"Better Be Courted And Jilted Than Never Be Courted At All"

Context: Thomas Campbell took more pride in having founded the University of London than in his poetry, even his heroic and patriotic poetry that stirred Great Britain between 1800 and 1840. That is well, because the university continued and grew, while Campbell's reputation as a poet diminished until he is now almost forgotten. One section of his collected poems is headed "Songs, chiefly Amatory," and contains thirty poems to almost as many ladies. He started with two "To Caroline" poems, written in 1795, just after he left the University of Glasgow. He was eighteen and Caroline, seventeen. He wrote "Ode to Content" in 1800, dedicated to Matilda Sinclair, whom he later married. Then came poems to Julia, to Florine who married one of his best friends, to Margaret, a lovely table maid, and to three celebrated Scottish beauties: Jemima, Rosa, and Eleanore. Many of the poems were trite, but Campbell could turn a phrase and incorporate humor, as he did when one young lady in 1840 begged him for something original for her album. His response was: "An original something, fair maid, you will win me/ To write–but how shall I begin?/ For I fear I have nothing original in me–/ Excepting Original Sin." How many times he loved, he was too much the gentleman to boast. How many times he lost, he was too proud to confess. But like Samuel Butler in The Way of All Flesh (Chapter 77), and Tennyson in In Memoriam, Campbell agreed "'Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all." In his song, "The Jilted Nymph," he phrased it differently. It was written to be sung to the Scots tune of "Woo'd and married and a'." The first, part of the third, and the last stanzas are given here. In the lines omitted, the nymph tells of her sad experiences with various temporary suitors.

I'm jilted, forsaken, outwitted;
Yet think not I'll whimper or brawl–
The lass is alone to be pitied
Who ne'er has been courted at all;
Never by great or small
Wooed or jilted at all;
Oh, how unhappy's the lass
Who has never been courted at all!
. . .
What though at my heart he has tilted,
What though I have met with a fall?
Better be courted and jilted
Than never be courted at all . . .
. . .
But lately I've met with a suitor
Whose heart I have gotten in thrall,
And I hope soon to tell you in future
That I'm wooed and married and all.
Wooed and married and all,
What greater bliss can befall?
And you all shall partake
Of my bridal cake,
When I'm woo'd and married, and all.