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This review is taken from PN Review 208, Volume 39 Number 2, November - December 2012.

Illuminations neil curry, Six Eighteenth-Century Poets (Greenwich Exchange) £12.99

'It made my heart twitter with joy,' John Clare famously recalled of his first reading of The Seasons. Clare was ten years old when he encountered James Thomson's epic-length poem, but he seems never to have lost his regard for it. On 13 November 1824, he recorded in his Journal, 'lookd into Thompson's Winter there is freshness about it I think superior to the others tho rather of a pompous cast how natural all his descriptions are nature was consulted in all of them the more I read them the more I discover'. Neil Curry doesn't refer to Clare in his chapter on Thomson, but what he has to say about the poem enables us to understand why it meant so much to him. Curry isn't persuaded that The Seasons has a great deal to offer in terms of overall design. Thomson, he points out, not only went on lengthening the poem throughout his life - 'Winter', which was originally a poem of some 400 lines, ended up at more than 1000 - he moved whole sections from one Season to another and tipped in matter whose relevance is at best dubious to the ostensible subject. But what exactly is Thomson's subject? The answer seems to be, whatever happens to interest Thomson at the time of writing.The Seasons is a kind of omnium gatherum, rather like a happenstance encyclopaedia of the kind Orhan Pamuk mentions in his book on Istanbul. The salvation is in the details, especially, though by ...

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