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Life and Letters of Thomas Campbell.
ART. VII.-Life and Letters of Thomas Campbell. Edited by
WILLIAM BEATTIE, M.D., one of his Executors. London, 1849.
For something more than half a century the custom has been gradually increasing, of publishing with but little reserve, such letters of eminent men as have been written in the ordinary management of the affairs of life, or the careless confidence of domestic intimacy. In Johnson's “Lives of the Poets," we scarcely remember a single private letter being printed as illustrating any one statement in the work, or as affording an exhibition of the character of any one of the writers, whose lives he relates. A short time before the publication of “ The Lives of the Poets," Mason had, in his Memoirs of Gray, introduced a new style of biography which has affected, more or less, every work of the kind since written. The journals of Gray, a retired scholar, who took accurate notes of whatever he read, supplied much that was instructive and interesting to the earnest student; and Mason had the opportunity of selecting, from a correspondence conducted through the whole of Gray's life with one friend or another, a vast body of information, on a great variety of subjects. There were few personal details; and though Mason made great use of Gray's letters, yet there was scarcely a single letter published without omissions. The example given by Mason, was followed in two remarkable instances by a writer whose poetry was once popular, and whose prose works, in spite of great affectation, which deforms everything he has written, are still very pleasing. Hayley, in his Life of Milton, has woven together passages from Milton's letters, calculated to make his readers sympathize with the great poet, and which give a wholly different aspect to his life from that which the readers of Johnson had received. Milton's minor poems had been published by Thomas Warton, with notes, curiously illustrative of the mental process by which Milton's poetical language was elaborated; but in those notes, and through the whole book, Milton's controversial writings were assailed in a temper of bigotry scarcely intelligible in our days, and which Hayley's “Life” did much to counteract. To an extent which is quite surprising, he was enabled to effect what Michelet and others have done in the case of Luther, and thus Milton became his own biographer.
Some years after, in his Life of Cowper, Hayley gave to the public the very most interesting volumes of biography that have perhaps ever been published. The state of health which sepa
rated Cowper from the active business of life, was consistent with systematic study, and with the exertion of the poetical faculty. Cowper's residence at a distance from his relativesthe peculiar tenderness with which he was regarded-and some circumstances connected with his pecuniary affairs, created a correspondence which was the amusement, and, in some sort, the business of his life. These letters, above all comparison the most charming that have ever been published, and from which, as we best remember, every passage that it could be thought unreasonable to living persons to bring before the public, had been first removed, rendered this style of biography popular. In formal autobiography there can seldom be absent some appearance of vanity. In passages selected from letters in which the author is unconsciously writing his life, this fault is at least absent, and for the last half century rarely any eminent man has died, whose friends have not been solicited for copies of such letters as accident has left undestroyed.
It was scarce possible that the great poet, Campbell, should have escaped the common lot; and a considerable mass of his letters are now given to the public by his friend and executor Dr. Beattie. The volumes also contain some biographical notes drawn up by the poet at the request of Dr. Beattie, and though we can imagine this voluminous work improved both by compression and by omission, and though we think a more diligent inquirer, without taking very much trouble on the subject, might have given us more scenes from the London life of a man who lived so much in the eye of the public—we yet think some gratitude is due to Dr. Beattie for many of the letters in these volumes. The book will aid us in appreciating the character of a man whose works will probably for many generations continue to give delight.
Campbell was a true and a great poet; he was, what is better, a true-bearted generous-minded and honourable man.
With all men life is a struggle. With such a man as Campbell—peculiarly sensitive—the struggle was from adverse circumstances more than ordinarily severe. He was the youngest of ten children. The father of the poet, Alexander Campbell, had for many years been a prosperous merchant in the Virginia trade. During the earlier part of his life he had lived at Falmouth in Virginia. He had come to the sober age of forty-five when he married Margaret Campbell, the sister of his partner in business. We will not follow Dr. Beattie in disentangling the intricate pedigree of the Campbells. Margaret was, it seems, of the same clan, but not a blood-relation, of “the Campbells of Kirnan,” to which family her husband belonged. The Campbells of Kirnan,” a locality with which the poet's people
His Pedigree and Parentage.
