Joseph Cooper Walker

Biographicus, "Memoirs of the Author of the History of the Irish Bards" Gentleman's Magazine 57 (January 1787) 34-35.

High Holborn, Nov. 10.


During a visit which I lately paid to Dublin, my attention was attracted by "Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards," the perusal of which afforded me so much pleasure, that I naturally made some enquiries concerning the author. The result of those enquiries I am now about to communicate, to which, if you please, you may allot a place in your valuable repository. Had I been so fortunate as to have fallen into the author's company, I should have been more satisfactory with respect to his person and manners.

Memoirs of Joseph Cooper Walker, M.R.I.A. author of "Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards."

Joseph Cooper Walker was born in Dublin, of respectable parents, who are still living. Our author received his education at an eminent academy (under whose care I omitted to learn) in the city which gave him birth. Though prevented, by a delicate constitution in his tenderest years, from pursuing with sufficient ardour those studies which are requisite for a college course, yet by his own abilities and assiduity, with the assistance of private tutors, he has acquired a competent knowledge of the dead as well as some of the living languages, viz. French, Italian, and Spanish; and, from the publication which has introduced him to our notice, he seems not to be unacquainted with the Irish; but of which he laments (see his preface) his knowledge is as yet rather confined. That he has a turn for poetry, his Life of Carolan clearly evinces, as it is natural to conclude that some of the anonymous translations he there introduces are his own. To all these, we are informed, he unites the fashionable accomplishments of the age.

At an early period of his life he was put forth into the world. While almost a boy, he got an employment in his Majesty's Treasury of Ireland, where he as arrived to the rank of third clerk in, we believe, the upper of Mr. Conyngham's department. Though not fond of the favourite amusements of the age, he pays the strictest attention to the duties of his office; whilst in office, he is the man of business; after the hours of business, his time is devoted to pleasure or books, "in his retirement forgetting the town, in his gaiety losing the student." He has drawn a slight but masterly yet modest sketch of himself, in his elegant little preface affixed to his Memoirs of the Irish Bards.

In the summer of 1785 he was elected a member of the Royal Irish Academy; and on the 17th of March following (the day appointed by the charter for a general meeting of the academy) he was chosen one of the committee of antiquities. Since his admission into that learned body, he has not been inattentive to the duty he owed it, having delivered in, as we are informed, some Essays, with the subjects of which we are unacquainted.

In order to promote the prosecution of his studies, he obtained, he informs us in his preface (omitting, however, the year), with the approbation of the provost and fellows of Trinity College, Dublin, freedom of access to their valuable Library; and in the commencement of the present year he appeared, for the first time, in the character of an Author.

Perhaps I ought not to omit, that our author is a bachelor; that his age seems to be about 21 or 22; and that he is a dutiful son, and an affectionate brother.

With respect to his person, I am informed that he is rather of the middle size, if not a little under; of a shapely, well-turned figure; his habit of body neither meagre nor corpulent, but comely and well-proportioned; his visage round; features neat and regular; eyes dark and sparkling; his aspect throughout pleasing and agreeable; his dress always fashionable and genteel: so far with respect to external qualities; with respect to internal, his temper and disposition are mild and gentle, his manners easy and engaging, his conversation entertaining and lively.

I shall now take the liberty of troubling you with a few observations on his Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards. In this work our author has displayed much erudition, much taste, and much grace of composition; and, notwithstanding the abstruseness of the early part of his Work, and the novelty of the whole, he has flashed much light on the gloomy clouds which overhang the page of Irish history; and has rendered a subject, apparently dry and uninteresting, exquisitely pleasing and entertaining. And, as the authenticity of Irish history has been of late much questioned, he seems to have taken a good deal of (perhaps too much) pains, to support whatever he advances with the best authorities; adducing the most respectable names in the Annals of Irish Literature.

Of this work an anonymous writer, in one of the Irish papers, thus speaks, in an essay on the present state of literature in the kingdom:

"The next in my account is Joseph Cooper Walker, who has published an History of the Irish Bards, a work by no means unentertaining, and highly interesting to the lovers of music as a science. He has entered into the spirit of the subject, and gives the lives of some of our bards in an original and pleasing narrative. Mr. Walker possesses that taste and sensibility which every Author ought in some degree to possess; and his language vibrates on the ear as musick does on the soul."

Besides our author's grand work, the History of the Bards, he has annexed, exclusive of his little Memoir of Cormac Common, and his admirable Life of Carolan, &c. &c. several valuable communications of some of his literary friends, amongst which are eminent those of the Rev. Mr. Ledwich, to whose masterly pen the world is already indebted for some inestimable publications.

I will here take my leave, with observing that the reader of judgment and taste, as well as the curious reader, will have no cause to regret his having in his possession the Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards.