« PreviousContinue »
figure at college this winter, and has a chance of several premiums. God bless you, my friend Thomson !"
Campbell took prizes as usual, though he had made up his mind to be very indifferent to them in the event of failure. They were given for translations from the Latin and Greek, of which the chorus to the Medea is the only one that has been included in his collected poems. But the loss of the “everlasting" chancery suit, and its incidents, had entirely deprived his parents of their little remaining property; and it became necessary for the young poet to make some exertion for his own support. Through the aid of the college professors, he obtained a remunerating exile to Mull, in the Hebrides, in the shape of a private tutorship in the family of a young widow lady, “a namesake and connection of his own." Here he wrote letters to his friend Thomson ; translated the whole Clouds of Aristophanes, and the Coephorce of Æschylus; indulged in “ botanizing” rambles in the neighborhood; and studied pictures of glen, heath, rock, torrent and the sea, which, at various intervals, in after years, were reproduced in his poems. Before taking up bis residence at Mull, he had sportively speculated on the impossibility of “making an elopement from the Hebrides to Gretna Green in a coach-and-four ;" and looked only for a “calm retreat for study and the Muses.” He was not called upon to make the trial, though he found “ plenty of beauties in Mull,” more than one of whom seems to have inspired his song. Here he became acquainted with the young lady to whom the pretty poems were addressed that are published under the title of “ Caroline;" and here a “rural beauty' prompted verses hardly less worthy of a place in his collected works.
When he first went to Mull, he was very dull and melancholy, and he wrote his friend Thomson that it was a place ill-suited to rub off the rust of an ill temper. “Every scene you meet with in it,” he says, “is, to be sure, marked by sublimity and the wild majesty of nature ; but it is only fit for the haunts of the damned, in bad weather.” Poetry, love-making, and the Greek dramatists, however, would soon have reconciled Campbell to a more dismal place than Mull; and, from the moment he received his books and a supply of paper, he thanked God he could “call himself happy.” “The point of Callioch,” wrote the poet long afterwards, “commands a magnificent prospect of thirteen Hebrid-islands, among which are Staffa and Icolmkill, which I visited with enthusiasm. I had also, now and then, a sight of wild deer sweeping across that wilder country, and of eagles perching on its shore. These objects fed the romance of my fancy, and I may say that I was attached to Sunipol, before I took leave of it. Nevertheless, God wot, I was better pleased to look on the kirk steeples, and whinstone causeways of Glasgow, than on all the eagles and wild deer of the Highlands." Callioch is on the northern shore of Mull, and Sunipol was the house of the good lady with whom he resided.
To the kirk steeples and whinstone causeways of Glasgow the poet returned, and resumed his duties as student and tutor for the session which terminated his university career.
CAMPBELL hesitated long and wavered much in the choice of a profession. It was desirable, from the circumstances of his parents, that he should engage in some pursuit from which he could derive an immediate income. He was too poor to study for any one of the learned professions, even if he had entertained a decided choice among them. He tried all by turns, and sometimes thought seriously of embarking in trade, and joining his brothers in America.
In the early part of his academic career, Campbell studied with a view to the church ; his prospects of preferment were small as far as family patronage and influence were concerned, but bright enough, perhaps, in view of the powers which he was conscious of possessing. At this period he read Hebrew with the students of theology ; cultivated a knowledge of the most celebrated divines, and wrote a hymn on the Advent which has merit enough still to keep its place in many collections of religious poetry. The study of medicine or surgery was attempted. Campbell managed well enough with the lectures, but the dissecting-room was too much for him. If he had any professional predilection, it was probably for the law. “Had I possessed but a few hundred pounds," says the poet, in his autobiographical notes, “I should certainly have studied for the bar." “ Thomas," wrote his sister Elizabeth to their brother Alexander, " has attended the college near six years, is perfectly master of the languages, and last year he studied law. That is the line he means to pursue, and what I think nature has just fitted him for. He is a fine public speaker, and, I make no doubt, will make a figure at the bar." He passed some weeks in the office of a writer to the Signet, and attended Professor Miller's lectures on Roman law, and took “ several choice books on jurisprudence " to the Highlands with him, and studied them with interest. But the result of his practical connection with the law is thus given in a letter to his friend Thomson: “Well, I have fairly tried the business of an attorney, and, upon my conscience, it is the most accursed of all professions!
Such meanness, such toil, such contemptible modes of peculation, were never moulded into one profession!” He then pronounces a hearty“ malediction on the law in all its branches.” “ It is true," he adds, " there are many emoluments; but I declare to God that I can hardly spend, with a safe conscience, the little sum I made during my residence in Edinburgh!” With these feelings, we may well suppose that the world might have lost an Ovid without gaining a Murray, if Campbell had devoted himself to the profession. His forte was literature, and he was destined to earn his bread and his fame in the same field.
