James Thomson, 1834-1882

Portrait

Biographical note

Scottish Victorian-era poet, who wrote under the pseudonym Bysshe Vanolis, famous primarily for the long poem The City of Dreadful Night (1874), an expression of bleak pessimism in a dehumanized, uncaring urban environment.

Thomson was born in Port Glasgow, Scotland, and raised in an orphanage after his father suffered a stroke. The City of Dreadful Night came about from the struggle with insomnia, alcoholism and chronic depression which plagued Thomson's final decade.

In 1880, the publication of his volume of poetry, The City of Dreadful Night and Other Poems elicited encouraging and complimentary reviews from a number of critics, but came too late to prevent Thomson's downward slide. He died in London at the age of 47.

Thomson's pseudonym, Bysshe Vanolis, derives from the names of the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and Novalis. He is often distinguished from the earlier Scottish poet James Thomson by the letters B.V. after the name.

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