LORD  BYRON  and  his  TIMES
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Literary Reminiscences and Memoirs of Thomas Campbell
Chapter 9

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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“Theodoric.”—Remarks on that poem.—Singular and unexpected visit from a Mohawk Chief.—The poet’s feelings respecting hostile criticism.—Bearing towards Hazlitt.—Letter from Sydenham thanking a friend in a reply to the “Critic.”—Byron’s remark on Campbell’s sensitiveness.—Coleridge.—Poem of “The Last Man.”—Mistake of the poet about the origin of the idea.—Campbell’s attachment to political economy.

“THEODORIC,” unintentionally perhaps, on the part of the author, inclined much more in style to the modern taste in poetry than the “Pleasures of Hope.” The romantic school succeeded in tempering the formality of the classic, but by this term must not be understood that prevailing flood of diluted rhyme which has been since misnamed poetry, seeming in its admirers’ view more excellent in proportion to the meanness of the subject and the
facility with which its torrent of words can be poured forth with little regard to the sense. The merit of a fine picture by
Raphael or Titian does not consist in the flimsiness with which it is executed, nor in the trivial character of the subject. Campbell, from inclining in his last productions towards the later taste, gained nothing, and lost much of the effect his previous style secured for him. A portion of the inferiority of “Theodoric” arises from this cause, independently of its feebleness as a story.

After all, it must be admitted that about those works of genius which are of a lasting character, there hangs an impenetrable mystery as to the composition. They must be taken as they appear at long intervals, and as they present themselves. The mechanical utilitarians of the hour must continue to feel astonished that literary works like the “Pleasures of Hope,” or “Childe Harold,” cannot be produced with the rapidity of manufactures; that one such work is tantamount to the history of a life; that a deathless name shall continue to be allied with humble circumstances; that literary “manufactures” cannot give a lease of remembrance beyond the class of the material to which they belong; that the mechanical mark upon such works stamps a deterioration upon their character, not to be changed by the caprice
of fashion, or the predisposition of the ignorant, for what sympathizes better with their comprehension; that the age favoured of wealth, and the advance of the bulk of society in knowledge should find genius still contumacious to the rule of the all-worshipped Mammon, and that no fresh graces are added to the productions of the past; in short, that genius retrogades in place of advancing, as if conscious of something in its nature which cannot intermingle with the predominant earthiness of the hour.

Allusions in “Theodoric” are many of them borrowed from the author himself. Thus for the line in the “Pleasures of Hope”—
“The wolf’s long howl on Oonalaska’s shore—”
“Theodoric” has
“The wolf’s long howl in dismal discord join’d.”
Many like instances might be cited. The story might have been made more of, but sentiment was the poet’s forte, and richness of imagery his great excellence. Full of tenderness, his sentiment goes deep into the soul. The ambition of departed years is visible throughout, but it is only worked out in a dim sketch.

The concluding portion of “Theodoric” is not worthy of the commencement. It is always
politic to wind up well, that the reader may leave off with a favourable impression from what he has perused. The “
Pleasures of Hope” comes nobly to its conclusion, and the gentle “Gertrude” terminates her song in a manner equally effective and appropriate; but “Theodoric” is brought to its termination faintly and wearily, without a line that leaves upon the mind of the reader the reflection that he has been perusing a work to which he may return with renewed pleasure. It is singular that so perfect a master of his art should have overlooked this point, for he could hardly have intended to try how far his verse might be led to please by extreme gentleness and even tameness in contrast to the vigour and strength it had before displayed. He composed much of “Theodoric” in his study in Seymour Street. I once wrote letters there, while he worked at his task. He corrected several of the proofs at another time while I was present, during which I employed myself in reading; for then there was not a word of conversation. Although he spoke of what he had in hand, I never saw the entire manuscript until just before he had copied it out for the printer. When he mentioned the title, I said, “What, the king of the Ostrogoths?”


“No, no,” he replied; “a love-story. I have only borrowed the name.”

