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LIFE OF WILLIAM THOMPSON.
BY MR. CHALMERS.
FEW short notices in Dodsley's Poems, in the Biographia Dramatica, and in the notes on his poems, corrected or confirmed by subsequent research, afford the only information that is now procurable respecting this writer.
He is said to have been the second son of the rev. Francis Thompson, B. D. of Queen's College, Oxford, and vicar of Brough in Westmoreland thirty-two years, who L'ied August 31, 1735, aged seventy. His mother, who died two years after, in the sixty-fifth year of her age, was the widow of the rev. Joseph Fisher, M. A. fellow of Queen's College, Oxford, vicar of Brough, and archdeacon of Carlisle, by whom she had no children. Our author was born probably in the early part of the last century, but the year cannot be ascertained. He was young when in 1734 and 1736, he wrote Stella, sive Amores, Tres Libri, and six pastorals; none of which he thought it proper to include in his published works. In his poem, entitled Sickness, he laments the want of a mother's tenderness, and a father's care; but as they died in advanced age, he could not have lost them before he had attained at least his twentieth year.
It was on the banks of the Eden, which runs near Brough, that his “ prattling Muse was first provoked to numbers,” and where, we may suppose, he wrote most of those smaller pieces which he thought worthy of preservation. In these he frequently addresses an Ianthe, who was probably a real mistress. At the usual age he went to Queen's College, Oxford; and on February 26th, 1738, took the degree of master of arts. He afterwards became a fellow of his college, and succeeded to the livings of South Weston and Hampton Poyle, in Oxfordshire. It was, I suspect, during his residence on his living that he published Sickness, in 1746. The origin of this poem may be found in a note subjoined to the fifth book; but much of it must have been written just before publication, as he pays tribute to the memory of Pope and Swist, who died about that time.
In 1751, he is said to have been an unsuccessful candidate for the poetry professorship, against Hawkins. In 1756 be published Gratitude, a poem, on an occasion which certainly required it from every true son of Oxford. In the preceding year, Henrietta Louisa, countess dowager of Pomfret, daughter of John, baron Jeffrys of Wenim, and
relict of Thomas, first carl of Pomfret, presented to the university more than one hundred and thirty statues, &c. which the carl's father, William, barou of Lempster, had purchased from the Arundel collection, and preserved at his seat at Eston Neston in Northamptonshire. On the 25th February, 1756, this lady received the thanks of the university; and the year following the university celebrated a public encænia, on which occasion, in an oration by Mr. Thomas Wartou, professor of poetry, she was again complimented in the most publie manner for her noble and generous benefaction. Desides Thompson, an anonymous Oxonian offered a poetical tribute to her liberality; and, in 1760, Mr. Vivian, afterwards King's Professor of Modern History, published a poem on the Pomfret statues'. Thompson's poem is added to the present collection, without, it will perhaps be thought, adding much to his poetical reputation.
In 1757, he published two volumes, or, as he quaintly terms them, two tomes of poems, by subscription, with prefaces and notes, which give us a very high idea of the author's modesty, piety, and learning. He became afterwards dean of Raphoe in Ireland, where, it is presumed, he died sometime before the year 1766 or 1767.
It has already been mentioned, in the life of bishop Hall, that in 1753 Thompson superintended the publication of an edition of the Virgidemiarum.
To his volumes of poems was added, Gondibert and Bertha, a tragedy, the subject taken from Davenant's poem of Gondibert. This tragedy was written, he informs us, when “ he was an under graduate in the university, as an innocent relaxation from those severer and more useful studies for which the college, where he had the benefit of his education, is so deservedly distinguished." He reprinted it with all its juvenile imperfections; but, although it is not without individual passages of poetical beauty, it has not dramatic form and consistency to entitle it to higher praise.
Of Thompson's personal character a very high opinion may be deduced from the general tenour of his acknowledged works. He appears to have been a man of warm affections in the relative duties of life, an ardent admirer of merit, with an humble consciousness of bis own defects; a man of real piety, and of various learning. His studies lay niuch among the ancient English poets, in whose history and writings he was critically skilled.
As a poet, although his works have not been popular, he may be allowed to rank above some whose writings have been more anxiously preserved. Having been in early life an admirer of Spenser, he became a studied imitator of that father of English poetry; but, like most of his imitators, while he adopted his measure, he thought his imitation incomplete without borrowing a greater number of antiquated words and phrases than can be either ornamental or useful. “I have,” he says in his preface, “ been very sparing of the antiquated words, which are too frequent in most imitations of this author: however, I have introduced a few here and there, which are explained at the bottom of each page where they occur.” But surely it may be asked, why introduce words at all that require explanation; or why are a few unintelligible words, purposely introduced, less blameable than many used by persons of less judgment?
But while our author is censurable on this account, it must be allowed that, in his Nativity, he has not only imitated but rivalled Spenser in the sweetness and solennity which belong to his canto. His imagery is, in general, striking and appropriate to the elevated subject; nor is he less happy in his personifications. His Hymn to May has received more praise than any of his other pieces. It is
! Wood's llist. and Antiq. of Oxford, edited by Gutch. Gough's British Topography,