to month,
And day to day, through the revolving year;
Admiring, sees her in her every shape;
Feels all her sweet emotions at his heart;
Takes what she liberal gives, nor thinks of more.
He, when young Spring protrudes the bursting germs,
Marks the first bud, and sucks the healthful gale
Into his freshen'd soul; her genial hours
He full enjoys; and not a beauty blows,
And not an opening blossom breathes in vain.
In Summer he, beneath the living shade,
Such as o'er frigid Tempè wont to wave,
Or Hemus cool, reads what the Muse, of these,
Perhaps, has in immortal numbers sung;
Or what she dictates writes: and, oft an eye
Shot round, rejoices in the vigorous year.
When Autumn's yellow lustre gilds the world,
And tempts the sickled swain into the field,
Seized by the general joy, his heart distends
With gentle throes; and, through the tepid gleams
Deep musing, then he best exerts his song.
E'en Winter wild to him is full of bliss.
The mighty tempest, and the hoary waste,
Abrupt and deep, stretch'd o'er the buried earth,
Awake to solemn thought. At night the skies,
Disclosed, and kindled, by refining frost,
Pour every lustre on the exalted eye.
A friend, a book, the stealing hours secure,
And mark them down for wisdom. With swift wing
O'er land and sea imagination roams;
Or truth, divinely breaking on his mind,
Elates his being, and unfolds his powers;
Or in his breast heroic virtue burns.
The touch of kindred too and love he feels;
The modest eye, whose beams on his alone
Ecstatic shine; the little strong embrace
Of prattling children, twined around his neck,
And emulous to please him, calling forth
The fond parental soul. Nor purpose gay,
Amusement, dance, or song, he sternly scorns;
For happiness and true philosophy
Are of the social, still, and smiling kind.
This is the life which those who fret in guilt,
And guilty cities, never knew; the life,
Led by primeval ages, uncorrupt,
When Angels dwelt, and God himself, with Man!
Oh Nature! all-sufficient! over all!
Enrich me with the knowledge of thy works!
Snatch me to Heaven; thy rolling wonders there,
World beyond world, in infinite extent,
Profusely scatter'd o'er the blue immense,
Show me; their motions, periods, and their laws
Give me to scan; through the disclosing deep
Light my blind way: the mineral strata there;
Thrust, blooming, thence the vegetable world;
O'er that the rising system, more complex,
Of animals; and higher still, the mind,
The varied scene of quick-compounded thought,
And where the mixing passions endless shift;
These ever open to my ravish'd eye;
A search, the flight of time can ne'er exhaust!
But if to that unequal; if the blood,
In sluggish streams about my heart, forbid
That best ambition; under closing shades,
Inglorious, lay me by the lowly brook,
And whisper to my dreams. From Thee begin,
Dwell all on Thee, with Thee conclude my song;
And let me never, never stray from Thee!

James Thomson

Because the long, reflective landscape poem The Seasons (1730) commanded so much attention and affection for at least a hundred years after James Thomson wrote it, his achievement has been identified with it. Thomson, however, was also a political figure through other poems and through some of his plays, standing strongly for a kind of republican ideal against what he saw as the vulpine individualism and oligarchic government of Robert Walpole. As a Scot who spent his adult life in England, he embodied in his work a comity between the two lands and traditions. Partly with these sociopolitical interests in mind, partly to complement the sweep and poignancy of The Seasons, he wrote five tragedies and a patriotic masque of some distinction. Finally, his Spenserian allegory, The Castle of Indolence(1748), stands as the finest in English other than Spenser’s own.

The son of the Scots clergyman Thomas Thomson and Beatrix Trotter Thomson of Berwickshire, Thomson was born on 11 September 1700 in Ednam, Scotland, a few miles north of the River Tweed, which marks the Scots-English boundary. On this poor, isolated, hilly territory, country people scratched out bare livings. Critics eager to spy out biographical influences on The Seasons have found the goads to Thomson’s pictorial imagination in this border landscape, with its slopes and streams, skies heavy with clouds above the moors, and the constant play of light upon natural objects in such a changeable, assertive climate. Thomson’s own family was large—he was the fourth of nine children—and, tucked away in barren country, he must have spent a great deal of time in familial games, tasks, and learning. His household, as one would expect from that of a clergyman father and a mother whose “devotional exercises,” according to Patrick Murdoch, were raised by her warm imagination “to a pitch bordering on enthusiasm,” gave him intimate knowledge of the Bible, that prime source of literary sublimity in the eighteenth century. Again, one can fancy that his early life was grist for The Seasons, in which love and family take on a rosy gleam and where God in His majesty pervades the text. As to his later life, as opposed to his poetry, he left the wild scenery of Scotland for London streets, never married or raised a family himself, and though he remained a profoundly religious man, lapsed from his Christian faith.

