Hidden Glasgow

Glasgow Almanac

Thomas Campbell,
page 3 of 11

beauty of the original. His version of the “Clouds” of Aristophanes was declared to be the best that had ever been heard in the University. His hymn-
“When Jordan hushed his waters still
And silence slept on Zion hill”—

written at the age of 16, when he was studying Hebrew, is one of the finest in the language.

At an early period of his career he seems to have thought of entering the church. But domestic circumstances, “res angusta domi,” were against him. His father, who had been formerly prosperous as a merchant, lost his means after the outbreak of the American War of Independence. Medicine and law were alternately thought of, but surgical operations proved distasteful, and law was far too dry.

Diligent as he was, he had a part with his fellow-students in some of their peculiar movements outside. The following occurred during his fourth session at college. The scene was the Trongate, where stood two contiguous shops, one an apothecary’s, named Fife; the other a spirit-dealer’s, named Drum. These two tradesmen had long lived on terms of friendship, but very shortly before jealousy in business had somewhat estranged them. More customers were attracted, perhaps, by liquor than by liquorice. A plan was laid by the students, who knew both worthies well, to get them reconciled. The modus operandi took a form which illustrates the practical joking indulged in by students of the past century. In the apothecary’s window was a placard, “Ears pierced by A. Fife,” referring to the operation submitted to by young ladies preparatory to wearing earrings; and one fine morning the early frequenters of the Trongate were thunderstruck by the appearance of a long sign-board, stretching from window to window over the contiguous shops, with this inscription from “Othello” in flaming characters—

“The spirit-stirring Drum, the ear-piercing Fife.”

A crowd soon filled the street. Messrs. Fife and Drum themselves appeared upon the scene. The laughter ran like wild-fire, and among the crowd young Campbell and two associates were observed enjoying the fun. The partners in trade were enraged, and resolved to secure punishment upon the perpetrators. A grave charge was sent in to the college authorities, Campbell being accused particularly of the “lettering.” He and his confederates were menaced with fine and imprisonment. The matter ended in a reprimand. The Fife and the Drum were united.

At the close of this session, May, 1795, Campbell accepted a tutorship in Mull, which had an excellent effect upon his after life. He set off in company with Finlayson, who by his great merit, or, as some allege, by favour, attained to the high degree of doctor of divinity in the Scottish kirk. This journey abounds in personal interest. There is a narrative in the poet’s own words: “I was fain from my father’s reduced circumstances to accept for six months of a tutorship in a Highland family, at the furthest end of the Isle of Mull. In this, it is true, my poverty rather than my will consented. I was so little proud of it that in passing through Greenock I purposely omitted to call on my mother‘s cousin, Mr. Sinclair, a wealthy merchant and provost of the town, with a family of handsome daughters, one of whom I married some nine years afterwards. But although I knew that the Sinclairs would have welcomed me hospitably, I did not like to tell my pretty cousins that I was going in that capacity. I well remember spending a long evening with Finlayson on the Greenock quay, sub


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