« PreviousContinue »
A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
THOMAS CAMPBELL, ESQ.
GEOFFRY CRAYON, GENT,
[The accompanying memoir was prefixed to an American edition of the poems of Mr. Campbell, printed, ten years ago, at Philadelphia. It comes from the pen of the author of the Sketch-Book, and we have the pleasure of introducing it, for the first time, to the notice of the British reader,
In adverting thus cursorily to his name and his productions, we must be free to admit, that we are too powerfully attracted, and too deliciously spell-bound by their various charms, to resist the temptation of saying just one word,
not in the shape of criticism, for that has been exhausted—nor with the view of paying him misplaced and superfluous homage, for the tribute of judicious and impartial praise has been already offered to his merit, by the highest names in literature, but simply to express our feeling of pure satisfaction, at seeing so exquisite a writer doing justice to the genius of Campbell: and two names, already deservedly dear to all lovers of fine poetry, and chaste prose, linked together, not only by a similarity of tastes, habits, and talents, but also by the relationship they sustain, on these pages-of biographer, and of subject.
We are willing to give to Geoffry Crayon, even more than " a stranger's" welome; though the rude, yet cordial greetings, with which, in our spirit of Irish hospitality, we would fain clasp him to our bosom, and place him by our fire-side, and in the number of our house-hold gods, may perhaps fail of deeply interesting one who has proved, by the length of his sojourn, and the vividness of his descriptions, how well he is able to appreciate the superior cultivation, and the substantial comforts of our more favoured sister-isle. Yet we remember a beautiful and pathetic sketch of one of our lovely mourners,* and we can venture to assure the author, that Ireland has many a tale as touching, and many a heart as true.
We cannot avoid observing, that Mr. Irving's pellucid and polished style, so honourable to his country, sinee it gives so favourable an idea of her literary existence, and so widely different from Brocden Brown's undiluted and inartificial vigour and truly republican raciness, seems too softly bland, too courteously beautiful, to belong to a sturdy American. It may not be improper to hint that a monarchy would be found more congenial to the exercise of his talents. We freely acknowledge this to be a somewhat selfish, and perhaps hazardous insinuation ; but it is difficult to subdue every feeling of self-interest where Washington Irving is concerned. It would at once betray superficial observation and unjust criticism, to limit our praise to the mere elegance of his style. The sweet monotomy of his rippling sentences, may sometimes tire the car; but there is a vein of pure
Miss Curran, attached to the highly gifted, but ill-fated, Robert Emmett,
and precious ore beneath. His words are streams that run o'er golden mines, and we can seldom close his works without perhaps exclaiming, "Aow on, thou shining river." We would retain bim amongst us, because he has gratified our taste, by the harmonious purity of his language; and, above all, we would retain him, because we never rise from the perusal of his works, without feeling that a portion of the kindliness and philanthropy of his spirit has been infused into our own.
It is unnecessary, here, to allude to Mr. Irving's humourous writings, further than by acknowledging, with all classes of readers, their great merit in that peculiar vein by which they are characterised and enriched, and which has been so correculy analysed by the critical authorities referred to above. It would, therefore, be unfair, and it would be useless, to delay, by any more preliminary remarks of our own, the enjoyment we anticipate for every reader, in perusing the biographical sketch of which the title is placed at the head of the few lines that have been suggested by it.]
It has long been deplored by authors, as a lamentable truth, that they seldom receive impartial justice from the world, while living. The grave seems to be the ordeal to which their names must be subjected, and from whence, if worthy of immortality, they rise with pure and imperishable lustre. Here, many who have flourished in unmerited popularity, descend into oblivion, and it may literally be said, that “they rest from their labours and their works do follow them.” Here likewise, many an ill-starred author, after struggling with penury and neglect, and starving through a world which he has enriched by his talents, sinks to rest, and becomes a theme of universal admiration and regret. The sneers of the cynical, the detraction of the envious, the scoffings of the ignorant, are silenced at the hallowed precincts of the tomb; and the world awakens to a sense of his value, when he is removed beyond its patronage for ever. Monuments are erected to his memory, books are written in his praise, and thousands will devour with avidity the biography of a man, whose life passed unbeeded before their eyes. He is like some canonized saint, at whose shrine treasures are lavished, and clouds of incense offered up, though, while living, the slow hand of charity withheld the pittance that would have soothed his miseries. But this tardiness in awarding merit its due, this preference continually shown to departed over living authors of, perhaps, superior excellence, may be attributed to a more charitable source than that of envy or ill-nature. The latter are continually before our eyes, exposed to the full glare of scrutinizing familiarity. We behold them subject to the same foibles and frailties with ourselves, and from the constitutional delicacy of their minds, and their irritable sensibilities, prone to more than ordinary caprices. The former, on the contrary, are seen only through the magic medium of their works. We form our opinion of the whole flow of their minds, and the tenor of their dispositions from the writings they have left behind. We witness nothing of the mental exhaustion and langour which follow these gushes of genius. We behold the stream only in the fulness of its current, and conclude that it tas always been equally profound in its depth, pure in its wave, and majestic in its career.
