Precursors of Romantic Poetry: James Thomson, William Collins, Thomas Gray, William Cowper

With the publication of Lyrical Ballads in 1798, literally the Romantic Movement started in England. However, the simplicity of diction, love of nature, attachment to human emotions, traits of super naturalism which are the basic features of Coleridge and Wordsworth’s poetry, can have its stress another fifty years back. In the poetry of James Thomson, William Collins, Thomas Grey, William Cowper etc. we have the fervent of early romantics. Let us discuss them under the following heads.

James Thomson (1700-1748): He took a deep interest in nature. His poem, “The Seasons (1730) evokes interest in the process of nature. He is fascinated by the fearful aspects of nature such as floods and storms. He is described as “a poet of pictorial landscape”. He speaks of the interactions between man and Nature in The Seasons. The great variety and beauty of Nature move him deeply. The following lines remind us of Wordsworth:
            “Now the soft Hour
            Of walking comes for him who lonely loves
            To seek the distant Hills, and there converse
            With Nature, there to harmonize his Heart,
            And in pathetic song of breathe around
            The harmony to others”.
                                                                                                                                    The Seasons II

William Collins (1721-1759): He did not write much, but all that he wrote is precious. His first publication was a small vol. of poems, including the Persian (afterwards called Oriental) Eclogues (1742); but his principal work was his Odes (1747), including those to Evening and The Passions, which will live as long as the language. Collins’s poetry is distinguished by its high imaginative quality, and by exquisitely felicitous descriptive phrases which is close to romanticism. He exercised pervasive influence on almost all the Romantic Poets. He finds that landscape evokes ideas and emotions. He particularly loves Nature at twilight. His Ode To Evening is the forerunner of Keats To Autumn. Romantic tendencies such as a return to the past and anti-intellectualism may be noticed in his Ode on Popular Superstitions. Coleridge is impressed with Collin’s use of Superstitions and classical legends. Collins’s favourite theme of the twilight scene is illustrated in the following lines:
            “Now Air is tuish’d, save where the weakeyed Bat,
            With short shrill skriek flits by on leathern wing,
            Or where the Beetle Winds
            His small but sullen Horn,
            As off he rises midst the twilight path,
            Against the pilgrim born in heedless Hum.”
                                                                        Ode To Evening

Thomas Gray (1716-71): In his well-known poem Elegy Written in a country Churchyard, he pays attention to nature and humble life, which are dear to the Romantic poets. Probably no poem has had a wider acceptance among all classes of readers than his Elegy in a Country Churchyard:

            “Now folds the glimmering landscape on the sight,
            Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
            And drowsy twinkling lull the distant golds.”
Gray’s later writings indicate the swing in the taste towards medieval literature and Scandinavian folklore. His letters anticipate the Romantics love of scenery and nature. He records the different moods of nature in charming detail. Such descriptions paved the way for Wordsworth’s memorable descriptions of nature. Here is a short piece from Gray:

“In the evening walked alone down to the lake by the side of Crow Park after sunset and san the solemn colouring of night draw on, the last gleam of fading away on the hill tops, the deep serene of the waters, and the long shadows of the mountains thrown across them, till they nearly touched the hithermost shore. At distance heard the murmur of many waterfalls not audible in the daytime”.
                                                                        Journal in the Lakes

William Cowper (1731-1800): He is yet another precursor of romanticism. His signal merits of freshness, simplicity, graceful humour, and the pure idiomatic English in which his poems were written gradually obtained recognition, and the fame of the poet-recluse began to spread. His The Task was published in 1785, and met with immediate and distinguished success. Although not formally or professedly, it was, in fact, the beginning of an uprising against the classical school of poetry, and the founding of a new school in which nature was the teacher. As Dr. Stopford Brooke points out, "Cowper is the first of the poets who loves Nature entirely for her own sake," and in him "the idea of Mankind as a whole is fully formed." For his love of Nature and religious worship are related activities. He believes that contemplation in the midst of than will reading of books. He prefers the beauty poems. Cowper also attacks Alexander pope for his smoothness and advocates the manly rough line. This idea is later developed by Wordsworth Cowper anticipated the romantic generation in his political liberalism, in his humanitarianism, and most of all in his sympathetic and faithful rendering of external nature. Contrasting the rural with the urban scene, he wrote:
            "God made the country and man the town,
            What wonder then that health and virtue, gifts
            That can alone make sweet the bitter draught
            That life holds out to all, should most abound
            And least be threatn’d in the fields and groves?"
                                                                                 The Task BKI
   Ardhendu De

Works cited:


  1. Sir I am a big fan of you and exactly your published notes.very helpful to us.


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