1844 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Pinkerton

Robert Chambers, in Cyclopaedia of English Literature (1844; 1850) 2:638.



JOHN PINKERTON (1758-1825) distinguished himself by the fierce controversial tone of his historical writings, and by the violence of his prejudices, yet was a learned and industrious collector of forgotten fragments of ancient history and of national antiquities. He was a native of Edinburgh, and bred to the law. The latter, however, he soon forsook for literary pursuits. He commenced by writing imperfect verses, which, in his peculiar antique orthography, he styled "Rimes," from which he diverged to collecting Select Scottish Ballads, 1783, and inditing an Essay on Medals, 1784. Under the name of Heron, he published some Letters on Literature, and was recommended by Gibbon to the booksellers as a fit person to translate the Monkish Historians. He afterwards (1786) published Ancient Scottish Poems, being the writings of Sir Richard Maitland and others, extracted from a manuscript in the Pepys Library at Cambridge. His first historical work was A Dissertation on the Origin and Progress of the Scythians, or Goths, in which he laid down that theory which he maintained through life, that the Celts of Ireland, Wales. and Scotland, are savages, and have been savages since the world began! His next important work was an Inquiry into the History of Scotland Preceding the Reign of Malcolm III., or 1056, in which he debates at great length, and, as Sir Walter Scott remarks, with much display of learning, on the history of the Goths, and the conquests which he states them to have obtained over the Celts in their progress through all Europe. In 1796 he published a History of Scotland During the Reign of the Stuarts, the most laborious and valuable of his works. He also compiled a Modern Geography, edited a Collection of Voyages and Travels, was some time editor of the Critical Review, wrote a Treatise on Rocks, and was engaged on various other literary tasks. Pinkerton died in want and obscurity in Paris.