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Detail of Holbein's The Ambassadors, 1533.

Thomas Campion  (1567-1620)

      Thomas Campion was born in London on February 12, 1567. He was a law student, a physician, a composer, a writer of masques, and a poet. Campion's parents died when he was still a boy, but they left enough money to send him to Peterhouse College, Cambridge, in 1581. He left Cambridge in 1584, apparently without taking a degree, and in 1586 was admitted to Gray's Inn in London to study law. He participated in the Gray's Inn revels of 1588 and contributed songs to the Gesta Grayorum revels of 1594, but seems never to have been called to the bar.
      Campion's first poetic attempts were in Latin. His love of quantitative versification in classical Latin poems carried over into his English poems and songs. Campion was first published in 1591, when five of his songs appeared in Newman's unauthorized edition of Sidney's Astrophel and Stella. Four years later he published his own book, a collection of Latin epigrams, called Poemata (1595). Campion's reputation rests chiefly on his lyric poems, which are distinguished for their musical quality and charm. They were published 1601-1617 in four books of airs, beginning with A Booke of Ayres to be Sung to the Lute, Orpherian and Bass Viol (1601).
      In 1602 Campion, a theorist of prosody, published the prose work Observations in the Art of English Poesie, in which he attacked “the vulgar and unartificial”, that is, inartistic, custom of rhyming. Campion's theories on poetry, which he himself rarely followed, were refuted by Samuel Daniel in Defence of Rhyme (1603). Ben Jonson also stated that he had written a discourse against both Campion and Daniel, but regrettably the text is lost to us.
      Campion spent three years (1602-1605) on the Continent, and received the M.D. degree from the University of Caen in 1605. After returning to England, Campion was practising as a doctor in London from 1606. During that time, he wrote several masques which were performed at the court of James I. Perhaps the best of them was the Lords' Masque (1613). In 1613 he also published A New Way of Making Fowre Parts in Counterpoint, a book on music theory. In 1615 Campion was questioned about the murder of , but was found innocent and released. Campion died in London, probably of the plague, on March 1, 1620, and was buried at St. Dunstan's-in-the-West.
      Percival Vivian wrote of Campion:

His early extravagances he outlived; and if it were possible to recall the time of his later years, we may imagine that we should find a kindly gentleman, full of ripe experience and judgment, yet cherishing the memories of old loves and friendships, and the generous illusions of youth ; devoted to the studies of poetry, music, and medicine, a true son of Apollo, as he was never tired of urging; clothed with that finer tact and sympathy which comes to a good physician.

(Works, xlix-l)1

  1. Vivian, Percival. "Introduction." Campion's Works. Percival Vivian, Ed.
    Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1909.


Davis, Walter R. Thomas Campion (1987)
Eldridge, Muriel T. Thomas Campion (1971)
Kastendieck, M. M. England's Musical Poet: Thomas Campion (1938)
Lindley, David. Thomas Campion (1997)
Lowbury, E., T. Salter, and A. Young. Thomas Campion: poet, composer, physician (1970)
Peltz, C. W. "Thomas Campion, An Elizabethan Neo-Classicist." MLQ 11 (1950), 3-6.
Short, R. W. "The Metrical Theory and Practice of Thomas Campion." MLA 59 (1944)
Vivian, Percival, ed. Campion's Works (Oxford, 1909)

Article Citation:

      Jokinen, Anniina. "Life of Thomas Campion." Luminarium.
                2 June 1996. [Date you accessed this article].

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Created by Anniina Jokinen on June 2, 1996. Last updated on January 20, 2019.


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