With respect to the living writers of Europe, however, we may be said on this side of the Atlantic, to be placed in some degree in the situation of posterity. The vast ocean that rolls between us like a space of time, removes us beyond the sphere of personal favour, personal prejudice, or personal familiarity. An European work, therefore, appears before us, depending simply on its intrinsic merits. We have no private friendship, nor party purpose to serve, by magnifying the author's merits; and in sober sadness, the humble state of our national literature places us far below any feeling of national rivalship.
But while our local situation thus enables us to exercise the enviable impartiality of posterity, it is evident, we must share likewise in one of its disadvantages. We are in as complete ignorance respecting the biography of most living anthors of celebrity, as though they had existed ages before our time, and indeed, are better informed concerning the character and lives of authors who have long since passed away, than of those who are actually adding to the stores of European literature. A proof of this asserLion will be furnished in the following sketch, which, unsatisfactory as it is, contains all the information, we can collect, concerning a British poet, of rare and exquisite endowments.
THOMAS CAMPBELL was born in Glasgow, on the 27th of September, 1777. He is the youngest son of Mr. Alexander Campbell
, late merchant of Glasgow: a gentleman of the most unblemished integrity, and amiable manners, who united the scholar and the man of business, and, amidst ihe corroding cares and sordid habits of trade, cherished a liberal and enthusiastic love of literature. He died at a very advanced age, in the spring of 1801, and the event is mentioned, in the Edinburgh Magazine, with high encomiums on his moral and religious character.
It may not be uninteresting to the American reader to know that Mr. Campbell the poet, has very near connexions in this country, and indeed to this circumstance may be in some measure attributed the liberal sentiments he has frequently expressed concerning America. His father resided for many years of his youth at Falmouth in Virginia, but returned to Europe about fifty years since. His uncle, who had accompanied his father, settled permanently in Virginia, where his family has uniformly maintained a highly respectable character. One of his sons was district attorney, under the administration of Washington, and died in 1795. He was a man of uncommon talents, and particularly distinguished for his eloquence, Robert Campbell also, a brother of the poet, settled in Virginia, where he married a daughter of the celebrated Patrick Henry; he died about the year 1808.
The genius of Mr. Campbell showed itself almost in his infancy. At the age of seven, he possessed a vivacity of imagination, and a vigour of mind, surprising in such early youth; a strong inclination for poetry was already discernible in hin, and indeed it was not more than two years after this, that we are told he began to try his wings.” These bright dawnings of intellect, united to uncommon personal beauty, a winning gentleness and modesty of manners, and a generous sensibility of heart, made him an object of universal favour and admiration,
There is scarcely any obstacle more fatal to the full developement and
useful application of talent, than an early display of genius. The extravagant caresses lavished upon it by the light and injudicious, are too apt to beget a self-confidence in the possessor, and render him impatient of the painful discipline of study; withont which, genius at best is irregular, ungovernable, and ofttimes splendidly erroneous.
Perhaps there is no country in the world where this error is less frequent than in Scotland. The Scotch are a philosophical, close-thinking people; wary and distrustful of external appearances, and first impressions, stein examiners into the utility of things, and cautious in dealing out the dole of applause ; their admiration follows tardily in the rear of their judgment, and even when they admire, they do it with peculiar rigidity of muscles : this spirit of rigorous rationality is peculiarly evident in the inanagement of youthful genius; which, instead of meeting with enervating indulgence, is treated with a Spartan severity of education, tasked to the utmost extent of its powers, and made to undergo a long and laborious probation, before it is permitted to emerge into notoriety. The consequence is, an uncommon degree of skill and vigour in their writers. They are rendered diligent by constant habits of study, powerful by science, graceful by the elegant accomplishments of the scholar, and prompt and adroit in the management of their talents, by the frequent contests and exercises of their schools.
