Sharpe, Charles Kirkpatrick (DNB00)

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SHARPE, CHARLES KIRKPATRICK (1781?–1851), antiquary and artist, was the second son of Charles Sharpe of Hoddam, Dumfriesshire, by Eleonora, youngest daughter of John Renton of Lamerton. His mother was granddaughter of Susanna, countess of Eglinton, third wife of the ninth earl, Alexander Montgomerie [q. v.] He was born about 1781. The father, Charles Sharpe, was the son of William Kirkpatrick of Ailsland (brother of Sir Thomas Kirkpatrick, second baronet of Closeburn), who changed his name to Sharpe on inheriting the estate of Hoddam from his uncle, Matthew Sharpe. To Charles Sharpe, Burns, under the signature ‘Johnny Faa,’ addressed a curious letter, humorously claiming to belong to ‘the same family,’ not on the ground of relationship, but on the score of being ‘a fiddler and a poet;’ and enclosing some stanzas to a tune of his which he said ‘a brither catgut’ gave him ‘the other day.’ Sharpe's grand-uncle, Charles Sharpe, a Jacobite who fought at Preston, also possessed literary tastes, and was a correspondent of David Hume. Further, the family claimed kinship with the noted Grierson of Lag. Thus, while Sharpe could claim an ancestry of some distinction, intellectual and other, he was also from his infancy nourished on Jacobite story and tradition; and this phase of Scottish sentiment occupied most of his interest, and mainly directed the bent of his artistic studies and his antiquarian research.

With the view of taking episcopal orders, Sharpe entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. 17 June 1802, and M.A. 28 June 1806. But, although he made several friendships, the social life and special studies of the university were uncongenial to him. In truth his attitude towards his fellows was always more or less repellent; he was unsympathetic and depreciatory, and from first to last he was accustomed to emphasise and magnify the frailties of his acquaintances, and all but ignore their good points. At the university he devoted himself chiefly to antiquarian research and to practice with his pencil, making some reputation by his sketches of heads. Either before or soon after leaving the university he gave up all thoughts of entering the church, and finally, about his thirtieth year, he took up his residence in Edinburgh, where, although he maintained friendly relations with many distinguished persons, including especially clever and sprightly aristocratic ladies, and was a welcome guest in many country houses, he lived mainly the life of a literary recluse. With advancing years his peculiarities became more pronounced, and they were emphasised by the fact that till the close of his life he retained the style of dress which was in fashion at the period of his early manhood.

The appearance of the first volume of Scott's ‘Border Minstrelsy,’ in 1802 naturally aroused Sharpe's special enthusiasm. Though unacquainted with Scott, he sent him a warm letter of congratulation, which led to a lifelong friendship; and to the second volume of the ‘Minstrelsy’ he contributed two ballads of his own. In 1807 he also published at Oxford ‘Metrical Legends and other Poems;’ but, as Scott remarks, ‘as a poet he has not a strong touch.’ As an artist he showed much greater talent. Scott affirmed ‘that had he made drawing a resource it might have raised him a large income;’ but he can scarcely be reckoned more than a skilful amateur. In drawing, his main forte was apparently satirical, or rather perhaps grotesque, caricature. His efforts were described by Scott as the ‘most fanciful and droll imaginable, a mixture between Hogarth and some of those foreign masters who painted temptations of St. Anthony and other grotesque subjects.’ Sharpe's frontispieces and other illustrations in the Bannatyne Club and similar antiquarian publications evince much antiquarian knowledge. He possessed an unrivalled collection of Scottish curios and antiques; and Sir Walter was frequently and much indebted to his proficiency in this and kindred branches of antiquarian lore. He was moreover specially learned in Scottish genealogy, especially in its scandalous aspect, having carefully gleaned and preserved every fact or anecdote of this character that he could discover in books, manuscripts, or tradition.

In 1817 Sharpe edited Kirkton's ‘Secret and True History of the Church of Scotland from the Restoration to the Year 1678, with an Account of the Murder of Archbishop Sharpe, by James Russell, an Actor therein.’ To the volume he supplied a large number of notes which, if they breathe rather the spirit of the partisan than the conscientious historian, display much learning. This was followed in 1820 by an edition of Law's ‘Memorialls; or the considerable Things that fell out within the Island of Great Britain from 1638 to 1684,’ containing much curious information regarding witchcraft and kindred subjects. In 1823 he published his ‘Ballad Book,’ which in 1880 was re-edited by David Laing, with some additions from Sharpe's manuscripts; the majority of the added ballads were of more or less questionable authenticity. Sharpe, though he dabbled a good deal in this species of literature, and collected printed chaps and broadsides, as well as manuscripts from ‘recitation,’ only possessed a fragmentary knowledge of the subject. To Laing's edition of Stenhouse's notes to Johnson's ‘Musical Museum,’ 1853, he made some contributions. In 1827 he edited ‘A Part of the Life of Lady Margaret Cunninghame, daughter of the Earl of Glencairn, that she had with her first Husband, the Earl of Evandale;’ in 1828 (for the Bannatyne Club), ‘The Letters of Archibald, Earl of Argyle;’ and in 1837, ‘Surgundo, or the Valiant Christian,’ a romanist ode of triumph for the victory of Glanrinnes in 1594; and the same year, ‘Minuets and Songs of Thomas, sixth Earl of Kellie.’ In 1833 he published a volume of etchings, under the title ‘Portraits of an Amateur,’ and his ‘Etchings, with Photographs from Original Drawings, Poetical and Prose Fragments,’ appeared posthumously at Edinburgh in 1869. The ‘Letters to and from C. K. Sharpe,’ edited by Alexander Allardyce, 1888, tend to corroborate the estimate of Scott, that ‘Charles Kirkpatrick Sharpe, with his oddities, tastes, satire, and high aristocratic feelings, resembles Horace Walpole—perhaps in his person, perhaps in a general way.’ Sharpe died unmarried, 17 March 1851. Two portraits, by John Irvine and Thomas Fraser respectively, are in the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh; the latter was engraved in mezzotint by Thomas Dick in 1851.

[Gent. Mag. 1851, i. 557; Memoir prefixed to Sharpe's Etchings, 1869; Memoir by Rev. W. K. R. Bedford, prefixed to Letters, 1888; Lockhart's Life of Scott; Scott's Journal.]

T. F. H.