Thomas Campbell

Biography of Thomas Campbell

Thomas Campbell
Thomas Campbell

Thomas Campbell L.L.D (1777-1884) was a poet and Glasgow graduate who served as the University's Rector from 1826 to 1829.

Campbell was the eleventh son of a Glasgow tobacco merchant and was brought up on the city’s High Street. His father was bankrupted by the disruption of the American War of Independence. He won a bursary to attend the University of Glasgow at the age of 13 in 1791.

During his university career, 1791-1795, he won nine prizes in Greek, Logic, Ethics and Humanities. He excelled at debate and translation, particularly in verse. He won a prize created specifically for his "poetical essay" on the Origin of Evil in 1793 for writing in verse rather than in prose. He was taught Humanities by the prominent literary scholar William Richardson and attended lectures in Roman Law given by John Millar which he later recalled to be "electrifying".

His first volume of poetry "The Pleasures of Hope" published in 1799 received wide critical acclaim and he became one of Britain's most popular poets. He was a biographer, travel writer, magazine editor, and a vociferous champion of the struggle for Polish independence. He was also responsible for promoting the idea to establish a university in London, which would become the University College of London.

Campbell was elected Rector in 1826, with 283 votes with strong student support but not the support of the faculty who favoured an opposing candidate. He was far more active in his duties than most rectors of the nineteenth century and spent time looking into the finances of the university, hearing reports from professors and sitting in on lectures. He was re-elected twice and serving his third term despite the opposition of the University authorities: they considered his third election to be illegal, after he lost the original vote to Sir Walter Scott but won a second poll after Sir Walter declined to accept the post.

During his Rectorship he received an honorary doctorate from the university. Later, the Campbell Club was established by a group of students in Thomas Campbell's honour. His name is included in The Memorial Gates presented to the University by the General Council on 18 June 1952 to honour the twenty-nine outstanding figures of the University's first 500 years. He is buried in Poets' Corner in Westminster Abbey.

The Special Collections department holds a selection of Thomas Campbell’s personal papers and material relating to his life and works. The collection includes transcripts of Campbell’s poems, personal letters documents relating to his time as Rector at the University, and books from his personal library.


Thomas Campbell

Born 27 July 1777.
Died 15 June 1844.
GU Degree: Doctor of Laws, 1796;
University Link: Graduate, Rector
Occupation categories: poets; Rector
NNAF Reference: GB/NNAF/P4758
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Record last updated: 6th Nov 2017

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