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LIFE AND REMINISCENCES OF THOMAS CAMPBELL.
BY CYRUS REDDING, ESQ.
Inaugural Address-Political Feelings of the Poet Death of the Poet's Friend,
Dugald Stewart-Banim's Verses-Lord Dillon and the Symposia-Characteristic Abstractions-Dinner Parties--Cavaliers and Roundheads—Prizes Dis. tributed at Glasgow-A Breakfast in Seymour-street— The Bishop of Toronto -Sir Robert Peel.
The poet, upon his arrival at Glasgow, promised the students anew that he would abide by them and fill the rectorship, if, on due consideration, they could find no one more likely to unite their suffrages, who satisfied them better. A new election then took place, and Campbell was voted lord rector by a larger majority of the students than before, and by three out of the four nations.
On the 5th of December, at three o'clock, no exclusion of the public happening, a great assemblage of persons took place at the Hall, and when the doors were thrown open, the building, galleries and all, was filled to an overflow. For some time a noise and uproar prevailed, which was silenced by the Principal. The oath being administered to the new lord rector, and having signed it, he addressed the students to the following effect :“GENTLEMEN,—It is an understood conventional propriety among
all civilised elective bodies, that when the tumult of election has subsided, there should be an amnesty proclaimed as to past hostile feeling, and an abstinence observed on the one side from all hostile language, and on the other from any ungentlemanlike expression of discontent. I come not to break up any such amnesty. I am not capable of degrading myself on this bench by an insidious insinuation against any man's motives or conduct. You, in the free exercise of your elective franchise, had a more than ordinary right to be divided in your opinions; and this division would have been to me, if I needed it, only a fresh incentive to my desire of making you all my constituents in your hearts, by the faithful performance of my duty. But contrary to what would otherwise be my wish, I shall be obliged, for a few moments, to speak of myself ; for there are some circumstances respecting my motives and conduct in the present affair that may be unknown to, or misapprehended by, many individuals in this assembly. It may not be generally known, that, before I suffered myself to be proposed for this high mark of your favour, I had ascertained the entire improbability of Lord John Russell's being able to accept of your rectorship, if it had been offered to him. It is also a fact, that I knew not a single popular name, except this nobleman's, that was likely to have divided your suffrages, at the time when I received and answered a first letter, from a large portion of the students, asking me to say explicitly, whether, in the event of being elected, I would come and take the oath for the third and last time. Now, a twelvemonth had not elapsed since, in the eye of day, and with emotions as justifiable as they were fervid and sincere, I had declared to the assembled students of Glasgow, assembled, not at my bidding, but by their own spontaneous
enthusiasm, that whilst I lived, I should never forget the manifestations of their attachment, or refuse them any proof of my interest in their welfare, within the small compass of my power. And now, when they tender me a token of their regard, that was palpably meant to be the last of its kind,--and now that they urge their token on my acceptance, by my sympathy in their own interests.-I ask, in the name of consistency and warm-heartedness, what was the most natural and proper answer I should send ? That I was in bad health, I could not say; that it was impossible for me to come, I could not say ; that it would be inconvenient for me to come, I disdained to say. For I should thus have shown myself a friend weighing the duty of friendship like a light or suspected coin in the little scale of my own convenience. Truly enough, indeed, I might have pleaded my apology for not coming, that I had already shown some proofs of my good will in having come last year, merely from anxiety to say a few good words in your behalf to the commissioners—a journey that cost me my health, and literally put my life itself into peril.* But the business between us now, was not a matter of sentimental argumentation, but a practical question, whether I should fulfil your wishes, and attempt to serve, what you at least considered to be your interests. And if I had spoken of my former services, the simplest youth among you would have had a right to ask, “If our rector's zeal last year was so ardent, what has become of it now? and if he could come to us in sickness, why can he not come to us in health ?' Besides, all your shrewder students know, as well as I know, that, not from any fault or indolence of mine, but from absolute necessity, and from due caution not to moot certain points prematurely, I had, all but the journey in bad health, a comparatively easy and placid rectorship; but that a crisis was now coming, likely to render the rectorship of this year both a trying and a troublesome post. By what honourable tie was I then bound to insist on leaving that post against your general wish, just at the time when it might be feared that it would become a little more irksome? Was I to have sailed with you all smiles and affection through the calm, but the moment the water was a little ruffled, was I to show my romantic interest in you by resolutely going on shore and shuddering at the prospect of keeping you company for another year? Was I to send you a fine declaration, forsooth, that my soul and zeal were still yours as much as ever ; but to let it out after all, that
zeal was of a delicate constitution, that it could not brook any agitation, and that it would catch its death of cold on the first exposure to the slightest breath of censorious opposition ? No! I thought it more like a man to answer, that, if elected, I should regard it as my bounden duty to
And if I had sent you any other answer, you might have been generally satisfied with me, but I should never have been satisfied with myself. I should never have ceased to have a secret misgiving, that I had tainted some young and ingenuous mind among you with a suspicion, that when men speak fervently of their attachment to any public cause, they are not to be literally understood as meaning all that they say. I should not have been satisfied that I had acted up to my
declarations. By-and-by came a letter putting these declarations to the proof, and invoking me, by all my past regard for the students, to come to them immediately. This letter still came from a majority of them. And you,
See a note, p. 333, chapter xvii., vol. Ixxxi., which will explain this allusion.
