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advantages to their full account; and that the endowments of the mind, unless accompanied by sound and consistent principles, can tend but little to the happiness of the individual, or to the good of society. The close of Mr. Pinkerton's life was sadly dissimilar to what was promised at its outset. Destitute as he was of the adventitious advantages of birth or fortune, he saw himself, while yet scarcely more than a boy, caressed and courted by men of rank and literary fame : he sank into the grave chilled by neglect, and oppressed by want. In youth he wrote for his pleasure and reputation ; in age for his daily bread. One of the most eminent of our contemporaries, * in drawing a comparison between him and a very kindred spirit, Ritson, observes, with no less truth than sadness, that “ the sun set “ heavily on both ; for Joseph Ritson's whimsicali“ ties terminated in mental alienation, and the
career of Pinkerton, which in its commence“ ment attracted the notice of Gibbon, who de“sired to adopt him as an associate in the pro
posed task of editing the British historians, “ ended in exile, in obscurity, and, we fear, in
indigence. His studious and laborious dispo“sition deserves praise ; and the defects we have “ had to notice with pain arose in youth from “ the arrogance of inexperience, and in his latter
* See Quarterly Review, XLI. p. 138, an article so generally attributed to Sir Walter Scott, that I do not hesitate to quote it under his name,
years from mortification at the failure of a long
series of literary attempts, some of which merited “ another fate."
The life of Mr. Pinkerton was so entirely and exclusively that of a literary man, so utterly unmarked by any other occurrences than those arising from his publications, that little is to be added on this subject to the information contained in the following letters.
Pinkerton was born on the 17th February, 1758, at Edinburgh, where his father was a merchant. The only school education he received was for six years at Lanark, under the care of a Mr. Thomson, who married the sister of the
poet of that name.
At an early age he was articled to Mr. Aytoun, a writer at Edinburgh ; but, his father dying just at the expiration of his clerkship, he determined, in an evil hour, to abandon the law, and to enter into life as an “author by profession.” With this view he fixed his residence in London, and steadily pursued his purpose, first as a diligent inquirer into the ancient poetry of his country, and then successively as a numismatist, an historian, a geographer, and a geologist; occasionally indulging himself with excursions into various departments of antiquity.
His writings, arising out of these diversified branches of inquiry, and his eccentric, but very clever, Letters on Literature, under the fictitious name of Robert Heron, are mentioned in his correspond
He married a lady of great respectability; but the irregularities of his conduct diminished the comfort of his union, and tended greatly to cause him to lose his rank in society. In the latter part of his life he removed for a short period to Edinburgh, and on two several occasions resided for some years at Paris, where he died on the 10th of May, 1826.
The foregoing particulars are extracted from the excellent obituary of the Gentleman's Magazine, which contains a detailed memoir of Mr. Pinkerton and his works, in great measure the same as had previously been published in a book entitled Public Characters for the year 1800, and has since been repeated with some additions in the 5th volume of Mr. Nichols's Illustrations of the Literary History of the 18th century. The memoir just alluded to finishes by stating, upon the subject of Mr. Pinkerton's personal appearance, that “it was that of a very little and very thin old man, with a very small, sharp, yellow face, thickly pitted with the small pox, and decked with a pair of green spectacles."
To the merits of Mr. Pinkerton as a writer, and especially as an historian, honorable testimony has
been borne by those whose testimony will be readily allowed to be honorable. Mr. Beattie eulogized his poetical talents :
Mr. Cooper Walker
gave him the praise of “deep and extensive erudition, assiduous research, and luminous arrangement,” and pronounced his productions “ inestimable to the lovers of historic truth :" Horace Walpole declared his understanding to be “one of the strongest, most manly, and clearest he ever knew;" and Gibbon did not scruple to tell him “ that the best judges had acknowledged his merit, and that his rising fame would not fail gradually to extinguish the early prejudices and personal animosities which he had perhaps been too careless of provoking.” More decisive still, and still more flattering than all, was the character of him pronounced by the historian of the Decline and Fall of Rome, in the address intended to have been prefixed to his edition of the early English historians—a character full and luminous, kind and judicious, traced evidently by the hand of a friend, but of a friend, who was too wise, and too well disposed, and too sensible of his own importance, to condescend to flatter. Nor have there been wanting those, who, since his death, have been willing to pay their tribute to his merits : among them the writer in the periodical work above mentioned, admits him to have been the first who “ sounded the depths of Scottish History,” and allows his
claim to learning and ability, and a useful direction of both, at the same time that he is severe upon the failings of his temper. To these failings it is only doing Mr. Pinkerton justice to acknowledge that he was himself by no means blind : “ were I revising my books,” he tells Mr. Laing, “ I should dash out all such passages, which I never see without disgust; and I can only say that they are the products of infirmity, not of nature.” Careful, however, as he might wish to be on this point, such failings do certainly appear in some of his letters to Lord Buchan, and sadly so in those to Mr. Paton.
With regard to the Editor, little or nothing was left for him, in a work like the present, but to make a due selection from the letters before him, and to illustrate with notes whatever might appear to require elucidation. Both these tasks he has endeavored to discharge to the best of his abilities : had he published the whole of the letters reserved for that purpose by Mr. Pinkerton, the bulk of these volumes would have been at least doubled. He is conscious that he has been tempted to admit some few letters of little interest in themselves, yet tending to throw light upon Mr. Pinkerton's pursuits; and one or two have been inserted from men of rank and eminence, merely to show his connexion with them. In a very
few instances indeed will be found the let