Theodoric was, of course, reviewed in the “Quarterly,” then under the editorship of Mr. Coleridge. The diatribe was marked by all the virulence that an obscure individual, suddenly elevated to an office he had not the capacity to fill, could pour out. His incompetence for his post, his displacement in due time fully proved. The splenetic feeling of the party the review advocated, was fully displayed on the occasion. The Whig was denounced in the “Quarterly,” and the Tory in the “Edinburgh Review scandal and falsehood being unsparingly used by both; but in “flinging dirt,” the “Quarterly” had the advantage. Gifford was no more, but Wilson Croker still continued to violate in its pages the maxim of Jonathan Wild, under a new editor, that mischief should be husbanded, being too precious a commodity to be wasted. The uncle of Mr. Coleridge had lectured against the “Pleasures of Hope” in times gone past. This, perhaps, moved the editor upon the occasion. Even the unfortunate hero of the poem was christened Macbeth in the review. I remarked to Campbell, that Croker and the editor had no doubt held a consultation on the subject. The poet smiled, but it was easy to see, that while trying to bear it heroically, he
felt it keenly. His “
Specimens of the Poets,” were not reviewed at all in the “Quarterly,” because they were the property of Murray, to whom the “Quarterly” belonged, and to damn them in its pages being the law if they appeared at all, they were spared.

“Here,” said Campbell, “are a dozen copies of a ‘Letter to the Editor of the Quarterly,’ sent me from Edinburgh; I know not by whom written; it is pleasant to have unknown defenders.”

The poet gave me a copy. Time has exhibited the vanity of the mock thunder of the review, and the allusions to it would not have been made but as it may operate as a lesson to literary men, whose works are abused from party motives, and to the public of the value of anonymous criticism. The following is an extract from the close of the pamphlet on a review marked by singular dishonesty and virulence. After remarking on Mr. Coleridge’s disqualification for his office, the writer proceeds, referring to Campbell’s popularity.

“Let us measure the altitude of your own. Who are you? A nephew of Coleridge the poet,—not his son, who is said to be a genius; but high talents are not hereditary, either collaterally or directly. To say that this or that person could swear to your being clever, is saying nothing, for
brigades of what are called clever men could be raised all over the country, and every third man could scarcely fail to find a couple of housekeepers any day ready to be bail for his being a man of genius. But does your public reputation entitle you to speak as a man having authority? If it be not so, you have been audaciously wrong to mount the tribune. As a lawyer, the newspapers wrong you, if a single sentence of eloquence ever came from your lips; and common report describes you as a man of most central mediocrity, both in your conversation and profession. If it be otherwise, tell us by what token we are to judge of you; produce your proofs of ability. It is notorious, that the political reviews of the ‘
Quarterly’ have for a considerable time past been one of its weakest props. In those which have been imputed to you, I should appeal to any man acquainted with criticism, whether there be the symptom of spirited originality, or of laborious common-place; and whether the mind that indited them is more to be compared to a fine time-piece, impelled by its own high-wound springs, or to a Dutch clock, with its see-saw pendulum and varnished cuckoo, that is moved by leads. Verily, if the hours of a poet’s popularity are to be measured by clock-work, it is hard that they should be reckoned by your wooden wheels.”


About that time, Campbell was surprised by a call from a friend of Brant, or Brandt, the Indian chief whom he had charged with such atrocities in his “Gertrude.” Some travellers, and among them Lieutenant Hall, of the dragoons, had, in visiting America, made mention in their published tours of an Indian chief having held the rank of colonel in the British service in America. Brant was the only son of the chief whom Campbell denounced as the destroyer of the village of Wyoming, upon the banks of the Susquehanna, where now stands the town of Wilksbarre. It appeared that Brandt had settled in Canada under the protection of his British allies: that he had accustomed his people, the Mohawks, to farming; had built a church, and translated one of the Gospels into the Mohawk language. His grave was found by Lieutenant Hall (so his travels stated) under the walls of the church he had erected. He left behind him a son and daughter. The British government had erected a large house for the chief, near Burlington, on Lake Erie. His son was a fine young man, of gentlemanly manners and appearance, who spoke and wrote English well, dressed in the English fashion, and was a lieutenant in the English service. His sister would not have disgraced the circles of fashion in Europe; her face and person were fine and
graceful. She spoke English elegantly, and comported herself both in address and manner with almost Oriental softness.

