Page images

Frederick, many years afterwards, succeeded under an entail to the old family Kirnan, in Argyleshire. Alexander, the youngest of the brothers, and father of the poet, was educated in mercantile pursuits. Early in life he went to Falmouth, in Virginia, where he formed valuable business connections, that enabled him to return to Glasgow and establish a commercial house, in partnership with Mr. Daniel Campbell, whose acquaintance he had made in America, and whose sister Margaret he afterwards married. For many years the respectable firm of Campbell & Co. enjoyed a well-earned prosperity, but it was prostrated by the embarrassments in which the Revolution involved all merchants engaged in the American trade. At the age of sixty-five years Alexander found himself stripped of fortune, and involved in an expensive chancery suit; with a wife and nine children to provide for from the scanty remnants of his estate, and a small income from two provident institutions of which he was a member. It was soon after these reverses that the poet was born.

“I have uncommonly early recollection of life,” says the poet, in a MS. supposed to have been written in 1842. “ I remember — that is to say, I seem to remember — many circumstances which I was told had occurred when I could not have been quite three years old.

“ In very early years I was boarded, during the summer, in the country near Glasgow, at Pollock Shaws, in the humble house of a stocking-weaver, John Stewart, whose wife Janet was as kind to me as my own mother could be.

“During the winter, in those infantine years, I returned to my father's house, and my youngest sister taught me reading. My reading, of course, was principally in the Bible, and I contracted a liking for the Old Testament which has never left me. The recollection of this period makes an exception to the general retrospect of my life, making me somewhat sad. I was then the happiest of young human animals, at least during the months which I spent under the roof of John and Janet Stewart. It is true I slept on a bed of chaff, and my fare, as may be supposed, was not sumptuous ; but life was young within me. Pollock aws was at that time rural and delightful. The stocking-weaver's house was on a flat piece of ground, half circularly enclosed by a small running stream, called by the Scotch a burn.' On one side above it were ascending fields which terminated in trees along the high road to Glasgow. I remember no picture by Claude that ever threw me into such dreams of delight as this landscape. I remember leaping over the tallest yellow weeds with ecstasy. I remember seeing beautiful weed-flowers on the opposite side of the burn which I could not approach to pull, and wishing in my very soul to get at them; still I could not cross the burn. There were trouts, too, in the stream; and what a glorious event was the catching a trout! I was happy, however. Once only in my life perfectly happy.

“At eight years old I went to the grammar-school of Glasgow, where, among seventy other boys, I was the pupil of David Allison. He was a severe disciplinarian of the old school, and might be compared to Gil Blas' master, who was the most expert flogger in all Oviedo.' But I was one of his pet scholars, and he told my father that he often spared me when he ought to have whipt me, because I looked so innocent. He was a noble-looking man. At the periodical examinations by the magistrates, he looked a prince in comparison even with the Provost with his golden chain. And he

• Was kind, or if severe in aught,

The love he bore to learning was in fault.' So that he was popular even among his whippees. I was so early devoted to poetry, that at ten years old, when our master interpreted to us the first Eclogue of Virgil, I was literally thrilled by its beauty. Already we had read bits of Ovid, but he never affected me half so much as the apostrophe of Tityrus to his cottage, from which he had been driven :

• En unquam patrios longo post tempore fines,
Pauperis et tuguri congestum cespite culmen

Post aliquot, mea regna videns, mirabor aristas.' "In my thirteenth year I went to the University of Glasgow, and put on the red gown. The joy of the occasion made me unable to eat my breakfast. I am told that race-horses, on the morning of the day when they know they are to be brought to the race, are so agitated that they refuse their oats. Whether it was presentiment, or the mere castle-building of my vanity, I had even then a daydream that I should be one day Lord Rector of the University. In my own lifetime Lord Jeffrey and myself have been the only two Rectors who were educated at Glasgow.”

From the time of their misfortunes, Alexander Campbell and his wife seem to have devoted themselves almost exclusively to the education of their younger children. He was a man of great fortitude, firmness and good sense, and of integrity unsuspected in his severest trials. With Adam Smith and Dr. Thomas Reid (from whom the poet received his baptismal name) he was on terms of friendship and intimacy. His favorite studies were in theology, history and the sciences, though he had something of a musical taste, and sang a good naval song. He was a devout man, and maintained to the last, in his house, the practice of family worship. “His were the only extemporal prayers I ever heard,” said his son, “ which might have been printed as they dropped from his lips.” In person he was under the middle size, but compact and hardy; his features were handsome, and in his advanced years he presented a very interesting and venerable appearance.

