The plays of James Thomson are largely forgotten, as is the poem Thomson regarded as his finest work, Liberty. His reputation rests on The Seasons and, to a lesser extent, The Castle of Indolence. Thomson critics and scholars generally agree, as Richard Terry puts it, that there is no doubt that “Thomson is a major poet of his time . . . but there is still scope for the nature of his individual achievement to be redefined.” Whatever redefinition future scholarship on Thomson attempts, The Seasons will remain his distinctive contribution to English poetry.
The main debate in Thomson scholarship about The Seasons concerns whether or how thoroughly this long poem is unified. Scholar David Anderson claims that the poem demonstrates a structural principle that gives an effective direction to the reader about how to comprehend the many topics that appear in Thomson’s poem. Anderson describes the structure of the poem as leading readers from “landscape description, through emotional response to landscape, to enthusiastic praise of the landscape’s Creator.” He names this structure an “emotive theodicy.” Since any theodicy attempts to justify the ways of God to human beings, Anderson is being logical when he argues that the central fact of The Seasons is contained in the following lines: “. . . tho’ conceal’d, to every purer Eye/ Th’ informing Author in his...
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