James Thomson, a British poet, born at Ed-nam, Roxburghshire, Scotland, Sept. 11, 1700, died at Kew Lane, near Richmond, Aug. 27, 1748. He was the son of a clergyman, and passed six years at the university of Edinburgh, the last four of which were devoted to theological studies. About 1724 he went to London, and for several months was tutor in the family of Lord Binning. A fragment of blank verse, written by him at the age of 14, was first published in a life of the poet by Allan Cunningham in 1841. He published in March, 1720, his blank verse poem of "Winter," for the copyright of which he received three guineas, and three editions were called for in a year. In 1727 appeared " Summer," followed by " Britannia" and a "Poem sacred to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton;" in 1728, "Spring;" and in 1730, "The Seasons," completed by the addition of "Autumn," in a 4to volume, of which 454 copies were subscribed for at a guinea each. In 1729 he produced "Sophonisba," a tragedy, acted with moderate . success at Drury Lane. In 1731-2 he travelled on the continent as tutor of the son of Sir Charles Talbot, afterward lord chancellor, and on his return to England commenced an elaborate poem on "Liberty" (5 parts, 1735-'6). It was abridged by Lord Lyttelton in collecting the author's works for publication, and in that condition it still appears.
He had meanwhile been placed in easy circumstances by the appointment of secretary of briefs in the court of chancery, bestowed upon him by Lord Talbot. After the death of the chancellor in 1737. he lost the place, but received from the prince of Wales a pension of £100 a year. He now produced successively his dramas "Agamemnon" (1738), which narrowly escaped being damned on the first night, and "Edward and Eleanora," the representation of which was prohibited under the operation of the act for licensing dramatic performances; the masque of "Alfred," written in conjunction with Mallet, which contains the celebrated song and chorus, " Rule Britannia," set to music by Dr. Arne; and " Tancred and Sigismunda," performed with success at Drury Lane in 1745. About this time he was appointed surveyor general of the Leeward islands, the duties of which were discharged by a deputy, while the clear emoluments amounted to £300 a year; and the latter part of his life was passed in an elegant retreat at Kew Lane. In 1748 appeared " The Castle of Indolence," on which he had labored for many years. His posthumous play of "Coriolanus" was performed at Covent Garden. Thomson was a man of gross appearance and exceedingly indolent disposition.
The latest edition of his complete works is in two volumes (London, 1870).