Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Campbell, Thomas (1733-1795)

CAMPBELL, THOMAS (1733–1795), miscellaneous writer, was born at Glack in the county of Tyrone on 4 May 1733. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A. 1756, M.A. 1761), and took orders in 1761. He was curate of Clogher till 1772, when he was collated to the prebend of Tyholland, and in 1773 he was made chancellor of St. Macartin's, Clogher. He was in high repute as a preacher, and also obtained some fame as a writer. In 1778 he published ‘A Philosophical Survey of the South of Ireland in a series of letters to John Watkinson, M.D.’ There is not much philosophy in this book, which is supposed to record the tour of an Englishman in the south of Ireland, and gives a description of the chief towns. Sundry remarks on the trade of the country are thrown in, and Campbell advocates ‘a political and commercial union’ with England. Boswell styles the ‘Survey’ ‘a very entertaining book, which has, however, one fault—that it assumes the fictitious character of an Englishman.’ In the ‘Survey’ Johnson's epitaph on Goldsmith appeared for the first time in print. In 1789 Campbell published ‘Strictures on the Ecclesiastical and Literary History of Ireland till the Introduction of the Roman Ritual, and the Establishment of Papal Supremacy by Henry II.’ To this was added a ‘Sketch of the Constitution and Government of Ireland down to 1783.’ The book is controversial in tone, and is little better than a big pamphlet directed against O'Conor, Colonel Vallancey, and other antiquaries. Regarding the early history of Ireland, Campbell displayed a certain amount of scepticism, but it was too unmethodical to be of value. He, however, looked upon the volume as but a fragment of a large work he meditated, and for which he obtained help from Burke, whom he visited at Beaconsfield. Burke, he says, lent him four volumes of manuscripts, and advised him to be ‘as brief as possible upon everything antecedent to Henry II.’ Besides these books, Campbell wrote a portion of the memoir of Goldsmith which appeared in Bishop Percy's edition of the poet published in 1801. Campbell's books have, however, done far less to preserve his memory than the mention of him in Boswell, and a little diary he kept during his visits to London. It was discovered behind an old press in the offices of the supreme court at Sydney, N.S.W., having been carried to the antipodes by a nephew of the writer at the beginning of this century. It was printed at Sydney in 1854. It contains notes of seven visits to England (in 1775, 1776–7, 1781, 1786, 1787, 1789, and 1792). The second appears to have been much the longest visit, but the first is the only one of which there is a detailed account. Through the Thrales the diarist became acquainted with Johnson, Boswell, Reynolds, and others of the Johnsonian set. He was a shrewd, somewhat contemptuous observer, but he pays ‘Ursa Major’ the compliment of giving full and dramatic accounts of his encounters with him. To a student of Boswell the diary is highly interesting, as it affords striking confirmation of Boswell's accuracy. Being a popular preacher himself, Campbell went to hear Dr. Dodd and other pulpit orators of the day, and his remarks are very uncomplimentary. Campbell was in London again in 1795, where he died on 20 June. Campbell's diary was printed at Sydney, N.S.W., in 1854, and reprinted, with some omissions, by Dr. Napier in his ‘Johnsoniana,’ pp. 219–61.

[Boswell's Life of Johnson (ed. Napier), ii. 169 and 179 (pp. 310 and 318 of smaller edition); Nichols's Literary Illustrations, vii. 759–809; Edinburgh Review for October 1859 (an article on the Diary written, it is understood, by Mr. Reeve at the suggestion of Lord Macaulay); Napier's Appendix to his edition of Boswell, ii. 545, 551; Forster's Life of Goldsmith.]

N. McC.