Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors

Scottish Tartan Weddings

Thomas Campbell,
page 5 of 11

on in his letters and described in his poems. Referring to the house of Downie, he says—

                                “No common sordid shieling cot,
                The Jacobite white rose festooned the door,
                The windows sashed and glazed, the oaken floor,
                The chimney graced with antlers of the deer,
                The rafters hung with meat for winter cheer.”

Any one who wishes to revive the local associations connected with Campbell may be interested to know that Downie is on the Sound of Jura, within an hour’s walk of Crinan Bay, at the western end of the Crinan Canal. It is the spot on which the Dalriad Scots landed from Ireland in the days of yore, and from which they spread out to Dunstaffnage and other parts until this country was named “Scotland.” All the places are associated with them. There is one crag with grassy mound and trees behind which was Campbell’s favourite resort. The “Poet’s Hill,” as it is called, commands all the local scenery depicted in his poems, the “Ships at Anchor,” the “Mountain Bay,” the “Pellochs” (Anglia, “porpoises”), the “Loud Corbrechtan,” the “Boatmen’s Carol,” and “The Precipice of Foam from Mountains Brown.” In this lonely farm-house, in a small room with one window, and a recess of sufficient dimensions to contain a bed, at once the class-room, private study, and dormitory of the poet, some of the brilliant episodes of “The Pleasures of Hope” were first brought into shape. The rapturous excitement in which he was sometimes seen by the natives in his lonely walks made them think, as they expressively said, that “he wasna himsel’.”

After leaving Downie, his efforts to establish himself in a profession gave him intense anxiety. Two courses presented themselves, viz., law and literature, and between these he vacillated for a time, his poverty ever seeming the drawback. Envious critics did not fail to say that he had tried theology, law, and physic, and failed in all. But this was an unfair calumny on a young man of nineteen who was the martyr of circumstances. Still he regarded poverty as being more formidable than it really was. His poverty sent him to the West Highlands, and that proved a help. Poverty caused him to exercise his natural gifts of song and of literature, and in that it was a blessing. If he had been allowed to move peacefully into the Church, he might have been a doctor of divinity, but never lord rector of his native university. If he had managed to get through the law classes, he might possibly have become a lord of session, but never the poet of universal fame. With his ardent, impulsive temperament he could never have been a good doctor, and it is a mercy to the world that he was saved from this by his poverty.

After spending some time in private tuition at Inveraray, at Cordale, in the Vale of Leven, where he wrote the “Wounded Hussar,” and at Glasgow, he repaired to Edinburgh, where he found a dusky lodging in Rose Street. Amid some desultory work for the booksellers he was enabled to get his “Pleasures of Hope” ready for the press. The copyright, worth in young Campbell’s daydreams an annuity of £200 for life, was sold out and out for £60 the credit of his publishers, however, it must be added that on its subsequent success they gave him for two or three years a present of £50 on every new edition.

It was published on the 27th April, 1799, and the author suddenly emerged, like a star, from his obscurity. “Just as the star of Burns had disappeared from the western horizon, that of Campbell rose with prophetic brilliancy in the east.” The most powerful stanzas are political, touching on the


:: Previous Page :: Next Page ::

Books & articles appearing here are modified adaptations
from a private collection of vintage books & magazines.
Reproduction of these pages is prohibited without written permission. © Laurel O'Donnell, 1996-2006.