James Thomson (1700-1748). Portrait after John Patoun, circa 1746. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

James Thomson
Born 11 September 1700
Ednam, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Died 27 August 1748 (aged 47)
Richmond upon Thames]], England

James Thomson (11 September 1700 - 27 August 1748) was a Scottish poet and playwright, best known for his masterpiece, The Seasons, and for the lyrics of "Rule, Britannia!."

Life[edit | edit source]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Thomson, son of the minister of Ednam, Roxburghshire, spent most of his youth, however, at Southdean, a neighbouring parish, to which his f. was translated. He was educated at the parish school there, at Jedburgh, and at Edinburgh, where he went with the view of studying for the ministry. The style of 1 of his earliest sermons having been objected to by the professor of divinity as being too flowery and imaginative, he gave up his clerical views and went to London in 1725, taking with him a part of what ultimately became his poem of Winter. By the influence of his friend Mallet he became tutor to Lord Binning, son of the earl of Haddington, and was introduced to Pope, Arbuthnot, Gay, and others. Winter was published in 1726, and was followed by Summer (1727), Spring (1728), and Autumn (1730), when the whole were brought together as The Seasons. Previous to 1730 he had produced 1 or 2 minor poems and the tragedy of Sophonisba, which, after promising some success, was killed by the unfortunate line, "Oh! Sophonisba, Sophonisba, oh!" being parodied as "Oh! Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, oh!" In 1731 Thomson accompanied Charles Talbot, son of the Lord Chancellor, to the Continent, as tutor, and on his return received the sinecure Secretaryship of Briefs which, however, he lost in 1737, through omitting to apply for its continuance to Talbot's successor. He then returned to the drama and produced Agamemnon in 1738, and Edward and Eleanora in 1739. The same year he was made Surveyor-General of the Leeward Islands which, after providing for a deputy to discharge the duties, left him £300 a year. He was now in comfortable circumstances and settled in a villa near Richmond, where he amused himself with gardening and seeing his friends. In conjunction with Mallet he wrote, in 1740, the masque of Alfred, in which appeared Rule Britannia, which Mallet afterwards claimed, or allowed to be claimed, for him, but which there is every reason to believe was contributed by Thomson. In 1745 appeared Tancred and Sigismunda, the most successful of his dramas, and in 1748 Coriolanus. In May of the latter year he published The Castle of Indolence, an allegorical poem in the Spenserian stanza, generally considered to be his masterpiece. In August following he caught a chill which developed into a fever, and carried him off in his 48th year.[1]


James Thomson (poet, born 1700)

Though Thomson was undoubtedly a poet by nature, his art was developed by constant and fastidious polishing. To The Seasons, originally containing about 4000 lines, he added about 1400 in his various revisions. He was the 1st to give the description of nature the leading place, and in his treatment of his theme he showed much judgment in the selection of the details to be dwelt upon. His blank verse, though not equal to that of a few other English poets, is musical and wielded in a manner suitable to his subject. In all his poems he displays the genial temper and kindly sympathies by which he was characterised as a man. He was never married, and lived an easy, indolent life, beloved by his many friends.[1]

Scotland, 1700-1725[edit | edit source]

Thomson was born at Ednam, in Roxburghshire, on 11 September 1700 — the 3rd son and 4th child of Thomas Thomson, minister of that place. His mother, Beatrix, was the daughter of Mr Trotter of Fogo, whose wife, Margaret, was a Home of Bassenden.[2]

About 1701 Thomas Thomson removed to Southdean near Jedburgh. Here James was educated initially by Robert Riccaltoun, to whose verses on "Winter" he owed the suggestion of his own poem. In 1712 he attended a school at Jedburgh, held in the aisle of the parish church. He learnt there some Latin, but with difficulty, and the earliest recorded utterance of the future poet was " Confound the building of Babel." He began very soon to write verses, and we are told that every January he destroyed almost all the productions of the preceding year. And this was just as well, for the little that has escaped the fire contains no promise of his future powers.[2]

