1805 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Sir Walter Scott

Thomas Campbell to Walter Scott, 28 June 1805; Beattie, Life and Letters of Thomas Campbell (1849) 2:55-57.



Sydenham, June 28th, 1805.

DEAR SCOTT,

In the belief that we should be able to accommodate easily between ourselves, any difference of opinion we might have about the plan of the British Poets, I took the liberty of acting as your representative in submitting proposals to the trade. I proposed the work to be edited in volumes similar to Dr. Anderson's, (only) in size — the number of volumes about fifteen, plus or minus; Johnson's Poets, with their lives, to be the centre of the work: your ancient Poets, antecedent to Cowley, to be the right wing; and my department, the moderns since Johnson, with Ramsay, whom Johnson omitted, to be the left flank of the whole. I thought the Poets before Cowley could not be fewer than fifteen; nor do I think any rational Christian critic can diminish the number; and, to be responsible for giving a body of English Poetry since the period at which Johnson leaves off, I would not wish to be stinted to a much smaller calculation. It is true there is not the tenth part of Poets — real and spirit-proof-Poets, in the few years of this period that may be found in yours; but we are bound with the moderns, as with near relations, to take notice of smaller recommendations than would carry weight from remoter consanguinity. I must have Ramsay, who is one of my chief favourites — Burns, Cowper, Mason, Goldsmith, Darwin, Smollett, Falconer, Churchill, Armstrong, Logan, Green, T. Warton, Chatterton, and I suppose Michael Bruce, and surely Beattie. Besides, with what propriety, even if some of these worthies were unnicked, could I pretend to be the editor of Modern Poetry, and omit Langhorne, Wilkie, Mickle, Glover, Penrose, and Johnson himself? Penrose is author of one of the very finest poems in the English language — "The Field of Battle." How far below fifteen could you reduce the list? I submitted my proposal of a lumping thousand to the proprietors of the Johnson edition. Some of the more liberal booksellers stood the shock very well, but among the herd of the lower tribe, the proposal fell like a bombshell, and made them disperse in great alarm. I proposed to divide our labour and profits. Cadell and Davies were sorry for the vote being against me, and I believe would give the sum; but the general opinion was, that I should be exhorted to devise a plan with you, comprehending fewer poets and of less cost.

The time also alarmed them; for I demanded not to be bound to finish my part under eighteen months. Books, I think, are not to be promised by the calendar; so I am recommended to concert a new plan... . But how can I propose to you to stint your plan to the narrowed limits they require, after drawing off your attention from a great design of your own? How many below the mark of fifteen, is it possible or probable that you will reduce the number of poets in the prodigious space of time between Chaucer and Cowley? or how much, below the sum of 500 a-piece, is it fair for us to reduce remuneration? For my own part, I know the pestering trouble of picking up anecdotes about the moderns will occupy my time for a year.... It will certainly cost me journeys to Oxford, Scotland, and elsewhere. Now, I have a still higher idea of the importance of your taste. As a joint concern, your reputation is at stake....

I mean to be quite obstinate on this subject. I will not abate a farthing in my demand. I wish to have your sanction, in rejection of their proposal to put the great plan of our national poetry and poetical biography on a dirty little scale. The upshot will probably be breaking off on the difference of terms; and then your old arrangement with Constable will probably discourage competition. I shall in that case embark in a scheme on which I have for some time cogitated — a Collection of genuine Irish Music, and translations from the Irish, adapted as words, to which I can obtain access. Do you think it will do? I will transcribe a little song, which I mean to belong to the collection, though the subject is Gaelic.

Pray can you direct me where to find some good notes for Lochiel's Warning? I shall be much obliged to you to mention this when you write.

Believe me, with great sincerity, your affectionate friend,

T. CAMPBELL.