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Kay's Edinburgh Portraits
Alexander Campbell, Musician


This curious Print is one of the artist's retaliatory pieces. It appears that Mr. Alexander Campbell, offended at the etching of his brother the precentor, and having some skill in the art of drawing, produced, by way of revenge, a caricature of Kay—in which John Dow was represented as dragging him by the ear to the Town Guard, while Bailie Buff brought up the rear, in the attitude of administering a forcible admonition with his foot. The caricature, although rudely executed, afforded considerable amusement to Mr. Campbell's friends, among whom it was chiefly circulated. Kay retaliated by producing the " Medley of Musicians," in which Mr. Alexander Campbell, then organist in a non-juring chapel, appears with a hand-organ on his back—his brother of the Canongate Church is straining his vocal powers in the centre—Bailie Duff, to the right, is chanting it on the great Highland bagpipe—while behind, Meek, the blind Irish piper, and the city Fish-horn Blower, are lending their "sweet sounds" to aid the general harmony. The figure sharping a saw in the background, whose labours may be supposed to afford an excellent counter or tenor to the deep bass of the two long-eared amateurs, is in allusion to Mr. John Campbell's former occupation. The scene altogether is not an inapt illustration of the couplet quoted from Hudibras—

"Let puppies bark and asses bray— Each dog and cur will have his day."

The early history of Mr. Alexander Campbell is already partially known from the sketch of his brother. Of a warm and somewhat romantic temper, he was attached to the small body of Jacobites, who still brooded over the fate of the young Chevalier—enthusiastic in his national prepossessions—and passionately fond of the music of his country. In addition to vocal music he taught the harpsichord, for which many of the Scottish airs are peculiarly adapted.

Mr. Campbell is known as a poet and prose writer as well as musician. His first literary production—"An Introduction to the History of Poetry in Scotland," quarto; to which were added the "Songs of the Lowlands," illustrated by David Allan, and dedicated to Fuseli—appeared in 1798. A Dialogue on Scottish Music, prefixed to this work, is said to have first conveyed to foreigners a correct idea of the Scottish scale; for which he was highly complimented by several eminent German and Italian composers. His next aud best work—"A Tour from Edinburgh, through parts of North Britain," etc., embellished with forty-four beautiful aquatint drawings by his own hand, 2 vols. 4to—was published in 1802. Written in a lighter and purer style than is characteristic of the author's other literary efforts, his " Journey describes the then state of an interesting portion of the country, and displays no ordinary degree of research in reference to general history and local antiquities, while the drawings present a variety of sketches, taken ou the spot, illustrative of the most admired lake, river, and mountain scenery in Scotland.

In 1804, Mr. Campbell first appeared as a poet by the publication of his "Grampians Desolate"—a work which, in his own words on a subsequent occasion, "fell dead from the press." The notes—forming nearly half the volume, a goodly octavo—contain much interesting information; but the Poem possesses little merit, although here and there a few pretty enough lines occur. The work, however, is honourable to his feelings and his patriotism. He reverts with enthusiasm to the days

"When every glen, and hill, and mountain side,
A hardy race possessed—proud Albion's pride!"

The reverse of the picture claims his most intense regard:—

"The times are altered—desolation reigns
Amid the Alpine wilds and narrow plains!
The mournful muse recounts those recent ills
Which swept along the hoary Grampian hills!
And dost thou, stranger from afar, inquire
Where stood the Chieftain's hall, whose evening fire
Saluted oft the weary traveller's gaze,
As onward hastening to the social blaze?
Where stood each lowly cottage, ranged around,
Within the cultured in-field's ancient bound.
Beside the streamlet—near the sheltering hill,
Where stood the smithy, where the hamlet's mill,
Whose ringing anvil, and whose clapper told
Their cheering tales of toil to young and old?

More recent evils, stranger, I deplore,
The Gael are banished from their native shore!
Shepherds, a sordid few, their lands possess:—
System accursed. What scenes of dire distress
Hath this not caused ? See yon deserted glen,
Of late the bless'd abode of happy men ;
'Tis now a dreary void ! Save where yon tree,
By bleak winds blasted, marks the stern decree
Which doomed to ruin all the hamlet round,
And changed to sheep-walk* this devoted ground!"

