Walker, John

, author of some valuable and popular works on the English language, was born March 18, 1732, at Colney-hatch, a hamlet in the parish of Friern-Barnet. Of his parents little is known, and it does not appear that he was enabled to receive a liberal education. He was intended for some trade, but had a reluctance to every effort of that kind, and went when young upon the stage, on which he had some, although no brilliant success. He continued, however, to accept various theatrical engagements until 1768, when he finally quitted the stage; and in January 1767 joined Mr. James Usher (see Usher) in forming a school at Kensington Gravel-pits, but their partnership lasted only about two years, after which Mr. Walker began to give those instructions on elocution, which formed the principal employment of his future life, and procured him a very just fame. About the same time he instituted his inquiries into the structure of language, and the rationale of grammar, and particularly directed his attention to the orthoepy of the English language, in which he endeavoured, by tracing it to its principles, to form a consistent and analogical theory. The unwearied attention he bestowed upon the subject, enabled him to accomplish this end, and to demonstrate the errors, inconsistencies, and affectations which had crept into pronunciation, and | which had been propagated, rather than corrected, By many or' those who had hitherto professed to teach it. He therefore resolved to make the public participators in the result of his researches; and in 1772 he published, by way of prospectus, a quarto pamphlet entitled, “A general idea of a Pronouncing Dictionary of the English language,” a work which, though an imperfect attempt had been made by Dr. Kenrick, in his “Rhetorical Dictionary,” might yet be considered as a desideratum. But as he found it impossible to proceed on tiiis without farther encouragement than was then offered, he compiled an English Dictionary on a smaller scale, and on a plan not hitherto attempted, in which the words should be arranged according to their terminations; a mode of arrangement which, though not calculated for general use, possesses many peculiar advantages. This he published in 1775, under the title of “A Dictionary of the English language, answering at once the purposes of rhyming, spelling, and pronouncing;” it has since been republisheu under the shorter title of “A Rhyming Dictionary.

In the mean time he visited Scotland and Ireland, for the purpose of reading lectures on elocution, and every where met with great respect and success, particularly at Oxford, where the heads of houses inviiecl him. to give private lectures in that university. In 1781 he produced his “Elements of Elocution,” a work which has the merit of beingthe first practical treatise that had yet been composed on the art of speaking, in which its principles are at once unfolded, simplified, and methodized into a system. In 1782 he published a pamphlet, called “Hints for improvement in the Art of Reading,” consisting of a number of observations that had suggested themselves to him, in the course of teaching, thrown together, as the title imports, rather in a detached than a systematical form. The most useful parts of this pamphlet he afterwards introduced into his “Rhetorical Grammar,” which he published in 1785, and which was followed by his “English Classics abridged” “The melody of speaJdng delineated,” and his “Academic Speaker,” all soon introduced into our principal seminaries, and too well known to require any farther notice here. In 1791 he published his “Critical PronouncingDictionary and Expositor of the English language,” the reputation of which was soon fixed, as the statute book of English orthoepy. A work of great utility afterwards came | from his pen, under the title of a “Key to the classical pronunciation of Greek, Latin, and Scripture proper names.” To this is prefixed his portrait, a very striking likeness. His last publications were, the “Teacher’s assistant,” and the “Outlines of English grammar,” which was puhlished in May 1805. After this, as age advanced, he became very debilitated; and in July 1807 was attacked by a severe illness, which proved fatal Aug. 1, in the, seventy-sixth year of his age.

Mr. Walker’s private character was amiable and unexceptionable, and his philological knowledge had introduced him to intimacy with many of the most eminent literary characters of his time. He had been educated a presbyterian, but by some means argued himself into the Roman catholic persuasion, and was a strict observer of all its formal rites. In the particular department to which he devoted his life, he was perhaps more profoundly skilled than any man of his time, and his acquisitions in general literature were very considerable. Throughout his whole conduct in life, he evinced the most disinterested integrity. In conversation, with a tolerable portion of anecdote, the gleanings of a long acquaintance with literary men, his bent was rather to enter upon the discussion of important topics; and as he grew older, had outlived his early contemporaries, and knew that he was talking to the young, his manner became a little dictatorial, but mixed with such a kindly propensity to impart information, that it was impossible not to respect him. 1

1 Mhenanim, vol. III. —Gent. Mag. vol, I.Xxvh.