John Campbell

Alexander Chalmers, in General Biographical Dictionary (1812-17) 8:151-59.

JOHN CAMPBELL, an eminent historical, biographical, and political writer, was born at Edinburgh, March 8, 1708. His father was Robert Campbell, of Glenlyon, esq. and captain of horse in a regiment commanded by the then earl of Hyndford; and his mother, Elizabeth, the daughter of — Smith, esq. of Windsor, in Berkshire, had the honour of claiming a descent from the poet Waller. Our author was their fourth son; and at the age of five years, was brought to Windsor from Scotland, which country he never saw afterwards. At a proper age he was placed out as clerk to an attorney, being intended for the law; but whether it was that his genius could not be confined to that dry study, or to whatever causes besides it might be owing, it is certain that he did not pursue his original designation: neither did he engage in any other profession, unless that of an author, in which he did not spend his time in idleness and dissipation, but in such a close application to the acquisition of knowledge of various kinds, as soon enabled him to appear with great advantage in the literary world. What smaller pieces might be written by Mr. Campbell in the early part of his life, we are not capable of ascertaining, but, in 1736, before he had completed his thirtieth year, he gave to the publick, in 2 vols. folio, The military history of prince Eugene, and the duke of Marlborough; comprehending the history of both those illustrious persons to the time of their decease. This performance was enriched with maps, plans, and cuts, by the best bands, and particularly by the ingenious Claude de Bosc. The reputation hence acquired by our author, occasioned him soon after to be solicited to take a part in the Ancient Universal History. In this work Dr. Kippis says he wrote on the Cosmogony; but Dr. Johnson assigns him the history of the Persians, and of the Constantinopolitan empire. Whilst employed in this capital work, Mr. Campbell found leisure to entertain the world with other productions. In 1739 he published the Travels and adventures of Edward Brown, esq. 8vo. In the same year appeared his Memoirs of the bashaw duke de Ripperda, 8vo, reprinted, with improvements, in 1740. These memoirs were followed, in 1741, by the Concise history of Spanish America, 8vo. In 1742 he was the author of A letter to a friend in the country, on the publication of Thurloe's State papers; giving an account of their discovery, importance, and utility. The same year was distinguished by the appearance of the 1st and 2d volumes of his Lives of the English Admirals, and other eminent British seamen. The two remaining volumes were completed in 1744; and the whole, not long after, was translated into German. This, we believe, was the first of Mr. Campbell's works to which he prefixed his name; and it is a performance of great and acknowledged merit. The good reception it met with was evidenced in its passing through three editions in his own life-time; and a fourth was afterwards given to the public, under the inspection of Dr. Berkeinhout. In 1743 he published Hermippus Revived; a second edition of which, much improved and enlarged, came out in 1749, under the following title: Hermippus Redivivus; or, the sage's triumph over old age and the grave. Wherein a method is laid down for prolonging the life and vigour of man. Including a commentary upon an ancient inscription, in which this great secret is revealed; supported by numerous authorities. The whole interspersed with a great variety of remarkable and well-attested relations. This extraordinary tract had its origin in a foreign publication, under the title of Hermippus Redivivus, Coblentz, 1743, but it was much improved by our author, and is a singular mixture of gravity and irony. The "great secret" is no other than inhaling the breath of young females, by which, we learn from an inscription in Reinesius's Supplement to Gruter, one Hermippus prolonged his life to the age of 115. Mr. Campbell, in 1744, gave to the public in 2 vols. fol. his Voyages and Travels, on Dr. Harris's plan, being a very distinguished improvement of that collection, which had appeared in 1705. The work contains all the circumnavigators from the time of Columbus to lord Anson; a complete history of the East Indies; historical details of the several attempts made for the discovery of the northeast and north-west passages; the commercial history of Corea and Japan; the Russian discoveries by land and sea; a distinct account of the Spanish, Portuguese, British, French, Dutch, and Danish settlements in America; with other pieces not to be found in any former collection. The whole was conducted with eminent skill and judgment, and the preface is acknowledged to be a master-piece of composition and information. The time and care employed by Mr. Campbell in this important undertaking did not prevent his engaging in another great work, the Biographia Britannica, which began to be published in weekly numbers in 1745, and the first volume of which was completed in 1746, as was the second in 1748.

