Thomson, James (1700-1748) (DNB00)

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THOMSON, JAMES (1700–1748), poet, was born in the pastoral village of Ednam in Roxburghshire in September 1700. The village retains, as outhouse of a farmsteading, the former manse (and later village school) in which the poet was born. He was baptised on 15 Sept., and the fact that the rite was usually administered by the Scottish church eight days after birth would refer his birth to the 7th, though an early biographer (Murdoch) gives the 11th. The poet's father, Thomas (1666–1716), also a native of Ednam, and the son of Andrew Thomson, a gardener, fulfilled the ambition of his parents by graduating M.A. at Edinburgh University in 1686, and obtaining five years later the license of a preacher in the kirk, being called to Ednam on 12 July 1692 (Hew Scott, Fasti, vol. i. pt. ii. 460). The minister married, on 6 Oct. 1693, Beatrix, daughter of Alexander Trotter of Fogo. Trotter's wife was Margaret, daughter of William Home or Hume, the progenitor of the Homes of Bassendean, and the brother of Sir James Home [see under Home, Sir James of Coldingnows, third Earl of Home; and letter of Dr. John Mair, minister of Southdean, in ‘Times,’ 26 March 1894].

James was the fourth child. Of two elder brothers, Andrew and Alexander, little is heard, but there is evidence in his letters of the poet's solicitude for a younger brother, John, who died in 1735. Of the poet's sisters, one was married to Mr. Bell, minister of Strathaven; another (Mary) to William Craig, father of James Craig [q. v.], the architect of the New Town, Edinburgh, and another to Mr. Thomson, master of Lanark grammar school. Two months after the poet's birth, his father moved to Southdean, where the manse nestled at the foot of Southdean Law, and some of the scenes of Teviotdale and the valley of the ‘sylvan Jed’ were afterwards introduced by him into his poems (especially in ‘Winter;’ a Thomson window has recently been erected in Southdean church). After picking up the rudiments in the parish school he was sent to Jedburgh, where the classes, by which he benefited little, were held in the abbey (cf. Watson, Jedburgh Abbey, 1894, p. 93 n.). The boy attracted a good deal of attention from one of his father's friends, Robert Riccaltoun [q. v.] Riccaltoun introduced him to several of the neighbouring gentry, including Sir Gilbert Elliot of Minto, James Haliburton of New Mains, Dryburgh, where on the banks of the Tweed his ‘Doric reed’ was first exercised (Autumn, v. 890), and Sir William Bennet, bart. (d. 1729), of Grubit. From Jedburgh he passed in the summer of 1715 to Edinburgh University. There he was in mental revolt against the outworn classical curriculum. At this period, as Aikin notes, the Scots had lost their pre-eminence in Latin, and had not learned English; and the circumstance renders the more remarkable the purity of Thomson's style and its freedom from any admixture of provincial idiom. At home Thomson had written and burned a quantity of verse. At Edinburgh he joined a literary club, ‘The Grotesques,’ who were very critical of his performances; some three of his pieces, nevertheless, appeared in the ‘Edinburgh Miscellany’ of 1720. During these years he studied assiduously Spenser and Milton, and his first extant letter (to his friend William Cranstoun), dated 11 Dec. 1720, contains a reference to ‘As you like it.’ On 2 Nov. 1720 Thomson received a bursary from the presbytery of Jedburgh, and this was renewed on 1 Jan. 1724 for one year; but he took no steps to enter the ministry after, it is said, an unfavourable verdict had been passed by William Hamilton, the professor of theology, upon an exercise in the form of a prose dissertation on the tenth section of the 119th Psalm. He resolved to seek a literary career in London.

With letters of introduction to some of the powerful connections of his mother in the south, and with the nucleus of a great poem in his pocket, Thomson set sail from Leith in February 1725. His mother had a foreboding that she would never see her favourite son again (she died within a few weeks of his departure); nor did the poet ever revisit the scenes of his youth. According to Dr. Johnson, the lad was relieved of his letters of introduction by a London pickpocket within a few days of his landing at Wapping (27 [?] Feb. 1725). The loss of the documents, tied, according to the traditional story, in a knotted handkerchief, would seem to have been promptly repaired, for Thomson very soon obtained a footing at the houses of Sir Gilbert Elliot, lord Minto [q. v.], and Duncan Forbes (1644?–1704) [q. v.] of Culloden, and also at Montrose House in Hanover Square. Unfortunately, however, his resources were too small to enable him to pay the assiduous court to these gentlemen that the situation required, and at the end of June he was glad to fall back upon the promised aid of a distant kinswoman, Lady Grizel Baillie [q. v.] of Jerviswood (the daughter of Sir Patrick Hume [q. v.]), who procured him a comfortable though unsalaried post as tutor to her grandson, Thomas Hamilton (afterwards seventh Earl of Haddington), the eldest boy of Charles, lord Binning [see Hamilton, Thomas, sixth Earl of Haddington]. While under the roof of Lord Binning at East Barnet he began to combine some detached fragments of descriptive verse into what became his first notable poem.

