James Thomson (Bysshe Vanolis)
Victorian poet James Thomson, who published under the pseudonym Bysshe Vanolis, was born in Port Glasgow, Scotland, in 1834. His father, a sailor, was partially paralyzed by a stroke when Thomson was four, and his mother died of edema when he was nine. After his mother’s death, Thomson was placed in an orphanage and later sent to a military academy. While serving in the army in Ireland, Thomson is said to have fallen in love with a young girl who is the subject of many of his poems. He was dishonorably discharged from the army and worked as a journalist for the National Reformer, Cope’s Tobacco Plant, and the Secularist.
Best-known for the epic poem “The City of Dreadful Night,” Thomson composed bleak portraits of urban and emotional landscapes. An alcoholic and insomniac, Thomson took nocturnal walks through London, the city he lived in and wrote about. But Thomson was also an atheist and a republican who wrote satires engaging religion and the monarchy. He translated the work of Italian poet Giacomo Leopardi. Published a year and a half before his death, The City of Dreadful Night and Other Poems (1880) garnered favorable reviews. Thomson is the subject of many biographies, including Secret City: The Emotional Life of Victorian Poet James Thomson (B.V.), by Richard Pawley (2001), and James Thomson (B.V.): A Critical Study, by Imogene B. Walker (1950).
Thomson died of a burst blood vessel at the age of 47.