Illustrations and The Seasons by James Thomson


James Thomson

Thomson, James (1700–1748), poet, was born on 11 September 1700 in the village of Ednam, Roxburghshire, the son of Thomas Thomson (c.1666–1716), a Presbyterian minister, and Beatrix Trotter (d. 1725), who was distantly related to the noble house of Hume. James was the fourth child of Thomas and Beatrix, in a family of four boys and five girls. Eight weeks after his birth his father was admitted minister of Southdean, close to the English–Scottish border. Here the future poet of The Seasons received his first impressions of nature.

In Scotland

Thomson perhaps attended the parish school in Southdean before being sent, about 1712, to the ancient grammar school that was housed in a transept of the abbey church at Jedburgh. He was a mediocre scholar, but began to write poetry under the encouragement of two men—the scholar, poet, farmer, and Presbyterian minister Robert Riccaltoun (1691–1769), and Sir William Bennet (d. 1729), a whig laird who was also a patron of Allan Ramsay (1686–1758). In autumn 1715 Thomson entered the College of Edinburgh. He completed his arts course at Edinburgh (Latin, Greek, logic, metaphysics, ethics, and natural science) by 1719, but did not choose to graduate. He entered Divinity Hall, Edinburgh, as a candidate for the Presbyterian ministry, supported by bursaries from the Jedburgh presbytery from 1720 to 1724. Thomson’s first published poems appeared in the Edinburgh Miscellany (January 1720); one of them, ‘Of a Country Life’, a short georgic distantly modelled on John Gay’s Rural Sports, anticipates in little The Seasons.

To London: Winter, Summer

Thomson went to London almost certainly with literary ambitions, thinking of English ordination only as a last resort, but his first employment was as tutor to the four-year-old son of the poet Charles Hamilton, Lord Binning (1697–1732. He soon made the acquaintance of English poets, including Richard Savage, Aaron Hill, John Dyer, and Alexander Pope, and influential expatriate Scots. The most notable works from his first year in England were early versions of a ‘Hymn on Solitude’ and Winter, a blank-verse poem of nature description with devotional overtones

Winter was published in April 1726 by John Millan, who, it was said, paid 3 guineas for the copy; it was dedicated to Sir Spencer Compton, speaker of the House of Commons, who tardily gave the author a present of 20 guineas. In June a second, revised and enlarged edition appeared, with a preface in which Thomson disparages satire and advocates sublime verse on lofty themes. By then he was writing Summer and had left Lord Binning’s household in order to act as tutor to a young gentleman at Watts’s academy in Little Tower Street. Summer was published in February 1727 and was dedicated to George Bubb Dodington—like Compton, a prominent whig politician, but a far more generous and enduring patron.

Shortly afterwards Thomson left Watts’s academy, hoping to live by his pen. He acquired more patrons, notably Frances Seymour, countess of Hertford, and Thomas Rundle, future bishop of Derry, who introduced him to Charles Talbot (1685–1737), solicitor-general. From 1727 Thomson was a regular summer guest at the country seats of Dodington, Talbot, and Lord and Lady Hertford. On his first visit to Eastbury, Dodington’s mansion in Dorset, he met Voltaire, who later wrote of Thomson, ‘I discovered in him a great genius and a great Simplicity, I liked in him the poet and the true philosopher, I mean the Lover of Mankind’ (McKillop, 212).

Spring and The Seasons

In January 1728 Thomson issued proposals to publish The Seasons by subscription. This did not prevent him from publishing Spring, dedicated to Lady Hertford, on his own account in June 1728, apparently with little success, because in January 1729 the bookseller Andrew Millar bought up remainder copies and reissued them over his own imprint.

The queen headed a glittering list of subscribers to The Seasons in June 1730. The subscription quarto edition, which was also sold to the public through the trade, was printed by Thomson’s friend Samuel Richardson and illustrated by engravings after William Kent. The poem now included ‘Autumn’, dedicated to Arthur Onslow, Compton’s successor as speaker, and a concluding ‘Hymn’, as well as revised, enlarged texts of the three previously published ‘Seasons’. The general tendency of the revisions, despite the addition of a pantheistic ‘Hymn’, is to make the poem more secular; it is more excursive, patriotic, and overtly whiggish than the earlier texts.

By the middle of 1730, five years after leaving Scotland, Thomson had achieved a measure of fame and fortune. He had received royal notice as playwright and poet, he enjoyed the friendship and respect of men of wit, and the support of some discriminating patrons; his Seasons had attracted 457 subscriptions at 1 guinea or more each.

Last years

Having overheated himself walking one summer evening from central London to Hammersmith, he took a boat for the rest of the journey to Kew and caught a chill, from which he had not fully recovered before he exposed himself once more to the evening dews. This brought on a tertian fever and then a malignant nervous fever, from which he died on 27 August 1748, at his house in Kew Foot Lane. Thomson’s remains were buried under a plain stone in the north-west corner of St Mary’s Church, Richmond, on 29 August.

