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PONS ASINORUM; OR, THE ASSES' BRIDGE.
Now see the bold band, each a sword in his hand,
While the streamers wide flew, and the loud trumpets blew,
“ My soldiers," said he, “though dangers there be,
Now, it chanced in the van stood a comical man,
0, sorrowful wight, how sad was his plight,
So rude was the jump, as the mortal fell plump,
T. C. d. 13
His cousin, Mrs. Johnstone, has given us her recollection of the young poet at the age of fourteen. He used to spend a day, now and then, at her father's house, a short distance from Glasgow. “There,” she observes, “ he was always welcomed as a special favorite ; for, to the most unassuming manners were united a gayety and cheerfulness of disposition which he had the art of communi
cating to every one around him.” It was there he laid aside his Greek and Latin, and entertained the fireside circle with anecdotes and “ auld fanant stories." He was a clever mimic, and could personate the notabilities about the college with ludicrous accuracy. IIe sang a few plaintive airs very prettily, and played on the German flute, so that he was an useful and acceptable addition to the social circle.
In Campbell's second year at the university, Professor Jardine, lecturer in the Logic class, awarded him the eighth prize for the best composition on various subjects, and appointed him examiner of the exercises sent in by the members of his class. In the same year he received the third prize in the Greek class, for exemplary conduct as a student; and on the last day of the session, his poem bore away the palm from all competitors. It was entitled a Description of the Distribution of the Prizes in the Common Hall of the University of Glasgow, on the 1st of May, 1793."
The poet sympathized and mixed with the world, from his earliest years. With all his fondness for study, if we may take his own account, he was more fond of sport. He belonged to the college clubs, and figured in them, and of one of them has left us a brief account. " There was a Debating Society,” he says, " called the Discursive, composed almost entirely of boys as young as myself, and I was infatuated enough to become a leader in this spouting club. It is true that we had promising spirits among us, and, in particular, could boast of Gregory Watt, son of the immortal Watt, a youth unparalleled in his early talent for eloquence. With melodious elocution, great acuteness in argument, and rich, unfailing fluency of diction, he seemed born to become a great orator, and I have no doubt would have shone in Parliament had he not been carried off by consumption in his five-and-twentieth year. He was literally the most beautiful youth I ever saw. When he was only twenty-two, an eminent English artist (Howard, I think) made his head the model of a picture of Adam. But, though we had this splendid stripling, and other members that were not untalented, we had no head among us old and judicious enough to make the society a proper palæstra for our mental powers, and it degenerated into a place of general quizzing and eccentricity."
In the spring of 1794, as a reward for his exemplary conduct, Campbell obtained a few days' leave of absence from college. It was a time of great political excitement, and the young poet was a democrat of the school of the French Revolution. The trial of Muir and Gerald, for high treason, was expected to take place; and Campbell wished “insufferably" to see the great agitators of Scottish Reform, though he did not altogether approve their proceedings. But an important question with him was how to get to Edinburgh. We are furnished with an answer in the words of the poet himself:
“While gravely considering the ways and means, it immediately occurred to me that I had an uncle's widow in Edinburgh - a kindhearted elderly lady, who liad seen me at Glasgow, and said that she would be glad to receive me at her house, if I should ever come to the Scottish metropolis. I watched my mother's mollia tempora fandi, — for she had them, good woman! — and, eagerly catching the propitious moment, I said, “O, Mamma, how I long to see Edinburgh!- If I had but three shillings, I could walk there in one day, sleep two nights, and be two days at my aunt Campbell's, and walk back in another day.' To my delightful surprise, she answered, “ No, my bairn; I will give you what will carry you to Edinburgh and bring you back; but you must promise me not to walk more than half the way in any one day,' – that was twenty-two miles. “Here,' said she, are five shillings for you in all; two shillings will serve you to go, and two to return; for a bed at the half-way house costs but sixpence.' She then gave me - I shall never forget the beautiful coin ! - a King William and Mary crown-piece. I was dumb with gratitude ; but, sallying out to the streets, I saw at the first bookseller's shop a print of Elijah fed by the ravens. Now, I had often heard my poor mother saying confidentially to our worthy neighbor Mr. Hamilton — whose strawberries I had pilfered — that in case of my father's death — and he was a very old man
an- she knew not what would become of her. But,' she used to add, let me not despair, for Elijah was fed by the ravens.' When I presented her with the picture, I said nothing of its tacit allusion to the possibility of my being one day her supporter ; but she was much affected, and evidently felt a strong presentiment.” His mother's presentiment was not disappointed; in the generous affection of her son she found a never-failing resource in her declining years.
