Page images
PDF
EPUB

age, cut him off from the new movement that was to shatter the idol he worshipped.

His father fell into financial difficulties. Campbell spent his last college vacation as tutor at Mull, in the house of Mrs. Campbell of Sunipol. On graduation in 1795 he became tutor in the family of General Napier of Downie, on the Sound of Jura. At Sunipol he had been within reach of Iona and Staffa and the wild scenes of the Hebrides ; at Downie there was a milder but still beautiful scenery : memories of these places were to pass later into his poems of Gertrude of Wyoming and the Pilgrim of Glencoe.

In 1797 he was back in Glasgow, with nothing to do. Not the Church, he was resolved, nor tutoring. Not law he concluded, after a few months in an Edinburgh lawoffice, nor medicine, after a slighter experience in Glasgow. He would have “gone to America' probably, as a solution to the difficulty of bread-and-butter, but some hack-work for an Edinburgh publisher, and his own literary tastes kept him hanging on. His main present capital was Hope, and with some drafts on that and some classical translations, he went again to Edinburgh. Dr. Anderson, one of the literary chiefs of the city, gave the young poet encouragement, advice, admonition. Under his severe judgment he rewrote, revised, cut away, extended, polished, till some four hundred lines—the number was soon doubled--took shape in the Pleasures of Hope, which was published in 1799.

Burns had been three years dead. Scott was not for six years to begin his wonderful series of romantic epics. The times were propitious for a new poet, and Campbell, who had the good fortune to charm the taste of all orthodox readers, was the literary hero of the hour. Not yet twenty-two, handsome, genial, he was carried everywhere in society, and edition after edition of his poem went off in a blaze of glory. The Edinburgh Review praised it, the Quarterly praised it, and in short the whole reading public that a year before neglected or decried the Lyrical Ballads were filled with inexpressible delight at the splendid phrases and polished eloquence of the Pleasures of Hope. Fourteen years later Mme. de Staël could write to its author that his poem had never left her, and that parts of it she could read twenty times without weakening their impression.

To-day the Pleasures of Hope has ceased to please. Its abstract and formal elements, its didactic tendencies, its stilted heroics do not take hold on our sympathies, while the historical allusions that appealed with living force to contemporaries have to us become faint and unimpressive. Lines of it have attained a just 'immortality of quotation,' such as those referring to the enchantment of distance, angel-visits, and the passage on unhappy Poland.

Departed spirits of the mighty dead !
Ye that at Marathon and Leuctra bled !
Friends of the world ! restore your swords to man-
Fight in his sacred cause, and lead the van!
Yet for Sarmatia's tears of blood atone,
And make her arm as puissant as your own!
Oh! once again to Freedom's cause return

The patriot TELL-the BRUCE OF BANNOCKBURN Historically the poem is memorable as the last sunset glow of the correct and elegant versification that was the glory of the school of Pope.

The literary influence of Germany was, as we have seen, at this time in the first blush of its greatness in England,

Campbell longed to make the customary literary pilgrimage, to see its famous authors and to gather the literary material that he felt sure of finding abundantly on the Continent. He set off in 1801 hoping to visit Hamburg, Göttingen, and Weimar where dwelt the deities of Parnassus, Goethe and Schiller. He saw Klopstock in Hamburg, but had no sooner reached Ratisbon in Bavaria than the French invested and captured the city. There was a glimpse of war for him when the Klenau's Austrian cavalry met Grenier French horse without the city walls. But Ratisbon was too near the scene of hostilities, and the poet returned in October to Altona (on the Elbe, near Hamburg). There he found Irish refugees of 1798, whom he commemorates in the Exile of Erin. There too the daily talk was of the imminent war of England and the Northern Neutral League. Campbell's patriotism beat high at the prospect, and its inspiration bore him on to coinplete a song he had already in part composed, Ye Mariners of England. These lyrics, the Beech Tree's Petition and the Ode to Winter are the only permanent fruits of his Continental trip. He wrote much else, however, and vainly agonized over a Queen of the North, an epic of Edinburgh.

On the appearance of an English fleet in the Baltic, Campbell went home. Lord Minto gave him quarters as a sort of private secretary, and in the patron's home the poet wrote two of his best poems, Hohenlinden and Lochiel. In 1803 he married, and after a short sojourn in Pimlico, settled at Sydenham Common, near London, where he dwelt for seventeen following years. In the early years of his married life he composed Lord Ullin's Daughter, The Soldier's Dream, The Battle of the Baltic, and the best of his longer poems Gertrude of Wyoming, an idylı of Pennsylvania that redeems its inaccuracies by a romantic charm, a freshness of poetic imagery and feeling, and some exquisite pictures of nature and domestic love. To these must be added another poem that appeared in his volume of 1809, O'Connor's Child, the tenderest of elegiac love poems.

With these, Campbell, though only thirty-two, virtually completed his poetical career. It is true he published in the New Monthly Magazine, of which he was editor, a number of short poems- The Evening Star is not bad and The Last Man is decidedly good- and wrote in 1824 Theodric, a mournful tale of disappointed affection. Concerning this last work the author hopefully remarked : —“I know very well what will be its fate; there will be an outcry that there is nothing grand or romantic in the poem, and that it is too humble and too familiar. But I am prepared for this; and I know that, when it recovers from the first buzz of such criticism, it will attain a steady popularity.” It received the reception the poet was prepared for, but failed to fulfil his expectations. Campbell felt that he could no longer equal his earlier productions, while the public agreed with Byron that his hippocrene was somewhat drouthy. He did not cease from work, but it was chiefly lectures or compilations, – lives of Petrarch and Mrs. Siddons, Specimens of the British Poets, etc. His last effort in poetry, The Pilgrim of Glencoe, 1842, found no readers.

Honours, however, did not fail. The Government in 1805 gave him first £200, then £400 a year, as a pension. In 1827, the students of Glasgow elected him Lord Rector of the University, an honour that became glory, when it was twice repeated. When he died, on the 18th of June, 1844, it was amidst a large concourse of sincere mourners that his remains were interred in the Poet's Corner of Westminster Abbey. No mourners were there more sincere than the Poles, who in Campbell's death had lost a steadfast friend. It was on their behalf that with the words “dust to dust,” Colonel Szyrma sprinkled into the grave a handful of earth from the tomb of Kosciusko.

Byron has left a description of Campbell as he was in 1813 :-He “looks well, seems pleased, and dressed to spicery. A blue coat becomes him, so does his new wig. He really looks as if Apollo has sent him a birthday suit, or a wedding garment; and was witty and lively.” Longfellow, who met him the year before his death, noted a great change : "Campbell's outward man disappointed me. He is small and shrunken, frost-nipped by unkindly age, and wears a fancy wig. But I liked his inner man exceedingly. He is simple, frank, cordial, and withal very sociable.”

Campbell's popularity as a poet has forever passed. It depended in the main on a literary taste that is now extinct and on temporal causes that no longer exist. With the poets who felt the rising life of a new poetry, Campbell had little communion. "In avoiding tinsel," he wrote, in 1805 of his Copenhagen lyric, "I do not mean intentionally to get foul of those lyrical balladists, those detestable heretics against orthodox taste, who, if they durst would turn the temple of Apollo into the temple of Cloacina.” He mellowed a little, no doubt, as his later poems show, but never thoroughly abandoned his early principles. Unfortunately for Campbell, the heretics were right, and with the robust romanticism of Scott, the

« PreviousContinue »