LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
Documents Biography Criticism

Literary Reminiscences and Memoirs of Thomas Campbell
Chapter 7

Vol. I. Contents
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Vol. II. Contents
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
‣ Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
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Remarks respecting Hazlitt and Scott.—Later contributors to the magazine.—Effect of his domestic bereavement on the poet’s mode of living.—University prizes.—Third election of Campbell to the lord rectorship.—Sir Walter Scott’s good feeling.

CAMPBELL stated that Hazlitt had been the means of increasing the irritation of John Scott, and consequently been one cause of his going out with Mr. Christie. I am inclined to think, that though Campbell, in stating the circumstance, did so with the belief that Hazlitt said what he did with a mischievous design, which so far may have been tinctured with prejudice in the inference, yet that the circumstance itself is probable. After the death of the poet the point was questioned by an anonymous writer. Hazlitt showed a peculiar taunting humour at times, and did not reflect in what light his words, any more than his actions, might be
viewed. Campbell, perhaps from prejudice, attributed malice where there was no more than the simple expression of a feeling sometimes operating, without looking to consequences. Scott’s mind was sufficiently excited, and though I only knew Scott from meeting him at a dinner-table occasionally, he appeared to me a man who rather wished to stand well with the many than with the few, one whose inclination and mode of thinking led him to feel poignantly from the mental strife between reason and usage. He was not a man to be a martyr in any cause, and was one whom I never liked. It is possible I may misjudge him, but my idea of his character was not wholly unsupported by collateral evidence. I well remember the substance of Campbell’s remark. I ever laboured to retain Hazlitt for our publication, and in the course of one of our conversations the poet said, speaking of Hazlitt’s disregard of the feelings of others, “There was Scott, Hazlitt was one means of his going out in that foolish affair, by adding to his mental uneasiness through his mischievous remarks.” He said that, in substance, the remark of Hazlitt was:—

“I don’t pretend to uphold the principles upon which you act, I don’t hold the notions you profess to hold. I would neither give nor accept a challenge. I can make no boast of physical courage. I am sure I have not moral courage
for such a purpose; but you hold the opinions of the world upon the subject; to me it would be nothing, but for you to pass over such a matter is a different thing; for me I am nothing, I do not pretend to think as you and the world do.”

I am positive that the above is a fair statement of the substance and meaning of what Campbell said, when informing me that Hazlitt had contributed to the mental uneasiness of Scott, and thus stimulating him to send the challenge.

To return—the poet’s domestic loss and the new situation in which he found himself placed, burthened with the cares of a household, to direct which he was one of the least competent persons imaginable, at first unhinged a little the temperament that it required no great amount of power to throw out of its equilibrium. Mrs. Campbell’s death was a fearful break-up of the poet’s domestic comforts. Never had a wife more consulted and more happily administered, in the circle of home, those numberless little comforts, many of small moment separately, which in the aggregate grow into the necessities of every-day existence to such a man as the poet. Her house was a model of neatness and propriety, order and a well-regulated economy were always before her steps. If, as poets are said to do, the husband moved in an eccentric path, if he were negligent of order, the negligence was compensated by the
ruling spirit of the household. The poet’s study, which he daily disordered, strewed inexcusably with books and papers, negligent in all manner of ways, was sure to be restored to perfect neatness at the first intermission in his seclusion, and yet nothing belonging to his literary labours was displaced, for with that care Mrs. Campbell burthened herself. Never did a man sustain a greater loss when she was taken from him, and he felt this to the heart’s core but too soon.

After her loss he kept up his household as before, and with much that continually reminded him of the deprivation he had sustained but too keenly, endeavoured to fill up the void he thus experienced with those aids to which, in the common course of such deprivations, man is wont to apply. Solitary and painful hours he passed at first, but calamity sooner or later preys upon itself. He called reason to his aid; he combatted sometimes, it appeared to me too artificially, that despondency to which one of his disposition may be supposed liable. “I must bend to the necessity,” he observed, “to that manifestion of human helplessness before which others have bent, and some must every day bend, and thus court reconciliation to what I cannot alter.”

I have omitted mentioning Mrs. Siddons among the earlier visitors at the poet’s house. Campbell felt towards her a degree of respect which origi-
nated I imagine in the effect her acting had produced upon his mind, for there was no conversation of the great actress that at all partook of the poet’s congenial studies. While there was nothing about this great actress that could be styled genius, she possessed a judgment that never erred as regarded her profession. Her imposing person, and a manner in unison with the stateliness of the tragic muse, her excellence, the result of a consentaneousness of appearance, with sound judgment, and careful study, rather than the spontaneity of genius, marked by a more sustained and uniform character than is commonly the case in the profession, made her still more acceptable to the poet. She trod her path over the highest table land at a uniform elevation; and this kind of sustained character was calculated to fix a man of the poet’s temperament, much more than one who exhibited in excellence and the reverse those startling inequalities which have characterised many celebrated names.

