Thomas Campbell (1777-1844)
From Literary Anecdotes About 19th Century Authors Born Before 1830

AT a literary dinner Campbell asked leave to propose a toast, and gave the health of Napoleon Bonaparte. The war was at its height, and the very mention of Napoleon's name, except in conjunction with some uncomplimentary epithet, was in most circles regarded as an outrage. A storm of groans broke out, and Campbell with difficulty could get a few sentences heard.

'Gentlemen,' he said, 'you must not mistake me. I admit that the French Emperor is a tyrant. I admit that he is a monster. I admit that he is the sworn foe of our nation, and, if you will, of the whole human race. But, gentlemen, we must be just to our great enemy. We must not forget that he once shot a bookseller.'

The guests, of whom two out of every three lived by their pens, burst into a roar of laughter, and Campbell sat down in triumph.

Trevelyan, Macaulay, ii. 247.

TAKING a walk with Campbell one day up Regent Street, we were accosted by a wretched-looking woman with a sick infant in her arms, and another starved little thing creeping at its mother's side. The woman begged for a copper. I had no change, and Campbell had nothing but a sovereign. The woman stuck fast to the Poet, as if she read his heart in his face, and I could feel his arm beginning to tremble. At length, saying something about its being his duty to assist such poor creatures, he told the woman to wait; and, hastening into a mercer's shop, asked, rather impatiently, for change. You know what an excitable being he was; and now he fancied all business must give way until the change was supplied! The shopman thought otherwise; the Poet insisted; an altercation ensued; and in a minute or two the master jumped over the counter and collared him, telling us he would turn us both out — that he believed we came there to kick up a row, for some dishonest purpose. So here was a pretty dilemma. We defied him, but said we would go out instantly on his apologizing for his gross insult. All was uproar. Campbell called out,

'Thrash the fellow-thrash him!'

'You will not go out then?' said the mercer.

'No, never, until you apologize.'

'Well, we shall soon see — John, go to Vine-street and fetch the police.'

In a few minutes two policemen appeared; one went close up to Mr. Campbell, the other to myself. The Poet was now in such breathless indignation that he could not articulate a sentence. I told the policeman the object he had in asking change; and that the shopman had most unwarrantably insulted us.

'This gentleman', I added by way of climax, 'is Mr. Thomas Campbell, the distinguished Poet — a man who would not hurt a fly, much less act with the dishonest intention that person has insinuated.'

The moment I uttered the name, the policeman backed away two or three paces, as if awe-struck, and said,

'Guid G-d, mon, is that Maister Cammel, the Lord Rector o' Glasgow? '

'Yes, my friend, he is, as this card may convince you,' handing it to him; 'all this commotion has been caused by a mistake.'

By this time the mercer had cooled down to a moderate temperature, and in the end made every reparation in his power, saying he was very busy at the time, and 'had he but known the gentleman, he would have changed fifty sovereigns for him!'

'My dear fellow,' said the Poet (who had recovered his speech), 'I am not at all offended'; and it was really laughable to see them shaking hands long and vigorously, each with perfect sincerity and mutual forgiveness.

William Beattie,The Life and Letters of Thomas Campbel (1849), iii. 397-9.