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ACCOUNT OF THE LIFE
HENRY KIRKE WHITE.
It fell to my lot to publish, with the assistance of my friend Mr. Cottle, the first collected edition of the works of Chatterton, in whose history I felt a more than ordinary interest, as being a native of the same city, familiar from my childhood with those great objects of art and nature by which he had been so deeply impressed, and devoted from my childhood with the same ardor to the same pursuits. It is now my fortune to lay before the world some account of one whose early death is not less to be lamented as a loss to English literature, and whose virtues were as admirable as his genius. In the present instance there is nothing to be recorded but what is honorable to himself, and to the age in which he lived; little to be regretted, but that one so ripe for heaven should so soon have been removed from the world.
Henry Kirke White, the second son of Jonn and Mary White, was born in Nottingham, March 21st, 1785. His father is a butcher; his mother, whose maiden name was Neville, is of a respectable Staffordshire family.
From the years of three till five, Henry learned to read at the school of Mrs. Garrington ; whose name, unimportant as it may appear, is mentioned, because she had the good sense to perceive his extraordinary ca
pacity, and spoke of what it promised with confidence. She was an excellent woman, and he describes her with affection in his poem upon Childhood. At a very early age his love of reading was decidedly manifested; it was a passion to which everything else gave way. I could fancy,' said his eldest sister, I see him in his little chair, with a large book upon his knee, and my mother calling, “ Henry, my love, come to dinner,” which was repeated so often without being regarded, that she was obliged to change the tone of her voice before she could rouse him. When he was about seven, he would creep unperceived into the kitchen, to teach the servant to read and write ; and he continued this for sometime before it was discovered that he had been thus laudably employed. He wrote a tale of a Swiss emigrant, which was probably his first composition, and gave it to this servant, being ashamed to show it to his mother. The consciousness of genius is always at first accompanied with this diffidence; it is a sacred solitary feeling. No forward child, however extraordinary the promise of his childhood, ever produced anything truly great.
When Henry was about six, he was placed under the Rev. John Blanchard, who kept, at that time, the best school in Nottingham. Here he learned writing, arithmetic, and French. When he was about eleven, he one day wrote a separate theme for every boy in his class, which consisted of about twelve or fourteen. The master said he had never known them write so well upon any subject before, and could not refrain from expressing his astonishment at the excellence of Henry's. It was considered a great thing for him to be at so good a school, yet there was some circumstances which rendered it less advantageous to him than it might have been. Mrs. White had not yet overcome her husband's intention of breeding him up to his own business, and by an arrangement which took up too much of his time, and would have crushed his spirit, if that 'mounting spirit' could have been crushed, one whole day in the week, and his leisure hours on the others, were employed in carrying the butcher's basket. Some differences at length arose between his father and Mr. Blanchard, in consequence of which Henry was removed.
One of the ushers, when he came to receive the money due for tuition, took the opportunity of informing Mrs. White what an incorrigible son she had, and that it was impossible to make the lad do anything. This information made his friends very uneasy ; they were dispirited about him; and had they relied wholly upon this report, the stupidity or malice of this man would have blasted Henry's progress forever. He was, however, placed under the care of Mr. Shipley, who soon discovered that he was a boy of quick perception, and very admirable talents; and came with joy, like a good man, to relieve the anxiety and painful suspicions of his family.
While his school-masters were complaining that they could make nothing of him, he discovered what Nature had made him, and wrote satires upon them. These pieces were never shown to any, except his most particular friends, who say that they were pointed and severe. They are enumerated in the table of contents to one of his manuscript volumes, under the title of School-Lampoons; but, as was to be expected, he had cut the leaves out and destroyed them.
One of his poems, written at this time, and under these feelings, is preserved.
ON BEING CONFINED TO SCHOOL
ONE PLEASANT MORNING IN SPRING.
Written at the age of thirteen.
The morning sun's enchanting rays
And, far from sylvan shades and bowers,
How gladly would my soul forego
Oh, that I were the little wren
About this time his mother was induced, by the advice of several friends, to open a Ladies' Boarding and Day School in Nottingham, her eldest daughter having previously been a teacher in one for some time. In this she succeeded beyond her most sanguine expectations ; and Henry's home comforts were thus materially increased, though it was still out of the power of his family to give him that education, and direction in life, which his talents deserved and required.
It was now determined to breed him up to the hosiery trade, the staple manufacture of his native place; and at the age of fourteen he was placed in a stocking-loom,
with the view, at some future period, of getting a situation in a hosier's warehouse. During the time that he was thus employed, he might be said to be truly unhappy ; he went to his work with evident reluctance, and could not refrain from sometimes hinting his extreme aversion to it: but the circumstances of his family obliged them to turn a deaf ear.* His mother, however, secretly felt that he was worthy of better things : to her he spoke more openly : he could not bear, he said, the thought of spending seven years of his life in shining and folding up stockings : he wanted something to occupy his brain, and he should be wretched if he continued longer at this trade, or indeed in anything except one of the learned
* His temper and tone of mind at this period, when he was in his fourteenth year, are displayed in this extract from an Address to Contemplation.
THEE do I own, the prompter of my joys,