The germ of ‘Winter’ may be found in the lines ‘On a Country Life’ written by Thomson before he was twenty, and contributed to the ‘Edinburgh Miscellany’ (see above). The outlines of the implied scheme may have been suggested by Pope's four ‘Pastorals,’ named after the respective seasons. More directly, however, as he himself states, he owed inspiration to a manuscript poem of his friend Riccaltoun on ‘Winter,’ which was published in 1726 in Savage's ‘Miscellany,’ and reprinted in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ of 1740 (p. 256), as corrected ‘by an eminent hand,’ that of Mallet. Subsequently, among other stray pieces of merit by obscure authors, Thomson's ‘Country Life’ was included in Mallet's ‘Works’ (cf. Gent. Mag. 1853, ii. 364–71; Thomson, ed. Bell, 1855, ii. 263–4).

As he progressed with his work, Thomson felt the desirability of getting nearer the booksellers and the patrons. His sojourn at East Barnet can have hardly exceeded four months. His desire for a wider circle of acquaintance in the capital was soon gratified. Duncan Forbes was prodigal of introductions to celebrities, including Arbuthnot, Gay, and Pope. Mallet took him into more bohemian circles, and presented him to the notorious Martha Fowke or Fowkes, known to poetical admirers indifferently as ‘Mira’ and as ‘Clio’ (see Bolton Corney in Athenæum, 1859, ii. 78). There is a story that Thomson dwelt with the bookseller John Millan (1702–1784) during 1725; a house numbered 30 Charing Cross is still pointed out as his home during part of the same year (it is figured in Harrison, Memorable London Houses, p. 22), while another tradition tells how he frequented the Doves tavern in Hammersmith Mall. In the winter of 1725–6 he paid a visit to Mallet at Twyford, the seat of the Duke of Montrose, in Hampshire. Thomson had been compelled during the summer to ask a loan of 12l. from Cranstoun, and he was again in want of money at Christmas, when he and Mallet induced John Millan to advance 3l. upon ‘Winter’ (cf. Benjamin Victor, Orig. Letters, iii. 27).

In March 1726, under Millan's auspices, appeared ‘Winter, a poem by James Thomson, A.M.’ (London, folio; another edition with additions and commendatory verses by Aaron Hill, Mallet, and ‘Mira,’ 1726, 8vo; reprinted Dublin, 1726). The description of him as ‘A.M.’ was a mistake; the degree was seldom taken by arts students in Thomson's time (see Grant, Hist. of Edinburgh Univ. ii. 238). The work was dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton (Lord Wilmington), who forwarded in the following June a tardy acknowledgment of twenty guineas.

In the meantime the success of the poem was assured. Men of discernment such as Robert Whatley (afterwards prebendary of York), Aaron Hill [q. v.], and that connoisseur of poets, Joseph Spence (see his Essay on the Odyssey), had sung its praises upon every opportunity, while Riccaltoun is stated to have ‘dropped the poem from his hands in an ecstasy of admiration.’ Especially loud in their applause were the two patronesses whom Thomson celebrated with so much warmth in later poems, Frances Seymour, the wife of Algernon, lord Hertford [see under Seymour, sixth Duke of Somerset], and Sarah, eldest daughter of Sir Hans Sloane and mother of Hans Stanley [q. v.]; while among more influential admirers was soon numbered Thomas Rundle [q. v.] (afterbishop of Derry), who introduced Thomson to his own patron, Charles Talbot (afterwards lord chancellor).

Thomson needed little urging to repeat his experiment, and during 1726, though tied to the town (like a ‘caged linnet,’ as he expressed it) by an appointment as tutor to one of Montrose's sons at an academy in Little Tower Street, he worked hard at ‘Summer,’ which appeared early in 1727 with a dedication to Bubb Dodington (London, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1728). In the same year John Millan published one of the best of Thomson's minor pieces, ‘A Poem sacred to the Memory of Isaac Newton,’ with an extravagant dedication to Sir Robert Walpole. Next year the poet changed his publisher, and it was Andrew Millar (1707–1768) [q. v.] who in 1728 issued ‘Spring,’ dedicated to the Countess of Hertford. The first edition of ‘Autumn’ (inscribed to Arthur Onslow) was that which appeared in ‘The Seasons’ (London, 1730, 4to), of which some 454 copies were subscribed for at one guinea, among the subscribers being Arbuthnot, Bolingbroke, Pope, Somerville, Spence, and Young. Prefixed is an engraving after William Kent, the well-known gardener. The copy of this scarce edition in the university library at Edinburgh is that which was pompously crowned by the Earl of Buchan at Ednam on 22 Sept. 1791 [see Erskine, David Steuart, eleventh Earl of Buchan]. ‘Autumn’ was subsequently issued separately (price one shilling) by Millan. The poems sold well in the separate form, and Thomson is said to have reaped over 1,000l. profit from them before he sold the copyright to Millar in 1729 (cf. Morel, pp. 46, 47; Speeches and Arguments before the Court of King's Bench, ‘Millar v. Taylor,’ 1771; Putnam, Copyright, 1896, p. 413). To the subscription volume of the ‘Seasons’ (1730), in addition to the fine ‘Hymn’ (which seems to adumbrate much of the pantheistic philosophy of Wordsworth), was appended a patriotic poem of considerable length, which had passed through two editions during 1729, under the title ‘Britannia, a Poem, written in 1719.’ The last date is a mistake apparently for 1727; ‘the most illustrious of patriots’ (as Walpole had formerly been styled) was now severely rebuked for submitting to the indignities of Spain; it contains a good deal of fustian.

