James Thomson (1700–1748) was born in southern Scotland and spent his youth in Edinburgh. In 1725 he moved to England, where he spent the remainder of his life—mostly in or near London—except for a year or so touring France and Italy. In Scotland he had begun to write poetry; in England he alternated between poetry and drama. Some of his plays were very successful in their time, though they eventually died a quiet death, as befits 18th-century drama.
The book-length poem The Seasons is another matter. “Winter” first appeared in early 1726, with a revised edition a few months later. “Summer”, “Spring” and “Autumn”—in that order—followed at intervals of about a year. Finally, in June 1730, came the all-in-one version, with a long list of subscribers headed impressively by “THE QUEEN” (Caroline of Anspach, wife of George II).
For a century and more after that first publication, The Seasons provided a steady income for artists and engravers throughout the English-speaking world. Most editions settled for one or two plates per Season, but in 1842 came the lavishly illustrated Bolton Corney edition. It didn’t begin and end with the pictures, though; the editor was also very concerned about getting the text just right:
“The poem is printed from the edition of 1746, which contains the final revision of the author—who died in 1748.”
It must have been fairly successful, as a second edition came out in 1847. That’s the one this etext is based on.
Almost every edition of The Seasons published after the author’s death includes four other pieces: a biography by Thomson’s friend Patrick Murdoch (d. 1774); an essay by John Aikin (1747–1822) from his 1778 edition; and two short poems, the “Ode on Thomson’s Death” by William Collins (1721–1759), and “Hymn” by Thomson himself. For his edition, Bolton Corney (1784–1870) retained three of the four, omitting the Aikin essay. It wasn’t because he didn’t approve of it, though:
“The most popular edition is that of the late Dr. Aikin. It has a preliminary essay on the plan of the poem, remarkable for its judicious criticism and classical terseness of style.”
I’ve included the essay here in case you want to see what you’re missing.
Pro tip: Resist the temptation to skip the “Advertisement”. At first glance it’s simply too cheesy to live—but it also gives details about preparation of both the text and the illustrations. More details are buried in the editor’s footnotes to the Murdoch essay, especially Note 65.
Life of Thomson by Patrick Murdoch
with illustrations from 1793 edition
Ode by William Collins
with illustrations from 1824 edition
Essay by John Aikin
with illustrations from 1730 and 1794 editions
The main text, consisting of four Seasons and the Hymn, uses the illustrations from the 1842/1847 Bolton Corney edition, placed as close as practicable to their original location. Details about artists and engravers are in the List of Illustrations, below.
Caution: Most illustrations were designed for specific locations in the book, wrapping around two, three or even all four sides of a group of lines. If your browser is set to an unusually large text size, the ends of some lines may collide with parts of a picture. Conversely, if you prefer small text, you may see some empty space. I don’t recommend trying to enjoy this book on a smartphone or similar small device.
For the other parts of the book—Murdoch’s Life of Thomson, Collins’s Ode, the Aikin essay—I’ve included illustrations from some other editions, ranging from 1730 to 1824. These include some fairly big names: the 1794 London edition featured the work of Thomas Stothard, R.A. (1755–1834), the 1824 edition that of Richard Westall, R.A. (1765–1836). Captions, if any, give the original printed titles.
And, finally: The little picture in the banner at the top of most pages is from the title page of the 1805 edition, which there wasn’t room to include.
Query: Why do the editors—whether in 1730 or in 1842—think the reader needs to be helped with spellings like “inspir’d” and “alarm’d” and “o’er”, while the same reader can be trusted to elide appropriately in all other environments? A random page from the middle of Spring yields: “The unfeeling”, “the opponent” (pronounced Th’ unfeeling, th’ opponent); “Even so”, “Heaven” (pronounced E’en so, Heav’n); “neighbouring”, “brightening”, “vigourous” (pronounced neighb’ring, bright’ning, vig’rous). Answer: Oh, heck, who knows. One consequence is that -ed, written out, is always pronounced as a separate syllable: fabled, mingled, sprinkled, settled.
It is also not clear why Corney thought “choir” needed to be spelled “quire”, when 18th-century editions were content to use the modern spelling. It is especially distracting at Summer 190, where a reference to “the quire celestial” comes only a few lines before an extended metaphor about “Nature’s volume”, leading inevitably to mental pictures of a celestial printing press using quires of paper.
Double quotes are in the original; the typographic preference for single quotes was still a few decades away.
Illustrations have been moved to the nearest stanza break, or to the nearest sentence break if a stanza is unusually long. Line numbers have been regularized to multiples of ten. In the printed book, they were sometimes moved up or down one line, and were omitted entirely when there was a picture in the way.
Typographical errors are marked with and are listed again at the end of each section (Season or equivalent). The word “invisible” means that the letter or punctuation mark is missing, but there is an appropriately sized blank space.
DESIGNS DRAWN ON WOOD
JOHN BELL, Sculptor
C. W. COPE, A.R.A.
THOMAS CRESWICK, A.R.A.
