Thomas Campbell: Hohenlinden and The Battle of the Baltic

Thomas Campbell was born in Glasgow, Scotland, July 27, 1777, and be died at Bologne, July 15, 1844, at the age of sixty-seven. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. 

He came from the respectable family of Kirnan, in Argyllshire. His father had settled in Glasgow, but having failed in business, was unable to support his son in college. Thomas, was, therefore, obliged to resort to private teaching in order to continue in school. Notwithstanding the amount of additional labor thus entailed, he made rapid progress in his studies, and attained considerable distinction at the university over which it was his fortune, in after years, to preside. He very early gave proofs of his aptitude for literary composition, especially in the department of poetry; and so strong was his addiction to these pursuits, that he could not bring himself seriously to adopt the choice of a profession. We are told by his biographer, Dr. Beattie, that "the imaginative faculty had been so unremittingly cultivated that circumstances, trifling in themselves, had acquired undue influence over his mind, and been rendered formidable by an exaggeration of which he was at the moment unconscious. Hence, various difficulties, which industry might have overcome, assumed to his eye the appearance of insurmountable obstacles. Without resolution to persevere, or philosophy to submit to the force of necessity, he drew from everything around him, with morbid ingenuity, some melancholy presage of the future." 

We find him at the age of twenty in Edinburgh, attending lectures at the university, soliciting employment from the book-sellers, and not unknown to a circle of young men then resident in the Scottish metropolis, whose names have become historic. Among these were Walter Scott, Henry Brougham, James Jeffrey, Dr. Thomas Brown, John Leyden and James Grahame, the author of the "Sabbath." He also became acquainted with Dr. Robert Anderson, editor of a collection of British poets, a man of extreme enthusiasm and kindness of disposition, who early appreciated the remarkable powers of Campbell, and encouraged him to proceed in his literary career. 

In 1799, his poem, "The Pleasures of Hope," was published. For more than three-fourths of a century, the poem has maintained, nay, increased, its popularity. Within that time, the public has adopted and abandoned many favorites-names once famous and in every mouth have gradually become forgotten and unregarded-poetical works of greater pretension, which were once considered as master-pieces of genius and inspiration, have fallen into neglect; but this poem by the boy Campbell remains a universal favorite. He disposed of the copyright of "Pleasures of Hope" but the publishers generously gave him extra for each new edition of two thousand copies. Also in 1803 they permitted him to publish a quarto subscription copy. 

Campbell went abroad, and passed some time on the continent, without any definite aim. His means were soon exhausted, and he was reduced to extreme poverty. Returning to Britain, his reputation soon gained him literary employment, but his tardiness in fulfilling engagements soon placed him in bad repute among the strong publishers, who hesitated often in offering him work. But he was constantly popular with the public, and an occasional poem from his pen found its way into print. In 1802 he wrote "Lochiel's Warning," and "Hohenlinden," two excellent poems known to everybody. A critic declares the latter one of the grandest battle pieces ever written. "In a few verses, flowing like a choral melody, the poet brings before us the silent midnight scene of engagement, wrapped in the snows of winter, the sudden arming for the battle, the press and shout of charging squadrons, the flashing of artillery, and the final scene of death. 'Lochiel's Warning' being read in manuscript to Sir Walter (then Mr.) Scott, he requested a perusal of it himself, and then repeated the whole from memory - a striking instance of the great minstrel's powers of recollection, which was related by Mr. Campbell himself. In 1803 the poet repaired to London, and devoted himself to literature as a profession. He resided for some time with his friend, Mr. Telford, the celebrated engineer. Telford continued his regard for the poet throughout a long life, and remembered him in his will by a legacy." In the meantime he married, and in 1805, through the influence of Mr. Fox, received a government pension. Later Mr. Southey bequeathed him money. The pension was given as a tribute to him for the noble national strains, "Ye Mariners of England," and the "Battle of the Baltic." 

In 1809 he published "Gertrude of Wyoming, a Pennsylvania Tale." This was the second of his great poems, and it was exceedingly admired. Campbell was now settled at Sydenham, in England, and his circumstances were materially improved. His home was a happy one. The society in which he moved was of the most refined and intellectual character, and he enjoyed the personal friendship of many of his distinguished contemporaries. In 1820 he accepted the editorship of the "New Monthly Magazine," and acted in that capacity until he resigned it to take charge of the "Metropolitan." Many of his minor poems appeared in the "Magazine;" and one of these, "The Last Man," may be ranked among his greatest conceptions. 

In 1824 he published "Theodric and Other Poems;" and though busy in establishing the London University, he was, in 1827, elected lord rector of the university of his native city. He afterward made a voyage to Algiers, of which he published an account; and in 1842 appeared a slight narrative poem, unworthy of his fame, entitled "The Pilgrims of Glencoe." Among the literary engagements of his later years was a "Life of Mrs. Siddons," and a "Life of Petrarch." 

In 1831, the year in which the gallant struggle of the Poles for their independence was terminated by entire defeat, Campbell, who in his earliest poem had referred in such beautiful language to the shameful partition of Poland, more than revived his youthful enthusiasm for her cause. He had watched with an anxiety almost bordering on fanaticism, the progress of the patriotic movement, and the news of the capture of Warsaw by the Russians, affected him as if it had been the deepest of personal calamities. He was the founder of the association in London of the Friends of Poland, which not only served to maintain the strong interest felt by the British people for the Polish cause, but was the means of providing assistance and giving employment to large numbers of the unfortunate exiles who were driven to seek refuge in England. Never, till his dying day, did he relax his efforts in their behalf; and many an unhappy wanderer, who, but for unexpected aid, might have perished in the streets of a foreign city, had reason to bless the name of Thomas Campbell. 

