Melton prior Institut


Linton- Life in the Collections

James B.V. Thomson:

26) The City of Dreadful Night and Other Poems.

London (1874) 1880 / 1888

The first edition of this anthology appeared two years before the death of its author, who is regarded by the critics as the bleakest poet of the Victorian era. Linton held the Scottish writer, who had been raised in an orphanage, in high esteem. In 1883 he published some examples of his work in the anthology English verse of the 19th Century. Thomson was even as a literary critic quite suitable to Linton’s taste. In 1860 he had written an inspired essay on Shelley’s poetry and in 1866 on Blake’s work. Both articles were published in the National Reformer, the atheistic journal of Thomson´s mentor, the publicist and political performer Charles Bradlaugh, who had succeeded George Holyoake as the leader of the Secular Society. Thomson’s central work, The City of Dreadful Night, was also first published in Bradlaugh’s magazine, in 1874. It became a source of inspiration for Linton.


Isobel Armstrong considers Thomson as being "the most Shelleyan poet of the nineteenth century (...), for his project is to construct single-handed a new symbolic language and a wholly new mythological system. It is not the same myth as Shelley’s because it is the mythos of atheism. There is nothing utopian about it. But it shares with Shelley’s poetry the attempt to break cultural forms and to construct a new imaginative and ideological world, redefining history and consciousness. But this reconstructed modern myth had to be made out of existing forms of thought, images and language, above all Christian language and the cosmology of Dante’s Inferno. The shock of The City of Dreadful Night (...) is its use of the traditional language of spiritual experience to overturn it by its own oppressive weight. The extremity of Thomson’s experiment places him quite outside any of the radical poetry written in the century, not to speak of the conservative tradition.”