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In the meagre Life of Thomson prefixed by Murdoch to his Edition of this Poet's Works, it is unnoticed that Thomson was an Editor of the AREOPAGITICA. A fact we may conclude from their silence to have been equally unknown to the Earl of Buchan, and to his other Biographers; who appear to have been also ignorant, that the Translation into English of "the Commentaries of the Emperor "Marcus Antoninus, by James Thomson, "Gent." 8vo. 1747, was by the hand of the Poet; as my Informant was told by Mr Floyer Sydenham.
In 1788, a translation of Cromwell's Manifesto against the Spaniards, which was drawn
in Latin by MILTON, and first printed in 1655, was published by Millar, who was Thomson's Publisher. To this Pamphlet, his Britannia was appended. As I conjecture, he rendered this State-Paper into English, and republished this poetical invective with a hope to assist, like Glover, in exciting a national clamour for a Spanish War: then a leading object of the Parliamentary Party in opposition with whom he had associated himself.
Thomson's reprint of this Speech for the Liberty of unlicensed Printing came out not long after the Act had passed requiring all dramatic Writings to be licensed by the Chamberlain of the King's Household, prior to their representation in a Theatre: without any doubt it was this Statute which suggested the propriety of this republication at that juncture.
The importance of the subject will always stamp a value on this spirited Preface, while, as an original composition in prose by the Poet of the Seasons it is matter for literary curiosity.
Is it not singular that Thomson should no where have touched on the Art of Printing
in the expanded poem which he entitled Liberty? This fell within the scope of that work much more aptly than the episode on Pythagoras and his Philosophy, or than the geographical outline of the Roman Empire. The natural, the necessary, the close alliance between Knowlege and Freedom would have fully justified its introduction. A fair occasion offered, which it is surprising an Editor of MILTON's Vindication of an open Press should overlook, when after deploring the prostration of the human mind in the dark ages, he sings in animated strains the return of the presiding Goddess of his Poem bringing Science and the Arts in her train. This groupe has in some sort relieved the general languor of that piece; to which a wellfancied transition descriptive of the manifold benefits accruing to Mankind from the unobstructed enjoyment of this invention might have still further conduced.
The expression of Thought by the Voice is in its nature a very limited faculty, and of transient effect; while oral Narration is so vague that Facts disfigured by colloquial Tradition soon grow obscure, as well as more doubtful in authority at every repeti
tion, and should they not degenerate into Fable, are if once forgotten irretrievably lost. Accordingly, to embody the concep tions of Mind, and thus to confer on them a material existence with an extension beyond the power of Speech, is among the first endeavours of Man, as soon as he has raised himself above animal Life. The abori¬ ginal inhabitants of the northern Continent of America, who are not yet arrived at the pastoral stage in the progress of amelioration, preserve their simple annals by Hieroglyphics, natural and symbolical, graven on tablets of birch-bark among some tribes; in others, they obtain a short-lived memory for their transactions by the varied arrangement of beads. The imperfections and the inadequacy of all such rude, yet elaborate, attempts to give the operations of Intellect a tangible habitation and to delineate articulated breath, could not but have been painfully felt in the earliest dawnings of the social state. If it had not been for the exception of the Chinese, we should have rashly pronounced, that while ignorant of the secret of Letters, Mankind could never approach the pale of Civilization; and that an
expedient so apt as a literal character to render Thought and Sound visible and permanent must speedily and inevitably have brought all arbitrary and occult signs into disuse.
The ability of describing the images of Sense, and of conveying to the mind of others through the eye, the abstractions of the Understanding by written words, is indeed a wonderful acquirement. How forcibly the Polytheists of Egypt and of Greece were struck with the incalculable benefits of alphabetic writing, they showed by venerating the inventor as a Divinity: in acknowlegement, under the names of Thoth and of Hermes, to that individual who had contributed in a larger measure than any other to the well-being of his fellow-creatures. As, through a similar impulse of gratitude for the good received, divine honours were paid in Greece and Italy to the inventress of the Loom and of the Plow, and to those who first taught the use of Grain and the culture of the Vine and Olive*.
* It is rather extraordinary, that they who have thought, that the construction of an Alphabet was above human ingenuity, and that it must have sprung immediately from a