James Thomson: Poet of 'The Seasons'

James Thomson: Poet of 'The Seasons'

James Thomson: Poet of 'The Seasons'

James Thomson: Poet of 'The Seasons'

Excerpt

I had written the first draft of this biography of James Thomson before I was told that a collection of family papers might contain some references to the poet. As I turned those papers over, I sharply realized the truth of Dr. Johnson's dictum, that 'nobody can write the life of a man, but those who have eat and drunk and lived in social intercourse with him'. I read in one letter how the poet was writing a new play, but because my imagination was not prompted by the personal knowledge which Johnson believed to be indispensable to a biographer, I could not feel, as the contemporary recipient of the letter must have felt, the immediacy of the poet's personality behind that casual remark. The unique spirit of each man is sympathetically transfused into the understanding of his friends, but it remains as aloof and as indefinable to the later biographer as the colour of the sky.

The best biographies are those which have been written by friends and contemporaries, and, luckily for posterity, the life of James Thomson has been written by some one who knew and loved him well. Patrick Murdoch's memoir was published in 1762 as the preface to a collected edition of the poet's works, and, although it is unfortunately brief and undocumented, it carries us directly into Thomson's presence. It is among the best of those prefatory memoirs in which the eighteenth century delighted, and it will always be the primary source for an understanding of the poet's genius and character.

Murdoch's memoir was soon augmented by more detailed studies. Throughout the later eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, when Thomson's reputation stood high, various biographies appeared, usually as the prefaces to new . . .

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