young men, even you have offered me- -for I am bound to think you honourable—let me remind your candour, that still
, when I came, I coupled my promise of abiding by my friends with the offer of withdrawing and supporting any other man who could be found to unite more of your suffrages. But from a contested election I could not fly without abandoning my friends, and my faith ; and all pretensions to moral courage; and without setting an example to trustlessness and cowardice before a university resorted to by the youth of England and of Ireland, and filled with the young hearts of my native land. I, therefore, return you my best thanks for this appointment, as a token of your confidence and regard. But if I were to thank you for the pageantry and publicity of the office, I should record a sentiment to which my heart is at this moment an utter and disdainful stranger. For supposing, what is any thing but the case, that in the present circumstances of my life, I was much alive to vain-glorious feeling, still your rectorship, honourable as it is--if I had been without an affectionate interest in my native university-would have been but a sorry bribe to my most selfish calculations. And if I had gone on these, I should not have had the honour of now addressing you. But I had no selfish or ignoble motives. And for your crediting this assertion, I palter not with suspicions- I appeal to whatever is honourable in your bosoms—and I demand belief.
“No, gentlemen, I come to you in a frame of mind not indeed crushed, though chastened by calainity, but still in a frame of mind little coveting any new sprig for my mere vanity to be interwoven with this
crape. Gentlemen, unavoidable circumstances have robbed me of the lingua that would have been necessary for addressing you in a worthy manner, on certain of those points connected with your studies, on which your rectors have, for some time past, felt it their duty or their privilege to address you. But I have not forgotten one pleasing privilege of office, which is that of adding to the prizes that may contribute to excite your emulation and to exercise your industry. I propose to offer two silver medals, to be competed for only by the
gown students, for the best exercises in Latin and Greek verse, on subjects that shall be speedily announced. I propose also to give two gold medals, to be competed for only by urgowned students, and graduates, whether gowned or not, on two subjects, which, though not intrinsically improper for the consideration of younger minds, might yet, as subjects of composition, distract them from more immediately important pursuits. The first gold medal which I propose is for the best English essay on The Evils of Intolerance towards those who differ from us in Religion. I use this circuitous phrase from disliking to couple the epithet religious with that spirit of intolerance which, reversing the sublime aim of all religion, bows down the mind from its celestial aspiration to the anxieties of this world ; like the Indian fig-tree, which, after bearing its head loftily in the sky, turns down again its branches from the sunshine of heaven to be blended and buried in the dirt of earth. Another gold medal shall be given for the best English essay. On the Comparative Importance of Scientific and Classical Instruction in the general Education of Mankind.'
“ Now let no candidate imagine that I shall favour any essay on this subject, on account of the side which he takes as to this or that opinion in the comparative estimate, for I shall decide merely by the display of talent. In my own opinion the importance of science is paramount ; but this idea from an unscientific man, and thus hastily thrown out and unargued, will not of course affect you, still less I hope will it cause you to suspect that I would depreciate the beautifying and exalting influences of classic learning. No! For in looking down through the furthest imaginable vistas of futurity, I cannot picture to myself any intelligent future age in which classical erudition shall not hold a high and glorious niche in the grand temple of human knowledge.
“I have nothing further to add, than to beg you to return assiduously to your studies; and that if any feuds have sprung up among you in consequence of this election you will bury them all in generous oblivion."
