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LIFE AND WRITINGS
MR. JAMES THOMSON.
IT is commonly said, that the life of a good writer is best read in his works; which can scarce fail to receive a peculiar tincture from his temper, manners, and habits: the distinguishing character of his mind, his ruling passion, at least, will there appear undisguised. But however just this observation may be, and although we might safely rest Mr. Thomson's fame, as a good man, as well as a man of genius, on this sole footing; yet the desjre which the public always show of being more particularly acquainted with the history of an eminent author, ought not to be disappointed; as it proceeds not from mere curiosity, but chiefly from affection and gratitude, to those by whom they have been entertained and instructed. To give some account of a deceased friend is often a piece of justice likewise, which ought not to be refused to his memory; to prevent or efface the impertinent fictions which officious biographers are so apt to collect and propagate. And we may add, that the circumstances of an author's life will sometimes throw the best light upon his writings; instances whereof we shall meet with in the following pages.
Mr. Thomson was born at Ednam, in the shire of Roxburgh, on the eleventh of September, in the year 1700. His father, minister of that place, was but little known beyond the narrow circle of his co-presbyters, and to a few gentlemen in the neighbourhood; but highly respected by them, for his piety, and his diligence in the pastoral duty: as appeared afterwards, in their kind offices to his widow and orphan family.
The reverend Messrs. Riccarton and Gusthart particularly took a most affectionate and friendly part in all their concerns. The former, a man of uncommon penetration and good taste, had veryearly discovered, through the rudeness of young Thomson's puerile essays, a fund of genius well deserving culture and encouragement. He undertook, therefore, with the father's approbation, the chief direction of his studies, furnished him with the proper books, corrected his performances; and was daily rewarded with the pleasure of seeing his labour so happily employed.
The other reverend gentleman, Mr. Gusthart, who is still living (1762,) one of the ministers of Edinburgh, and senior of the Chapel Royal, was no less serviceable to Mrs. Thomson in the management of her little affairs ', which, after the decease of her husband, burdened as she was with a family of nine children, required the prudent counsels and assistance of that faithful and generous friend.
Sir William Bennet likewise, well known for his gay humour and ready poetical wit, was highly delighted with our young poet, and used to invite him to pass the summer-vacation at his country-seat: a scene of life which Mr. Thomson always remembered with particular pleasure. But what he wrote during that time, either to entertain Sir William and Mr. Riccarton, or for his own amusement, he destroyed every new-year's day; committing his little pieces to the flames, in their due order ', and crowning the solemnity with a copy of verses, in which were humorously recited the several grounds of their condemnation.
After the usual course of school education, under an able master at Jedburgh, Mr. Thomson was sent to the university of Edinburgh. But in the second year of his admission, his studies were for sometime interrupted by the death of his father; who was carried off so suddenly, that it was not possible for Mr Thomson, with all the diligence he could use, to receive his last blessing. This affected him to an uncommon degree; and his relations still remember some extraordinary instances of his grief and filial duty on that occasion.
Mrs. Thomson, whose maiden name was Hume, and who was co-heiress of a small estate in the country, did not sink under this misfortune. She consulted the friend, Mr. Gusthart: and having, by his advice. A2