In 1730 Thomson appealed to the public in another literary capacity. On 28 Feb. of that year his first play, ‘Sophonisba,’ was produced at Drury Lane. The curiosity of the public was powerfully roused, and many gentlemen are stated to have sought places in the footmen's gallery (Shiels; cf. Doran, London in Jacobite Times). Mrs. Oldfield was especially fascinating in the title-part, and the piece was played ten times with success during the season. It was a poor imitation of Otway, and there was little opportunity in it for the display of the poet's characteristic excellences; it was nevertheless sold to Millar for 130 guineas, and went through four editions during the year (several translations appeared, a Russian one in 1786). One line of ‘Sophonisba’ at least has defied oblivion. Nat Lee had written ‘O Sophonisba, Oh!’ Thomson expanded the sentiment in the verse

    Oh! Sophonisba, Sophonisba, Oh!

the inanity of which was pointed out, not at the theatre, as has generally been assumed, but in an envious little squib, called ‘A Criticism of the New Sophonisba’ (1730). The quick eye of Fielding soon detected the absurdity, which was paraded in his ‘Tom Thumb the Great,’ the line ‘Oh! Huncamunca, Huncamunca, Oh!’ appearing as a kind of refrain (act i. sc. v.). It is noticeable that the line ‘O Sophonisba, I am wholly thine,’ was not substituted by Thomson until after 1738 (Morel).

In the autumn of 1730 Thomson announced to his friend Mallet that he was going to hang up his harp in the willows. His five years' sojourn in London had been eminently successful, and he was now appointed travelling tutor and companion to Charles Richard Talbot, the son of the future chancellor. In December 1730 he was at Paris. There he saw Voltaire's Brutus, and was amused by the old Roman's declamation on liberty before a French audience. The more he saw of foreign countries the more he became confirmed in the opinion that liberty was the monopoly of Great Britain. At Lyons he met his friendly critic Spence. Thence he proceeded to the Fontaine de Vaucluse (‘the shut valley of Petrarch’), of which he had promised Lady Hertford a poetical description. During his travels he received the high honour of a ‘poetical epistle’ from Pope, but he was probably deemed by the author to have undervalued the distinction, for the best part of the material was subsequently incorporated in the ‘Epistle to Arbuthnot.’ At Rome in November 1731 he was in correspondence with his old patron Lord Binning, who died two years later, and before the end of 1731 he was back again at Ashdown Park in Berkshire. His pupil died on 27 Sept. 1733; but Thomson retained the favour of the father, and he was at the end of the same year appointed to the sinecure office of secretary of briefs with an income of 300l. a year. Such a post brought perfect contentment to Thomson. In May 1736 he moved from a modest apartment in Lancaster Court to a cottage in Kew Foot Lane with a pretty garden, in which he subsequently employed a cousin Andrew as gardener. There he lived for the rest of his life. He was passionately fond of long walks, and among his pilgrimages the most frequent was probably that to Pope's house at Twickenham; he also went frequently to Mallet's at Strand-on-the-Green, to the Doves tavern at Hammersmith, and to visit his friends in town.

During this halcyon period Thomson was working at his most cherished poem. The first part of ‘Liberty’ was published in December 1734; it was followed in 1735 by the second and third, and in 1736 by the fourth and fifth parts. The whole appeared in 1736, together with ‘Sophonisba’ and ‘Britannia,’ forming a second octavo volume uniform with that containing ‘The Seasons.’ It was dedicated to Frederick, prince of Wales, and was well subscribed for by the booksellers; but the public, forewarned by Thomson's previous patriotic essay, ‘Britannia,’ took little interest in it.

The ease he anticipated at Richmond was of short duration. The death of Talbot on 14 Feb. 1737 deprived him of his sinecure. Lord Hardwicke, who succeeded to the woolsack, kept the office open for some time, expecting that Thomson would apply for it; but a combination of pride and indolence restrained him from doing so, and the post was given to another. Thomson may have found satisfaction in the composition of his fine panegyric ‘To the Memory of the Rt. Hon. Lord Talbot,’ in which he took occasion to vindicate his friend Dr. Rundle from the imputation of heresy. In the meantime his income was precarious, though it is probable that during 1738 his second play, ‘Agamemnon,’ brought him in a fair sum. It was acted at Drury Lane on 6 April 1738, with the author's good friend James Quin in the title-part; and two editions appeared during the year, while Thomson had three benefit nights—the third, sixth, and ninth. Pope appeared in a box on the first night, when he was recognised by a round of applause, and the Prince and Princess of Wales commanded the seventh night. The intrinsic merits of the piece hardly justified such attentions.

Fortunately for the poet a more satisfactory source of supplies was secured during 1738. A new but staunch friend and patron, George Lyttelton, first lord Lyttelton [q. v.], introduced Thomson to the Prince of Wales, and ‘his royal highness upon inquiry into the state of his affairs, being pleasantly informed that they were in a more poetical posture than formerly, granted him a pension of 100l. a year’ (Johnson). His connection with the prince involved the rejection of his play ‘Edward and Eleanora’ (founded on an apocryphal episode in the history of Edward I and owing something to Euripides's ‘Alcestis’) in 1739 by the newly appointed censor of plays (under 10 George II, c. 28). It was printed ‘as it was to have been acted’ (London, 1739, 8vo; two Dublin editions, and a French translation by De Barante), but the play was damned as effectually as if it had been performed. It found a vehement panegyrist in John Wesley, who had otherwise a ‘very low opinion of Mr. Thomson's poetical abilities’ (Journal, 1827, iii. 465).

