James Thomson

James Thomson was born in Edinburgh on the 10th September 1763, the son of impoverished parents who found the prospect of raising him beyond their means. At the age of four months he was sent to live with his maternal grandparents in Currie where his grandfather was the weaver on Mid Kinleith farm. At six he was sent to the village school, but, after he contracted small-pox, his grandmother was fearful of exposing him to further illness and he was kept at home and taught to read and write by his grandmother and aunt. He was given charge of his grandfather's cow and accompanied the animal each day to its grazing with a copy of the poems of Ramsay tucked under his arm.

When he was thirteen he was apprenticed to his grandfather and mastered the techniques of weaving with such skill that it was not long before his grandfather's business which had been very much on the decline started to pick up. He also went back to school to resume his education, but although he read assiduously, he never really mastered the art of neat handwriting, preferring to pen verses to his friends when he should have been practising his orthographical skills. In addition to his weaving, James was sought after in the village for other services: he developed the skill of bleeder; knew how to kill a mart; was at times employed as a forester and on a Saturday evening could be found in the village inn where he trimmed the beards of the locals while they quaffed their ale. He also purchased a violin and learned to play it, entertaining his friends with his music as well as with his verse.

James married a local lass and fathered nine children, eight daughters and a son. His life was hard, with a large family to support and a meagre income from his weaving. He lived on the farm of Mid Kinleith in a small cottage which he named Mount Parnassus and the inscription remains over the door to this day. By day he wove and in the evenings he composed song and verse. He gained a reputation for himself locally and, with encouragement from the local minister, published his first volume of poetry in 1801. Following the success of this, he gained the patronage of General Scott of Malleny to whom his second volume is dedicated in 1819. He died in 1832 in relative comfort and prosperity.

He wrote mainly in the Scottish vernacular, describing the Currie of his day, both characters and places - He had an eye for detail and handled the traditional Scottish verse forms with skill. His poems reflect the joys and sorrows of the times in which he lived: the poor harvests and ensuing famines; the exploitation of the poor by the rich; the changes following the Enlightenment in the kirk; old rural ways and superstitions and the espousal of reform and change that was sweeping the European world. His writing is lively and vigorous, and is as enjoyable today as it was to his contemporaries.

1997 Ella Henderson, 38 Blinkbonny Road Currie EH14 6AF


Here are some samples of his poetry, beginning with a short and pithy comment on doctors and an epitaph for an otherwise unknown Currie man.

Ye Doctors, use your greatest care,
Your patients' lives a while to spare;
On this alone depends your wealth,
To keep alive, though not in health.

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Here lies Adam Harper's dust,
His better part's in heav'n we trust.
He fed the hungry, cloth'd the bare,
Wha censures him, let him do mair.

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"Farewell to Ravelrig" is a tribute to the owner of the estate it addresses. It is gently nostalgic in tone, and appears to close the door on the time when, as a child, the poet was able to roam at will without responsibility and enjoy his freedom.

Farewell to Ravelrig

Sweet Ravelrig, I ne'er could part
From thee, but wi' a dowie heart.
When I think on the happy days
I spent in youth about your braes,
When innocence my steps did guide,
Where murmuring streams did sweetly glide
Beside the braes well stored wi' trees,
And sweetest flow'rs that fend the bees:

And there the tuneful tribe doth sing,
While lightly flitting on the wing;
And conscious peace was ever found
Within your mansion to abound.
Sweet be thy former owner's rest,
And peace to him that's now possess't
Of all thy beauties great and sma',-
Lang may he live to bruik them a'!

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James Thomson wrote a group of four love songs, recounting the reactions of girls to his wooing. Having been too forward in the first of these, in this (the second) he laments how he then overreacted by being too shy. Bughts are sheep-folds by the way.

Fareweel, ye bughts
(Tune, "Logan Water)

1. Fareweel, ye bughts, an' all your ewes,
An' fields whare bIoomin' heather grows;
Nae mair the sportin' lambs I'll see
Since my true love's forsaken me.

CHORUS.
Nae mair I'll hear wi' pleasure sing
The cheerfu' lav'rock in the Spring,
But sad in grief now I maun mourn,
Far, far frae her, o'er Logan-burn.

2. Alas! nae mair we'll meetings keep
At bughts, whan herds ca' in their sheep;
Nae mair amang the threshes green
We'll row, where we hae aften been.
CHORUS

3. Nae mair for me , ye vi'lets blaw,
Or lilies whiter than the snaw;
Nae mair your pleasures I can bear,
While I am absent frae my dear.
CHORUS

4. I ken the cause of my hard fate;
In courtin' her I was too blate;
I never kiss'd my lass at a'
But when we met an' gaed awa'.
CHORUS

5. Oh could my tears again bring back
The days now past, I'd no' be slack
For ev'ry kiss she got before
I wad gie to her now a score.
CHORUS

6. O fortune I wad you favour me
In some snug corner her to see.
My heart I wad to her reveal,
An' in her arms my pardon seal.
CHORUS


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