WALKER, Joseph C. Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards. Interspersed with anecdotes of, and occasional observations on the Music of Ireland. Also, an historical and descriptive account of the musical instruments of the ancient Irish. And an Appendix, containing several biographical and other papers, with select Irish Melodies. By Joseph C. Walker, Member of the Royal Irish Academy.


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London: Printed for T. Payne and Son at the Mews-Gate, and G. G. J. and J. Robinson, Pater-Noster-Row, 1786. Quarto, second edition. pp. xii, 166, 124, [2], [4 (Plates, Irish Melodies)]. Contemporary full, spine professionally rebacked. Armorial device on upper cover. Ex lib with neat stamps. A very good copy.
ESTC T146945.
Joseph Cooper Walker (c.1762-1810), antiquary, was born in Dublin, son of Cooper Walker, merchant, and educated by Thomas Ball. He suffered from asthma, which prevented his attending college; instead he travelled to Italy, where he may have had some private tuition in Latin, Greek, French, Italian, and Spanish. He took a special interest in Italian literature and Irish antiquities, and on his return to Ireland (where he was employed in the Irish treasury as third clerk in the upper department) resided in an Italianate villa, St. Valerie, on the road from Bray to Enniskerry, County Wicklow.
In 1785 he was elected one of the original members of the Royal Irish Academy and in 1786 was requested to sit on its committee of antiquities. In this capacity he submitted several essays to the Academy’s ‘Transactions’. Despite his linguistic skills, he had little knowledge of Irish, yet Walker (a member of the Anglo-Irish elite) was consistent in his praise of Gaelic culture, portraying it as sophisticated and literate; and although he highly romanticised his work, he did help to challenge negative appraisals of the Irish character. Walker was part of a literary circle that included Edward Ledwich, Charles O’Conor, Edward Berwick, John Philpot Curran, and Henry Grattan.
Walker’s Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, along with his friend Charlotte Brooke’s Reliques of Irish Poetry published three years later, are “Important milestones in the later cultural history of the country ... Both authors break new ground in that they direct attention away from the contemplation of the remote past to observation of the contemporary Irish cultural scene and from historical speculation to literary appreciation of vernacular Irish poetry ... the two authors acted upon the spell of the romantic movement and their works may be regarded as its first literary fruits in Ireland”. [R.A. Breatnach, Stud. Hib. 1965]. He died in 1810 at St. Valerie, leaving a fine gallery of pictures, a library containing Irish manuscripts, and a collection of antiquities.


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