1827 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Kirke White

A., "Henry Kirke White, a Literary and Biographical Sketch" Living Poets of England: Specimens of the Living British Poets (1827) 2:530-31.



Kirke White is the Andre Chenier of England; not because the unfortunate poet was carried away by a political storm; but he died a victim to his zeal for study at the age of one and twenty, with the same regret as A. Chenier, of not having been able to give full wing to his talents. This young poet, replete with fire and tenderness, had received, with the revelation of the secret favours with which the muse had endowed him, the presentiment of his approaching end. From the age of thirteen, Kirke White had measured the brevity of his days, and commenced the song of the dying Swan. It was to the grave he addressed his tenderest dreams of poetical renown. The flower which he sung and cherished with peculiar predilection was the rosemary, a plant which in England is placed in the coffins, and he invoked it to exhale its fugitive perfume in the solitude of his tomb. Imbued with these melancholy ideas, he saw nothing but God in the future, and translated psalms, as if for the purpose of exercising himself in joining his voice to that of the concert of angels; or he described his first sorrows, his first affections, his first games, while he associated these reflections to those of the caresses of his mother, or his little tribulations as a school-boy. From the earliest age the life of this world had only an ephemeral interest in his eyes; he saw nothing but God and Eternity. One is astonished to find so much elevation and elegance, so much philosophy and tender piety in the poems of so young a man. His poem entitled Childhood, composed at the age of thirteen, exhibits more than one graceful painting of which Goldsmith might have been jealous. The portrait of his old school-mistress is a counterpart to that of the schoolmaster in the Deserted Village.

So much imagination and susceptibility could not even suffer extinction in the office of an attorney, where the young poet was for some time articled, before he could obtain means of going to college at Oxford. The studies of the university exhausted his strength, and he died with the regret of not having completed his poem of the Christiad.