From 1740 dates one of Thomson's most famous compositions—the noble ode known as ‘Rule Britannia,’ destined to be ‘the political hymn of this country as long as she maintains her political power’ (Southey). It first appeared in ‘The Masque of Alfred,’ composed by Dr. Arne, written by Thomson and David Mallet, and performed in the gardens of Cliefden House, Buckinghamshire, at a fête given by Frederick, prince of Wales, on 1 and 2 Aug. 1740. It was already a celebrated song in 1745, when the Jacobites deftly altered the words to suit their own cause, and Handel made use of the air in 1746. ‘The Masque of Alfred,’ altered into an opera, was given at Covent Garden in 1745, and was entirely remodelled by Mallet for Drury Lane in 1751. Thomson's name, however, was retained upon the public advertisements of the opera as author of the ‘Ode’ (presumably ‘Rule Britannia’), and the song appeared with his initials attached to it in the second edition of a well-known song-book, ‘The Charmer’ (Edinburgh, 1752, p. 130). It was not until eleven years after Thomson's death that Mallet, in his collected works (1759, vol. iii.), in an advertisement to a reissue of ‘The Masque of Alfred,’ which included ‘Rule Britannia’ with three stanzas altered, as a note explains, ‘by the late Lord Bolingbroke in 1751,’ remarked with studied vagueness that he had discarded all his collaborator's share in the production with the exception of a few speeches and ‘part of one song’ (see art. David Mallet; Notes and Queries, 7th ser. vol. ii. passim; Saturday Review, 20 Feb. 1897). There is no just ground for doubting Thomson's exclusive responsibility for ‘Rule Britannia.’ M. Morel has demonstrated that it is in effect reconstructed from fragments and echoes of Thomson's previous patriotic poems ‘Britannia’ and ‘Liberty’ (Morel, pp. 584–7).

During the six years from 1738 to 1744 the most serious of Thomson's occupations was the revision of ‘The Seasons.’ In addition to many verbal alterations, and the elimination of a few passages, he enlarged ‘Spring’ from 1087 to 1173 lines, ‘Summer’ from 1206 to 1796, ‘Autumn’ from 1269 to 1375, and ‘Winter’ from 787 to 1069. These corrections were embodied in the 1744 edition (inscribed to the Prince of Wales), to which were added two years later the final corrections made by the poet before his death. The British Museum possesses a copy of the 1738 edition of ‘The Seasons,’ with Thomson's own manuscript corrections, and also a number of interesting emendations in the handwriting (it is supposed) of Pope. It is curious to find Pope on one of the blank pages with which this copy is interleaved deleting the well-known ‘when unadorned, adorned the most;’ Thomson, who was generally mindful of his friend's suggestions, turned a deaf ear to this one. Much of the work of revision was impaired by a too conscious striving after a Virgilian veneer. (The responsibility of Pope for the ‘emendations,’ of which Mitford, Combe, and Ellis were convinced, has the support of Dr. Morel, but is disputed by Mr. Churton Collins, ‘Saturday Review,’ 31 July 1897; a verdict of non-proven is ably maintained by Mr. Tovey; cf. Athenæum, 1894, i. 131; Notes and Queries, 8th ser. xii. 389–9.). In July 1743 Thomson paid his first visit to Hagley, and there he seems to have made Lyttelton to some extent a partner in the work of textual revision. He was subsequently a frequent visitor there and at Shenstone's retreat, The Leasowes. In 1744 Lyttelton became one of the lords of the treasury, and promptly bestowed upon his friend the sinecure post of surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands, from which he drew a clear 300l. a year.

In the following year appeared the last but one of Thomson's plays, ‘Tancred and Sigismunda: a Tragedy’ (London, 8vo, 1752, 1766, and 1768; dedicated in epistolary form to the Prince of Wales), the plot of which was drawn from the novel in ‘Gil Blas.’ Pitt (who is said to have had ‘a sincere value for the amiable author’) and Lyttelton took upon themselves the patronage of this play, which had a far greater success than any other of Thomson's dramatic efforts. When it was produced at Drury Lane on 18 March 1745 Garrick played Tancred, and the part held the stage at intervals down to 1819 (Genest, vol. v.; cf. Davies, Life of Garrick, i. 78); the play was translated into German in part by Lessing and by Schlegel, and imitated in 1761 by Saurin in his ‘Blanche et Guiscard.’

In 1736 the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ printed Thomson's first poem ‘To Amanda’ (i.e. Elizabeth, daughter of Captain Gilbert Young, and sister-in-law of Thomson's friend James Robertson). Eight years elapsed without impairing in any way the poet's fidelity, but about 1744 the lady married Admiral John Campbell (d. 1790) [q. v.] The disappointment preyed upon his spirits, and even to a certain extent upon his health, and the amount of work completed under these conditions was small. Ever since he had been at Richmond Thomson had been engaged in a desultory way upon his second important poem, ‘The Castle of Indolence: an Allegorical Poem’ (London, 1748, 4to; 2nd edit. 1748, 8vo). Gray mentions it as containing ‘fine stanzas’ in a letter of 5 June 1748. It was first conceived in the form of a few detached stanzas in raillery of his own indolence, which he deemed to be well paralleled by that of his friends; among the traces of its origin there remains the autobiographical stanza commencing ‘A bard here dwelt more fat than bard beseems.’ Thomson had been an ardent admirer of Spenser from his youth, and it is noteworthy that in this noble specimen of art he has left the combined result of his earliest inspiration and his mature taste. In the soothing and drowsy effect which is suggested by the opening stanzas, Thomson proved himself as a master of onomatopœia worthy of comparison with the author of the ‘Lotos-Eaters.’

