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LIFE AND REMINISCENCES OF THOMAS CAMPBELL.
BY CYRUS REDDING.
Contributions of the Poet, 1829-Catholic Emancipation-Deaths of Contributors-Barry St. Leger-Remarks on Flaxman's Lectures-Dulwich project and disappointment-Mackintosh and Lawrence-appearance of Moore's ByronLetter to Moore regarding Byron-Defence of Lord Byron-Remarks on the Defence-Removal to Scotland Yard-Rooted dislike of the Poet to Honorary Titles-Madame Roland's Philosophy commended.
THE contributions of the poet to the New Monthly this year, were in poetry the songs beginning, “When Love came first to Earth,” “"Tis now the Hour," the "Lines to Julia M——,” the accomplished daughter of the present adjutant-general, and the "Verses on the departure of the Emigrants, to be found in Moxon's edition of his works in octavo, 1839. He also published papers on Flaxman and on Shakspeare's sonnets, in prose.
Catholic emancipation still engrossed much of the public attention. The Duke of Wellington, evidently unable to bring about what he thought so desirable, owing to the inveterate bigotry of many of his Tory friends, had thought it best to temporise for a season. The jealousy of the high church party was uncontrollable. The welfare of the whole community appeared to that party a thing of no moment, nor comparatively that of the crown itself. In fact it was "bishop and king," in every sense of the word, not "king and bishop." The duke accordingly wrote a letter to Dr. Curtis in Ireland, which, sound in policy, bore a remarkable contrast to the correctness of language and argument in that of the Marquis of Anglesey on the same subject, respecting which Peel had made the blunder before stated (p. 41, May No.), attributing the recall of Lord Anglesey to a letter that had no existence until afterwards. This showed a sad want of stepping out together" at head-quarters. The duke's letter contained a bull. His grace recommended burying the question in oblivion for a time and discussing its difficulty. This caused a remark from the poet, and no little merriment at one of his parties, when some insisted that the sense was perfectly clear. The poet said, that "oblivion" with the word "buried" attached, seemed to imply irrecoverable forgetfulness, but this was hypercritical, especially towards the great soldier, who did not think much of language. Besides, it was a colloquial phrase in common society. As to the bull, it belonged to the duke's own side of the channel, and the meaning was clear.
"But it is a bull, notwithstanding."
"I do not deny it," said the poet, "but the intention is clear, there could be little doubt about the meaning."
"Nor is there," remarked some one present, "about the answer of the Irishman who, when asked whether his sister-in-law had been brought to bed of a boy or a girl, replied, 'By my sowl I do not know whether I am an uncle or an aunt.' """
What then was language as to its end, the communication of the intention or wishes of another, and that achieved it was enough for the duke, though it was an exception, in the present instance to his general lucidness, and "no mistake," manner.
"Besides," said the poet, "he is so pestered with Orange Prostestants in Ireland, and bigots of all sorts in England, that I have no doubt he is more in perplexity than he was at Waterloo. Used to command and have all his own way at the head of an army, the virulent and intemperate opposition of his friends must annoy him; but if men will keep bad company they must expect to pay the penalty, and the duke still clings to those in whose fidelity and wisdom he has so long placed reliance."
This year died Henry Mathews, who has been already alluded to as an early contributor to the magazine. He had succeeded Sir Harding Giffard on the judicial Bench in Ceylon, where he fully realised every expectation entertained regarding him, having previously been advocate fiscal. Francis Barry Boyle St. Leger, another contributor, died at the close of the year, aged thirty. His father had been a leading Whig and a friend of Lord Guildford in Ireland. He was educated at Rugby and went out to India at seventeen, where, not liking the service, he returned home, entered of the Middle Temple, and was called to the bar only three years before his decease. He was the author of "Gilbert's Earle," and several other works, for he was no idler. He died of repeated attacks of epilepsy. He was personally known to few persons, but his attainments were considerable, his attachments warm, his conversation highly agreeable, with qualifications of the class that are certain to make strong friends.
