Major Piper; by THOMSON, James, Rev. (fl. 1790-1816).

THOMSON, James, Rev. (fl. 1790-1816).

Major Piper; or the Adventures of a Musical Drone. A Novel. In two Volumes. By the Rev. J. Thomson. Vol. I [-II]. Dublin, P. Wogan [&c.], 1794.

First Dublin Edition. Two volumes, 12mo (170 x 100 mm), pp. [iv], 312; [ii], 307, some browning and creasing in text, a couple of gatherings very slightly sprung, in contemporary mottled calf, flat spines pressed out a little where the lower raised band would have been, spines ruled in gilt with red morocco labels lettered in gilt, rubbed at extremities with the front joint of Vol. I slightly cracked, but generally a handsome copy.

A scarce comic novel by an obscure cleric from the Lake District whose literary output seems to have been confined to three novels which have all but disappeared. He is known to have lived in Westmoreland, where he supported a large family on the proceeds of a small curacy and a school, but whether his income was notably supplemented by the success of his writings is unknown. His first publication was The Denial; or, the Happy Retreat, London 1790, which was sufficiently popular to run both to a Dublin and a second London printing (each of which is listed in ESTC in a couple of copies). The present novel, originally published in London in the previous year by the Robinsons, is a substantial work of fiction which first appeared in the unusual format of five volumes. The first edition is similarly scarce, with ESTC (n4436) listing copies in the BL, Bodleian (ESTC appears to have listed the five volumes as five copies) and Minnesota (OCLC adds Berkeley). A second edition was published by Lane and Newman (though not designated as the Minerva Press) in 1803. Thomson’s third and final novel, Winifred, a tale of wonder, only survives in a London edition of 1803 (not in ESTC, though the BL has a copy).
In the brief preface, Thomson describes the ‘two principle motives’ of fiction as being to amuse and instruct, suggesting that in combining the two in the present work, the more intelligent reader is likely to find but an ‘insipid entertainment’ in the ‘succession of incidents, and the narration of improbabilities, however surprizing, or however brilliant’ whereas he fears that other readers may find the moral reflections to be insipid. Contemporary reviewers seem to have focussed on the bizarre narrative structure and the humour rather than the moral and didactic passages. ‘He has published some novels of more ingenuity than morality’ concluded A Biographical Dictionary of Living Authors in 1816, whereas an earlier reviewer objected to the style of humour, comparing it to the less successful parts of Smollett’s writings: ‘Manners mistaken and misrepresented: conduct ridiculously absurd in characters laboured with the greatest care: adventures too improbable to amuse, and a vein of broad grotesque humour, of outré description, which Smollett introduced, and which his masterly hand could scarcely wield without exciting, at times, disgust. Under Mr. Thomson’s management, it is intolerable’ (Critical Review, 10: 472, April 1794).

See Garside, Raven & Schöwerling 1793:40; Block p. 235; not in Hardy.

ESTC t135341, at BL, Harvard & Library Company; OCLC adds NLS.

Keywords: English Literature
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