You are here

Lewis Campbell

Emeritus Professor of Greek, University of St Andrews
1830 to 1908

Lewis Campbell was born in 1830 in Edinburgh to Captain Robert Campbell, who was related to the Campbells of Kirnan, Argyll. His father died when he was only two years old. Campbell received a first class education, first at Edinburgh Academy, at Glasgow University (1846-9) and at Oxford.

Lewis Campbell was a classical scholar and ordained minister who even shortly before his death in 1908 continued to lecture. In recognition of his work on Plato, Campbell was appointed to the chair at St Andrews University. For a number of years he concentrated on Plato’s philosophy, teaching, translating, editing. His edition of the Sophistes and Politicus appeared in 1867, his Theaetetus went into a second edition 1883 and in 1894 he edited the Republic. Campbell’s work was innovative and imaginative; he was a pioneer in the application of stylometry (a sophisticated examination of vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure) to the question of Plato’s chronological development.

It was at Oxford where he came under the lifelong influence of both theology and philosophy. He graduated with first-class honours and went on to become a fellow and tutor at Queens College. Campbell’s life took a turn in 1857 when he became an ordained deacon. A year later he married Frances Pitt, resigned his fellowship and served as the vicar of Milford, Hampshire for five years. Although he returned to the university in 1863, having been appointed professor of Greek at the University of St Andrews, for Campbell religion remained an abiding interest. His thoughts were expressed in sermons (collected and brought out as The Christian Ideal in 1877) and in theological essays (published in 1906). His interest in religion and in Greek philosophy fused in other ways: in 1898 Religion in Greek Literature, from a collection of Gifford Lectures he gave at St Andrews, was published. Shortly before his death he gave a lecture at Oxford entitled “The Religious Element in Plato.” After his work on Plato, Campbell began to concentrate on tragedy, especially Sophocles (his edition of Sophocles came out in two volumes, in 1871 and in 1879). Again, he made a lasting contribution to scholarship. His insights on language, on lyric metre, on the textual tradition, and on dramatic and staging questions are particularly valuable. Campbell’s third main scholarly enterprise was also extremely original in conception. Instead of simply focusing on one author or simply on one Greek text, Campbell had the idea of verse translation allied with comparative literature. Tragic Drama in Aeschylus, Sophocles and Shakespeare appeared in 1904. Along with translations of Sophocles and of Aeschylus in blank verse and lyric metres, Campbell also addressed himself to less scholarly audiences: A Guide to Greek Tragedy (1891) and Plato’s Republic for the Home and School Library (1902). Campbell was a lifelong proponent of liberal views. He spoke out for the emancipation of the ancient universities from denomination restrictions (his On the Nationalisation of the Old English Universities came out in 1901) and advocated higher education for women. As to the latter, he was closely involved in the foundation of St Leonard’s School for women and was the chairman of the school council for many years.

Lewis Campbell has been described by contemporaries as sensitive, unassuming and possessing a mildly bohemian lifestyle. After a prolonged period of ill health in 1891-2, he was forced to retire his chair at St Andrews, and he and his wife made the Italian Rivera their winter home. It was on his way back to Britain, at Locarno, Switzerland, that Campbell died on 25 October 1908.

from E.M.Craik, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

  • David Kahan, University of Glasgow