Thomson, James, 1700–1748, Scottish poet. Educated at Edinburgh, he went to London, took a post as tutor, and became acquainted with such literary celebrities as Gay, Arbuthnot, and Pope. His most famous poem, The Seasons, was published in four parts, beginning with “Winter” (1726), which achieved an immediate success. “Summer” (1727) was followed by “Spring” (1728) and then “Autumn” in the first collected edition (1730); a revised edition appeared in 1744. In The Seasons, Thomson's faithful, sensitive descriptions of external nature were a direct challenge to the urban and artificial school of Pope and influenced the forerunners of romanticism, such as Gray and Cowper. His other important poems are Liberty (1735–36), a tribute to Britain, and The Castle of Indolence (1748), written in imitation of Spenser and reflecting the poet's delight in idleness.
Thomson also wrote a series of tragedies along classical lines, with a strong political flavor. The most notable were Sophonisba (1730); Edward and Eleanora (1739), which was banned for political reasons; and Tancred and Sigismunda (1745). In 1740 he collaborated with his friend David Mallet on a masque, Alfred, which contains his famous ode “Rule Britannia.”
See his poetical works (ed. by J. L. Robertson, 1908, repr. 1965); biographies by H. H. Campbell (1979) and M. J. Scott (1988); studies by R. Cohen (1963 and 1970) and R. R. Agrawal (1981).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
See more Encyclopedia articles on: English Literature, 1500 to 1799: Biographies