Sunday, December 11, 2016

"Lochiel's Warning" (Thomas Campbell)

The Clan Cameron grave marker at Drumossie Moor (Culloden)

[Image source: ]

Proud Cumberland prances, insulting the slain,
And their hoof-beaten bosoms are trod to the plain.
But hark! through the fast-flashing lightning of war,
What steed to the desert flies frantic and far?
'Tis thine, Oh Glenullin! whose bride shall await,
Like a love-lighted watch-fire, all night at the gate.
A steed comes at morning: no rider is there;
But its bridle is red with the sign of despair.

(from Lochiel's Warning , by Thomas Campbell)

I've been threatening for ages to write a post about Scott's A Legend of Montrose, which I read while we were on our travels through France and Spain back in September. This is an offshoot.

Scott  always prefixes his chapters with poetical epigraphs. Ann Radcliffe seems to have initiated this practice; Fennimore Cooper did it too.  In Scott's later novels he often made up the epigraphs himself (and palmed them off as Old Play or similar). But in his early days the epigraphs are an enriching dialogue with other material.

Chapters 6 and 7 of the Legend are both headed by highly pertinent quotations from "Lochiel's Warning" by Thomas Campbell: in relation to highland uprisings, and to foreseeing the future. More distantly, these epigraphs hint that the uprising in Scott's book is doomed to end badly.

Campbell is a poet I often seem to cross paths with. He had a happy knack for encapsulating an idea in a memorable line, in this case (re "the second sight"):

                    And coming events cast their shadow before.

Campbell was a contemporary of Scott's and they were both based in Edinburgh for a few years around 1800-1810 so I suppose they knew each other fairly well.* "Lochiel's Warning" is an exciting recitation-piece that Campbell wrote in 1801 and I should think it was highly influential on Scott's own narrative poems. Campbell, in his turn, was much taken with Scott's brilliant ballad of "Cadyow Castle", written in the same year.

*Yes, they did. According to Scott and his Circle (Scottish National Portrait Gallery booklet, by R.E. Hutchison) Scott "was one of the first to recognize and welcome Campbell when he came to Edinburgh and they remained life-long friends".

Campbell's contemporaries lamented his early loss of poetical powers; his poems subsequent to 1809 were not admired. Scott himself said: "Thomas Campbell's afraid of the author of The Pleasures of Hope"* - i.e. the splendid poem with which Campbell had burst onto the scene in 1799.

*John Wilson et al, Noctes Ambrosianae ,Vol ii Page 67.

In his Journal (29th June 1826), Scott pondered further: "I wonder often how Tom Campbell with so much real genius, has not maintained a greater figure in the public eye than he has done of late -- somehow he wants audacity, fears the public, and what is worse, fears the shadow of his own reputation. He is a great corrector too, which succeeds as ill in composition as in education. Many a clever boy is flogged into a dunce, and many an original composition corrected in mediocrity. Tom ought to have done a great deal more; his youthful promise was great."


"Lochiel's Warning" is a dialogue between a prophetic seer and the historic figure of Donald Cameron of Lochiel. The poem transforms into mythical terms something that was actually true. The "Gentle Lochiel", like many of the other chieftains who agreed out of loyalty to follow Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, sensed that this ill-judged enterprise would be bound to end in calamity. Contrary to the hints of the poem, Lochiel didn't die on the field of Culloden but he was badly wounded and fled to France, dying two years later without ever returning to Scotland.

The Battle of Culloden, 16th April 1746, was the last pitched battle on British soil. Around 2,000 highlanders and 300 government troops were killed.  It led on to brutal reprisals by "Butcher" Cumberland. The name of Culloden was long and resentfully remembered.

The streets of Soho did reverberate
With drunken Highland men
Revenge for Culloden dead
The North had rose again
But it would turn out wrong

(From "The NWRA" by The Fall, 1980 Lyrics in full)

Mark E. Smith's lyric re-evokes the mythic motif of a northern rebellion that is foreseen as going wrong from the start. Despite the sardonic side-glance just quoted, the song is really about northern England rather than Scotland.

Indeed historically the two regions have often taken different sides, just as in Scotland the highlands and lowlands were often opposed to each other. As regards the most recent Rising of the North, most of Scotland and at least one Mr Cameron were on the other side. Whether this rising will "turn out wrong" too I don't know, but the spirit of doom-laden presentiment lives on.

Scanlon, Hanley, Hanley, Smith, Riley: The Fall on 24th October, 1980 (at the General Wolfe in Coventry) 

[Image source: . Photo by Mark Osborne.]

"The NWRA" appeared on the album Grotesque (After The Gramme), Smith's most coherent realization of northern existence.

I'm sure it's pure coincidence, but in another song on the album, "Impression of J. Temperance",
the monstrous birth is delivered by an overpaid vet whose name is Cameron.

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