From the foregoing observations may be gathered the kind of system adopted with respect to young Campbell. His early display of genius, in stead of making him the transient wonder of the drawing-room, and the enfant gatè of the tea-table, consigned him to the rigid discipline of the academy. At the
age of seven he commenced the study of the latin language under the care of the Rev. David Alison, a teacher of distinguished reputation in Scotland. At twelve, he entered the University of Glasgow, and in the following year gained a bursary on Bishop Leighton's foundation, for a translation of one of the comedies of Aristophanes, which he executed in verse. This triumph was the more honorable, from being gained after a hard contest, over a rival candidate of nearly twice his age, who was considered one of the best scholars in the University. His second prize-exercise, was the translation of a tragedy of Eschylus, likewise in verse, which he gained without opposition, as none of the students would enter the lists with him. He continued seven years in the University, during which time his talents and application were testified by yearly academical prizes; he was particularly successful in his translation from the Greek, in which language, he took great delight; and on receiving his last prize for one of these performances, the Greek professor publickly pronounced it the best that had ever been produced in the University.
Moral philosophy was likewise a favourite study with Mr. Campbell, and indeed he applied himself to gain an intimate acquaintance with the whole circle of the sciences. But though, in the prosecution of his studies, be attended the academical courses both of law and physic, it was merely as objects of curiosity, and branches of general knowledge, for he never devoted himself to any particular study with a view to prepare himself for a profession. On the contrary, his literary passion, was already so strong, ihat he could never for a moment endure the idea of confining himself to the dull round of business, or engaging in the absorbing pursuits of common life.
In this, he was most probably confirmed by the indulgence of a fond father, whose ardent love of literature made him regard the promising talents of his son with pride and sanguine anticipation. At one time, it is true, a part of his family expressed a wish that he should be fitted for the Church, but this was completely overruled by the rest, and he was left, without further opposition, to the impulse of his own genius, and the seduction of the muse.
After leaving the University, he passed some time among the mountains of Argyleshire, at the seat of Colonel Napier, a descendant of Napier Baron Merchiston, the celebrated inventor of logarithms. It is probable that from this gentleman he first imbibed his taste and knowledge of the military art, traces of which are to be seen throughout his poems. From Argyleshire he went to Edinburgh, where the reputation he had acquired at the University, gained him a favourable reception into the distinguished circle of science and literature, for which that city is renowned. Among others, he was particularly honoured by the notice of Professors Stewart and Playfair. Nothing could be more advantageous for a youthful poet, than to commence his career under such auspices. To the expansion of mind, and elevation of thought, produced by the society of such celebrated men, may we ascribe, in a great measure, the philosophic spirit, and moral sublimity, displayed in his first production, the Pleasures of Hope, which was written during his residence at Edinburgh. He was not more than twenty, when he wrote this justly celebrated poem, and it was published in the following year.
The popularity of this work, at once introduced the author to the notice and patronage of the first people of Great Britain. At first, indeed, it promised but little pecuniary advantage, as he unfortunately disposed of the copywright, for an inconsiderable sum. This, however, was, in some measure, remedied by the liberality of his publisher, who finding that his book ran through two editions in the course of a few months, permitted him to publish a splendid edition for himself, by which means, he was enabled to participate in the golden harvest of his labours.
About this time the passion for German literature raged in all its violence in Great Britain, and the universal enthusiasm with which it was admired, awakened in the enquiring mind of our author a desire of studying it at the fountain head. This, added to his curiosity to visit foreign parts, induced him to embark for Germany, in the year 1800. He had originally fixed upon the college of Jena for his first place of residence, but, on arriving at Hamburgh, he found, by the public prints, that a victory had been gained by the French near Ulm, and that Munich and the heart of Bavaria were the theatre of an interesting war; one moment's sensation,” he observes, in a letter to a relation in this country," the single hope of seeing human na ture exhibited in its most dreadful attitude, over-turned my past decisions, I got down to the seat of war some weeks before the Summer armistice of 1800, and indulged, in what you will call, the criminal curiosity of witpessing blood and desolation. Never shall time efface from my memory the recollection of that hour of astonishment and suspended breath, when I stood, with the Monks of St. Jacob, to overlook a charge of Klenaw's cavalry upon the French, under Grennier, encamped below us.
We saw the fire given and returned, and heard distinctly the sound of the French pas de charge, collecting the lines to attack in close column. After three hours awaiting the issue of a severe action, a park of artillery was opened just beneath the walls of the Monastery, and several waggoners, that were stationed to convey the wounded in spring waggons, were killed in our sight.” This awful spectacle he has described, with all the poet's fire, in