Thomas campion 0006

Thomas Campion (1567-1620). From An Introduction to the Skill of Musick, 1683. Courtesy Internet Archive.

Thomas Campion (12 February 1567 - 1 March 1620) was an English poet, composer, and physician. The Encyclopædia Britannica calls him "one of the outstanding songwriters of the brilliant English lutenist school of the late 16th and early 17th centuries," and says of his poems: "His lyric poetry reflects his musical abilities in its subtle mastery of rhythmic and melodic structure."[1]

He wrote over 100 lute songs, masques for dancing, and an authoritative technical treatise on music.



Poet and musician, b. at Witham, Essex, and ed. at Camb., and on the Continent, studied law at Gray's Inn, but discarding it, practised medicine in London. He wrote masques, and many fine lyrics remarkable for their metrical beauty, of which "Cherry Ripe" and "Lesbia" are well known. He also wrote Epigrams in Latin, and Observations on the Arte of Poesie (1602). He composed the music for most of his songs.[2]

Youth and educationEdit

Campion was born in London, the son of John Campion, a clerk of the Court of Chancery, and Lucy (Searle), daughter of Laurence Searle, one of the queen's serjeants-at-arms. Upon the death of Campion's father in 1576, his mother married Augustine Steward, but died herself soon afterwards.[3]

His step-father assumed charge of the boy and sent him, in 1581, to study at Peterhouse, Cambridge as a "gentleman pensioner"; he left the university after 4 years without taking a degree, but strongly imbued with those tastes for classical literature which exercised such powerful influence upon his subsequent work.[3] [4]

In April 1587 he was admitted to Gray's Inn. However, he left in 1595 without having been called to the bar.[3]


The body of his works is considerable, the earliest known being a group of five anonymous poems included in the "Songs of Divers Noblemen and Gentlemen", appended to Newman's edition of Sir Philip Sidney's Astrophel and Stella, which appeared in 1591. In 1595 Poemata: A collection of Latin panegyrics, elegies and epigrams, was published, winning him a considerable reputation. This was followed in 1601 by a songbook, A Booke of Ayres, with words by himself and music composed by himself and Philip Rosseter. The following year he published his Observations in the Art of English Poesie, "against the vulgar and unartificial custom of riming," in favour of rhymeless verse on the model of classical quantitative verse. Campion's theories on poetry were rebutted by Samuel Daniel in Defence of Rhyme, 1603.[3]

On 10 February 1605 Campion received his medical degree from the University of Caen.[5] He is thought to have lived in London, practicing as a physician, until his death.[3]

In 1607, he wrote and published a masque for the occasion of the marriage of James Hay, 1st Earl of Carlisle.[3]

In 1613 he issued a volume of Songs of Mourning: Bewailing the untimely death of Prince Henry, set to music by Coperario (John Cooper). The same year he wrote and arranged 3 masques, "The Lords' Masque" for the marriage of Princess Elizabeth, an entertainment for the amusement of Queen Anne at Caversham House, and a 3rd for the marriage of Robert Carr, 1st Earl of Somerset to the infamous Frances Howard, Countess of Essex. If, moreover, as appears quite likely, his Two Bookes of Ayres (with both words and music written by himself) belongs also to this year, it was indeed his annus mirabilis.[3]

In 1615, he published a book on counterpoint, A New Way of Making Fowre Parts in Counterpoint; by a Most Familiar and Infallible Rule,[6] a technical treatise which was for many years the standard textbook on the subject. It was included, with annotations by Christopher Sympson, in John Playford's Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick, and 2 editions appear to have been published by 1660.[7][3]

Some time in or after 1617 appeared his Third and Fourth Booke of Ayres.< In 1618 appeared The Ayres that were Sung and Played at Brougham Castle on the Occasion of the King's Entertainment There, the music by George Mason and John Earsden, while the words were almost certainly by Campion. In 1619 he published hisEpigrammatum Libri II: Umbra elegiarum liber unus", a revison of his 1595 collection with considerable omissions, additions (in the form of another book of epigrams), and corrections.[3]

He died 1 March 1620 (possibly of the bubonic plague).[8] He was apparently unmarried and had no children. He was buried the same day at St. Dunstan-in-the-West in Fleet Street.[3]