Critics may dispute regarding the comparative merits of his longer works; and, as they incline toward didactic or narrative poetry, may prefer the one composition to the other. Both are entitled to praise and honor, but it is on his lyrics that the future reputation of Campbell must principally rest. They have taken their place, never to be disturbed, in the popular heart; and, until the language in which they are composed perishes, they are certain to endure. 

Biography from:



The little village of Hohenlinden, or Linden, as it was often called, stands in a pine forest of Upper Bavaria, on the banks of the swift-flowing river Iser, about twenty miles distant from Munich. In December, 1800, two great armies, the one Austrian, the other French and Bavarian, commanded by Napoleon's General Moreau, drew close to each other along the river. Snow had been falling for several days. The weather was bitterly cold. The armies opened fire, however, and a great battle was fought in the forest, although the snow-storm was so blinding that the soldiers could only distinguish their enemies by the flash of their guns. The battle raged through the woods, across the hills, and along the river. The French and Bavarians finally won, and the Emperor of Austria had to accept Napoleon's terms of peace in order to save his capital of Vienna from capture. In the poem "Frank" means the French, "Hun" stands for the Austrians, and "Munich" refers to the Bavarians and their capital.

During his travels in Germany the English poet Campbell saw a battle from a convent near Ratisbon, and he also visited the field of Ingolstadt after a battle. From these experiences he wrote his poem on Hohenlinden.

Source: The introduction to "Hohenlinden" is reprinted from Historic Poems and Ballads. Ed. Rupert S. Holland. Philadelphia: George W. Jacobs & Co., 1912.

On Linden, when the sun was low,
All bloodless lay the untrodden snow;
And dark as winter was the flow
Of Iser, rolling rapidly.

But Linden saw another sight,
When the drum beat at dead of night,
Commanding fires of death to light
The darkness of her scenery.

By torch and trumpet fast arrayed,
Each horseman drew his battle-blade,
And furious every charger neighed
To join the dreadful revelry.

Then shook the hills with thunder riven,
Then rushed the steed to battle driven,
And louder than the bolts of heaven
Far flashed the red artillery.

But redder yet that light shall glow
On Linden's hills of stainèd snow,
And bloodier yet the torrent flow
Of Iser, rolling rapidly.

'Tis morn, but scarce yon level sun
Can pierce the war-clouds, rolling dun
Where furious Frank and fiery Hun
Shout in their sulphurous canopy.

The combat deepens. On, ye brave,
Who rush to glory, or the grave!
Wave, Munich, all thy banners wave,
And charge with all thy chivalry!

Few, few shall part where many meet!
The snow shall be their winding-sheet,
And every turf beneath their feet
Shall be a soldier's sepulchre.

The Battle of the Baltic

At the time when Napoleon I was Emperor of the French, England was practically the only country that could hold its
own against him, and this was chiefly due to the victories won by the British navy under Lord Nelson. During the long contest with France, the government of England claimed the right to search all neutral ships, for the purpose of preventing secret trade with France. This claim was resisted by several other nations, and in 1800, Russia, Sweden, Prussia, and Denmark formed an alliance known as the "Second Armed Neutrality," for the purpose of opposing the claim.

 The English sent a fleet of fifty-two ships to the Baltic to break up the alliance. Horatio Nelson was second in command. He was assigned the attack when, on March 30, 1801, his advance squadron of thirty-six vessels entered the Danish harbor of Copenhagen. The British commander, Sir Hyde Parker, gave the signal to cease firing after the battle had raged for three hours. Nelson saw the signal, but placing his spy-glass to his blind eye, said to his lieutenants, "I really don't see the signal. Keep mine for closer battle still flying. That's the way I answer such signals. Nail mine to the mast." The battle lasted for five hours, and ended in complete victory for the English fleet. As a reward for his skill in this battle, which Nelson declared was the most terrible in which he had ever taken part, he was made a viscount and given the thanks of the English Parliament.

Of Nelson and the North 
Sing the glorious day's renown, 
When to battle fierce came forth 
All the might of Denmark's crown, 
And her arms along the deep proudly shone;
By each gun the lighted brand 
In a bold determined hand, 
And the Prince of all the land 
Led them on. 

Like leviathans afloat 
Lay their bulwarks on the brine, 
While the sign of battle flew 
On the lofty British line: 
It was ten of April morn by the chime: 
As they drifted on their path 
There was silence deep as death, 
And the boldest held his breath 
For a time. 

But the might of England flush'd 
To anticipate the scene; 
And her van the fleeter rush'd 
O'er the deadly space between: 
'Hearts of oak!' our captains cried, when each gun 
From its adamantine lips 
Spread a death-shade round the ships, 
Like the hurricane eclipse 
Of the sun. 

Again! again! again! 
And the havoc did not slack, 
Till a feeble cheer the Dane 
To our cheering sent us back;— 
Their shots along the deep slowly boom:— 
Then ceased—and all is wail, 
As they strike the shatter'd sail, 
Or in conflagration pale 
Light the gloom. 

Out spoke the victor then 
As he hail'd them o'er the wave: 
'Ye are brothers! ye are men! 
And we conquer but to save:— 
So peace instead of death let us bring: 
But yield, proud foe, thy fleet, 
With the crews, at England's feet, 
And make submission meet 
To our King.'... 

Now joy, old England, raise! 
For the tidings of thy might, 
By the festal cities' blaze, 
Whilst the wine-cup shines in light! 
And yet amidst that joy and uproar, 
Let us think of them that sleep 
Full many a fathom deep, 
By thy wild and stormy steep,