These lines, certainly among the best, embody the substance of the Poem, which is branched out into six books, or chapters. The object of the publication was to expose the depopulation policy of the Highland proprietors, and to induce legislative attention to the subject. The proceeds of the sale were to be given to a proposed fund for cultivating waste lands, that the Gael, in place of expatriation, might be employed advantageously in their own country.

In the attainment of these patriotic objects, Mr. Campbell's poetical efforts fell short; but there is one circumstance of a local nature connected with the "Grampians Desolate," which we cannot pass over in silence, strongly indicative of the author's active benevolence, in so far as his influence and means extended. The story is related by himself in a note to the following couplet:—

"Wearied and faint, they search, and find at last
A wretched hovel—share a poor repast."

"It was in the depth of winter (in the year 1784); a heavy fall of snow had lain long on the ground; the north wind blew keenly, and chilled one almost to death, when Alexander Lawson, a well disposed person (by trade a weaver) came to me and requested my charity for a poor, destitute family, who had taken shelter in a wretched hovel, a few doors from his workshop. My curiosity being excited by the description he gave of their deplorable condition, I followed him to the spot. We descended a few steps into what had once, perhaps, been a cellar. A small lamp, placed in one corner of this hole, for it could not be called a habitable place, gave hardly sufficient light to show the miserable state of those persons who had taken shelter in it from the inclemency of the storm. In one row, on a bed of straw, made on the cold damp floor, were laid three men : their only covering plaids, for they were Highlanders, and their dissolution seemed fast approaching. A woman, apparently past the middle period of life, who supported the head of the eldest on her lap, lifted up her eyes as we entered, looked wistfully at us, and shook her head, but uttered not a word, nor did a sigh escape her. 'Alas! good woman,' said I, 'have you no one to look after you in this destitute condition?' 'She can converse in no other save her native tongue,' said my conductor; and I addressed her in that language; when she instantly raised her eyes, in which a faint gleam of joy seemed for a moment to sparkle. Laying the head of her husband (for such the eldest of the three men was) gently down on the straw, she suddenly sprang up, came forward, seized me by both hands, cast a look upwards, and exclaimed, 'O God! whom hast Thou sent to comfort us?' Then looking me stedfastly in the face, she said, 'In this wretched condition you thus see me among strangers. My husband, and these my two sons are fast hastening to their graves. Nine days and nights have their blood boiled in the malignant illness yon now see wasting them. It is now almost three days since I tasted the last morsel of bread.' She then turned to her dying family, wrung her hands, and remained silent. On turning from this affecting scene, I observed a decent old woman coming forward to inquire for the unhappy sufferers; and, by the interest she seemed to take in their welfare, it led me to hope that, through her kind assistance, I should be enabled to afford them some relief. Having in the meantime ordered them an immediate supply of things absolutely necessary, I made haste to call in medical assistance; but, alas! it was too late; for the fever had already wasted the living energy in them; and, notwithstanding every possible aid art could administer under such unfavourable circumstances as their cases presented, when I called next morning I found the father and his elder son in the agonies of death. All was silent. In a few minutes the young man breathed his last. And now quivering in the pangs of dissolution, the old man lay on his back—his eyes fixed—the death-film covering them—and the dead-rattle, as it is called, indicating the near approach of the end of his earthly troubles. His gaze for a moment seemed to acquire intelligence; and with a keen, piercing look, peculiar to the dying, he calls to his wife to come close to him, and says—'Companion of my youth and better days, take this clay-cold hand—it is already dead—and I am fast a-going.' A few more inarticulate sounds issued from his livid lips, and he expired. 'Merciful God! my husband—my child too!' exclaimed the distracted mother, and sunk on the body of her late partner in misery. The shriek of woe transfixed me, and all the man shook to the centre. When I had in some measure recovered from the stupor this awful event had thrown me into, I retired in order to get them decently buried. To provide for the poor widowed thing and her youngest son, whose case seemed less malignant, came of course to be considered. The favourable symptoms appearing, and the proper means cautiously used, his recovery was soon effected, which greatly alleviated the grief of his mother, who still continued free of infection, and escaped wonderfully till every apprehension of danger entirely vanished.

