See his poetical works (ed. by J. L. Robertson, 1908, repr. 1965); biographies by H. H. Campbell (1979) and M. J. Scott (1988); studies by R. Cohen (1963 and 1970) and R. R. Agrawal (1981).
See biography by H. S. Salt (rev. ed. 1914); study by I. B. Walker (1950).
See his autobiography (1961).
Thomson possibly attended the parish school of Southdean before going to the grammar school in Jedburgh in 1712. He failed to distinguish himself there, Shiels, his earliest biographer writes: 'far from appearing to possess a sprightly genius, [Thomson] was considered by his schoolmaster, and those which directed his education, as being really without a common share of parts'. He was, however, encouraged to write poetry by Robert Riccaltoun (1691–1769), a farmer, poet and Presbyterian minister; and Sir William Bennet (d. 1729), a whig laird who was a patron of Allan Ramsay. While some early poems by Thomson survive most were burnt by him on New Year’s Day each year.
Thomson entered the College of Edinburgh in autumn 1715, destined for the Presbyterian ministry. At Edinburgh he studied metaphysics, Logic, Ethics, Greek, Latin and Natural Philosophy. He completed his arts course in 1719 but chose not to graduate, instead entering Divinity Hall to become a minister. In 1716 Thomas Thomson died with local legend saying that he was killed whilst performing an exorcism. At Edinburgh Thomson became member of the Grotesque Club, a literary group where he met his lifelong friend David Mallet. After the successful publication of some of his poets in the ‘’Edinburgh Miscellany’’ Thomson followed Mallet to London in February 1725 in an effort to publish his verse.
By 1727 Thomson was working on ‘Summer’, published in February, and was working at Watt’s academy, a school for young gentlemen and a bastion of Newtonian science. In the same year Millian published a poem by Thomson titled ‘A Poem to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton’ (who had died in March). Leaving Watt’s academy Thomson hoped to earn a living through his poetry, helped by his acquiring several wealthy patrons including Thomas Rundle, the countess of Hertford and Charles Talbot, 1st Baron Talbot.
Spring in 1728 and finally Autumn in 1730, when the set of four was published together as The Seasons. During this period he also wrote other poems, such as to the Memory of Sir Isaac Newton, and his first play, The Tragedy of Sophonisba (1729).
In 1730 he became tutor to the son of Sir Charles Talbot, then Solicitor-General, and spent nearly two years in the company of the young man on a tour of Europe . On his return Talbot arranged for him to become a secretary in chancery, which gave him financial security until Talbot's death in 1737. Meanwhile there appeared his next major work, Liberty (1734).
In 1740 he collaborated with Mallet on the masque Alfred which was first performed at Cliveden, the country home of the Frederick, Prince of Wales. Thomson's words for "Rule Britannia", written as part of that masque and set to music by Thomas Arne, became one of the most well-known British patriotic songs - quite apart from the masque which is now virtually forgotten. The Prince gave him a pension of £100 per annum. He had also introduced him to George Lyttelton, who became his friend and patron.
Thomson's The Seasons was translated into German by Barthold Heinrich Brockes (1745). This translation formed the basis for a work with the same title by Gottfried van Swieten, which became the libretto for Haydn's oratorio The Seasons