John Williams (Anthony Pasquin), Painter and Engraver

(d. 1818)

Painter and Engraver

From A Dictionary of Irish Artists 1913

John Williams—"Anthony Pasquin." Engraved by Bartolozzi as frontispiece to his "Artists of Ireland."

Best known by his pseudonym of ANTHONY PASQUIN. He was born about the middle of the eighteenth century. At the age of 17 he was apprenticed to Matthew Darley, the engraver and caricaturist in the Strand; and in 1770, his address being given as 9 Savage Gardens, Tower Hill, he exhibited at the Society of Artists a "Head, engraved after Boucher." In 1771 he sent an "Engraving after Brouwer," and in 1775 two "Sketches."

In 1778 he went to Ireland, where he appears to have practised as an itinerant painter; he tells us himself that he "walked through every province" ("Artists of Ireland," p. 54). He was in Belfast in 1783, and painted there a large picture of the "Adelphi Club," a group containing portraits of Andrew Cherry, actor; Atkins, owner and manager of the Belfast Theatre; Amyas Griffith, excise surveyor of Belfast; James Pinkerton, merchant; Richard Cox Rowe, comedian; — Haslett, merchant; Thomas Gibson, merchant; John Bernard, actor, and the painter himself. The picture belonged to Amyas Griffith, who sold it; and it was afterwards in the possession of J. C. Pinkerton, to whose son, J. C. Pinkerton, of Fernville, Jordanstown, it now belongs. For a time Williams edited, in Dublin, the "Volunteers' Journal, or Irish Herald," which first appeared in November, 1783.

An attack on the Government in April, 1784, led to the committal to Newgate of its publisher, Matthew Carey, and Williams thought it prudent to decamp. He returned to England and became associated with Sir Henry Bate Dudley in conducting the "Morning Herald." He also edited a paper called "The Devil," in which appeared a clever parody of Goldsmith's "Deserted Village" upon the decay of the stage. About 1788, becoming acquainted with the eccentric and notorious Lord Barrymore, he was employed in the management of the theatre at Wargrave, and also as secretary and "poet laureate."

His peculiar talents, his wit and raillery were invaluable to Lord Barrymore, and his aid was enlisted in the practical jokes and other extraordinary proceedings with which Lord Barrymore amused himself and his guests at the festive gatherings at Wargrave. He was noted for the dirt and slovenliness of his person and dress; "he always looked as if he had just been expelled from a poor-house or a prison. His clothes would have shamed Monmouth Street; his shirt had always a particular mystery about it, and his face appeared as if it had not been washed since he quitted his mother's knee." Once, on his asking for some ink, Lord Barrymore suggested that if he would wash his hands he would obtain a quart.

On the death of his patron in 1793 Pasquin fell back upon journalism and authorship for a living. He contributed theatrical criticisms to the newspapers, and his malignant pen was the terror of actors and actresses. William Gifford in the "Baviad" dragged him before the public as a man "so lost to every sense of decency and shame that his acquaintance was an infamy and his touch a poison." In 1797 he brought an action for libel against the publisher, but was defeated; and it was shown that he himself had grossly libelled every respectable character in the kingdom, from the Sovereign down. After the trial he fled from England and obtained employment on a paper in New York; but he could not restrain his venomous pen; he was prosecuted for libel, and as New York became too hot to hold him, he returned to England. He resumed his old occupation as a critic and was employed on various papers; but again his conduct forced him to leave London, and he went back to America. He died of typhus fever at Brooklyn, on 3rd November, 1818. Lord Macaulay ("Edinburgh Review," LXXIV, 250) described him as "a malignant and filthy baboon," and "a polecat."

Pasquin exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1775 a drawing of "Robin Hood," and in 1802 "Three Indian Chiefs, drawn when the author was travelling through their nations in 1799." A "Trip to Margate" and a "Bathing Woman soliciting custom" were engraved by Bartolozzi. The vignette of three Blockheads on the title-page of his "Memoirs of the Royal Academicians" was etched by him. Among his published books and pamphlets, twenty-one in all, is "An Authentic History of the Professors of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, who have practised in Ireland," etc., published in 1796. This work, the author says, was the issue of all his researches, assisted by the oldest and most intelligent among the artists of Ireland, and published to rescue the professors of painting, sculpture and architecture in Ireland from oblivion. He gives biographical notes, generally meagre and often incorrect, of one hundred and eighty-one artists. His researches must have been perfunctory, and he did not even take the trouble to ascertain the christian names of artists who were practising during his stay in Ireland. Nevertheless our knowledge of Irish artists would be the poorer without his contribution to their history; for he mentions many who might otherwise have remained in oblivion, and furnishes details not elsewhere obtainable.

In 1791 "The Eccentricities of John Edwin, comedian, collected from his manuscripts, and enriched with several hundred original anecdotes, arranged and digested by Anthony Pasquin, Esq.," was published in Dublin in two vols. A later edition appeared in London in 1798.

Pasquin's portrait, a half-length by Sir M. A. Shee, was engraved by J. Wright, the miniature painter; and another, engraved by Bartolozzi, forms the frontispiece to his "Artists of Ireland."

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