Campbell returned to London in tolerable health. He talked much of politics. He contended, on the accession of the Peel and Wellington administration in 1828, that there was a want of sound public opinion in the country. Speaking of the aspect of public affairs to a friend, whose transcript of his words is before me, he
says:“ Your feelings on the aspect of affairs are precisely my own. It is not that the Tories are in power again, that might be, but it is vexatious because it proves the lamentable want of a sound public opinion, and the corruption of the influential part of the English population. The Tories may go out, but that does not cure the evil. Reform must come some day, and that not a distant one. Wellington's bayonets cannot create wealth, but may do much towards knocking it down. At our time of life, we can expect to see no revival from enforced revolution and all the misery it brings before it brings good. I think we all overlook one important thing in human affairs, and not an inconsiderable one. We have counted too much on the increasing intelligence of society, without recollecting that besides intellect there must be will to move onward, and to produce great ameliorations in social life. It is to be feared matters are so arranged that the volitions of the dishonest few are and will ever be more concentrated, and therefore more operative than those of the many, and that, as of old, to those that have will be given. I do not say that the liberal party have acted over well, it has shown division in itselt. Each man seems to seek his own good, and forget that of the public is identified with it, if it be lawful good.”
He had no opinion of Huskisson, who made some noise at that moment in a Liverpool speech, though he admitted that his financial views augured well. At the inveterate imbecility of Lord Goderich the poet indulged in many a joke, and it must be owned that time has strengthened the legality of a deeper derision than the poet ever commanded towards such a minister. As the Catholic question gained ground the poet's spirit seemed to get up.
“ If we cannot have political let us have religious liberty; it is something, at least, for our thoughts to be free.”
But it was only in the society of his particular friends that he spoke so freely upon political topics. As a Whig he never once wavered in his sentiments, but grew more liberal, as all in place of a few of the Whigs ought then to have grown. He was, however, quite vociferous at the attack made by the Duke of Wellington upon Sir Edward Codrington for fighting the Battle of Navarino. The duke and his ministry styled it an “untoward event.” He said it was untoward, because it was
Blay.-VOL. LXXXIII. No. cccxxix.
honest and straightforward, and because it prevented years more of that sneaking, intriguing, lying, diplomacy by which the Holy Alliance powers would, out of their mutual jealousy, damage the freedom of Greece, if they could not wholly prevent it.
Campbell, staunch as he was to sound political principles, was too earnest and warm for a politician. His views were liberal, high-minded, and sound, but he would have been a poor statesman from these very virtues. He would never yield a valid principle, while he would not have had patience to work it out by that sure and slow process which alone ensures success; by that wearisome waste of effort, of language, of time and muscle, which must be made a sacrifice to render current any one of the simplest truths that the cultivated mind finds self-evident.
Was it worth the pains ? No, said Campbell, for if the people having learned the alphabet will not proceed to words themselves, there are only two classes that will take the pains for them, the fools and the ambitious, and one or the other have always been rulers ; the first ever blundering, and the last making the public a stepping-stone. To consume a series of years in convincing the Lords and Commons that two and two do not make seven, is a humiliating task for a prime minister, let his principles be what they may, and that is the whole history of the matter. In truth, the poet would have made but a sorry public man ; his want of application to business and his impatience under restraint, as well as his scorn of the formal and pedantic, even where form and pedantry are, from usage, indispensable, he could never have surmounted. At committee business, where all proceeds by dry rule, and one meeting is a repetition of the other, he never could do business without showing much restlessness and a sense of that lassitude which is only to be overcome by more or less of excitement.
The repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in the same year, and Lord Eldon's opposition to that repeal, made Campbell one day, laughingly remark of that narrow-minded and bigoted man, that what he was in law he could not judge, but out of it he was an old woman. His solitary warning to the Lords against the repeal reminded him of the warning of the witch of Endor, without its veracity.
Politics ran high that year. The poet expressed his astonishment that Peel should positively deny the claims of the Catholics to emancipation either upon the score of justice or policy. Mr. Peel was a sort of Tory favourite with the poet.
About a month after the death of Mrs. Campbell, Campbell lost an old friend for whom he ever expressed the greatest regard, one of his earliest friends too, Dugald Stewart, to whose “ Philosophy of the Human Mind” he, by habit, made frequent references. The professor retained his high mental qualities to the last, having at seventyfive written a preface that exhibited an increase of mental power, a contrast of an opposite nature to the poet's own conformation, and, looking at what a few years were to bring about, another of the many striking proofs of human blindness to the future. When Campbell noted the brilliant mind of his friend shining to the last, how little could he have foreseen the decay of his own genius so many years before the like age. It is true, the poet never calculated upon a protracted span, and frequently spoke of his conviction to the contrary.
Banim sent me some verses for the magazine, from Sevenoaks, which