Campion set little store by his English lyrics; they were to him "the superfluous blossoms of his deeper studies," but we may thank the fates that his ideas on rhymeless versification so little affected his work. His rhymeless experiments are certainly better conceived than many others, but they lack the spontaneous grace and freshness of his other poetry, while the whole scheme was, of course, unnatural. He must have possessed a very delicate musical ear, for not one of his songs is unmusical; moreover, his ability to compose both words and music gave rise to a metrical fluidity which is one of his most characteristic features.[9]

Rarely are his rhythms uniform, while they frequently shift from line to line. His range was very great both in feeling and expression, and whether he attempts an elaborate epithalamium or a simple country ditty, the result is always full of unstudied freshness and tuneful charm. In some of his sacred pieces he is particularly successful, combining real poetry with genuine religious fervour. Some of Campion's works could also be quite ribald - such as "Beauty, since you so much desire".[9]


Early dictionary writers, such as Fétis, saw Campion as a theorist.[10] It was much later on that people began to see him as a composer.

While Campion had attained a considerable reputation in his own day, in the years that followed his death his works sank into complete oblivion. No doubt this was due to the nature of the media in which he mainly worked, the masque and the song-book. The masque was an amusement at any time too costly to be popular, and during the commonwealth period it was practically extinguished. The vogue of the song-books was even more ephemeral, and, as in the case of the masque, the Puritan ascendancy, with its distaste for all secular music, effectively put an end to the madrigal. Its loss involved that of many hundreds of dainty lyrics, including those of Campion.[9]

It was due to the work of A.H. Bullen, who first published a collection of the poet's works in 1889, that his genius was recognized and his place among the foremost rank of Elizabethan lyric poets restored.[9]

9 of his lyrics ("Cherry-Ripe", "Laura", "Devotion i", "Devotion ii." "Vobiscum est Iope", "A Hymn in Praise of Neptune", "Winter Nights", "Integer Vitae," and "O come quickly!") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[11]

In popular cultureEdit

A reference was made to Campion in an October 2010 episode of the BBC TV series, James May's Man Lab (BBC2), where his works are used as the inspiration for a young man trying to serenade a female colleague.




Renaissance editionsEdit

  • Thomae Campiani Poemata Ad Thamesin. Fragmentum Umbra. Liber Elegiarum. Liber Epigrammatum. London: R. Field, 1595.
  • The Discription of a Maske, Presented before the Kinges Majestie at White-Hall, on Twelfth Night Last, in Honour of the Lord Hayes. London: Printed by J. Windet for J. Brown, 1607.
  • Two Bookes of Ayres: The first contayning divine and morall songs; The second, light conceits of lovers. London: T. Snodham, for M. Lownes & J. Browne, circa 1613.
  • Songs of Mourning: Bewailing the Untimely Death of Prince Henry. Worded by Tho. Campion. And Set Forth to Bee Sung with One Voyce to the Lute, or Violl: by John Coprario. London: T. Snodham, for J. Browne, 1613.
  • The Description of a Maske: Presented in the Banqueting Roome at Whitehall, on Saint Stephens Night Last, At the Mariage of the Right Honourable the Earle of Somerset. London: E. Allde & T. Snodham, for L. Lisle, 1614.
  • The Third and Fourth Booke of Ayres. London: T. Snodham, circa 1617.
  • Tho. Campiani Epigrammatum Libri II. Umbra. Elegiarum liber unus. London: E. Griffin, 1619.

Modern editionsEdit

  • Lyric Poems (edited by Ernest Rhys). London: Dent, 1895.[12]
  • Poetical Works in English (edited by Percival Vivian). London: Routledge / New York: Dutton, 1907.[12]
  • Songs from Rosseter's Book of Airs (edited by E.H. Fellowes). English School of Lutenist Song Writers, second series, nos. 4 & 13. London: Stainer & Bell, 1922.
  • First Book of Airs (edited by Fellowes). English School of Lutenist Song Writers, second series 1. London: Stainer & Bell, 1925
  • Second Book of Airs (edited by Fellowes). English School of Lutenist Song Writers, second series 2. London: Stainer & Bell, 1925.
  • Third Book of Airs (edited by Fellowes). English School of Lutenist Song Writers, second series 10. London: Stainer & Bell, 1926.
  • Fourth Booke of Ayres (edited by Fellowes). English School of Lutenist Song Writers, second series 11. London: Stainer & Bell, 1926.
  • The Works of Thomas Campion (edited by Walter R. Davis). New York: Doubleday 1967; London: Faber & Faber, 1969.
  • Four Hundred Songs and Dances from the Stuart Masque: With a supplement of sixteen additional pieces (edited by Andrew J. Sabol). Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 1978; London: University Press of New England, 1982.
  • Poems (selected by Charles Simic). London: Faber, 2007.[12]


