1910 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Whitehead

Ralph Straus, in Robert Dodsley, Poet, Publisher, and Playwright (1910) 111-14.



Whitehead had come into prominence in 1741 by his Danger of Writing Verse, which was here [in Dodsley's Collection] reprinted. He became Fellow of Clare, and was at this time acting as tutor to Lord Jersey's son at Middleton Park. In 1754 Garrick, for whom he occasionally acted as literary adviser, produced his tragedy of Creusa. Shortly afterwards he went abroad with his pupil and Lord Nuneham. Whilst at Leipsic he heard from Dodsley that Garrick had revived his play, and replied at some length on April 1st, 1755.

"I am much obliged," runs this letter, "for your account of my play, tho' Mr. Sanderson in some measure forestalled you. I still find the Pythia does not please; tho' she plays the part sensibly, yet every body tells me she seems to have no idea of the fury and vehemence of her character where she is to assume an air of inspiration. You will make my compliments to Mr. Garrick & thank him for the revival. I told him if I met with any dancers that were tolerable I would let him know, but I have seen none at all that were worth his having. They talk of some at dresden, but as I was not there during the carnival I shall probably have no opportunity of seeing them. We shall leave this place the 5 or 6 may, & after having been at dresden, Berlin, Brussells, Hanover, Gotha, Ratisbon, Munich, Vienna, & perhaps too the Courts on the Rhine, we are in hopes of reaching Italy in October or November. If I can be of any service to you there you must write to me immediately, if anywhere afterwards Mr. Sanderson will give you directions, & I shall be glad to execute anything you desire. I send you enclosed an account of Dr. Lowth's book in the Acta Eruditorum at Leipsic, which you will be so good as to transmit to him.... They talk kindly of him, but at the same time they seem to be his enemies, & therefore you must not believe at most above half what they say. I will speak to him myself the first opportunity. English books, tho' every body here almost reads English, take a good while before they make their way hither, they have sea, & a good deal of Country to pass. However, I am greatly pleased to find our Language grow almost universal.... I am obliged for your intention of sending the miscellanies but have very little expectation of receiving them, the methods of their getting here are so very dilatory & uncertain. You will make my compliments to all my friends you meet with, & if I can be of any service to them where I am they will oblige me by commanding it."

On Whitehead's return to England, he found himself appointed Poet Laureate — Mr. Gray having refused the honour — and became through Lady Jersey's interest Secretary and Register of the Order of the Bath. Dodsley published all his verse, and maintained a close friendship with him. A few other of his letters to the publisher have been preserved; one, written when he had become poet-laureate, may be given:

"DEAR SIR,

Inclosed I return you the receipt, & am much obliged for the trouble you have had about it. I should have let it go on 'till the half year, had not they told me that they always chose to pay it quarterly. The deductions bring it down somewhere about nineteen pounds. I have no accounts with me in the Country, or I would tell you the exact sum, but Mr. Adams will settle it all with you. I will send you the Ode [in Honour of the King's Birthday] in about a fortnight or less. Have you anything literary in prospect for this winter? The playhouses, I presume, are near opening. Are we to expect any novelties either in plays or actors? I had the pleasure of seeing your friend Mr. Melmoth at Bristol this summer, but had much less opportunity of being in company with him than I could have wished. I have some thoughts of being in Town about the 1st of November whether I stay the birthday or not, & can then hear a rehearsal, if it should be necessary.

I am, dear Sr.,

Your most obedient

Humble Servant,

W. WHITEHEAD.

MIDDLETON PARK,

Sept. 2, 1758."

If Whitehead came to London, he would have seen Dodsley's own tragedy performed at Covent Garden, and found the reply to his question.