The son of a tobacco merchant, Thomas Campbell was born in Glasgow in 1777. Displaying academic and artistic flair from an early age, Campbell was to enjoy the publication and critical success of his poem ‘Pleasures of Hope’ at the age of just twenty-one. Ranked higher by Lord Byron and Francis Jeffrey than contemporaries such as Wordsworth and Coleridge, Campbell was a poet of considerable standing in the early part of the 19th century. This standing was to decline even in his own life time, however, and – barring a brief reevaluation in the mid 20th century – he has become something of a minor figure in the canon.
To a certain extent, this decline can be attributed to shifts in social attitude and political fashion. Those poems regarded as his greatest works – ‘Ye Mariners of England’, ‘The Soldier’s Dream’ – are fiercely patriotic pieces composed at a time of imperial expansion. No major collection of his poetry has appeared in many years, though he remains honoured in his native city with a statue, erected upon the centenary of his birth, in George Square.