Thomas Campbell, a British poet, born in Glasgow, July 27, 1777, died in Boulogne, France, June 15,1844. His father was a cadet of the ancient clan of Campbells in Kirnan. At the age of 13 he entered the university of Glasgow, where he remained for six years, partially supporting himself by private teaching. He excelled particularly in Greek, and his translations from the Greek tragedians were considered the best that any pupil in the university had ever produced. On leaving the university he spent a year in Argyleshire, where he composed several poems, among which was "Love and Madness." Unwilling to enter any of the learned professions, he went to Edinburgh, proposing to devote himself to literature, and there composed " The Pleasures of Hope " (1799). This poem achieved an almost unparalleled success, and introduced the author at once to fame and society. He thus obtained the means to visit the continent, studied Greek several months at Gottingen under Heyne, witnessed from the monastery of St. Jacob the battle of Hohenlinden, which he has described in his letters and in one of the finest of his poems, and after making brief and irregular rambles, controlled by the exigencies of war, being checked in his attempt to pass into Italy, and chased into Yarmouth by a Danish privateer, repaired in 1801 to London. He soon after directed his course to Edinburgh by sea, and was surprised to learn from the passengers that the author of " The Pleasures of Hope" had been arrested in London for high treason, was confined in the tower, and expected to be executed.
In fact, so suspicious was the British government at that time, that it had amplified his association with French officers abroad into a plot, and a warrant was issued for his apprehension as a spy. It was with difficulty that the poet on arriving at Edinburgh could satisfy the authorities of his loyalty. During his travels he had composed a few short pieces, among which were his "Exile of Erin," "Lochiel's Warning," and "Ye Mariners of England," but now obtained his livelihood only by fugitive articles for the newspapers and booksellers. He removed in 1803 to London, and soon after to Sydenham, where for 17 years he devoted himself to fulfilling contracts with publishers,, and to composing the few poems which confirmed and increased the reputation which his first work had procured him. He had a wife, mother, and sisters dependent on him, and amid alternate seasons of energy and lassitude, hope and despondency, composed an elaborate historical notice of Great Britain for the "Edinburgh Encyclopaedia," a " History of the Reign of George III.," frequent contributions to the " Star " newspaper, and collected materials for his " Specimens of the British Poets." Upon the accession of the whigs to power in 1806 he received a pension of £200, and in 1809 published his second great poem, " Gertrude of Wyoming," to which were attached several powerful lyrics.
In 1812 he lectured on poetry at the royal institution; in 1814 visited Paris in company with Mrs. Siddons; in 1818 travelled in Germany; and on his return to England assumed the editorship of " Colburn's New Monthly Magazine," which he retained for ten years. His poetical labors from this time, with the exception of the "Last Man," are of little importance. His " Theodric," published in 1824, was pronounced inferior to his former poems, and his "Pilgrim of Glen-coe," which appeared in 1842, was deemed a failure. He originated the project of the London university, which, chiefly through his exertions, was at length successfully established; he was chosen in 1826 lord rector of the university of Glasgow, to which office he was twice reelected; and in 1831 he started the " Metropolitan Magazine." He was severely stricken in 1831 by the capture of Warsaw and the total defeat of the Poles, the objects of his youthful enthusiasm; and domestic calamities came to complete his desolation. " My wife is dead, my son is mad, and my harp unstrung," was the account which he gave of himself; and, with his delicate constitution broken, he found himself a prematurely old man, alone in the world.
Yet he remained busy to the last, composed biographies of Mrs. Siddons and of Petrarch, travelled in Algeria, visited Germany again, and in 1843 removed to Boulogne, which he resolved to make his future residence. There he died, after a lingering sickness. Though he chastened his style to simplicity with laborious care, and polished his verses till they accorded with a fastidious and Greek taste, yet most of his lyrics and many portions of his two longest poems appeal to the popular mind and feeling, and are treasured in the memory like primitive songs and ballads.