Pilkington, Matthew (1700/01–1774), anglican clergyman and poet, was born in Ballyboy, between Tullamore and Birr, King's Co. (Offaly), son of William Pilkington, watchmaker. The family subsequently transferred to the Lazar's Hill (Hawkins St.) area of Dublin. Matthew was tutored by a Mr Neile before entering TCD (June 1718). He graduated BA (1722) and was later ordained in the established church. While still a poor curate, Pilkington married c.1725 Laetitia Van Lewen (qv), the daughter of a man-midwife – later grandly called accoucheur – of Dutch origin. The newly-weds settled down near his parents in St Andrew's parish and had several children, at least three of whom died in infancy. An introduction to Jonathan Swift (qv) about 1729 was instrumental in launching Pilkington as a poet. Apart from welcome encouragement, Swift provided some necessary money towards the publication by subscription of a collection of his poems – Poems on several occasions – in Dublin (1730). Soon after this Pilkington moved to London, where, on the recommendation of Swift, he was appointed chaplain to John Barber during his term as lord mayor of London (1731–2).
On the occasion of the publication separately in 1733 of two poems by Swift – An epistle to a lady and On poetry; a rhapsody – Pilkington was appointed agent to see the publication through the press. However, since parts of these poems were quite insulting both to the king and the prime minister (Walpole), steps were taken to arrest Pilkington along with the printer and the bookseller concerned, these three being (unlike the author, Swift) ready to hand in London. All were soon released when apparently it was found that a charge of libel was not likely to succeed. Accusations that Pilkington had betrayed Swift led to a deterioration in their relations to the point where Swift branded Pilkington as the falsest rogue and his wife Laetitia as the most profligate whore in either kingdom. This latter accusation derived from the break-up of the Pilkington marriage in a sordid and acrimonious action in the spiritual court on the grounds of the wife's adultery. Laetitia vented her spleen on her ex-husband in her Memoirs of Laetitia Pilkington (first published 1748). Laetitia died in 1750 and shortly thereafter Pilkington married Ann Sandys. In 1770 he published The gentleman's and connoisseur's dictionary of painters, a work on which he must have spent years of research. It was accepted for many years as the standard work on the lives of the world's painters, and went through numerous editions. Meanwhile in 1741 Pilkington had been appointed vicar of Donabate, Co. Dublin, a position that he held until his death (July 1774). It must have been something of a sinecure, for he was at the same time rector of St Mark's parish in Dublin city.