Among Thomson's later visitors at Richmond were Paterson and Collins, who introduced him to Warton, James Hammond, and Gilbert West. Collins in turn was introduced by him to the Prince of Wales, and was given a place in the ‘Castle of Indolence’ (stanzas 57–9). Lyttelton procured his friend a key to Richmond Park, and is even said to have written his ‘Observations upon the Conversion and Apostleship of St. Paul’ (1747), with a view to raising him from his apathy in regard to religion. ‘Had the poet lived longer,’ wrote Lyttelton, ‘I don't doubt he would have openly profest his faith’ (cf. Phillimore, Memoirs, i. 409). Early in 1748 Thomson's pension was stopped by the Prince of Wales, who had quarrelled with Lyttelton, but he was scarcely incommoded by the reduction of his income. Early in August, after a rapid walk from London, he stepped into a boat at Hammersmith Mall and was rowed to Kew. He caught a severe chill, and died at four o'clock in the morning of Saturday, 27 Aug. 1748, being not quite forty-eight years of age. He was buried near the font in Richmond parish church, where a brass tablet was erected to his memory by the Earl of Buchan in 1792. Armstrong, Andrew Reid, and James Robertson had attended him during his illness, and these, with Quin, Mallet, and Mitchell, followed him to the grave. The poet died intestate; but Lyttelton and Mitchell administered his estate in the interests of the relatives in Scotland.

The posthumous tragedy of ‘Coriolanus’ was presented at Covent Garden on 13 Jan. 1749, the chief part, which had formerly been claimed by Garrick, being conceded to the poet's friend Quin. The actor is said to have broken down in repeating Lyttelton's prologue when he came to the lines:

    Not one immoral, one corrupted thought,
    One line, which dying, he could wish to blot.

The proceeds were sent to Thomson's sisters. ‘Coriolanus’ having been produced and printed (1749, 8vo; Dublin, 12mo), there seemed little left for a literary executor to do; but Lyttelton took an exceptional view of his responsibilities. He brought out an edition of Thomson's ‘Works’ in 1750 (London, 4 vols. 12mo), in which, in spite of the sentiment uttered in the prologue, he cut out two stanzas (55 and 56) from the ‘Castle of Indolence,’ fourteen hundred verses from ‘Liberty,’ and a number of minor ‘redundancies’ from ‘The Seasons.’ This, however, by no means exhausted his sense of obligation to his friend's memory. He prepared, but did not publish, an edition in which, apart from suppressions, the philosophy of the poet was ‘corrected,’ the deistic ‘Hymn’ bodily eliminated, and long passages modified and transposed ‘beyond recognition’ (the interleaved copy embodying these editorial changes is still preserved at Hagley). Happily Murdoch, with the support of Millar, energetically intervened, and for the quarto edition of 1762 the text adopted was practically that of 1750 (it was left for Bolton Corney in 1842 to restore the text as the poet left it in 1746). The superbly printed and illustrated edition of 1762 was published by subscription (London, 2 vols. 4to, with the memoir by Patrick Murdoch), the king heading the subscribers with ‘one hundred pounds,’ while the list includes most of the celebrities of the day, from Akenside to Wilkes (see Dibdin, Libr. Comp. 1825, p. 740 n.) With the proceeds a cenotaph, designed by Robert Adam and executed by H. Spang, was erected between the monuments of Shakespeare and Rowe in Westminster Abbey. Other literary memorials were the ‘Musidorus’ of Robert Shiels, the graceful strophes of Shenstone (Verses to William Lyttelton, ad fin.), and the fine elegiac ‘Ode’ by Collins, ‘In yonder grave a druid lies’ (see Gent. Mag. 1843, i. 493, 602).

Thomson's cottage in Kew Foot Lane became after numerous accretions Rosedale House. In 1786 it became the residence of Mrs. Boscawen, the widow of the admiral, who treasured in the rooms formerly occupied by the poet a number of Thomson relics. What little remains of the old house after many changes is now incorporated in the Richmond Royal Hospital (see {sc|Thorne}}, Environs of London, 1876, p. 502; Evans, Richmond, 1824; Addit. MS. 27578, ff. 120–7). Commemorative lines on Thomson may still be seen upon a board within the grounds of Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park.

But a few stories remain to confirm the tradition of Thomson's indolence and epicureanism. The notion that he was extremely fat seems contradicted by his activity. He is said, however, to have risen habitually at noon, to have eaten the sunny side off the peaches in his garden with his hands in his pockets, and to have cut his books with the snuffers. He was especially careless about matters of attire, yet was a dandy in the matter of perukes. Like Cowley (between whom and Thomson Leigh Hunt, in his ‘Men, Women, and Books,’ works out with great ingenuity ‘a kind of identity’), he knew how to push the bottle, and his cellar was rich in old wines and Scotch ale. He also formed a fine collection of prints, and a library of from five to six hundred books. Like Addison, the author of ‘The Seasons’ is said to have been dull as a talker until excited by wine. His sensibility was great, so much so that in reading fine poetry he always lost control of himself. He generally composed in the deep silence of the night, and could be heard ‘walking in his library till near morning, humming over in his way what he was to correct and write out next day’ (Murdoch). It is evident that he was liberal-minded, good-humoured, and free from any mean failings. He had a rare power of attaching friends; the way in which he captivated the good will of Pope is remarkable, and generous to a high degree was the sentiment that existed between him and James Quin.

