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Significant Scots
Campbell, Alexander


CAMPBELL, ALEXANDER, musician and poet, was born in 1764, at Tombea, on the banks of Loch Lubnaig, above Calledar, and received his education at the grammar-school of that town. While yet a youth, he removed to Edinburgh, and studied music under the celebrated Tenducci and others. A decided taste for the art, and especially for the simple melodies of his native country, induced him to become a teacher of the harpsicord and of vocal music in Edinburgh; and as he was a zealous adherent of the scattered remnant who still espoused the cause of the unhappy Stuarts, he became at the same time organist to a non-juring chapel in the neighbourhood of Nicolson Street, where the Rev. Mr. Harper then officiated.

While in this situation, and still possessed of all the keen feelings of youth, he became acquainted with Robert Burns, who is said to have highly appreciated his ardent character, as he must have strongly sympathised in his national prepossessions. It may also be mentioned that Mr. Campbell was music-master to Sir Walter Scott, with whom, however, he never made any progress, owing, as he used to say, to the total destitution of that great man in the requisite of an ear. Mr. Campbell was twice married, and on the second occasion with such prospects of advancement, that he was induced to abandon his profession, in which he was rising to eminence, and turn his attention to the study of medicine, which, however, he never practised on an extended scale, though he was ready and eager to employ his skill for benevolent purposes. The connections of Mr. Campbell's second wife were of so elevated a rank in life, that he entertained hopes of obtaining, through their means, some employment under government, in his medical capacity; but in this, as in many other things, he was destined to experience a bitter disappointment.

In 1798, he published his first literary work, namely, "An Introduction to the History of Poetry in Scotland," quarto; to which were added, "the Songs of the Lowlands," with illustrative engravings by David Allan. The History of Poetry, though written in a loose style, and deformed here and there by opinions of a some what fantastic nature, is a work of considerable research. It was dedicated to the artist Fuseli. It is worth mentioning that a Dialogue on Scottish Music, prefixed to the History, was the first means of giving foreign musicians a correct understanding of the Scottish scale, which, it is well known, differs from that prevalent on the continent; and it is consistent with our knowledge, that the author was highly complimented on this subject by the greatest Italian and German composers.

About this time, Mr. Campbell began to extend his views from literature to the arts; and he attained to a very respectable proficiency as a draughtsman. In 1802, appeared his best work, "A Tour from Edinburgh through various parts of North Britain, &c." 2 vols. quarto, embellished with a series of beautiful aquatint drawings by his own hand. This book is very entertaining, and, in some parts, (for instance, the account of Scottish society in the early part of the eighteenth century,) it betrays powers much above the grade of the author's literary reputation. In 1804, Mr. Campbell was induced to appear as an original poet, in a work entitled "the Grampians Desolate." If in this attempt he was not very successful in the principal object, it must at least be allowed, that his various knowledge, particularly in matters of Scottish antiquity, and the warm zeal with which he advocates the cause of the exiled Highlanders, give the work an interest for the patriot and the antiquary. Mr. Campbell finally published, in 1816, two parts of a collection of native Highland music, under the title Albyn's Anthology, for which Sir Walter Scott, Sir Alexander Boswell, and other eminent literary men, contributed modern verses. Unhappily, Mr. Campbell's 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, in early life, had been possessed of a handsome person, and a lively and social disposition. Gifted, as he then was, with so many of those accomplishments which are calculated to give a charm to existence, it might have been expected that his life would have been one of happiness and prosperity. It was in every respect the reverse. Some unhappy misunderstanding with the relations of his second wife led to a separation between them, and two individuals, who, united, could have promoted each other's happiness, lived for ever after apart and miserable. A numerous train of disappointments, not exclusively literary, tended further to embitter the declining years of this unfortunate man of genius. Yet his own distresses, and they were numerous, both from disease and difficulty of circumstances, could never either break his spirits, or chill his interest in the happiness of his friends. If he had the foibles of a keen temper, he was free from the faults of a sullen and cold disposition. 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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