JAMES THOMSON


James Thomson was born in Ednam, Roxburghshire around 11 September 1700 and baptised on 15 September. ( Ednam . Its name is a corruption of the Anglo-Saxon "Edenham", i.e. the town on Eden Water.)
James was the fourth of nine children of Thomas Thomson and Beatrix Thomson (nee Trotter) of Fogo who was a distant relation of the Hume family. Thomas Thomson was the Presbyterian minister in Ednam and when James was eight weeks old was transferred to Southdean where James spent his early life. James may have attended Sothdean School before going to Jedburgh Grammar School in 1912. James did not do well at Grammar school and did not impress his teachers. James was encouraged to write poetry by a farmer Robert Riccaltoun, poet and Presbyterian minister and Sir William Bennet a Whig laird and patron of Allan Ramsey. James Thomson burned most of his poems on New Year’s Day each year so few of his poems survive. Thomson entered the College of Edinburgh in autumn 1715, destined for the Presbyterian ministry. At Edinburgh he studied Metaphysics, Logic, Ethics, Greek Latin and Natural Philosophy. He completed his arts course in 1719 but chose not to Graduate, instead entering Divinity Hall to become a minister In 1716 Thomas Thomson died, with local legend saying that he was killed whilst performing an exorcism. At Edinburgh James Thomson became a member of the Grotesque Club, a literary group, and he met his lifelong friend David Mallet. After the successful publication of some of his poems in the ‘’Edinburgh Miscellany’’ Thomson followed Mallet to London in February 1725 in an effort to publish his verse. In London, Thomson became tutor to Charles Hamilton, Lord Binning through connections on his mother’s side. Through David Mallet, by 1724 a published poet, Thomson met the great poets of the day including Richard Savage, Alexander Pope and Aron Hill. In 1725 Thomson was working on “Winter” the first poem of the “Seasons” and was published in 1726. By 1727 Thomson was working on “Summer” published in February at this time Thomson was working at Watt’s Academy. Thomson also wrote ‘A Poem to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton’. Leaving Watt’s academy, Thomson hoped to earn a living through his poetry, helped by his acquiring several wealthy patrons including Thomas Rundle, The countess of Hertford and Charles Talbot, 1st Baron Talbot. Thomson wrote “Spring” in 1728 and “Autumn” in 1730 when the four were published as the “Seasons”.  In 1729 Thomson wrote his tragedy “Sophonsiba” Johnson records that one 'feeble' line of the poem - "O Sophonisba, Sophonisba, O!" was parodied by the wags of the theatre as, "O, Jemmy Thomson, Jemmy Thomson, O!” In 1730, he became tutor to the son of Sir Charles Talbot, then Solicitor-General, and spent nearly two years in the company of the young man on a tour of Europe. On his return Talbot arranged for him to become a secretary in Chancery, which gave him financial security until Talbot's death in 1737. Meanwhile, there appeared his next major work, Liberty (1734). In 1740 in collaboration with Mallet they worked on the masque “Alfred” which was performed in the home of Fredrick, Prince of Wales. Thomson’s words for Rule Britannia set to music by Thomas Arne were first performed there and are one of the best known of British patriotic songs. The masque is now virtually forgotten. The Prince gave Thomson a pension of £100 per year and introduced him to George Lyttelton who became Thomson’s friend and patron. In later life Thomson lived in Richmond Upon Thames and it was here he wrote his last work The Castle of Indolence which was published just before his death on 27 August 1748.

