John Wolcot

John Wolcot

John Wolcot (May 9, 1738 - January 14, 1819), satirist, born in Dodbrooke, near Kingsbridge, Devonshire, was educated by an uncle, and studied medicine. In 1767 he went as physician to Sir William Trelawny, Governor of Jamaica, and whom he induced to present him to a Church in the island then vacant, and was ordained in 1769. Sir William dying in 1772, Wolcot came home and, abandoning the Church, resumed his medical character, and settled in practice at Truro, where he discovered the talents of Opie the painter, and assisted him.

In 1780 Wolcot went to London, and commenced writing satires. The first objects of his attentions were the members of the Royal Academy, and these attempts being well received, he soon began to fly at higher game, the King and Queen being the most frequent marks for his satirical shafts. In 1786 appeared "The Lousiad, a Heroi-Comic Poem", taking its name from a legend that a louse had once appeared on the King's dinner plate.

Other objects of his attack were Boswell, the biographer of Johnson, and Bruce, the Abyssinian traveller. Wolcot, who wrote under the "nom-de-plume" of "Peter Pindar," had a remarkable vein of humour and wit, which, while intensely comic to persons not involved, stung its subjects to the quick. He had likewise strong intelligence, and a power of coining effective phrases. In otherkinds of composition, as in some ballads which he wrote, an unexpected touch of gentleness and even tenderness appears. Among these are "The Beggar Man" and "Lord Gregory". Much that he wrote has now lost all interest owing to the circumstances referred to being forgotten, but enough still retains its peculiar relish to account for his contemporary reputation.


*A Short Biographical Dictionary of English LiteratureLink to portrait of John Wolcot by JOHN OPIE RA [ link title]

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