This much had been known in Europe, though until this unexpected event relative to young Brant (as the Indian name should be spelled) Campbell had not any other knowledge of the chief than he might have gleaned from the “History of the Destruction of Wyoming by the English and Indians in 1778,” and that history, in some points, appears to have been exceedingly erroneous. The inhabitants were nearly all massacred, of three hundred men only four escaping. The commanders on both sides are said to have been named Butler. Brant, the Mohawk chief, was many miles from the spot when the battle took place. Campbell, with a poet’s licence and haste, had taken the current account of this battle, in which Brant was represented as a monster, whereas he was an Indian of singularly civilised habits. All this became known to him for a fact by young Brant coming to England. A friend first announced such an event, and that the young Indian chief had documents which would incontestably prove his father’s innocence. Campbell stated that he had, as poets had done from time immemorial, drawn upon imagination for the larger part of the incidents in the poem, taking the name of
Brant from history. He added that he could not have dreamed at the time he did so, that an Indian chief would ever be affected by it, much less peruse its contents. It must be admitted, that with the state of information in England, even in 1808, it might as well have been imagined that the St. Lawrence should flow to London as that the people represented, and believed in England to be horrible savages, putting prisoners to unheard-of tortures, and scarcely attaining beyond animal existence, should find an individual in their number who could be as sensitive as Brant was about his father’s fair fame. Time and the march of information had in twenty years done wonders in England as well as in America, and the son of the redoubted chief whom Campbell represented as heading the slaughter at Wyoming, soon after entered the poet’s dwelling in London, to ask that redress for his father’s memory which the poet could not but be gratified in conceding. I think Campbell informed me afterwards, that young Brant had become Lieutenant-colonel Brant.*

* He has paid the debt of nature as well as the poet. The following is from an American paper, the date of which I have unfortunately missed:—

“At the Mohawk village, near Brantford, John Brant, Esq., chief of the Mohawk tribe of Indians, and son of the gallant chieftain who distinguished himself so nobly in the revolutionary and late wars. Mr. Brant was an ac-

This incident was, upon the whole, a singular and touching event in the poet’s life.

In the letter which he wrote to Brant, and published, he says that he “took the liberty of a versifier to run away from fact into fancy, like a schoolboy who never dreams that he is a truant when he rambles on a holiday from school. It seems, however, that I falsely represented Wyoming”—(Campbell alludes here to the Canadian newspapers)—“as a terrestrial paradise. It was not so, say the Canadian papers, because it contained a great number of Tories; and, undoubtedly, that cause goes far to account for the fact. Earthly paradises, however, are not lasting things, and Tempe and Arcadia may have their drawbacks on happiness as well as Wyoming. I must, nevertheless, still believe, that it was a flourishing colony, and that its destruction furnished a just warning to human beings against war and revenge. But the whole catastrophe is affirmed in a Canadian newspaper to have been nothing more than a fair battle. If this be the fact, let accredited signatures come forward to attest it, and vindicate the innocence and honourableness of the whole transaction, as your father’s character has

complished gentleman, and died sincerely regretted by a numerous circle of acquaintances of the first respectability.”

been vindicated. An error about him by no means proves the whole account of the business to be a fiction. Who would not wish its atrocity to be disproved! But who can think it disproved by a single defender, who writes anonymously and without definable weight or authority?”

