Letter from Campbell to Murray, 28 Jan 1809

Author(s): Campbell, Thomas



Saturday 28 Jany 1809

My dear Sir

I am inclined to believe that the more
popular form of the elegant Extracts is the best
adapted for our work — it is surely a fair competi=
=tion in which we shall start, with that ill con=
=structed but as I understand very saleable compil=
=ation — With respect to the form of the work
however I feel myself an incompetent adviser —
I am confident enough in my power to make
the merit of the book independent of its form.

Its title I should call The selected Beauties of
British Poetry with lives of the Poets & critical
disertations by T. C. &c — together with an Essay
on English Poetry — This title page however may
be arranged at our leisure; — I begin with
Chaucer and continue through the whole succession
of English Poets to the last of our own day — Many
lives & of course criticisms annexed to those lives
will be included which are not found in any pre=
=ceeding collection. Many anonymous Poems must
also be inserted with merely a notice of the name
to which they are attributed upon grounds too
uncertain to admit of a Biography.

Already I have done much in bringing together
a number of excellent little poems which have been
but partially noticed — known only to Amateurs &
transcribed in their common place books, but
most of them rarely and some of them never intro
=duced into collections of Poetry — The bulk of them
need not alarm you for the space they will occupy
as it is the common quality of excellence not to
be bulky. but though these little stars of poetical
excellence may be individually small, I hope they
will form a brilliant constellation.

My Biographies I mean to be short, but I daresay
you will remember that shortness is not always in=
=compatible with being satisfactory — by short I
don't mean scanty — Where the merit of the Poet is
not much interesting, I will endeavour to make
his biography more interesting — Extreme accuracy
I trust I shall always attain — indeed with the
prospect of such aid as you are so kind as to pro.=
=mise me I need not fear falling into errors with
the industry I propose to exert — At the same time
I do not promise you a book of Antiquarian
dissertation — I mean to exert the main part
of my strength on the merits and writings of each
Poet as an Author, not on discoveries of little
anecdotes, and discoveries of his residence and
conversation as a man unless such things are
striking and can be obtained without sacrificing
the great object of my efforts — viz to make a com
=plete body of English Poetical Criticism

The Poets are all to be reviewed in their cronological
succession, but both in my preface & in my biographies
I mean to class the minor poets in the different
orders of their general merit & particular charac=
teristics — To the great Poets such as Chaucer, Spencer
Milton, Dryden Pope & Thomson I devote a separate
& elaborate disquisition treating them as they deserve
like great unities having nothing in common but
their greatness —

I mean to devote a year exclusively to this effort
it is not my part to say any more than I have
said (I hope it will not appear immodestly) on
my own competency to the task — I shall only
add that I have written a good deal on the subject
matter of it & read & thought a great deal more —
Independent of my duty as a fair dealer which
I trust would always deter me from performing a
task in a slovenly manner, where the capital of an
employer is risqued & employed. I have every
motive that can stimulate to industry & that can
make me anxious without being intimidated about
the public opinion — I seem to myself fit for the
undertaking & able with your aid & my own ex=
=ertion to lay out the collected stores of my late
application in a work that may unite research
with elegance & be acceptable to the most respect=
=able as well as the popular herd of readers
At the same time I know the serious responsi=
=bility I owe to the public, & I am well aware

aware that I must not indulge in any careless
security about the fate of the work — Little as my
name is if it were ten times more I should not
think it fair to traffic merely for giving that name
to make a book.

I write you tonight though from fatigue I am
not able to enter so completely as I could wish
into the full delineation of my plan, but in my
letter to Richardson you may see possibly some
things which I have omitted here — Among the
books which I forgot to mention the Biographia
Brittanica & Croft's remarks on the English Poets
are two of importance — Much of the Poetry as I
remarked to Richardson may be printed while I
[¿] proceeding with my labors —

With great respect and regard believe me,

Dear Murray

your sincere friend

T. Campbell

1809 Jany
Campbell Thos.


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Letter from Campbell to Murray, 28 Jan 1809. 2024. In The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 16 July 2024, from

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The Corpus of Modern Scottish Writing. 2024. Glasgow: University of Glasgow.


Letter from Campbell to Murray, 28 Jan 1809

Document Information

Document ID 234
Title Letter from Campbell to Murray, 28 Jan 1809
Year group 1800-1850
Genre Personal writing
Year of publication 1809
Wordcount 851

Author information: Campbell, Thomas

Author ID 54
Forenames Thomas
Surname Campbell
Gender Male
Year of birth 1777
Place of birth Glasgow, Scotland
Occupation Author
Father's occupation Tobacco importer
Education University
Locations where resident Glasgow, Edinburgh