Leicester Secular Society

THE OLDEST SECULAR SOCIETY IN THE WORLD - FOUNDED 1851

James Thomson (1834 - 1882)

Poet. Also known under the pen-name 'Bysshe Vanolis' (or 'B.V.').

He wrote a poem 'Address' for the opening of Leicester's Secular Hall in 1881, which was recited by the actress Mrs Theodore Wright, as stated in this poster.

Address poster, image from LSS archive

We are indebted to Tom Leonard, author of Places of the Mind: The Life and Work of James Thomson (B.V.), Jonathan Cape 1993, for the complete text:

Address on the Opening of the New Hall of the Leicester Secular Society March 6th 1881

"So Man created god in His own image, in the image of Man created He him; male and female created He them."-The New Book of Genesis

Lo, all the lands wherein our wandering race
Have led their flocks, or fixed their dwelling-place
To till with patient toil the fruitful sod,
Abound with altars TO THE UNKNOWN GOD
OF GODS, whom MAN created from of old,
In his own image, one yet manifold,
And ignorantly worshipped. We now dare,
Taught by milleniums of barren prayer,
Of mutual scorn and hate and bloody strife
With which these dreams have poisoned our poor life,
To build our temples on another plan,
Devoting them to god's creator, MAN;
Not to MAN's creature, god. And thus, indeed,
All men and women, of whatever creed,
We welcome gladly if they love our kind;
No other test of valid worth we find.

We gaze into the living world and mark
Infinite mysteries for ever dark:
And if there is a god beyond our thought
(How could he be within its compass brought?);
He will not blame the eyes he made so dim
That they cannot discern a trace of him;
He must approve the pure sincerity
Which, seeing not, declares it cannot see;
He cannot love the blasphemous pretence
Of puny mannikins with purblind sense
To see him thoroughly, to know him well,
His secret purposes, His Heaven and hell,
His inmost nature, formulating this
With calmest chemical analysis,
Or vivisecting it, as if it were
Some compound gas, or dog with brain laid bare.
And if we have a life beyond our death,
A life of nobler aims and ampler breath,
What better preparation for such bliss
Than honest work to make the best of this?

He who is faithful in a few things found
Becomes the lord of many; he whose pound
Is well employed may look for many more;
Waste adds to waste as store increaseth store.
Who cannot run a mile will win no place
Among the champions for a ten-mile race;
Who cannot order well a little farm
Shall have no great estate to bring to harm;
Who squanders months and years can never be
Entrusted with an immortality;
Who loveth not the brother at his side,
How can he love a dim dream deified?

We know our lives at best are full of care,
But we may learn to bear and to forbear,
By sympathy and human fellowship,
Sweet cup of solace to the parching lip,
Doubling all joy, diminishing all grief,
Soothing despair itself with some relief.

Each life is as a little plot of ground,
Whose owner should not blankly wall it round
To shut it in from others, shutting out
Himself from those that neighbour it about:
The plots must differ both in size and soil,
The poorest will reward kind care and toil
With fruits of sustenance and flowers of grace;
All good, though varying in every case.
Down with our dead walls! let us all enjoy
Our neighbours' industry without alloy;
The bloom and odours of their fruits and flowers
Which as so like and yet so unlike ours;
The singing of the birds among the trees,
Their glancing butterflies and honey-bees:
And sharing thus the pleasures of the whole,
Tend that which is within our own control
More cheerfully, more earnestly, lest weeds
Disgracing ours, taint theirs with wafted seeds;
And let us cherish kindly interchange
Of help and produce in our social range.

This is the spirit in which we have wrought
To build our little Temple of Free Thought
And mere Humanity to us Divine
Above the deity of any shrine:
This modest Hall for Club and Institute
Which we now open; may it bear good fruit!
No rigid barriers of sex or sect
Or party in these walls do we erect:
Inclusion not exclusion is our aim:
Whatever freedom for ourselves we claim,
We wish all others to enjoy the same,
In simple womanhood and manhood's name!
Freedom within one law of sacred might,
Trench not on any other's equal right.

Our creed is simple, All men are one man!
Our sole commandment, Do what good you can.
We gladly welcome truth where'er it shines,
The gold and silver of the ancient mines,
Dug out and smelted by good men of yore,
And mines but newly opened, still in ore;
Submitting old and modern to the test,
Most surely fallible but yet our best,
Of self-experience, knowledge, reason; then
Inviting the assays of other men.
Buddha and Jesus, Zeno, Socrates,
Mohammed, Paine, Voltaire, alike from these
The precious metals we accept with joy;
But pray, friends, spare us from the proved alloy;

Having no rich endowments from the State,
Our means are small as our good-will is great:
A platform for Free Thought in courteous speech,
And free discussion of the views of each;
Some books, our true "Communion of the Saints,"
To feed the mind and cheer the heart of faints;
Some classes for instruction and delight;
A club wherein our members may unite
For cordial converse and such innocent pleasure
As makes a blessing, not a curse, of leisure!
Some social gatherings, where we trust to see
Not the Man only but the Family,
Where poetry and music, dance and song,
Shall make the sweet hours blithely dance along.

Thus all our youths and maidens, girls and boys,
Must link this place with all their purest joys,
And growing in their turn husbands and wives,
Fathers and mothers, may devote their lives,
Not as an irksome task, but gracious duty,
Full-fraught with light and sweetness, love and beauty,
To cherish, cultivate, and propagate,
Or here or elsewhere as shall be their fate,
When we ourselves are dead save in our deeds,
This nursling from the ever-precious seeds
Which we have in our time inherited
From the brave culture of our noble Dead;
Our small addition to their great work done,
The present work in our loved town begun
This Sunday, March sixth, Eighteen eighty-one.

Did you spot the reference to four of the five busts that adorn our Hall?

An extract from another poem is:


I find no hint throughout the Universe
Of good or ill, of blessing or of curse
I find alone Necessity Supreme.

Not to be confused with the earlier poets who lived 1700-1748 and 1763-1832, nor with many others of the same name.

Links for James Thomson

These open in new windows

Poetry Works gives text of 43 poems.
Poetry Works gives text of 18 poems.
City of Dreadful Night.
James Thomson on Project Gutenberg.
Critical appreciation of his poems.
Sonnets 3 poems.
Biography.
Short biography.
Short biography and appreciation.
Tom Leonard, biographer of James Thomson.
Extract from Tom Leonard's Places of the Mind ... (pdf, 83kb).
Texts set to music.

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Page updated 25 October 2008 FF