There was a note subjoined to the letter thus addressed to Brant, which slightly noticed his own feelings about hostile criticism, and the submission of his work to the censorship of friends. I believe,—from something like the best part of thirty years’ closer intimacy with Campbell, for the best part of that time, than any other man,—I believe that what he states is strictly correct. Except in early life, when he submitted to the kind advice and critical judgment of Dr. Anderson the manuscript copy of the “Pleasures of Hope,” he consulted nobody in the composition of his poems. In solitude and silence he conceived and composed them. He was a proud man in this sense; he would have thought it an insult to his own understanding to consult this individual or that, who might be among his friends, and to take their judgment in preference to his own, after his former efforts had been crowned with great success. He might have read the manuscript to a friend or two before he put it into the printer’s
hand, but only when it was perfected. The world has a notion, that a different is a wise course, because in these matters the world is as foolish as its own idea. Who are the critics of the hour, but men nine times out of ten utterly incapable of themselves exhibiting a tithe of the merit upon which they assume to sit in judgment? If
Racine read his verses to an old woman, it was only that he might avail himself of obvious objections that would strike plain minds before a theatrical audience, and afford him the means of considering those meriting alteration. Such is the corruption of what is miscalled criticism in modern times, that interest, party feeling, private dislike, or the reverse, govern notices of new works, since criticisms they cannot be called, where no analysation of such works takes place—where the critic, self-styled, rarely gives the work he treats upon even a decent perusal.

Campbell says, I have no doubt with the most perfect truth,—“Nor did I ever lean on the taste of others with that miserable distrust of my own judgment which the anecdote conveys,” referring to a statement from which Washington Irving, in a biographical notice prefixed to an American edition of “Gertrude of Wyoming,” infers that he did. In regard to criticism, he was too proud to exhibit what he felt, though “as far as authors
generally are from bowing to the justice of hostile criticism,” to use his own words.

Still Campbell could not forgive any who made a blow at him, where the result would not admit of being interpreted but to his disadvantage. He felt, then, that he had the worst of the matter at issue, the criticism being no party or personal matter, and that he was, in consequence, so far injured. This it must be confessed he never forgot. He did not care what spleen or party feeling or malevolence might do; these unjust attacks his own position and consciousness of merit might repel, but real justice in an attack struck home, and he never got over his antipathy to its author.

Hazlitt had justice on his side, when he said of Campbell, that though he loved popularity, self-respect was the primary law—the condition on which it was to be obtained. He never tolerated the remarks made by this writer, although it cannot be denied that Hazlitt has commended his poetry in the highest terms; he has given the poet all but boundless praise. “Campbell,” he says “excels chiefly in sentiment and imagery. The story moves slow, and is mechanically conducted, and rather resembles a Scotch canal carried over lengthened aqueducts, and with a number of locks in it, than one of those rivers
that sweep in their majestic course broad and full over Transatlantic plains, and lose themselves in rolling gulfs, or thunder down lofty precipices. But in the centre, the inmost recesses of the poet’s heart, the pearly dew of sensibility is distilled and collects, like the diamond in the mine, and the structure of his fame rests on the crystal columns of a polished imagination. We prefer the ‘
Gertrude’ to the ‘Pleasures of Hope,’ because, with perhaps less brilliancy, there is more of tenderness and of natural imagery in the former.” Again, “in the ‘Gertrude of Wyoming’ we perceive a softness coming over the heart of the author, and the sides and crust of formality that fence in his couplets, and give them a somewhat glittering and rigid appearance, fall off, and he has succeeded in engrafting the wild and more expansive interest of the romantic school of poetry on classic elegance and precision.” But all Hazlitt’s remarks were neutralised in Campbell’s estimation by the discovery that one of the lines in the “Pleasures of Hope,” was a borrowed line, unintentionally there is no doubt; Campbell’s pride would have at once prevented the accident had he been aware of it. Perhaps it was passed over even in his young years through one of those abstractions already alluded to, as so unaccountable in his after-life; haply he had
forgotten that he had read
Blair, and the line remained confounded with his own verses in his mind. No matter, Hazlitt, amid the highest encomiums on his poetry, mentioned the circumstance, and added, that the best line in the poem—
“Like angel visits, few and far between,”
was borrowed from Blair’s “
“Like angel visits, short and far between.”

This feeling exhibited itself in numberless instances; even while speaking in terms of praise of the essays of that writer, Campbell vented his ire upon the man. He declared that Hazlitt had been a means of irritating John Scott to such a degree, that it was one cause of his going out in the duel where he fell: that Hazlitt; was a dangerous man.

