James Thomson (B.V.)

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James Thomson

James Thomson (23 November 18343 June 1882) was a Scottish poet and essayist, best known for his The City of Dreadful Night. His pseudonyms B.V. and Bysshe Vanolis were chosen in tribute to Percy Bysshe Shelley and Novalis.

See also James Thomson (poet) (1700–1748).


Sunday at Hampstead (1863–1865)[edit]

  • As we rush, as we rush in the train,
    The trees and the houses go wheeling back,
    But the starry heavens above that plain
    Come flying on our track.
    • part X
  • We will rush ever on without fear;
    Let the goal be far, the flight be fleet!
    For we carry the Heavens with us, dear,
    While the Earth slips from our feet!
    • part X

Sunday Up the River (1865)[edit]

  • Give a man a horse he can ride,
    Give a man a boat he can sail;
    And his rank and wealth, his strength and health,
    On sea nor shore shall fail.
    • Part XV
  • Give a man a girl he can love,
    As I, O my love, love thee;
    And his heart is great with the pulse of Fate,
    At home, on land, on sea.
    • Part XV
  • The wine of Love is music,
    And the feast of Love is song:
    And when Love sits down to the banquet,
    Love sits long:

    Sits long and rises drunken,
    But not with the feast and the wine;
    He reeleth with his own heart,
    That great, rich Vine.

    • Part XVIII

The City of Dreadful Night (1870–74)[edit]

  • Yet why evoke the spectres of black night
    To blot the sunshine of exultant years?
    • Proem
  • The City is of Night; perchance of Death,
    But certainly of Night; for never there
    Can come the lucid morning's fragrant breath
    After the dewy dawning's cold grey air.
    • Part I
  • For life is but a dream whose shapes return,
    Some frequently, some seldom, some by night
    And some by day.
    • Part I
  • The street-lamps burn amidst the baleful glooms,
    Amidst the soundless solitudes immense
    Of ranged mansions dark and still as tombs.
    • Part I
  • The City is of Night, but not of Sleep;
    There sweet sleep is not for the weary brain;
    The pitiless hours like years and ages creep,
    A night seems termless hell.
    • Part I
  • As I came through the desert thus it was,
    As I came through the desert: All was black,
    In heaven no single star, on earth no track;
    A brooding hush without a stir or note;
    The air so thick it clotted in my throat.
    • Part VI
  • Yet I strode on austere;
    No hope could have no fear.
    • Part VI
  • The world rolls round for ever like a mill;
    It grinds out death and life and good and ill;
    It has no purpose, heart or mind or will.
    • Part VIII
  • The mighty river flowing dark and deep,
    With ebb and flood from the remote sea-tides,
    Vague-sounding through the City’s sleepless sleep,
    Is named the River of the Suicides.
    • Part XIX
  • And all sad scenes and thoughts and feelings vanish
    In that sweet sleep no power can ever banish,
    That one best sleep which never wakes again.
    • Part XIX

Essays and Phantasies (1881)[edit]

Text online at the Internet Archive (London: Reeves and Turner, 1881).

