Page images




So the fat and lazy poet found at last a snug haven in which to spend his few remaining days. A pretty cottage at Richmond, filled with good furniture and well supplied with wine and ale, was the last home of Thomson. There, lounging in his garden or his casy-chair, he brought to a close his greatest poem, The Castle of Indolence, lavishing on its polished lines the wealth of his ripened genius. This latest effort was published in May 1748. One day in the following August, after a sharp walk out of town, which heated him, he took a boat at Hammersmith for Kew. On the water he got chilled-neglected the slight cold, as many dobecame feverish—and in a few days was dead.

The plan and style of Thomson's Seasons are too well known to need much comment. Many fine episodes of human life relievo the stillness and deepen the interest of the ever-changing pictures of natural scenery which fill this beautiful poem. A certain rougliness and crudity, disfiguring many passages of the original work, were removed by the poet, as years developed more fully his artistic skill. So many, indeed, were the changes and corrections, that the third edition of the “ Seasons" may be looked upon almost as a new work. Thomson's style becomes occasionally inflated and wordy; but, as to the ring of his blank-verse, it has been well said, that, with all its faults, it is his own—not the echo of another poet's song.

“The Castle of Indolence,” an allegory written in the stanza and the style of Spenser, affords a noble specimen of poetic art. No better illustration could be given of that wonderful linking of sound with sense, which critics call onomatopoeia. Stanza after stanza rolling its dreamy music on the car, soothes us with a soft and sleepy charm. Like Tennyson's Lotus Eaters, the dwellers in this enchanted keep lie steeped in drowsy luxury. The good knight Industry breaks the magician's spell; but (alas for the moral teaching of the allegory !) we have grown so delighted with the still and cushioned life, whose hours glide slumberously by, that we feel almost angry with the restless being who dissolves the delicious charm. No man or boy uced hope to be lured into. carly rising by the study of this procm. That Thomson's forte lay

[ocr errors]


[blocks in formation]


in description, is clearly shown in both his leading works. On such a theme as Indolence he wrote con amore; for no man could better enjoy the dolce far niente of the lazy Italian than he could himself. And when, after some hard battling with the stern realities of life, he had settled himself down in his quiet nest at Richmond—itself a Cottage of Indolence—all circumstances were most favourable to the composition of his great work. It took its colours from his daily life. With £400 a year and nothing to do for it-lying down and rising when he liked_sauntering in the green lanes around his house, or sucking peaches in sunny nooks of his little garden—he mused and wrote and smoothed his verses, undisturbed by anything which could mar the music of his song.


In lowly dale, fast by a river's side,
With woody bill o'er bill encompassed round,
A most enchanting wizard did abide,
Than whom a fiend more fell is nowhere found.
It was, I ween, a lovely spot of ground:
And there a season atween June and May,
Half pranked with spring, with summer half imbrowned,
A listless climate made, where, sooth to say,
No living wight could work, ne cared even for play.

Was nought around but images of rest:
Sleep-soothing groves and quiet lawns between;
And flowery beds that slumberous influence kest,
From poppies breathed; and beds of pleasant green,
Where never yet was creeping creature seen.
Meantime unnumbered glittering streamlets played,
And hurled everywhere their waters sheen;
That, as they bickered through the sunny glade,
Though restless still themselves, a lulling murmur made.
Joined to the prattle of the purling rills,
Was heard the lowing herds along the vale,
And flocks loud bleating from the distant hills,
And vacant shepherds piping in the dale:
And now and then sweet Philomel would wail,
Or stock-doves 'plain amid the forest deep,
That drowsy rustled to the sighing gale;
And still a coil the grasshopper did keep;
Yet all these sounds yblent inclined all to sleep.



Full in the passage of the vale above,
A sable, silent, solemn forest stood,
Where nought but shadowy forms was seen to move,
As Idlesse fancied in her dreaming mood;
And up the hills, on either side, a wood
Of blackening pines, aye waving to and fro,
Sent forth a sleepy horror through the blood;
And where this valley winded out below,
The murmuring main was heard, and scarcely heard, to flow,

A pleasing land of drowsy-head it was,
Of dreains that wave before the half-shut eye;
And of gay castles in the clouds that

For ever flushing round a summer sky:
There eke the soft delights, that witchingly
Instil a wanton sweetness through the breast,
And the calm pleasures, always hovered nigh ;
But whate'er smacked of poyance or unrest,
Was far, far off expelled from this delicious nest.

[blocks in formation]

SAMUEL RICHARDSON, the first parent of that countless tribe, the modern novel, was a joiner's son. Born in Derbyshire in 1689, the little fellow went to a village school, where he became a great favourite with his class-fellows by the exercise of his remarkable gift of story-telling. Ragged and bare-footed the little circle

may have been that hemmed in the boy-novelist with its line of berry-brown cheeks and sun-bleached hair; but it was a pleasant picture for the old printer to look back upon through the lens of many years, as the beginning of his fame. We have a companion picture in the group that gathered so often in the Yards of the Edinburgh High School round little Walter Scott, clamorous for another story out of the teeming brain and glowing fancy, which were destined to delight the world with the richlycoloured fictions of a riper time. Nor was it only among the school-boys of the village that young Sam Richardson was a favourite. His quiet, womanly nature, made him love the society of the gentler sex; and while his rougher audiences were scattered through the woods enjoying the savage glories of bird-nesting, or were filling the village green with their noisy games at fives or hockey, he sat, through spring afternoons and long summer evenings, the centre of a little group of needle-women, who sewed and listened while he read some pleasant book, or told one of his enchaining tales. Three of these kind girl-friends put his abilities to another use, when they secretly begged him to write their love-letters for

[blocks in formation]

them, or at least to put what they had already written into a polished shape. In these occupations of his boyhood we can easily trace the germs.

which grew in later years into Pamela and Clarissa Harlowe.

In his fifteenth year young Richardson was bound apprentice to Mr. John Wilde, a London printer. And thenceforward his career of prosperity in trade and of advancement in civic dig. nity resembles strongly the upward progress of the honest apprentice, as delineated by Hogarth's graphic pencil. During his seven years of servitude he is honoured and trusted by his master, who calls him “the pillar of the house." His seven years over, he remains for some time as foreman among the old familiar types and presses. Then, setting up in business for himself in Salisbury Court, Fleet Street, he marries his master's daughter, and rises high in the estimation of the booksellers; for he possesses all the qualities most prized in a man of business, and, in addition, a certain literary faculty, which lifts him high above the mere mechanical craftsman. He continues in a small way to use the pen he had found so telling in the service of the Derbyshire lasses. Booksellers whom he knew used often to ask him for a preface or a dedication for the books he was printing. And so this honest London printer flourished and throve, winning, by his gentle, feminine kindness, the good-will of all around him, and amassing, by steady industry and attention to his trade, a very considerable fortune. His position as a business man may be judged from tho fact, that the printing of the Journals of the House of Commons was given to him while he was yet comparatively young. He was elected Master of the Stationers' Company in 1754; and, six years later, he bought one-half share in the patent of King's Printer.

But it is not as King's Printer that we remember Samuel Richardson with such reverent affection. When more than fifty years of this printer's life had passed, a talent, which had been slumbering almost unknown in the keen business brain, awoke to active life. A couple of bookselling friends requested him to draw up a series of familjar letters, containing hints for guiding the affairs of common life. Richardson undertook the task, but,

« PreviousContinue »