James Thomson

(11 September 1700 - 27 August 1748)
James Thomson (1700-1748)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

James Thomson (1700-1748)

Works in ECPA

alphabetical listing / listing in source editions

Source editions

  • Thomson, James, 1700-1748. The four seasons, and other poems. By James Thomson. London: printed for J. Millan, near Scotland-Yard, White-Hall; and A. Millar, in the Strand, M.DCC.XXXV., 1735. [2];77,[3];64;72;79,[1]p.,plates; 8⁰. (ESTC T83; Foxon T242; OTA K019862.000)
  • Thomson, James, 1700-1748. Antient and modern Italy compared: being the first part of Liberty, a poem. By Mr. Thomson. London: printed for A. Millar, over-against St. Clement’s Church in the Strand, M.DCC.XXXV., 1735. 37,[3]p.; 4⁰. (ESTC T22178; Foxon T186; OTA K030889.000)
  • Thomson, James, 1700-1748. The prospect: being the fifth part of Liberty. A poem. By Mr. Thomson. London: printed for A. Millar, over-against St. Clement’s Church in the Strand, M.DCC.XXXVI., 1736. 38,[2]p.; 4⁰. (ESTC T46011; Foxon T198; OTA K043527.000)
  • Thomson, James, 1700-1748. The castle of indolence: an allegorical poem. Written in imitation of Spenser. By James Thomson. London: printed for A. Millar, over against Catherine-Street, in the Strand, MDCCXLVIII., 1748. [2],81,[3]p.; 4⁰. (ESTC T20324; Foxon T181; OTA K029946.000)
  • Dodsley, Robert, 1703-1764. A Collection of Poems in Six Volumes. By Several Hands. Vol. III. London: printed by J. Hughs, for R. and J. Dodsley, 1763 [1st ed. 1758]. 6v.: music; 8⁰. (ESTC T131163; OTA K104099.003)

Biographical note

James Thomson was born in the village of Ednam, Roxburghshire, the fourth child of Thomas Thomson (c. 1666-1716), a Presbyterian minister, and his wife Beatrix, née Trotter (d. 1725), of Fogo, Berwickshire. Shortly after Thomas' birth, the family moved to Southdean, close to the English–Scottish border, where his father was admitted minister. Thomson was educated at a grammar school in Jedburgh (1712) and at Edinburgh University, where he prepared for the Presbyterian ministry. Thomson began to write and publish poetry (1720) and in 1725 he followed his friend David Mallet to London in pursuit of a literary career. He initially worked as a tutor for, among others, the son of the poet Charles Hamilton, Lord Binning. Thomson was introduced to John Dyer, Aaron Hill, Alexander Pope, and Richard Savage among others. His first major publication was Winter (1726), and inspired by its success, Thomson added Summer (1727), Spring (1728) and finally Autumn (1730), which first appeared in the four-poem sequence, published in quarto by subscription. It was printed by Thomson's friend Samuel Richardson. The volume also included a reprint of his poem Britannia (1729). Thomson acquired the patronage of a number of influential benefactors, among them Dodington, Talbot, and Frances Seymour, countess of Hertford, who became a friend. From 1730 to 1733 Thomson traveled in France and Italy as a tutor accompanying Charles Richard Talbot, eldest son of the Solicitor General. After his return he published a series of five poems eventually constituting Liberty (1735-6), a long didactic poem on the progress of liberty from Greece and Rome to the Glorious Revolution in England. Thomson moved to the village of Richmond and regularly visited friends such as Pope in Twickenham. He never married. It was about this time that Thomson was befriended by George Lyttelton, who would become his chief patron in the last decade of his life. Lyttelton, who had joined the administration after the fall of Walpole, found Thomson a sinecure office and an annual pension. Thomson used his fortune to improve his house at Richmond and to extend hospitality to friends such as John Armstrong, Charles Burney, William Collins, and Joseph Warton. Thomson completed a thorough revision of The Seasons at Lyttelton's house, Hagley Hall, in 1743, dedicating the revised work (1744) to the Prince of Wales. Thomson began The Castle of Indolence (1748) as a series of Spenserian stanzas, genially mocking his own notorious laziness, and some contributions were added by Armstrong and Lyttelton. Thomson's final compositions appeared in Robert Dodsley's Collection of Poems (1748). Thomson died of a fever at his house and was buried at St. Mary's church, Richmond. Armstrong attended him in his final illness and William Collins published An Ode Occasion'd by the Death of Mr. Thomson in 1748.


