1860 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Whitehead

George Gilfillan, in Specimens with Memoirs of the less-known British Poets (1860) 3:242-43.



There was also a Paul Whitehead, who wrote a satire entitled Manners, which is highly praised by Boswell, and mentioned contemptuously by Campbell, and who lives in the couplet of Churchill—

May I (can worse disgrace on manhood fall?)
Be born a Whitehead, and baptized a Paul.

William Whitehead was the son of a baker in Cambridge, was born in 1715, and studied first at Winchester, and then in Clare Hall, in his own city. He became tutor to the son of the Earl of Jersey, wrote one or two poor plays, and in 1757, on the death of Colley Cibber, was appointed Poet-Laureate — the office having previously been refused by Gray. This roused against him a large class of those "beings capable of envying even a poet-laureate," to use Gray's expression, and especially the wrath of Churchill, then the man-mountain of satiric literature, who, in his Ghost, says—

But he who in the laureate chair,
By grace, not merit, planted there,
In awkward pomp is seen to sit,
And by his patent proves his wit, &c.

To these attacks Whitehead, who was a good-natured and modest man, made no reply. In his latter years the Laureate resided in the family of Lord Jersey, and died in 1785. His poem called Variety is light and pleasant, and deserves a niche in our Specimens.