1804 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Whitehead

Joseph Dennie, "Headnote to Life of William Whitehead" Port Folio [Philadelphia] 4 (14 July 1804) 219.



By that malignant tribe, who are naturally envious of the good fortune of those who by chance or merit have acquired the favour and protection of greatness, the muse and memory of William Whitehead have been assailed with furious rancour. Because he was Poet Laureat to a Prince it had been thought necessary by the tools of faction to deny him his merit as a writer, and his independence as a man. Every grumbling patriot, every witling of opposition has endeavoured to tarnish his reputation and pluck the laurel from his brow. From the "splendida citis," from the polished severity of Junius down to the gross abuse of the spur-gall'd hackney, this amiable poet has experienced all the varieties of invective. He has been ridiculed by some, and cursed by others; but sneers and banter and execration have had their brief reign, and it is time for TRUTH and REASON to vindicate their sway. From a careful perusal of his works, and from the subsequent honest record of his life it manifestly appears that he was neither a court parasite, nor a dull versifier. His Odes, the peculiar object of much false and malignant criticism, are often very spirited and elegant specimens of Lyric Poetry. To the sarcasms of Churchill, who was probably biassed by the notorious John Wilkes, we may boldly oppose the better judgment of Gray. Mr. Mason too, who had acquired a right to decide, declared that he found, to the poet's honour, more variety of sentiment and expression than could be expected from the uniformity of his topics from which he composed in compliance with the forms of his office. I persuade myself, continues Mr. Mason, the reader must agree with me in thinking that no court poet ever had fewer "courtly strains," and that his page is, at the least, as "white as Addison's."