The Maclise Portrait-Gallery/Thomas Campbell


II.—THOMAS CAMPBELL.

"There's Tom Campbell in person, the poet of Hope,
 Brimful of good liquor, as gay as the pope;
 His shirt collar's open, his wig is awry,
 There's his stock on the ground, there's a cock in his eye.
 Half gone his last tumbler—clean gone his last joke,
 And his pipe, like his college, is ending in smoke.
 What he's saying who knows, but perhaps it may be
 Something tender and soft of a bouncing ladye."

—So for Maginn, who cites these rollicking verses as coming from "a friend." At this point, says he, "the song becomes scurrilous and abusive"; he suppresses, therefore, "the culpable verses,"—to my own huge regret, at least, I must confess,—and proceeds to the conclusion, "which is panegyrical":—

"Well, though you are yoked to a dull Magazine,
 Tom, I cannot forget it, what once you have been;
 Though you wrote of Lord Byron an asinine letter;
 Though your dinners are bad, and your talk is no better;
 Yet the Song of the Baltic—Lochiel's proud lay—
 The Seamen of England—and Linden's red day—
 Must make up for the nonsense you write and you speak,
 Did you talk it, and write in seven days in the week!"

Our portrait is indeed, as Maginn terms it, "exquisite and taken at the witching hour"; but gives us the poet other than as Byron described him, "dressed to sprucery,—with a blue coat and new wig,—and looking as if Apollo had sent him a birthday suit or a wedding-garment." Still, the slight and facile sketch opposite, is happier, in my judgment, than Maclise's finished "three-quarter," where the poet holds his pencil-case like a syringe,—or even, I should say, to the fine likeness by Sir Thomas Lawrence (now finally housed in our National Portrait Gallery), if I were not
The Editor of the New Monthly — The Maclise Portrait-Gallery, p.4.png

The Editor of the New Monthly


reminded of John Burnet's charming engraving on small scale, and the larger mezzotint by Cousins. Sir Thomas knew the poet intimately, and drew him over and over again. There is the delicate portrait which he made for the Cadell Gallery, where the engraver has done scant justice to the original; and there is another, I am reminded, on a smaller scale from which the generous artist had a plate engraved at his own expence, the impressions from which were all signed with his autograph, and sold for the poet's benefit.

The lines which I have cited seem to leave little in the way of criticism. Still, among the pieces which posterity will not willingly let die, must be included that exquisitely perfect gem, "The Soldier's Dream;" the fine ode, recited by Mr. Young at the farewell dinner to J. P. Kemble, in 1817;[1] the passionate and plaintive "O'Connor's Child";—the "diamond of his casket of gems," as "Delta" Moir has it; "Reullura"; "The Last Man," with its sublime, if faulty, conception (Charles Swain has written a worthy pendant, "The First Man," and we must not forget "The Last Man" of Thomas Hood[2]); the touching story of "Gertrude," with its Arcadian grace; the Claude-like exordium of the "Pleasures of Hope," which, with its many fine episodes, will float the poem down the surface of the stream of Time.

Criticism,—the ultimate judgment of the world— is conversant with merit in the abstract, and has no consideration for the accidents,—thus always injudicious to plead, as self excusatory,—of age, sex, or worldly position. But individuals and contemporaries may be permitted to remember that the "Pleasures of Hope" appeared first in 1799, when its author was only twenty-two years of age, and be led to consider it accordingly, what it undoubtedly is, a very remarkable instance, in such a case, of successful mastery over the form and spirit of poetical expression. It is true that marks of juvenility are everywhere apparent; that the diction is often redundant, and sense not always commensurate with sound. Still, it is a poem of sustained rhythmical march; of sentiments expressive of every note in the gamut of feeling; and of episodes, whether from history, fiction or domestic life, full of beauty, force, pathos and natural truth. In the words of Moir, "the heart is lapped in Elysium, the rugged is softened down, and the repulsive hid from view; Nature is mantled in the enchanting hues of the poet's imagination, and life seems but a tender tale set to music." Perhaps there is no didactic poem in our language so well known and loved as this, if not as a whole, by its component parts. There is hardly a doubt that it will continue to be so, in spite of new "schools" of poetry, and poetical criticism; and that it will retain its place, as a classic, in our literature, nobly closing that bright era of which Dryden and Pope heralded the morn, and which closed when the star of Wordsworth's genius appeared above the political horizon, to announce a new dayspring of poetry and beauty.

