THOMAS CAMPBELL held the honoured
position of Lord Rector in the University of his native city,—his own Alma
Mater,—for the term 1826-9. The poet Southey tells the following story of
an incident in the life of Campbell, his brother poet, which occurred at
that period, and in which his position as Lord Rector of Glasgow
University figures prominently
Taking a walk with Campbell, one
day, up Regent Street (London), we were accosted by a wretched-looking
woman, with a sick infant in her arms, and another starved little thing at
her 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
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 person he
was, and how he fancied all business must give way till the change was
supplied. The shopman thought otherwise; the poet insisted; and in a
minute or two the mercer 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 apologising for his gross
All was uproar, and Campbell called
"Thrash the fellow! thrash him!"
"You will not go out, then!" said
"No, never, till you apologise."
"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 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
a 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:
"Gudeness, is that Maister Cammell,
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
"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.