Other literary forms (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Although James Thomson’s reputation is as a poet, he also wrote plays that were generally successful in their day. He wrote five plays and coauthored a sixth. The Tragedy of Sophonisba, a tragedy about the Carthaginian queen Sophonisba, was performed and published in 1730. Thomson’s second tragedy, Agamemnon, appeared in 1738. His next two plays followed rapidly: Edward and Eleonora (pb. 1739) was prohibited by censorship, and Alfred (pr., pb. 1740) was coauthored with David Mallet. The play about King Alfred contains Thomson’s famous ode “Rule, Britannia,” still well known in England, especially the refrain: “Rule, Britannia, rule the waves;/ Britons never will be slaves.” Thomson’s most successful play, the tragedy Tancred and Sigismunda (pr., pb. 1745), continued to be performed in the second half of the eighteenth century and was translated into French and German. His final play, the tragedy Coriolanus (pr., pb. 1749), was not performed until after Thomson’s death.
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Achievements (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
For more than a century, James Thomson’s most famous work, The Seasons, was among the most widely read poems in English. It went through more than two hundred editions in the eighteenth century. Even though William Wordsworth replaced Thomson as the poet of nature for English readers beginning in the nineteenth century, The Seasons remained popular; there have been more than four hundred editions of the poem since the eighteenth century.
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Bibliography (Critical Survey of Poetry: British, Irish, & Commonwealth Poets)
Goodman, Kevis. Georgic Modernity and British Romanticism: Poetry and the Mediation of History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Examines the poetry and writings of Thomson (The Seasons), William Wordsworth, William Cowper, and Joseph Addison.
Irlam, Shaun. Elations: The Poetics of Enthusiasm in Eighteenth-Century Britain. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1999. Takes the concept of enthusiasm and examines the aesthetic theory and poetry of Thomson and Edward Young.
Lethbridge, Stefanie. James Thomson’s Defence of Poetry: Intertextual Allusion in “The Seasons.” Tübingen, Germany: Max Niemeyer, 2003. Examines aesthetics in Thomson’s The Seasons.
Sambrook, James. James Thomson, 1700-1748: A Life. New York: Clarendon Press, 1991. This extensive biography places Thomson in his social and cultural context, explores his relationships with fellow writers such as Alexander Pope, and thoroughly examines Thomson’s Whig politics and relationship with Frederick, Prince of Wales, leader of the opposition to Prime Minister Robert Walpole. Sambrook supplies biography, history, and literary criticism by producing a detailed analysis of the whole body of Thomson’s writings.
Scott, Mary Jane W. James Thomson, Anglo-Scot. Athens:...
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