Beginning at the age of twelve, Thomson was sent to school, first for three years at Jedburgh, eight miles from home, and then, in 1715, at the College of Edinburgh, some fifty miles north. He was to be in Edinburgh for ten years. After a short time his family embosomed him again, for in February 1716 Thomas Thomson died, allegedly by being struck on the head by a ball of fire while exorcising a ghost at Woolie. Since Beatrix Thomson could, of course, no longer live in the manse, she chose to bring her family to the capital. Thomson may have once again enjoyed the comforts and suffered the constraints of home, but he now found himself in a culturally exciting environment. While at Jedburgh, his learning and writing had been fostered by interested neighborhood gentry, including Robert Riccaltoun and William Bennet, the latter a frequent host to the prolific, charming Scots songwriter, patriot, and poet Allan Ramsay, whom young Thomson may then have met. In Edinburgh he was exposed to new literature, such as the periodical work of Joseph Addison and Richard Steele and the poetry of Alexander Pope, and to new doctrines, including those of Isaac Newton. Those with common interests formed clubs and societies in which they could discuss readings, debate one another, share the pleasures of the taverns in which they met, and exchange criticism and support for their own work as writers. Thomson became a member of the Grotesque Club. He had not been a stellar student and, according to his fellow club member and lifelong friend David Malloch, did not shine in the club either. Nonetheless, as a member in early January 1720 he did publish his first verse, three mediocre but not desperately weak poems in The Edinburgh Miscellany. All three are in couplets, and all bear the marks of a gentlemanly idleness, a refusal of focus and commitment.

In 1719 Thomson finished his arts course without taking a degree, a common procedure, and entered divinity studies as a scholarship student (in Scots terminology, a bursar); he held the bursary for four years. This new course of study was not very exacting; it certainly did not impede Thomson from continuing in his literary career. The annals of eighteenth-century poetry include a good deal of verse by clergymen, fancifully or earnestly whiling away their bucolic hours, and perhaps Thomson would have ended up in earned obscurity if he had been an Englishman. His talents were ill suited for casual verse. Fortunately for literature, however, the Scots church was hostile to poetic effusions. According to Murdoch, when Thomson performed an exercise in divinity class, the paraphrase of a psalm, in too florid a way, Professor William Hamilton at Edinburgh “told him, smiling, that if he thought of being useful in the ministry, he must keep a stricter rein on his imagination, and express himself in a language more intelligible to an ordinary congregation.” In general the Scots at the time seem to have tended toward respect for the practical and snorted about the poetical. As he became less willing to give over his life and skills to the church, Thomson came progressively to realize that as a writer he would never revel in a large audience if he stayed in Scotland. By 1724, when a poem probably his, “The Works and Wonders of Almighty Power,” appeared in Aaron Hill’s London periodical The Plain Dealer, he seems to have made up his mind to go south, as his friend Malloch (by then anglicized to “Mallet”) had done the year before. Armed with letters of introduction to well-placed Scots in London, Thomson sailed from Leith early in 1725, never again to set foot in Scotland.

After a few months of unhappy floundering, made more painful by his mother’s death in mid May, his contacts found him a job as tutor to the son of the minor poet Charles, Lord Binning, who was himself the son of a minor poet, Thomas Hamilton, Earl of Haddington, and the son-in-law of the poet and songwriter Lady Grizel Baillie. At Lord Binning’s country house at East Barnet, some ten miles north of London, Thomson set about teaching his pupil to read; he also taught himself to write a new, blank-verse poetry, as he worked on Winter. How much of this remarkable poem was written in Scotland and how much in England is not known, but at the end of the winter of 1725-1726 it was complete, and it appeared in April 1726. The second edition of Winter was published in July, and two further reimpressions came out the same year. To Thomson’s eventual pleasure, his dedicatee Spencer Compton, speaker of the House of Commons, found that he could not continue to ignore the young Scot, and an interview between them ended with Thomson twenty guineas richer. Confident and on his way to being famous, Thomson began work on Summer, which appeared in February 1727, two years after his arrival in London. It confirmed the success of the poetic mode first deployed in Winter.

