Walter Whiter

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The Reverend Walter Whiter (30 October 1758 in Birmingham, England– 23 July 1832 in Hardingham)[1] was an English philologist and literary critic. He is known for his 1794 work A Specimen of a Commentary on Shakspeare. Specimen, which explored As You Like It in terms of John Locke's philosophy of associationism, is believed to have been the first work of literary criticism to use scientific psychology.[2]

In addition to his literary criticism, Whiter published his etymological research, first as Etymologicon Magnum in 1800, then as Etymologicon Universale in 1822 (vol. 1 and 2) and 1825 (vol. 3);[1] August Baron Merian, a correspondent of Samuel Butler, stated that he "pit(ied)" Whiter, and described him as "(a) great etymologist—perhaps the greatest that ever lived. A genius certainly; but it seems, like most eminent artists, dissolute."[3]

Whiter's linguistic studies—in particular, his research into the language used by Gypsies—led him to be cited as a role model by George Borrow,[4] to the extent that Whiter appears in Borrow's Lavengro as "Reverend Whiter the philologist". The book includes a song about his character, which goes as follows:

Give me the haunch of a buck to eat
And to drink Madeira old;
And a gentle wife to rest with,
And in my arms to fold.
An Arabic book to study,
A Norfolk cob to ride;
And a house to live in shaded by trees,
Near to a river's side.
With such good things around me,
And with good health withal,
Though I should live for a hundred years
For death I would not call.

For several decades, Whiter's notes on the vocabulary of Romani were thought to have been lost,[5] but were rediscovered and published in 1909 as Whiter's 'Lingua Cingariana'.[1]

Personal life[edit]

Whiter was a friend of Richard Porson, who had a habit of adding marginalia to books which Whiter owned;[6] many of these annotations were subsequently collected and published independently.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1900). "Whiter, Walter". Dictionary of National Biography. 61. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  2. ^ "The First Psychological Critic: Walter Whiter (1758–1832)", by Norman N. Holland, at PSYART: A Hyperlink Journal for Psychological Study of the Arts; published 15 March 2004; retrieved 3 November 2011
  3. ^ The Life and Letters of Dr. Samuel Butler: Jan. 30, 1774–March 1, 1831 (collected and edited by J. Murray, 1896)
  4. ^ In search of the true gypsy: from Enlightenment to Final Solution, by Wim Willems; published 1997, by Routledge (via Google Books)
  5. ^ Scholarship and the gypsy struggle: commitment in Romani studies: a collection of papers and poems to celebrate Donald Kenrick's seventieth year; "Chapter Two: The Genesis of Anglo-Romani", by Peter Bakker; University of Hertfordshire Press, 2000 (via Google Books)
  6. ^ In Defense of Marginalia: Homo Scriblerus, at The New Republic, by Frank Kermode; published 26 March 2001; retrieved 3 November 2011

External links[edit]