In 1715 he went to the university of Edinburgh. It is said that as soon as the servant who brought him there had left him, he returned full speed to his father's house, declaring that he could read just as well at home; he went back, however, and had not been long at college before he lost his father, who died, according to a remarkable but highly improbable story, in the attempt to lay a ghost. The incident should have left more impression than we can trace upon the mind of the poet, at this date nervous and afraid of the dark; but in Winter he writes of such stories with a quiet contempt for "superstitious horror."[2]

He made friends at the university with David Mallock, who afterwards called himself Mallet, and with Patrick Murdoch, his future biographer. In 1710 he became a divinity student, and one of his exercises so enchanted a certain Auditor Benson, that he urged Thomson to go to London and there make himself a reputation as a preacher. It was partly with this object that Thomson left Edinburgh without a degree in March 1725. His mother saw him embark, and they never met again; she died on the 10th of May of that year.[2]

Poet, 1725-1736[edit | edit source]

There is sufficient evidence that on his arrival in London he was not in the extreme destitution which Dr. Johnson attributes to him; and in July 1725 we find him engaged, as a make-shift, in teaching "Lord Binning's son to read." This son was the grandson of Lady Grizel Baillie, a somewhat distant connection of Thomson's mother. She was the daughter of Sir Patrick Home^ whom, after the defeat of Argyll, she fed in his concealment near his own castle; she was also, like other Scottish ladies, a writer of pretty ballads. This heroine and poetess is supposed to have encouraged Thomson to come to England, and it is certain that she procured him a temporary home. But he had other friends, especially Duncan Forbes of Culloden, by whom he was recommended to the duke of Argyll, the earl of Burlington, Sir Robert Walpole, Arbuthnot, Pope and Gay. Some introductions to the literary world he may have owed to Mallet, then tutor in the family of the duke of Montrose.[2]

Thomson's Winter appeared in March 1726. It was warmly praised by Aaron Hill, a man of various interests and projects, and in his day a sort of literary oracle. It was dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton, the Speaker, who rewarded the poet, to his great disgust, with a bare 20 guineas. By June 1727 a 2nd edition was called for.[2]

Meanwhile Thomson was residing at Mr Watts's academy in Tower Street as tutor to Lord George Graham, second son of the duke of Montrose, and previously a pupil of Mallet. Summer appeared in 1727. It was dedicated in prose, a compliment afterwards versified, to Bubb Dodington. In the same year Thomson published his Poem to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton, with a fulsome dedication to Sir Robert Walpole, which was afterwards omitted, and the verses themselves remodelled when the poet began to inveigh against the ministry as he did in Britannia, published in 1729.[2]

Spring appeared in 1728, published by Andrew Millar, a man who, according to Johnson, dealt handsomely by authors and "raised the price of literature." It was dedicated to the countess of Hertford, afterwards duchess of Somerset, a lady devoted to letters and the patroness of the unhappy Richard Savage.[2]

In 1729 Thomson produced Sophonisba, a tragedy now only remembered by the line "O, Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O," and the parody "O, Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O," which caused him to remodel the unhappy verse in the form, "O, Sophonisba,- I am wholly thine." A poem, anonymous but unquestionably Thomson's, to the memory of Congreve who had died in January 1729, appeared in that year.[2]

In 1730 Autumn was 1st published in a collected edition of The Seasons. It was dedicated to the Speaker, Onslow. In this year, at the suggestion of Rundle, bishop of Derry, one of his patrons, he accompanied the son of Sir Charles Talbot, solicitor-general, upon his travels. In the course of these he projected his Liberty as "a poetical landscape of countries, mixed with moral observations on their government and people."[2]

