James Thomson

1834 - 1882

Poet, best known for 'City of Dreadful Night' first published in Charles Bradlaugh's journal The National Reformer. He also wrote under the pen-name 'Bysshe Vanolis' (or 'B.V.') honouring the poets Shelley and Novalis whom he admired. [Note, there are several other poets of the same or similar name which can lead to some confusion.]

He wrote a poem 'Address' for the opening of Leicester's Secular Hall in 1881, which was recited by the actress Mrs Theodore Wright (Jane Alice Wright).

Address on the Opening of the New Hall of the Leicester Secular Society March 6th 1881

“So Man created god in His own image, in the image of Man created He him;
male and female created He them.” — The New Book of Genesis

Lo, all the lands wherein our wandering race
Have led their flocks, or fixed their dwelling-place
To till with patient toil the fruitful sod,
Abound with altars TO THE UNKNOWN GOD
OF GODS, whom MAN created from of old,
In his own image, one yet manifold,
And ignorantly worshipped. We now dare,
Taught by milleniums of barren prayer,
Of mutual scorn and hate and bloody strife
With which these dreams have poisoned our poor life,
To build our temples on another plan,
Devoting them to god’s creator, MAN;
Not to MAN’s creature, god. And thus, indeed,
All men and women, of whatever creed,
We welcome gladly if they love our kind;
No other test of valid worth we find.

We gaze into the living world and mark
Infinite mysteries for ever dark:
And if there is a god beyond our thought
(How could he be within its compass brought?);
He will not blame the eyes he made so dim
That they cannot discern a trace of him;
He must approve the pure sincerity
Which, seeing not, declares it cannot see;
He cannot love the blasphemous pretence
Of puny mannikins with purblind sense
To see him thoroughly, to know him well,
His secret purposes, His Heaven and hell,
His inmost nature, formulating this
With calmest chemical analysis,
Or vivisecting it, as if it were
Some compound gas, or dog with brain laid bare.
And if we have a life beyond our death,
A life of nobler aims and ampler breath,
What better preparation for such bliss
Than honest work to make the best of this?

He who is faithful in a few things found
Becomes the lord of many; he whose pound
Is well employed may look for many more;
Waste adds to waste as store increaseth store.
Who cannot run a mile will win no place
Among the champions for a ten-mile race;
Who cannot order well a little farm
Shall have no great estate to bring to harm;
Who squanders months and years can never be
Entrusted with an immortality;
Who loveth not the brother at his side,
How can he love a dim dream deified?

We know our lives at best are full of care,
But we may learn to bear and to forbear,
By sympathy and human fellowship,—
Sweet cup of solace to the parching lip,
Doubling all joy, diminishing all grief,
Soothing despair itself with some relief.

Each life is as a little plot of ground,
Whose owner should not blankly wall it round
To shut it in from others, shutting out
Himself from those that neighbour it about:
The plots must differ both in size and soil,
The poorest will reward kind care and toil
With fruits of sustenance and flowers of grace;
All good, though varying in every case.
Down with our dead walls!—let us all enjoy
Our neighbours’ industry without alloy;
The bloom and odours of their fruits and flowers
Which as so like and yet so unlike ours;
The singing of the birds among the trees,
Their glancing butterflies and honey-bees:
And sharing thus the pleasures of the whole,
Tend that which is within our own control
More cheerfully, more earnestly, lest weeds
Disgracing ours, taint theirs with wafted seeds;
And let us cherish kindly interchange
Of help and produce in our social range.

This is the spirit in which we have wrought
To build our little Temple of Free Thought
And mere Humanity—to us Divine
Above the deity of any shrine:
This modest Hall for Club and Institute
Which we now open; may it bear good fruit!
No rigid barriers of sex or sect
Or party in these walls do we erect:
Inclusion not exclusion is our aim:
Whatever freedom for ourselves we claim,
We wish all others to enjoy the same,
In simple womanhood and manhood’s name!
Freedom within one law of sacred might,
Trench not on any other’s equal right.

Our creed is simple, All men are one man!
Our sole commandment, Do what good you can.
We gladly welcome truth where’er it shines,
The gold and silver of the ancient mines,
Dug out and smelted by good men of yore,
And mines but newly opened, still in ore;
Submitting old and modern to the test,
Most surely fallible but yet our best,
Of self-experience, knowledge, reason; then
Inviting the assays of other men.
Buddha and Jesus, Zeno, Socrates,
Mohammed, Paine, Voltaire,—alike from these
The precious metals we accept with joy;
But pray, friends, spare us from the proved alloy;

Having no rich endowments from the State,
Our means are small as our good-will is great:—
A platform for Free Thought in courteous speech,
And free discussion of the views of each;
Some books, our true “Communion of the Saints,”
To feed the mind and cheer the heart of faints;
Some classes for instruction and delight;
A club wherein our members may unite
For cordial converse and such innocent pleasure
As makes a blessing, not a curse, of leisure!
Some social gatherings, where we trust to see
Not the Man only but the Family,
Where poetry and music, dance and song,
Shall make the sweet hours blithely dance along.

Thus all our youths and maidens, girls and boys,
Must link this place with all their purest joys,
And growing in their turn husbands and wives,
Fathers and mothers, may devote their lives,
Not as an irksome task, but gracious duty,
Full-fraught with light and sweetness, love and beauty,
To cherish, cultivate, and propagate,
Or here or elsewhere as shall be their fate,
When we ourselves are dead save in our deeds,
This nursling from the ever-precious seeds
Which we have in our time inherited
From the brave culture of our noble Dead;
Our small addition to their great work done,
The present work in our loved town begun
This Sunday, March sixth, Eighteen eighty-one.

According to Tom Leonard: Places of the Mind: The Life and Work of James Thomson (B.V.) (Jonathan Cape 1993 pp 246-247). It was Michael Wright who wrote asking Thomson if he would compose a poem for the occasion. It was printed as a leaflet to be sold at the opening of the hall. Thomson travelled by train to Leicester with Theodore and Jane Alice Wright. They stayed at Michael Wright's home in Regent Street Leicester for 4 nights. Thomson's "Address" was read each time by Jane Alice. (However it seems that Theodore wright and Michael Wright were not related.) Tom Leonard is also the source of the above text of the poem.

G. J. Holyoake in his recollections of Herbert Spencer wrote: "One form of trouble was recurring depression, so difficult to sustain, which James Thompson, who oft experienced it, described — when a man has to endure:"

"The same old solid hills and leas;
The same old stupid, patient trees;
The same old ocean, blue and green;
The same sky, cloudy or serene;
The old two dozen hours to run
Between the settings of the sun."

Sources and Links

Leicester Secular Society
BBC Writing Scotland biography
Literary Encyclopedia biography
Vasthead poems by Thomson
Lachlan City of Dreadful Night
Online Books Library
ABE Books a copy of the original Address for sale at £164.39.
Tom Leonard