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prepare for the Divinity Hall, he being destined for the Church. Of his progress or proficiency during the first four years we know nothing. In the year 1718 he lost his father, under strange and painful circumstances. A place called Woolie, in the parish of Southdean, was said to be haunted by a ghost. In an evil hour Mr Thomson consented to try his clerical power in laying it. He had commenced the act of exorcism when, in the middle of his prayer, he was struck on the head by a ball of fire, which he attributed to diabolic agency. He fell down stunned and helpless, and was carried home, where he languished for a few days, and then expired. This event deeply impressed the Poet's mind. He became nervously apprehensive of supernatural agency, and afraid even to sleep alone. One night, his fellow-student and bedfellow, as an experiment on his fears, walked quietly out, leaving Thomson asleep. He was soon recalled by the voice of the future author of the "Castle of Indolence," who had awaked, found himself alone, and ran out squalling for help like a bull-calf. After the father's death, the mother, who had nine children but slenderly provided for, effected a mortgage on her little hereditary estate, and removed with all her family to Edinburgh. With her James resided till the completion of his university studies.
In 1719 Thomson entered the Divinity Hall, and the records prove him to have performed the usual exercises three times, February 1720, February 1722, and May 1724, when his name disappears from the books. He obtained no bursary, he took no prizes, and left Edinburgh College, as Johnson after him left Oxford, without a degree. From a few letters of that period still extant, he seems to have spent his time partly in the harmless merriment and convivialities of the then Edinburgh student life, with David Mallet, and Cranstoun, and Patrick Murdoch, "the round, fat, oily man of God" he afterwards so picturesquely described, and partly in poetical efforts and aspirations. Poetry, not divinity, was his study; and an occasional visit to a "tippenny cell" seems to have been his sole relaxation. He contributed three articles to a volume entitled "The Edinburgh Miscellany," which must have
been an anticipation of the albums and annuals which have since appeared in such crowds. One of them is on "Country Life, by a Student of the University," and is interesting, as containing the germ and earnest of the "Seasons." During his attendance at the Divinity Hall, too, he seems to have written a number of poetical pieces, some of which, of no great merit, are still extant. His genius continued to trifle, like a babe in a meadow, " plucking witless the weak flowers,” till it encountered the stormy theme of "Winter," and rose instantly, as if on the wings of the blast, to the full altitude, both of the subject and of its own powers.
Our readers all remember the story of Hamilton the divinity professor having given Thomson a Psalm to paraphrase as an exercise, and of the reception it received at his hands. He is said to have told his student that, if he expected to be useful in the ministry, he must restrain his imagination, and, while giving it considerable praise, to have censured some expressions in it as too flowery, and others as indecent, or even profane; and this is reported to have determined him to forsake his original intention of entering the Church. The story is founded on fact; the Psalm was a portion of the 119th, and his explanation of it may easily be supposed to have been too luxuriant for a divinity class, where cold exposition is generally in more request than eloquence or genius. But it is not true that Hamilton's criticism finally altered Thomson's views; as we find from his letters, that even after he went to London he still intended to be ordained. No doubt, however, he felt temporary chagrin. One is reminded of the analogous instance of the poet Pollok, whose first sermon in the United Secession Hall, which was filled with glowing and somewhat bombastic descriptions of the supposed effects of sin and the fall of man upon the material creation, and particularly of the "blowing of the first Monsoon," convulsed his fellowstudents with laughter, created a smile where smiles were rarely seen, on the dry and lofty brow of the excellent Dr Dick, elicited from the poet the indignant interjected sentence, "And but for sin the smile of folly would not have been seen on the forehead of wisdom," and gained him for a season the
nickname of "Monsoon Pollok." Such receptions have not been unfrequently given to young men of genius in their first efforts, alike in colleges, divinity schools, and the public press. The weak sink before them; the morbid and the vain are crippled by them; the strong and determined persevere through and outlive them, and come at last to laugh heartily over their recollection. Thus it was with Thomson, with Byron, and with Pollok. It is possible, however, that, had worthy Mr Hamilton been more of the Chalmers or the Wilson, a poet himself, and a sympathizer with the fermenting brains. of youthful bards, a manly and measured panegyric from his lips might have cheered the soul of his gifted pupil, and helped him on to that proper estimate of his own powers which is ever the best foundation for the settlement of the allimportant question as to choosing a profession for life.
