1850 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Campbell

Leigh Hunt, in Autobiography of Leigh Hunt (1850) 1:212-13.



They who knew Mr. Campbell only as the author of Gertrude of Wyoming, and the Pleasures of Hope, would not have suspected him to be a merry companion, overflowing with humor and anecdote, and any thing but fastidious. These Scotch poets have always something in reserve. It is the only point in which the major part of them resemble their countrymen. The mistaken character which the lady formed of Thomson from his Seasons is well known. He let part of the secret out in his Castle of Indolence; and the more he let out, the more honor it did to the simplicity and cordiality of the poet's nature, though not always to the elegance of it. Allan Ramsay knew his friends Gay and Somerville as well in their writings, as he did when he came to be personally acquainted with them; but Allan, who had bustled up from a barber's shop into a bookseller's, was "a cunning shaver;" and nobody would have guessed the author of the Gentle Shepherd to be penurious. Let none suppose that any insinuation to that effect is intended against Campbell. He was one of the few men whom I could at any time have walked half a dozen miles through the snow to spend an evening with; and I could no more do this with a penurious man than I could with a sulky one. I know but of one fault he had, besides and extreme cautiousness in his writings, and that one was national, a matter of words, and amply overpaid by a stream of conversation, lively, piquant, and liberal, not the less interesting for occasionally betraying an intimacy with pain, and for a high and somewhat strained tone of voice, like a man speaking with suspended breath, and in the habit of subduing his feelings. No man felt more kindly toward his fellow-creatures, or took less credit for it. When he indulged in doubt and sarcasm, and spoke contemptuously of things in general, he did it, partly, no doubt, out of actual dissatisfaction, but more perhaps than he suspected, out of a fear of being thought weak and sensitive; which is a blind that the best men very commonly practice. He professed to be hopeless and sarcastic, and took pains all the while to set up a university (the London).