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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Thomas Campion (1567–1620)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Ernest Rhys (1859–1946)
 
DR. THOMAS CAMPION, lyric poet, musician, and doctor of medicine,—who, of the three liberal arts that he practiced, is remembered now mainly for his poetry,—was born about the middle of the sixteenth century; the precise date and place being unknown. It has been conjectured that he came of an Essex family; but the evidence for this falls through. Nor was he, as has been ingeniously supposed, of any relationship to his namesake Edmund Campion, the Jesuit. What is certain, and thrice interesting in the case of such a poet, is that he was so nearly a contemporary of Shakespeare’s. He was living in London all through the period of Shakespeare’s mastery of the English stage, and survived him only by some three or four years. From an entry in the register of St. Dunstan’s-in-the-West, Fleet Street, we learn that Campion was buried there in February, 1619–20. But although it is clear that the two poets, one the most famous, the other well-nigh the least known, in the greater Elizabethan galaxy, must have often encountered in the narrower London of that day, there is no single reference in the lives or works of either connecting one with the other.  1
  We first hear of Campion at Gray’s Inn, where he was admitted a member in 1586, from which it is clear that his first idea was to go in for law. He tired of it before he was called to the bar, however; and turning to medicine instead, he seems to have studied for his M. D. at Cambridge, and thereafter repaired again to London and begun to practice as a physician,—very successfully, as the names of some of his more distinguished patients show. A man of taste, in the very finest sense,—cultured, musical, urbane,—his own Latin epigrams alone would show that he had all that social instinct and tact which count for so much in a doctor’s career. He was fortunate, too, in finding in London the society best adapted to stimulate his finely intellectual and artistic faculty. The first public sign of his literary art was his book of ‘Poemata,’ the Latin epigrams referred to, which appeared in 1595, and every copy of which has disappeared. Fortunately a second series of epigrams, written in maturer years, gave him an excuse to republish the first series in connection with them, in the year of his death, 1619. From the two series we learn many interesting facts about his circle of friends and himself, and the evident ease and pleasantness of his life, late and early. There is the same sense of style in his Latin verse that one finds in his English lyrics; but though he had a pretty wit, with a sufficient salt in it on occasion,—as in his references to Barnabe Barnes,—his faculty was clearly more lyrical than epigrammatical, and his lyric poems are all that an exacting posterity is likely to allow him to carry up the steep approach to the House of Fame.  2
  His earliest collection of these exquisite little poems was not issued under his own name, but under that of Philip Rosetter the musician, who wrote the music for half the book; the other half being of Campion’s own composition. This, the first of the delightful set of old music-books which are the only source we have to draw upon for his lyric poems, was published in 1601. There is no doubt that for many years previous to this, Campion had been in the habit of writing both the words and music of such songs for the private delectation of his friends and himself. Some of his very finest lyrics, as memorable as anything he has given us, appear in this first volume of 1601.  3
  The second collection of Campion’s songs was published, this time under his own name, probably in 1613. It is entitled ‘Two Books of Airs’: the first, ‘Divine and Moral Songs,’ which include some of the finest examples of their kind in all English literature; the second book, ‘Light Conceits of Lovers,’ is very well described by its title, containing many sweetest love-songs. We have not yet exhausted the list of Campion’s music-books. In 1617 two more, ‘The Third & Fourth Books of Airs,’ were published in another small folio; and these again afford songs fine enough for any anthology. Meanwhile we have passed by all his Masques, which are among the prettiest of their kind, and as full of lyrical moments as of picturesque effects. The first was performed at Whitehall for the marriage of “my Lord Hayes” (Sir James Hay), on Twelfth Night, 1606–7. Three more were written by Campion in 1613; and in the same year he published his ‘Songs of Mourning,’ prompted by the untimely death of the promising young Prince Henry, which had taken place in November, 1612. These songs, which do not show Campion at his best, were set to music by Copario (alias John Cooper). This completes the list of Campion’s poetry; but besides his actual practice in the arts of poetry and music, he wrote on the theory of both. His interesting ‘Observations in the Art of English Poesie’ (1602) resolves itself into a naïve attack upon the use of rhyme in poetry, which comes paradoxically enough from one who was himself so exquisite a rhymer, and which called forth a very convincing reply in Daniel’s ‘Defence of Rhyme.’ The ‘Observations’ contain some very taking examples of what may be done in the lyric form, without rhyme. Campion’s musical pamphlet is less generally interesting, since counterpoint, on which he offered some practical rules, and the theory of music, have traveled so far since he wrote. It remains only to add that Campion remained in the limbo of forgotten poets from his own day until ours, when Professor Arber and Mr. A. H. Bullen in their different anthologies and editions rescued him for us. Mr. Bullen’s privately printed volume of his works appeared in 1889. The present writer has more recently (1896) edited a very full selection of the lyrics in the ‘Lyric Poets’ series. Campion’s fame, without doubt, is destined to grow steadily from this time forth, based as it is on poems which so perfectly and exquisitely satisfy the lyric sense and the lyric relationship between music and poetry.  4
 
 
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