When the late Mr. Dodsley formed the design of The Preceptor, which appeared in 1748, Mr. Campbell was requested to assist in the undertaking and the parts written by him were the Introduction to chronology, and the Discourse on trade and commerce, both of which displayed an extensive fund of knowledge upon these subjects. In 1750 he published the first separate edition of his Present state of Europe a work which had been originally begun in 1746, in the Museum, a very valuable periodical performance, printed for Dodsley. There is no production of our author's that has met with a better reception. It has gone through six editions, and fully deserved this encouragement. The next great undertaking which called for the exertion of our author's abilities and learning, was The modern Universal History. This extensive work was published from time to time in detached parts, till it amounted to 16 vols. fol. and a 2d edition of it in 8vo, began to make its appearance in 1759. The parts of it written by Campbell, were the histories of the Portuguese, Dutch, Spanish, French, Swedish, Danish, and Ostend settlements in the East Indies; and the histories of the kingdoms of Spain, Portugal, Algarve, Navarre, and that of France, from Clovis to 1656. As our author had thus distinguished himself in the literary world, the degree of LL.D. was very properly and honourably conferred upon him, June 18, 1754, by the university of Glasgow. With regard to his smaller publications, there are several, Dr. Kippis apprehends, that have eluded his most diligent inquiry; but the following account, we believe, is tolerably accurate: — In early life, he wrote: 1. A Discourse on Providence, 8vo, the third edition of which was printed in 1748. In 1742 he published 2. The Case of the Opposition impartially stated, 8vo. Mr. Reed had a copy of this. pamphlet, with various corrections and additions in Dr. Campbell's own hand, evidently written with a view to a second impression. He published in 1746, 3. The Sentiments of a Dutch patriot; being the speech of Mr. V. H***n, in an august assembly, on the present state of affairs, and the resolution necessary at this juncture to be taken for the safety of the republic, 8vo. The history of this little tract, the design of which was to expose the temporising policy of the states of Holland, is somewhat amusing. His amanuensis, when he was going to write the pamphlet, having disappointed him, he requested, after tea in the afternoon, that Mrs. Campbell, when she had ordered a good fire to be made, would retire to bed as soon as possible, with the servants; and, at the same time, leave him four ounces of coffee. This was done, and he wrote till 12 o'clock at night, when, finding his spirits flag, he took two ounces. With this assistance he went on till six in the morning, when again beginning to grow weary, he drank the remainder of the coffee. Hence he was enabled to proceed with fresh vigour till nine or ten o'clock in the morning, when he finished the pamphlet, which had a great run, and was productive of considerable profit. Mr. Campbell having succeeded so well in a performance hastily written, expected much greater success from another work, about which he had taken extraordinary pains, and which had cost him a long time in composing. But when it came to be published, it scarcely paid the expence of advertising. Some years afterwards, a book in French was brought to him that had been translated from the German; and he was asked whether a translation of it into English would not be likely to be acceptable. Upon examining it, he found that it was his own neglected work, which had made its way into Germany, and had there been translated and published, without any acknowledgement of the obligation due to the original writer. But it is rather singular that his biographers have not told us what work this was.

In 1749, he printed, 4. Occasional thoughts on moral, serious, and religious subjects, 8vo. In 1754, he was the author of a work, entitled, 5. The Rational Amusement, comprehending a collection of letters on a great variety of subjects, interspersed with essays, and some little pieces of humour, 8vo. 6. An exact and authentic account of the greatest white-herring-fishery in Scotland, carried on yearly in the island of Zetland, by the Dutch only, 1750, 8vo. 7. The Highland Gentleman's Magazine, for Jan. 1751, 8vo. 8. A Letter from the Prince of the infernal legions, to a spiritual lord on this side the great gulph, in answer to a late invective epistle levelled at his highness, 1751, 8vo. 9. The naturalization bill confuted, as most pernicious to these united kingdoms, 1751, 8vo. 10. His royal highness Frederick late prince of Wales deciphered: or a full and particular description of his character, from his juvenile years until his death, 1751, 8vo. 11. A Vade Mecum: or companion for the unmarried ladies: wherein are laid down some examples whereby to direct them in the choice of husbands, 1752, 8vo. 12. A particular but melancholy account of the great hardships, difficulties, and miseries, that those unhappy and much to be pitied creatures, the common women of the town, are plunged into at this juncture, 1752, 8vo. 13. A full and particular description of the Highlands of Scotland, 1752, 8vo. 14. The case of the publicans, both in town and country, laid open, 1752, 8vo. 15. The Shepherd of Banbury's rules, a favourite pamphlet with the common people; and The history of the war in the East-Indies, which appeared in 1758 or 1759, under the name of Mr. Watts, are supposed to have been of Mr. Campbell's composition. Upon the conclusion of the peace of Paris, our author was requested by lord Bute to take some share in the vindication of that peace. Accordingly, he wrote A description and history of the new Sugar Islands in the West-Indies, 8vo, the design of which was to shew the value and importance of the neutral islands that had been ceded to us by the French. The only remaining publication of Dr. Campbell's, that has hitherto come to our knowledge, is, A Treatise upon the Trade of Great-Britain to America, 1772, 4to. His last grand work was A political survey of Britain: being a series of reflections on the situation, lands, inhabitants, revenues, colonies, and commerce of this island. Intended to shew that they have not as yet approached near the summit of improvement, but that it will afford employment to many generations, before they push to their utmost extent the natural advantages of Great Britain. This work, which was published in 1774, in 2 vols. royal 4to, cost Dr. Campbell many years of attention, study, and labour. As it was his last, so it seems to have been his favourite production, upon which he intended to erect a durable monument of his sincere and ardent love to his country, but in the success of it, he is said to have been greatly disappointed; yet a more truly patriotic publication never appeared in the English language. The variety of information it contains is prodigious; and there is no book that better deserves the close and constant study of the politician, the senator, the gentleman, the merchant, the manufacturer; in short, of every one who has it in any degree in his power to promote the interest and welfare of Great-Britain; and this praise it may be allowed to deserve, although the accuracy of many of his facts may be disputed, and much of his reasoning appear ill-founded. Among other encomiums produced by Dr. Kippis on the literary merit of his predecessor, that of Mr. Burke, the author of the Account of the European settlements in America, is perhaps the most honourable. Dr. Campbell's reputation was not confined to his own country, but extended to the remotest parts of Europe. As a striking instance of this, we may mention, that in the spring of 1774, the empress of Russia was pleased to honour him with the present of her picture, drawn in the robes worn in that country in the days of Ivan Vassillievitch, grand duke of Russia, who was contemporary with queen Elizabeth. To manifest the doctor's sense of her imperial majesty's goodness, a set of the Political survey of Britain, bound in Morocco, highly ornamented, and accompanied with a letter descriptive of the triumphs and felicities of her reign, was forwarded to St. Petersburg, and conveyed into the hands of that great princess, by prince Gregory Orloff, who had resided some months in this kingdom. The empress's picture, since the death of our author, has been presented by his widow to lord Macartney.

