James Thomson was born in Ednam, where his father
Thomas had been minister since 1692 and his grandfather
had worked as gardener to the local laird, Mr Edmonstone.
His mother Beatrix Trotter, from Fogo near Duns, was
related to the Humes. James, their fourth child, was born
on 11th September 1700. Soon after this the Reverend
Thomson and his family moved to Southdean where five
more children were born.
James Thomson attended Jedburgh Grammar School, where we are told he was “far from appearing to possess a sprightly genius”. However about this time he began to write poetry, encouraged by Robert Riccaltoun, a local farmer, poet and future minister. In 1715 Thomson entered Edinburgh University where he continued to write poetry. The following year his father died, allegedly while exorcising a ghost. James started an Arts degree then changed to Divinity, but in 1725 after a quarrel with his professor, he decided to quit his studies and go to London to seek his fortune.
At first Thomson found work as a tutor to a noble family, but soon he began to make his mark as a poet. His first major work Winter was published in 1726 and soon ran into a second edition. Spring and Summer soon followed, and in 1830 the first collected edition of The Seasons including Autumn was published. As well as poetry, he wrote a number of plays and in 1740 he collaborated with another writer, Malloch and the composer Thomas Arne, on a masque called Alfred, which included the work he is best remembered for today - Rule Britannia.
However, in Thomson’s own day it was The Seasons which was regarded as his masterpiece. His poems extolling the beauty of nature are credited with laying the foundations of the Romantic movement, inspiring poets like Wordsworth and artists like Turner. Before Robert Burns came on the scene, Thomson was regarded as Scotland’s leading poet and Burns himself visited the Thomson monument and wrote a poem in his honour. The Seasons was translated into German and later became the basis for Haydn’s famous oratorio.
James Thomson died on August 27th 1748 after catching a chill while boating, and is buried in Richmond where he had lived for some years.
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