“Blank verse,” wrote Raymond Dexter Havens, “seems to have been regarded in 1725 much as the telephone was in 1875, as a remarkable toy which it was interesting to experiment with but of which only a few enthusiasts expected to make any real use.” Bell did not patent his phone until 1876, however, whereas by Havens’s count, some 150 post-Miltonic blank-verse poems (some very short) preceded Winter. Unlike those 150, though, Winter is sustained, serious, and skillful. The earlier blank-verse corpus, which led Thomson to write and the public to accept this new poem, included Milton’s epics Paradise Lost(1667) and Paradise Regained (1671) as its most distinguished nondramatic examples. It also included every tragedy current on the London stage, and Thomson couched Winter as a prolonged soliloquy or dialogue with oneself and one’s surroundings. The speaker does often launch into imperatives that in some other poem, in another idiom, might address a reader directly: “See! Winter comes”; “Behold! the wellpois’d Hornet, hovering, hangs”; “Now ... let me wander o’er the russet Mead”; “Oh! bear me then to high, embowering, Shades.” Here, though, they represent an inner urgency on the part of the speaker as his eye lights on the hornet or a keen wish strikes him. To some extent like soliloquists in drama, Thomson’s speaker draws readers in to his inner state, but through indirect address. A combination of sympathy with the alert, urgent speaker and the resonance of the imperative form makes Thomson’s reader a tacitly summoned participant in the speaker’s excitement.

This roundabout way of talking to the audience makes apropos the analogy with blank-verse dramatic soliloquies, including those in Paradise Lost. Yet there is a difference. In Thomson, the effect is, by intention, psychologically shallow: whereas the self-absorbed Satan, the leading soliloquizer in Milton’s poem, acts—busying himself making a hell of heaven—Thomson’s speaker cultivates pure reaction. For example, he welcomes the “Vapours, and Clouds, and Storms.... that exalt the Soul to solemn Thought” and become “kindred Glooms” and “wish’d, wint’ry, Horrors.” As the scenes in Winter typify that season, so the speaker as onlooker must typify responses to it, and this interplay of what is common, open, broadly available in the world and in the speaker helps to express the sense of community that is central not only to this poem but to all Thomson’s mature work. Nature in Winter is objective, “out there,” and Thomson’s speaker, through typification, becomes an analogue to this objectivity, though with a difference. Thomson typifies winter kaleidoscopically, by adding and mirroring new scenes one after the other; in contrast, his uniformly responsive speaker hardly develops a personality at all. Still, however standard the responses, Winter requires that they seem to emerge from experience. They could plausibly be framed in a blank verse that had strong generic associations with the drama. For Thomson himself, in whose mind the I, “nurs’d by careless Solitude”, was probably not pure textual fiction, the use of dramatic monologue allowed him to accommodate his Scots experience to his new, English life: a young emigré author might be jarred in moving from Edinburgh to London, from a city of about thirty-five thousand people tightly nested in rural land to a city of about six hundred thousand, with room for urban sprawl. A dramatic self-projection, which is a self-reduction, allows him to be personal and at the same time to rise above the merely personal.

Winter presents itself as a retrospective poem of multiple estrangements and renewals, treating a nonurban milieu divinely created, fixed by natural rhythms. In recollecting his past for his dramatic monologue, Thomson needed at once to magnify these rhythms and to stand back from them, to come to terms with them, and to pen them in an ordering plan. He could do this best by setting the poem in the country, where nothing softens winter, and to organize it through balancing event with commentary, that which is in natural time with that which is not. Winter, therefore, has four movements in its 406 lines, in each of which the bleak, cruel season comes, and then the poem redresses its action. The “Sullen, and sad” winter of the opening produces “Philosophic Melancholy,” which wakens sympathy, and its partner, aesthetic pleasure in nature; next, winter, “Striding the gloomy Blast,” leads to reflections on the majesty of nature and, after more description, of God; then oncoming winter strands the poet at home with his books, a “Society divine” of the aesthetic and moral great; finally “the wintry Season” conquers all, producing an exhortation on vanities and a theodicy, when “Time swiftly fleets,/And wish’d Eternity, approaching, brings/Life undecaying.” This clear pattern, doubled in each of the first two movements and more sustained in the last two, encompasses both the variety of the season as it moves toward uniformity (“Horror wide extends/His solitary Empire”) and a single moral and aesthetic sense of life, variously prompted by winter but capable, as the other poems in The Seasons were to show, of equally being prompted by the world in other forms.

In May 1726 Thomson left Lord Binning’s employ to live in London, again as a tutor, but now affiliated with a school well known for its Newtonian teachings, Watts’s Academy. One of the teachers there, the mathematician James Stirling, knew Newton well, so well that Newton had even sent him money to return from Venice so that Newton might recommend him for a professorship. Perhaps in part through such colleagues, in part through his own teachers in Edinburgh, Thomson had learned enough about Newton to have placed passages in Summer about gravitation, optical refraction, and “the Man of Philosophic Eye” who looks for the physical causes of the aurora borealis rather than succumb to popular superstition about it. Both Winter and Summer are also rich with scientific explanation about such phenomena as bituminous vapors, lightning, ripening minerals, and fogs, all matters within the purview of the Royal Society over which Newton presided. Not only did Newton penetrate the order of nature and therefore, theologically, some of nature’s meaning as God’s other Book, but he also was one of the chief glories of Britain, to which Thomson’s deep loyalty never wavered. Unsurprisingly, then, Thomson was among the multitude who wrote commemorative verse after Newton’s death on 20 March 1727. The result, dedicated to Prime Minister Walpole, was published in May 1727, A Poem Sacred to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton.