The Seasons is considered by many to be Thomson’s masterpiece, it was hugely popular both back in 1730 and even still today. The Seasons celebrates the magnificence and harmony of nature as a manifestation of the Supreme Being. It embodies literary, philosophical, and theological ideas characteristic of the eighteenth century, yet it also prefigures the Romantic movement of the nineteenth century, particularly in its depictions of storms and wilderness. It enjoyed extraordinary popularity and influence in both centuries, and its impressive, picturesque landscapes made it a favorite text for illustration.The most popular illustration perhaps is the scene of Amelia’s death in Thonson’s ‘Summer’. This image has been produced time and time again, it is full of raw emotion, Celadon has just had his love struck down by thunder.

During the eighteenth century there was a move away from context and toward the texts that accompanied the a literary piece. Book covers could be read as a text in themselves, the book trade really took off in the eighteenth century. It was at this time booksellers began to collaborate so that they could publish better illustrated books and more impressive covers. Why did booksellers collaborate? To put it simply, money, they wanted to make more unique copies so they could sell more and charge more.


Celadon and Amelia: H. Fuseli, W.Bromley – 1801

Picture A,

This is the kind of illustration you would find in the earlier publishing’s that would accompany the texts. This was a very costly process, the correct kind plate must be purchased, it must be brought to a specialist engraver, the brought to a printer, and could only be printed so many times before the plate would break. The whole process would cost about six hundred pounds today.


Celadon and Amelia: W.Woollett and R.Wilson – 1766

Picture B,

Some illustrations would be produced independent of the text. This picture for example is bigger than an A1 page. Far to big to be put with the text even though it still represents the Amelia’s death. A painting like this could cost upward of ten thousand pounds today.

Sixty years after The Seasons was published it was still incredibly popular and it was still being reproduced, republished illustrations still being made, but now color had been produced and this opened a whole new range of colored illustrations to accompany the texts. These were extremely expensive, an illustrated copy could cost anywhere in the region of twenty five thousand pounds. The Seasons had a massive influence on the consumer market at the time, pocket watches, dresses, hats, even cups would have the illustrations from The Seasons on them. There were ballets, recitals and even instrumentals dedicated to the Thomson’s work.


  • “The Seasons.” Masterplots, Fourth Edition. Ed. Laurence W. Mazzeno. Salem Press, Inc., 2010. 21 Nov, 2012
  • Chapman, T. “”The Seasons: By James Thomson; with His Life, an Index, and Glossary. . and Notes to The .” Ed. T Chapman. N.p., n.d. Web. 21 Nov. 2012. <;.
  • Hilbert H. Campbell, James Thomson (1700-1748): An Annotated Bibliography of Selected Editions and the Important Criticism (New York: Garland, 1976).
  • McKillop, The Background of Thomson’s “Seasons” (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1942).
  • Cohen, The Unfolding of “The Seasons” (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1970).

The Representation of Nature in 18th century British Arts

Tintern Abbey

Tintern Abbey captured the attention of multiple artists in the eighteenth century. It is a ruined church which can be found on the bank of the river Wye in Monmouthshire. Wordsworth rendered Tintern Abbey famously in his poem, but the picturesque qualities of the Wye Valley also lead to paintings by Gilpin and Turner. Some centuries later, the abbey still manages to attract artists: the American poet Allen Ginsberg wrote his poem Wales Visitation at Tintern Abbey, after dropping some acid. The Wye Valley, and the pure, unspoiled nature in general, caused a great influence on artists. In different arts, going from poetry till the art of painting, nature is one of the most important themes in the eighteenth century. First of all, the role nature will be discussed, and more precisely that of the Wye Valley, in the writings of the Wordsworths. Following that, we will find out how nature is represented in some famous eighteenth century paintings, focusing on the painter John Constable.

 “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a Tour, July 13, 1798”

William Wordsworth

 In his poem “Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey, on Revisiting the Banks of the Wye during a tour, July 13, 1798” Wordsworth returns after five years with his sister, Dorothy, from a trip remembering his previous excursions to this area that meant so much to him. He reflects back on the emotional feelings he experienced during that first time and how he enjoyed the landscape. However, during this last visit, he realizes he has matured and cannot go back to that moment in the past. That is why he makes a mirror image of his younger sister Dorothy, as he teaches her how to look at nature the way he used to look at it. In doing so, he provides himself with those past joyous feelings as he fondly remembers them now, while thanking his sister for bringing him to his former place of residence and student years once more.