‘The Seasons’ may be regarded as inaugurating a new era in English poetry. Lady Winchilsea and John Dyer, whose ‘Grongar Hill’ was published a few months before ‘Winter,’ had pleaded by their work for a truthful and unaffected and at the same time a romantic treatment of nature in poetry; but the ideal of artificiality by which English poetry was dominated under the influence of Cowley and Pope was first effectively challenged by Thomson. It was he who transmitted the sentiment of nature not only to imitators like Savage (cf. The Wanderer, 1729), Armstrong, Somerville, and Shenstone, but also to Gray and Cowper, and so indirectly to Wordsworth. Cowper in particular was interpenetrated with the spirit and feeling of ‘The Seasons,’ and it is related in a pathetic passage how in the last ‘glimmerings of cheerfulness’ before his final collapse he walked in the moonlight in St. Neots churchyard and spoke earnestly of Thomson's ‘Seasons,’ and the circumstances under which they were probably written (July 1795).

From 1750 to 1850 Thomson was in England the poet, par excellence, not of the eclectic and literary few, but of the large and increasing cultivated middle class. ‘Thomson's “Seasons” looks best (I maintain it) a little torn and dog's-eared’ (Lamb, Detached Thoughts on Books and Reading). When Coleridge found a dog-eared copy of ‘The Seasons’ in an inn, and remarked ‘That is fame,’ Thomson's popularity seemed quite as assured as Milton's. Royal academicians quoted him to illustrate their landscapes, and Haydn made a grand oratorio of ‘The Seasons.’ As late as 1855 Robert Bell remarked that Thomson's popularity seemed ever on the increase. The date may be taken to mark the turning-point in his fame, for since about 1850 he has been unmistakably eclipsed on his own ground, in the favour of the class to whom he was dear, by Tennyson, while in Scotland the commemorative rites which were zealously performed in his honour at Ednam and Edinburgh between 1790 and 1820 (when an obelisk, in the erection of which Scott took a leading part, was erected at the poet's native place) have been supplanted by the cult of Burns. Burns's own ‘Address’ to the bard of Ednam, ‘Sweet poet of the year,’ was written for the Thomson celebration at Dryburgh on 22 Sept. 1791, at which the Earl of Buchan presided. Burns also wrote some fine extempore verses in dialect upon ‘Some Commemorations of Thomson’ (Life and Works, 1896, iii. 277, 387). In the Dunlop-Burns ‘Correspondence’ (1898, pp. 4, 297, 368) Mrs. Dunlop exhorts ‘the exciseman’ to ‘emulate the chaste pen of Thomson.’

In France ‘The Seasons’ proved no less ‘a revelation’ than in England (Villemain, Littérature du XVIIIme Siècle). Voltaire, in his amiable mood, spoke highly of its simplicity and the love of mankind which it exhibited. Montesquieu raised a sylvan monument to Thomson, whose poem contributed materially to the ‘rural delirium’ of Rousseau. Madame Roland repeated verses of it in prison, and Xavier de Maistre found an epigraph from it for his pathetic ‘Lépreux d'Aoste.’ Taine complained of its sentimental vapidities, but these are characteristic not so much of the original poet as of his French adapters St. Lambert and Madame Bontems, or his numerous sentimental imitators such as Bernis, Dorat, Delille, Roucher, Lemierre, and Léonard, who is called by St. Beuve ‘the diminutive of Thomson’ (cf. Phelps, Origins of English Romantic Movement; Texte, Cosmopolitisme Littéraire). Thomson's influence is also traceable in Spain, especially in the pastoral poetry of Melendez Valdés. Klopstock and Lessing praised it highly, while to Schlegel it seemed the prototype of all continental descriptive poetry.

Hazlitt and Coleridge, two very safe guides, regard Thomson as pre-eminently ‘the born poet.’ Dr. Johnson (to whom as an unorthodox Scot of liberal opinions Thomson was by no means dear) admitted that ‘he could not have viewed two candles burning but with a poetical eye.’ In this respect, in the possession of the true poetic temperament, he has been surpassed not even by Tennyson. Unfortunately, unlike his successor, he allowed the false taste of the day to intercept his utterance before it was complete. In addition to the poet's vision he had the poetic gift of observation at first hand, but in giving expression to these faculties he was content to employ the right phrase relatively to his time, and so the absolutely right eluded him. That a true poet should have been so content may be attributed in part to the sensitiveness of a provincial to the imputation of rudeness, in part to his kindly, sociable, and easy-going temperament, and the predominant influence of his much-esteemed ‘Mr. Pope.’ The result is that ‘The Seasons,’ which ‘gave the signal for a revolution destined to renew European literature,’ yet comes short in itself of being a perfect masterpiece.

