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James Thomson

  • Name  : Thomson
  • Born  : 1700
  • Died  : 1748
  • Category  : Poets
  • Finest Moment : Publication of The Seasons (1730)

A Scot who delighted in idleness and wrote Rule Britannia.

Born at Ednam, Roxburghshire in 1700, the son of a minister. Thomson studied at Jedburgh School then Edinburgh University, where he read Divinity, but at the age of 25 he was encouraged by his playwright friend David Malloch to abandon his studies and move to London.

He became a tutor for a while, to pay for the baked beans on toast, meanwhile becoming acquainted with such literary notables as Gay, Arbuthnot and Pope. In 1726 he published Winter, the first of his four Seasons, which was an immediate hit. This was followed (somewhat unseasonably), with Summer (1727), Spring (1728), then Autumn (1730). This work, revised in 1744, is considered to be a precursor of the Romantic movement, with its descriptions of the landscape and nature. It also challenged the urban and artificial school of Pope.

In 1735-6 he wrote Liberty, a tribute to Britain, and a poem inspired by a European tour he undertook as a tutor to Lord Chancellor Talbot's son in 1731. He dedicated it to the Prince of Wales, a very smart move, as it gained him both a pension and later on a sinecure as Surveyor-General of the Leeward Islands. In 1740 he collaborated with his friend Malloch on The Masque of Alfred. This contains the song which annually ruins the end of the London proms, Rule Britannia.

He retired in 1740, but shortly before his death he published The Castle of Indolence, an allegory in the style of Spenser, and reflecting the poet's delight in idleness. It is considered by many to be his masterpiece. He died in Richmond in 1748, and is buried in the church there.

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