Thomson, James, 1834–82, Scottish poet and essayist. He is remembered for his darkly pessimistic poem The City of Dreadful Night. He was raised in an orphan asylum and became (1851) an army teacher at Ballincollig, Ireland. In 1862 he was dismissed from the service for a very minor offense, became a clerk in London, and contributed (using the signature B.V.) to the National Reformer, the magazine of his friend Charles Bradlaugh. Thomson's life in London was lonely and impoverished, aggravated by insomnia, his own incredibly melancholic disposition, and periodic bouts with alcoholism. His greatest poetical work, The City of Dreadful Night (1880, first published in the National Reformer, 1874), gives brilliant, haunting expression to his despair. The poem "Sunday up the River" (first published in Fraser's Magazine, 1869) is an example of his lyric gift. Vane's Story (1880) and A Voice from the Nile (1884) are later collections of his poems. Thomson also wrote many essays and criticisms. His collected poems appeared in 1895 and a volume of prose in 1896.
See biography by H. S. Salt (rev. ed. 1914); study by I. B. Walker (1950).