Before the “Spirits of the Age” appeared in a volume, Hazlitt had made known the incident respecting the line from Blair. Campbell never referred to that circumstance in our conversation about Hazlitt’s contributions, as might’be judged he would not, since it would thus induce a suspicion of the cause of his antipathy, at least, so I imagined—but I was wrong. A paper on Milton’sComus,” which I had written, and in
which, without thinking about it, I had commented upon
Pope’s borrowing from Milton, word for word, in the epistle of “Eloise and Abelard,” and had further remarked that Pope had diminished the grace of Milton’s language by his interpolations, I showed to the poet at the time we had been talking of Hazlitt. This was ill-timed, but Campbell, so far from applying it, as he might have done, to a parallel between himself and Blair, and imagining, as I had fought strenuously for the admission of Hazlitt’s articles, that I had something personal in view in such a paper, whereas the coincidence was perfectly accidental, said it was curious he had not remarked Pope’s plagiarisms himself, and seemed rather pleased with the observation. I had wished the article in the fire when it was too late; yet it went into the Magazine. How very different would a suspicious mind have acted under the circumstances. The simplicity and integrity of Campbell’s heart prevented that construction, which, without much blame, anyone might have been induced to construe into design. His habitual forgetfulness could not have interposed in this instance. I believe a more guileless man, one less capable of imagining evil towards another, never breathed.

Still his prejudices were insurmountable even
where the error detected was founded on justice and could not be set aside. The “
Spirits of the Age” was not published until 1825, but the remarks of the critic, it has been said, had a long prior existence, indeed as far back as 1816 or 1817, when they were first broached by Hazlitt in his lectures. It was difficult to imagine how Campbell at that time writhed under a few remarks that could not do him the slightest injury. No writer is faultless, and Campbell’s lofty elevation and established reputation as a poet it was impossible could be affected by observations which it was natural enough for any critic to entertain, and in the present case, were made by one almost unknown at the time. He would not, from indolence or self-love, correct palpable mistakes in his works acknowledged to be such by himself, and it was too much to suppose they would not be matter of comment to critics. Hazlitt was splenetic, and dealt unsparingly with some writers, but he by no means used Campbell so as his character of the poet’s verse in the “Spirits of the Age,” abundantly testifies.

To show where this distasteful feeling had its origin, it happened that in some of Hazlitt’s lectures, his remarks had excited the notice and called forth the comment of a countryman, Thomas Pringle. This was as early as 1818.
Pringle gave the poet an intimation of this advocacy and a copy of the article. It was grateful to the poet, and his written reply to Pringle on the occasion, dated from Sydenham, showed how deeply any remarks that he did not conceive friendly really wounded him, notwithstanding his effort to appear regardless of them. After thanking Pringle cordially for his statement about Hazlitt, he continued as follows:—“I will not pretend to be an utterly impartial judge, but neither will I submit to say, but that I think his bold style a torrent which will possibly brawl itself away a little sooner than you imagine. Of the bitterness of his heart and of the causes of his hostility to me, I know more than to attach importance to his opinion. My insensibility to his attack may arise from self-respect or from self-conceit, just as charity or severity may choose to explain it. But no feelings which I have had upon the subject interfere with the gratitude which I owe to you and to your friend. It is a kind, friendly, timely act of goodness. The spirit of your interference is generous. I will let any man read the preface, and say impartially if it be not ably and elegantly written. I feel myself honoured by your friend’s vindication, by the matter and by the manner of it. As to the spirit which pervades it, I am absolutely un-
able to thank you completely. No man could ask his dearest friend to write such an article. It comes spontaneously from a stranger. It is pure, gratuitous, unprompted zeal. Kingdoms could not purchase such a favourable spirit in the breast of one man for the fair fame of another. Kings and autocrats have no friends who cannot be suspected, but here is a poor poet who has a man of zeal and abilities to be a champion in the cause of his reputation. It matters not what I am, or with what egotism I may feel the obligation, but if I were not sensible to it I should be a miserable icicle of insensibility. Lastly, it comes from my native country, and the writer is my countryman. If he should be partial to me, the partiality is the more touching from the ties of native attachment with which it binds me to the name of Scotland.” Such was the reply of the poet to Pringle, which bears out the remarks above made.