DMI 2238; ODNB 27306; NCBEL 527; DLB 95


  • Smith, Margaret M. Index of English Literary Manuscripts. Vol. III, 1700-1800 . London: Mansell, 1986-1997. Pt. 4 Sterne-Young. 93-118. Print. 4 volumes.


  • McKillop, A. D., ed. James Thomson, 1700-1748. Letters and Documents. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1958. Print.
  • Sambrook, James, ed. James Thomson: The seasons, and The castle of indolence. Reprinted with corrections. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984 [1st ed. 1972]. Print.
  • Sambrook, James, ed. James Thomson: Liberty, The Castle of Indolence, and Other Poems. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986. Print.
  • The Works of the English Poets, from Chaucer to Cowper; including the Series Edited, with Prefaces, Biographical and Critical, by Dr Samuel Johnson: and the most approved translations. The Additional Lives by Alexander Chalmers, F.S.A. Vol. XII. London: J. Johnson et al., 1810. 403-507. Google Books edition. Web. 13 Feb. 2016. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=V_ZLAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA403


  • Sambrook, James. James Thomson, 1700-1748. A Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991. Print.
  • Scott, Mary Jane W. James Thomson, Anglo-Scot. Athens, GA and London: University of Georgia Press, 1988. Print.

Reference works

  • Baines, Paul, Julian Ferraro, Pat Rogers, eds. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Eighteenth-Century Writers and Writing, 1660-1789. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011. 340-341. Print.
  • Fairer, David. English Poetry of the Eighteenth Century 1700-1789. Longman Literature in English Series. Harlow: Longman, 2003. 288. Print.
  • Johnson, Sarah. Thomson, James, 1700-1748. Literature Online biography. Cambridge: Chadwyck-Healey, 2004. Web. 21 Feb. 2016. http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:ref:BIO002099:0
  • Mell, Jr., Donald C. English Poetry, 1660-1800: a guide to information sources. American Literature, English Literature, and World Literatures in English Information Guide Series, vol. 40. Detroit: Gale, 1982. 400-407. Print.
  • Radcliffe, David H., ed. James Thomson (1700-1748). Spenser and the Tradition: ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830. Center for Applied Technologies in the Humanities, Virginia Tech, 2006. Web. 14 Oct. 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20170908014740/http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu/AuthorRecord.php?recordid=32997.
  • Suarez, Michael F. Dodsley, Robert. A Collection of Poems by Several Hands [1782]. Ed. Thomson, James and Michael F. Suarez. Vol. I. London: Routledge/Thoemmes, 1997. 214. Print. 6 volumes.


  • Cohen, Michael. The Whig Sublime and James Thomson. English Language Notes 24 (1986): 27-35. Print.
  • Somervell, Tess. James Thomson and the Romantics. The Wordsworth Trust, 3 Dec. 2014. Web. 1 Mar. 2017. http://wordsworth.org.uk/blog/2014/12/03/james-thomson-and-the-romantics/
  • Terry, Richard, ed. James Thomson: Essays for the Tercentenary. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2000. Print.

Studies of individual works

  • Anderson, David R. Emotive Theodicy in The Seasons. Studies in Eighteenth-Century Culture 12 (1983): 59-76. Print.
  • Cohen, Ralph. The Art of Discrimination: Thomson's The Seasons and the Language of Criticism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1964. Print.
  • Inglesfield, Robert. Shaftesbury's Influence on Thomson's Seasons. British Journal for Eighteenth-Century Studies 9 (1986): 141-56. Print.
  • McKillop, A. D. The Background of Thomson's Seasons. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1942. Print.
  • Terry, Richard. 'Through Nature shedding influence malign': Thomson's The Seasons as a Theodicy. Durham University Journal87 (1995): 257-68. Print.