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The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume X. The Age of Johnson.

V. Thomson and Natural Description in Poetry

§ 11. Influence of Thomson on the younger generation of poets

The influence of Thomson was strongly felt by the younger generation of poets: by Collins, who dedicated a beautiful Ode to his memory, and by Gray, in whose work reminiscences of the elder poet are frequent. The vogue of The Seasons was followed by a period in which blank verse, such as Thomson had employed, was used with some fluency and skill for the treatment of rural subjects. Milton was the original model on which this type of verse was founded, and the example of John Philips, “Pomona’s bard,” was felt in the choice both of metre and of subject. Somerville, in his preface to The Chace, defends his blank verse against “the gentlemen, who are fond of a gingle at the close of every verse.”

  • For my own part (he adds), I shall not be ashamed to follow the example of Milton, Philips, Thomson, and all our best tragic writers.
  • William Somerville, born in 1675, was a year older than Philips and twenty-five years older than Thomson; but it was not until 1735 that he published The Chace, by virtue of which his name survives. He was educated at Winchester and New college, Oxford, and was elected fellow of New college. On succeeding to the family estate of Edstone, near Henley-in-Arden, he settled down to a life in which the ordinary occupations of a country gentleman were varied by the study and composition of poetry. Much of his verse is poor doggerel in the form of fables and tales, dull and coarse after the usual manner of such productions. But Somerville was a scholar and something of a critic. His Occasional Poems (1727) contain appreciative verses addressed to Addison and Pope; he enjoyed the friendship of Allan Ramsay, and criticised the “rude notes” of the youthful Jago. In a set of couplets, he welcomed the first edition of The Seasons in a tone of patronage which, if justified by his age, was hardly warranted by his own poetry. Prophesying a great future for the young poet, he regretted that his muse should “want the reforming toilet’s daily care,” and urged him to abandon novelties of diction which, dangerous in southern poets, became all the more so “when minted on the other side of Tweed.”

  • Read Philips much, consider Milton more;
  • But from their dross extract the purer ore.