Edward Coote Pinkney
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About Edward Coote Pinkney
Edward Coote Pinkney (October 1, 1802 – April 11, 1828) was an American poet, lawyer, sailor, professor, and editor. Born in London in 1802, Pinkney made his way to Maryland. After attending college, he joined the United States Navy and traveled throughout the Mediterranean and elsewhere. He then attempted a law career but was unsuccessful and attempted to join the Mexican army, though he never did. He died at the age of 26 in 1828.
Pinkney published several lyric poems inspired primarily by the work of British poets. Critic and poet Edgar Allan Poe supported Pinkney's work after his death, quoting from his poetry in a lecture series. Poe also suggested Pinkney would have been more successful if he was a New Englander rather than a Southern writer.
Pinkney was born on October 1, 1808, in London, where his father William Pinkney was U.S. ambassador and his mother was the sister of Commodore John Rodgers. Pinkney lived in London until he was eight and later attended St. Mary's College of Maryland.
In the fall of 1815, 14-year-old Pinkney joined the United States Navy as a midshipman until 1824, during which time he traveled to Italy, northern Africa, the West Indies, and both coasts of South America. His defiance of what he called arbitrary authority got him in trouble occasionally. In 1824, two years after the death of his father, he left the Navy, married, and was admitted to the bar in Maryland. Though he was well respected in his abilities as a lawyer, he had few clients and the business failed. His wife, Georgiana McCausland, would become a supportive and inspirational figure to him.
After serving without a salary as the Professor of Rhetoric and Belles Lettres at the University of Maryland, Pinkney traveled to Mexico with the intention of joining the navy there. Disheartened after not being able to join, he returned to Baltimore. There, he became editor of a new semiweekly newspaper the Marylander—a publication originally founded to support the re-election of John Quincy Adams. Its first issue was published December 3, 1827. His editorial association nearly brought him into a duel with the editor of Philadelphia-based Mercury, a publication which supported Andrew Jackson. Afflicted with depression, Pinkney died on April 11, 1828, at the age of 26. He was originally buried in Baltimore's Unitarian Cemetery but, in May 1872, his body was moved to Green Mount Cemetery.
Pinkney is often compared with the Cavalier poets. He wrote a number of light, graceful, short poems, his longest being "Rudolph", which was published anonymously in 1825. His first full collection of poetry was published the same year. He was influenced by the work of Lord Byron, William Wordsworth, Walter Scott and other European writers. He was not influenced by American poets. He was also inspired by classical works and made several references to Ovid, Herodotus, Horace, and Petrarch. He was included in Rufus Wilmot Griswold's influential anthology The Poets and Poetry of America in 1842.
Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was an admirer of Pinkney's work as was Edgar Allan Poe, who used one of his poems, "A Health", to publicly woo Sarah Helen Whitman at a lecture in December 1848. Poe mentions "A Health" in his essay "The Poetic Principle" to exemplify his own aesthetic theory and the association between whiteness, purity, and love. He wrote that Pinkney would have been better appreciated if he had been born in New England:
"It was the misfortune of Mr. Pinckney to have been born too far south. Had he been born a New Englander, it is probable that he would have been ranked as the first of American lyrists, by that magnanimous cabal which has so long controlled the destinies of American Letters".
"A Health" was also praised in The Athenaum as "one of the prettiest things in American poetry" while another contemporary magazine put Pinkney among the top five poets of the United States at the time. The North American Review in January 1842, though questioning of the moral tone of "Rudolph" concluded, "The author evidently has much of the genuine spirit of poetry; his thoughts are occasionally bold and striking; some passages are wrought with much felicity of expression and clothed with a rich and glowing imagery... and [despite] a few minor imperfections, a highly poetical vein runs through the whole performance".