1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Whitehead

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:536.



WILLIAM WHITEHEAD, the son of a baker, in Cambridge, was born in 1715, and received his education at Winchester School, and Clare Hall, Cambridge; of which he became a fellow in 1742. He had, in the previous year, published, after the manner of Pope, An Epistle on the Danger of Writing Verse, which, together with some subsequent poetical productions, were so favourably received, that he gave up his intention of going into the church, and accepted the situation of tutor to the eldest son of the Earl of Jersey. In 1750, he produced a tragedy founded upon the Horace of Corneille, which was acted with great applause at Drury Lane. His Creusa met with similar success in 1754; about which time, he proceeded, with his pupil, to the continent, and remained abroad for two years. On his return, he found himself appointed, through the interest of Lady Jersey, secretary and register of the order of the Bath; and, in 1757, he succeeded Cibber as poet laureate. "No court poet," says his biographer, Mason, "ever had fewer courtly strains;" yet their merit did not protect Whitehead from the satire of Churchill. The subject of our memoir, who published, in addition to the works before-mentioned, a comedy, called The School for Lovers, Ode to the Tiber, and other pieces, died, much respected and beloved, in April, 1785; fourteen years of the latter part of his life having been passed in the family of the Earl of Jersey. As a poet, Whitehead held a rank between mediocrity and excellence; below the one, but above the other, he makes no display of commanding genius, whilst few excel him in elegant correctness and polished ease.