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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Campbell the Poet's university escapade


WHEN Campbell, at the age of seventeen, was attending the University of Glasgow in 1795, a respectable apothecary named Fife had a shop in the Trongate; and in his window had printed in large letters this notice

"EARS PIERCED BY A. FIFE;"

the meaning of which was, that the operation to which young ladies submit for the sake of wearing ear-rings was there performd.

Mr. Fife’s next door neighbour was a citizen of the name of Drum, a spirit-dealer, whose windows exhibited various samples of the liquors which he sold. These worthy shopkeepers, though so near to each other, were very far from being on good terms, a circumstance that added zest to a practical joke which struck the youthful fancy of Thomas Campbell, and which he and two of his college chums lost no time in carrying out.

During the darkness of night (and this happened long before the streets of Glasgow were lighted with gas), Campbell and his two associates, having procured a long fir deal, had it extended from window to window of the two contiguous shops, after the youthful poet had painted on it, in flaming capitals, this inscription from Othello :—

"The spirit-stirring Drum,
The ear-piercing Fife,"

Hitherto, observes Campbell’s biographer, the two neighbours had pursued very distinct callings, as well as being on Jew and Samaritan terms; but here, to their utter surprise, a sudden co-partnership had been formed during the night, and Fife and Drum were now united in the same martial line.

A great sensation was produced in the morning, when, of course, the new co-partnery was suddenly dissolved, no Gazette intimation being made of either its formation or dissolution. Campbell, after some inquiry, was found to have been the sign painter, and he was threatened with pains and penalties, which were, however, commuted into a severe reprimand; suggesting to the poet the words of Parolles—

"I’ll no more drumming; a plague of all Drums."


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