1819 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. James De La Cour

Richard Ryan, in Biographica Hibernica. A Biographical Dictionary of the Worthies of Ireland (1819) 2:60-62.



JAMES DE LA COUR, or DE LA COURT, an author of some ingenuity, was the second son of Robert De la Cour, Esq. of the county of Cork, and was born at Killowen, near Blarney, in that county, in the year 1709. He received his education at Dublin university; and being early captivated with the writings of Mr. Pope, (which were then as highly esteemed in Ireland as in England,) he neglected the dull society of the fathers for the more agreeable company of the muses, and dedicated all the hours he could spare from the indispensable duties of the college, to the study and practice of poetry.

His genius supported his inclination, as, before he had attained the age of twenty, he produced a poem, entitled, Abelard and Eloisa, in imitation of Pope, and which was thought to possess a considerable portion of the spirit and harmony of that master. From this period he continued to publish minor poems and sonnets, which were all favourably received. In 1733, he gave the world his principal work, The Prospect of Poetry, which he dedicated to the Right Hon. the Earl of Cork and Orrery. Being an ingenious publication, it gained him much and deserved applause; and in his list of admirers, might be enumerated some of the best judges in both countries.

Soon after this he took holy orders, but unfortunately the praise of the poet slackened the zeal of the parson, and De la Cour produced his sermons as matters of ordinary duty. His muse was the mistress which engaged his principal attention, and as the muses are generally attached to "the gay and busy haunts of men," this pursuit was but of little service to his promotion or clerical character. He unluckily too was attached to his bottle as well as his muse, and by the pursuit of such indulgences, lowered himself in the esteem of his fellow-citizens, who declared poetry affected his head, and shortly after 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, for the sake of enjoying his eccentricities. In a short time he fell so much into this last seduction, that he became the volunteer of any party who would engage him for the night. This incessant dissipation (as might be conjectured) soon enfeebled his understanding, and the charge which malice or 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.

During the career of this unhappy impression, the following circumstance occurred which is worthy of recording. 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 take 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 an 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 poetising; 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 independently. 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 the year 1781, leaving behind him several specimens of poetical talent, and proving to posterity the uselessness of ability when connected with a course of imprudence, and a contempt for character.