The rest of his life was busy, but sad—a constant effort to drive away madness by incessant labor. The loss of his friend, Mrs. Unwin, in 1796, affected him deeply, and the clouds settled thicker and thicker upon his soul. In the year before his death, he published that painfully touching poem, The Castaway, which gives an epitome of his own sufferings in the similitude of a wretch clinging to a spar in a stormy night upon the Atlantic.
His minor and fugitive poems are very numerous; and as they were generally inspired by persons and scenes around him, they are truly literary types of the age in which he lived. In his Task, he resembles Thomson and Akenside; in his didactic poems, he reminds us of the essays of Pope; in his hymns he catered successfully to the returning piety of the age; in his translations of Homer and of Ovid, he presented the ancients to moderns in a new and acceptable dress; and in his Letters he sets up an epistolary model, which may be profitably studied by all who desire to express themselves with energy, simplicity, and delicate taste.
OTHER WRITERS OF THE TRANSITION SCHOOL.
James Beattie, 1735-1803: he was the son of a farmer, and was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen, where he was afterwards professor of natural philosophy. For four years he taught a village school. His first poem, Retirement, was not much esteemed; but in 1771 appeared the first part of The Minstrel, a poem at once descriptive, didactic, and romantic. This was enthusiastically received, and gained for him the favor of the king, a pension of L200 per annum, and a degree from Oxford. The second part was published in 1774. The Minstrel is written in the Spenserian stanza, and abounds in beautiful descriptions of nature, marking a very decided progress from the artificial to the natural school. The character of Edwin, the young minstrel, ardent in search for the beautiful and the true, is admirably portrayed; as is also that of the hermit who instructs the youth. The opening lines are very familiar:
Ah, who can tell how hard
it is to climb
The steep where Fame’s proud temple shines afar;
and the description of the morning landscape has no superior in the language:
But who the melodies of morn
The wild brook babbling down the mountain side;
The lowing herd; the sheepfold’s simple bell;
The pipe of early shepherd dim descried
In the lone valley.