Joseph Cooper Walker

Born 1747 - Died 1810

From The Cabinet of Irish Literature, Volume 2, edited by Charles A. Read

Joseph Cooper Walker, so well known to all antiquarians and students of ancient literature as the author of Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, was born in 1747 at St. Valerie, near Bray, in the county of Wicklow. The early part of his education he received under the care of Dr. Ball, and afterwards with the help of private tutors acquired an excellent knowledge of the classical and modern languages. While yet young he was appointed to a place in the Treasury in Dublin; but in consequence of bad health, he went on the Continent and travelled through the greater part of Italy, where he acquired a strong taste for the fine arts and increased his love of literature. After his return to Ireland he was, in 1787, admitted a member of the Royal Irish Academy, and a little later chosen secretary to the Committee of Antiquities, a post he held for a couple of years. He had already in 1786 produced his Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, a work which at once placed him in the front rank of literary antiquarians. Two years later he issued his Historical Essay on the Dress of the Ancient and Modern Irish, in which volume he also printed a Memoir on the Armour and Weapons of the Irish. For some years after this he contributed largely to the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, and among his many papers we may mention a clever one on "The Irish Stage." In 1799 appeared at London An Historical Memoir of Italian Tragedy from the Earliest Period to the Present Time, by a Member of the Arcadian Academy of Rome, which in 1805 was reprinted in Edinburgh, under the title of An Historical and Critical Essay on the Revival of the Drama in Italy. On the 12th of April, 1810, after a lingering illness, Walker died at St. Valerie, the place of his birth. His Memoirs of Alessandro Tassoni, edited by his brother Samuel Walker, appeared in 1815, and is a work which contains much sound criticism.

In all his works our author displays, according to a critic of his own day, "deep research and an extensive knowledge in polite literature; and he treats his subject, however abstruse, with an ease, liveliness, and elegance that charm his readers." Indeed there can scarcely be a more readable book of its kind than that on Irish dress. To the student of Irish history The Memoirs of the Irish Bards is an invaluable work, but to the general reader there is not sufficient interest in its pages to warrant us in making quotations. The work on the Italian drama is not so interesting to many, chiefly because of its subject not rousing our sympathies, but those who have studied Italian literature readily acknowledge its value.

In private life Walker was marked by easy manners and the possession of many genuine accomplishments. In his conversation, unlike some of his brother antiquarians, he was lively, and his countenance constantly glowed with the thoughts that animated his mind.