 Tintern Abbey is one of Wordsworth’s most famous poems. The poem can be seen as a record of the different stages in his poetic career. In the poem, the speaker sees Tintern Abbey and the surrounding valley from a hill. The reader is confronted with a sense of overview. The conception of nature and the composition of the landscape in it, can be compared with that of Constable, a contemporary painter, who will be discussed a bit further. In the poem, Wordsworth connects the human world with the divine world through the world of Nature. He finds the unity of the universe in the Wye valley. In this stage of Wordsworth’s life, he conceptualises nature as some sort of religion, and ‘the universal human malady in mind and heart could be cured only by Nature’s “holy plan”’. This higher power attributed to nature is clearly visible in the following lines (l. 107-110):

Of eye, and ear,–both what they half create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognise
In nature and the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.

 In the poem, there are only traces of people, but not people itself. That lack of figures is part of the motive of representing the landscape as wild, untouched and desolate. The traces (hedge-rows, farms, smoke) are visible in the next few lines (l. 11-19):

These plots of cottage-ground, these orchard-tufts,
Which at this season, with their unripe fruits,
Are clad in one green hue, and lose themselves
‘Mid groves and copses. Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees!

 Wordsworth also mentions the Hermit. The Hermit can be regarded as a symbol for solitude and the integration of the human presence in the landscape (l. 22-23):

Or of some Hermit’s cave, where by his fire
The Hermit sits alone.

Wordsworth’s influences

Wordsworth writings clearly reflect his love for nature and his relation with her. Most often his writings notify the beauty of nature as opposed to the horror of nature, in a few of his writings. The poet seems to have a particular affection towards nature and therefore presumable uses many adjectives to vividly describe all his perceptions of nature.

It is pleasurable to read Wordsworth’s poetry as the poet acquaints the reader with the beauty of nature. Wordsworth considered nature to be more than a collection of trees, bushes, hills, streams […] to him nature has personality, almost similar to humans with a power to poetically inspire those who love her. He considers nature as a friend, teacher and guide and claims that he could feel the presence of spirituality in nature like no other poet could.

 P.B. Shelley, in his poem To Wordsworth, calls Wordsworth ‘Poet of Nature,’ as William Hazlitt calls him poet of the mountains, and both these appellations are very appropriate for Wordsworth, because Wordsworth both got his poetic inspiration and materials for his poems from nature. Right from the poems which he wrote in his early years, we find that his poems are suffused with the beauty and descriptions of nature, as if nature followed him like a shadow. (Sarker, 2003: 300)

However, as William spent most of his life living with his sister, Dorothy, it might be reasonable to acknowledge she might have had a considerable influence on his life and writings. Her love and passion for nature is similarly reflected in her writings and as Coleridge puts a strain on her as “her eye watchful in minutest observation of nature”. Both Wordsworth family members seem to find peace and understanding in nature as Dorothy mentions “It was a sight that I could call to mind at any time it was so distinct.” referring to nature in which she could be herself. As William Wordsworth took nature to be his truest friend, so did Dorothy too.

 Nature in Constable’s paintings

 As Wordsworth describes and admires nature in all its glory and aspects in his poem, so has it also been done in the art of painting. John Constable (1776-1837) was one of the first English painters who started painting in the countryside, always trying to capture the landscape of his native region in that one moment. He was not very successful in his own country, but in France he had some following. One of his most known paintings The Hay Wain has had quite an influence on French artists. It has inspired painters such as Eugène Delacroix. Together with William Turner (1775-1851), Constable is acknowledged for his innovation in painting landscapes.

Branch Hill Pond – 1825

Constable is particularly known for his depiction of clouds that symbolize the sublime in his paintings. Wordsworth connects to the divine world through his verbal descriptions of nature, while Constable does this by painting the clouds and pastoral nature that surrounds him. Such as in Branch Hill Pond he presents an everyday image of the Hampstead Heath in which the landscape looks rustic and picturesque. The human entities such as the farm and the cart with the labourers are nestled into the landscape. There is a symbiotic relationship present between nature and humanity. Later on he focused more and more on the ever-changing weather, shown in his extensive collection of cloud studies and landscapes.In Chain Pier for example, Constable makes the weather more dynamic and expressive. It is as if it is possible to feel the wind and rain coming out of the painting. Often there are humans present in Constable’s paintings, or at least traces of human existence, yet nature and landscape are always the biggest entity in the paintings. The humans presence adds to the landscape but never overpowers/controls it.

The Chain Pier – 1827

Dedham Vale – 1828


Wordsworth’s poetry reflects the thematic characteristics of the Romantic period perfectly. Following Rousseau’s conviction that in nature ‘the essential passions of the heart’ could be found in their purest form, his poems show the same interest in nature and escaping to it. However, his poetry is more than just describing nature. He places himself in the landscapes he describes and talks about his own observations and emotions. His poetry is both spontaneous and controlled, comparable with nature itself. Wordsworth believed that the naturalistic state of a person is tranquility and should not be overwhelmed by society. Therefore, nature could be an escape for him.


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