Because Newton, like his contemporary John Locke, had long been deified in English patriotic myth, his soul’s ascent would have seemed merely to confirm his proper place. Writers proclaimed that his grasp of the vast cosmic machine made him the modern counterpart of visionary prophets, and also better in combining imagination and reason. Indeed, his epic work spoke of what appeared to be the highest values of the true, the good, and the beautiful: the true because knowledge of God’s world glorified Him, empowered His human creatures, and swept away old superstitions; the good because the Newtonian system typified a universe of cooperative motion like the balanced constitution of Britain itself (unlike French despotism); and the beautiful because the spectacle of nature offered unity in variety, with objects often beautiful in themselves and always so when considered within the great order in which they shared. The fifty years before Thomson’s birth and the first quarter of the new century had seen the triunity of true, good, and beautiful split apart, to be studied within three different sciences: “natural philosophy”; ethics and a rationalized natural law; and the youngest branch of philosophy, aesthetics. Precisely on account of this splitting, Newton’s harmonizing system was all the more gratifying, difficult, and therefore, in its triumphant absolutism, magnificent. It has turned out, as Thomson and his contemporaries could not guess, to be the last system in the history of Western thought to provide society with an ontological guarantee of harmony. At the time, Newtonian thought as a guarantor of values was, if anything, more important than Newton the discoverer of natural, therefore divine, order. Of course a poet who was in the process of becoming the author of The Seasons saw and responded to the mythic power of such harmony in the 1720s, in appreciating Newton’s work as in creating his own.

Others, most notably Pope in Epistle II of An Essay on Man (1733), moralized Newton as a genius still ignorant, as an emblem of limited human knowledge and so an a fortiori argument for humility. Thomson does not. His heroic Newton reunites Truth, Goodness, and Beauty by tracing “the secret Hand of Providence,” by surpassing in scope and ethical merit the ancients’ conquests won through “Violence unmanly, and sore Deeds/Of Cruelty and Blood,” and by untwisting “all the shining Robe of Day,” revealing a world of light, that “Infinite Source/Of Beauty, ever-flushing, ever-new!” Behind this achievement plays the rhetoric of temporality, since, after all, Thomson was writing a memorial poem. He therefore traces Newton’s career through time, as “with heroic Patience Years on Years/Deep-searching,” Newton “saw at last the System dawn,/And shine, of all his Race, on him alone.” Thomson presents first the earthly, then the cosmic effects of gravitation; next, the plotting of orbits, even those of comets; the wonders of Newton’s optics; and finally a brief tribute to the historical research—the recovery of human time itself—with which the great man occupied his later years. But for Newton a career in time mirrors a career after time. His progress on earth resembles that progress toward full and universal knowledge that some writers of the time saw as a promised delight of heaven: Newton’s terrestrial life gave a foretaste of the hereafter to which he had now flown, to continue “comparing Things with Things, in Rapture lost, / And grateful Adoration” among “the whirling Orbs.” Similarly, on earth he anticipated the very tone of mind that marks him on high, where he can sit “in dread Discourse” with angels or the other blessed; here among mortals he shared with his friends “the vast unborrow’d Treasures of his Mind,” always “Fervent in doing well.”

Thomson in his mid twenties had made a considerable reputation, and the humble Scots tutor felt confident enough to pitch himself into politics, at least in verse, with the poem Britannia. He now enjoyed the benefits of lofty friends, such as Algernon and Frances Seymour, the Earl and Countess of Hertford; the future bishop Thomas Rundle; the Oxford Professor of Poetry Joseph Spence; and George Bubb Dodington, Baron Melcombe, the dedicatee of Summer. In January 1729, perhaps influenced by Dodington’s political advice, Thomson published anonymously his patriotic poem Britannia. When he had dedicated his lines on Newton to Walpole, Walpole and Dodington had been allies; now they were not. British indignation in the late 1720s was rising over Walpole’s conciliatory—some thought cowardly—posture toward Spain, a nation that had besieged Gibraltar in February 1727 without calling forth a declaration of war from England. By the beginning of 1729, a process of peacemaking, begun in May 1727, was still incomplete, stalled after the congress of Soissons, and not to be given (temporary) fulfillment till the Treaty of Seville in March 1729. Meanwhile, according to the patriot opposition, Spain continued to harm British interests on the high seas. Britannia appeared just in time for the opening of Parliament, with a Virgilian quotation from the indignant Neptune on its title page, and opening lines that presented a weeping Britannia, her garments rent and her laments flowing. “Unchastis’d, the insulting Spaniard dares/Infest the trading Flood” on which she gazes, while the weak, demoralized British slink. Peace, “first of human Blessings; and supreme!” is what Britannia desires, but sometimes war must keep the peace, “when Ruffian Force / Awakes the Fury of an injur’d State.” Britannia invokes the glorious past of Britain, its special resources “By lavish Nature thrust into your Hand,” its emptiness if deprived of trade, and the beauties of Liberty, “The Light of Life! the Sun of Human Kind!/Whence Heroes, Bards, and Patriots borrow Flame.” At the conclusion she realizes that Parliament has convened—”my Sons, the Sons of Freedom! meet / In awful Senate”—and flies there to “Burn in the Patriot’s Thought, flow from his Tongue / In fearless Truth.”