He had previously shewn his juvenile pieces to some of his friends, who, proud of the rare prerogative of passing sentence upon MS. poetry, were "nothing if not critical," and detected or made innumerable faults. Thus poor Thomson found his hopes both as a poet and as a preacher threatened with simultaneous blight. In this dilemma, conscious all the more intensely, like Sheridan, that there "was something in him, and that, please God, it would come out," he turned his thoughts towards London, then, still more than now, the great mart of true literary talent. It was once generally supposed that he had by this time completed "Winter," and that he carried the MS. with him in his pocket. Evidence, however, has more recently been produced, from his letters to Cranstoun, which renders it certain that he wrote the poem in London, and wrote it, poor fellow! to keep himself from the hands of his creditors. It is, indeed, possible that he may, while attending the Divinity Hall, have scratched out a rude outline of the noble strain; but it was under the pressure and with the rapid pen of poverty that the sketch was filled up and completed.
To repair to the capital, he had many motives and encouragements. He was invited to go there by Lady Grizel Baillie, eldest daughter to Sir Patrick Hume, first Earl of Marchmont, a gentleman so famous in the history of the
Covenanters, and so infamous in that of Argyle. This lady has left a noble reputation. It was she who, when her father was hiding in a churchyard, used to visit him by night, and convey him food at the hazard of her own life. She had heard of Thomson, probably through the Elliotts, and had sent him a warm invitation to come to London. It seems that he had a strong desire to enter the English Church, where his flowery style would rather have been a recommendation, and trusted for patronage to the influence of Lady Baillie, and Mr Elliott, a brother of Sir Gilbert's. To this gentleman, his friend Cranstoun promised him a letter of introduction, and in March 1725 he set sail from Leith, never to return to his native country again. Besides the letter to Elliott, which was forwarded after him to London, he had several other recommendations, which he had folded up carelessly in a handkerchief, and which were stolen from him. His first want in London, we are told, was a pair of shoes. This is carefully recorded by Johnson, the rather as it was a predicament which once befel himself; it is very characteristic of those times, when Scotland was miserably poor, and when hundreds of her sons poured into the south, with no shirts on their backs or shoes on their feet, but well replenished with self-consequence and thickly stuffed with national pride. Shortly afterwards, he called on Mr Elliott, who received him graciously, but gave him very faint hopes of success in his favourite scheme of entering the Episcopal Church. Still Thomson continued to cherish' the intention of becoming a clergyman in one or other of the national establishments, and writes to Cranstoun-"The more I see of the vanity and wickedness of the world, the more I am inclined to that sacred office." His friend Mallet, or Malloch, the son of an innkeeper in Crieff, Perthshire, had left Scotland a year or two before Thomson, and had already established himself as a gay man about town. He proceeded to initiate his young friend in the mysteries of London life. Thomson, however, had only dipped his shoe in its pollution, when tidings from Scotland arrested his career,-his mother died on the 10th of May 1725. He felt the loss more keenly, as he had of late
somewhat relaxed in those moral and religious duties of which she had set the example as well as given the precept. In a poem, written on her death, immediately after it happened, he alludes very affectingly to their last parting on the shore of Leith. The shock of this event renewed and deepened his desire of entering into orders.
Meanwhile, however, he must live, and the question, "how?” for some weeks, was more easy to ask than to answer. At length, through Lady Baillie, he obtained the tutorship of Lord Binning's eldest son, Thomas, then a boy of five, and residing ten miles from London, near East Barnet. This situation he entered on in July 1725. In the following September, under the pressure of great pecuniary difficulties, he began to write his "Winter;" he was moved to this, too, by the influences of the autumn, always to him, as to many poets, a season of peculiar inspiration. In spite of poverty, and the drudgery of teaching a child to read, and the disappointment of his clerical prospects, the "joy of Harvest" touched his soul, and it overflowed in the mighty, sonorous strains of the first and best of his "Seasons." The subject was suggested by a poem from the pen of his early patron, Mr Riccaltoun, on Winter, which Thomson had lying beside him, and which, he says, "awakened" him. He finished the poem rapidly, but it had to go the usual rounds of a new work among the trade, and meet the usual bookselling reception-" Very elegant poem, but not in our line; too much description in it; a little wit would improve it; could not Mr Thomson write something in the style of Pope or Gay?-that would be sure to take." Thomson had by this time secured a number of influential acquaintances, such as Duncan Forbes of Culloden, the Duke of Argyle, Sir R. Walpole, Dr Arbuthnot, Gay, and Pope, but it was mainly through Mallet that Miller at last consented to publish his poem. It appeared in March 1726, Thomson having, a little before this, left his situation at Barnet, and gone to reside with Mallet, at the Duke of Montrose's country house, where his friend was tutor. There he went over the poem with Mallet, and greatly polished and improved it. He passed next to an academy in Little Tower Street, where,