The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume XII. The Romantic Revival.

V. Lesser Poets, 1790–1837

§ 2. Campbell

Not thus ungraciously can any critic speak of Campbell; but, anyone who spoke of him with unmixed graciousness would hardly be a critic. To him, the “moment” just mentioned was no stranger; they met, and he made almost or quite the best of it, again and again. He has the glorious distinction of being, in three different pieces, nearer than any other poet among many to being a perfect master of the great note of battle-poetry. Of these, one, Ye Mariners of England, is, to some extent, an adaptation, though an immense improvement on its original; and The Battle of the Baltic has some singular spots on its sun. But Hohenlinden is unique; subject and spirit, words and music make an indivisible quaternity and, except in two or three passages of Homer and Aeschylus, there is nothing anywhere that surpasses the last and culminating stanza in poignant simplicity. Perhaps no other poem of Campbell can be named with these three, as a whole, but most of his earlier and shorter poems give flashes of undoubted poetry. There is no space here for a miniature anthology of these blooms; but some of them are universally known, and no one with an eye and ear for poetry can read, without recognising it in them, Lochiel’s Warning, Lord Ullin’s Daughter (the central jewel of this, however hackneyed, must be excepted for quotation,

  • And in the scowl of Heaven each face
  • Grew dark as they were speaking),
  • the less known, but, in parts, extremely beautiful Lines on Revisiting a Scene in Argyllshire, The Soldier’s Dream, The Last Man and others. All these are of a tragic and, if not romantic, romantesque cast; but Campbell has retained not a little of the eighteenth century epigram in such lines as the other stock quotation
  • The torrent’s smoothness ere it dash below.
  • He had a bluff felicity, as in The Song of Hybrias the Cretan, which is not too common at any time; and, in other songs, such as Withdraw not yet those lips and fingers, or How delicious is the winning, there are strange reminiscences of that seventeenth century feeling to which he sometimes did justice in his critical Specimens and which greater singers have not been able to command in their actual verse.