  • The animals [nature] brings forth (not to speak of the plants and the minerals) are in many cases ugly, unamiable, ferocious, and tormented with monstrous appetites, which can only be satisfied by devouring their fellow-creatures; nearly all of them are quite selfish and immoral; and the few of them that are philanthropic (such as surly old lions, tigers, wolves, sharks, vultures and other sweet carrion fowl; all genuine lovers of man) are almost as disagreeably so as our human philanthropists themselves.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part II, p. 60
  • The ignorant creature knows nothing of the wise doctrines of Malthus, but spawns forth as many children of all sorts as ever she can, without the least prudential restraint. She has consequently far more than she can properly feed and rear; so that a large part perishes in infancy (and we are told that none of these except the human sucklings will rise to another life; poor bereaved monkey and donkey mothers, for instance, being altogether without the precious consolations of immortality); a considerable part is eaten up by mankind and other hungry animals, and the remainder can seldom get food enough.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part II, p. 60
  • [Nature] turns us out into the world without giving us any choice in the matter; though all other suffrages and freedoms are perfectly insignificant in comparison with that of which we are thus deprived, an effective and enlightened vote on the question: Shall I, or shall I not, be born?
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part II, p. 62
  • [Nature] only keeps us alive by a complicated system of the most shameful illusions, falsifying beyond rectification life, death, and after-death. Having made us take part in this poor puzzling game of life, she has taken care that all the rules shall be unfavourable to us: the cards are marked, the dice are loaded, we are always swindled. Thus years of hard work; and self-denial are frequently lost by a slip or chance, but seldom or never saved by a chance. Our health may be ruined by a pin-prick, but never doubled by an accident. We fall seriously ill in a moment, and take weeks or months to recover; lose a limb by some sudden mishap, but never by a good hap regain it. We cannot reach even a low degree of wisdom or knowledge without long hard study, while to be ignorant and foolish is the easiest and most natural thing in the world for us. Our sorrows are real and enduring; our joys deceptive and transient; our prizes of victory are not to be compared with our forfeits of defeat.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part II, p. 62
  • The International League of Peace and Liberty, together with all other Peace Societies and Liberal Associations, Socialists, Communists, Internationalists, must feel assured that the new perfect man will not fight with his brother, for it will not be his "nature to," nor will he seek to oppress his brother, nor will it be possible to oppress himself; and they must also feel assured that when all mankind and womankind are perfect, all will be absolutely equal in every respect, that everybody will be delighted to share everything with everybody else, and that the earth wisely worked will produce far more than enough for the wants of her human children. Nor is it likely that this perfect man will rest content with merely making all human beings free and equal: his delicate moral sense will probably perceive that other animals have their inalienable rights no less than the human animal; that it is wicked to enslave horses, dogs, camels, elephants, reindeer, etc., for his pleasure and service; that it is criminal to rob the cow of her milk and the hen of her egg, thus defrauding the calf and preventing the life of the chick; that it is a shameful abuse of superior power to interfere in any way with that mode of life to which the nature of each animal impels it.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part V, p. 78
  • The Vegetarians may confidently reckon that the new perfect man will not kill and devour other animals, nay, will not kill and devour vegetables, if it is cruel and wrong to do so. Should he after serious moral reflection conclude that vegetable life is as sacred as animal, he will doubtless be clever enough to derive plenty of wholesome food from the mineral kingdom; and should he deem it wrong to ravage even this for so vulgar a purpose as filling his belly, he will doubtless be able to nourish himself without devouring anything at all.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part V, pp. 79–80
  • But, so far as we can see, so long as the present laws and constitution of nature continue there must still remain a vast amount of really inevitable suffering for mankind, without reckoning beastkind, birdkind, fishkind, insectkind, reptilekind, plant- kind, and leaving quite out of discussion stonekind.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part V, p. 83
  • In order to ensure absolute equality (which perchance cannot co-exist with essential distinctions) the new race may demand .either that sex be abolished, or that every human being be of both sexes. Perhaps the very perfecting process will either unsex or androgynise its subject, so that all alike shall be regenerated either neutral or epicene.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part VI, p. 85
  • I call special attention to the fact that it is only our universal suicide which would prove a panacea for all the ills our ' flesh is heir to j individual suicides can do little or no good, save to the individuals themselves; Thus true philosophers may rationally and generously deny themselves the luxury of self-murder, because their death must leave the human average still worse than it is; and, besides, death’s coming is so certain and (at farthest) so near, that it is scarcely worth while to put one’s self out of breath hastening to meet him.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part VII, p. 91
  • But nature could not and cannot ever be constrained into self-improvement by sporadic or even endemic or epidemic cases of slow or swift suicide and slaughter, so long as the premature extinction of the whole human race was not and is not seriously threatened. Threaten this seriously, and she will forthwith become our most obedient humble servant. This is the forcible plan of "strikes" by labour against capital, applied in its utmost extension by man against nature; as you have already mere trades'-unions, organise a universal Man-union, and threaten, if all your demands are not immediately granted, to "strike" living, to "turn out" of human existence, and you will at once bring- the everlasting employer to reason.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part VII, p. 92
  • For it may be very plausibly urged on their behalf, that it is impossible to extinguish evil until the origin thereof has been discovered and destroyed. This great river of human Time (rivers were expressly created to feed metaphors, allegories, and navigable canals) which comes flowing down thick with filth and blood from the immemorial past surely cannot be thoroughly cleansed by any purifying process applied to it here in the present for the pollution, if not in its very source (supposing it has a source), or deriving from unimaginable remotenesses of eternity indefinitely beyond its source, at any rate interfused with it countless ages back, and is perennial as the river itself. This immense poison-tree of Life, with its leaves of illusion, blossoms of delirium, apples of destruction, surely cannot be made wholesome and sweet by anything we may do to the branchlets and twigs on which, poor insects, we find ourselves crawling, or to the leaves and fruit on which we must fain feed; for the venom is drawn up in the sap by the taproots plunged in abysmal depths of the past. This toppling and sinking house wherein we dwell cannot be firmly re-established, save by re-establishing from its lowest foundation upwards.
    • "The Speedy Extinction of Evil and Misery", part VIII, pp. 93–94

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