1896 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Dr. John Wolcot

W. H. K. Wright, in West Country Poets (1896) 474.



This celebrity was born at Dodbrooke, near Knightsbridge, Devon, May 9, 1738. He was educated at Knightsbridge Free School, at Bodmin Grammar School, and in France; was apprenticed to his uncle, a surgeon at Fowey, 175-; was M.D. of the University of Aberdeen, September 8, 1767; went to Jamaica with Sir. Will. Trelawny, Bart., in 1768; physician-general in Jamaica, 1769; ordained deacon by Dr. William Terrick, Bishop of London, June 24, 1769, and priest, June 25, 1769; incumbent of Vere, Jamaica, 1772; returned to England, 1773; physician at Truro 1773 to 1779, at Helston 1779; went to London, 1781; brought John Opie, the artist, to London, and introduced him to public notice, 1781.

He died in London, January 14, 1819, and was buried in the vestry vault of St. Paul's, Covent Garden. An edition of the works of "Peter Pindar," with memoirs of the author's life, was published in four volumes in 1809. The best edition is that in four volumes, published 1816, and there were several subsequent editions, besides many single pieces, chiefly relating to his Cornish experiences.

For broad, farcical humour, Peter Pindar seems unrivalled; but his attempts at pathetic or descriptive poetry are tame and poor. Occasionally he philosophizes with Horatian discernment, but he had none of Horace's genial, polished, courtier-like style, and his attacks on Gifford, Sir Joseph Banks, and others whom he disliked or who had offended him, were savage in the extreme — nay, brutal, and, as far as appears, quite unjustifiable. He must be credited, it should be said, with a true love of art, and was an independent and discerning critic. He discovered Opie, and he thoroughly appreciated Turner.

His first literary production was Lyric Odes to the Royal Academicians in 1782. There is sound criticism on painting in general, and on the painters of the period in particular, in these and other odes to the Royal Academy. This and his fearless independence of character acknowledged, all that is commendable has been said. There is nothing to love or admire in him. He was what Coleridge called Shakespeare's Thersites in Troilus and Cressida; "the Caliban of demagogic life; a portrait of intellectual power deserted by all grace, all moral principle, all, not momentary, impulse." And Pope's translation of the original lines, which, if free, is forcible, will not unfairly sum up Wolcot's character:

Thersites only clamour'd in the throng,
Loquatious, loud, and turbulent of tongue;
Aw'd by no shame, by no respect control'd,
In scandal busy, in reproaches bold;
With witty malice studious to defame,
Scorn all his joy and laughter all his aim;
But chief he gloried, with licentious style,
To lash the great, and monarchs to revile.