Henry Kirke White

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Henry Kirke White

Henry Kirke White (21 March 1785 – 19 October 1806) was an English poet. He died at the young age of 21.


White was born in Nottingham, the son of a butcher, a trade for which he was himself intended. However, he was greatly attracted to book-learning. By age seven, he was giving reading lessons (unbeknownst to the rest of the family, being offered after the household were abed) to a family servant.[1] After being briefly apprenticed to a stocking-weaver, he was articled to a lawyer, George Coldham. While in this position, he excelled in studying Latin and Greek.[2] Seeing the results of White's diligent studies, his master offered to release him from his contract if he had sufficient means to go to college. He received encouragement from Capel Lofft, the friend of Robert Bloomfield, and published in 1803 Clifton Grove, a Sketch in Verse, with other Poems, dedicated to Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. The book was violently attacked in the Monthly Review (February 1804), but White was rewarded with a kind letter from Robert Southey.

Through the efforts of his friends, he was able to enter St John's College, Cambridge,[3][4] having spent a year beforehand with a private tutor, the Rev. Lorenzo Grainger at Winteringham, Lincolnshire. Close application to study induced a serious illness, consumption was the disease, according to Sir Harris Nicholas memoir, to which he ultimately became a victim, and to which White made many allusions in his poems and letters.[5] Fears were also entertained for his sanity, but he went into residence at Cambridge, with a view to taking holy orders, in the autumn of 1805. The strain of continuous study proved fatal.[6] He was buried in the church of All Saints Jewry, Cambridge, which stood opposite the gates of St John's College, but has since been demolished. The genuine piety of his religious verses secured a place in popular hymnology for some of his hymns, in particular the still popular O Lord, another day is flown.[7] Much of his fame was due to sympathy inspired by his early death; but Lord Byron agreed with Southey about the young man's promise. Robert Southey said of him: "...he could not rest satisfied till he had formed his principles upon the basis of Christianity."[8]

Literary legacy[edit]

His Remains, with his letters (which along with White's poems contain many allusions to himself that they may almost be considered an autobiography [9] ) and an account of his life, were edited (5 vols., 1807–1822) by Robert Southey.[10] See prefatory notices by Sir Harris Nicolas to his Poetical Works (new ed., 1866) in the Aldine Press British poets; by Harry Kirke Swann in the volume of selections (1897) in the Canterbury Poets; and by John Drinkwater to the edition in the "Muses' Library." See also John Thomas Godfrey and J. Ward, The Homes and Haunts of Henry Kirke White (1908). Lord Byron said of White in a tributary eulogy 'while life was in its spring, thy young muse just waved her joyous wing'.[11] White's complete works were published in 1923.[12]


  1. ^ Kacirk, Jeffrey (1997). Forgotten English. New York: William Morrow & Co. ISBN 0-688-15018-7.
  2. ^ Kacirk 1997.
  3. ^ "White, Henry Kirke (WHT804HK)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  4. ^ His fondest hopes were realized. In October 1805, he went to Cambridge where, by unexampled industry, he speedily attained distinction ... (Robert Chambers, Book of Days [1864])
  5. ^ Memoir by Sir Harris Nicolas in The Poetical Works and Remains of Henry Kirke White, G Routledge, London 1835
  6. ^ But he had long overtaxed his strength. At the end of one short year ... exhausted nature sank beneath incessant toil and anxiety. (Chambers 1864)
  7. ^ google.co.uk/books
  8. ^ Prefatory Note, The Poetical Works and Remains Routledge, London 1835
  9. ^ Memoir by Sir Harris Nicolas in The Poetical Works and Remains of Henry Kirke White, G Routledge, London 1835
  10. ^ The Poetical Works and Remains of Henry Kirke White, G Routledge, London 1835
  11. ^ Tributary Verse, The Poetical Works of Henry Kirke White, Pickering, London 1855
  12. ^ The Complete Works of Henry Kirke White, 1923 edition Nabu Press, London ISBN 9781172255078

External links[edit]