Since both government and opposition seized on Britannia, it must have been thought successful. The opposition’s use for it is plain, but the pro-Walpole faction also managed to turn it to advantage. The government newspaper, the Daily Journal (28 January 1729), quoted Britannia’s paean to peace, insisting that the “charming ... Description” would lead one “to extol and applaud the Pacific Measures that have hitherto been pursu’d by his Majesty and his Ministers, to preserve to us those invaluable Blessings” and to “give so just a Preference to those Divine Men ... who study to cultivate the Arts of Peace.” Despite this appropriation, other poets and pamphleteers hostile to Walpole’s pacifism also took up Thomson’s lead. The policy of war was eventually pursued unto disillusionment, and its heralds were forgotten. To the reader for whom the policy decisions of 1729 have lost their savor, Britannia, too, will have lost most of its.

Another public venue, besides political agitation, was the stage. Thomson’s gift with blank verse and serious sentiments made tragedy a natural outlet for him, and the “Roman” genre, parented by John Dryden’s All for Love (1677) and Addison’s Cato (1713), was the mode of choice. In all he was to write five such plays, some more specifically “Roman” than others. The first of these, The Tragedy of Sophonisba, was performed at Drury Lane on 28 February 1730. As reported by Grant, the painter William Aikman, one of Thomson’s good friends, said it was praised on rehearsal so “extravagantly” by the actress “Mrs Oldfield and several of the [other] players” as to make him worry: “I wish they may not raise peoples’ expectations to a height about it that cannot be satisfied.” The cast and Thomson’s lines, though, proved more than equal to the public’s hopes. Anne Oldfield, a great Cleopatra and (in Nicholas Rowe’s The Fair Penitent, 1703) Calista, played the title role; Thomson wrote in the preface to the published play that “she excelled what, even in the fondness of an author, I could either wish or imagine.” The equally skilled Robert Wilks, impetuous and tender, was a fine Masinissa. Several of the royal family attended, and Thomson received permission to dedicate the play to the queen. Continuing the theme of Britannia, he did so by comparing the naval and commercial power of Sophonisba’s Carthage unfavorably with that of Caroline’s England.

Thomson began with a much-used story, most familiar on the London stage in a version by Nathaniel Lee (1675) still occasionally revived. It comes from Livy’s histories, where the beautiful Carthaginian Sophonisba, after the Romans’ defeat of her nation, wins back the heart of her former betrothed, Prince Masinissa, now allied with the enemy. Scipio Africanus, fearful of her influence, successfully exhorts the blushing, groaning, and weeping prince to valor, not the weakness of love, and Masinissa presents his new bride with a bowl of poison so that she may save herself from the Roman slavery to which he otherwise would have to consign her. She drinks fearlessly and dies. By and large, Thomson (unlike Lee) keeps to this narrative, which he says in his preface attracted him by its “great simplicity”: “It is one, regular, and uniform, not charged with a multiplicity of incidents, and yet affording several revolutions of fortune; by which the passions may be excited, varied, and driven to their full tumult of emotion.” The passions here are love and honor, the staples of Restoration and early-eighteenth-century tragedy, sauced with militant patriotism, suitable for the author of Britannia. As might be expected from Thomson’s description of his play, the conflicts are more emotional and moral than political, and he tries to make the group of characters embody these conflicts rather than to depict people with complex motives. Sophonisba presents not individuals but a system, the proper working of which generates a measure of disaster and a measure of triumph. In this it partly resembles The Seasons.

