Manuscripts of Peter Pindar and collection of autograph letters

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The collection features nineteen manuscript poems (probably dating from 1794-1810) with typed transcripts of 'The Island of Innocence', 'Ode to Ridicule' and 'Ode to Fancy', and a letter from the Reverend Cornelius Cardew to J.T. Smith (The British Museum) containing details of Wolcot's life in Cornwall (17 Nov 1819). There is also a bundle of miscellaneous unfinished manuscripts which have been jotted down in ink on various sizes of paper.

Administrative / Biographical History

Peter Pindar, the pseudonym of John Wolcott, was born in 1738 and lived with his uncle in Devon from the age of nine, after the death of his father. In 1760 he was sent to France for a year to learn the language, on his return he followed his father and grandfather's footsteps by training to be a physician. In 1767 he went to Jamaica to be physician to the governor Sir William Trelawny. Whilst there he was offered the lucrative living of St Anne's where the current parson was thought to be seriously ill. Wolcott returned to England and took holy orders returning to Jamaica in March 1770 only to find the parson was still alive, and he was offered a less lucrative post instead. When the governor died Wolcott was escorted his widow back to England, and it is on this trip that it is believed he visited a deserted island - the inspiration for his 'Isle of Innocence' manuscript (see U DX41/2/4).

In England, Wolcott took up practice as a physician and travelled extensively around Cornwall and it was here that he met artist John Opie. Wolcott was so impressed by Opie's talent that he bought-out his carpentry apprenticeship. In 1780 Wolcott brought Opie to London and they set-up business together though the venture lasted less than a year.

Wolcott self-published his early work under the name of Peter Pindar and his satirical work included 'Lyric Odes to the Royal Academicians' (published in 1782) attacked members of the Royal Academy. King George III was one of Pindar's most colourful caricatures, in one verse he compared the King to a magpie, and Pindar's popularity often mirrored that of the King. His narratives were popular, often taking the form of allegories but not all of his work was humorous, Ode to Death (see U DX41/2/2) is a dark poem about the overwhelming nature of death and presents a doctor being in partnership with death.

'Ode upon Ode' was published in 1787 and The Lousiad was published, in 5 volumes, in 1795. Walcott's eyesight failed him and by May 1811 was completely blind, with pages being torn into four and verse was dictated to a servant and a number of items in the collection including 'Tristia: an Elegy' (see U DX41/2/3) which refers to the scandal of the Duke of York's mistress appearing to fit with this pattern. Wolcott died in London on 14 January 1819 and is buried in St Paul's church in Covent Garden.

The manuscripts have been attributed to Wolcott / Pindar but have not been officially authenticated. They certainly could be by him, they are written in the same style and with the same concerns as the poems we know to be by him.

Conditions Governing Access

Access will be granted to any accredited reader

Custodial History

Donated by Prof. W.S. Vines, 08 Jul 1954 and 13 Jul 1955

Related Material

Other repositories:

Peter Pindar material at Durham University Archives [Ref Add. Mss. 420-429]