Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Campbell, John (1708-1775)

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CAMPBELL, JOHN, LL.D. (1708–1775), miscellaneous writer, was the son of a Campbell of Glenlyon, captain in a regiment of horse, and born at Edinburgh on 8 March 1708. At the age of five he was taken to Windsor by his mother, originally of that town, and educated under the direction of an uncle, who placed him as a clerk in an attorney's office. Deserting law for literature, he produced at the age of twenty-eight a ‘Military History of the late Prince Eugene of Savoy and the late John, Duke of Marlborough … illustrated with variety of copper-plates of battles, sieges, plans, &c., carefully engraved by Claude Du Bosc,’ who issued it without the compiler's name in 1736. In compiling it Campbell availed himself largely of the Marquis de Quincy's ‘Histoire Militaire du règne de Louis Quatorze,’ and of the works of Dumont and Rousset on Prince Eugene. In 1734 appeared, with Campbell's name, ‘A View of the Changes to which the Trade of Great Britain to Turkey and Italy will be exposed if Naples and Sicily fall into the hands of the Spaniards.’ Campbell suggested that the Two Sicilies should be handed over to the elector of Bavaria. His first original work of any pretension was ‘The Travels and Adventures of Edward Bevan, Esq., formerly a merchant in London,’ &c., 1739. Here a thread of fictitious autobiography, in Defoe's manner, connects a mass of information respecting the topography, history, natural products, political conditions, and manners and customs of the countries supposed to be visited. The description given in it by three Arab brothers (pp. 327–8) of a strayed camel, which they had never seen, may have suggested to Voltaire the similarly constructive description of the dog and horse of the queen and king of Babylon in ‘Zadig,’ which was written in 1746. In 1739, too, appeared Campbell's ‘Memoirs of the Bashaw Duke de Ripperda’ (second edition 1750). About the same time he began to contribute to the (Ancient) ‘Universal History’ (1740–1744), in which the ‘Cosmogony’ alone is assigned to him by the ‘Biographia Britannica,’ though in the list of the writers communicated by Swinton to Dr. Johnson (Boswell, Life, edition of 1860, p. 794) the ‘Cosmogony’ is attributed to Sale, and the ‘History of the Persians and the Constantinopolitan Empire’ to Campbell. To the ‘Modern Universal History’ he contributed the histories of the Portuguese, Dutch, French, Swedish, Danish, and Ostend settlements in the East Indies, and histories of Spain, Portugal, Algarves, Navarre, and that of France from Clovis to the year 1656. In 1741 appeared his ‘Concise History of Spanish America’ (second edition 1755), and in 1742 ‘A Letter to a Friend in the Country on the Publication of Thurloe's State Papers,’ a lively piece in which Thurloe's then newly issued folios are dealt with somewhat after the manner of a modern review article. In the same year were issued vols. i. and ii. of ‘The Lives of the Admirals and other Eminent British Seamen,’ &c. The two remaining volumes appeared in 1744. The work was translated into German, and three other editions of it were published in Campbell's lifetime. After his death there were several editions of it, with continuations to the dates of issue, an abridgement of it appearing so recently as 1870. It was a great improvement on previous compilations of the kind. Campbell's ignorance of seamanship led him, however, into many nautical blunders, some of which are exposed in the ‘United Service Magazine’ for October 1842. In 1743 appeared anonymously his English version, with copious annotations, of the Latin work of Cohausen, ‘Hermippus Redivivus; or, the Sage's Triumph over Old Age and the Grave.’ Dr. Johnson (Boswell, Life, p. 142) pronounced the volume ‘very entertaining as an account of the hermetic philosophy and as furnishing a curious history of the extravagancies of the human mind;’ adding, ‘if it were merely imaginary it would be nothing at all.’ It reached a third edition in 1771. In 1743 also appeared his translation from the Dutch, ‘The True Interest and Political Maxims of the Republic of Holland.’ The original is ascribed wrongly to John de Witt; Campbell added to his translation memoirs of Cornelius and John de Witt. In 1744 was published Campbell's much enlarged edition of Harris's ‘Collection of Voyages and Travels’ (1702–5), ‘Navigantium atque Itinerantium Bibliotheca.’ In the ‘Account of the European Settlements in America,’ attributed to Burke, the author expresses his obligations to this colossal work. A new edition was soon called for, the publication of which, in numbers, was completed in 1749. To Campbell has been generally ascribed the recast (1744) of ‘The Shepherd of Banbury's Rules to judge of the Changes of the Weather, by John Claridge, shepherd,’ first issued in 1670, and very popular in rural districts. Little more than a few words of the original title remained in the recast, which was frequently reprinted, and that so late as 1827. It is somewhat noticeable as an attempt to base on quasi-scientific principles the weather forecasts of the alleged Banbury shepherd (Notes and Queries, 1st ser. vii. 373).

