Page:A biographical dictionary of eminent Scotsmen, vol 6.djvu/331

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JOHN PINKERTON.


have publicly distinguished himself at school by his early classical acquirements, having, as an exercise, translated a portion of Livy, which his preceptor, on a comparison, decided to be superior to the same passage as translated in Hooker's Roman History. After having remained at school for six years, he returned to Edinburgh. The dislike of his father to a university education seems to have for some time after this period subjected him to a sort of half literary imprison- ment, in which, by alternate fits, he devoted his whole time to French, the clas- sics, and mathematics. Intended for the legal profession, he was apprenticed to Mr Aytoun, an eminent writer to the signet, under whose direction he remained for the usual period of five years. Apparently during his apprenticeship, in 1776, he published an " Ode to Craigmillar Castle," dedicated to Dr Beattie. The professor seems to have given the young poet as little encouragement as a dedicatee could in politeness restrict himself to. " There are many good lines," he says, " in your poem ; but when you have kept it by you a week or two, I fancy you will not think it correct enough as yet to appear in public." 2 But Pinkerton had a mind too roughly cast for poetry, and it was only when his imitations were mistaken for the rudeness of antiquity that his verses were at all admired. After 1780, when his father died, he visited London, and having previously contracted a slight bibliomania, the extent and variety of the book- sellers' catalogues are said to have proved a motive for his taking up his residence in the metropolis as a literary man, and eschewing Scotch law. In 1781, he published in octavo some trifles, which it pleased him in his independence of or- thography to term " Rimes." This work contained a second part to Hardy- knute, which he represented as " now first published complete." If Pinker- ton thought that his imposition was to get currency by being added to a ballad really ancient, the circumstance would show the extreme ignorance of the period as to the literature of our ancestors ; for it is now needless to remark how un- like this composition is to the genuine productions of the elder muse. The imposition in this case was not entirely successful. " I read over again," says Mr Porden the architect, " the second part of Hardyknute ; and I must inform you that I have made up my mind with respect to the author of it. I know not whether you will value a compliment paid to your genius at the expense of your imitative art, but certainly that genius sheds a splendour on some passages which betrays you." 3 In 1782 appeared a second edition of the " Rimes," and at the same time he published two separate volumes of poetry which have dropped into oblivion. In the ensuing year he published in two volumes his " Select Scottish Ballads," a work rather more esteemed. At this period he turned the current of his laborious intellect to numismatics. Early in life a latent passion for the collection of antiquities had been accidentally (as is generally the case with antiquaries,) called into action. He drew up a manual and table of coins for his own use, which afterwards expanded itself into the celebrated " Essay on Medals," published in two volumes, 8vo, in 1784; and published a third time in 1808. These volumes form a manual which is con- tinually in the hands of numismatists. In 1785, he published, under the as- sumed name of Robert Heron, a work termed " Letters of Literature ;" the sin- gularity of this work suggests that its author was guilty of affecting strangeness, for the purpose of attracting notice. Among the most prominent subjects, was a new system of orthography, or, more properly, of grammar, which, by various transmutations, such as classical terminations, (e. g. the use of a instead of s in forming plurals,) was to reduce the harshness of the English language. The at- tempt on the public sense was not in all respects effective, but the odium occasioned very naturally fell on poor Robert Heron, who was just then strug. spinkurton's Correspondence, i. 2. 3 Pinkerton 's Correspondence i. 25.