In December 1731 he returned with his pupil to London. He probably lived with his patrons the Talbots, leisurely meditating his new poem, the 1st part of which did not appear until the close of 1734 or the beginning of 1735. But meanwhile his pupil died, and in the opening lines of Liberty Thomson pays a tribute to his memory. 2 months after his son's death Sir Charles Talbot became chancellor and gave Thomson a sinecure in the court of chancery. About this time the poet worked for the relief of Dennis, now old and in extreme poverty, and induced even Pope to give a half-contemptuous support to the bitter critic of the Rape of the Lock.[2]

Liberty was completed in 5 parts in 1736. The poem was a failure; its execution did not correspond with its design; in a sense indeed it is a survey of countries and might have anticipated Goldsmith's Traveller. It was not, however, \he poem which readers were expecting from the author of The Seasons, who had taken them from the town to the country, and from social and political satire to the world of nature. It is in the main a set of wearisome declamations put in the mouth of the goddess, and Johnson rightly enough remarks that "an enumeration of examples to prove a position which nobody denied as it was from the beginning superfluous, must quickly grow disgusting." The truth is that Thomson's poetical gift was for many years perverted by the zeal of partisanship.[2]

Playwright 1736-1740[edit | edit source]

He was established in May 1736 in a small house at Richmond, but his patron died in February 1737 and he lost his sinecure; he then "whips and spurs " to finish his tragedy Agamemnon, which appeared in April 1738, not before he had been arrested for a debt of £70, from which, according to a story which has been discredited on quite insufficient grounds, Quin relieved him in the most generous and tactful manner. Quin, it is said, visited him in the sponging-house and "balanced accounts with him" by insisting on his accepting £100 as a return for the pleasure which the actor had received from the poet's works. The incident took place probably a little before the production of Agamemnon, in which Quin played the leading part.[2]

Thomson about this time was introduced to Lyttelton, and by him to the prince of Wales, and to 1 or the other of these, when he was questioned as to the state of his affairs, he made answer that they were "in a more poetical posture than formerly." Agamemnon was put upon the stage soon after the passing of Walpole's bill for licensing plays, and its obvious bias fixed the attention of the censorship and caused Thomson's next venture, Edward and Eleanora, which has the same covert aim, to be proscribed.[2]

The rejection of the play was defended by 1 of the ministry on the ground that Thomson had taken a Liberty which was not agreeable to Britannia in any Season. These circumstances sufficiently account for the poet's next experiment, a preface to Milton's Areopagitica.[2]

He joined Mallet in composing the masque of Alfred, represented at Clieveden on the Thames before the prince of Wales, on 1 of August 1740. There can be little question that "Rule Britannia," a song in this drama, was the production of Thomson. The music of the song, as of the whole masque, was composed by Arne.[2]

Last years, 1740-1748[edit | edit source]

In 1744 Thomson was appointed surveyor-general of the Leeward Islands by Lyttelton with an income of £300 a year; but his patron fell into disfavour with the prince of Wales, and in consequence Thomson lost, at the close of 1747, the pension he received from that quarter. For a while, however, he was in flourishing circumstances, and whilst completing at his leisure The Castle of Indolence produced Tancred and Sigismunda at Drury Lane in 1745.[2]

The Castle of Indolence, after a gestation of 15, appeared in May 1748. It is the last work by Thomson which appeared in his lifetime. In walking from London to his house at Richmond he became heated and took a boat at Hammer- smith; he thus caught a chill with fatal consequences and died on 27 August 1748. He was buried in Richmond churchyard.[2]

His tragedy Coriolanus was acted for the 1st time in January 1749. In itself a feeble performance, it is noteworthy for the prologue which his friend Lyttelton wrote for it, 2 lines of which —

" He loved his friends — forgive the gushing tear!
Alas! I feel I am no actor here " —

were recited by Quin with no simulated emotion.[2]

Writing[edit | edit source]

Plays[edit | edit source]

