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THE chief want hitherto felt by students of the poetry of Thomson has been a variorum edition of The Seasons. This I have endeavoured to supply in the present edition.
The first edition of Winter appeared in March, 1726, and consisted of only 405 lines. The second, published in the following June, contained many variations, and increased the original text by 58 lines. I give a reprint of the first Winter, accompanying it with the variations of the second. Three other editions prior to 1730 were reprints of the second.
Summer was published in 1727; and consisted of 1,146 lines. A second edition, which appeared in the same year, was a reprint.
Spring came out in 1728, and consisted of 1,082 lines : it was followed in 1729 by a reprint.
Autumn appeared in 1730 as part of the first edition of the collected Seasons, and consisted of 1,269 lines. The Hymn, numbering 121 lines, appeared at the same time.
But in this first edition of the whole Seasons, which was issued in two forms, quarto and octavo, Winter was augmented to 787 lines (781 in the quarto), Summer to 1,206, Spring to 1,087; and there were numerous changes besides in the previous texts which are not indicated by mere increment in the number of lines. Between 1730 and 1738 no change was made in the separate or collected texts of The Seasons. Thomson was busy at other work.
In the edition of 1744 great changes were mademore especially in Summer and Winter-not merely by addition, but in other ways.
Thomson revised the text of The Seasons for the last time in 1746, making a few alterations, and increasing the length of the poem as a whole by 10 lines. The final result was a poem of 5,541 lines, made up in the following way : Spring
1,176 lines Summer
The textual changes which The Seasons in their various parts underwent between 1726 and 1746 were of every conceivable kind. The author, it might almost be said, cherished a passion for correcting and improving. As long as he lived, and had the leisure (he never wanted the inclination), he was revising and altering. He added and he modified, withdrew and restored, condensed and expanded, substituted and inverted, distributed and transferred. The final text is faithfully reproduced, word for word, in the present edition. I have modernized the punctuation, and also the spelling-retaining, however, a few characteristic forms. All changes and variations in the text from the first appearance of each part down to the last collected edition have been carefully and, it is hoped, fully and accurately noted. The labour of doing this, though mostly mechanical, has been neither short nor easy.
Some idea of the way in which The Seasons grew may be gathered from a study of the history of Winter. On a comparison of the first draft (as I may call it) with the completed poem, not more than three-fourths of it, short though it is (405 lines), will be found in the finished work. Nearly 100 lines of it were transferred to Autumn, and thus it is upon an addition of some 760 lines that the reader looks who knows the poem only in its final form. Conspicuous by their absence from the first text are the now well-known passages that describe the winter visit of the redbreast, the shepherd perishing in a snowstorm on the Cheviots, the goblin story at the village hearth, the descent of the wolf-pack, skating in Holland, the surly bear with dangling ice all horrid ', and some others; while there is merely a suggestion, which the poet developed later, of the windstorm at sea, the calm freezing moonlight night, and the student in his snug retreat 'between the groaning forest and the shore'. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that the last edition of the text of Winter as put forth by its author in 1746 presents, when compared with the first text of twenty years previous, what is substantially a new poem. It excites no small degree of wonder that from such a small and unpretentious beginning Thomson's Winter made its way, to become the epoch-making work which we now know it to have been in the poetical literature not only of our own country but of Germany and France as well.
The many changes which Thomson made in the text of The Seasons were mostly improvements, but, I think, not wholly so. I wish he had retained
a weeping thaw', and I much prefer the single line that informs us how Cincinnatus seized
The plough, and greatly independent lived
to the two in which we are told that
he greatly independent scorned All the vile stores Corruption can bestow. The various readings show that kind of development in which refinement and repose are gained, but not without some expense of vitality and vigour. There is sound criticism in the judgement of Johnson that in the process of improvement The Seasons lost somewhat of their original race or flavour. The Scotticisms, too, were expressive. And the keenness of his colour-sense, which he had inherited from his country's ballads, became dulled in deference to the taste of Pope and Lyttelton. But the loss of raciness is chiefly seen in the substitution, for example, of so comparatively tame a line as
Then scale the mountains to their woody tops for
Then snatch the mountains by their woody tops, in the description of the fox-hunt; or in the exchange of 'Shook from the corn' for 'Scared from the corn', in the hare-hunt; or by the entire omission of the robust lines
While, tempted vigorous o'er the marble waste,
A shining kingdom in a winter's day. It is an error to suppose that when Thomson was writing Winter at East Barnet in the autumn and winter of 1725 he was at the same time contemplating a poem on each of the other seasons. The error has arisen from a misunderstanding of Thomson's promise to sing of autumn, a promise which undoubtedly appears in the first text of Winter. But the fulfilment also appears, immediately after the