1773 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

James Thomson

Anonymous, "Original Anecdote of James Thomson, the Author of the Seasons" Oxford Magazine 10 (October 1773) 377-78.



Every circumstance that throws light upon the lives of great men is of consequence.

Mr. Thomson, notwithstanding the liberality of his mind, was remarkably subject to vulgar terrors; or, in other words, afraid of ghosts and hobgoblins: and, however extraordinary it may seem in a man of such a philosophic turn, for the first twenty years of his life, at least, he durst never permit his room door to be shut, and was perfectly miserable when he was obliged to sleep in a strange house, where he did not know his vicinity to the family. With this weakness of mind the following anecdote is somewhat connected.

While a student of divinity at the University of Edinburgh, Mr. Thomson was entertained as private tutor to Lord Cranston's eldest son, and spent the summer months at the seat of that family.

During his continuance in this character, young Thomson was smitten with the beauties of Miss Cranston; and, as could have no hopes of gratifying his passion, he was willing at least to gratify his curiosity, which he did in the following manner. He lay in the room immediately above Miss Cranston's: Miss Cranston's room was not sealed, a circumstance which may seem extremely singular to the English reader of these days, but which was by no means singular in Scotland at that time. He was desirous to see Miss Cranston undressed; or, if possible, naked: he therefore found means to make a hole through the floor, into which he put a cork to prevent discovery; and when he thought the young lady would be going to bed, of which it may be supposed he had in general pretty good information, he pulled out the cork, and laid his eye to the hole, to admire the beauties of his beloved object.

One evening however, when either his curiosity had led him more early to his station, or when Miss Cranston was later of going to bed, or when he was drowsy, or whatever else was the cause, he fell fast asleep; and, instead of his eye, his mouth met the hole, and there he lay, and he snored.

Miss Cranston was alarmed at the sound. She called her maid, and inquired the cause. Waiting-maids are a kind of Arguses: her maid was no stranger to the phenomenon.

"O lud! (cries she) it is Mr. Thomson; he is fallen asleep at his hole."

"What hole?" — replied the young lady.

"Have patience, Madam, and I will tell you; so you know nothing of the matter!"

"How should I?" — interrupted Miss Cranston.

"How should you not? For if any man had looked half so tenderly at me I should have known it long ago: Mr. Thomson, Madam, is desperately in love with you. He talks about you in his sleep so loud that I can hear him in the garret; which, to be sure, is not far from his room; howsomever he is almost out of his wits about you; and, in sweeping the room, Betty tells me, she has for some time past discovered a hole filled up with a cork, of which I can easily conceive the use."

"How the girl raves!" — cried Miss Cranston.

"It is not raving, I assure you, madam; and, if you will only let me make use of the candle, I will show you some sport."

So saying, she seized the candle, and stepping up on a chair, applied it to the lips of poor Thomson; who, forgetting where he was, sprung up with as loud a roar as if all the devils in hell had been torturing him; and it was not without the utmost difficulty he could be prevailed on to go to bed, though entirely ignorant of the affront.