1808 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Henry Kirke White

W. B., Review of White, Remains; Gentleman's Magazine 78 (January 1808) 45-46.



In 1803, Mr. Southey, who is himself no mean versifier, published, in three 8vo volumes, THE WORKS OF THOMAS CHATTERTON, and he has now added to his own fair fame, as a gentleman of benevolence and sensibility, by this neat edition of THE REMAINS OF HENRY KIRKE WHITE. We wish not to diminish the pleasure that the readers of the latter work must feel, by an elaborate display of its beauties: but we will not hesitate to assert our conviction, that, ere a very few years shall have elapsed, the names of White and Chatterton will be found alike the themes of eulogy and regret; nay, if either be preferred to the other, we consider the name of White as the most deserving of enthusiastical commemoration. Both these wonderful youths died, just as they had attained to the age of manhood; Chatterton by a Roman death, White by the slow but sure operation of consumption, accelerated by extraordinary efforts to improve himself in academical studies. When we consider an unfortunate youth, such as Chatterton was, involved in mystery, suspected of literary fraud, and repulsed with contempt when labouring to emerge from obscurity and to attract the favour and patronage of some great man; our compassion is excited, and it is not without a strong and indignant compound of grief and horror, that we hear of his voluntary and dreadful catastrophe. But when, as in the amiable instance before us, we view a genius of the highest order, forbidden by birth, education, and engagement, from every apparent chance of exhibiting its transcendent powers; still preserving in honourable struggles to engage attention, still hoping, almost against hope, for some lucky contingency; at length, winning its illustrious way with unobtrusive excellence to general admiration, and then — sinking untimely, but resignedly, into the grave: we behold one of the most interesting, and at the same time one of the most affecting spectacles, that humanity can either exhibit or contemplate. The death of Chatterton must be lamented by ever lover of splendid talents, prematurely cut off from the earth by unruly passions, exasperated by severe misfortunes, and unenlightened by Christianity: the death of White will ever awaken the tenderest sympathy and deepest veneration; whether we look to its cause, its progress, or its completion. To select a flower from Mr. White's bouquet of everlasting fragrance is, we well know, a very unnecessary task; we persuade ourselves The Remains of this sweet bard will become both celebrated and popular: but, although we pointedly disclaim the thought of giving any adequate idea of the work by a single extract, we lay the following poem before our readers. It is almost the earliest of our Poet's pieces, and was written when he had barely attained the age of thirteen.

TO AN EARLY PRIMROSE.
Mild offspring of a dark and sullen sire!
Whose modest form, so delicately fine,
Was nurs'd in whirling storms
And cradled in the winds.

Thee, when young spring first question'd Winter's sway,
And dar'd the sturdy blusterer to the fight,
Thee on this bank he threw
To mark his victory.

In this low vale, the promise of the year,
Serene, thou openest to the nipping gale,
Unnoticed, and alone,
Thy tender elegance.

So Virtue blooms, brought forth amid the storms
Of chill adversity, in some lone walk
Of life, she rears her head
Obscure and unobserved;

While every bleaching breeze that on her blows,
Chastens her spotless purity of breast,
And hardens her to bear
Serene the ills of life.