Agamemnon (1738) is of course modelled upon Aeschylus and owes whatever of dignity it possesses to that fact; the part of Cassandra, for instance, retains something of its original force, pathos and terror. But most of the other characters exist only for the purpose of political innuendo. Agamemnon is too long absent at Troy, as George is too long absent in Germany; the arts of Aegisthus are the arts of Walpole; the declamations of Arcus are the declamations of Wyndham or Pulteney; Melisander, consoling himself with the muses on his island in Cyclades, is Bolingbroke in exile.[2]

The fact has very generally escaped notice that, like its predecessor, Edward and Eleanora follows a Greek original, the Alcestis of Euripides. It has also, what Agamemnon has not, some little place in the history of literature, for it suggested something to Lessing for Nathan der Weise, and to Scott for the Talisman.[2]

The story of Tancred and Sigismunda (1745) is found in Gil Bias, and is ultimately to be traced to The Decameron. It owes much to Le Sage in language, plot and sentiment, and the conflict of emotion, in depicting which Thomson had some little skill, is here effectively exhibited. He was assisted herein by his own experience. The "Amanda" of The Seasons is a Miss Elizabeth Young, a lady of Scottish parentage, whose mother was ambitious for her and forbade her to marry the poet, anticipating that she would be reduced to singing his ballads in the streets. The last years of his life were saddened by this disappointment.[2]

The Seasons[edit | edit source]

It may be questioned whether Thomson himself ever quite realized the distinctive significance of his own achievement in The Seasons (1730), or the place which criticism assigns him as the pioneer of a special literary movement and the precursor of Cowper and Wordsworth. His avowed preference was for great and worthy themes of which the world of nature was but one. Both the choice and the treatment of his next great subject, Liberty, indicate that he was imperfectly conscious of the gift that was in him, and might have neglected it but that his readers were wiser than himself.[2]

He has many audacities and many felicities of expression, and enriched the vocabulary even of the poets who have disparaged him. Yet it is difficult to believe that he was not the better for that training in refinement of style which he partly owed to Pope, who almost unquestionably contributed some passages to The Seasons. And, except in The Castle of Indolence, there is much that is conventional, much that is even vicious or vulgar in taste when Thomson's muse deals with that human life which must be the background of descriptive as of all other poetry; for example, his bumpkin who chases the rainbow is as unreal a being as Akenside's more sentimental rustic who has "the form of beauty smiling at his heart."[2]

But if Thomson sometimes lacks the true vision for things human, he retains it always for things mute and material, and whilst the critical estimate of his powers and influence will vary from age to age, all who have read him will concur in the colloquial judgment which only candour could have extorted from the prejudice of Dr. Johnson — " homson had as much of the poet about him as most writers. Everything appeared to him through the medium of his favourite pursuit. He could not have viewed those two candles burning but with a poetical eye."[2]

For the day of Thomson's birth see the Aldine edition of his poems (1897). In the same volume (pp. 189 seq.) is discussed the question of Pope's contributions to The Seasons. These Pope, if the handwriting be his, made in an interleaved edition of The Seasons dated 1738, and they were for the most part adopted by Thomson in the edition of 1744. The writer seldom makes more than_ verbal changes in passages of pure description, but sometimes strikingly enhances the scenes in which human character comes into play, adding, for example, the comparison, in Autumn, of the fair Lavinia to a myrtle in the Apennines, of which the 1st suggestion can be found in The Rape of the Lock. But whereas many yeare ago the opinion of experts at the British Museum pronounced the handwriting of these notes to be Pope's beyond a doubt, their successors at the present day are equally positive that it is not. Some account should be taken of the cramping of the hand, due to writing on a curved surface, and of the letters at Blenheim (see Pall Mall Magazine for August 1894), which bear a greater resemblance to the disputed handwriting than any specimens in the British Museum.[2]

The 1st collected editions of The Seasons bear dates 1730, 1738, 1744, 1746. Lyttelton tampered both with The Seasons and with Liberty in editions after his friend's death.[2]

Liberty[edit | edit source]

