I have been spending a lot of time in Edinburgh at the National Library of Scotland lately, going through all the George Thomson publications in the library’s possession (yes – volume by volume, and page by page!). This was to really make sure that our master list of Burns songs in Thomson’s volumes is complete, with new settings and/or layouts mentioned and specified, and ready to be analysed, and used in Professor Kirsteen McCue’s work.
In the process I couldn’t help noticing the details of the illustrations, after having spent a fair amount of time on them to create the dedicated online exhibition http://burnsc21.glasgow.ac.uk/the-illustrations-to-george-thomsons-collections/ which I mentioned in my previous blog post. Those vignettes are real beauties! But as I was flicking through the pages I realised that one of the versions of “Now see where Caledonia’s genius mourns” bore the name “P. Thomson”, therefore “Paton Thomson”…while in my web resource I had ascribed it to John Thomson, since “J. Thomson” appeared below the illustration.
That really got me thinking as I was struck by the fact that, as I was completing the resource, the illustrations of “Now see where Caledonia’s genius mourns” I saw – mainly the first editions – clearly showed “J. Thomson” specified as the sculptor. BUT there was also one instance in which I had found a “J” cleverly turned into a “P” in a later edition. At the time I thought that could be a mere slip in the ink, or in the printing process – but given that other instances I’d seen up to then had only shown “J” as an option I did not imagine it might be anything more.
So I was really surprised when I found the “P. Thomson” inscription, clearly printed below the illustration, and with no sign of a “J” to be seen”! I gave the issue some thought, and the likeliest possibility is that Scottish painter John Thomson was initially called for the task, but that Paton Thomson, George’s brother, later took over – and a few plates were simply ‘corrected’ rather than re-done completely. John’s initial appears in early editions of George Thomson’s collections, whereas Paton’s appears in later ones.
I have now corrected the entries in the online exhibition – and am so relieved I spotted this! You really can take nothing for granted with George Thomson.