It is thus seen how much the poet really felt while affecting not to feel about what was in itself of trivial importance. If Hazlitt really pointed out critical errors, the statement of that fact was surely not blameable in one who owed the poet nothing; if the criticism were erroneous, it could do no mischief to a reputation so firmly fixed upon an elevated basis as that of Campbell.


Now as with Hazlitt, so with Coleridge, though in a less degree, for Coleridge spoke of the style of poetry, and did not criticise the individual. He attacked all works of a peculiar class. Campbell ever showed a great distaste afterwards towards Coleridge. Indeed, speaking of his better days, he was no lover of the Lake School of poets generally. He was no believer in their theories, theories delivered with no small mixture of conceit and self-assumption. Campbell thought that while doing good in untrammelling writers from superfluous and custom-ridden rules, they, on the other hand, went too far, and substituted licentiousness in place of wholesome freedom, when they scorned to discipline their verse, and advocated its running wild without curb or rein. He contended that painstaking in composition and careful finish were necessary to ensure endurance in poetry, and that poetical composition requires pruning and judicious management to bear good fruit fully as much as the espalier of the garden. Coleridge, for paradox, and talking’s sake perhaps, denied the existence of Homer. What did Coleridge know about Homer more than other people, when he thus flatly asserted this, of which he could have no competent knowledge? He would have entered upon a denial of his own identity if he had nothing else to talk about, that people would
listen to, for his talk he must have had, or ceased to exist.

The poem of “The Last Man” was written in 1824, and first published in the “New Monthly Magazine.” He imagined that Byron had taken the idea from him in the poem entitled “Darkness,” beginning—
“I had a dream, it was not all a dream.”
He said that he had once mentioned the subject to
Byron, in St. James’s Street, and that Byron had carried away the idea. I happened to know, from a friend whom I met in Paris, in 1817, and who had seen Byron and Shelley in the south the year before, that with Byron the poem of “Darkness” originated in a conversation with Shelley, as they were standing together, in a day of brilliant sunshine, looking upon the Lake of Geneva. Shelley said, “What a change it would be if the sun were to be extinguished at this moment; how the race of man would perish, until perhaps only one remained—suppose one of us! How terrible would be his fate!” or words to the same effect. Campbell would not admit this, but tenaciously adhered to the idea that Byron had committed the larceny. I observed to him that the idea of one man, the last of his race, remaining when all besides were destroyed, was a very obvious one.
That Byron’s poem had nothing more. The image of a sun quenched suddenly in eternal night, and its consequences, might have been original with both, though I was very sure I had seen it years before either had written upon it. He then began to wax warm at the very supposition, so much so that I did not like to prolong the argument. He claimed the idea of a man existing when all his race beside was no more, wholly and solely as his own idea. He did not claim the concomitant darkness which Byron introduced. I told him I would endeavour to find the passage to which I alluded, and show it to him.

No one will regret that both Campbell and Byron wrote upon the same subject: their poems are both exquisitely beautiful, and yet bear little resemblance to each other. They speak how various are the phases of genius, and yet how perfect each may be in itself.

I found the image in an obscure printed poem, the date of which was 1811; the lines were as follow, and I took them to Campbell, who had clung to the opinion that the idea was primitive with himself; he could not gainsay a work with the date affixed:

“Thus when creation’s destined course is run,
And shrinking nature views the expiring sun,
Some awful sage, the last of human race,
Faith in his soul and courage in his face,
Unmoved shall brave the moment of affright
When chaos reassumes the crown of night.”

“You are right,” said Campbell, “the idea is not original with me. I thought it had been, for I never met with it before. Foscolo has said rightly enough, that original ideas are few, the modes of putting them are countless, and there I suppose lies the novelty.”