 Erskine, David Stewart, eleventh Earl of Buchan (1742 — 1829)

The Earl succeeded to the title in 1767. He had a grand conceit of himself as a writer, patron of the arts, critic and a founder of the Scottish Society of Antiquaries. He wrote to Burns on 1st February 1787, in patronising terms that no doubt he considered his rank entitled him to use:


'I have read with great pleasure several of your poems, and I have subscribed in Lady Glencairn's list for 6 copies of your book for myself, and 2 for Lady Buchan.'These little doric pieces of yours in our provincial dialect are very beautiful, but you will soon be able to diversify your language, your rhyme and your subject, and then you will have it in your power to show the extent of your genius, and to attempt works of greater magnitude, variety and importance.' Buchan then advised Burns to keep his 'Eye upon Parnassus, and drink deep of the fountains of Helicon, but beware of the Joys that is dedicated to the Jolly God of wine' and to renew his inspiration by visiting the classic scenes of Scottish literature and history. Burns replied on 7th February: 'Your Lordship touches the darling chord of my heart when you advise me to fire my muse at Scottish story and scenes. I wish for nothing more than to make a leisurely Pilgrimage through my native country; to sit and muse on those once hard contended fields, where Caledonia, rejoicing, saw her bloody lion borne through broken ranks to victory and fame; and catching the inspiration, to pour the deathless Names in Song.' But, Burns reminded the dilettante Earl, he had to live, and for that reason: 'must return to my rustic station, and, in my wonted way woo my rustic Muse at the Ploughtail.'

In August 1791, the Earl invited Burns to the crowning of a bust of the poet Thomson, and suggested that Burns might write an appropriate poem. Burns replied that he could not attend because of the harvest. However, he sent the stanzas 'Address to the Shade of Thomson, on Crowning his Bust at Ednam, Roxburghshire, with a Wreath of Bays'. In the event, the bust was smashed in a drunken frolic before the ceremony could take place, and the Earl had to lay the wreath on a volume of Thomson's poems! Burns sent him a copy of 'Scots Wha Hae' in January 1794. The Earl unveiled an enormous statue of Wallace on the river bank of Tweed, near Dryburgh,in 1814. At the same time he crowned a bust of Burns speaking twelve lines of verse he had composed in memory of the poet. His most audacious performance was his intrusion into Scott's family when Sir Walter was ill in 1819. Buchan had plans for the funeral ceremony! Scott later described Buchan as a person 'whose immense vanity, bordering upon insanity, obscured, or rather eclipsed, very considerable talents'. Most of Buchan's cultural eccentricities betrayed a strong love of self advertisement. At Kirtland, West Lothian, where he had a mansion, he built a model solar system, 12,183 miles to an inch in scale, only one stone relic of which remains today. He also erected a memorial to his ancestors in the grounds of Dryburgh Abbey, a figure of James I which is still to be seen.

The Rev George William Hay Drummond, in A Town Eclogue (1804) satirises Buchan thus:

"His brain with ill-assorted fancies stor'd,
Like shreds and patches on a tailor's Board,
Women, and whigs and poetry and pelf,
And every corner stuffed with mighty self."


​ “ADDRESS TO THE SHADE OF THOMSON”
While virgin spring, by Eden’s flood
Unfolds her tender mantle green,
Or pranks the sod in frolic mood
Or tunes Eolian strains between;
While Summer with a matron grace
Retreats to Dryburgh’s cooling shade,
Yet oft, delighted, stops to trace
The progress of the spiky blade;
While Autumn, benefactor kind
By Tweed erects his aged head,
And sees, with self-approving mind
Each creature on his bounty fed;

While maniac Winter rages o’er
The hills whence classic Yarrow flows,
Rousing the turbid torrent’s roar
Or sweeping, wild, a waste of snows;
So long, sweet poet of the year
Shall bloom that wreath thou well has won;
While Scotia, with exulting tear
Proclaims that Thomson was her son.

RULE BRITANNIA


Still more majestic shalt thou rise,
More dreadful, from each foreign stroke;
As the loud blast that tears the skies,
Serves but to root thy native oak.

"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."

Thee haughty tyrants ne'er shall tame:
All their attempts to bend thee down,
Will but arouse thy generous flame;
But work their woe, and thy renown.

"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."

To thee belongs the rural reign;
Thy cities shall with commerce shine:
All thine shall be the subject main,
And every shore it circles thine.

"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."

The Muses, still with freedom found,
Shall to thy happy coast repair;
Blest Isle! With matchless beauty crown'd,
And manly hearts to guard the fair.

"Rule, Britannia! rule the waves:
"Britons never will be slaves."


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