James Thomson
Born: 11 Sep, 1700
Died: 27 Aug, 1748
Field: Poet; playwright
Location in the Abbey: South transept, poets corner
Type of memorial: Statue
Type of material: Marble

James Thomson, poet and playwright, has a memorial in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey. It is placed on the wall next to Shakespeare's memorial and was designed by Robert Adam and executed by Michael Spang. It was commissioned by his friends Patrick Murdoch and Andrew Millar. The white marble monument, erected in 1762, shows a life size seated figure of the poet in a loose robe, holding a book and a Cap of Liberty. At his feet are a mask and a lyre and on the front of the pedestal is a relief of the Seasons, to which a winged boy points and presents a laurel wreath with the other hand. The inscription reads:

JAMES THOMSON Aetatis [aged] 48, Obijt [died] 27 August 1748.

Tutor'd by Thee, sweet Poetry exalts her voice to ages; and informs the page.

With music, image, sentiment and thought Never to die!

This monument was erected MDCCLXII"

The fee for the monument was paid by Andrew Millar..

James was born at Ednam, near Kelso in Scotland, a son of Thomas Thomson, a minister, and his wife Beatrix (Trotter) on 11 September 1700. He was educated at Jedburgh school, where he began to write poetry, and Edinburgh. In 1725 he went to London as a tutor and met English poets such as Alexander Pope. His famous work The Seasons was published in 1730 and he then took the Grand Tour of Europe. His blank verse poem Liberty and play Agamemnon followed. Some of his later plays were banned but Tancred and Sigismunda and Corilanus had long runs. His most remembered composition is probably 'Rule Britannia'. He died unmarried 27 August 1748 at his house at Richmond in Surrey and was buried in St Mary's church there.

A photo of the memorial can be purchased from Westminster Abbey Library.

Further reading:

"James Thomson 1700-1748. A Life" by James Sambrook, 1991

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography 2004.

A design for the memorial is in the Sir John Soane Museum in London.

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