" The first time,” says an intimate friend of the poet, “that I drank tea in the house of Mr. Campbell, was in the winter of 1790. The old gentleman was seated in his arm-chair, and dressed in a suit of snuff-brown cloth, all from the same web. There were present, besides Thomas, his brother and two sisters, Daniel, Elizabeth, and Isabella. The father, then at the age of fourscore, spoke only once to us. It was when one of his sons and I – Thomas, I think, who was then about thirteen, and of my own age — were speaking about getting new clothes, and descanting in grave earnest as to the most fashionable colors. Tom was partial to green ; I preferred blue. — Lads !' said the senior, in a voice which fixed our attention, “if you wish to have a lasting suit, get one like mine.' We thought he meant one of a snuff-brown color ; but he added, “I have a suit in the Court of Chancery, which has lasted thirty years, and I think it will never wear out.'

The mother of the poet was of a slight figure, with black eyes and dark hair, and features which in her advanced years became round and full, but which were originally well-chiselled and expressive. She was a notable manager, a strict disciplinarian, and well educated for the age and sphere in which she lived. Such time as she could give to books was devoted to the perusal of the standard English authors of the previous generation. Of music she was passionately fond, and sang many of the popular melodies of Scotland

[ocr errors]


with taste and feeling. Her manners were dignified, but full of vivacity and sprightliness; and her nature, in spite of a sometime severe exercise of authority, overflowed with kindness and charity. This severity, indeed, was never manifested toward her youngest son, of whom she was very fond and proud, and on whose mind and character many of her own peculiarities were strongly impressed. In her declining years, and after her boy had become famous, she now and then manifested her maternal weakness in a manner that was amusing enough to be remembered. Once at a silk-merceris, where the old lady had bought a shawl, when the parcel was folded, and the usual inquiry made as to where it should be sent, “Send it,” she said, “to Mrs. Campbell – Mrs. Campbell of Kirnan ;"! then added, “ mother of the author of the Pleasures of Hope.” On all occasions she spoke in the warmest and most genial language of her son Thomas. “Nothing,” she said, “ could be more kind and respectful than the tenor of his letters to herself.”

In his very school days Campbell was familiar with the popular Latin and Greek poets, and not only attempted the translation of their most admired passages, but sought to express in verse of his own the impressions that had been made upon his mind by the scenes in which the summers of his childhood had been passed. At the age of twelve years he became an enthusiastic student of the Greek literature ; and throughout his life seems to have piqued himself more on his Greek than his poetry. His favorite English authors at this time were Milton, Pope, Thomson, Gray, and Goldsmith ; a selection which seems such as his good mother herself would have made for him, and the influence of which is visible in all his writings. From the blotted and ragged condition of his copy of the Paradise Lost, Dr. Beattie infers that this was oftener in his hands than any other book. Some of the elder English dramatists he dipped into at this period, and the Sermons of the younger Sherlock, Doddridge's Family Expositor, and the Life of Colonel Gardiner, he read “ with an interest and relish for which he could never account.” His father used to say that he “would be much better reading Locke than scribbling so," when he caught the young poet with his manuscripts; but failed, we imagine, by advice thus tendered to recommend the works of the philosopher over those of Smollett, Fielding and Burns, which were among the favorites of his small library.

In the October term of 1791 commenced his first session at the College of Glasgow, where students have always been received at a much earlier age than at the English universities. Before many months had elapsed, Campbell received from the college authorities prizes for English and Latin verse, and, as a third prize, a bursary or exhibition on Archbishop Leighton's foundation. Thus brilliant was the dawn of his academic career, in which he won a good title to the praises it has received, though he himself modestly disclaims them. “Some of my biographers,” he observes, “have, in their friendly zeal, exaggerated my triumphs at the university. It is not true that I carried away all the prizes, for I was idle in some of the classes, and, being obliged by my necessities to give elementary instruction to younger lads, my powers of attention were exhausted in teaching when I ought to have been learning."

From the notes illustrative of this period, furnished by one of his earliest friends to his biographer, it appears that Campbell constantly cultivated his poetical talent, and composed a ballad which was printed on a slip of paper, and distributed among his fellow-students. It comprised one hundred and forty lines, was entitled Morven and Fillan, and began with the following stanza :

“ Loud breathed afar the angry sprite

That rode upon the storm of night,
And loud the waves were heard to roar
That lashed on Morven's rocky shore."

In the spring of 1792 a little incident occurred in the mathematical class in which Campbell was a student, that furnished him the subject of a poem in a style of verse in which he was very felicitous, but which he employed chiefly for his private amusement. The occasion was an examination of the class in the books of Euclid, when one of its members, who had manifested a most proud and pleasing consciousness of his acquirements, and was confident of making a grand display, boggled at the problem which is known, among the faculty and undergraduates, as the Asses' Bridge. This misadventure was the origin of a jeu d'esprit, by Campbell, which was handed about in manuscript, and was the source, no doubt, of a mischievous satisfaction to his fellow-students :

« PreviousContinue »