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James Thomson

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James Thomson

James Thomson

James Thomson (September 11, 1700 – August 27, 1748) was a Scottish poet and playwright.

He was born at Ednam in Roxburghshire, and educated at the University of Edinburgh. It was while a student there that he first published some of his poems, their subject matter mainly being the Jed Valley where he had been brought up. He had been intended for a career in the church, but gave up his divinity course because his sermons were criticised as being too flowery.

In 1725 he went to London, living first in East Barnet and later Richmond in 1736[1].

It was in London that he met other literary figures including a fellow-Scotsman, David Mallet. He quickly became successful, and won favour with Frederick, Prince of Wales, whom he supported politically. His collected poetry was published as The Seasons in 1730, addressed to George Lyttelton, and he became tutor to the son of Sir Charles Talbot, then Solicitor-General.

Lytttelton arranged for him to become a secretary in chancery, and his next major work, Liberty (1734) was dedicated to the Tory-leaning Prince of Wales. He also wrote several plays, including The Tragedy of Sophonisba (1730) and collaborated with Mallet on the masque Alfred which was first performed at Cliveden, the country home of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Thomson's words for "Rule Britannia", written as part of that masque and set to music by Thomas Arne, became one of the most well-known British patriotic songs - quite apart from the masque which is now virtually forgotten.

After Talbot's death, however, Thomson fell out of favour with the prince, and his career ended with The Castle of Indolence, his best-known work, which was published just before his own loving and memorable death.

A dispute over the publishing rights to one of his works, The Seasons gave rise to two important legal decisions (Millar v. Taylor; Donaldson v. Beckett) in the history of copyright.

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James Thomson
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