The first literary effort of the poet in 1830, was the remarks on the lectures of Flaxman, the sculptor, which had been just before published. I have already stated, that the poet always felt and expressed a high admiration for Flaxman's works. They in some measure met his preconceived ideas of Grecian form, that is, his own notions of what they once were in the reality, rather than any data of their excellence drawn from his own acquaintance with the details of the art, for in art he was book-learned alone. He touched upon the smallceremony of the Edinburgh Review, in treating on Flaxman's lectures, and proceeded, with much judgment, to vindicate the high rank the sculptor undoubtedly held in art, not only in the opinion of eminent artists in England, but upon the continent. Some of his remarks, however, were not in that perfect sobriety of language and simile which in preceding times had marked the poet's prose style, and seemed to lead towards the difference, which on a most untoward subject for him, the stage, in Mrs. Siddons' memoirs, he exhibited yet more remarkably afterwards. "The flow of didactic language, constructed for the tread of sober ideas, is perilously shaken by the tramp of impassioned enthusiasm," is a strained metaphor. "Orgies in style," or drunken feasts in style is not happy, and to "new mint the ore of opinion" is very different indeed from the classical beauty of phraseology in his own lectures, and essay on poetry, as ore cannot be new minted because it is never minted at all, and ore standing for metal is latitudinarian for prose. When, however, he had to censure or blame, he seemed prone to have recourse to this kind of phrase, as may be remarked in his letter to Moore respecting Byron. He censured the critic who wrote in the Edinburgh Review, aud with justice. His efforts to defend Flaxman
were generous and honest. He felt what he wrote. The classic severity of the sculptor and the purity of his taste, were allied to the poet's own feelings in his best days, those feelings in some respects that led to his defence of Pope against the Rev. Mr. Bowles.
I have not a doubt that Campbell preferred the composite excellence in art to any natural copy existence. The ideal was his elysium. I would not be sure that his frequent abstractions were not mental occupations upon better things than he could find among the realities of life; castle buildings, that like the images of a kaleidoscope, displayed themselves in his censorium, even as he walked London streets, and beguiled their sameness and ugliness. One of such a disposition would prefer the Venus or Apollo Belvidere, composed of a union of perfect parts, to the merely human, natural, but still transcendant merit of the Elgin sculptures. Learned in what concerned Greece, and in art book-learned, rather than learned from the actual observation and study of the antique figure, still the poet's notions of art were high and worthy, and he had the advantage of the reviewer in the argument, who displayed no very great intimacy with his subject, or was careless about hazarding remarks that fully justify such a suspicion.
The poet, in his remarks on the Edinburgh Review, censured that work for its reprobation of Flaxman's doctrine that an acquaintance with anatomy was of the highest consequence to the sculptor. This led to a suspicion that the article in the Edinburgh was written by some friend of Chantry, who I believe disparaged anatomical knowledge because he possessed little or none himself, and notoriously undervalued it. It is one thing, however, to obtain an ephemeral celebrity, which accident may contribute to obtain for individuals of mediocre ability in art or literature, and to work out that enduring fame which is co-existent with the works themselves in all times and countries. The artist who labours for all time feels that truth alone is the basis on which he must build up a name, and no flimsy resource for effect, no evasion of any essential contributing to excellence can be practised with the defect of this great and laudable object. A slight observation of nature is not enough. Flaxman desired the artist not to be content with a slight view of nature externally, but to carry his views into her internal organisation. Flaxman was as well known in other countries as his own, a rare thing with English sculptors. His chaste severity of style, and purity of design, heralded him everywhere. The poet, it is easily seen, was a partisan of Flaxman's opinion, for while he had himself no knowledge of the details of the art, he well knew how to defend the principles which were coincident with his own ideas.
This notice of Flaxman's lectures, or rather, of the Edinburgh Review, upon them, was published on the 1st of January, 1830. It was remarkable on another account, as having been read to the President of the Royal Academy just before he expired.
On the 8th of January, 1830, Campbell who had fixed (after several former attempts had failed) to go with me to Dulwich, set out for that purpose. We were to walk down and dine at the College, where I had never been, and he was to introduce me. Continually talked about and delayed upon some excuse or another, we set off accordingly down Regent-street about eleven o'clock in the forenoon. The poet in high
spirits, talking of the many times he had been entertained there, of the kindness of the brethren, and of the valuable collection of pictures of Sir Francis Bourgeois. It might be thought that-actually on foot, and a mile passed upon our pedestrian exploit, there could have been no baulk to our design, but the College I was never destined to see, save externally, up to this hour. We had reached the Quadrant, having a dry day for our walk, when, about half way through the southern colonnade, we met Sir James Mackintosh. I first saw him, and said, "Here comes Sir James Mackintosh, looking very ill."
On meeting, Sir James said, "What a melancholy affair this is ?” "What?" said Campbell. "What do you mean-any news this morning?"
"Have you not heard ?" replied Sir James, with the impress of much feeling. "Poor Lawrence is dead,-he expired last night.'
