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James Thomson

James Thomson

The British poet James Thomson (1700-1748) is chiefly remembered for his celebrated descriptive poem in four parts, "The Seasons, " written in blank verse.

James Thomson was born at Ednam, Scotland, near the English border, on Sept. 11, 1700, the third son of a minister. Taught at first by Robert Riccaltoun, whose verses on winter later influenced his famous pupil, Thomson then attended school at Jedburgh. In 1715 he matriculated at the University of Edinburgh, where he became a divinity student.

Already a habitual writer of verse, young Thomson went to London in 1725 hoping either to become a popular preacher or to acquire a patron for his poetry. He supported himself by serving as a tutor. His "Winter" appeared in 1726, but its dedication procured only 20 guineas, not a patron. The poem was very well received, however, and it was followed by "Summer" (1727) and "Spring" (1728). The poems were applauded and imitated, but Thomson's financial position was unsound. He therefore determined to write a play.

Thomson's tragedy Sophonisba was produced at Drury Lane Theatre in 1730 with moderate success. He then sold the copyright of this play and that of "Spring." In the same year The Seasons, now including "Autumn, " was published by subscription. This publication secured him a patron, Sir Charles Talbot, who sent Thomson abroad as a companion to his son (1731-1733). Talbot then gave Thomson the post of secretary of briefs in the Court of Chancery, a sinecure. He wrote a long poem based on his travels, Liberty, which was published in five parts (1734-1736) and was a failure. Fortunately Thomson had sold the copyright in advance.

After Talbot's death in 1737, Thomson lost his sinecure. His fortunes reached their lowest ebb in this year; in fact, he was arrested for debt. He retrieved his fortunes, however, with his tragedy Agamemnon, produced in 1738. Whatever the poetic merits of this piece, its political merits were rewarded by a pension from the Prince of Wales (canceled in 1748). Thomson's next tragedy, Edward and Eleanora, published in 1739, was banned for political reasons.

With his friend David Mallet, Thomson wrote in 1740 the masque Alfred, with music by Thomas Arne, for which he created the song Rule, Britannia. In 1744 Thomson's new patron, George Lyttleton, a lord commissioner of the Treasury, appointed him surveyor general of the Leeward Islands, and in 1745 Tancred and Sigismunda, Thomson's most successful play, was produced. The Castle of Indolence, a poem written in imitation of Edmund Spenser and reflecting Thomson's love of idleness, appeared in 1748. He died that year on August 27.

Further Reading

The Complete Poetical Works of James Thomson were well edited by James L. Robertson (1908). Thomson was included in Samuel Johnson, Lives of the English Poets (1781). Thomson's Letters and Documents, edited by Alan D. McKillop (1958), is valuable. The best biography is Douglas Grant, James Thomson: Poet of "The Seasons" (1951). McKillop wrote The Background of Thomson's "Seasons" (1942). Thomson is also discussed in Patricia M. Spacks, The Poetry of Vision: Five Eighteenth-century Poets (1967). Good recent critical studies are Patricia M. Spacks, The Varied God: A Critical Study of Thomson's The Seasons (1959), and Ralph Cohen, The Art of Discrimination: Thomson's The Seasons, and the Language of Criticism (1964).

Additional Sources

Bayne, William, James Thomson, Philadelphia: R. West, 1977.

Sambrook, James, James Thomson, 1700-1748: a life, Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Scott, Mary Jane W., James Thomson, Anglo-Scot, Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1988. □

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Thomson, James (1700–1748, Scottish poet)

James Thomson, 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).

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Thomson, James (1834–82, Scottish poet and essayist)

James Thomson, 1834–82, Scottish poet and essayist. He is remembered for his darkly pessimistic poem The City of Dreadful Night. He was raised in an orphan asylum and became (1851) an army teacher at Ballincollig, Ireland. In 1862 he was dismissed from the service for a very minor offense, became a clerk in London, and contributed (using the signature B.V.) to the National Reformer, the magazine of his friend Charles Bradlaugh. Thomson's life in London was lonely and impoverished, aggravated by insomnia, his own incredibly melancholic disposition, and periodic bouts with alcoholism. His greatest poetical work, The City of Dreadful Night (1880, first published in the National Reformer, 1874), gives brilliant, haunting expression to his despair. The poem "Sunday up the River" (first published in Fraser's Magazine, 1869) is an example of his lyric gift. Vane's Story (1880) and A Voice from the Nile (1884) are later collections of his poems. Thomson also wrote many essays and criticisms. His collected poems appeared in 1895 and a volume of prose in 1896.

See biography by H. S. Salt (rev. ed. 1914); study by I. B. Walker (1950).

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"Thomson, James (1834–82, Scottish poet and essayist)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Thomson, James (1834–82, Scottish poet and essayist)." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/thomson-james-1834-82-scottish-poet-and-essayist

Thomson, James

Thomson, James (1700–48) Scottish poet. A precursor of Romanticism, Thomson's best-known work is the four-part nature poem The Seasons (1730). It was used by Haydn as the basis for his oratorio (1801). Other works include the song “Rule Britannia” (1740), and the Spenserian allegory The Castle of Indolence (1748).

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