Page:Satires and profanities -microform- (1884).djvu/15

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vi
Preface

ordinary readers, who serenely ignore the most terrible mental explosives, and render them comparatively innocuous by mere force of neglect; but it will startle and stimulate some minds, and in time its influence will extend to many more.

What value Thomson placed on these pieces it is difficult to decide. "Working off the talent," he once remarked when I mentioned them. But the fact remains that he allowed one or two of them to be reprinted as pamphlets before any of his poems were collected in a volume. He naturally cared more for his poems than for his prose. What poet ever did the contrary? But even for these he cared little, except "The City of Dreadful Night" and a few others, which expressed his profoundest convictions.

There were several articles in his "Essays and Phantasies" that proved Thomson to be a born satirist as well as a born poet; notably "Proposals for the Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery," a tremendous display of sustained irony, to my mind unsurpassed even by Swift at his greatest, and with a poetic grandeur quite beyond him. The contents of this volume show marks of the same strong hand. There is never, perhaps, so continuous an exertion of power; but there is more versatility, more freedom, and often more abandon. I fancy, too, there is more rapidity and suppleness, and I am sure there is more mirth.

Thomson's satire was always bitterest, or at any rate most trenchant, when it dealt with Religion, which he considered a disease of the mind, engendered by folly and fostered by ignorance and vanity. He saw that spiritual superstition, not only diverts men from Truth, but induces a slavish stupidity of mind, and prepares the way for every form of political and social injustice. He was an Atheist first and a Bepublican afterwards. He derided the idea of making a true Republic of a population besotted with religion, paralysed by creeds, cringing to the agents of their servitude, and clinging to the chains that enthral them. A few words only as to Thomson's life. Outwardly it was singularly uneventful, although inwardly it was intense and exciting. He was born at Port Glasgow, on the 23rd of November, 1834; and he died in London, on the 1st of June, 1882. His father was a merchant captain, and his mother a zealous Irvingite. Left parentless in his infancy, he was educated at the Caledonian Orphan Asylum. For some years