Liberty (1736) was a failure; its execution did not correspond with its design; in a sense indeed it is a survey of countries and might have anticipated Goldsmith's Traveller. It was not, however, \he poem which readers were expecting from the author of The Seasons, who had taken them from the town to the country, and from social and political satire to the world of nature. It is in the main a set of wearisome declamations put in the mouth of the goddess, and Johnson rightly enough remarks that "an enumeration of examples to prove a position which nobody denied as it was from the beginning superfluous, must quickly grow disgusting." The truth is that Thomson's poetical gift was for many years perverted by the zeal of partisanship.[2]

The Castle of Indolence[edit | edit source]

The Castle of Indolence (1748) is in Spenserian stanza with Spenserian archaism, and is the 1st and last long effort of Thomson in rhyme. It is not impossible that his general choice of blank, verse was partly due to the fact that he had not the southron's ear and took many years to acquire it. The great and varied interest of the poem might well rescue it from the neglect into which even The Seasons has fallen. It was worthy of an age which was fertile in character-sketches, and like Gay's "Welcome" to Pope anticipates Goldsmith's Retaliation in the lifelike presentation of a noteworthy circle. There is in it the same strain of gentle burlesque which appears in Shenstone's Schoolmistress, while the tone and diction of the poem harmonize with the hazy landscape, the pleasant land of drowsyhead, in which it is set.[2]

Critical introduction[edit | edit source]

by George Saintsbury


James Thomson, from Samuel Johnson's Lives of the English Poets (c.1779)

No competent criticism of any school has ever denied Thomson’s claim to a place, high if not of the highest, among poets of the second order. His immense and enduring popularity would settle the question, if it had ever been seriously debated. For the orbis terrarum may indeed judge without hesitation on such a point, when its judgment is ratified beforehand by many generations. Popularity which outlasts changes of manners and fashions is a testimony to worth which cannot be left out of the account, and Thomson’s popularity is eminently of this kind. Neither the somewhat indiscriminate admiration of the romantic style, of which Percy set the fashion, nor the naturalism of Cowper, nor the great revolution championed in various ways by Scott, by the Lakists, and by Byron, nor the still more complete revolution of Shelley and Keats, availed to shake the hold of The Seasons on the popular mind. Every one knows Coleridge’s remark on seeing a dogs-eared copy on an inn window-sill.

During the last century the reading of poetry, except that of contemporary authors, has somewhat gone out of fashion, yet no one who does read The Seasons, much more The Castle of Indolence, fails to admit their charm. It would hardly be too much to say that, making allowance for the time over which his influence has extended, no poet has given the special pleasure which poetry is capable of giving to so large a number of persons in so large a measure as Thomson.

A critical examination of the characteristics of his poetry enables us at once to justify and explain this widespread popularity. Like many of his contemporaries, Thomson is a very unequal poet. Every one who has really endeavoured to read his favourite Liberty must endorse Johnson’s contemptuous verdict on it. It is not only not good as a whole, but (which is more remarkable) it is scarcely even good in parts. It is with considerable difficulty that one is able to pick out a few lines here and there where the admirable descriptive faculty of the writer has had room to make itself felt. Most of the minor poems (it is true there are not many of them) are also quite devoid of poetical merit. The graceful "Tell me, thou soul of her I love" is perhaps the only exception to the rule worth mentioning, and certainly the only one worth quoting. It is curious too that on the few occasions on which Thomson attempted the heroic couplet, the special and favourite metre of his time, he produced very bad work.

Blank verse and the Spenserian stanza he understood admirably, and his blank verse in especial cannot receive too much commendation. With that of Milton, and that of the present Poet Laureate, it must rank as one of the chief original models of the metre to be found in English poetry. Nothing again can be more exquisite than the opening stanzas of The Castle of Indolence in respect of metrical proficiency. Now this excellence of form, whatever some critics may think, is a very important element in enduring popularity, because it is not liable to danger from changes of fashion. The qualities which strike the ear pleasantly remain very much the same at all times, unless — and sometimes even when — the language employed has become hopelessly dead. We have at this moment (with the good leave of certain persons of distinction) hardly the faintest idea how the opening of the De Rerum Natura sounded when Lucretius read it, and still less of what the choruses of the Agamemnon conveyed to the ears of an Athenian audience. But the abiding charm of their form is not lost for us. How much more must this be the case in such work as Thomson’s, when the language has undergone merely unimportant modifications.

