1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Thomson

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 166.



As a man, Thomson was generous, affable, and amiable. His chief fault was indolence, of which he was fully aware. As a poet, he was remarkable for purity of language and thought; and the highest eulogy that could be pronounced upon a man's writings was Lord Lyttelton's assertion that Thomson's contain "No line which, dying, he could wish to blot." It is not to be denied that his cumbrous style, his faded classicalities, and his redundant and somewhat turgid diction have injured him with modern readers; but he was a genuine poet notwithstanding....

There are passages in his Seasons and his Castle of Indolence which are not likely to become obsolete while high art and genuine devotional feeling find a response in the soul. His Hymn on the Seasons, though at times suggesting a remembrance of Milton, has been equalled by nothing in the same class that any succeeding poet has produced; and, in saying this, we do not forget Coleridge's Chamouni, nor the many noble passages in Wordsworth's Excursion. To Thomson we owe in no small measure the revival of that enthusiasm for the associations and beauties of external nature which had been absent from English poetry during the predominance of the artificial school....

"The love of nature," says Coleridge, "seems to have led Thomson to a cheerful religion; and a gloomy religion to have led Cowper to a love of nature. The one would carry his fellow men along with him into nature; the other flies to nature from his fellow-men. In chastity of diction, however, and the harmony of blank verse, Cowper leaves Thomson immeasurably below him; yet I still feel the latter to have been the born poet."