Not only does the above show that the idea was not original, and most probably spontaneously produced in each case, but a further confirmation of this probability is furnished in a note which I received since the poet’s decease, from Dr. Dickson, of Hertford Street, Mayfair, who on seeing the foregoing remarks previously published, wrote me that he always imagined Campbell had borrowed the idea from Bishop Horne; a circumstance no way likely, as he was no sermon reader, save in an extraordinary case, and had not got Home in his library. The extract thus transmitted, runs as follows; it is from Horne’s sermon, “The Death of the Old Year.”

“For not only friends die and years expire, and we ourselves shall do the same, but the world itself approaches to its end. It likewise must die. Once already has it suffered a watery death; it is
to be destroyed a second time by fire. A celebrated author, having in his writings followed it through all its changes from the creation to the consummation, describes the eruption of this fire, and the progress it is to make, with the final and utter devastation to be effected by it, when all sublunary nature shall be overwhelmed and sunk into a molten deluge. In this situation of things, he stands over the world as if he had been the only survivor, and pronounces its funeral oration in a strain of sublimity, scarcely ever equalled by mere man.

“Let us reflect upon this occasion on the vanity and transient glory of the habitable world, &c.”

The quotation is here continued, the passage being taken from Dr. T. Burnett’sSacred Theory of the Earth,” Book III. Chap. xii.

Campbell had addressed to Jeffrey of the “Edinburgh Review,” the following letter upon the subject:—

My Dear Friend,

“The criticisms in your review of my last volume of poems can form no proper subject for any printed animadversions of mine; but I hope the readers of this letter will excuse me for answering one of your observations, which relates rather to a matter of fact than to a matter of opinion.

“You say that my poem, the ‘Last Man,’ seems to have been suggested by Lord Byron’s poem, ‘Darkness.’—Now the truth is, that fifteen, or it may be more, years ago, I called on Lord Byron, who at that time had lodgings near St. James’s Street; and we had a long and, to me, a very memorable conversation, from which, I have not a doubt that his Lordship imbibed those few ideas in the poem, ‘Darkness,’ which have any resemblance to mine in the ‘Last Man.’—I remember my saying to him, that I thought the idea of a being witnessing the extinction of his species and of the creation, and of his looking, under the fading eye of nature, at desolate cities, ships floating at sea with the dead, would make a striking subject for a poem.—I met those very ideas, many years afterwards, when I read Lord Byron’s poem, ‘Darkness.’—It may be asked, why I did not then appeal to Lord Byron about the originality of those few ideas? As circumstances have turned out, I now wish that I had done so. Lord Byron’s most attached friend has given me his opinion, that if his Lordship had not forgotten the conversation, and was conscious of using an idea which I had suggested to him, he did so, prepared to give me credit for the suggestion whenever I should claim that credit. Had I taken this view of the case, and had I also then
finished my little poem, I should in all probability have written to Lord B. But I had not written the piece, and at that time thought I never should write it. Unimportant as the leading idea was, I was discouraged by its being taken from me. There seemed to me to be no use in setting on foot a correspondence with Lord Byron, merely to dun him for an acknowledgment of my right to a stray idea. He might, or he might not, have recollected our conversation; but if he had forgotten it, his telling me so would have only increased a petty mortification.—Then as for ascertaining the matter by proofs, after years had past, how was I to rake up the recollections of those persons, to whom I might have, long ago, mentioned the design of my poem? One might be dead; a second might be uncertain as to dates; and a third certainly had so domestic a relation to me, that the evidence was no better than my own. In reality, I abandoned, for a great many years, the idea of fulfilling my sketch. But I was provoked to change my mind, when my friend
Barry Cornwall informed me that an acquaintance of his intended to write a long poem, entitled the ‘Last Man.’—I thought this hard! The conception of the Last Man had been mine fifteen years ago; even Lord Byron had spared the title to me: I therefore wrote my poem so called,
and sent it to the press; for not one idea in which was I indebted to Lord Byron, or to any other person.

“Had I foreseen events, I should have communicated with Lord Byron, during his lifetime, on this subject: but I could, no more than any one else, foreknow the loss of his mighty genius to the world.