But the metrical charm of Thomson is not his only or indeed his chief one to the general. He has the peculiar merit of choosing a subject which appeals to and is comprehensible by everybody; which no one can scorn as trivial and yet which no one can feel to be too fine or too esoteric for him. And though he treats this in the true poetical spirit of making the common as though it were uncommon, he does not make it too uncommon for the general taste to relish. No spread of culture, no pressure of fashion, will ever make The Witch of Atlas genuinely popular. No degeneracy of education or of fashion, short of an absolute return to barbarism, can prevent The Seasons from attracting admiration as soon as they are read or heard. They are not perhaps in any single point possessed of the qualities of the highest poetry. But such poetry as they do possess is perfectly genuine and singularly suitable for its purpose.

Literal accuracy and poetical truth are blended in Thomson’s descriptions in a way rarely to be found. Every one feels that he has seen what Thomson has put into words for him: every one also feels that Thomson has added a charm for him to the scene when he shall happen to see it again. Although his style is too often deformed by the prevalent Latinisms in language and construction, his reader soon feels that he is after all independent of them. They are not a crutch to him, hardly even a staff, whereby he hopes to climb Parnassus, but a mere clouded cane which, as he mistakenly thinks, is an appropriate ornament.

His single phrases, by which a poet is perhaps most safely to be judged, stamp him at once to all who have eyes to see and ears to hear. It is bad enough no doubt that any man of Thomson’s genius should give us the words —

‘See where the winding vale its lavish stores
Irriguous spreads,’

in which the whole poetical capital is to be found in the use of the fine word "irriguous," and the artificial derangement of the epithets, but that this is a mere accident of his time must strike every one who turns the page and finds —

‘The yellow wallflower stained with iron-brown.’

Here there is not a single violence done to language or arrangement, and yet the effect is as good as it can be. Even where the words are unnecessarily grandiose, and the images not such as in strict nature or art would present themselves, the stamp of poetry is usually on them in a wholly reconciling degree, as in the lines—

‘On utmost Kilda’s shore whose lonely race
Resign the setting sun to Indian worlds.’

Passing from isolated phrases to longer passages, we may point out that the power of composition which Thomson’s landscapes display is very remarkable. Owing to this faculty, no poet perhaps is seen to such advantage in extracts of moderate length as Thomson. His narrative episodes, which used to be the most popular, are perhaps not so good as some of the descriptive passages, because instead of being painted in with lasting colours they show too often the mere varnish of the sensibility of the time which has now ceased to appear sensible. To the charge of mannerism he must indeed plead guilty. A poet who caps the climax of three several descriptive passages with three such lines as —

‘And Egypt joys beneath the spreading wave,’
‘And Mecca saddens at the long delay,’
‘And Thule bellows through her utmost isles,’

— all within the compass of half a dozen pages, may be accused with some justice of taking too literally the legendary advice to "stick to the coo." But this, and the occasional ponderosity of his language, are almost the only charges of any weight that can fairly be brought against The Seasons.

The Castle of Indolence is even better. The 2nd book does not indeed deserve quite so much praise as the 1st, being written evidently with less relish, and containing a good deal of otiose and conventional matter. But the 1st book is not only Thomson’s best work, but is 1 of the very best things of its kind to be found either in English or in any other literature. For it possesses, what The Seasons almost of necessity lack, a coherent plan and scheme which are fully and successfully carried out.