Byron perversely held that ‘The Seasons’ would have been better in rhyme, though even then inferior to the ‘Castle of Indolence.’ The majestic use of blank verse by a contemporary of Pope is certainly one of Thomson's chief claims to respect. He was avowedly influenced to some extent in this by John Philips [q. v.], who had chosen the metre for ‘Cyder’ in 1706, and possibly also by the reflection that the couplet had been brought to the utmost polish of which it was susceptible by Pope. Tennyson's earliest essays in poetry were made in ‘Thomsonian blank verse.’ Though a descriptive poet, Thomson is not adequately represented by selections, few long poems being so well sustained, or having their beauties so well diffused as ‘The Seasons.’ Among the turns of speech to which that poem has given currency may be mentioned ‘to look unutterable things,’ and ‘to teach the young idea how to shoot,’ while the ‘Castle of Indolence’ has the beautiful line ‘Placed far amid the melancholy main’ (cf. Wordsworth, Highland Girl; Knight, Wordsworthiana, pp. 331 sq.).

There are three portraits of Thomson—that by William Aikman (described by Pitt as ‘beastly like’), dated 1725, and now at Edinburgh (it was, like the Paton portrait, engraved by Basire for the edition of 1762); that of Slaughter, dated 1736, and now at Dryburgh Abbey; and that of Paton, painted in 1746, and presented to the National Portrait Gallery in 1857 by Miss Bell of Springhall, the grand-niece of the poet. Of this many engravings, mostly very indifferent likenesses, exist. A miniature, presented to the bygone Ednam Club by the Earl of Buchan, is still preserved at Ednam manse. In addition to the above, two oil portraits have been ascribed to William Hogarth; from one of these a good profile was lithographed in 1820 by M. Gauci (Brit. Mus. Print-room; Dobson, Hogarth, pp. 315, 350).

Between Thomson's death and the issue of the splendid quarto edition of 1762 (which was long exhibited in a show-case in the King's Library at the British Museum as an example of British typography), some eight editions of Thomson's works were issued. Subsequently to that date the following are the more important of the editions (I) of Thomson's ‘Works’ and (II) of ‘The Seasons.’

I. ‘The Works of James Thomson, with his last Corrections and Improvements,’ London, 1763, 2 vols. 12mo; 1768, 8vo (the British Museum copy has some of Lyttelton's manuscript corrections); Edinburgh, 1772, 4 vols. 8vo; London, 1773, 4 vols. 12mo; 1788, 3 vols. 8vo and 2 vols. 12mo; 1802, 3 vols. 8vo; ed. J. Nichols, 1849, 12mo; 1866, 8vo. A folio edition appeared at Glasgow in 2 vols. 1784. ‘Thomson's Poetical Works’ were edited by George Gilfillan for the Library edition of the ‘British Poets’ in 1853, Edinburgh, 8vo; by Sir Harris Nicolas for an American edition in 1854 (Boston, 2 vols. 8vo); by Robert Bell in 1855 (with useful notes and appendixes), London, 2 vols. 8vo; by W. M. Rossetti, with illustrations by T. Seccombe in 1873, London, 8vo, and 1879; by Gilfillan and Clarke, 1873, 1874, 1878, London, 8vo. The poems have also appeared in the ‘Collections’ of Johnson, Bell, Anderson, Park, Chalmers, Sanford, and in the Aldine edition of the ‘British Poets’ edited by Sir Harris Nicolas in 1830, reprinted 1862 with additions by Peter Cunningham, and revised throughout by D. C. Tovey in 1897.

