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JOHN WOLCOT (1738-1819)

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Originally appearing in Volume V28, Page 770 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHN WOLCOT (1738-1819), English satirist and poet, known under the pseudonym of PETER PINDAR, was the son of Alexander Wolcot, surgeon at Dodbrooke, adjoining Kingsbridge, in Devonshire, and was baptized there on the 9th of May 1738. He was educated at Kingsbridge free school, at the Bodmin and Liskeard grammar schools, and in France. For seven years he was apprenticed to his uncle, John Wolcot, a surgeon at Fowey, and he took his degree of M.D. at Aberdeen in 1767. In 1769 he was ordained, and went to Jamaica with his uncle's patient, Sir William Trelawny, the new governor. In 1772 he became incumbent of Vere, Jamaica, but on the death of his patron (11th of December 1772) he returned to England, and settled as a physician at Truro. In 1781 Wolcot went to London, and took with him the young Cornish artist, John Opie, whose talents in painting he had been the first to recognize. Before they left Cornwall Opie apparently made a rash engagement to share his profits with Wolcot, but a breach between them occurred soon after they settled in London. Wolcot had already achieved some success in a Supplicating Epistle to the Reviewers (1778), and after his settlement in London he threw off with marvellous rapidity a succession of pungent satires. George III. was his favourite subject of ridicule, and his peculiarities were described or distorted in The Lousiad (1785), Peeps at St James's (1787) and The Royal Visit to Exeter. Two of Wolcot's happiest satires on the " farmer king " depicted the royal survey of Whitbread's brewery, and the king's naive wonder how the apples got into the apple dumplings. In his Expostulatory Odes (1789) he eulogized the prince of Wales. Boswell's biography of Johnson was ridiculed in An Epistle to James Boswell (1786), and in the same year followed another piece, called Bozzy and Piozzi. Other subjects were found in Sir Joseph Banks and the Emperor of Morocco (1790), and a Complimentary Epistle to James Bruce (1790). Among his early satires were Lyric Odes to the Academicians (1782), and another series on the same subject, Farewell Odes (1786). He specially attacked Benjamin West, but expressed great admiration for the landscapes of Gains-borough and Richard Wilson. Wolcot was himself no mean artist, and in 1797 appeared Six Picturesque Views from Paintings by Peter Pindar, engraved by Alken. In 1795 he disposed of his works to the booksellers for an annuity of £250. His II various pieces were published in 1796 in four octavo volumes and often reprinted. Wolcot cared little whether he hit above or below the belt, and the gross vituperation he indulged in spoils much of his work for present-day readers; but he had a broad sense of humour, a keen eye for the ridiculous, and great felicity of imagery and expression. Some of his serious pieces--his rendering of Thomas Warton's epigram on Sleep and his Lord Gregory, for example—reveal an unexpected fund of genuine tenderness. In William Gifford, who attacked him in the Epistle to P. Pindar, he for once met with more than his match. Wolcot made a personal assault on his enemy in Wright's shop in Piccadilly, but Gifford was too quick for him, and Wolcot was soundly thrashed. He died at Latham Place, Somers Town, London, on the 14th of January 1819, and seven days later was buried, as he had desired, near Samuel Butler, the author of Hudibras, in St Paul's, Covent Garden. Polwhele, the Cornish historian, was well acquainted with Wolcot in his early life, and the best account of his residence in the west is found In vol. i. of Polwhele's Traditions and in Polwhele's Biographical Sketches, vol. ii. Cyrus Redding was a frequent visitor at the old man's house, and has described Wolcot's later days in his Past Celebrities, vol. i., and his Fifty Years' Recollections, vols. i. and ii.
End of Article: JOHN WOLCOT (1738-1819)
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