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Significant Scots
John Campbell LL.D.


CAMPBELL, JOHN, LL.D., an eminent miscellaneous writer, was born at Edinburgh, March 8, 1708. He was the fourth son of Robert Campbell, of Glenlyon, by Elizabeth Smith, daughter of – Smith, Esq., of Windsor. By his father, Dr. Campbell was connected with the noble family of Breadalbane, and other distinguished Highland chiefs; by his mother, he was descended from the poet Waller. If we are not much mistaken, this distinguished writer and was also allied to the famous Rob Roy Macgregor, whose children, at the time when Dr Campbell enjoyed a high literary reputation in the metropolis, must have been pursuing the lives of outlaws in another part of the country, hardly yet merged from barbarism. When only five years of age, he was conveyed from Scotland, which country he never afterwards saw, to Windsor, where he received his education under the care of a maternal uncle. It was attempted to make him enter the profession of an attorney; but his thirst for knowledge rendered that disagreeable to him, and caused him to prefer the precarious life of an author by profession. It would be vain to enumerate the many works of Dr Campbell. His first undertaking of any magnitude, was "The Military History of the Duke of Marlborough and Prince Eugene," which appears in 1736, in two volumes, folio, and was well received. He was next concerned in the preparation of the Ancient Universal History, which appeared in seven folios, the last being published in 1744. The part relating to the cosmogony, which is by far the mostlearned, was written by Dr Campbell. In 1742, appeared the two first volumes of his Lives of the Admirals, and, in 1744, the remaining two: this is the only work of Dr Campbell which has continued popular to the present time, an accident probably arising, in a great measure, from the nature of the subject. The activity ofDr Campbell at this period is very surprising. In the same year in which he completed his last mentioned work, he published a Collection of Voyages and Travels, in 2 volumes, folio. In 1745, he commenced the publication of the Biographia Britannica, in weekly numbers. In this, as in all the other works of Dr Campbell, it is found that he did not content himself with the ordinary duties of his profession, as exercised at that time. While he wrote to supply the current necessities of the public, and of his own home, he also endeavoured to give his works an original and peculiar value. Hence it is found that the lives composing his Biographia Britannica are compiled with great care from a vast number of documents, and contain many striking speculations on literary and political subjects, calculated to obtain for the work a high and enduring character. The candour and benevolent feelings of Dr Campbell have also produced the excellent effect of striking impartiality in the grand questions of religious and political controversy. Though himself a member of the church of England, he treated the lives of the great non-conformists, such as Baxter and Calamy, with such justice as to excite the admiration of their own party. Dr Campbell’s style is such as would not now, perhaps, be much admired; but it was considered, by his own contemporaries, to be superior both in accuracy and in warmth of tone to what was generally used. He treated the article BOYLEin such terms as to draw the thanks of John, fifth earl ofOrrery, "in the name of all the Boyles, for the honour he had done to them, and to his own judgment, by placing the family in such a light as to give a spirit of emulation to those who were hereafter to inherit the title." A second edition of the Biographria, with additions, was undertaken, after Dr Campbell’s death, by DrKippis, but only carried to a fifth volume, where it stopped at the letter F. It is still, in both editions, one of the greatest works of reference in the language. While engaged in these heavy undertakings, DrCampbell occasionally relaxed himself in lighter works, one of which, entitled, ‘‘Hermippus Redivivus," is a curious essay, apparently designed to explain in a serious manner an ancient medical whim, which assumed that life could be prolonged to a great extent by inhaling the breath of young women. It is said that some grave physicians were so far influenced by this mock essay, as to go and live for a time in female boarding-schools, for the purpose of putting its doctrine to the proof. In reality, the whole affair was ajest of Dr Campbell, orrather, perhaps, a sportive exercise of his mind, being merely an imitation of the manner of Bayle, with whose style of treating controversial subjects he appears to have been deeply impressed, as he professedly adopts it in the Biographia Britannica. In 1750, DrCampbell published his celebrated work, "The Present State of Europe," which afterwards went through many editions, and was so much admired abroad, that a son of the duke de Belleisle studied English inorder to be able to read it. The vast extent of information which DrCampbekl had acquired during his active life, by conversation, as well as by books, and the comprehensive powers of arrangement which his profession had already given him, are conspicuous in this work. He was afterwards employed in writing some of the most important articles in the "Modern Universal History," which extended to Sixteen volumes, folio, and was reprinted in a smaller form. His last great work was the"Political Survey of Britain; being a Series of Reflections on the situation, lands, inhabitants, revenues, colonies, and commerce, of this island;" which appeared in 1774, in 2 volumes 4to, having cost him the labour of many years. Though its value is so far temporary, this is perhaps the work which does its author the highest credit. It excited the admiration of the world to such a degree as caused him to be absolutely overwhelmed with new correspondents. He tells a friend, in a letter, that he had already consumed a ream of paper, (nearly a thousand sheets,) in answering these friends, and was just breaking upon another, which perhaps would share the same fate.