To the first ‘Biographia Britannica,’ the issue of which in weekly numbers began in 1745, Campbell's contributions, signed E. and X., were copious, continuous, and varied, but they ceased with the publication of vol. iv. Among them were biographies of members of noble British families. John, the fifth Earl of Orrery, thanked him ‘in the name of the Boyles for the honour he had done to them,’ and Horace Walpole assigns as a reason for not portraying the characters of the Campbells in his ‘Catalogue of Royal and Noble Authors’ (edition of 1806, v. 103), that the task had been ‘so fully performed by one who bears the honour of their name, and who it is no compliment to say is one of the ablest and most beautiful writers of his country.’ Campbell's patriotic feeling and highland origin prompted him to write ‘A Full and Particular Description of the Highlands of Scotland, its Situation and Produce, the Manners and Customs of the Natives,’ &c. (1752). It contained a highly-coloured account of the virtues of the highlanders and of the resources of the highlands, with a protest against English ignorance of both.

In 1750 had appeared, mainly reprinted from a periodical, ‘The Museum,’ ‘The Political State of Europe,’ which went through six editions in his lifetime, and procured him a continental reputation. It consisted of summaries of the history of the most prominent European states, with remarks on their international relations, and on the policy of their rulers and governments, sometimes displaying considerable acumen. In 1754 the university of Glasgow conferred on him the degree of LL.D. After the peace of Paris, 1762, he wrote, at Lord Bute's request, a ‘Description and History of the new Sugar Islands in the West Indies,’ in order to show the value of those which had been ceded by the French at the close of the war. In March 1765 he was appointed his majesty's agent for the province of Georgia, and held the office until his death. In 1774 appeared his last work, one on which he had expended years of labour, ‘A Political Survey of Great Britain, being a series of reflections on the situation, lands, inhabitants, revenues, colonies, and commerce of the island,’ &c., 2 vols. quarto, London, 1774. The work is specially remarkable for its affluence of practical suggestion. It teems with projects for the construction of harbours, the opening up of new communications by road and canal, and the introduction of new industries. Campbell even proposed that the state should buy up all the waste lands of the country and develope their latent resources, arable and pastoral. The ‘Political Survey’ excited some attention, but as a publishing speculation of the author it does not seem to have been very successful. So many years had been spent in its preparation that numbers of the original subscribers were dead before it appeared. Dr. Johnson believed that Campbell's disappointment on account of the indifferent success of the work killed him (Boswell, Life, p. 484). He died on 28 Dec. 1775, having received in the preceding year from the Empress Catherine of Russia a present of her portrait. The memoir of Campbell in Kippis's ‘Biographia Britannica’ gives an ample list of the many writings acknowledged by and ascribed to him. The library of the British Museum is without several of them. Among these is one published in 1751, which professes to give a ‘full and particular description’ of the ‘character’ of Frederick, prince of Wales, from his juvenile years until his death.

A man of untiring industry and considerable accomplishment, Campbell is described as gentle in manner and of kindly disposition. There are several interesting references to him in Boswell's ‘Life of Johnson,’ to both of whom he was known personally, Johnson being in the habit of going to the literary gatherings on Sunday evenings at Campbell's house in Queen Square, Bloomsbury, until ‘I began,’ he said, ‘to consider that the shoals of Scotchmen who flocked about him might probably say, when anything of mine was well done, “Ay, ay, he has learnt this of Cawmell.” Campbell is a good man, a pious man.’ Johnson said of him on the same occasion: ‘I am afraid he has not been in the inside of a church for many years; but he never passes a church without pulling off his hat. This shows that he has good principles.’ Campbell told Boswell that he once drank thirteen bottles of port at a sitting. According to Boswell, Johnson spoke of Campbell to Joseph Warton as ‘the richest author that ever grazed the common of literature.’ There is nothing extravagant in the terms for which, according to the agreement preserved in the Egerton MSS. 738–40, he contracted to write for Dodsley the publisher, prefixing his name to the work, a quarto volume on the geography, natural history, and antiquities of England, at the rate of two guineas per sheet.

[Campbell's Writings; Memoir in Biographia Britannica (Kippis); authorities cited.]

F. E.