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The principal works of Mr. Bonnell Thornton are, The plays of Plautus in an English Dress; of which bishop Warburton was pleased to remark, that he never read so just a translation and in so pure and elegant a style. The bishop of Peterborough (late Dr. Hinchliffe) speaks of him as the best Latin scholar of his time. The Battle of the Wigs, and City Latin, productions which created him some enemies; The Student, before-mentioned; The Oxford Barber; St. Cecilia's Day, a Burlesque Ode. The Papers marked A in the first volume of The Adventurer; this work, as well as that of The Connoisseur, was published conjointly with Mr. Colman, many Essays, &c. in the Public Advertiser and St. James's Chronicle, some of which are to be met with in a work entitled Elegant Extracts; the Drury-Lane, and Covent-Garden Journal, and probably other productions worthy of his genius.
Mr. Thornton left a widow, lately departed; a daughter, who died very young; and two sons, the elder of whom departed this life in the year 1790. Some time previous to his death, he exhibited strong proofs of a poetical genius, in hymns and other pious compositions. A small monument to his memory was erected near that of his father in WestminsterAbbey, on which are the following lines:
Oh, worth! in early youth by all approv'd;
His brother was visited by an illness which terminated also in a consumption; but by pursuing a mode, new in the school of physic, he recovered, to the astonishment of all his friends. This led him to consider on the effects of various airs on the constitution, which we suppose induced him to adopt a practice
whereby disorders, the former approbria of medicine, will, it is hoped, be happily removed.
The patrons of this undertaking, will, we flatter ourselves, be much gratified in perusing the following extracts from Mr. Bonnell Thornton's letters, taken from the Originals, with which we have been kindly obliged.
"USE, or habitude, or custom, or whatever you will call it, they say is second nature. Upon my word I not only find it to be so, but I am tempted to think it the best nature of the two. When they first sentenced me, on account of my accident*, to a prostrate, I should rather say a supine posture, I looked upon the judgment pronounced against me as severe as that upon the Old Serpent, when he was condemned to creep upon his belly. I imagined myself in as painful a condition as the traveller stretched out upon Procrustes's iron bed: I almost concluded myself a dead corpse; the sheets of my bed looked to me as winding-sheets, and I appeared already laid out. A Jew in the inquisition, a Christian in the Gallies, a Strumpet in Bridewell, a Debtor in the Fleet, an Highwayman in Newgate, or Wilkes in the Tower, could not repine more at their confinement than I did ........a young heir to an estate could not long more to be of age, or a young girl to be married, than I did for home....but now I am set at liberty, and allowed.to shift my quarters, I am as loth to quit the snugness of my poetical loft as the snail is to come out of his shell at the bidding of a child at play. You will say, that my present lodging is dirty and mean: but dirt
*. The accident alluded to, was a bruised leg, in consequence of a fall from a horse.
and meanness we can be easily reconciled to, when once they are grown familiar to us. Is not the chimney-sweeper as warm and as comfortable in his sooty garb as he who is clothed in fine linen every day? The Hottentot beauty is as proud of her trappings and flounces of guts as any of our celebrated toasts can possibly be of their trimmings of blond lace. For my own part, I have been so accustomed to the apartment I am now in, that it appears to me as elegant as the chamber in which her majesty lies in. I look up with admiration to the cieling, which is beautifully variegated with many-coloured streaks from the damp, and shaded with the smoke of the candles or chimney; no stucco work can be more exquisite; no painting in chiara obscura can equal it. The cobwebs hanging down from my window I convert, by the force of my imagination, into sumptuous festoons; the tester of my bed is a gorgeous canopy; and the bed-cloaths serve me for a magnificent sopha. As to my faithful constant attendants, that adhere to my person,...I mean the bugs and the fleas,... why they are my lords in waiting; or they are my courtiers, if you please, that throng my levee; and, like other courtiers, are not satisfied, till they have got their skins-full out of me.
"Thus you find me perfectly resigned to my present situation. I have been so long without using my legs, that I almost begin to think that legs are of no use. Man in his erect figure looks, in my eyes, as awkward an animal as a dancing bear: I expect every moment he will pitch forward and break his nose, or else fracture his scull by tumbling backward. Nothing in the world seems so unnatural to me as to get up again, when one is once down. I cannot feel the misery, which is commonly annexed to the idea of being bedridden for my part, I rest as comfortably in my present horizontal posture, and as free from pain, as I should, were I laid along at full length in my coffin.
"There have been instances of persons, who have lain so long in prison that they have become enamoured of confinement, and have refused to go out of it, though the key has been turned to let them out by the mercy of their creditors or an insolvent act. I perhaps should feel the same reluctance in quitting my present jail, (though it is only changing one place of durance for another,) if both the first and the second nature, the innate bent of my mind, the habitual exercise of it, did not strongly bias me to draw nearer to my Syl. As great preparations are making for my removal as if I were setting off to take possession of a government. I shall be carried this afternoon in a sedan of state, clothed in an under vesture of Cambro-Britannic ermine (vulgarly called Welch flannel) and a flowing robe of Caledonian tissue. (Scotch plaid.) I shall signify the notice of my arrival at my palace to you by an express, and shall expect that you will appear directly to me, when my excellence will condescend to give you an audience."
On a Female Atheist.
"When I take pen in hand to write to you, I do not stop to consider what I shall say, but take for my subject whatever happens to occur to me at the moment; and I set down my thoughts just as they arise, without regard to precision, argumentation, or diction. 'Tis an amusement to me at the time; and as children are cheated into learning their letters by making the alphabet a kind of play to them, so my mind is in some measure exercised by these idle excursions without the fatigue of laborious thinking.
You perhaps may be amused also in some measure in reading what I scribble: at least you may be sure I imagine so; for if I did not, my ink-horn would be dry, my pen split, and my paper wet; that is, I should have no heart to proceed.
"You mentioned the other evening a character, which I am almost a Sceptic enough to doubt the existence of. Good God! a Female Atheist !....One is not half so shocked at the idea of a Female Murderer; a Female Murderer, in the worst of senses, of her own children, of herself. That human nature, even where we may expect it to be most human, can be debased and degenerated down to the most barbarous brutality, there have been too many repeated proofs; there have been frequent instances of women, who, like Lady Macbeth, have given suck, and have torn their infants from the nipple, and dashed their brains out. Yet this is nothing, in my opinion, when compared to the character I am speaking of. Among the weaknesses and vices that the fall of Eve entailed upon her sex, I do not find that the denial of her Maker was one of them. On the contrary, a submission to the will of the Almighty was her characteristic....at least it is so in Milton, which you will say is the poet's bible. Angels are of no sex ; but if they were, I question whether we should have read of any female ones enlisting under the rebellious banners of the arch-fiend.
"While I contemplate such an hideous and frightful monster as a Female Atheist, I cannot entertain the least idea of her being possessed of the softness, the delicacy, and tenderness of her sex: No, she appears to me as one of the Furies; she is a very Succuba in my imagination. I cannot conceive that any woman, though endowed with but ordinary and everyday charms, can ever look in her glass, and believe she was made by chance."