“You have just missed Mrs. Siddons,” Mrs. Campbell would remark, on my calling in just after that great actress had left the house.

Then the poet would speak of her as one of the most admirably endowed women that ever existed, closing with, “but you don’t think so highly of this extraordinary woman. You do
not give a fair measure of justice to my observations.”

I should reply in substance that I could never forget the effect she produced upon my feelings the first time I saw her; that her bearing in some of her characters would remain a vivid image in my memory as long as I lived.

“And yet you do not think her a wonderful woman; you told Mrs. Campbell that you thought her heavy in society, that she showed no ability, nothing above the common in social intercourse.”

“I did say so. The prestige of the great actress is connected with her profession; she is a woman of good bearing, lady-like, imposing from her fine person and from association, but in society exhibiting plain good sense, nothing more.”

“That is always the way,” the poet would reply, “where people are great by study; she is not flashy enough for you; you want to see her a Madam de Staёl.”

“On the contrary, no one ever struck me, electrified me, as she did upon the stage; nothing could surpass her. But in society it is different. I cannot retract my opinion.”

“I do not think as you do; she is great every where. I won’t admit a word to her dispraise.”

“She is one of his idols,” Mrs. Campbell would observe.

“She wants no worshippers,” interposed the
poet; “she can spare one.
Redding shall not play the iconoclast here.”

“But your argument is, that the greatest of actresses is equally great in everything.”

“I won’t admit her want of excellence in any thing. She is an old friend of mine.”

“But that is no argument. Lawrence is a good painter, but that does not give him a claim to be a good mathematician.”

“Hush! you won’t admire her as I do; as she deserves to be; I see that.”

“On the contrary, I reverence her as an actress. I never saw, nor can conceive, any thing finer.”

“Then you must admit that, in society, she is an extraordinary woman.”

“With the prestige of her celebrity, one cannot look upon her otherwise; abstracted from that impression, she is no way extraordinary, to my seeming.”

“You will admit nothing. She is an excellent friend of mine, and if I cannot convert you, why, you must continue wrong-headed. I won’t hear a word against such a friend; she is a wonderful woman.”

He would adroitly skip the faults of his friends, refuse to admit their defects, or gloss them over in the most specious way, while towards those to
whom he had an antipathy, he was not sparing in his censure.

Mrs. Siddons, in “the sear and yellow leaf” of existence, seemed sensible of pleasure at hearing the effect her acting had once produced on the minds of others. She exhibited undisguised satisfaction at my describing how I felt when I first saw her play Lady Macbeth, and how my youthful mind (I was but twenty years old when I first saw her) was affected by her delineation of the character. She was now in her seventy-first year. The satisfaction expressed in her countenance was like a momentary sunbreak over a gloomy winter landscape, speedily darkened again by the contrast of the present with the past; at least, so I fancied, as, while I was observing it, thought glanced upon the melancholy and irresistible course of human destiny. Her last evening at the poet’s was in Scotland-yard, the year of her decease, where I was invited to meet her, Lockhart, and one or two others of the friends of that time, at an evening party.

Scarcely had the termination of the year 1828 approached than Campbell received an intimation that it was the intention of a large body of the students of the Glasgow University to propose him a third time for the Lord Rectorship, and he proceeded to Scotland in November. So highly pleased were the students at the conduct of their lord rector,
that during his first year’s office they had presented him with a piece of silver plate. They had perceived that Campbell was still susceptible of those juvenile feelings which he had formerly experienced at the same seminary; that with the simplicity of manners and playfulness which adhered to him, when he returned to the scene of his early instruction, he partook in their youthful bias, and that as far as he might, he became again what he had been when he had it in his power to exhibit his feelings with propriety. In youth as in maturer years, nature acknowledges sympathy, often when unconscious of making a return. The students seem to have been thus affected, but not so many of the professors; this easy carriage was not after the example of their formal bearing. A feeling of distaste towards the poet was soon strongly exhibited by some of them. Moreover, Campbell professed Whiggism, and they Toryism, and Scotch Toryism, too, which generally meant in spirit something very far beneath the bearing of English Toryism.

A supper was given to a party of fifty students, at the house of a gentleman in Glasgow, to which the poet was invited. One of the party, after a brief and eloquent address to the poet said—“Permit me, my lord rector, to present you with a small testimony of our regard; the expression
indeed is feeble, but the impression is indelibly fixed in our hearts.”

The piece of silver plate, a cup, was then presented, bearing the following inscription,—
Thomas Campbell, Esq.,
Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow,
From a few of his Constituents,
Appreciating his worth and admiring his genius.
In frata dum fluvii current, dum montibus umbræ
Lustrabunt convexa, polus dum sidera pascet,
Semper honos, nomenque tuum, laudesque manebunt.