There is a translation into French by Albert Montemont, Pans, 1824. This is not the place for an elaborate criticism of the Spenserian "Gertrude of Wyoming," exquisitely beautiful and pathetic as much of it is; of "Theodric," which is pure, if wanting in force and spirit; or of the "Massacre of Glencoe."' Neither does the prose of Campbell, most of which was task-work, demand much notice; as the production of such a poet, it could hardly be otherwise than tasteful and felicitous, though it is too often florid and affected. Little of it is now remembered; and the greater part,—the Life of Mrs. Siddons for instance, which is perfect rubbish, full of errors, and probably the work of some vicarious drudge,— is not worth remembrance. Here, however, exception must be made to his brilliant and judicious criticisms on English poetry and poets, for a portable annotated edition of which, without the Specimens, we are indebted to the late and lost Peter Cunningham.

It is one of the crimes of Horace Walpole that he said, with reference to Chatterton, that "singing birds should not be too well fed." Be this as it may, few poets have been more liberally remunerated than Campbell. From first to last, he appears to have received nearly £1000 for the "Pleasures of Hope," making about fifteen shillings a line; than which Byron himself got no more,—receiving £2500 for "Manfred," the "Prisoner of Chillon," and the third canto of "Childe Harold."

Campbell was slow and fastidious in composition; we smell the lamp, and hear the limæ labor,—yet his local colour and incident are often faulty. Thus he places tigers on the banks of Lake Erie, hyaenas in South America, and associates the "village curfew," as it still may be heard at Bodmin and Penrith in our own " land of the grey old past," with the haunts of the red Indian.

Perhaps he has written nothing truly finer, or more Horatian, than "Hohenlinden," of which Father Prout has left us such a capital version; yet this exquisite lyric was rejected as a contribution to the Greenock Advertiser, with the intimation that it did not "come up to the editor's standard," and that poetry was evidently not the forte of the contributor![3] We must not, however, forget, as we criticize the critic, that Campbell himself would never admit the merit of the piece. We learn the fact from Cyrus Redding, who edited his poetical works, and who adds,—of such little worth is an author's judgment as to the comparative merit of his own productions,—that the poet positively forbade the "Dirge of Wallace," one of the finest of his minor pieces, to be included in the collection, (ii. 354.)

Campbell was a great lover of the "weed," and here we have him enjoying the

"Innocuos calices et amicam vatibus herbam,"—

as old Raphael Thorius has it, after the editorial worries and labours of the day. Beattie, his biographer, describes his lumbered room, " tobacco pipes mingled with the literary wares," etc. He was, indeed, like Tom Warton and Vinny Bourne, careless in his manners, and unobservant of the superstitions of the table. Lady Morgan relates that when dining with Lord Aberdeen, Manners Sutton, and the Duchess of Gordon, the bard—horribile dictu,—put his knife in the salt-cellar to help himself to the condiment! Shortly before his death, he read that grand piece, the "Thanatopsis" of Bryant, at the opening of the Exhibition in Suffolk Place, and fairly broke down with emotion when he came to the lines,—

"So live, that when thy summons comes to join
 The innumerable caravan that moves
 To the pale realms of shade, where each shall take
 His chamber in the silent halls of Death,
 Thou go not like the quarry-slave at night,
 Scourged to his dungeon, etc,"

— saying that "nothing finer had ever been written." He was born July 27, 1777, and died at Boulogne, June 15, 1844, aged 67. He Hes in Westminster Abbey, next to Southey's monument, where is an admirable statue of the poet by W. Calder Marshall, R.A., of which there is an engraving by W. H. Mote.

His Life and Letters, by William Beattie, M.D., one of his executors, was published by Moxon, the " poet's publisher," in 3 vols. 8vo, 1849;[4] there are also the "Memoirs" of the poet by his old friend and literary subordinate in the conduct of the New Monthly Magazine, Cyrus Redding, 1860, 2 vols., 8vo.; and two papers entitled "Mornings with Thomas Campbell," in Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, Feb. 8 and 15, 1845.

Campbell enjoyed a pension of £184 per annum, given to him by the Government as far back as 1806.


  1. This interesting event is commemorated in a volume entitled An Authentic Narrative of Mr. Kemble's Retirement from the Stage, including Farewell Address, Criticism, Poems, etc., with an Account of the Dinner given at the Freemason's Tavern. June 27, 1817, etc, (London, 1817, 8vo.) What a banquet! Lord Holland occupied the chair, and proposed the health of the actor, who himself returned thanks; Fawcett replied for the English Performers of Covent Garden, and Talma for the French Stage; Benjamin West responded for the Royal Academy; Horace Twiss for Mrs. Siddons; John Flaxman for himself as the designer of the Vase; while Matthews and Incledon charmed the guests with their vocal efforts.
  2. "The Last Man by Campbell, Hood, and Byron," Blackwood's Magazine, vol xxi. p. 54.
  3. Notes and Queries, Dec. 13, 1863, p. 475.
  4. An article on Beattie's Life will be found in the Quarterly Review, vol. lxxxv. pp. 37-40.