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FOR FEBRUARY, 1811.
FROM THE MONTHLY REVIEW.
The Remains of Henry Kirke White, of Nottingham, and late of St. John's College, Cambridge; with an Account of his Life. By Robert Southey, 4th Edition, corrected.
however congenial to the feelings of our nature, is in itself unreasonable: while it is impossible to conceive any thing more melancholy than the early dissolution of him who has fived just long enough to feel within him the highest intellectual endowments, and a full conviction that a prolonged life could alone be wanting to his attainment of a permanent and honourable reputation. The interesting subject of the volumes before us has bequeathed to us the most unquestionable proofs, not only of rare powers of mind, but of a disposition so gentle, amiable, beneVol. v. R
volent, and pious, that our regret for the loss of these talents and qualities is enhanced by the persuasion that they would have been zealously employed in promoting the happiness, the virtue, and all the best interests of his fellow-creatures. He was born in 1785, at Nottingham. His father, by trade a butcher, designed to bring him up to his own business, but was dissuaded from this intention by his mother, who quickly discovered, and carefully cultivated, the talents of her remarkable offspring. From his earliest years, he was a most persevering and ambitious student; and, though not so perfectly regular in his school exercises as to gain the favour of all his instructers, his desultory leisure was devoted to the acquisition of richer and more diversified stores of learning and science, than many reach by constant attention during a life devoted to study. At the age of seventeen, he was placed, as a clerk, in the office of Messrs. Coldham and Enfield, attornies at Nottingham, and town-clerks to the corporation; the latter, we believe, the son of the late ingenious and amiable Dr. Enfield. The indulgence of these humane and judicious masters still allowed him many opportunities for pursuing his former studies, for increasing his stock of general information, and for improving his mind by elegant literature. He had access also to a good library; but he was unremittingly assiduous in his attention to the duties assigned to him, and (according to a letter from Mr. Enfield) particularly ready in acquiring the knowledge of them, as well as very useful in carrying them into execution. During several years he had been, and still continued to be, a favoured correspondent of some periodical publications, which hold out a laudable encouragement to the exertion of youthful minds, by offering books, medals, and other prizes, to the writers of the best essays on particular theses. The success of these smaller productions tempted him, in conformity to the advice of his friends, to prepare a volume of poems for the press, before he had completed his eighteenth year; in hopes “ that this publication might, either by its sale, or the notice which it might excite, enable him to prosecute his studies at college, and fit himself for the church:” for though he was still attached to the legal profession, and had even indulged the hope of one day rising to the degree of a barrister, an unfortunate and growing deafness destroyed all these views of advancement; “ and his opinions, which at one time inclined to deism, had now taken a strong devotional bias.” This advice to publish, though undoubtedly conceived in the spirit of kindness, does not appear to us to display judgment equal to its good intention. Few are the circumstances under which we can deem it beneficial for a boy of seventeen to exhibit himself as a poet to the publick eye. At that age of sensibility, the powers of imagination should rather be repressed than encouraged, in one who is destined for a grave and laborious profession,
The regular prosecution of severe studies should by all means be promoted; and though an ingenious youth can perhaps never be persuaded entirely to refrain from verse making, it is surely going far enough to connive at this as the occasional diversion of his leisure, without recommending it as a proper occupation for his serious hours. The lite rary character ought in no degree. to be staked on the crude compositions of an unformed mind, however promising. On the one hand, the vanity of successful authorship may naturally beget a dislike for legitimate labour, and a too easy acquiescence in the degree of proficiency and celebrity which has been already attained: while, on the other, the mortification of publishing a work that failed to obtain praise might produce a still more fatal effect, by plunging the half-expanded faculties in listless and irrational despair. Where powerful and uncontrollable genius directs the youthful mind to poetry, it will naturally seize on all those animating objects which stir the spirits and fascinate the ardent imagination, at that happy period; but, when the muse is courted rather from a general love of poetry and belles lettres, than from the inspiration of high poetical talent, a certain round of ideas is extremely apt to fill up.the whole compass of the unvaried song. Churchyard scenes and cypress groves at the dreadful noon of night, silence, darkness, solitude, contemplation, and egotism, with overpowering melancholy, and fast approaching death—such is the funereal train that walks in sad procession round the sleepless pillow of the sentimental bard. Without insisting on the perfect exhaustion which this kind of poetry has undergone, particularly in our own language, let us consider, for a moment, what probable benefit can be expected from its supplying familiar employment to a boy first starting into active life. If such feelings are not habitual to his mind, but are merely assumed to give effect to his sonnets, can there be a more unpleasing verbiage 3—if they are genuine, can we conceive a more deplorable calamity ? On the latter consideration, much of melancholy illustration might be thrown from the memoir now before us: but we decline to do more than suggest a hint to those, who, from the most benevolent motives, extend their patronage to youthful, self-instruct'ed, and necessitous men of talents. As soon as the little volume of poems was ready for publication, the writer's friends, anxious to proture for it the protection of some exalted female character, successively thought of the late dutchess of Devonshire, the countess of Derby, and the margravine of Anspach. It was ultimately dedicated, by her grace’s permission, to the lady first mentioned; to whom the book, when published, was sent, but from whom no answer was ever returned. Letters were also despatched to periodi'cal criticks, stating the age, the disadvantages, the prospects, and the hopes of the author, and requesting an indulgent notice. Our opinion of the poems was given in our number for February, 1804; to which, or to this biographical memoir, where it fis reprinted at p. 17, we refer our readers. We commended the talents and application of the young literary advocate, his exertions, and his laudable endeavours to excel; and, thinking that the case privately laid before us would plead strongly in the author's favour with a liberal publick, we suggested the propriety 'of a subscription with a similar statement, and expressed our wish that he might obtain some respectable patron: while we did not disguise our doubts, from the specimen then before us, whether the poems were calculated to win their way by their own intrinsick merit. To us, although we certainly cannot now boast so much impartiality on this subject as
we might truly claim at the time of writing the review, it really appears that the expectations of this young man must have been somewhat unreasonably excited by the injudicious encomiums of his friends, since he was severely mortified and disappointed by our remarks. He addressed to us at the time an affecting remonstrance; to which, in our following number, we replied with evident anxiety to heal his wounded feelings, but without deviating from our opinion. With sincere regret, and, we must add, with astonishment, we find that our effort to calm his mind was unsuccessful; and that a critique, which we continue to regard as extremely mild, but by which he thought that his talents were much undervalued, still gave