“If it should be alleged that this declaration of mine implies a reflection on Lord Byron’s memory, I have to answer, that it by no means necessarily does so. His glory goes against the supposition that he was a conscious plagiary from me; and I am only affirming, what I feel to be true, that I could not be either consciously or unconsciously a plagiary from him. There are really not many ideas in the two pieces which are similar. But supposing my statement to be true, do I depreciate Lord Byron?—No!—He either thought my suggestions “fair game,” or forgot that it was not himself who had started them. A poor man easily remembers from what quarter he has received each of his few pieces of money or banknotes; but a rich man easily forgets where he got this or that coin or bank-note amidst his accumulated thousands!—In like manner, Lord Byron was the most likely person in the world to forget the sources of his ideas.


“For the acceptance of what I have declared, I have nothing more to rely upon, than my own character and credibility. It would be attaching a ludicrous importance to this matter, for me to offer any stronger affirmation than my word of honour. How few or how many will believe that word, must depend on the common notions of my veracity; but supposing me conscious that this is truth, I ask if I have not a right to state it?

I am,
Yours, very truly,
T. Campbell.”

It has been stated how much Campbell was taken with political economy and doctrines that, however clear in themselves, and beneficial in their results to the nation, had not at that time the smallest chance of being adopted by the government. These principles became subjects of discussion at the poet’s almost daily. They were matured in minds hopeless of seeing any other benefit from them than that arising from the discussion of fifty other great and beneficial truths of a public character opposed to dominant interests. Not but that there were a few in parliament who, fully assenting to those doctrines, never expected to see them become the guides of our legislation. When, so long afterwards, Mr. Charles Pelham Villiers, to whom the merit primarily belongs of bringing forward in parliament, year after year, the repeal of the corn-laws, one of those great principles nobody expected to see carried out, until, like the slave-trade repeal, thirty or more sessions had been occupied in convincing unrighteous interests that the principle of justice was not extinct among mankind. For a time there were animated conversations about these doctrines pro and con.

“You are obstinate,” he would say. “You are blind at noonday.”

“But consider, Campbell, we cannot cultivate the ground under so much per quarter for wheat; how shall men with landed estates live? It is all very well for you poets. How shall we keep our incomes?”

“You must lower your rents,” he would reply. “We who have no landed estates, and are twenty to one in the community to you—we have a right to live also; our incomes may fall fifty per cent., and you won’t concern yourselves about us. We deny your assumptive superiority. What is your claim to exemption from the rest of the community?”

“But land is everything; all the nation has is based upon land.”

“Not upon landholders,” the poet would archly
reply. “The Dutch have no permanent landed interest, and for that reason they never have a famine. Come, my friend, it is all self-interest under a mask. There was an old woman in my country who for many long years sold the best ‘bannocks’ in her neighbourhood; everybody bought them of the old crone. She fancied nobody had a right to sell ‘bannocks’ but herself. A good many people were of her opinion. A rival came and settled in the neighbourhood, selling as good bannocks—capital bannocks, and a small ‘stoup of brose’ into the bargain, at the same price. The auld wifie complained and whined about her ‘vested interest,’ and how, but for her ‘bannocks,’ people must have gone without. Now,” said
Campbell, “you landowners are old wifies, and want an exclusive right to ‘bannockselling;’ that is the whole matter.”

In this way Campbell would argue the point pleasantly with Mr. C—— and Lord Dillon, and two or three others, who took the anti-popular side of the question. In conversation he was lively at such times. The Scotch accent was not discoverable, unless when he chose to adopt it for humour’s sake, and this he would frequently do on such occasions as the above. I have often thought since upon these discussions, and those times when “the wisdom of Parliament,” in the
large majority, was not wisdom with the multitude of counsellors. The poet was cold in death when
Peel, more far-seeing than his old friends, pressed upon by the conviction of its necessity, freed his wrists from the handcuffs of a party; vindicated his own reason, and scattered to the winds the law, the existence of which was the best proof upon what principles the people of England had been too long governed. The poet was no more, but his advocacy of the triumphant principle, twenty-five years before his decease, is an evidence of his patriotism and soundness of judgment. Thus, among intellectual persons, in privacy, the principles are canvassed and cultivated, that come forth at last to change the policy of governments and amend society.