1828
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lines on Revisiting a Scottish River.

New Monthly Magazine NS 22 (February 1828) 103.

Thomas Campbell


Four Spenserians, signed "T. C." Thomas Campbell questions the progress of progress: "Is this improvement? — where the human breed | Degenerates as they swarm and overflow, | Till toil grows cheaper than the trodden weed." Thomas Campbell was the titular editor of the New Monthly Magazine and contributed to its poetry columns frequently.

Blackwood's Magazine: "Campbell's Pleasures of Hope have now little vogue; but Gertrude, and his exquisite minor poems, are still as popular as ever. They are not much mentioned, it is true; but that is merely owing to the universal agreement about their merits. He is, perhaps, the poet of our own day, who is most generally considered as having passed into the calm state of an established classical author of the second order. People would as soon think of raving away at a tea-table about Goldsmith, or Rogers, or Hamilton of Bangour, as about Mr. Campbell" 11 (June 1822) 670.

Cyrus Redding: "In the months of December, 1827, and of January, 1828, the poet was much indisposed, restless, and unable to study, read, or attend to any thing, even for a moderate time together. He would fancy now this thing, now that, would afford him relief from an indisposition, the nature of which he could not discriminate himself. I thought it was hypochondria. He was much taken up with recent political changes, which he naturally viewed with regret. He would go out of town for three or four days professedly, and come back after having been absent no more than one. He was very well in the society of friends, and put on his customary liveliness of manner, especially when he fell in among them unexpectedly, for it was as if the prospect of any particular object rendered that object repugnant and unenjoyable. He regained his old sound state of health again about the end of the month of January, after which he wrote Navarino, and Lines on Revisiting a Scottish River" "Life and Reminiscences of Thomas Campbell" New Monthly Magazine 81 (December 1847) 397.

Sir James Mackintosh: "If the rank of poets were to be settled by particular passages, I should place Campbell above Scott; I should predict, with more confidence, that Lochiel, the Exile of Erin, and the Mariner's Song would endure, than I could venture to do about any other verses since Cowper and Burns — I had almost said, since Gray and Goldsmith. I am sorry to hear that he is engaged on an epic poem; — his genius is lyrical" 20 January 1811; in Life of Sir James Mackintosh (1853) 2:82.

Robert Shelton Mackenzie: "Campbell, the poet, edited Colburn's New Monthly Magazine, from 1821 to 1831, at 500 per annum, with separate payment, as a contributor, for all articles by himself. This immense payment, in fact, was for his name. The Magazine was actually edited by Cyrus Redding (whose later recollections of Campbell and Beckford are full of interest and truth), and the dramatic criticism was supplied, for many years, by T. N. Talfourd (afterwards one of the judges of the Court of Common Pleas in England), so well known, subsequently, as the author of 'Ion'" Noctes Ambrosianae, ed. Mackenzie (1854) 1:130n.

Margaret Oliphant: "Campbell became the editor of the New Monthly Magazine, and did not flourish in that capacity. He was over-anxious, over-scrupulous as to the value of the contributions sent to him — then after hesitating over his papers for days would make a leap at the worst of them, to the confusion of his previous deliberations. And he fell into the beaten track, produced biographies and histories, for which he had neither the turn nor the training. What he could do was not the sort of thing that can be done to order. The noble and spirit-stirring lyrics of which he is the author were far beyond the power of poets much greater than he. He has no other ground of pretension to stand by the side of Wordsworth, or Coleridge, or even Scott; but in this special branch of poetry he has done what not all of them put together could do" Literary History (1882) 2:197-98.

On this subject, compare John Struthers's long georgic in Spenserians, "The Plough" (1818).



And call they this Improvement? — to have changed,
My native Clyde, thy once romantic shore,
Where nature's face is banished and estranged,
And Heaven reflected in thy wave no more;
Whose banks, that sweetened May-day's breath before,
Lie sere and leafless now in summer's beam,
With sooty exhalations covered o'er;
And for the daisied green sward, down thy stream
Unsightly brick-lanes smoke, and clanking engines gleam.

Speak not to me of swarms the scene sustains;
One heart free tasting Nature's breath and bloom
Is worth a thousand slaves to Mammon's gains.
But whither goes that wealth, and gladd'ning whom?
See, left but life enough and breathing room
The hunger and the hope of life to feel,
Yon pale Mechanic bending o'er his loom,
And Childhood's self as at Ixion's wheel,
From morn till midnight tasked to earn its little meal.

Is this Improvement? — where the human breed
Degenerates as they swarm and overflow,
Till Toil grows cheaper than the trodden weed,
And man competes with man, like foe with foe,
Till Death, that thins them, scarce seems public woe?
Improvement! — smiles it in the poor man's eyes,
Or blooms it on the cheek of Labour? — No—
To gorge a few with Trade's precarious prize,
We banish rural life, and breathe unwholesome skies.

Nor call that evil slight; God has not given
This passion to the heart of man in vain,
For Earth's green face, th' untainted air of Heaven,
And all the bliss of Nature's rustic reign.
For not alone our frame imbibes a stain
From foetid skies — the spirit's healthy pride
Fades in their gloom — And therefore I complain
That thou no more through pastoral scenes shouldst glide,
My Wallace's own stream, and once romantic Clyde!

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