Dr Campbell had been married early in life to Elizabeth, daughter of Benjamin Robe, of Leominster, in the county of Hereford, gentleman, by whom he had seven children. Though it does not appear that he had any other resources than his pen, his style of life was very respectable. His time was so exclusively devoted to reading and writing, that he seldom stirred abroad. His chief exercise was an occasional walk in his garden, or in a room of his house. He was naturally of a delicate frame of body; but strict temperance, with the regularity of all his habits, preserved his health against the effects of both his sedentary life and original weakness, till his sixty-eighth year, when he died, December 25, 1775, in full possession of his faculties, and without pain.

It would only encumber our pages to recount all the minor productions of Dr Campbell. A minute specification of them is preserved in the second edition of his Biographia Britannica, where his life was written by Dr Kippis. So multitudinous, however, were his fugitive compositions, that he once bought an old pamphlet, with which he was pleased on dipping into it, and which turned out to be one of his own early writings. So completely had he forgot every thing connected with it, that he had read it half through before he had discovered that it was written by himself. On another occasion, a friend brought him a book, in French, which professed to have been translated from the German, and which the owner recommended Dr Campbell to try in an English dress. The Doctor, on looking into it, discovered it to be a neglected work of his own, which had found its way into Germany, and there been published as an original work. Dr Campbell, in his private life, was a gentleman and a Christian: he possessed an acquaintance with the most of modern languages, besides Hebrew, Greek, and various oriental tongues. His best faculty was his memory, which was surprisingly tenacious and accurate. Dr Johnson spoke of him in the following terms, as recorded by Boswell: "I think highly of Campbell. In the first place, he has very good parts. In the second place, he has very extensive reading; not, perhaps, what is properly called learning, but history, politics, and, in short, that popular knowledge which makes a man very useful. In the third place, he has learnt much by what is called the voce viva. He talks with a great many people." The opportunities which Dr Campbell enjoyed of acquiring information, by the mode described by Dr Johnson, were very great. He enjoyed a universal acquaintance among the clever men of his time, literary and otherwise, whom he regularly saw in conversationes on the Sunday evenings. The advantage which a literary man must enjoy by this means is very great, for conversation, when it becomes in the least excited, strikes out ideas from the minds of all present, which would never arise in solitary study, and often brings to a just equilibrium disputable points which, in the cogitations of a single individual, would be settled all on one side. Smollett, in enumerating the writers who had reflected lustre on the reign of George II., speaks of "the merit conspicuous in the works of Campbell, remarkable for candour, intelligence, and precision." It only remains to be mentioned, that this excellent man was honoured, in 1754, with the degree of LL.D. by the university of Glasgow, and that, for some years before his death, having befriended the administration of the earl of Bute in his writings, he was rewarded by the situation of his majesty’s agent for the province of Georgia.


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