Thomas Campbell

Life
1777-1844 (author of “Exile of Erin”, ballad of ’98); b. 27 July, Glasgow; son of bankrupt merchant; ed. Glasgow Univ., grad. 1796; worked as tutor at Mull and Argyllshire; engaged as law-clerk in Edinburgh; issued Pleasures of Hope (1799); travelled in Germany and Denmark, 1800-01; reached London, 1801 and settled there, 1804; received royal pension, 1805; issued Poems (1805); visited Paris, 1814; issued Specimens of the British Poets (1819); ed. New Monthly Magazine, 1820-30; advocated foundation of London University; appt. rector of Glasgow University, 1826-29; visited Algiers, 1835; d. Boulogne d. Boulogne, France, 15 June; bur. Westminster Abbey. ODNB FDA

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Commentary
Frank Molloy, ‘Campbell’s “Exile of Erin”’ [unpublished paper]: ‘
[...] Undoubtedly, Campbell was drawn to the pitiable condition of a particular refugee [Anthony McCann] and did not perceive him as symbolic of any rebel political agenda. But he had no control over the reception of his verses in Ireland where, as William Allingham documented, ballads deemed political were readily associated with current events. In the late eighteenth century such ballads had incited the population to join radical groups, stirred up feelings of injustice and proclaimed that liberty was within reach. They became a potent method of disseminating the ideals of the middle class throughout the peasantry, and James Hope went so far as to claim that ballad singing ‘infects a whole country and makes [the people] half mad; they rejoice and forget their cares.’ The impact of ballads led to many being composed. “The Shan Bhean Bocht” is a surviving example: it’s a rousing call to action and confidently declares that certainty of liberty through revolution typical of the 1790s. Optimism and defiance inevitably waned after 1798, and Campbell’s exile became an emblematic figure for that torpor which settled on the national psyche in the early decades of the nineteenth century. He can be seen as representative of the defeated: a lonely wanderer drifting aimlessly in a hostile environment, the morning of hope replaced by the evening of defeat, youthful promise by the sadness of experience. But even at the moment of lowest esteem—on a national as well as personal level—a glimmer of hope remained. So, the final stanza in particular could be seen to contain a political message. While a modern audience finds that tableau of a deathbed blessing on Ireland somewhat melodramatic, two hundred years ago the reception would be more positive. The expression of hope, together with the repeated assertion of the 1790s slogan “Erin go bragh!” with its exclamation mark suggesting a lusty delivery—would remind an audience that liberty was not forever beyond reach. / We must question Campbell’s judgement in including this slogan if he wanted to stress the personal rather than the political. [...] ’ (For full text, see RICORSO Library, “Criticism”, via index or infra.)

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Claire Connolly, ‘Irish Romanticism, 1800-1839’, in Cambridge History of Irish Literature (Cambridge UP 2006), Vol. I [Chap. 10], “Poetry” [sect.]: ‘The Glasgow-born poet Thomas Campbell (1777-1844) had met some of the exiled United Irishmen in Hamburg in 1800 (and himself incurred government suspicion because of his associate with them.) He subsequently wrote a poem that first frames and then voices the feelings of an “Exile of Erin”. Sometimes criticised for easy nostaliga and moody fatalism, the poem does sound a defiant, even martial note. Three of the stanzas, including the first and last, end by invoking the United Irish motto, “Erin go Bragh!”, or “Ireland for Ever!” (used to similar effect in Sydney Owenson’s “The Irish Harp”. The final lines of the poem move from the “sad recollection” of a “bruised and cold” heart through to a sound that defies silence: “And thy harp-striking bards sing aloud with devotion / Erin mavourin - Erin go bragh!” Edward Bunting, arranger of Irish tunes, used [434] Campbell’s poem as a last-minute replacement for the potentially incendiary songs collected by Patrick Lynch, a Belfast acquaintance of Bunting’s who had been arrested on suspicion of sedition.’ (pp.434-45; cites Poetical Works of Thomas Campbell, London n.d., pp.153-54.)

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References
There is a biography at www.slainte.org.uk [accessed 01.04.2009]

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Notes
Exile or what? Campbell claimed authorship of “The Exile from Erin”, a poem attributed by Irish critics to George Nugent Reynolds based on the letter of an exiled United Irishman; he purported to have written it in 1801, and was alive to defend his authorship in The Times against Henry Ellis in 1830. (Note however that the attribution is still contested by English writers; and see Frank Molloy, supra.)

Dear Madam: Thomas Campbell wrote a letter of introduction to Lady Morgan on behalf of a Mr. MacDonald, requesting that his young friend receive ‘the usual attention which you are known to show to respectable strangers’ (See Elizabeth Bowen, The Shelbourne, 1951, p.69.)

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