1850 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

John Pinkerton

John Britton, in Autobiography (1850) 2:163-64.



Amongst the Tavistock Place literati, and persons of note, it would seem negligent or invidious were I to omit the name of JOHN PINKERTON, who was my next-door neighbour for about a year, and whose information on subjects of literature was always interesting, but whose company and conversation, at least during the latter part of his residence in London, were gross, cynical, and often offensive. As a critic, he was caustic and severe; as a poet, original and imaginative; as a geographer and historian, too self-sufficient and arrogant to be implicitly trusted; and as a domestic man, arbitrary and tyrannical. Hence, it is said, that, though he married and parted from a very worthy and estimable woman, he kept more than once concubine. Some of these, provoked by want, or by vindictive temper, occasionally visited him in Tavistock Place, and, being refused admission, would create riots in the street, break his windows, and denounce him in harsh phrases to the mob, which congregated on such occasions. These scenes becoming frequent, he left the house, to the gratification of ourselves and neighbours, and soon afterwards settled in Paris, where it is believed he died in obscurity and poverty. My friend, Mr. Dawson Turner, edited a work, in two vols. 8vo. 1830, containing a large collection of Pinkerton's Letters, which embrace much curious matter on literature and general criticism, but not on anything inculpatory of his private life. A very well-written memoir of him is printed in The Penny Cyclopedia, vol. xvii., in which his literary works and himself are characterized: — "Pinkerton was no ordinary man: his vast performances, with all their faults, not only overflow with curious learning and research, but bear upon them the impression of a vigorous, an ingenious, and even an original mind. His violence and dogmatism, his arrogance and self-conceit, his pugnacity and contempt of all who dissented from his views, and above all his shallow and petulant attacks upon the common creed in religion and morals, have raised a general prejudice against him, which has prevented justice being done to his acquirements and his talents."