JAMES DE LA COUR or DELACOURT, an Irish poetical writer, was the second son of Robert De la Cour, esq. of the County of Cork, in Ireland, and born at Killowen, near Blarney, in that county, in 1709. He was educated at the university of Dublin, where to his classical studies he added an uncommon predilection for poetry, and before he had reached his twenty-first year, produced a poem entitled Abelard to Eloisa, in imitation of Pope, which was thought to possess a considerable portion of the spirit and harmony of that master. From this time he proceeded to publish shorter poems and sonnets, which were all favourably received; and in 1733 appeared his principal work, The Prospect of Poetry. So creditable a publication, and at such an age, gained him much and deserved applause; and in this list of admirers he had to count on some of the best judges in both countries.
Soon after this he took holy orders, but had little zeal for the profession, and produced his sermons as matters of ordinary duty: his muse was the mistress which engaged his principal attention; and, as the muses generally love "the gay and busy haunts of men," this pursuit was of no service to his promotion or clerical character. He unfortunately, too, loved his bottle as well as his muse; and by such indulgences sunk in the esteem of his fellow citizens, who said poetry affected his head; and in a little time they gave him the title of "the mad parson," under which general character, the graver kind of people grew cautious of his acquaintance, whilst the young ones solicited his company to enjoy his eccentricities. In time he fell so much into this last seduction, that be was the volunteer of any party who would engage him for the night. This constant dissipation at last enfeebled his understanding; and the charge which malice and ignorance at first fastened on him, was now realized; his intellects were at times evidently deranged; and he fancied himself, after the example of Socrates, to be nightly visited by a demon, who enabled him to prophesy all manner of future events.
In the career of this unhappy impression, the following circumstance deserves some notice: A gentleman one day meeting the doctor in a bookseller's shop, during the siege of the Havannah, asked him whether he could tell him when the garrison would surrender? "O yes," says De La Cour, very confidently, "I'll tell you the precise day; it will be on the 14th of August next" "Do you pledge yourself for that day?" "So much so," replied the doctor, "that I will stake my character as a prophet on it, and therefore I beg you will take a memorandum of it." The gentleman immediately noted it in his pocket-book; and it so happened, that on that very day we had in account of its surrender to the British arms. A public event thus predicted six weeks before it happened, and falling in so accurately according to the prediction, of course made a great noise in a little place. The common people wondered at, and even philosophers could not resist pausing on the coincidence of circumstances: but the doctor was elated beyond measure. He now claimed the diploma of a prophet, and expected to be consulted on the issue of all important circumstances.
He continued thus many years, prophesying and poetizing; and though in the first he made many mistakes, in the latter he in a great measure preserved the vis poetica; particularly in his satires on individuals, which sometimes exposed and restrained those too cunning for the law, and too callous for the pulpit. He had originally a little estate of about £80 per year left him by his father, which, with the hospitality of his friends, enabled him to live independent. Towards the latter end of his life, he sold this to his brother-in-law, for a certain sum yearly, and his board and lodging; but at the same time restrained himself from staying out after twelve o'clock at night, under the penalty of one shilling. In consequence of this, the doctor's balance at the end of the year was very inconsiderable.
He died about 1781, at the advanced age of seventy two, leaving behind him many monuments of poetical talents, and adding another testimony to the truth of Dr. Johnson's observation, "that nothing will supply the want of prudence; and that negligence and irregularity long continued, will make knowledge useless, wit ridiculous, and genius contemptible."