“ Next morning," continues Campbell, “ I took my way to Edinburgh, with four shillings and sixpence in my pocket. I witnessed Joseph Gerald's trial, and it was an era in my life. Hitherto I had never known what public eloquence was; and I am sure the Justiciary Scotch lords did not help me to a conception of it-speaking, as they did, bad arguments in broad Scotch. But the Lord Advocate's speech was good; the speeches of Laing and Gillies were better; and Gerald's speech annihilated the remembrance of all tho eloquence that had ever been heard within the walls of that house. He quieted the judges, in spite of their indecent interruptions of him, and produced a silence in which you might have heard a pin fall to the ground. At the close of his defence, he said, “And now, gentlemen of the jury - now that I have to take leave of you forever, let me remind you that mercy is no small part of the duty of jurymen ; that the man who shuts his heart on the claims of the unfortunate, on him the gates of mercy will be shut, and for him the Saviour of the world shall have died in vain !' At this finish I was moved, and, turning to a stranger beside me, apparently a tradesman, I said to him, “By heavens, sir, that is a great man !' Yes, sir,' he answered ; • he is not only a great man himself, but he makes every other man feel great who listens to him.'"
This scene of political excitement made a lasting impression on Campbell, and he returned to college to read the liberal newspapers, declaim in the debating societies on the rights of man and the corruption of modern legislation, and postpone for a while Greek poetry to the records of Greek patriotism. What he saw, felt, and dreamed of at this period, exerted, no doubt, a marked influence on his whole subsequent career.
At the close of his third session, Campbell was distinguished by new academic honors. In the Moral Philosophy class he received a prize for his poetical essay on the Origin of Evil. In the Greek class he gained the first prize for the best translations from the Clouds of Aristophanes. The latter circumstance he thus alludes to in one of his manuscript notes : “ Professor Young pronounced my version, in his opinion, the best essay that had ever been given in by any student at the university. This was no small praise to a boy of fifteen, from John Young, who, with the exception of Miller, was the ablest man in the college.”
One day, shortly before the close of this session, while Professor
Arthur, of the Moral Philosophy chair, was showing the university to an English gentleman, who had come into the class-room, Campbell says: “I happened to be standing unobserved behind him, and could hear distinctly the conversation that passed between them. * And is there any one among your students,' inquired the stranger, “who shows a talent for poetry?' 'Yes,' said the professor, “there is one Campbell, who shows a very promising talent.' Little knew the professor that I was listening to this question and answer. In explanation of this “ talent,' I had written in Arthur's class a verse essay on the Origin of Evil, for which I afterwards received the prize, and which gave me a local celebrity throughout all Glasgow, from the High Church down to the bottom of the Saltmarket! It was even talked of, as I am credibly informed, by the students over their oysters at Lucky M'Alpine's, in the Trongate!”
Campbell's intimate asssociates in his college days were James Thomson and Gregory Watt. The former, a fellow-student from Lancashire, was his friend and correspondent till the poet's death, and to him most of his early letters were addressed. For more than half a century the links of this friendship were kept bright. distance,” wrote the young student in 1794, when he thought of emigrating to America, “sball put an end to our epistolary corret spondence. Our friendship, though begun in the years of youth, I trust shall survive that period, and be immutably fixed in graver years.” This dream of youthful enthusiasm proved a reality. It was to Mr. Thomson's order that two marble busts of the poet were long afterwards executed by Bailey, and the admirable portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence, now prefixed to most of the editions of his works, was also commissioned by this friend of a life-time. The three friends were rivals in scholarship and in the clubs, but competition seems never to have impaired their common attachment. “Gregory is still among us," wrote Campbell from Glasgow, in April, 1795, to his friend Thomson. “He and I are at present very intimate, but as different souls as ever God created. Gregory is all volubility and solution of copper ; for me, you would take me for a Spaniard – as sober as Socrates. Our prizes are to be decided to-morrow, for the summer exercises. I care not two pence about the event. Professor —'s 'genteelity' in his prizes has made me a stoic about obtaining them. Gregory speaks of writing you; he has made a fine