Walker, John (1732-1807) (DNB00)


WALKER, JOHN (1732–1807), actor, philologist, and lexicographer, was born at Colney Hatch, a hamlet in the parish of Friern Barnet, Middlesex, on 18 March 1732. Of his father, who died when he was a child, little is known. His mother came from Nottingham, and was sister to the Rev. James Morley, a dissenting minister at Painswick, Gloucestershire. He was early taken from school to be instructed in a trade, and after his mother's death he went on the stage, and obtained several engagements with provincial companies. Subsequently he performed at Drury Lane under the management of Garrick. There he usually filled the second parts in tragedy, and those of a grave, sententious cast in comedy. In May 1758 he married Miss Myners, a well-known comic actress, and immediately afterwards he joined the company which was formed by Barry and Woodward for the opening of Crow Street Theatre, Dublin. He was there advanced to a higher rank in the profession, and, upon the desertion of Mossop to Smock Alley, he succeeded to many of that actor's characters, among which his Cato and his Brutus were spoken of in terms of very high commendation.

In June 1762 Walker returned to London, and he and his wife were engaged at Covent Garden Theatre. He returned to Dublin in 1767, but remained there only a short time; and, after performing at Bristol in the summer of 1768, he finally quitted the stage.

In January 1769 he joined James Usher [q. v.] in establishing a school at Kensington Gravel-pits, but the partnership lasted only about two years. Walker then began to give those lectures on elocution which henceforth formed his principal employment. During a professional tour in Scotland and Ireland he met with great success, and at Oxford the heads of houses invited him to give private lectures in the university. He enjoyed the patronage and friendship of Dr. Johnson, Edmund Burke, and other distinguished men (Boswell, Life of Johnson, ed. Hill, iv. 206, 421). Through the arguments of Usher he was induced to join the Roman catholic church, and this brought about an intimacy between him and John Milner (1752–1826) [q. v.], bishop of Castabala (Husenbeth, Life of Milner, p. 14). He was generally held in the highest esteem in consequence of his philological attainments and the amiability of his character, but, according to Madame d'Arblay, ‘though modest in science, he was vulgar in conversation’ (Diary, ii. 237). By his lectures and his literary productions he amassed a competent fortune. He lost his wife in April 1802; and he himself died in Tottenham Court Road, London, on 1 Aug. 1807. His remains were interred in the burial-ground of St. Pancras (Cansick, St. Pancras Epitaphs, 1869, p. 145).

His principal work is: 1. ‘A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language,’ London, 1791, 4to; 2nd edit. 1797; 3rd edit. 1802; 4th edit. 1806; 5th edit. 1810; 28th edit. 1826. Many other editions and abridgments of this work, which was long regarded as the statute-book of English orthoepy, have been published in various forms. One of these, ‘critically revised, enlarged, and amended’ [by P. A. Nuttall], appeared in London in 1855.

His other works are: 2. ‘A General Idea of a Pronouncing Dictionary of the English Language on a plan entirely new. With observations on several words that are variously pronounced as a specimen of the work,’ London, 1774, 4to. 3. ‘A Dictionary of the English Language, answering at once the purposes of Rhyming, Spelling, and Pronouncing, on a plan not hitherto attempted,’ London, 1775, 8vo. The third edition, entitled ‘A Rhyming Dictionary,’ appeared at London, 1819, 12mo; and there is in the British Museum a copy with all the words, written by Alexander Fraser, in Mason's system of shorthand. The work was reprinted in 1824, 1837, 1851, 1865, and 1888. 4. ‘Exercises for Improvement in Elocution; being select Extracts from the best Authors for the use of those who study the Art of Reading and Speaking in Public,’ London, 1777, 12mo. 5. ‘Elements of Elocution; being the Substance of a Course of Lectures on the Art of Reading, delivered at several Colleges … in Oxford,’ London, 1781, 2 vols. 8vo; 2nd edit., with alterations and additions, London, 1799, 8vo; reprinted, London, 1802, Boston (Massachusetts), 1810; 4th edit. London, 1810; 6th edit. London, 1820; other editions 1824 and 1838. 6. ‘Hints for Improvement in the Art of Reading,’ London, 1783, 8vo. 7. ‘A Rhetorical Grammar, or Course of Lessons in Elocution,’ dedicated to Dr. Johnson, London, 1785, 8vo; 7th edit. 1823. 8. ‘The Melody of Speaking delineated; or Elocution taught like Music; by Visible Signs, adapted to the Tones, Inflexions, and Variation of the Voice in Reading and Speaking,’ London, 1789, 8vo [see Steele, Joshua]. 9. ‘A Key to the Classical Pronunciation of Greek and Latin Proper Names … To which is added a complete Vocabulary of Scripture Proper Names,’ London, 1798, 8vo; 7th edit. 1822, reprinted 1832; and another edition, prepared by William Trollope, 1833 [see under Trollope, Arthur William]. Prefixed to the original edition is a fine portrait of Walker, engraved by Heath from a miniature by Barry. 10. ‘The Academic Speaker, or a Selection of Parliamentary Debates, Orations, Odes, Scenes, and Speeches … to which is prefixed Elements of Gesture,’ 4th edit. London, 1801, 12mo; 6th edit. 1806. 11. ‘The Teacher's Assistant in English Composition, or Easy Rules for Writing Themes and Composing Exercises,’ London, 1801 and 1802, 12mo; reprinted under the title of ‘English Themes and Essays,’ 10th edit., 1842; 11th edit., 1853. 13. ‘Outlines of English Grammar,’ London, 1805, 8vo; reprinted 1810.

[Addit. MS. 27488, ff. 241 b, 242; Athenæum, 1808, iii. 77; Edinburgh Catholic Magazine, new ser. (London, 1837) i. 617; Gent. Mag. 1807, ii. 786, 1121; Lowndes's Bibl. Man. ed. Bohn; Lysons's Environs, Suppl. p. 270; Notes and Queries, 5th ser. ii. 146, 252, x. 447, xi. 36.]

T. C.