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Thomson, James

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

Working name of Scottish poet and author James Thompson (1834-1882), best known for "The City of Dreadful Night" (1874 National Reformer as Bysshe Vanolis; 1975 chap), a long narrative poem whose rendering of an apocalyptic City very much like London contains a profusion of images and tropes that prefigure Steampunk and Urban Fantasy (see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below). This city is presided over by the brooding, fantastical figure of Melancholy as portrayed in Albrecht Dürer's allegorical 1514 engraving Melencolia I. The poem's pessimism extends beyond Earth to a vision of desolation and Entropy in far-off solar systems:

If we could near them with the flight unflown,
We should but find them worlds as sad as this,
Or suns all self-consuming like our own
Enringed by planet worlds as much amiss:
They wax and wane through fusion and confusion;
The spheres eternal are a grand illusion,
The empyrean is a void abyss.

The pseudonym Bysshe Vanolis used by Thomson for the original serial publication homages Percy Bysshe Shelley and, anagrammatically, the German mystic Novalis (Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr von Hardenberg, 1772-1801); the poet is often referred to as James Thomson (B.V.) to distinguish him from the earlier Scots poet James Thomson (1700-1748). Together with shorter works, "The City of Dreadful Night" was assembled – before Thomson's premature death from alcoholism – as The City of Dreadful Night and Other Poems (coll 1880). In the short story, "A Walk Abroad" (written 1866; in Essays and Phantasies, coll 1881), a man is conveyed by dream (or vision) through the solar system, discovering much Life on Other Worlds. Satires and Profanities (coll 1884) contains Satires, some of them fantasy. [JC/DRL]

James Thompson

born Port Glasgow, Scotland: 23 November 1834

died London: 3 June 1882



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