1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Thomas Campbell

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 331-32.



The son of a Glasgow merchant, Campbell (1777-1844) was the youngest of ten children. At the age of thirteen he was placed in the university of his native city, where he was noted for his Latin and Greek translations, and his compositions in prose and verse. In April, 1799, when twenty-one, he published his Pleasures of Hope, a remarkable specimen of literary precocity, though marred by passages where sound takes the place of sense. Wordsworth regarded it as "strangely overrated." The poem passed through four editions in a year; and on the first seven editions the youthful poet received no less a sum than 900. After travelling on the Continent (where he was not a spectator of the Battle of Hohenlinden, as has often been asserted), he published, in 1801, Ye Mariners of England, with several other lyrical pieces; and, in 1803, Lochiel, Hohenlinden, The Soldier's Dream, The Battle of the Baltic: so that the noble lyrics to which Campbell owes his fame were composed within a brief period, and when he was quite young. What he wrote after thirty has the marks of inferiority. Gertrude of Wyoming appeared in 1809. He appears to have been amiable, generous, and sympathetic, though irritable, irresolute, and lazy. His faults were largely caused, no doubt, by physical infirmity. He married his cousin, Miss Sinclair, and settled near London; but the death of one son and the madness of another cast a dark shadow on his existence. Though he struggled with narrow circumstances, he was generous to his mother, sisters, and other relations. From 1820 to 1831 he edited the New Monthly Magazine. During his later years, in the receipt of a merited pension, he resided chiefly in London. He died at Boulogne, whither he had gone for his health, in his sixty-seventh year. His dust lies in Westminster Abbey. Campbell's lyrics are among the finest in all literature, and are likely to last as long as the English language, in its present form, endures. In 1849 a Life of the poet, with selections from his extensive correspondence, was published in London by his affectionate friend and literary executor, Dr. Beattie.