March of Death

Footprint Glasgow

Thomas Campbell,
page 6 of 11

reigning topics of the day, the partition of Poland, the capture of Warsaw, and the massacre of Polish patriots.

                    “Hope, for a season, bade the world farewell,
                    And Freedom shrieked as Kosciusko fell”

While the political passages are most powerful, those touching on domestic subjects, on female influence, and on married life are the sweetest. For example—

                    “Lo! at the couch where infant Beauty sleeps,
                    Her silent watch the mournful mother keeps;
                    She, while the lovely babe unconscious lies,
                    Smiles on her slumbering child with pensive eyes,
                    And weaves a song of melancholy joy.”

And the following, implying that the bliss of paradise itself was incomplete till the creation of Eve—

                    “The world was sad!—the garden was a wild!
                    And man, the hermit, sighed, till woman smiled!”

And the well-known description of the homeless “Wanderer”—

                    “And mark the wretch whose wanderings never knew
                    The world’s regard, that soothes, though half untrue,
                    Whose erring heart the lash of sorrow bore,
                    But found not pity when it erred no more.
                    Yon friendless man, at whose dejected eye
                    The unfeeling proud one looks-and passes by,
                    Condemned on Penury’s barren path to roam,
                    Scorned by the world and left without a home.—
                    Even he, at evening, should he chance to stray
                    Down by the hamlet’s hawthorn-scented way,
                    Where, round the cot’s romantic glade, are seen
                    The blossomed bean field and the sloping green,
                    Leans o’er its humble gate and thinks the while—
                    Oh! that for me some home like this would smile,
                    Some hamlet shade to yield my sickly form
                    Health in the breeze and shelter in the storm!
                    There should my hand no stinted boon assign
                    To wretched hearts with sorrow such as mine!
                    That generous wish can soothe unpitied care,
                    And Hope half mingles with the poor man’s prayer.”

Though the poem contains much that is vague, indefinite, and superficial, as may be expected in the work of a young man of twenty-one, it is a wonderful production. I have sometimes wondered, if I were called upon to produce to an intelligent foreigner a hundred lines as a specimen of our best poetry, combining dignity in the subject and felicity of expression, whether I would select them from “The Pleasures of Hope” or from Wordsworth’s “Excursion.” While Wordsworth soars to higher heights and seizes upon phases of experience more subtle and spiritual, yet there is an equable felicity of conception and diction in Campbell that makes me think the best hundred lines for the understanding and appreciation of a foreigner might be selected from him.

The book brought troops of friends, among them Sir Walter Scott, Professor Dugald Stewart, Henry Mackenzie, author of “The Man of Feeling,” Sydney Smith, Brougham, Jeffrey, and others, who were then “cultivating literature on a little oatmeal” in the grey Metropolis of the North. The volume went through four editions in a year, and the proceeds enabled Campbell to undertake a pilgrimage to Germany, and to realise a youthful dream of seeing Schiller and Goethe, and the banks of the Rhine. His fame had preceded him, and his reception at Hamburg, in the first year of this century, was very gratifying. At the time political excitement was at its height. Bavaria had surrendered several towns to the French, and the upper valley of the Danube was placed under military government. Campbell thus records his impressions of German scenery: “Its general constituents are corn fields, many leagues in extent, and dark tracts of forest, equally extensive. Of this the eye soon becomes tired; but in a few favoured spots there is such a union of wildness, variety, richness, and


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