The action of the play consists of a series of dialogues: Sophonisba and her confidante Phoenissa; Masinissa and his confidante Narva; Masinissa and Sophonisba’s vanquished, vengeful husband Syphax; Masinissa and Sophonisba; Sophonisba and Syphax; Masinissa and Scipio’s lieutenant Lelius; Masinissa and Scipio—all have one or more dialogues in which each presents at least (and at most) a partially valid position in opposition to the other. Each of the main characters is compelled to a position that he or she also, in some respects, freely chooses. Masinissa alone has two such positions, the “Roman” and the lover’s, that put him in a double bind, where each course of action has its powerful virtues and grave faults. Double-bind tragedy, which developed with those still-current favorites Dryden and Thomas Otway, suited an ethically passionate and interrogative mode of thought widespread in the eighteenth century. It also involved, from the 1670s on, a complicating of gender roles, with the hero torn between more “masculine” and softer, more “feminine” values. Perhaps George Lillo’s tragedy The London Merchant, performed the year after Sophonisba, draws from this complication its fullest potential, but Thomson’s play comes close. While Masinissa melts, Queen Sophonisba herself, far more militant a patriot than in Livy, thinks of love as a mere strategy for furthering the goals of Carthage. Her splendor is in being manly, as Masinissa’s tragedy and the source of one’s sympathy for him, is in his emotional androgyny.

Before Thomson gave the world Britannia and Sophonisba, he had published Spring in June 1728, dedicating it to Lady Hertford. Now two years later, in June 1730, Autumn appeared, first in a handsome one-guinea subscription edition of the entire Seasons, together with “A Hymn on the Seasons” and the lines on Newton. The previously published poems on seasons were revised, especially Winter, in which Thomson nearly doubled the 405 lines of the first edition, and the volume was fitted with handsome plates drawn by the most important artist and designer of the day, William Kent. The dazzling list of subscribers, beginning with the queen and members of the peerage and including fellow writers such as Pope, Ramsay, William Somervile, John Arbuthnot, and Edward Young, indicates Thomson’s stature as he approached the age of thirty. Keeping this intellectually and socially posh company had already affected the shape of The Seasons; so did the style of life into which Thomson now glided. With the sale of over 450 copies of this subscription edition, and the sale of his copyrights (from which he had been profiting quite amply) to his publishers, John Millan and Andrew Millar, he found himself nearly well-to-do. But, since he was feckless, he needed every shilling and in future years was to revise and enlarge The Seasons over and over in some measure for that reason. As he did so, he moved further from the sharp focus with which he had begun in 1726. Thomson progressively opened his poem to different poetic modes—the tale, homily, satire, poeticized science—so as to encompass the diverse voices that saturated the natural world of which he wrote. The four serial poems now presented a vast, mingled array of scenes, reflections, narratives, descriptions, and panegyrics. In its original form, Winter had among other things spoken to the experience of Thomson the emigré Scot; The Seasons spoke from the vantage of a modern Briton who knew the order and variety of the world through science, travel, and moral observation—a modern Briton was a cosmopolitan.

Some critics of The Seasons have drawn a post-Wordsworthian line between Thomson’s fine, fresh depictions of nature and what they see as his woolly, worn homilies to man. As his poem went from version to version, their argument goes, he kept swathing and muffling the real merits of The Seasons, in these pieties. Two issues are in play here, one of execution, the other of plan. As to execution, the critics may be right. Thomson’s greatest talents lay in natural description, not moral comment, and the assured nods and amens for his moral observations may well have allowed him to be slipshod in working out his verse for them. During the eighteenth century, morality in verse could aim for elegance, if moral sensibility was supposed to be an effect of a refined and civilized spirit, or it could aim for a simple immediacy if it was to strike a universal chord in the human breast; but neither of these styles exercised much discipline over the poet. Thomson, therefore, does less well with common places than with material where novelty, a specific imaginative vision, or an aphoristic energy prodded him to give precise shape to his lines. Besides, the vividness and evocative strength that distinguish much of The Seasons gave the homilies hard competition, made harder when later readers are supercilious about the homiletic mode itself.

As to the plan of The Seasons, however, opening his poem to greater diversity surely formed part of a design akin to the one that underlay his elegy for Newton: a weaving together of truth, goodness, and beauty. The spatiotemporal world, imaged in the seasons, needed to be caught in a total mimesis, reflecting and reflected upon from the viewpoints Thomson might assume; or at least such a mimesis had to be successfully evoked. Whereas Newton himself could present nature in a regularized form, plotted out by the laws of physics, Thomson had to make do with a crowd of distracting particulars. No wonder he kept revising, and no wonder, too, that he produced some incoherences. Some earlier descriptive poems, such as John Denham’s Cooper’s Hill (1642) or Pope’s Windsor-Forest (1713), had fitted together nicely in accord with a scheme of discordia concors, a harmony of heterogeneity. More than his predecessors, though, Thomson had to accommodate another complication—point of view. In The Seasons he had to bring together at least three incompatible, legitimate, and necessary perspectives: a sense of human beings as mere creatures within nature, of humans as moral and experiential centers within nature, and of human readers reflecting upon nature, including its human population. For this fidelity to nature as variously experienced, Thomson surrendered the sort of unity he achieved in the 1726 Winter, or he deferred it to an underlying divine order outside experience and to a conceptual or verbal order, the totalizing that the general term “Spring” or “Summer” implies. Different readers would have these orders in mind to different degrees when moving through the absorbing descriptions, sharp contrasts, and digressions of The Seasons, so that the interplay between a reader’s sense of order and sense of untamable profusion becomes another significant effect in the poem. As Thomson lengthened The Seasons, the forest floor of profusion intertwined even more densely over the underlying order, so that he no doubt felt increasing need to proclaim how ordered his world was and how special the human condition within it.

