Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomson, James (1768-1855)

THOMSON, JAMES (1768–1855), editor of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica,’ born in May 1768 at Crieff in Perthshire, was the second son of John Thomson by his wife, Elizabeth Ewan. Thomas Thomson (1773–1852) [q. v.] was his younger brother. James was educated at the parish school, and afterwards proceeded to Edinburgh University. He was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Haddington on 6 Aug. 1793, and frequently assisted his uncle, John Ewan, minister of Whittingham, East Lothian. In 1795 he became associated with George Gleig [q. v.], bishop of Brechin, as co-editor of the third edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica.’ He wrote several articles himself, including those on ‘Scripture,’ ‘Septuagint,’ and ‘Superstition.’ That on ‘Scripture’ was retained in several later editions. During the same period he prepared an edition of the ‘Spectator,’ with short biographies of the contributors (Newcastle, 1799, 8 vols. 8vo). In 1796 he became tutor to the sons of John Stirling of Kippendavie, and resigned his post on the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ to his younger brother, Thomas Thomson (1773–1852) [q. v.] Both brothers were constant contributors to the ‘Literary Journal’ founded in 1803 by James Mill [q. v.], James Thomson contributing the philosophic articles. On 26 Aug. 1805 Thomson was ordained minister of Eccles, Berwickshire. In his country life he devoted himself to the study of the Bible in the original tongues, and to the careful editing of his discourses on St. Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. In 1842 he received the honorary degree of D.D. from the university of St. Andrews, and in 1847 he resigned his charge and retired to Edinburgh. In 1854 he removed to London, where he died on 28 Nov. 1855.

On 10 Oct. 1805 Thomson married Elizabeth, eldest daughter of James Skene of Aberdeen, second son of George Skene of Skene, Aberdeenshire. She died in 1851, leaving three sons: Robert Dundas Thomson [q. v.]; James Thomson, chairman of the government bank of Madras; and Andrew Skene Thomson, besides a daughter Eliza. Thomson was the author of:

  1. 'Rise, Progress, and Consequences of the new Opinions and Principles lately introduced into France,' Edinburgh, 1799, 8vo.
  2. 'Expository Lectures on St. Luke,' London, 1849-51, 8vo.
  3. 'Expository Lectures on the Acts of the Apostles,' London, 1854, 8vo.

He also contributed a 'Sketch of the present State of Agriculture in Berwickshire' to his brother Thomas Thomson's 'Annals of Philosophy.'

[Literary Gazette, 1856, p. 58; Chambers's Biogr. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen, 1870; Scott's Fasti Eccl. Scot, i. ii. 413.]

E. I. C.