Who is Thomas Campbell?
Thomas Campbell (27 July 1777 – 15 June 1844) was a Scottish poet. He was a founder and the first President of the Clarence Club and a co-founder of the Literary Association of the Friends of Poland; he was also one of the initiators of a plan to found what became University College London. In 1799 he wrote “The Pleasures of Hope”, a traditional 18th-century didactic poem in heroic couplets. He also produced several patriotic war songs—”Ye Mariners of England”, “The Soldier’s Dream”, “Hohenlinden” and, in 1801, “The Battle of the Baltic“, but was no less at home in delicate lyrics such as “At Love’s Beginning”.
In 1799, six months after the publication of the Lyrical Ballads of Wordsworth and Coleridge, “The Pleasures of Hope” was published. It is a rhetorical and didactic poem in the taste of his time, and owed much to the fact that it dealt with topics near to men’s hearts, with the French Revolution, the partition of Poland and with negro slavery. Its success was instantaneous, but Campbell was deficient in energy and perseverance and did not follow it up. He went abroad in June 1800 without any very definite aim, visited Gottlieb Friedrich Klopstock at Hamburg, and made his way to Regensburg, which was taken by the French three days after his arrival. He found refuge in a Scottish monastery. Some of his best lyrics, “Hohenlinden”, “Ye Mariners of England” and “The Soldier’s Dream” (which was later set by Beethoven), belong to his German tour. He spent the winter in Altona, where he met an Irish exile, Anthony McCann, whose history suggested The Exile of Erin.
He had at that time the intention of writing an epic on Edinburgh to be entitled “The Queen of the North”. On the outbreak of war between Denmark and England he hurried home, the “Battle of the Baltic” being drafted soon after. At Edinburgh he was introduced to the first Lord Minto, who took him in the next year to London as occasional secretary. In June 1803 appeared a new edition of the “Pleasures of Hope”, to which some lyrics were added.
In 1803 Campbell married his second cousin, Matilda Sinclair, and settled in London. He was well received in Whig society, especially at Holland House. His prospects, however, were slight when in 1805 he received a government pension of £200. In that year the Campbells removed to Sydenham. Campbell was at this time regularly employed on the Star newspaper, for which he translated the foreign news. In 1809 he published a narrative poem in the Spenserian stanza, Gertrude of Wyoming – referring to the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania and the Wyoming Valley Massacre – with which were printed some of his best lyrics. He was slow and fastidious in composition, and the poem suffered from overelaboration. Francis Jeffrey wrote to the author:
“Your timidity or fastidiousness, or some other knavish quality, will not let you give your conceptions glowing, and bold, and powerful, as they present themselves; but you must chasten, and refine, and soften them, forsooth, till half their nature and grandeur is chiselled away from them. Believe me, the world will never know how truly you are a great and original poet till you venture to cast before it some of the rough pearls of your fancy.”
In 1812 he delivered a series of lectures on poetry in London at the Royal Institution; and he was urged by Sir Walter Scott to become a candidate for the chair of literature at Edinburgh University. In 1814 he went to Paris, making there the acquaintance of the elder Schlegel, of Baron Cuvier and others. His pecuniary anxieties were relieved in 1815 by a legacy of £4000. He continued to occupy himself with his Specimens of the British Poets, the design of which had been projected years before. The work was published in 1819. It contains a selection with short lives of the poets, and prefixed to it a critical essay on poetry. In 1820 he accepted the editorship of the New Monthly Magazine, and in the same year made another tour in Germany. Four years later appeared his “Theodric”, a not very successful poem of domestic life.