II. ‘The Seasons, with Notes, Illustrations, and a complete Index by G. Wright,’ London [1770], 8vo. ‘The Seasons … with Britannia … to which is prefixed the Life and Literary Character of Thomson, with new Designs,’ Dublin, 1773, 12mo. ‘The Seasons,’ Amsterdam, 1775, 4to, with plates by Moreau and Cheffard (a copy sold in 1890 for 4l. 17s. 6d.). ‘The Seasons,’ Paris, 1780, 12mo. ‘The Seasons. New edition by J. J. C. Timæus. To which is prefixed … an Essay on the Plan and Character of the Poem by J. Aikin,’ Hamburg, 1791, 8vo. ‘The Seasons, with Engravings designed by C. Ansell,’ London, 1792, 8vo; new edition, with original engravings and Aikin's ‘Essay,’ London, 1792, 8vo (the British Museum copy has manuscript notes); new edition, ‘with original Life and Critical Essay by R. Heron,’ Perth, 1793, 4to; another edition, illustrated, with index, glossary, and notes, by P. Stockdale, F.P., London, 1793, 8vo; McKenzie's edition, with Johnson's ‘Life’ and new cuts, Dublin, 1793, 8vo. ‘The Seasons,’ Parma, 1794, 4to (a sumptuous edition printed by Bodoni). ‘The Seasons, illustrated with Engravings by F. Bartolozzi and S. W. Tomkins from original Pictures by W. Hamilton,’ London, 1797, folio (a copy of this edition with coloured plates fetched 54l. in 1893; much higher prices are occasionally obtained), and 1807, 4to. ‘The Seasons,’ Paris, 1800, sm. 8vo (printed by Egron). ‘The Seasons, with illustrative Remarks by J. Evans,’ London, 1802, 8vo; another edition, L.P. 1802, 8vo. ‘The Seasons, adorned with plates,’ 1802, 8vo. ‘The Seasons, with a Life of the Author by J. Evans,’ London, 1805, 8vo. ‘The Seasons,’ with engravings by Bewick from Thurston's designs, 1805, 8vo, two editions, one F.P. (sold for 5l. 10s. in 1895); another edition, Bordeaux, 1808, 12mo; with Bewick's cuts, Edinburgh, 1809, 8vo; another edition, Manchester [1810], 12mo; Boston, Mass., 1810, 12mo; Ludlow, 1815, 12mo; Leipzig, 1815, 8vo; with engravings from the designs of R. Westall, New York, 1817, 12mo; the same, London, 1824, 12mo; new edition, with notes, historical and explanatory, by Dingwell Williams, London, 1824, 8vo (the museum copy has manuscript notes and collations by the editor); Boston, 1833, 12mo; with a biographical and critical introduction by A. Cunningham, London, 1841, 8vo. ‘The Seasons … with engraved Illustrations from Designs by J. Bell, C. W. Cope, T. Creswick, R. Redgrave … and with the Life of the Author by P. Murdoch’ (a copy, with a few extra plates, fetched 8l. in 1891), edited by Bolton Corney, London, 1842, 4to (in this edition the text was for the first time carefully restored from the edition of 1746, the last issued during the poet's lifetime); another edition, edited with notes philosophical, classical, historical, and biographical, by Anthony Todd Thomson, London, 1847, 16mo; another edition, illustrated by Birket Foster (and others), London, 1859, 8vo; with introduction and notes by E. E. Morris, 2 vols. Calcutta, 1869, 8vo; edited, with introductions and notes, by J. Logie Robertson, Oxford, 1891, 8vo (the influence of Thomson upon Burns is here traced with much effect); another edition, with forty-eight illustrations and Cunningham's introduction, London, 1892, 8vo; another edition, 4 vols. London and Boston, 1893, 12mo. Among the translations may be noted those into French of Mme. Chatillon Bontems (1759), Deleuze (1801), Poullin (1802), and Fremin de Beaumont (1806). Poullin's translation was described in the ‘Edinburgh Review’ for January 1806 as ‘incomparably good,’ and ‘perhaps an improvement on the original,’ a proposition which, if established, would be rightly regarded as a negation of poetic excellence of the highest order. The German translations include those of Brockes (1745), Pulte (1758), von Palthen (1766), Schubert (1789), Soltau (1803), Bruckbraen (1824), and Rosenzweig, in hexameters, 1825. Lessing, who was a great student of Thomson, left several fragments of translations from the poet's tragedies. Parts of ‘The Seasons’ have appeared in Polish (1852), Danish (1807), Dutch (1803), Romaic (1817), Latin, Italian, Spanish, and Hebrew (Berlin, 1842). A translation of the ‘Castle of Indolence’ by Lemierre d'Argy appeared at Paris in 1814.

[The chief Lives of Thomson have been those of Robert Shiels in Cibber's Lives (1753), Patrick Murdoch (1762), Dr. Johnson in Lives of the Poets (1781), G. Wright (1770), the Earl of Buchan (1792), Robert Heron (1793), Sir Harris Nicolas (1831; revised by Peter Cunningham in 1862), Bolton Corney's Annotations on Murdoch (1842), Robert Bell (1855), Edward E. Morris (1869), and J. Logie Robertson (1891). But all these have been superseded by the elaborate James Thomson, sa Vie et ses Œuvres, by Dr. Léon Morel (Paris, 1895, 678 pp., large 8vo, with a copious list of authorities), which constitutes a pattern biography both in respect to exhaustive research and sound literary criticism. Prefixed is an exceptionally good engraving after Paton by J. Sévrette. The present article has had the advantage of Dr. Morel's revision. Since Dr. Morel wrote have appeared a detailed criticism of Thomson by M. Lefèvre Deumier in his Célébrités Anglaises, 1895; a careful biography prefixed to the Aldine edition of his Works, 1897, by the Rev. D. C. Tovey; Bayne's Life of Thomson, 1898; G. C. Macaulay in English Men of Letters ser. 1908. See also Texte's Cosmopolitisme Littéraire, 1895; E. B. Chancellor's Richmond, pp. 248 sq.; Gent. Mag. 1803 i. 6, 1819 ii. 295, 399, 1821 ii. 223, 300, 397 (a long essay on Thomson and Young), 1841 i. 145, ii. 564, 1843 i. 602–3 (by Bolton Corney); Leigh Hunt's Men, Women, and Books, 1878, pp. 225 sq., and The Town, 1859, p. 368; Younger's Autobiography, 1881, chap. xiii.; Elihu Burritt, Memorial Vol., p. 239; Stephen's English Thought in the Eighteenth Century, ii. 360–2; Trevelyan's Macaulay, 1878, i. 482; Minto's Georgian Era, pp. 51 sq.; Goodhugh's Libr. Man. 1824; Veitch's Feeling for Nature in Scottish Poetry, 1887; Wool's Life of Joseph Warton, 1806, p. 253; Spence's Anecd., ed. Singer; Ticknor's Spanish Literature, 1888, iii. 371; Philobiblon Soc. Publ. vol. iv. (containing letters); Genest's Hist. of the Stage, vol. v.; Dennis's Age of Pope, pp. 86–95; Montégut's Heures de lecture, 1891, pp. 190–3 (on the relations of Thomson and Collins); Dr. G. Schmeding's Jacob Thomson, Brunswick, 1889; Notes and Queries, 6th ser. ii. 447, 7th ser. ii. 410, vi. 268, 393, 8th ser. vi. 4–5, xii. 389–91; Sat. Rev., 20 Feb. 1897; Book Prices Current, 1889–97.]

T. S.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.264
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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249 ii 40 Thomson, James (1700-1748): for 1781,’ read 1751,’