Let us now advert a little to Dr. Campbell's personal history. May 23, 1736, he married Elizabeth, daughter of Benjamin Vobe, of Leominster, in the county of Hereford, gentleman, with which lady he lived nearly forty years in the greatest conjugal harmony and happiness. So wholly did he dedicate his time to books, that he seldom went abroad: but to relieve himself, as much as possible, from the inconveniencies incident to a sedentary life, it was his custom, when the weather would admit, to walk in his garden; or, otherwise, in some room of his house, by way of exercise. By this method, united with the strictest temperance in eating, and an equal abstemiousness in drinking, he enjoyed a good state of health, though his constitution was delicate. His domestic manner of living did not preclude him from a very extensive and honourable acquaintance. His house, especially on a Sunday evening, was the resort of the most distinguished persons of all ranks, and particularly of such as had rendered themselves eminent by their knowledge, or love of literature.

He received foreigners, who were fond of learning, with an affability and kindness, which excited in them the highest respect and veneration; and his instructive and cheerful conversation made him the delight of his friends in general. On March 5, 1765, Dr. Campbell was appointed his majesty's agent for the province of Georgia, in North America, which employment he held till his decease. His last illness was a decline, the consequence of a life devoted to severe study, and which resisted every attempt for his relief that the most skilful in the medical science could devise. By this illness he was carried off, at his house in Queen-square, Ormond-street, on Dec. 28, 1775, when he had nearly completed the 68th year of his age. His end was tranquil and easy, and he preserved the full use of all his faculties to the latest moment of his life. On Jan. 4th following his decease, he was interred in the new burying-ground, behind the Foundling-hospital, belonging to St. George the Martyr, where a monument, with a plain and modest inscription, has been erected to his memory. Dr. Campbell had by his lady seven children, one of whom only survived him, but is since dead. Dr. Campbell's literary knowledge was by no means confined to the subjects on which he more particularly treated as an author. He was well acquainted with the mathematics, and had read much in medicine. It has been with great reason believed, that, if he had dedicated his studies to the last science, he would have made a very conspicuous figure in the physical profession. He was eminently versed in the different parts of sacred literature; and his acquaintance with the languages extended not only to the Hebrew, Greek, and Latin among the ancient, and to the French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and Dutch, among the modern; but, likewise, to the oriental tongues. He was particularly fond of the Greek language. His attainment of such a variety of knowledge was exceedingly assisted by a memory surprisingly retentive, and which, indeed, astonished every person with whom he was conversant. A striking instance of this has been given by the honourable Mr. Daines Barrington, in his tract, entitled, The probability of reaching the north pole discussed. In communicating his ideas, our author had an uncommon readiness and facility; and the style of his works, which had been formed upon the model of that of the celebrated bishop Sprat, was perspicuous, easy, flowing, and harmonious. Should it be thought that it is sometimes rather too diffusive, it will, notwithstanding, indubitably be allowed, that it is, in general, elegant.

To all these accomplishments of the understanding, Dr. Campbell joined the more important virtues of a moral and pious character. His disposition was gentle and humane, and his manners kind and obliging. He was the tenderest of husbands, a most indulgent parent, a kind master, a firm and sincere friend. To his great Creator he paid the constant and ardent tribute of devotion, duty, and reverence; and in his correspondences he shewed, that a sense of piety was always nearest his heart. It was our author's custom every day, to read one or more portions of scripture, in the original, with the ancient versions, and the best commentators before him; and in this way, as appears from his own occasional notes and remarks, he went through the sacred writings a number of times, with great thankfulness and advantage.