were connected by their traditions, and not by the fact of having ever resided there, was a sound that had its magic; and the mother of the poet would, late in life, when sending home an article from a shop, describe herself as Mrs. “Campbell of Kirnan,” mother “ of the author of the Pleasures of Hope.” The Union with England had opened the American trade to Scotland. Previously to that, Scotland could only deal with the colonies of England on the footing of a foreign nation. When the trade was once opened, the industry and intelligence of the Glasgow merchants gave them almost a monopoly of the busi
The war with America drove trade into other channels and among the houses ruined by the change was that of which the poet's father was the senior partner. The savings of forty years of industry, amounting to about twenty thousand pounds, were swept away in an hour. The old man was sixty-five, too old to commence a new score with the world. His eldest child was a daughter of nineteen. The poet, if we read dates aright, was not born for two years after his father's business had been
It would appear that the debts of the firm were paid, and that a small surplus remained. In addition to this, Mr. Campbell received a small annual sum from the Merchants Society, and from a provident institution, of which he had long been a member. This was no doubt a very different amount of income from what he had enjoyed. His wife was a sensible woman, who instantly acted on the changed state of circumstanceslived with the most severe economy, and did what she could to educate her family. The floating traditions which Dr. Beattie has collected, describe her as “ of slight but shapely figure, with piercing black eyes, dark hair, and well chiselled features,"'
a shrewd observer of character-warm-hearted, strongly attached to her friends, and always ready to sympathize in their misfortunes. She was often the author of substantial but unostentatious charity.” One gentleman recollects being taken to see her in his boyhood when she was very old. She bought a cane for him, and amused him by her good nature in walking up and down the room, twirling it, to shew him how the young gentlemen in Edinburgh managed their canes. She had a natural taste for music; and in her old age she would to the last sing snatches of old songs—“ My poor dog Tray,” and “The Blind Boy,” were her favourites. It was to the former air that Campbell wrote “ The Harper.” “ It is,” says Dr. Beattie,
one of the few I heard him sing in the evening of life, when for an instant the morning sun seemed again to rest on it; and it was probably the first that soothed the infant poet in his cradle, long before he attempted to lisp in rhyme.”
Alexander Campbell, the poet's father, lived in social intimacy with several of the University professors. Adam Smith was his friend, and Reid baptized the poet—hence his name Thomas. When Reid sent a copy of his “ Inquiry into the Human Mind” to Alexander Campbell, and heard from him the pleasure with which he read it, he said there are two men in Glasgow who understand my work—Campbell and myself.
The elder Campbell is said to have been liberal in politics. We shall not seek to determine the precise meaning in which the word is used. He was religious. The traditions of his family told of chiefs of the clan that had suffered martyrdom for the doctrines of the Church of Scotland, and his pride as well as his better feelings were interested in the cause. Family worship was then almost the universal habit of Scottish families— and the fervour of the old man's extempore prayers was such that the very expressions which he used never passed away from the minds of his children. The poet, a short time before his death, said that he had never heard language—the English liturgy excepted-more sublime than that in which his devotional feelings at such moments found utterance."
Poetry was not among the old merchant's studies, but he loved music, and could sing a good naval song—he loved better a metaphysical wrangle or a theological dispute—and when the young poet was caught verse-making, the father was perhaps happiest, for then most did the spirit of contradiction awake, and then only was he quite sure of being right. Whatever he might think of Reid's principle of Common Sense, he could not but feel that there was something to be said for Berkeley and Locke, and in his most vehement theological discussions he would sometimes feel that the subject had slipped through his fingers, and that while the sense of positiveness remained, the very topic of the disputation had altogether vanished from his memory. Not so when young Tom's scribbled manuscript was before him. There it was nonsense—absolute nonsense. The poor boy had to retire crest-fallen and ashamed—the father did not perhaps know that all early poetry is imitative—he thought little (and who could think much ?) of the poetry of the day, the cadences of which were echoed in every line of the boy's verses
“His soul's proud instinct sought not to enjoy
Romantic fictions, like a minstrel boy ;
He worshipped-stern uncompromising truth.” The old man lived, however, to be gratified by the reception of“ The Pleasures of Hope.” Had Mr. Campbell been able to get rid of the anxieties of property, when he was compelled to
Tom was par
An Evening at Mr. Campbell's.
463 retire from business, he would have been comparatively a happy man; but the restless ghost of his former prosperity haunted him for the rest of life in a series of never ending lawsuits. A correspondent of Dr. Beattie's tells us, that in the year 1790 he passed an evening at Mr. Campbell's.
“ The old gentleman, who had been a great foreign merchant, was seated in his arm-chair, and dressed in a suit of the same snuff-brown cloth, all from the same web. There were present besides Thomas, his brother Daniel, and two sisters, Elizabeth and Isabella. The father then at the age of eighty, spoke only once to us. It was when one of his sons, Thomas I think, who was then about thirteen, and of my own age, was speaking of getting new clothes, and descanting in grave earnest as to the most fashionable colours. tial to green, I preferred blue. • Lads, said the senior, in a voice that fixed our attention, if you wish to have a lasting suit, get one like mine.' We thought he meant one of a snuff-brown colour; but he added, “I have a suit in the Court of Chancery, which has lasted thirty years ; and I think it will never wear out.'
Situations were found for the elder sons in the colonies. They ended in forming respectable mercantile establishments in Virginia and Demerara. The daughters engaged in the education of children—two as governesses in families—the third in the management of a school. Daniel was placed in a Glasgow manufactory, where weaving and cotton-spinning were conducted on a large scale. He was a politician, and the days in which he lived were less prosperous times for a radical reformer than our
He found Scotland too hot for him, and went to Rouen, where the poet found him conducting a large manufactory. He ceased to correspond with his family, and became a naturalized Frenchman. It is not impossible that he may be still living. Of this large family, one died in early life; he was drowned while bathing in the Clyde, when he was but thirteen years old, and his brother Thomas six. He is alluded to in an affecting passage towards the close of “ The Pleasures of Hope”
Weep not—at Nature's transient pain,
Inspiring thought of rapture yet to be,