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THOMSON'S METHOD AND STYLE
At last the roused-up river pours along :
Then follows the description of a storm, preceded by an invocation to the winds, in the style of personification now obsolete. It is obsolete ; not so the description of the storm itself. There is a real picture before his mind's eye as he describes ; and he is intent above every thing in bodying forth this picture to his reader. Heightening the effect at the end by the addition of superstitious horrors may be said to be conventional :
“ Ye too, ye winds ! that now begin to blow
With boisterous sweep, I raise my voice to you.
Red fiery streaks
The cormorant on high
Meanwhile, the mountain billows, to the clouds
Wild as the winds across the howling waste
Then he imagines the storm to subside at midnight, and gives his midnight reflections :
"Nature's king, who oft
Now, while the drowsy world lies lost in sleep,
Next comes his famous description of a snow-storm, followed by his touching narrative of the shepherd lost in the snow:
“As thus the snows arise ; and foul, and fierce,
All Winter drives along the darken'd air ;
DESCRIPTION OF A SNOW-STORM
Down he sinks
And here can I forget the generous band,
Ye sons of Mercy ! yet resume the search ;
The thought of this pathetic incident leads him to reflect on the broad contrast between rich and poor ; and there next appears in his poem the first notable reference in our literature to the great humanitarian movement for reforming the horrors of prison life, with which the name of Howard is associated. Winter scenes at home lead to winter scenes on the Alps, on the Pyrenees and the Apennines, and he draws a thrilling picture of the bands of wolves that prowl over the snowy wastes. Then he passes to his own ideal of enjoyment in winter, in a retreat
“Between the groaning forest and the shore,” with chosen books and chosen friends. Next he takes up winter enjoyments in the village and in the city, pausing by the way to denounce gaming, and eulogize Lord Chesterfield. From this he returns to a description of Nature under frost, and games on the ice ; this leads him to winter in the Arctic regions, the life of the Laplanders, the fate of Sir Hugh Willoughby the Arctic explorer, and the romantic career of Peter the Great. Then follows the thaw, and the concluding reflections on human destiny.
The best of Thomson's “Seasons" is undoubtedly “ Winter,” though “Autumn" probably surpasses it in technical skill. He wrote more slowly and laboriously after his first success ; and there are more frequent traces in his other seasons of deliberate imitation of Virgil's “Georgics," and deliberate search for good descriptive topics. Summer," the longest, appeared in 1727; “Spring" in 1728 ; and “ Autumn" in 1730. The “Seasons," as now printed, contain many later revisions and additions, in some of which he had the assistance of Pope.
The best way to read these poems is not to read them through ; but to take the argument and pick out any theme that strikes you as interesting. You will thus best appreciate the “bold description and the manly thought” to which the poet laid claim. Avoid “Spring," and his tedious description of the golden age, and the influence of the season on birds and beasts, and fishes and men.
Between 1730 and 1748 Thomson produced little worthy of remembrance. His song “Rule Britannia appeared in 1740, in a mask of “ Alfred," written by him in conjunction with David Mallet. The “Castle of Indolence” was published in the last year of his life.
The “ Seasons” remained Thomson's great achievement. It was a striking but not inexplicable fact that contact with London literary society, to which he was at once admitted on the success of “ Winter,” paralyzed
INFLUENCE OF LONDON LITERARY SOCIETY
his poetic faculty, or at best robbed it of half its strength. He had written with comparatively unconscious freedom before, with the victorious joy of reaching and even surpassing his brightest ideals of poetic achievement; contact with a more critical society, and more exacting standards of literary finish, seems to have bred self-distrust. In compliance with the taste of his new companions, he became more ambitious of displaying his learning, and chose topics in which it was easier than in the description of the “Seasons" to show an acquaintance with history and political philosophy. He used his metrical power also in the service of politics. His first political venture, “ Britannia,” published in 1729, when the nation was intensely excited over attempts by Spain to challenge our then newly won dominion of the seas, was immensely popular. But it owed its success to its opportuneness, rather than to its power, though its strains were ardent and vigorous enough. We are apt, perhaps, to underrate the force of Thomson's patriotic verses, from forgetting that he did much to foster the national sentiment, and was the original author of many expressions that have since become the commonplace expressions of that sentiment. Some lines sound like very hackneyed stump declamation, but they had more heart and meaning in the mouth of the poet of the first generation of British ascendancy, when Britain, consolidated by the union of the Kingdoms, and by the Treaty of Utrecht, acknowledged victor in the protracted struggle for the empire of the seas and of the new worlds, was glowing with the intoxication of newly acquired power. But Thomson's next and much longer political poem, "Liberty” (1734), in which he narrated the career of this goddess, and described the glories that she created in Greece and Rome, before fixing her home in Britain, fell flat, though the composition of it was his chief labor for three years. This was the poem which Johnson owns he could not finish ; and about which a