On taking final leave of the university, Campbell was engaged to return to Argyleshire as domestic tutor to the only son of Colonel Napier, who lived with his mother at Downie, his grandfather's estate. “ IIe is a most agreeable man,”— wrote Campbell of the father to his friend Thomson, " with all the mildness of a scholar and the majesty of a British grenadier. The son is about eight years of age, and a miniature picture of his father. The colonel is uncommonly refined in his manners, for one who has been a soldier from his seventeenth year. I suppose you will not like him the worse for being a great-grandson of the celebrated Napier of Merchiston. I believe he does not intend staying long with his fatherin-law at Downie, but proposes to go with his wife to Edinburgh, or, perhaps, - Heaven grant it! to London. 0, Thomson, if the
fates should be so good as to send us thither, I should certainly shake hands with one friend in that great metropolis."
“I am lying dorinant here,” he wrote in October, 1796, “ in a solitary nook of the world. The present moments are of little importance to me: I must expect all my pleasure and pain from the remembrance of the past and the anticipation of the future! This is, I believe, the case with all men, but more so with one in solitude. I contrive, however, to relieve the tædium vitæ with a tolerable variety of amusements. I have neat pocket copies of Virgil and Horace, affluence of English poets, a sort of flute, and a choice.selection of Scotch and Irish airs. I have the correspondence of a few friends, and, though I have no companion, yet, by means of a few post-reconciliations, I can safely venture to think that there is not a soul under heaven bears to me a serious grudge. Life is thus tolerable ; but, were my former correspondence with my best and earliest friend renewed to its wonted vigor, I should be completely happy !”
Downie was but a short distance from Inverary, the residence of the lady to whom he had addressed verses at Mull, and whom he styles the adorable Caroline. In her family he was a constant visitor, with his friend Hamilton Paul, who thus sketches a scene with the poet, as they were rambling along the shore of Loch-Fyne : “ The evening was fine, the sun was just setting behind the Grampians. The wood-fringed shores of the lake, the sylvan scenes around the castle of Inverary, the sunlit summits of the mountains in the distance, all were inspiring. Thomas was in ecstasy. He recited poetry of his own composition, - some of which has never been printed, - and then, after a moment's pause, addressed me: · Paul, you and I must go in search of adventures! If you will personate Roderick Random, I will go through the world with you as Strap!'"
While at Downie in the autumn, he complained to a friend of being caged in by rocks and seas from the haunts of man, and the once-prized interviews with his Amanda. In the spring following he communicated, in the strictest secrecy, to the same friend, that his evening walks were sometimes accompanied by one who for a twelvemonth past had won his “ purest, but most ardent affection.” “ You may well imagine,” he adds, “ how the consoling words of such a person warm my heart into ecstasy of a most delightful nature.”
It is left a little doubtful, on the face of the letters, whether this consolation was administered by Amanda or the adorable Caroline, or whether they were one and the same person. However that may have been, his youthful attachment was of the class sometimes considered unfortunate, as his charmer consoled herself with a suitor who possessed more substantial attractions.
“ Mull and Downie,” says Dr. Beattie, “ were the two schools in which he combined the study of Highland characteristics, moral and physical, and the recollection of which furnished him with many life-like pictures, which he afterwards recast and sent forth to the world. The house he once inhabited, the primitive hospitality he had often enjoyed, the patriarchal suppers, the domestic circle, the warm hearts of the inmates, and the stanch Jacobite at their head, are sketched with a force and brevity that show how faithfully they had been treasured up in the poet's mind."
His engagements at Downie terminated, Campbell returned, with disappointed hopes and sud prospects, to his father's house at Glasgow. Here a violent attack of fever relieved his morbid and excited sensibilities, and prepared him to enter on his struggle with the world. In the metropolis he determined to seek his fortunes, and to Edinburgh he went, with nothing but sanguine hopes to sustain him, a little money in his pocket, and the dead weight (for all convertible purposes) of two translations from Euripides and Æschylus nearly ready for the press. Here he obtained the temporary employment which he regarded as experience in an attorney's office. While his fortunes were at their lowest ebb, he formed an acquaintance which marks, in the judgment of his biographer, a most important epoch in his history.” He was introduced to Dr. Anderson, a gentleman who seems to have enjoyed a deservedly high social position in Edinburgh, and who is known in literature as the author of certain lives of the British poets, prefixed to an ill-edited and illprinted collection of their works. The handsome face of Campbell happened to attract the eyes of the young ladies, and they managed to have him introduced to their father. His poetry completed the conquest of the family. The doctor was as much charmed with the lad's verses as the girls had been by his fine eyes; and Miss Anderson, many years afterwards, described his first visit in a man