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[THOMSON, William.]

A Tour in England and Scotland in 1785.

By an English Gentleman.

London, G. G. J. and J. Robinson, 1788 Stock Code: 139655

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First edition, a prettily bound journal-style tour of Britain, compared on publication to Pennant. "Since the publication of Mr. Pennant's tour... several visitors... have endeavoured to imitate the manner of that candid, agreeable and entertaining traveller. The author now before us appears to be a candidate for the same praise; and he is not, indeed, without good pretensions for obtaining it" (The Critical Review, LXVI, p. 67).

The author of the piece was neither English, nor a gentleman. William Thomson (17461817), was born at Burnside in the parish of Forteviot, Perthshire, his father a carpenter and farmer, and his mother the daughter of a schoolmaster. However, he passed from the parish school, to Perth Grammar school, and thence to St Andrews University, "which he entered at the age of fifteen, despite his family's very limited means" (ODNB). He became private librarian to the chancellor, Thomas Hay, earl of Kinnoull, who encouraged him to go into the church, promising him a parish of which he had the patronage. This did not work out so well, Thomson displaying "tastes and affinities discordant with his office. He did not always confine himself within the bounds of ascetic puritanism, and the parishioners made urgent complaints about his irascible temper and his taste for sensual and social pleasures".

Thomas resigned and headed to London to become a man of letters. Supported by an annual stipend of 50 from his old patron he eventually managed to establish himself. "For the next thirty-five years he wrote on a great variety of subjects, producing pamphlets, memoirs, elaborate biographies, voyages, travels (in Europe, Asia, and Africa under the names of Thomas Newte, Sergeant Donald Macleod, or Andrew Swinton), commentaries on the Bible scripture and treatises on national history or on military tactics He seems to have avoided verse but he essayed into novels and dramas". Newte, who is credited with the enlarged edition of the present work, Prospects and Observations on a Tour in England and Scotland (1791), appears to be closer to one of Pessoa's heteronyms than a simple pseudonym, having a detailed "back story" and certainly overlapping with a real East India Company ship's captain.

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Octavo (211 x 130 mm). Contemporary finely sprinkled calf, red morocco label, flat spine, compartments formed by a Greek key roll and containing a large floral spray tool with hexafoil and arabesque cornerpieces, geometric panel gilt to the boards, milled gilt edge-roll, moderate green and pink shell marbled endpapers.


5 plates, finely engraved by James Heath after Barret, Garret and Playfair.


From the library of Charles William Vane, third marquess Londonderry (1778–1854), his elaborate armorial bookplate featuring hussar supporters and his military awards pendant to the front pastedown. Light shelfwear, some pale browning, else a very good copy in an extremely appealing binding.


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