Monday, September 10, 2012

Thomson's 'The Seasons'

Title page and watercolour painting of The Seasons(1793 ed.)
An image of a bookshop in our 1793 ed. of The Season

As mentioned in our previous blog post, within Newnham Library’s special collections, and featuring as part of our current exhibition, there are a number of different eighteenth and nineteenth century editions of James Thomson’s long poem The Seasons, originally published 1726-30. This poem is, in its final version, some 5500 lines long. Thomson addresses each of the four seasons individually, exploring and celebrating the diversity of nature and human intelligence all encompassed within God’s divine power.

The library's two volume 1793 edition of The Seasons[1] is 'extra illustrated,' a process also known as ‘grangerisation’: ‘the illustration of a book by later insertion of prints.'[2] Often these images might be taken from others' works.

Portrait of James Thomson

In this edition, there are 149 different inserted portraits or images and three original water colour drawings. Being able to see the brush strokes of the watercolours and feel the raised edges where they have been inserted really gives a sense of this book as a unique and beautiful object in itself. Portraits vary from those of James Thomson himself, to John Dryden, Alexander Pope and Isaac Newton, reflecting mentions of them in Robert Heron’s essays at the front of the book: ‘An Original Life of the Author’ and  ‘A Critical Essay on the Seasons.’ Corresponding with each of the four seasons, at the start and throughout the individual poems there feature different images of outdoor scenes and often human interaction with nature. For example, at the start of 'Summer' we have a sketch of a young man or boy fishing in a river surrounded by lush trees and greenery.
An illustration for 'Summer'

 This is a unique book, rich in poetry, history and visual appeal. If you would like any further information please email 

Polly Harper, Graduate Library Trainee


[1] Thomson, J, 1793, The Seasons/by James Thomson; adorned with a set of engravings from original paintings. Together with an original life of the author, and a critical essay on The Seasons by Robert Heron. A new edition. Perth: printed by R. Morison junior for R. Morison and Son, 1793. Illustrated by Francis Harvey.

[2] The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain: Volume V 1695-1830, 2009, (ed.) Suarez, M & Turner, M, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.233. 

McKenzie, Alan. "The Seasons". The Literary Encyclopedia. First published 07 January 2005
[, accessed 18 July 2012.]

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