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
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 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."