Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pigott, Robert

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

PIGOTT, ROBERT (1736–1794), food and dress reformer, was born in 1736 at Chetwynd Park, Shropshire, which for three centuries had been in the possession of his ancestors. Charles I, on his way from Oxford to Naseby in 1645, stayed there three nights with his great-grandfather, Walter Pigott, whose wife was Anne, daughter of Sir John Dryden, and cousin to the poet. Walter's son Robert was high sheriff of Shropshire in 1697, and his grandson, Robert the second, to whom the Pretender presented his portrait while at Rome in 1720, was M.P. for Huntingdonshire, 1713–1734. The Pigotts had been staunch Jacobites, and the Pigott implicated in Colonel Parker's escape from the Tower in 1694 was probably one of the family [see Parker, John, fl. 1705]; but Robert the third was destined to go to the other extreme in politics. At Newmarket in 1770 he and the son of Sir William Codrington made a bet of five hundred guineas as to which of their fathers would outlive the other. It turned out that the elder Pigott had died at Chetwynd a few hours prior to the bet. Pigott consequently maintained that the wager was void; but Lord March (afterwards Duke of Queensberry), as Codrington's assignee, sued for the money, and Lord Mansfield decided that the bet was valid, inasmuch as neither party knew at the time of anything to vitiate it. In 1774 Pigott was high sheriff of Shropshire. In 1776, imagining that the American war betokened the ruin of England, he sold his Chetwynd and Chesterton estates, worth 9,000l. a year, and retired to the continent, where he made the acquaintance of Voltaire, Franklin, and Brissot. He lived mostly at Geneva, but paid occasional visits to England. It was, however, probably his brother Charles (infra) who, in September 1789, betted that a Colonel Ross could not ride a horse from London to York in forty-eight hours; Ross won by three hours. Pigott became a zealous Pythagorean, as a vegetarian was then called, and was a dupe of the quack James Graham (1745–1794) [q. v.] and his electric bed.

He was enraptured by the French revolution, especially in its more extravagant aspects. He protested against Sieyès's press bill, and published his protest, which he had read to the revolutionary club at Lyons; in an appendix he advocated a vegetarian diet for prisoners as being calculated to reclaim them. At Dijon in 1791 he condemned the use of bread, recommending potatoes, lentils, maize, barley, and rice. In the spring of the following year he fulminated against hats, arguing that they had been introduced by priests and despots, and that they concealed the face and were gloomy and monotonous; whereas caps left the countenance its natural dignity, and were susceptible of various shapes and colours. For some weeks the cap movement was very popular in Paris, but the remonstrance addressed by Pétion to the Jacobin club put an end to it, and the bonnet rouge introduced later had no connection with Pigott. He contemplated the purchase and occupation of a confiscated estate in the south of France; but Madame Roland, who had doubtless met him at Lyons and was amused at his oddities and fickleness, predicted that he would only build castles in the air. In 1792 he probably settled at Toulouse. He died there on 7 July 1794, leaving a widow, Antoinette Boutan.

His brother Charles Pigott (d. 1794), also an ardent champion of the French revolution, published in 1791 a reply to Burke. He issued, anonymously, in 1792, a ‘History of the Jockey Club,’ and in 1794 a ‘History of the Female Jockey Club,’ two scurrilous pamphlets on London society, with which he seems to have been well acquainted (his authorship of these pamphlets is admitted in the preface to Records of Real Life, infra). He is said to have also written ‘Treachery no Crime,’ and other works. He died at Westminster on 24 June 1794, leaving a satire entitled ‘A Political Dictionary,’ which was published in 1795.

Another brother, William, rector of Chetwynd, had a daughter Harriet Pigott (1766–1846), who embraced catholicism, visited Paris after the Restoration, being there admitted into aristocratic circles, and died at Geneva. She published anonymously in 1832 ‘Private Correspondence of a Woman of Fashion.’ Another, partly autobiographical work, entitled ‘Records of Real Life,’ appeared in 1839, and ‘Three Springs of Beauty’ in 1844. She died in July 1846, having (by will dated 24 Nov. 1845) bequeathed a diary and other manuscripts to the Bodleian Library.

[Pedigree in Brit. Mus. Addit. MSS. 28734 and 28616, fol. 23; Madame Roland's Letters to Bancal; Hulbert's Hist. of Salop; Avenel's Anacharsis Cloots, Paris, 1876; Gent. Mag. 1794, pt. ii. pp. 672 and 958; Alger's Englishmen in French Revolution and Glimpses of French Revolution; Biographie Universelle, art. ‘Harriot Pigott’ (inaccurate in date of death).]

J. G. A.