1789 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Whitehead

Anonymous, in Bell's Classical Arrangement of Fugitive Poets (1789-97) 8:169-72.



The ingenious an amiable Author of this and the subsequent Elegies, was the son of a Baker at Cambridge, and born in the beginning of the year 1714-15, in the parish of St. Botolph. From some ordinary school in the place of his nativity, he was removed to Winchester, through the favour of Lord Montfort. At this seminary he cultivated his poetical talents, and with such success as to attract the notice of Pope. He was school-tutor to the father of the present Lord Portsmouth, and for sometime enjoyed the office of prepositor, but unfortunately and unfairly, lost his election. His father having died before this disappointment, he, soon after, removed to Cambridge; and being the orphan of a baker, was admitted sizar of Clare-Hall, on a scholarship founded by Mr. Pyke, who had been of that trade. The notice taken of him while at Winchester by Mr. Pope, and his own amiable manners, conspired to introduce him into college with eclat, and he soon formed an intimacy with some of the most respectable amongst his contemporaries in Cambridge, which continued unbroken thro' life: in this list the names of Powell, Balguy, and Hurd may be given. The first, however, of his productions, which in the opinion of Mr. Mason, intitled him a Poet, was his Epistle on the danger of writing Verse. His Essay on Ridicule next followed, and shortly after his Epistle on Nobility, inscribed to the Earl of Ashburnham, who, with the late Charles Townsend, was a student at Clare-Hall, and both honored him with their friendship. Though the latter, mixing in the busy world, had his attention withdrawn from out Poet, yet in respect to his other connexions he was not so unfortunate: whilst Mr. Wright and Mr. Saunderson, two clergymen, in particular realised the regard they professed. To the former Mr. Whitehead addressed several of his poems, and to the latter, the elegy with the coin of Aurelius. After having continued in college to the year 1742, in a manner highly reputable to himself, he was elected fellow, and purposed to enter into orders, when fortunately Commissary Graves recommended him to the late Earl of Jersey, as tutor to his son. In this situation, Mr. Whitehead relinquished his former plan, and having more time than official occupation, began to write for the stage. His first production was the Roman Father, which met with considerable applause. Creusa followed, but with less of success, though certainly a better composition. It being now determined that Lord Villiers should travel, and that Lord Nuneham, his friend, be of the party, Mr. Whitehead was appointed governor to both. In treading on the embers of classic remains, it can scarcely be imagined that the foot of the Muse should be inconscious of their glow; accordingly the Elegy at Haut-Villiers, with the others which follow, were the result of this excursion. Whilst in Italy, the office of secretary and register of the order of the Bath, becoming vacant, was procured from Mr. Whitehead by the intervention of Lady Jersey; and about two years after, on the death of Cibber, the laureat followed without solicitation. Returning to England, Mr. Whitehead had so well satisfied by his conduct the parents of his pupils, that he was solicited to live in the family of Lord Jersey, and to consider Lord Harcourt's, as even his home. With the former he took up his abode, and continued in his house for fourteen years together. In this recess his School for Lovers was written, and brought on the stage in the year 1762. In the same year was produced also his Charge to the Poets, which drew on him the resentment of Churchill in his Rosciad. About this period, he amused himself with sketching out a farce, which being intended to exhibit Mrs. Clive in a new point of view, was exhibited in the year 1770, under the title of the Trip to Scotland. This production, Mr. Mason declares, the only thing of the kind that can be put in competition with the "petites pieces" of Marivaux. Besides Variety, the Goat's Beard and some other little poems, Mr. Whitehead revived his theatric ideas, and it appears from his Memoirs by Mr. Mason, that a compleat tragedy, with other dramatic remains are still in the hands of his friends.—"Here concluding his literary history," says his elegant Biographer, "I have nothing to add respecting his life, except what relates to its final close, at his lodgings in Charles-Street, Grosvenor Square, April 14, 1785, which happily for himself, as it must be for all who pass through this world in the same blameless manner, with the some confidence in their God, and belief in his revealed will, so to die," was sudden, and without a groan.