Henry Kirke White (1785–1806)
Henry Kirke White was born in Nottingham, the son of a butcher, a trade for which he was himself intended. After being briefly apprenticed to a stocking-weaver, he was articled to a lawyer. Meanwhile he studied hard, and 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, having spent a year beforehand with a private tutor, the Rev Lorenzo Grainger at Winteringham, Lincolnshire. Close application to study induced a serious illness, and fears were 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. He was buried in the church of All Saints, Cambridge. The genuine piety of his religious verses secured a place in popular hymnology for some of his hymns. 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, saying in a tributary eulogy “while life was in its spring, thy young muse just waved her joyous wing.”
Why should I blush to own I love?
‘Tis Love that rules the realms above.
Why should I blush to say to all,
That Virtue holds my heart in thrall?
Why should I seek the thickest shade,
Lest Love’s dear secret be betray’d?
Why the stern brow deceitful move,
When I am languishing with love?
Is it weakness thus to dwell
On passion that I dare not tell?
Such weakness I would ever prove;
‘Tis painful, though ’tis sweet to love.
Sonnet To April
Emblem of life! see changeful April sail
In varying vest along the shadowy skies,
Now bidding summer’s softest zephyrs rise,
Anon recalling winter’s stormy gale,
And pouring from the cloud her sudden hail;
Then, smiling through the tear that dims her eyes,
While Iris with her braid the welkin dyes,
Promise of sunshine, not so prone to fail.
So, to us, sojourners in life’s low vale,
The smiles of fortune flatter to deceive,
While still the fates the web of misery weave.
So Hope exultant spreads her awry sail,
And from the present gloom the soul conveys
To distant summers and far happier days.
To An Early Primrose
Mild offspring of a dark and sullen sire!
Whose modest form, so delicately fine,
Was nursed in whirling storms
And cradled in the winds;
Thee, when young Spring first questioned Winter’s sway,
And dared the sturdy blusterer to the fight,
Thee on this bank he threw
To mark his victory.
In this low vale, the promise of the year,
Serene, thou openest to the nipping gale,
Unnoticed and alone,
Thy tender elegance.
So Virtue blooms, brought forth amid the storms
Of chill adversity; in some lone walk
Of life she rears her head,
Obscure and unobserved;
While every bleaching breeze that on her blows
Chastens her spotless purity of breast,
And hardens her to bear
Serene the ills of life.