Page:A Voice from the Nile, and Other Poems. (Thomson, Dobell).djvu/22

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xi
Memoir.

Browning's 'Aurora Leigh,' some poems by Robert Browning, and a few other books."

"Wonderfully clever, very nice-looking, and very gentle, grave and kind "—such is the happy and expressive phrase in which this lady sums up the impression which James Thomson made upon her and her sister in his youth. Nor was there any degree of partiality in their judgment, which was only that which any one coming in contact with him must have formed. Quick in acquiring knowledge, he had a memory that retained his acquirements firmly and tenaciously. Languages he mastered easily and thoroughly; and I am assured that he might have won a foremost place as a mathematician, had he persevered with his studies in that science. In literature his taste was at once catholic and unerring: he could relish Swift as well as Shelley, Fielding as well as Mrs. Browning. He had his special literary favourites of course, but I do not think he ever failed to recognise the merits of a really great work, or ever valued a poor or feeble one beyond its deserts. In short, it is hardly possible to imagine a youth of more promise than his was, and none who knew him then could have supposed that he was doomed to a hopeless and joyless existence, which was, in his own words, "a long defeat."

The army cannot be considered as a good school of morals or manners; and it is easy to conceive that the coarse and prosaic life of the camp and the barrack-room was very distasteful to the young student; for he had in full measure the fine sensibility and highly-strung nervous organisation that usually accompany poetic gifts. But it seems likely that what made his situation most irksome