J. C. HORSLEY
J. P. KNIGHT, R.A.
R. REDGRAVE, A.R.A.
H. J. TOWNSEND
THOMAS WEBSTER, R.A.
THE LIFE OF THE AUTHOR,
BY PATRICK MURDOCH, D.D. F.R.S.
AUGMENTED IN NOTES BY
BOLTON CORNEY, ESQ. M.R.S.L.
LONGMAN, BROWN, GREEN, AND LONGMANS,
Spottiswoode and Shaw,
The List of Illustrations was printed on pages xlvii-xlviii (47-48), after the introductory material (Advertisement, Life of Thomson, Ode). I have moved it here for convenience.
Links in the first column lead to the illustration itself, wherever it may happen to be. Links in the middle column lead to the numbered page—which may or may not be where the illustration ended up. Illustration no. 60, listed here as “page 231”, was really printed on page 233.
|2.||Argument, Spring||3.||Rauch||R. E. Branston.|
|4.||Agriculture and Commerce||9.||Stonhouse||R. E. Branston|
|6.||“Blazing straw,” &c.||12.||Ditto||J. Thompson.|
|7.||“The stealing shower”||15.||Horsley||Green.|
|8.||The Golden Age||19.||Redgrave||R. E. Branston.|
|10.||“Rosy-footed May”||31.||Cope||O. Smith.|
|11.||“The bowery walk”||33.||Creswick||Ditto.|
|12.||“Pendent o’er the plaintive stream”||39.||Ditto||Vizetelly.|
|13.||“A gentle pair”||41.||Redgrave||Jackson.|
|14.||“The rural seat”||46.||Creswick||Vizetelly.|
|18.||“To teach the young idea”||65.||Webster & Redgrave||Vizetelly.|
|19.||Tail-piece to Spring||67.||Cope||O. Smith.|
|20.||Argument, Summer||69.||Rauch||R. E. Branston.|
|22.||“The soon-clad shepherd”||74.||Tayler||Vizetelly.|
|23.||The “pointed promontory’s top”||80.||Creswick||T. Williams.|
|24.||“The calm village”||83.||Ditto||A. Thompson.|
|25.||The “drowsy shepherd”||86.||Ditto||J. Thompson.|
|28.||“Rural confusion!”||97.||Ditto||R. E. Branston and Green.|
|29.||“Angelic harps”||100.||Redgrave||O. Smith.|
|30.||“An ample chair moss-lin’d”||104.||Creswick||J. Williamson.|
|31.||Nile and Nilometer||113.||Bell||Landells and Bagg.|
|32.||Mother and Infant||119.||Stonhouse||T. Williams.|
|34.||“The blasted cattle”||130.||Creswick||Bastin.|
|35.||Celadon and Amelia||132.||Cope||J. Thompson.|
|xlviii 36.||Musidora||140.||Horsley||J. Thompson.|
|38.||The “hurried sailor”||146.||Townsend||Landells.|
|40.||“The ruddy milkmaid”||157.||Redgrave||A. Thompson.|
|42.||“Ply the tough oar”||164.||Ditto||Green.|
|43.||Argument, Autumn||167.||Rauch||R. E. Branston.|
|45.||The “tusky boar”||172.||Townsend||Landells.|
|47.||“Each by the lass he loves”||177.||Townsend||T. Thompson.|
|52.||“The strong table groans”||196.||Cope||Vizetelly.|
|53.||“The mazy dance”||201.||Horsley||J. Thompson.|
|56.||“Gathers his ovarious food”||215.||Redgrave||Ditto.|
|57.||The Woodman||220.||Creswick||R. E. Branston.|
|58.||“The moon full-orb’d”||225.||Ditto||Thompson.|
|59.||“The fantastic blaze”||229.||Tayler||Vizetelly.|
|60.||“The cudgel rattles”||231.||Cope||Green.|
|62.||Argument, Winter||243.||Rauch||R. E. Branston.|
|65.||“The soaring hern”||252.||Tayler||Ditto.|
|66.||“Down he sinks beneath the shapeless drift”||260.||Ditto||T. Thompson.|
|67.||“Ruddy fire and beaming tapers join”||266.||Knight||Vizetelly.|
|68.||The epic poets||271.||Bell||R. E. Branston.|
|69.||The ghost-story||276.||Horsley||J. Thompson.|
|70.||“The village dog”||282.||Tayler||Jos. Williams.|
|73.||“See here thy pictur’d life”||297.||Cope||Green.|
|74.||Luxury and Poverty||299.||Redgrave||Jos. Williams.|
|75.||“The storms of wintry time”||300.||Creswick||O. Smith.|
THE REVISED EDITION OF 1746.*
* “The Seasons. By James Thomson. London: printed for A. Millar, in the Strand. 1746.” 12mo.
Dedication. “To His Royal Highness Frederic Prince of Wales, this poem, corrected and made less unworthy of his protection, is, with the utmost gratitude and veneration, inscribed, by His Royal Highness’s most obedient and most devoted servant, James Thomson.”
Advertisement. “This poem having been published several years ago, and considerable additions made to it lately, some little anachronisms have thence arisen, which it is hoped the reader will excuse.”