1810 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Joseph Cooper Walker

Anonymous, Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine 80 (May 1810) 487-89.



April 12. Died at St. Valeri, near Bray, Ireland, after a lingering and painful illness, which he bore with the patience and resignation of a Christian, Joseph Cooper Walker, esq. member of many literary and philosophical societies. The loss of this accomplished scholar will be long and deeply deplored by all true votaries of science and the fine arts; but those only who have had the happiness to be included in the circle of his friends, can justly appreciate and duly regret the many virtues which dignified, and the numerous graces which adorned his character. Never was there any man who united in a higher degree the accomplishments of the Gentleman with the attainments of the Scholar. His polished manners, his refined sentiments, his easy flow of wit, his classical taste, and his profound erudition, rendered his conversation as fascinating as it was instructive. The rare qualities of his heart procured for him the most devoted attachment of relatives and friends, the affectionate regards of all who knew him. A frame of peculiar delicacy incapacitated Mr. Walker for the exercise of an active profession, and early withdrew his mind from the busy bustle of the world, to the more congenial occupation of literary retirement. The intervals of exemption from pain and sickness, which are usually passed in languor or in pleasure, were by him devoted to the cultivation of those favourite departments of literature to which he was guided, not less by natural taste than by early association. To seek for that best of blessings — health, which his own climate denied him, Mr. W. was induced to travel. The ardent mind of this young enthusiast in the cause of letters, which had drunk deep from the classic fountains of antiquity, and had imbibed the most profound admiration for the heroes and the sages of old, regretted not his constitutional debility, but seized, the occasion which invited him to that sacred theatre on which the greatest characters had figured, and the noblest works had been achieved. He visited Italy; he embraced with enthusiasm that nurse of Arts and of Arms; he trod with devotion her classic ground, consecrated by the ashes of Heroes, and immortalized by the effusions of Poets; he studied her language, he observed, her customs and her manners; he admired the inimitable remains of ancient art, and mourned over the monuments of modern degradation; he conversed with her learned men; he was enrolled in her academies, and became almost naturalized to the country. Mr. W's mind having taken this early direction, the study of Italian Literature became his favourite pursuit; and, to his latest hour, continued to be his occupation and his solace. But, though thus attached to the literature of Italy, Mr. W. was not regardless of his native land. At a period when it is fashionable to be altogether English, this true patriot felt and avowed his ardent attachment to, and decided preference for, the Country of his birth. The first fruits of his genius were offered on the altar of his Country. He devoted the earliest efforts of his comprehensive mind to vindicate the injured character, and to enlighten the disputed history of Ireland. He dwelt with delight on her wild romantic scenery; he loved the genius, the eccentric character of her children; the native language of Ireland to his ears was full of harmony and force; and the songs of her bards filled his patriotic soul with rapturous emotion. He was, indeed, an Irishman of Ireland's purest times. As a Critick and an Antiquary Mr. W. was equally distinguished. In his masterly delineation of the revival, progress, and perfection of the Italian Drama, the Muse of Italian Tragedy appears with new grace, attired in an English dress. As the restorer of the literary commerce between England and Italy, almost closed since the time of Milton, the name of Walker will be added to those of Roscoe and Mathias. The Essays on the customs and institutions of ancient Ireland are written in the true spirit of a native historian, and, as they are eminently useful to the antiquary, must be singularly interesting to every Irish breast. These, his earliest works (the offspring of his vigorous mind, at a period when many young men are not yet emancipated from the tyranny of pupilage) evince a maturity of judgment, a soundness of criticism, and a range of learning, which would not disgrace the name of the venerable Vallancey.

Mr. Walker returned from the Continent little improved in health, but his mind stored with the treasures of observation. He soon retired from the turbulence of a city life to the tranquillity and pure air of his romantic villa under the mountains of Wicklow: in this lovely seclusion, where the sublime grandeur of the distant view is finely contrasted by the cultivated beauty of the nearer prospect, he found a situation at once favourable to his invalid state. and in unison with his taste and pursuits. Still a martyr to his constitutional malady, he suffered it neither to sour the unchangeable sweetness of his temper. nor to relax the ardour with which he pursued his studies. Though enjoying his seclusion, he was not deprived of the pleasures of society: his solitude was enlivened by the occasional visits of friends, and his connexion with the world of letters was kept up by an extensive epistolary intercourse; the literary traveller interrupted his studies to admire the tasteful arrangement of his library, and enjoy the conversation of its elegant owner. This valuable collection of choice and rare books was, in part, the fruit of his travels and researches, and was enriched by many contributions from his learned friends; it was, in truth, an honourable monument of the taste and learning of its master.

In that liberality of sentiment, and in that, polish of manners, which is the natural result of travel, and which an education entirely domestic can seldom supply, as well also as in his literary pursuits, Mr. Walker resembled that accomplished nobleman the late Earl of Charlemont, whose friendship he enjoyed whilst living, and whose memory he cherished in death. By the side of this enlightened patriot he walked through the fertile fields of Italian literature, and the more thorny paths of controverted antiquities, until the death of that venerable Patriot deprived Ireland of her truest friend and brightest ornament. Mr. Walker did not long survive; but, after a few years of mingled bodily pain and mental enjoyment, followed to the grave this associate of his literary labours.

Mr. Walker was in the 49th year of his age when he died; and he breathed his last sigh in the arms of a brother and sister, whose peculiar sorrow seemed equally to defy consolation and description.

It will gratify the admirers of Italian literature to learn, that Mr. Walker has left them a valuable legacy in the Life of Tassoni, which, though without his latest corrections, will add another wreath to the crown which criticism has entwined for the author of the Memoirs on Italian Tragedy, and the Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards.