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No more to fabled names confined,
O! send her sure, her steady ray,
Through life's perplexing road;
Beneath her clear discerning eye,
HENRY KIRKE WHITE, 1785-1806.
"Unhappy White! while life was in its spring,
So sang Lord Byron of that most gifted youth, Henry Kirke White, whose sincere and ardent piety was equalled only by his genius, his learning, and his uncommon ardor in the pursuit of knowledge. Had Byron possessed the moral and Christian principles of him whom he thus most beautifully eulogizes, what English poet would have stood before him-what one
would have exerted a more happy influence-what one would have been more the delight of the wise and the good? As it is, the consideration of what Byron's character was will ever be a great drawback from the feelings of pleasure which his poems would otherwise have inspired.
Henry Kirke White, the son of John White, a butcher of Nottingham, was born at that place on the 21st of March, 1785. From his very early years he showed a strong thirst for knowledge, and at the age of seven tried his hand at prose composition. About this time, he was put to a school in his native place, where he greatly distinguished himself among his juvenile companions. He learned the rudiments of mathematics and the French language, and displayed wonderful powers of acquisition. His father intended to bring him up to his own business; and one whole day in every week, and his leisure hours on other days, were employed in carrying the butcher's basket. But this proved so irksome to him that, at the request of his mother, he was apprenticed to a stocking weaver, to prepare himself for the hosiery line. This proved scarcely more satisfactory than his former occupation; and, after a year, his mother found means to place him in the office of Coldham & Enfield, attorneys of Nottingham. He devoted himself with steadiness to his profession during the day, and passed his evenings in learning the Latin, Greek, and Italian languages; together with chemistry, astronomy, drawing, and music. To these acquirements he soon added practical mechanics. A London magazine, called the "Monthly Preceptor," having proposed prize themes for the youth of both sexes, Henry became a candidate, and while only in his fifteenth year obtained a silver medal for a translation from Horace, and the next year a pair of twelve inch globes for an imaginary tour from London to Edinburgh.
In 1803, appeared a volume of his poems. The statement in the preface that they were written by a youth of seventeen, and published to enable him to get the means to aid him in his studies, should have disarmed the severity of criticism; yet the poems were contemptuously noticed in the "Monthly Review." This treatment Henry felt most keenly. But the book fell into the hands of Mr. Southey, who most kindly and generously wrote to the young poet to encourage him; and very soon friends sprung up who enabled him to pursue the great object of his ambition-admission to the University of Cambridge. Hitherto his religious opinions had inclined to Deism; but a friend having put into his hands "Scott's Force of Truth," an entire change was wrought thereby in his whole character. A most decided and earnest piety now became his prominent characteristic, and he resolved to devote his life to the cause of religion, and with great zeal entered upon the study of divinity, in connection with his other studies. His application indeed was so intense that a severe illness was the result; on his recovery from which, he produced those beautiful lines written in Milford churchyard.
In the latter part of 1804, his long-delayed hopes of entering the univer sity were about to be gratified. "I can now inform you," he writes to a friend, "that I have reason to believe my way through college is close before me. From what source I know not; but, through the hands of Mr.
Simeon, I am provided with thirty pounds per annum, and I can command twenty or thirty more from my friends, in all probability, until I take my degree. The friends to whom I allude are my mother and brother." Poetry was now abandoned for severer studies. He competed for one of the university scholarships, and at the end of the term was pronounced the first man of his year. Twice he distinguished himself in the following year, was again pronounced first at the great college examination, and also one of the three best theme writers, between whom the examiners could not decide. But this distinction was purchased at the sacrifice of health, and ultimately of life. Of this, he himself was sensible. "Were I," he writes to a friend, "to paint a picture of Fame crowning a distinguished undergraduate, after the senate-house examination, I would represent her as concealing a death's head under a mask of beauty." He went to London to recruit his shattered nerves and spirits; but it was too late. He returned to his college, renewed his studies with unabated ardor, and sank under the effort. Nature was at length overcome; he grew delirious, and died on the 19th of October, 1806, in his twenty-first year.
Thus fell, a victim to his own genius, one whose abilities and acquirements were not more conspicuous than his moral and social excellence. "It is not possible," says Southey," to conceive a human being more amiable in all the relations of life." And again: "He possessed as pure a heart as ever it pleased the Almighty to warm with life." Of his fervent piety, his letters, his prayers, and his hymns will afford ample and interesting proof. It was in him a living and quickening principle of goodness, which sanctified all his hopes and all his affections; which made him keep watch over his own heart, and enabled him to correct the few symptoms, which it ever displayed, of human imperfection.
With regard to his poems, the same good judge observes, "Chatterton is the only youthful poet whom he does not leave far behind him ;" and, in alluding to some of his papers, handed to him for perusal after the death of this gifted youth, he observes, "I have inspected all the existing manu scripts of Chatterton, and they excited less wonder than these."
The "Remains of Henry Kirke White, with an Account of his Life," by Robert Southey, 2 vols.
"What an amazing reach of genius appears in the 'Remains of Henry Kirke White How unfortunate that he should have been lost to the world almost as soon as known. I greatly lament the circumstances that forced him to studies so contrary to his natural talent."-Sir E. Brydges, " Censura Literaria," vol. ix. p. 393. Again, this same discriminating critic says, "There are, I think, among these Remains,' a few of the most exquisite pieces in the whole body of English poetry. Conjoined with an easy and flowing fancy, they possess the charm of a peculiar moral delicacy, often conveyed in a happy and inimitable simplicity of language."
SONNET IN HIS SICKNESS.
Yes, 'twill be over soon.-This sickly dream
From this wild region of unvaried pain.
Yon landscape smile-yon golden harvest growYon sprightly lark on mounting wing will soar
When Henry's name is heard no more below. I sigh when all my youthful friends caress
They laugh in health, and future evils brave; Them shall a wife and smiling children bless,
While I am mould'ring in my silent grave. God of the just-Thou gav'st the bitter cup; I bow to thy behest, and drink it up.
SONNET TO CONSUMPTION.
Gently, most gently, on thy victim's head,
Of death to those good men who fall thy prey,
Whisper the solemn warning in mine ear,
It is not that my lot is low,
That bids this silent tear to flow;
In woods and glens I love to roam,
Yet, when the silent evening sighs
The autumn leaf is sear and dead,
The woods and winds, with sullen wail,
Yet, in my dreams, a form I view
ODE TO DISAPPOINTMENT.
Come, Disappointment, come!
The restless and the bad.
But I recline
Beneath thy shrine,
And, round my brow resign'd, thy peaceless cypress twine
Though Fancy flies away
Before thy hollow tread,
Yet Meditation, in her cell,
Hears, with faint eye, the lingering knell
That tells her hopes are dead;
And though the tear
By chance appear,
Yet she can smile, and say, “My all was not laid here."
Come, Disappointment, come!
Though from Hope's summit hurl'd,
To turn my eye
And point to scenes of bliss that never, never die.
What is this passing scene?