A report below from Amy Wilcockson, winner of The Scottish Romanticism Research Award 2019. Amy is a doctoral researcher in the School of English at the University of Nottingham.
In August 2019, I was lucky enough to be awarded the UCSL-BARS Scottish Romanticism Research Award, a prize given to assist postgraduates and early career scholars in their studies in Scottish libraries and archives. Whilst previous winners have used the awarded funds of £300 to put towards research trips to Dundee and Edinburgh, I chose to visit Glasgow, and dig deep into the archives held in the Mitchell Library and the University of Glasgow Library.
The objects of my search were the letters of the Scottish poet and public figure, Thomas Campbell (1777-1844). Although Campbell is probably best known for being praised by Lord Byron for his Popean verses, he himself was a bestselling poet of the Romantic period, whose 1799 debut, The Pleasures of Hope, catapulted him to fame. Over his lifetime, Campbell had an incredibly diverse career, with ventures including a decade as editor of the prominent Romantic periodical The New Monthly Magazine, a stint as a lecturer at the Royal Institution, and an illustrious period as Rector of the University of Glasgow, amongst other varied and intriguing roles. Campbell’s doctor, William Beattie, wrote his biography The Life and Letters of Thomas Campbell in 1849. This three-volume work remains the only study of Campbell’s letters, yet it is deeply flawed, as Campbell’s letters were censored and edited to reflect prim Victorian tastes. Therefore, the object of my PhD thesis is to create a scholarly edition of a selection of Campbell’s letters. A trip to Glasgow was essential for my research, due to the large number of Campbell’s letters held in the city, with one hundred and twenty-eight letters and twenty-six copies held at the University of Glasgow Library, and eighty-five letters, plus an array of other manuscripts which belonged to Beattie located in the Mitchell Library.
I visited Glasgow for a prospective three weeks in March 2020 and began my transcription work in the University of Glasgow Library. The University holds a large amount of correspondence sent from Campbell to his family, alongside a number of letters sent to Campbell by many famous names of the Romantic period, including Joanna Baillie, Henry Brougham, and Lord Holland. Accessing these letters allowed me to reflect on the public and private sides of Campbell, demonstrated in the domestic epistles to his family, and the letters received from Campbell’s grandiose friends prominent in London society.
Unfortunately, my trip was halted by the Covid-19 pandemic, and after thirteen days in Glasgow I returned to Nottingham just before lockdown began. Despite the remainder of my trip being cut short, I still managed to access the letters and other manuscripts in the Mitchell Library, transcribing forty letters in the library, and taking extensive photographs of the remaining manuscripts. Study of these documents reveal the Mitchell holds a number of other treasures relating to Campbell’s life and career, including letters to Beattie after Campbell’s death from his admirers, and a series of autobiographical early memories of Campbell’s. This short ‘autobiography’ is written in the poet’s own hand at Beattie’s behest, and will not only provide vital contextual information for my thesis but be included as an appendix to the project.
In spite of a shorter research trip than planned, the amount of material I accessed and transcribed, and the quality of these documents mean that I feel I made the most of my time in Glasgow, and accomplished the aims of my visit there. I would like to thank UCSL and BARS for their generous funding of this research award, and Dr Daniel Cook, Dr Michael Morris, Dr Cassandra Ulph, Dr Fiona Milne, and Dr Matthew Sangster for their assistance and kindness both remotely and in Glasgow.