The ultimate unifying truth of The Seasons, guarantor of beauty and goodness, was God’s, such as could be intuited or named but known only as ground for all phenomena. The truths that testified to it were those of evoked experience, of course, but also those of science. From the regularity of scientific processes, Thomson could depict a nature of rich, indicative particulars that did not crumble into randomness or mere density. He could also place his readers as among a race of beings who were wise enough to rise above particulars precisely by passing through them, by observing them with a close eye. This double virtue for science—as witness to God’s legible plan and as mediatrix between that plan and valuable, experienced details—Thomson drew from the mass of writing known as physicotheology, which stressed the wonderful fitness and economy of the natural world. Thus, for instance, in Spring he hails the “Source of Being! Universal Soul / Of Heaven and Earth! Essential Presence ... !” whose “master-hand” makes plants nourish themselves; and in Summer he sings of the Sun, “in whom best seen shines out thy Maker,” for “ ‘Tis by thy secret, strong, attractive force” that the solar “system rolls entire—from the far bourne/Of utmost Saturn ... to Mercury.” Other passages deal with insects, the percolation of subterranean waters, and the creation of fogs—all these, and some briefer references, betoken nature’s complexity and yet ideal legibility to someone who loves the world intellectually as well as emotionally. They remind the twentieth-century reader how thin much post-Thomsonian descriptive poetry was to become, limited to elaborating only two of Thomson’s effects, verbal photography and reflection of the writer’s own mind. There has been another loss, too, for the scientific passages can hardly strike one today as they did Thomson’s audience, who knew gravitation, plant respiration, and microscopy as recent discoveries, not as a historical facts but as part of a new, surprising dominion of the mind. While Thomson would have thought—wrongly—of his homiletic passages as universal, free of history, he surely did mean in his scientific passages to allude to the historical momentum that his own age had given to finding the “timeless” truths of nature. Therefore, his Latinate diction not only harked back to his poetic ancestors, it drew from the language of the new science, so marking his readers both as heirs of the old philosophic poets, Lucretius or Virgil, and as voyagers in an age of nonclassical discovery, a British order of nature and humankind that transcended the Roman.

The blank verse of The Seasons is somewhat grander than that of the 1726 Winter: though Thomson continues to draw on dramatic and Miltonic blank verse, he refers more insistently to Virgil’s Georgics, the last major classical poem to make the worlds of experienced nature and scientifically understood nature mesh. The example of the Georgics, language aside, surely prompted Thomson to produce as comprehensive, artfully disordered, and closely mimetic a poem as The Seasons, once the early Winter had started him presenting humans within a demanding, splendid nature. Scots education paid more homage to Latin than did English, and among Latin poems, the Georgics had a special place of honor, as what Addison called “the most complete, elaborate, and finished piece of all antiquity” (“Essay on Virgil’s Georgics,” 1697). Its vividness of description was thought to be such that, as Addison said, “we receive more strong and lively ideas of things from his words, than we could have done from the objects themselves.” In addition, its majesty and grace of language ennobled the commonplace, allowing Virgil to move easily from the details of husbandry to moral precept, historical interlude, images of the natural order, and evocation of Roman majesty. Thomson’s aims closely resembled those he saw modeled by Virgil, whose high rural patriotism and quick sense of the interchange between humans and nature generally inspired The Seasons and from whose work Thomson adapted or even, at times, paraphrased passages directly. In its language, then, The Seasons keeps returning to Latinate words, often ones with scientific force (“sublimed,” “convolved,” “efflux,” “infracted,” “ovarious,” “flexile,” “concoctive,” and “constringent,” for example), or, rarely, their etymological force (“the spreading beech, that o’er the stream/Incumbent hung”). Thomson also showed a fondness for compound words (such as “hollow-blustering,” “new-creating,” “mute-imploring,” and “plume-dark”) after the fashion of Latin (“res publica,” “paterfamilias,” “ignicolor,” and “celeripes”). Latinate usages are also Miltonic, so that one might speculate that Thomson perhaps took the relation of the Georgics and the Aeneid in Latin as a model for that of his own poem, The Seasons, to Paradise Lost in English. However that may be, as the ambition and the lexicon of The Seasons make the Latin usages allude to Milton, the form, scope, and subject of the poem make them allude to Virgil. One need not particularize further, for like several of his contemporaries, Thomson strives for a texture of broadly unified allusiveness that serves as a sign of emulation, an homage, an appropriation, and a going beyond.