It is quite complete in itself, and needs no sequel as a work of art. Nor does it need any internal addition. The picture of the castle and its demesne, with the portraits of the chief sojourners, are quite sufficient for the canvas, and few persons will find any fault with the manner in which they are put upon it. Although the archaisms are not always used quite according to knowledge, the slips in this respect are neither in nature nor degree sufficient to interfere with the enjoyment of the piece.

The 4 final stanzas, which are attributed to Armstrong, are perhaps not wholly in character; but even this is a point on which it is difficult to pronounce decidedly, and with hardly another detail of the book can any fault be found. The opening stanzas, the speech of Indolence, the striking passage where "the shepherd of the Hebrid Isles" appears, and that describing the fancies that visit the inmates during their sleep, could not be better.

How far the occasional touches of burlesque injure the claims of the piece to high poetical rank, is a very intricate question of poetical criticism upon which there is no need to enter here. It is sufficient to say that of the peculiar faculty which we have claimed for Thomson, the faculty of exhibiting specially poetical quality in a form capable of being enjoyed by everybody, there are few better examples in our language than The Castle of Indolence.[3]


Photograph of Frontispiece – The Seasons by James Thomson. Published by Alexander Donaldson

Recognition[edit | edit source]

In 1739 he received from the Prince of Wales a pension of £100.[1]

A dispute over the publishing rights to The Seasons gave rise to 2 important legal decisions, Millar v. Taylor and Donaldson v. Beckett, in the history of copyright.

The Seasons was translated into German by Barthold Heinrich Brockes, 1745. This translation formed the basis for a work with the same title by Gottfried van Swieten, which became the libretto for Haydn's oratorio The Seasons.

A white marble monument to Thomson, on the wall next to Shakespeare's memorial, was erected in Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey, in 1762.[4]

His poem "On the Death of a particular Friend" was included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[5]

Publications[edit | edit source]

Poetry[edit | edit source]

  • Winter. A Poem. London: Printed for J. Millan & sold by J. Roberts & N. Blandford, 1726.
  • Summer. A Poem. London: Printed for J. Millan, 1727.
  • A Poem Sacred to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton. London: Printed for J. Millan, 1727.
  • Spring. A Poem. London: Printed & sold by A. Millar & G. Strahan, 1728.
  • Britannia. A Poem (anonymous). London: Printed for T. Warner, 1729.
  • "Hymn on Solitude," "A Paraphrase on the Latter Part of the Sixth Chapter of St. Matthew," "The Happy Man," and "The Incomparable Soporifick Doctor," in Miscellaneous Poems by Several Hands, publish'd by Mr. Ralph. London, 1729. 

  • The Seasons. London: Printed for the author, 1730
    • revised & enlarged edition, London: Printed by A. Millar, 1744
    • revised again, 1746
    • Philadelphia: Printed & sold by Robert Bell, 1777.
  • Autumn. A Poem ... The second edition. London: Printed by N. Blandford for J. Millan, 1730.
  • Poems. Dublin: S. Powell, 1730.[6]
  • Antient [sic] and Modern Italy Compared: being the First Part of Liberty, a Poem. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1735.
  • Greece: being the Second Part of Liberty, a Poem. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1735.
  • Rome: being the Third Part of Liberty, a Poem. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1735.
  • Britain: being the Fourth Part of Liberty, a Poem. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1736.
  • The Prospect: being the Fifth Part of Liberty. A Poem. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1736.
  • A Poem to the Memory of the Right Honourable the Lord Talbot. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1737.
  • The Castle of Indolence: an Allegorical Poem. Written an Imitation of Spenser. London: Printed for A. Millar, 1748.
  • The Seasons (edited by Percival Stockdale). London: A. Hamilton, 1793.[7]
  • The Seasons: A New Edition. Adorned with A Set of Engravings, from Original Paintings. (together with an Original Life of the Author, and a Critical Essay on the Seasons. by Robert Heron). Perth, UK: R. Morison, 1793.
  • The Seasons, and Castle of Indolence. London: William Smith, 1838.[8]
  • Poetical Works of James Thomson, James Beattie, Gilbert West, and John Bampfylde (edited by Myles Birkett Foster). London: Routledge, Warne, & Routledge, 1853.[9]

