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Scary Scribes Bonus Content: Thomas, Thomson, and Dad

Musidora Bathing by Arthur Hughes, inspired by James Thomson's "Spring."

Musidora Bathing by Arthur Hughes, inspired by James Thomson’s “Spring.”

In the past, I’ve written about things I have finally found: “Obstinate Uncle Otis”, “The Light of Other Days”

and even my father’s old Robert Frost poetry thesis paper (and watch this blog in the future because there are a couple more miraculous returns that have occurred that I haven’t had time to mention yet).

Last month, while reading Scott Thomas’ spectral story collection Urn & Willow and preparing for the November episode of Scary Scribes, something found me.

If you’ve not read any of Thomas’ fine ghost stories, you’re missing out. They are rich in detail and atmosphere, stories that deserve further study as they truly exemplify good use of Poe’s Single Effect. So, when I was reading “Miss Smallwood’s Student” and came across the line “Fine framed engravings, rendered at the end of the last century, depicted the four seasons, imagery inspired by the poetry of James Thomson”[1] I knew that Thomas meant to convey something important connected to the story’s theme. If I didn’t do the research to find out who this poet was (the name sounded vaguely familiar, but at that point I didn’t know why), I’d be missing something crucial.

In the old days, I would have gone to Dad the English teacher. Being he’s gone, I did the next best thing and what everyone does initially: I Googled.

It was that gave me the information—and something else: a little bit of understanding.

James Thomson was a Scottish poet who was a major influence on Romanticism. He was part of what’s called the Graveyard School, the poets of which focused on dark themes (like death and longing) brought forth using dark or melancholy imagery (I paraphrased this for you—please see for a much more detailed definition).

I managed to get a copy of Thomson’s famous four seasons poems, and I read them. I could easily grasp why Thomas had chosen to reference this poet, as it did add another layer of melancholy to the story.

More importantly, though, I remembered why the name might be familiar.

My Dad had a passion for the Romantic poets, and his den was full of books on the subject. He also had a passion for Scottish writers and work set in Scotland. It’s likely that Thomson would probably have been a favorite of his, and even more likely that he had probably mentioned the man to me at some point. As I read the poems, I tried to imagine my Dad reading them and what his reactions would have been. Based on some of the writing I know he enjoyed reading, I circled a few lines I thought might have had particular significance to him. I got the odd sense that I was looking through a window into his mind.

I shared this information with Scott Thomas after the show (because during the show we talked about so much stuff that the question regarding Thomson slipped my mind). To my surprise, his reasons for citing Thomson were not what I expected (no spoilers here, you’ll have to read “Miss Smallwood’s Student”).

On November 25, 2012, Scott posted the following in a conversation we were having on Facebook:

“I’m glad the story pointed you in an intriguing direction. I’ll have to check out Mr. Thomson’s work. My knowledge of him is limited to little more than my reference to him in the story: “Fine framed engravings, rendered at the end of the last century, depicted the four seasons, the imagery inspired by the poetry of James Thomson.” The house in that story is based on the Salem Towne House at Old Sturbridge Village, Massachusetts, which had prints of the type I described. In depicting the rooms in the story I studied the interiors of the house as it would have looked around 1835. I take it from my research that the Thomson-inspired prints were not an uncommon decoration at the time, at least in the homes of those who could afford such things. Other than that, I can’t claim any familiarity with him. I’m obsessive about creating a historically accurate world when I do these period stories, so I’ll work in things like that. I strive to make clothing, houses, dialogue, etc. as true as possible.”[2]

We both did a search to try to find this art. Scott found a piece of a mural that was inspired by another of Thomson’s works called “The Castle of Indolence.” The closest thing I found was Arthur Hughes’ 1848 oil on canvas “Musidora Bathing” (pictured at the top of this post), which, according to the Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery website, was inspired by Thomson’s “Spring.”[3]

While seeing both works brought the room in Thomas’ story to life, I walked away from this with much more. I have always believed that one can learn about another by studying his bookshelf. In recalling that James Thomson was, indeed, a poet my father enjoyed reading—and through, for the first time, reading, at the very least, Thomson’s famous four seasons poems themselves—I learned a little bit more about the enigma that was my Dad.

[1] Scott Thomas, “Miss Smallwood’s Student,” Urn & Willow (Colusa, CA: Dark Regions Press: Ghost House, 2012), 58.

[2] Scott Thomas, private Facebook message to author, November 25, 2012.

[3] “Musidora Bathing,” Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery Pre-Raphaelite Online Resources: The Collection,

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