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Significant Scots
James Thom


THOM, JAMES, -- This wonderful self-taught sculptor, whose productions excited such general interest, was born, we believe, in Ayrshire, and in the year 1799. Such is all that we can ascertain of his early history, except the additional fact, that he was brought up to the trade of a mason or stone-cutter, in which humble and laborious occupation he continued unnoticed until he started at once into fame. This was occasioned by his celebrated group of "Tam o’ Shanter," where the figures of that well-known legend, as large as life, were chiselled out of the material upon which he had been accustomed to work – the Scotch gray-stone. No sooner was this singular production unveiled to the public gaze, then every one recognized the likeness of personages who had long been familiar to their thoughts, and who were not thus strangely embodied, as if they had been recalled from the grave. Tam himself, happier than a king—the Souter in the midst of one of his queerest stories—and the "couthie" landlady, supplying the materials of still further enjoyment, until it should reach its utmost, and enable "heroic Tam" to encounter and surmount the terrible witches’ sabbath that was awaiting him at Alloway Kirk—all these, in feature, expression, figure, attitude, and costume, were so admirably embodied, that each seemed ready to rise up and walk; and so truthfully withal, that in each impersonation the delighted beholder saw an old acquaintance. While such was the fitness of the humblest classes for the task of criticism, and while such was the manner in which it was expressed, the same approving feelings were uttered by those who were conversant with the highest rules of art, and conversant with the productions of ancient Greece and modern Italy. Here was evidently a kindred genius with Burns himself—one who had expressed in stone what the poet had uttered in words; and the admiration which had been exclusively reserved for the "Ayrshire ploughman," was now fully shared by the Ayrshire stone-cutter, who had shown himself such an able and congenial commentator.

Thom having thus attained, by a single stride, to high celebrity, and been recognized as the Canova of humble everyday life, was not allowed to remain idle; orders for statues and groups poured in upon him, which brought him not only fame but fortune; and his productions in gray-stone, the first material in which he had wrought, and to which he still adhered, were eagerly sought, as choice ornaments for princely halls and stately classical gardens. After Mr. Thom had been for some time thus employed in London, he found it necessary to visit America, in consequence of the agent who had been commissioned to exhibit his "Tam o’ Shanter" group and that of "Old Mortality," by the proprietors of these statues, having made no returns, either in money or report of proceedings. In this pursuit he was partially successful; and having been gratified with his reception by the Americans, he resolved to become a citizen of the United States. In his new adopted country, his fame soon became as extensive as in the old, so that his chisel was in frequent demand for copies of those admirable statues upon which his fame had been established. To this, also, he joined the profession of builder and architect; and as his frugality kept pace with his industry, in the course of twelve or fourteen years of his residence in America, he acquired a comfortable competence. He died of consumption, at his lodgings in New York, on the 17th of April, 1850, at the age of fifty-one.


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