Campbell made an animated reply, and the evening was passed in a social manner, and greatly to the poet’s satisfaction. The attention of the students on that occasion he spoke of subsequently as giving birth to the most gratifying feelings he had ever experienced. In acknowledging how much he thus felt pleased, he almost involuntarily interwove remembrances of his youthful hours passed there. He recurred to incidents long passed, that showed how they affected his mind, but I do not remember that I ever heard him wish for their return. Perhaps, like Johnson, he had no desire to live the same life over again—who that reflects can have such a wish?

The expiration of his second year of office was now approaching. He was in London, having no idea that the students would propose him
a third time. The election took place on the 14th of November. The “four nations,” as they are styled, for the election does not take place by a majority of votes in the university, but by a majority in the four nations into which the university is divided; namely, Glottiana, Rothseyana, Transforthana, and Londoniana. The four nations had to choose between four candidates:
Campbell, Lord John Campbell, Sir Walter Scott, and Lord John Russell. The professors had made themselves extremely active among all the students whom they could influence in favour of a Tory candidate; of any one, in fact, but the poet, who, besides his political sentiments, had become a great favourite in the university, which could hardly fail of arousing a feeling of jealousy among the officials. The office of rector is one, in its nature antagonistic to the professors, being instituted to defend the rights of the students, and to hear and redress their complaints, if well founded. There is a good deal of the tyrant’s spirit in the nature of schoolmasters and professors. The exercise of unquestioned power over a schoolboy, generates a feeling of antipathy towards ought that may imply, however remotely, the righteousness of the petty absolutism. Thus, even in a small sphere, custom makes the least power sensitive to the seeming of contravention.


The election came on; but before that event it was thought advantageous by the professors that the partisans of Lord John Campbell and Sir Walter Scott should coalesce. The opposite party perceiving this policy to be good, followed the example. The university then voted,—for Campbell: Glottiana, 130; Rothseyana, 75; Transforthana, 30; Londoniana, 28. For Scott: Glottiana, 90; Rothseyana, 36; Transforthana, 31; Londoniana, 43. Though Campbell had 263 votes to 200, the voting was even; two nations voting for each candidate. But the nation Transforthana had carried it by a casting vote in favour of Sir Walter Scott. That vote should have been the casting vote of the last lord rector, Campbell himself, who was in London at the time. In default of the lord rector himself not being present, then the casting vote was, according to the rules, to be given by the preceding lord rector; but here the same difficulty occurred. A party of the professors, on this difficulty occurring, hit upon a miserable expedient to further their own selfish views, unsupported by the rules or laws of the university. They called out of his sick-bed the individual whom Campbell had previously appointed his own vice-rector, and made him vote against his nominator. Not an edifying example either of fidelity to his nominator or of high feeling for the imitation of the youth of the university,
upon the part of the deputy. The professor of law in the university at once declared against the validity of the vice-rector’s right to vote for such a purpose. The majority of sixty-three on the part of Campbell over Scott produced a considerable sensation among the students, who felt how ungracious it was that, seeing the spirit of the university thus declaring in favour of Campbell, the professors should endeavour to obtain an advantage over that majority by a miserable subterfuge.

Sir Walter Scott, on hearing of this event and the circumstances, with that magnanimous and good tone of feeling which was a part of his nature, wrote by return of post, declining the honour thus proffered, and the students wrote off to Campbell in London, conjuring him to come down to them immediately. I was not in town, but the same day he wrote me the following letter, putting all he left behind of every nature into my hands, and giving me due authority over his son.

“10, Seymour Street West,
18th of November, 1828.

My dear Friend,—Being obliged to depart suddenly for Scotland, and to leave behind me my son, with some apprehension on my part as to the state of his mind, I request of you to have the kindness to act for the best in my absence, and to
consider yourself empowered to do whatever you think fit for his advantage.

“I remain, yours very truly,
T. Campbell.
“To C. Redding, Esq., London.”

He could not have been at Glasgow more than a day or two, for he omitted the day of the month in his letter, before I got from him a communication, dated Glasgow, November, 1828:—

“I forgot to request of your kindness to let any letter that may have come to my house, come to the care of William Gray, Esq., Claremont Place, Glasgow, as well as to drop me a single word to say how Thomas is going on.

“The professors here have been put to consternation by Scott’s refusal of their illegal offer of the rectorship, and by my arrival; but they are rallying all the slaves among the students—alas! too numerous a body—to appoint a new rival candidate, and to abuse me soul and body.

“My friends among the lads, however, still show pluck, and promise me that if I will not desert them, they will not desert me. The election must soon take place. I will send you a copy of my speech, which must be short; believe me,” &c., &c.


I find also the following communication, dated Glasgow, December 8, 1828:—

“I send you a copy of the speech I made here at my installation. I am setting out for Edinburgh this evening, and expect to be in London on Saturday night.

“With a thousand thanks for your attention to my son.”