THE greatest collection of statues and monuments in a public space in Scotland is to be found in Glasgow’s George Square at the heart of the city. 

Yes, there are many monuments and not a few statues in cemeteries such as the Necropolis in Glasgow and Greyfriars Kirkyard and Old Calton in Edinburgh, while Princes Street Gardens has more memorials and statues, but nowhere in Scotland rivals George Square for the magnificence of its statuary in such a relatively small public space.   

The Square itself was named after King George III and was deliberately laid out over 20 years from 1781 so that at the start of the 19th century it came to be a functioning civic space, similar to the piazzas in many towns and cities of Italy.  

Soon I will be examining how the central placing of the Square influenced the construction of much of what became the city centre and in many ways it can be argued that George Square “built” Glasgow in the 1800s.

Most of the statues and monuments date from the 19th century. Towering high over the rest is the 80ft column in the centre that celebrates Sir Walter Scott, while two other literary figures have statues in their honour – Robert Burns and Thomas Campbell, described on the plinth of his statue simply as “POET”.

Both Scott and Burns knew Glasgow well. I told last week the extraordinary “lost” story of how Burns failed to do a deal with printers in Glasgow, otherwise the world-famous Kilmarnock Edition of his poems would have been the Glasgow Edition. Indeed, it should have been so, for the greatest number of subscribers were from the city and more first Kilmarnock Editions are preserved in Glasgow than anywhere else.

From the moment he found fame with the Kilmarnock Edition in July 1786, until his tragically premature death in 1796, Burns made several visits to Glasgow. He was also a friend of an important Glaswegian, Charles Tennant, who learned weaving and then turned his attention to bleaching, building the huge St Rollox works – Burns described him as ‘Wabster Charlie’ in his Epistle to James Tennant.

Glasgow Times:

Burns had many other friends in Glasgow, and being Rabbie, not a few of them were women. Indeed his most famous paramour, Clarinda, was a Glasgow girl – Agnes McLehose, née Craig, for whom he wrote Ae Fond Kiss. In one of her letters to Burns – preserved and then sold by her impecunious son – she writes: “Will you take the trouble to pick up a small parcel left for me at Dunlop and Wilson, the Booksellers of Trongate, Glasgow, and bring it with you on the fly?” 

One day in Ayrshire, Burns saw a very pretty girl, Wilhelmina Alexander from Glasgow, and wrote her into immortality as the Bonnie Lass o’ Ballochmyle. She ignored the love letter from Burns to her that contained the poem, and she died a spinster at the age of 90 though Wilhelmina always kept the letter and poem, to prove that she was indeed the Bonnie Lass o’ Ballochmyle.   

Other Glasgow connections saw him visit the city to visit friends, and from Robert McIndoe the draper he bought the beautiful dark material for Jean Armour’s wedding dress – it cost him £4, six shillings and nine pence.               

After his death, Burns was finally published in Glasgow, with The Jolly Beggars printed in 1799 by Stewart and Meikle of Candleriggs. His statue in George Square was paid for by public subscription, and since no other description was needed, it states just his name.   
Sir Walter Scott only met Burns once, in Sciennes Hill House in Edinburgh when Scott was just 15. Scott recalled many years later: “There was a strong expression of sense and shrewdness in all his lineaments; the eye alone, I think, indicated the poetical temperament. It was large and of a dark cast, and glowed (I say literally glowed) when he spoke with feeling or interest. I never saw such another eye in a human head, though I have seen the most distinguished men in my time.” 
Scott was himself a frequent visitor to Glasgow in connection with his legal business, often attending the Old Court House on Jail Square  – now Jocelyn Square – and staying at an inn on King Street, just around the corner. 

Evidence that he knew Glasgow well can be found in his novel Rob Roy in which the actual locations of events are easily recognised. Bailie Nicol Jarvie, one of Scott’s most memorable characters, is based on an amalgam of people he met in Glasgow and elsewhere.

Which brings me to Thomas Campbell, inset. No doubt many thousands of people have trooped round George Square and come to the statue of “Thomas Campbell, Poet, Born 1777, Died 1844” and asked themselves the question “who he?”

For Campbell is probably the least known person commemorated in the Square, save probably Thomas Graham the chemist. Yet in his heyday in the final years of the 18th century and first years of the 1800s, Thomas Campbell was very famous indeed, enjoying the sort of renown in his early 20s that would only come to Scott in his 30s. 
The son of a Tobacco Lord who survived near bankruptcy during the American Wars of Independence, Campbell was educated at Glasgow High School and the University, and was composing poetry even before he graduated. He studied law at Edinburgh University and moved in social circles in the capital where Scott was a contemporary. 

Scott encouraged Campbell to publish his poetry and in 1799 his long poem The Pleasures of Hope was printed. 

It’s too didactic for our modern tastes, but in its first year alone it went into four editions and Campbell found himself famous. Moving abroad and later to London, He also produced several stirring patriotic war songs such a Ye Mariners Of England, The Soldier’s Dream, 

Hohenlinden, and, in 1801, The Battle Of The Baltic, which was a huge success. 
Sadly, Campbell gradually lost his poetic muse and devoted himself to such activities as helping found the University of London and editing the works of other poets rather than writing his own. He returned to his alma mater, Glasgow University, in 1826 when he was elected Lord Rector – his defeated opponent in the election was none other than Sir Walter Scott.

Buried in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey after his death at the age of 66, Campbell is mostly forgotten in Glasgow, but at least you now know the story behind the statue.