Thomson placed The Seasons carefully, then, within poetic and cultural traditions, and located the objects he depicts within a variety of perspectives. In these concerns he resembled his contemporaries, as indeed he did in his moment-by-moment treatment of objects in his verse. Some lines from Autumn serve as an example:


Hence from the busy joy-resounding fields,

In cheerful error let us tread the maze

Of Autumn unconfined; and taste, revived,

The breath of orchard big with bending fruit.

Obedient to the breeze and beating ray,

From the deep-loaded bough a mellow shower

Incessant melts away. The juicy pear

Lies in a soft profusion scattered round.

A various sweetness swells the gentle race,

By Nature’s all-refining hand prepared,

Of tempered sun, and water, earth, and air,

In ever-changing compositions mixed.

Such, falling frequent through the chiller night,

The fragrant stores, the wide-projected heaps

Of apples, which the lusty-handed year

Innumerous o’er the blushing orchard shakes.


In these lines are the compound words and terms used in Latin rather than English senses (“error” instead of “wandering,” “wide-projected” meaning “thrown”); here is science, in the four elements of the “ever-changing composition”; here is also closely worked order, not only in Thomson’s exquisite sense of sound, which a reading aloud will reveal, but also in the placement of objects. One moves from the openness of the field to a “maze” minus its usual negative connotation of baffled confinement, since instead one is “revived” along the mazy path one chooses among the trees in an orchard, while the notion of revival is emphasized by the personification and pregnancy of the orchard. The curvilinear movement of “error” now turns into the “big”ness and “bending” of the boughs, the fully ripe “juicy pear,” and the sweetness that “swells” the gentle race. The “breeze” (air), “beating ray” (sun/ fire), water imagery in “shower” and “melts,” and the earth on which the “soft profusion” of fruit lies are to reappear a few lines later as the “ever-changing composition.” Thomson then steps back—with the comment about Nature’s hand—from the sunny afternoon and juxtaposes it with the “chiller night” when apples fall; but, of course, both times offer delight and profusion (pears “scattered round” and “wide-projected heaps” of apples), just as the busy fields and the mazy orchard both offer joy. The leitmotif here, after all, is the ideal of cooperative compounding—difference as forms of the same—expressed in the mixing of the four elements. As this passage ends, the image of pregnancy returns when “the lusty-handed year” makes the orchard blush, responding to his shaken-down gifts but also simply red with apples. By such intertwining of analogy and contrast, Thomson constructs The Seasons, not as a unified poem but as a continuous experience.

Continuity on the level of the reading consciousness, a pointing toward a divine totality that one can suppose and believe in, and yet, between these wholes, only an unruly, fractured, and polyvalent world, represented by a succession of vivid, contrasting, and yet often analogous fragments—those are the forms of The Seasons. Thomson found much to do each time he came to revise a poem the texture of which required such delicate, meticulous adjustments for continuity while the length and sequence of episodes remained so open. The public rewarded him well: in the fifty years after his death some 170 different editions of his Works or The Seasons appeared, including translations into French, German, and Dutch.

In early November 1730 Thomson set out for a tour of the Continent as companion to Charles Richard Talbot, the twenty-one-year-old son and heir of Solicitor-General Charles Talbot. The elder Talbot allotted Thomson two hundred pounds per annum, which must have been paid in 1731 and 1732, while the two travelers remained on the foreign side of the Channel. “Travelling,” Thomson wrote to Dodington in October 1730, before setting off, “has long been my fondest wish.... The storing one’s imagination with ideas of all-beautiful, all-great, and all-perfect Nature: these are the pure Materia Poetica, the light and colours, with which fancy kindles up her whole creation, paints a sentiment, and even embodies an abstracted thought. I long to see the fields where Virgil gathered his immortal honey, and tread the same ground where men have thought and acted so greatly.” When he actually trod alien soil as a sturdy Briton, however, Thomson found the Virgilian fields bare of their mellifluous clover, and the grounds of past greatness overgrown with gorse. “That Enthusiasm I had upon me with regard to travelling goes off, I find, very fast,” he informed Dodington from Rome a year later. In accord with the longstanding view that Italy was so badly governed, so priest-ridden, as he wrote to Dodington, that “human Arts and Industry” were nearly “extirpated” and “Nature herself’ disfigured, he planned the first part of his long poem Liberty (1735-1736), moved by the evocative sight of Roman ruins. Because of his patriotism, his zeal for commerce, his successful Roman play (Sophonisba), his moral warmth, and his devotion to the pleasures of the imagination, he may also have seen himself as a successor to Addison, whose familiar poem A Letter from Italy (1704) and lengthy Remarks on Several Parts of Italy (1705) he drew upon quite heavily. Eventually Liberty