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West Country Poets

JOHN WOLCOT ('PETER PINDAR') (1738-1819)

This celebrity was born at Dodbrooke, near Kingsbridge, Devon, May 9, 1738.  He was educated at Kinsbridge Free School, at Bodmin Grammar School, and in France; was apprenticed to his uncle, a surgeon at Fowey, 175-; was M.D. of the University of Aberdeen, September 8, 1767; went to Jamaica with Sr. Will. TRELAWNEY, Bart., in 1768; physician-general in Jamaica, 1769; ordained deacon by Dr, Richard TERRICK, Bishop of London, Jun 24, 1769; incumbent of Vere, Jamaica, 1772; returned to England, 1773; physician at Truro 1773 to 1779, at Helston 1779; went to London, 1781; brought John OPIE, the artist, to London, and introduced him to public notice, 1781.

He died in London, January 14, 1819, and was buried in the vestry vault of St. Paul's Covent Garden.  An edition of the works of Peter Pindar', with memoirs of the author's life, was published in four volumes in 1809.  The best edition is that in four volumes in 1816, and there were several subsequent editions, besides many single pieces chiefly relating to his Cornish experiences.

For broad, farcical humour, 'Peter Pindar' seems unrivalled; but his attempts at pathetic or descriptive poetry are tame and poor.  Occasionally he philosophizes with Horatian discernment, but he had none of Horace's genial, polished, courtier-like styule, and his attacks on GIFFORD, Sir Joseph BANKS, and others whome he disliked or who had offended him, were savage in the extreme - nay, brutal, and, as far as appears, quite unjustifiable.  He must be credited, it should be said, with a true love for art, and was an independent and discerning critic.  He discovered OPIE, and he throroughly appreciated Turner.

His first literary production was 'Lyric Odes' to the Royal Academicians in 1782.  There is sound criticsm on painting in general, and on the painters of the period in particular, in these and other odes to the Royal Academy.  This and his fearless independence of character acknowledged, all that is commendable has been said.  He was what Coleridge called Shakespeare's Thersites in 'Troilus and Cressida'; 'the Caliban of demagogic life; a portrait of intellectual power deserted by all grace, all morla principle, all, not moemntary impulse.'  And Pope's translation of the original lines, which, if free, is forcible, will not unfairly sum up Wolcot's character:

'Theresites only clamour'd in the throng,
Loquacious, loud, and turbulent of tongue;
Aw'd by no shame, by no respect contoul'd,
In scandal busy, in reproaches bold;
With witty malice studious to defame,
Scorn all his joy and laughter all his aim;
But chief he gloried, with licentious style,
To lash the great, and monarchs to revile.*



*'Bib. Cornubiensis.' Trans. Devonshire Association, 1877.

The two short poems which follow are from 'Peter Pindar's' 'Odes to the Academicians.'

TO WILKIE

The poet congratulateth Mr. Wilkie (a very young artist) on his performances; but adviseth him to exert his genius in a higher sphere of the art:

Wilkie, an honour to thy nation,
  Accept the Muse's admiration,
Though giv'st to Johnson's envious tongue the lie,
  Proclaiming that on Scottish ground
  No plant of geius will be found -
Which, totis virilibus, I dare deny.

I think thou may'st a Hogarth shine;
  That wit and humour both are thine -
No common present from the Delian god;
  Then try the wing - exert the power;
  Below thee leave Teniers and Brouwer,
And prove a prophet in the man of ode.

TO TURNER

The bard maketh a bow to the genius of Mr. Turner, and expresseth wonder at the absence of his landscapes:

  Turner, whatever strikes they mind
  Is painted well, and well desing'd;
Thy rural scenes our plaudit must obtian
  Through Nature (and where lies the harm?)
  Has given thee not a giant form,
The dame has plac'd the gian in thy brain.

  Say, why are not they landscapes here-
  Landscapes where truth and taste appar;
That prove they pencil's power, and grasp of mind?
  Who nobly canst exalt thine head,
  Who, like Eclipse,*canst take the lead,
And leave with ease they rivals far behind.



* A celebrated race-horse.

Transcribed by Sandra Windeatt from: Wright, W. H. K.,(1896) West-Country Poets: Their Lives and Works. London: Elliot Stock, pp.48-51

Last updated 22 Jul 2011 - Brian Randell.

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