Letters and material relating to Thomas Campbell (1777-1844), the Poet

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Items relating to the poet, Thomas Campbell, include:

  • - letter, 22 February 1834, to Francis Jeffrey, the Lord Advocate, writing that he is thinking about competing for the position of chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at Edinburgh University, at shelfmark E2009.18
  • - letter, undated fragment, at shelfmark Dc.3.99/13, f.7

Administrative / Biographical History

Thomas Campbell was born on 27 July 1777 in Glasgow where he went to school showing promise as a poet and an interest in Classics. He studied at Glasgow University from 1791 excelling in the Classics and as a translator of Greek poetry, and then went on to study Hebrew and theological subjects with the intention of going into the Church. By the end of his studies in 1796 (and with some earlier interruption), he had attended classes in Roman law and decided to go into the legal profession. This new direction took him to Edinburgh where he first became a copying clerk then became involved in literary work and private teaching, and writing poems.

Campbell's work from this period included the Wounded Hussar and the minor poems: the Dirge of Wallace, Epistle to three ladies, and Lines on revisiting the River Cart. In 1799 however, his Pleasure of hope became instantly popular, with a passage on Poland having particular resonance among Scottish patriots after the dismemberment of Poland by Austria, Prussia, and Russia. In June 1800, he went across to the European mainland, settling first in Hamburg but also visiting Regensburg (Ratisbon), Munich, and Leipzig. While abroad he wrote The exile of Erin, Ye mariners of England, and The soldier's dream. When the British fleet bore down on Copenhagen in 1801, Campbell wrote The Battle of the Baltic, a strenuous war song.

His return to Britain in 1801 found him alternating between England and Scotland and among his social circle were Dugald Stewart and Lord Minto. Then, in 1803, he married Matilda Sinclair (died 1828) and the Campbells settled in London, at Sydenham.

By 1834, Campbell had achieved much social and academic recognition, and had been Rector of Glasgow University three times in succession beating off Sir Walter Scott as a rival the third time. However, it had not been known that he sought the chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at Edinburgh University, which ambition is revealed in a letter to Francis Jeffrey, the Lord Advocate. In it, he writes that he is thinking about competing for this position, and asks for Jeffrey's support. The establishment of the chair of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at Edinburgh University, created for Hugh Blair in 1762, is often seen as marking the start of the formal teaching of English Literature as an academic discipline at university level.

Other works by Campbell include Gertrude of Wyoming, Locheil, Hohenlinden, Navarino, Heligoland death-boat, Pilgrim of Glencoe, Song of the colonists, and Pilgrim.

Thomas Campbell died in Boulogne on 15 June 1844. He was buried in Westminster Abbey.

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Acquisition Information

Acquired April 2009. Accession no: E2009.18.

Note

The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Sidney (eds.). The dictionary of national biography. Vol.III. Brown-Chaloner. London: Oxford University Press, 1960.

Other Finding Aids

None created for this collection.

Archivist's Note

Compiled by Graeme D. Eddie, Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library.

Related Material

Also within Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, are a number of items relating to Thomas Campbell in the Laing Collection, for which check the Index to Manuscripts locally and manually. Additionally, at Dc.6.111, among material relating to Dugald Stewart, there are the following:

  • - letter (or part of a letter), 27 February 1802, to Mrs. Helen D'Arcy Stewart, containing poems 'Stanzas to painting' and 'Hochenlinden, a fragment', at shelfmark Dc.6.111, f.108
  • - poem, 'The dead eagle', at shelfmark Dc.6.111, ff.100-102
  • - poem, 'Exile of Erin' trans. into German by Wenceslas von Purgstall, as first line 'Es wandelt ein fremdling am einsamen Ufer ...', at shelfmark Dc.6.111, ff.149-150
 In addition, among the Corson Collection, there are two letters from Thomas Campbell:
  • - letter, 29 July 1835, 16 Great Marlborough Place, London, to William Burn, with a line or two introducing Prof. Raumer, Professor of History at Berlin (older shelfmark Gen. 1070 fols. 241 - Corson letters)
  • - letter, 9 September 1838, 61 Lincolns Inn Fields, London, to unnamed correspondent, indicating that he is about to reach an arrangement for the publishing of his shorter lyrical pieces, and that any sanction of the publication of his pieces with the correspondent’s music would be incompatible with that (older shelfmark Gen. 1070 fols. 242 - Corson letters)

Within Special Collections, Edinburgh University Library, are some Papers relating to Francis, Lord Jeffrey (1773-1850)

Subjects