Matthew Pilkington

?1701-1774; b. Ballyboy, Co. Offaly; son of clockmaker; ed. Neile’s School, and TCD from June 1718, BA in 1722; ord.; rector of Donabate and Portrahan [Portrane], 1724; m. Laetitia van Lewen [Mrs. Pilkington], 1729, issued “Progress of Music in Ireland: To Mira”, a poem containing praise of Carolan; issued Poems on Several Occasions (1730); lived in Dublin in St. Andrew’s Parish, with children incl. John Carteret Pilkington, who describes him in an autobiography (1762);
appt. chaplain to Mayor of London on influence of Jonathan Swift, 1732; visited in London by Laetitia in 1733, when she detected his infidelities; afterwards divorced on the grounds of her adulterous relations, causing Swift to change his mind about the couple, calling him a ‘rogue and profligate’; remarried to Mary Sandys, c.1750. ODNB PI DIW


See J. C. Pilkington [his son], The Life of J. C. Pilkington ... written by himself: To which is added, never printed before, a collection of letters, which passed between the late Lord K--gsb----h [Kingsborough], and Mrs. Pilkington (Dublin: James Hoey Jnr. 1762), [6], 208pp.


Jonathan Swift (Letter to Lord Bathurst, Oc.t 1730): ‘And a little, young, poetical parson, who has a littler, young, poetical wife, shall have the whole profit. And take notice that the word littler is not a blunder. And the young parson aforesaid hath very lately printed his own works, all in verse and some not unpleasant; in one or two of which I have the honour to be celebrated, which cost me a guinea and two bottles of wine.’ (Copied in Offaly History website , with added remark: ‘On another occasion Swift referred to the Pilkingtons as the mighty Thomas Thumb and her Serene Highness of Lilliput.’) Note further, Swift’s remarks on casting loose of the Pilkingtons: ‘Yet I confess that Doctor [Patrick] Delany, the most eminent preacher, is a very unlucky recommender. For he forced me to countenance Pilkington, introduced me to him and praised the wit, vertue and humour of him and his wife. Whereas he proved the falsest rogue and she the most profligate whore in either Kingdom.’ (See Offaly History [online].)


A. N. Jeffares & Peter Van de Kamp, eds., Irish Literature: The Eighteenth Century - An Annotated Anthology (Dublin/Oregon: Irish Academic Press 2006), selects “The Gift” (‘Oppress’d Hibernia, in Despair, / Complains to Jove in fervent Pray’r / How fast her Liberties fade away; / How fast her Honours fade away; [...] Then Jove: “Hibernia sues too late [...] But Heav’n those Sorrows will Repay [...] To raise they glory, we design / To bless thee with a Gift Divine [...] Hibernia thanks him for the Gift / And owns, She’s overpaid in Swift.’


Will & Testament (Feb. 1754): ‘Item To my son William Pilkington, who never felt a filial affection for me (to the utmost of my observation) I give the some of five pounds sterling and to those two abandoned wretches, John Carteret Pilkington and Elizabeth Pilkington, I give the some of one shilling if demanded within twelve months, and I should abhor to mention them in any deed of mine, if it were not to prevent all possibility of dispute or litigation’. (Offaly History web page [online].)


ODNB error - The Offaly History web page writes: ‘The Dictionary of National Biography has confused Michael [recte Matthew] Pilkington the poet, with another Matthew Pilkington (who turns out to be an entirely fictitious)’, continuing: ‘F[rancis] Elrington Ball, Editor of Swift’s correspondence and local historian, has set the record straight in a contribution to Notes and Queries, where he set out the will of Matthew Pilkington, the poet, dated February 1754, and demonstrated conclusively that he was Vicar of Donabate, County Dublin, from 1741 until his death and that he was the author of The Gentleman’s and Connoisseur’s Dictionary of Painters, first published in 1770. This dictionary was accepted for many years as the standard work on the lives of the world painters and went through numerous editions. A note appended to his will indicates that Pilkington died in July 1774.’ (Offaly History web page [online]). See also Mary Pilkington, Female Biography (1803), under Centlivre [supra].

Namesake: Pilkington is frequently confused with his namesake Matthew Pilkington, author of Dictionary of Painters.

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