Plays[edit | edit source]

  • The Tragedy of Sophonisba. London: A. Millar, 1730.
  • Agamemnon: A tragedy. London: A. Millar, 1738.
  • Edward and Eleonora: A tragedy. London: privately published, sold by A. Millar, 1739.
  • Alfred: A masque. London: A. Millar, 1740.
  • Tancred and Sigismunda: A tragedy.. London: A. Millar, 1745.
  • Coriolanus: A tragedy. London: A. Millar, 1749.

Non-fiction[edit | edit source]

  • Preface to Areopagitica: A speech for the liberty of unlicens'd printing, to the Parliament of England. First published in the year 1644, by John Milton. London: A. Millar, 1738. 

  • Prologue to Mustapha, by David Mallet. London: 1739.

Collected editions[edit | edit source]

Anthologized[edit | edit source]

  • "Of a Country Life," "Verses on Receiving a Flower from his Mistress," and "Upon Happiness," in The Edinburgh Miscellany: Consisting of original poems, translations, etc. by various hands (January 1720), I: 193-204. 

  • "Hymn on Solitude," "A Paraphrase on the Latter Part of the Sixth Chapter of St. Matthew," "The Happy Man," and "The Incomparable Soporifick Doctor," in Miscellaneous Poems by Several Hands; publish'd by Mr. Ralph. London: 1729. 

Letters[edit | edit source]

  • Letters and Documents (edited by Alan Dugald McKillop). (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1958. 

  • Alan Dugald McKillop, "Two More Thomson Letters," Modern Philology, 60 (November 1962): 128-130.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[12]

Play productions[edit | edit source]

  • Sophonisba, London, Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, 28 February 1730. 

  • Agamemnon, London, Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, 6 April 1738. 

  • Alfred, by Thomson and David Mallet, Cliefden, 1 August 1740; London, Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, 20 March 1745. 

  • Tancred and Sigismunda, London, Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, 18 March 1745. 

  • Coriolanus, London, Theatre Royal in Covent Garden, 13 January 1749.

Except where noted, information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[12]


Summer, from James Thomson's The Seasons, ready by Julia Watson


Winter, by James Thomson, from The Seasons (1725)

Poems by James Thompson[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  • William Bayne, Life of James Thomson. Edinburgh: Oliphant, Anderson & Ferrier (Famous Scots Series), 1898.
  •  Tovey, Duncan Crookes (1911). "Thomson, James (poet, 1700-1748)". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 26 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 871.. . Wikisource, Web, Mar. 13, 2018.

Notes[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 John William Cousin, "Thomson, James," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature. London: Dent / New York: Dutton, 1910, 379-380. Wikisource, Web, Mar. 13, 2018.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 Tovey, 871.
  3. from George Saintsbury, "Critical Introduction: James Thomson (1700–1748)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Feb. 26, 2016.
  4. James Thomson, People, Our History, Westminster Abbey. Web, Dec. 5, 2016.
  5. "On the Death of a particular Friend," Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch). Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919. Bartleby.com, Web, May 10, 2012.
  6. Poems, Internet Archive, Web, Apr. 18, 2012.
  7. Search results = au:Percival Stockdale, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library CEnter Inc. Web, Dec. 4, 2016.
  8. The Seasons, and Castle of Indolence (1838), Internet Archive, Web, Apr. 18, 2012.
  9. Search results = au:Gilbert West, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 7, 2017.
  10. Poem and Plays, Internet Archive. Web, Feb. 21, 2015.
  11. Search results = au:John Bampfylde, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Apr. 23, 2016.
  12. 12.0 12.1 James Thomson 1700-1748. Poetry Foundation, Web, Dec. 18, 2012.

External links[edit | edit source]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain, the 1911 Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica.. Original article is at "Thomson, James (poet, 1700-1748)

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