James Thomson Biography


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

James Thomson was born to Scottish parents whose chief characteristics became some of his own. His father, an officer of the merchant marine, was known for his geniality and love of drink, while his mother was known for her melancholy.

Thomson’s father was a chief officer in a ship out of Greenock, Scotland, when he was disabled by a paralytic stroke in 1840. He moved the family to London, where within two years the young Thomson was admitted to the Royal Caledonian Asylum, an institution for the children of indigent Scottish servicemen. His ailing mother died soon thereafter, in 1842.

Thomson’s relatives determined his future as an army schoolmaster and in 1850 enrolled him in the military normal school of the Royal Military College at Chelsea. Successful in his studies, Thomson was posted in 1851 as assistant teacher in a regimental school in Ballincollig, near Cork, Ireland. His nearly year-and-a-half stay there proved pivotal. He made friends with a trooper in the dragoons, Charles Bradlaugh, who later would become an editor and leading proponent of the Free Thought movement in England. He also fell in love with the young Matilda Weller. To Thomson’s great despair, she died soon after his duties took him back to Chelsea. To his dying day, he kept a curl of her hair in a locket.

Made an army schoolmaster in 1854, for the next eight years he served in Devonshire, Dublin, Aldershot, Jersey, and Portsmouth. He also began his career as a poet. His works appeared in periodicals including the Edinburgh Magazine above the signature “B. V.” The first initial represented “Bysshe,” to invoke Percy Bysshe Shelley, while the second represented “Vanolis,” an...

(The entire section is 699 words.)


(British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

James Thomson was born in the village of Ednam, Roxburgh, in Scotland, close to the border with England. His father, Thomas Thomson, was a minister. The poet’s mother, Beatrix Trotter Thomson, communicated enthusiasm for religious devotion to her children. James was the fourth of nine children. When he was an infant, Thomson’s family moved to the nearby hamlet of Southdean. Here the future poet of nature roamed a varied landscape that included snow on the Cheviot Hills, the Jed Water, and a pastoral setting in which light and shade, cloud and horizon, wind and weather, and greens and browns produce an environment of remarkable variety and dramatic vividness.

Thomson was a student for almost ten years at Edinburgh University, beginning in 1715. He studied for the Presbyterian ministry, but poetry, which he began writing before college, became increasingly important to him. By early 1725, Thomson had decided to go to London to attempt a literary career. His successes were quick by any standards. The first version of what would become his immensely popular The Seasons was the 406-line poem Winter, published in April, 1726. This was followed by a second edition just two months later. Summer appeared in 1727, Spring in 1728, and Autumn in 1730 as part of the first edition of The Seasons. During these first five years in England, Thomson also wrote “Poem to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton”...

(The entire section is 416 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James Thomson was for more than a century considered a major British poet. His masterpiece, The Seasons, was among the best-selling poems between 1730 and 1850, and it was often ranked with John Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667) as the representative British work.

Although a contemporary of Alexander Pope, who made the heroic couplet standard in the age, Thomson wrote most of his work in blank verse. He further departs from the Augustan tradition in his use of nature. His evocative descriptions of nature, expressed in simple language, free of the self-conscious artificiality of his contemporaries, foreshadowed the Romantic movement.

Thomson’s affinity with nature can be traced to his early days in the small Scottish village of Ednam. Educated at Edinburgh University, he traveled to London in 1725 and passed through a series of patrons, pensions, and tutorial positions—a frequent pattern among writers in eighteenth century London. The phenomenal success of the individual poems of The Seasons (originally published separately) helped make him financially independent, and his works in translation were popular in France, Spain, and Germany. In 1736 he moved to Kew Gardens, then a rural district outside London, where he spent the remainder of his life.

The Seasons is a reflective landscape poem in blank verse that describes nature and the turn of the year with great variety and fullness. The four...

(The entire section is 466 words.)