Duncan Campbell (soothsayer)

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The history of the life and adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell

Duncan Campbell (1680?-1730) was a Scottish deaf man and professed soothsayer.


The account of Campbell's early life, brought up in Lapland where his Scottish father had wed a local woman, has been questioned. He had some teaching at the University of Glasgow, according to the recommendations of John Wallis.[1]

Campbell went in 1694 to London, where his predictions attracted attention in fashionable society. Running into debt, he went to Rotterdam, where he enlisted as a soldier. Returning in a few years to London, he read a wealthy young widow's fortune, to his own benefit, and having taken a house in Monmouth Street, he found himself again a centre of attraction.

Campbell succeeded in obtaining the notice of royalty, as reporting in the ‘Daily Post’ of Wednesday, 4 May 1720: ‘Last Monday Mr. Campbell, the deaf and dumb gentleman—introduced by Colonel Carr—kissed the king's hand, and presented to his majesty “The History of his Life and Adventures,” which was by his majesty most graciously received.’

In 1726 Campbell appeared as a vendor of miraculous medicines. He published ‘The Friendly Demon;[2] It consists of two letters, the first by Duncan Campbell, giving an account of an illness which attacked him in 1717, and continued nearly eight years, until his good genius appeared and revealed that he could be cured by the use of the lodestone; the second on genii or familiar spirits, with an account of a marvellous sympathetic powder which had been brought from the East. A postscript informed the readers that at ‘Dr. Campbell's house, in Buckingham Court, over against Old Man's Coffee House, at Charing Cross, they may be readily furnished with his “Pulvis Miraculosus,” and finest sort of Egyptian loadstones.’

Campbell died after a severe illness in 1730.

Literary references[edit]

‘All his visitants,’ says a writer in The Tatler No. 14, ‘come to him full of expectations, and pay his own rate for the interpretations they put upon his shrugs and nods;’ and he is referred to in The Spectator No. 560: ‘Every one has heard of the famous conjuror who, according to the opinion of the vulgar, has studied himself dumb. Be that as it will, the blind Tiresias was not more famous in Greece than this dumb artist has been for some years last past in the cities of London and Westminster.’

Edmund Curll in 1720 published The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell.[3] It was probably written by William Bond; the traditional attribution to Daniel Defoe is now considered implausible.[1][4]

On 18 June 1720 there appeared a pamphlet entitled Mr. Campbell's Pacquet.‘[5] This was edited by Bond;[1] the third section of the pamphlet was written by Defoe (DNB). In 1724 there was published A Spy upon the Conjuror.[6] This pamphlet was by Eliza Haywood.[1] About a third of the pamphlet consists of letters— generally very amusing, sometimes of the most extraordinary character—written by Campbell's correspondents. The 1725 ‘The Dumb Projector; being a surprising account of a Trip to Holland made by Mr. Campbell, with the manner of his Reception and Behaviour there,’ was also by Haywood.[1]

An account of his life appeared in 1732, under the title ‘Secret Memoirs of the late Mr. Duncan Campbell, the famous Deaf and Dumb Gentleman, written by himself, who ordered they should be published after his decease. To which is added an application by way of vindication of Mr. Duncan Campbell against the groundless aspersion cast upon him that he had pretended to be Deaf and Dumb.’


  1. ^ a b c d e Turner, David. "Campbell, Duncan". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/4494.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ ‘The Friendly Demon; or the Generous Apparition. Being a True Narrative of a Miraculous Cure newly performed upon that famous Deaf and Dumb Gentleman, Mr. Duncan Campbell, by a familiar spirit that appeared to him in a white surplice like a Cathedral Singing Boy.’
  3. ^ ‘The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell, a gentleman who, though deaf and dumb, writes down any strange name at first sight, with their future contingencies of fortune. Now living in Exeter Court over against the Savoy in the Strand.’
  4. ^ A second edition of the ‘Life of Campbell’ appeared on 10 Aug. 1720; it was reissued 14 March 1721; and in 1728 the same book appeared under the title ‘The Supernatural Philosopher; or the Mysteries of Magic in all its Branches clearly unfolded by Wm. Bond, Esquire.’
  5. ^ Mr. Campbell's Pacquet for the Entertainment of Ladies and Gentlemen, containing: I. Verses to Mr. Campbell occasioned by the History of his Life and Adventures. II. The Parallel, a Poem comparing the Productions of Mr. Pope with the Prophetical Productions of Mr. Campbell, by Captain Stanhope. III. An Account of a most surprising Apparition, sent from Launceston in Cornwall. Attested by Rev. Mr. Ruddle, minister there.’
  6. ^ ‘A Spy upon the Conjuror; or a Collection of Surprising Stories with Names, Places, and particular Circumstances relating to Mr. Duncan Campbell, commonly known by the name of ‘the Deaf and Dumb Man; and the astonishing Penetration and Event of his Predictions. Written to my Lord—, by a Lady, who for more than twenty years past has made it her business to observe all Transactions in the Life and Conversation of Mr. Campbell. London, sold by Mr. Campbell.’

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Campbell, Duncan". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.