Campbell was thunderstruck, and maintained a dead silence for a minute or more, and then exclaimed, "Dead? Why it was but an evening or two ago that I saw him."
"It is all over now," said Sir James; "he died last evening-early in the evening; the immediate cause of his death remains to be explained."
Campbell seemed to feel deeply," Another old friend is gone," he said, "a man who will be missed indeed."
"It was very unexpected," remarked Sir James, and soon after bade us good morning and passed on.
"Yes," said I," and I should think Sir James will be the next, he looks so ill."
"He has not looked well for some time," said Campbell, "and this matter has, no doubt, had its effect upon him. We must not go to Dulwich to-day; we must put it off. We must go and learn more about poor Lawrence." So ended the promenade to Dulwich.
My remark was verified, Sir James in about two years followed his friend to the tomb.
The poet attended the funeral of Lawrence on the 21st of January, in St. Paul's Cathedral, I think in Sir Francis Freeling's carriage.
The task of writing the life of Sir Thomas was confided to Campbell, who entrusted it to the hands of another, dreading the weight of labour it involved, and exercising, in truth, no surveillance over its execution.
It was during the spring of this year that the first volume of "Moore's Life of Byron" made its appearance. This was a subject which upon many accounts it would have been difficult for a reviewer to notice in the magazine who was not aware of Campbell's peculiar feeling upon the subject, and the apprehension he had about touching on any of his personal relations with individuals that might lead him into discussion of any kind. I had informed him that the work was out, that a notice of it was preparing which should come to him for consideration. I put it to him whether such a remarkable work should not be taken up in the large print, as it was a subject of general conversation, that I thought we ought to place it there. To the reasonableness of this he appeared to assent, but again altered his mind, and on the following day wrote me a note, of which this is an extract :
"I have altered my mind with respect to the larger and fuller review of 'Lord Byron's Life,' not from caprice, but for reasons which I will
personally explain to you, and which I think your judgment, waiving some utilitarian arguments in compliance with certain delicate relations which I hold both with respect to Lady Byron and Moore, you will, on the whole approve of."
The consequence of this note was that a notice of the work was composed by the printer in the small print, and I sent a proof of it to Campbell, who was very fastidious about it, and added a letter he had addressed to Moore upon the subject a little before. This letter related to a passage in Moore's "Life of Byron," which was to the following effect in the words of Lord Byron :—
"Campbell last night seemed a little nettled at something or other-I know not what. We were standing in the ante-saloon, when Lord H. (Holland), brought out of the other room a vessel of some composition similar to that which is used in Catholic Churches, and seeing us, he exclaimed Here is some incense for you.' Campbell answered, Carry it to Lord Byron, he is used to it.' Now this comes of 'bearing no brother near the throne.' I who have no throne, nor wish to have one now, whatever I may have done, am at perfect peace with all the poetical fraternity, or, at least if I dislike any, it is not poetically but personally.
"Surely the field of thought is infinite; what does it signify who is before or behind in a race where there is no goal? The Temple of Fame is like that of the Persians-the universe; our altar the tops of mountains. I should be equally content with Mount Caucasus or Mount Anything, and those who like it may have Mount Blanc or Chimborazo, without my envy of their elevation."
The letter which Campbell wrote to Moore was attached to the notice -a notice evidently too short and superficial for a work of such importance, as I had contended. I remarked this in substance to Campbell. It
was as follows:
"To Thomas Moore, Esq.,
"MY DEAR MOORE.-A thousand thanks to you for the kind things which you have said of me in your Life of Lord Byron,'-but forgive me for animadverting to what his lordship says of me at page 463 of your first volume. It is not every day that one is mentioned in such joint pages as those of Moore and Byron.
"Lord Byron there states, that one evening at Lord Holland's I was nettled at something, and the whole passage, if believed, leaves it to infer that I was angry, envious, and ill-mannered. Now I have never envied Lord Byron, but on the contrary rejoiced in his fame; in the first place from a sense of justice, and in the next place, because as a poetical writer he was my beneficent friend. I never was nettled in Lord Holland's house, as Lord and Lady Holland can witness; and on the evening to which Lord Byron alludes, I said 'carry all your incense to Lord Byron,' in the most perfect spirit of good humour. I remember the evening most distinctly, one of the happiest evenings of my life; and, if Lord Byron imagined me for a moment displeased, it only shows me, that, with all his transcendent powers, he was one of the most fanciful of human beings. I by no means impeach his veracity-but I see from this case that he was subject to strange illusions.