  • Observations in the Art of English Poesie. London: R. Field, for A. Wise, 1602.
  • A New Way of Making Fowre Parts in Counter-point, by a Most familiar, and Infallible Rule. Secondly, a Necessary Discourse of Keyes, and Their Proper Closes. Thirdly, the Allowed Passages of All Concords Perfect, or Imperfect, Are Declared. Also by Way of Preface, the Nature of the Scale Is Expressed, with a Briefe Method Teaching to Sing. London: Printed by T. Snodham for J. Browne, circa 1610
    • reprinted in A Brief Introduction To the Skill of Musick: In Two Books.... The Third Edition Enlarged. To Which Is Added a Third Book Entituled, The Art of Descant, or Composing Musick in Parts, By Dr. Tho. Campion. With Annotations thereon by Mr. Chr. Simpson, by John Playford. London, 1660).
  • A Relation of the Late Royall Entertainment Given by the Right Honorable the Lord Knowles.... Whereunto Is Annexed the Description, Speeches and Songs of the Lords Maske. London: Printed by W. Stansby for J. Budge, 1613.

Collected editionsEdit

Songs and Masques; with Observations in the art of English poesy (edited by A.H. Bullen)London: A.H. Bullen, 1903.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[13]

See alsoEdit

There Is a Garden in Her Face by Thomas Campion

There Is a Garden in Her Face by Thomas Campion

Campion - I Care Not for these Ladies

Campion - I Care Not for these Ladies


  • Walter R. Davis, Thomas Campion. Twayne Publishers, 1987.
  • Muriel T. Eldridge, Thomas Campion: His poetry and music. Vantage Press, 1971.
  • David Lindley, Thomas Campion. Leiden, 1986.
  • Thomas MacDonagh, Thomas Campion and the Art of English poetry. Dublin: Talbot Press, 1913.
  • Watson, George & Ian Roy Willison, The New Cambridge Bibliography of English literature, Volume 1. Cambridge University Press, 1971, pp. 1905-6.
  • PD-icon.svg Vivian, Sylvanus Percival (1911). "Campion, Thomas". In Chisholm, Hugh. Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 137-138. . Wikisource, Web, Mar. 19, 2017.


  1. Thomas Campion, Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Web, Jan. 20, 2015.
  2. John William Cousin, "Campion, Thomas," A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature, 1910, 71. Web, Dec. 22, 2017.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 3.7 3.8 3.9 Vivian, 137.
  4. He is not listed in Venn, Alumni Cantabrigienses.
  5. Christopher R. Wilson. "Thomas Campion", Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (edited by L. Macy). Grove Music Online, Web, 4 March 2006), ] (subscription access).
  6. Thomas Campion, Christopher R. Wilson, John Coperario. A new way of making fowre parts in counterpoint (Ashgate Publishing, Ltd., 2003).
  7. Brief Introduction to the Skill of Musick
  8. Life of Thomas Campion (Luminarium: Anthology of English literature).
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 Vivian, 138.
  10. Francois-Joseph Fétis, 'Campion' in: Biographie universelle des musiciens et bibliographie générale de la musique, vol. 3 (2nd edition, Paris, 1867) p. 169.
  11. "Alphabetical list of authors: Brontë, Emily to Cutts, Lord, Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900 (edited by Arthur Quiller-Couch), Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919., Web, May 16, 2012.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 12.5 Search results = au:Thomas Campion, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Jan. 20, 2016.
  13. Thomas Campion 1567-1620, Poetry Foundation, Web, Aug. 16, 2012.

External linksEdit

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