The spirit of a time: James Thompson's poetical use of philosophical, religious, scientific, and socio-political ideas

Snow, David Ross (1970) The spirit of a time: James Thompson's poetical use of philosophical, religious, scientific, and socio-political ideas. Masters thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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    Available under License - The author retains copyright ownership and moral rights in this thesis. Neither the thesis nor substantial extracts from it may be printed or otherwise reproduced without the author's permission.
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Abstract

The poetry of James Thomson is an interesting subject for the study of the philosophical, religious, scientific, and socio-political ideas prevalent in the first half of the eighteenth century. Philosophy and science were rapidly completing the process of rehabilitating nature. Sir Isaac Newton and the Third Earl of Shaftesbury, along with various other so-called "physico-theologians" and rationalists, were largely responsible for a new movement of "sympathy with nature". Thomson is a foremost example of how poets popularized the new movement by taking advantage of the aesthetic possibilities it afforded. -- The purpose of this thesis is to demonstrate how Thomson, as poet, is involved in a process of assimilation and transfiguration (by the use of various techniques that are peculiarly his own) of the knowledge and theories of his day. Shorter compositions such as To the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton and Britannia illustrate Thomson's handling of the ideas mentioned above, but it is from The Seasons. A Hymn, Liberty, and The Castle of Indolence that we piece together his unique poetic vision of man, nature, and God. Thomson is eclectic, but his method consists of remoulding, juxtaposing, and fusing his raw materials. Like Shaftesbury, Thomson is concerned with the natural harmony, order, and beauty of the works of creation; his indebtedness to the moralist's ideas emerges as the structural principles around which The Seasons is built. -- Thomson's religion (strongly deistic) stems from his view of external nature, but he synthesizes ideas from various sources so long as they accord with this view of nature. -- Ideas drawn from Newton's Optics, indeed all passages of scientific detail, are carefully worked into the total pattern of a poem and function as legitimate parts of that pattern. Thomson's use of Newtonian ideas of gravitation, the nature of light, and even of geographical materials, is related to his religious motif. Passages incorporating such material continue to emphasize the power, beneficence, beauty, harmony, and sublimity associated with nature, and its designer, the "all-perfect Hand". -- Our subject is essentially the relationship of literature (in this case the poetry of Thomson) and ideas - ideas such as have traditionally aroused the feelings. The ideas of primitivism and progress in Thomson are not so unresolved, or such a flaw, as they have sometimes been thought to be. As a matter of fact, more than anything else they help illustrate his poetic technique. Other examples of ideas which have traditionally aroused the feelings would be those of men's relation to external nature, the Deity, and to one another. It is with the latter example - men's relation to one another, their place in society, social and political organization - that Thomson is concerned in Liberty, and to some extent in Britannia and Rule, Britannia! Through the assimilation of contemporary political events and philosophy, and the application of Shaftesburyian ethics to past and future history, Liberty emerges as a highly idealistic theory of social life and government, a complete imaginative whole. The primitivistic attitude sometimes evident in The Seasons appears in Liberty as the basis of his ideal theory of social and political liberty. The world view which emerges from the latter poem is consistent with that of The Seasons. The ideas underlying his theory of liberty and progress are part of his original scheme of cosmic unity and harmony. -- The philosophical, religious, scientific, and socio-political "ideas" reflected in Thomson's poetry function as integral parts of the total patterns of these poems. They result in a poetry which is the emotional equivalent of the thought which it assimilates.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
URI: http://research.library.mun.ca/id/eprint/8004
Item ID: 8004
Additional Information: Bibliography: leaves 188-194.
Department(s): Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of > English Language and Literature
Date: March 1970
Date Type: Submission
Library of Congress Subject Heading: Thompson, James, 1700-1748--Criticism and interpretation

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