"When a reasonable time had elapsed, I learned the story of this family from the unfortunate widow herself, the particulars of which, so far as I recollect, are nearly the following:—There was not a happier pair in the whole parish (which lay on the banks of the Spey) than the father and mother of this poor family, till, by reason of the introduction of a new set of tenants from a distant part of the country, the small farmers were ejected, among whom were the subjects of this simple narrative. To add to their misfortunes, their third son, a lad about fourteen, was affected with a white-swelling (as it is called) in his knee-joint, which prevented him from walking; and, when the family took their departure for the low-country, the father and his other two sons were obliged to carry this poor lame one on a hand-barrow, and thus travelled onward till they reached Aberdeen, where they got him put safely into the hospital of that city. But he was soon after dismissed incurable ; and their little all being nearly spent, they were at a loss what next to do for subsistence. They were advised to travel to Edinburgh, in order to procure medical assistance for the lad, and get into some way of gaining an honest livelihood somewhere in or near the capital. To Edinburgh, therefore, they directed their course; and, after a tedious journey of many days, they found themselves within a short distance of the city. But by this time the little money they had saved from the sale of their effects was gone, and they now were reduced to a state of absolute want. To beg they were ashamed ; but starve they must, in the event they could find no immediate employment. But from humane and charitably-disposed persons they at last were obliged to implore assistance; and by this means they found their way to Edinburgh, where soon after the unfortunate lad, whom they had carried in the way already mentioned from Aberdeen, was admitted a patient into the Royal Infirmary. It was now the beginning of harvest. The high price of labour in the North of England, compared with that in the South of Scotland, induces many of our Highlanders to go thither, in order to earn as ranch as possibly they can during the season of reaping in that quarter. This poor family, among other reapers, travelled southward; but it was a sad journey to them ; for, being soon seized with fever-and-ague, thus were they at once plunged into the deepest distress, far from their native home, and without a friend in the world to look after them. Not even suffered to remain any time in one place, they were barbarously hurried from parish to parish, as the custom is, till they reached Edinburgh, where, being safely placed in the hospital, they soon recovered. But, on making inquiry after the lad left behind when they went to England, they were informed of his death, which happened a few days before their admission into the Infirmary. They now were dismissed cured; but where to take shelter they knew not! for they had not a soul in the city to assist them in the smallest matter. Feeble, tottering, and faint with hunger, they wandered about the streets until the evening, when they crept into that wretched hovel in which I found them, as already stated."

From this affecting incident sprung the institution of the Edinburgh " Destitute Sick Society," which has existed ever since, and been of incalculable benefit. Mr. Campbell having made the case known to a few friends, a sum was collected amongst them for the widow and son ; and they entered into an agreement to contribute a trifle weekly towards a fund for alleviating similar cases in future. This small beginning was the origin of the present useful Society. (These friends were Mr. Robert Scott, teacher of Lady Glenorchy's School, and precentor in the chapel; Mr. Robert M'Farlane, teacher, and author of a Gaelic vocabulary ; Mr. David Niven, teacher; Mr. William Finlay, baker; Mr. Alexander Douglas, candlemaker.)

Mr. Campbell's next and last undertaking of any note was "Albyn's Anthology; or, a Select Collection of the Melodies and Local Poetry peculiar to Scotland and the Isles." The first volume of this work— published by Oliver and Boyd—appeared in 1816, and the second in 1818. A third was intended, but did not follow. The musician had long contemplated a publication of this description. The design was associated with his early national aspirations; and throughout many years of vicissitudes, crosses, and disappointment, he appears still to have cherished the idea of collecting the stray melodies of his native land. In the preface to the first volume, he says—

