Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomson, George (1782?-1838)

THOMSON, GEORGE (1782?–1838), tutor in the household of Sir Walter Scott and supposed original of ‘Dominie Sampson,’ son of George Thomson (1758–1835), by his wife Margaret, daughter of Robert Gillon of Lessudden, Roxburghshire, was born about 1782. The father was licensed by the presbytery of Dunblane on 4 July 1786, and was called to Melrose about two years later. He caused the church to be moved from the abbey and a new building erected near at hand in 1810. Like his son, he was distinguished by his independence and his simplicity. His stipend being extremely small, a substantial subscription was raised for him during the high price of provisions in 1798, but he firmly declined eleemosynary aid from any of his friends. On another occasion he employed a casual stranger, whom he met upon the high road, as a messenger to take his watch into the neighbouring town to be repaired, with the result that might have been anticipated. He died at Melrose on 22 Nov. 1835.

The eldest son, George, from a lad did his utmost to relieve the necessities of his family, not only educating himself with the aid of a bursary, but taking upon himself the education of two brothers out of his small pittance. About 1811 he became domesticated at Abbotsford as librarian and ‘grinder’ of Scott's boys. Scott had a special kindness for him, which was strengthened by Thomson's mishap—he had lost a leg owing to some rough play when a boy, and had refused to utter the name of the companion who had occasioned the accident. Tall, vigorous, an expert fencer, and a dashing horseman, despite his infirmity, Thomson formed ‘a valuable as well as a picturesque addition to the tail of the new laird’ of Abbotsford. Scott often said ‘In the “Dominie,” like myself, accident has spoiled a capital lifeguardsman.’ His upright life and his sound learning were set off by a number of oddities which increased as he grew older. One of the least amiable was after a hard day's hunting to keep the company waiting while he extemporised what he deemed an appropriate form of grace. Scott was the last man to caricature a friend or dependent, but he certainly embodied some of the tutor's traits in Dominie Sampson in ‘Guy Mannering,’ and Thomson seems himself to have encouraged a belief that he was the original of that remarkable character. Scott frequently tried, though without success, to get him a permanent post. Writing in 1819 to the Duke of Buccleuch, he says, ‘He is nearer Parson Adams than any living creature I ever saw—very learned, very religious, very simple, and extremely absent.’ He added that he was a very fair preacher and a staunch anti-Gallican. In 1820 he left Scott to coach the sons of Mrs. Dennistoun of Colgrain, but Scott still hoped to procure him a ‘harbour on his lee.’ He went to see Scott at Christmas 1825, when his kind heart and incorrigible eccentricities were again noted in the ‘Journal.’ He died at Edinburgh on 8 Jan. 1838. His only literary production seems to have been an ‘Account of the Parish of Melrose’ contributed to Sir John Sinclair's ‘Statistical Account of Scotland.’

[Hew Scott's Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ, i. 561; Gent. Mag. 1838, i. 328; Lockhart's Life of Scott, passim; Scott's Journal, i. 67, 336, ii. 350, 359, and Familiar Letters, ii. 220.]

T. S.