"So far back as the year 1790, while as yet the Editor of Albyn's Anthology was an organist to one of the Episcopal chapels in Edinburgh, he projected the present work. Finding but small encouragement at that period, and his attention being directed to other pursuits of quite a different nature, the plan dropped; till very recently, an accidental turn of conversation at a gentleman's table, whom to name is to honour, the Hon. Fletcher Norton [one of the Barons of Exchequer], gave a spur to the speculation now in its career. He, with that warmth of benevolence peculiarly his own, offered his influence with the Royal Highland Society of Scotland, of which he is a member of long standing ; and, in conformity to the zeal he has uniformly manifested for everything connected with the distinction and prosperity of our ancient realm, on the Editor's giving him a rough outline of the present undertaking, the Hon. Baron put it into the hands of Henry M'Kenzie, Esq., of the Exchequer, and Lord Bannatyne, whose influence in the Society is deservedly great. And immediately on Mr. M'Kenzie laying it before a select committee for music, John H. Forbes, Esq. [now Lord Medwyn], advocate, as convener of the committee, convened it; and the result was a recommendation to the Society at large, who embraced the project cordially; voted a sum to enable the Editor to pursue his plan; and forthwith he set out on a tour through the Highlands and Western Islands. Having performed a journey (in pursuit of materials for the present work) of between eleven and twelve hundred miles, in which he collected one hundred and ninety-one specimens of melodies and Gaelic vocal poetry, he returned to Edinburgh, and laid the fruits of his gleanings before the Society, who were pleased to honour with their approbation, his success, in attempting to collect and preserve the perishing remains of what is so closely interwoven with the history and literature of Scotland."

Among the contributors to "Albyn's Anthology" appear the names of Scott, Hogg, Maturin, Jamieson, Mrs. Grant, Boswell, and other distinguished individuals; several pieces are from the pen of the Editor; and a full fourth of the letter-press is devoted to Gaelic verse, in which language he seems to have been a proficient. The popular song of "Donald Caird" was contributed specially for the work by Sir Walter Scott—the original MS. of which is preserved in the copy of the Anthology belonging to the nephew of the Editor. We believe the favourite air—best known by Tannahill's song of "Gloomy Winter's now Awa' "—is not generally understood to have been the composition of Mr. Campbell. It appears in the Anthology to the Editor's own words—

"Come, my bride, haste away, haste away,
Wakest thou, love? or art thou sleeping?"

and is very modestly claimed in a foot-note as follows:—

"The Editor, in thus claiming an early composition of his own, feels a mingled sensation of diffidence and satisfaction in venturing to insert it in a selection such as the present. But as the trifle in question has been honoured with public approbation for many years past, and has been considered by many, nay even professional men, as one of our oldest tunes, it becomes the duty of the composer to state briefly, yet distinctly, the fact, and leave it thus on record. In the year 1783, while the present writer was studying counterpoint and composition, and turning his attention to national music, he made essays in that style, one of which was the melody to which he has united Gaelic and English verses of his own, written for Albyn's Anthology. It was originally composed as a Strathspey; and in the year 1791 or 1792, it was published and inscribed to the Rev. Patrick M'Donald of Kilmore, the editor of the 'Collection of Highland Airs' mentioned in the preface of the present work. In Mr. Nathaniel Gow's Collection, this Strathspey is called Lord Balgowny's Delight, and pointed out as a 'very ancient air.' It has since been published by Mr. J. M'Fadyen of Glasgow, under the title of ' Gloomy Winter s now Atva a Scottish song, written by E. Tannahill, with Symphonies and Accompaniments by E. A. Smith. "Wherefore, it being now reclaimed, this indispensable egotism will be freely pardoned by every liberal and candid mind, when a writer, in order to do himself justice, embraces a fair opportunity, as in the present instance, of doing so."

From these extracts some idea may be formed of Mr. Campbell's literary talents. His "acquirements, though such as would have eminently distinguished an independent gentleman in private life, did not reach that point of perfection which the public demands of those who expect to derive bread from their practice of the fine arts. Even in music, it was the opinion of eminent judges, that Albyn's Anthology would have been more favourably received, if the beautiful original airs had been left unencumbered with the basses and symphonies which the Editor himself thought essential."

Mr. Campbell was twice married. On his second union, to the widow of Ranald Macdonell, Esq., of Keppoch, he abandoned his profession as a teacher of music, and commenced the study of medicine, with the view of obtaining an appointment through the influence of his friends. In this he was disappointed, in consequence of some misunderstanding with the relations of his wife, which not only effectually prevented their interference in promoting his advancement, but led to still more disagreeable results. Mr. Campbell is represented to have been somewhat hasty, but of a warm and generous temper. "After experiencing as many of the vicissitudes of life as fall to the lot of most men, he died of apoplexy on the 15th of May, 1824, in the sixty-first year of his age."


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