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LIFE OF PAUL WHITEHEAD,
BY MR. CHALMERS.
PAUL WHITEHEAD, the youngest son of Edmund Whitehead, a taylor, was born at his father's house in Castle-Yard, Holborn, on the sixth day of February 1709-10, St. Paul's day, O. S. to which circumstance he is said to owe his name. As he was intended for trade, he received no other education than what a school at Hitchen in Hertfordshire afforded, and at the usual age was placed as an appren tice to a mercer or woollen-draper in London. Here he had for his associate the late Mr. Lowth of Paternoster-row, long the intimate friend, and afterwards the executor of the celebrated tragedian, James Quin, Whitehead and Lowth were both of a lively disposition and fond of amusement; Lowth had attached himself to the theatre, and by this means Whitehead became acquainted with some of the theatrical personages of that day, and among others with Fleetwood the manager, Lowth, however, continued in business, while Whitehead was encouraged to enter himself of the Temple and study the law.
Fleetwood was always in distress, and always contriving new modes of relief; Whitehead was pliable, good natured and friendly, and being applied to by the art, ful manager to enter into a joint security for the payment of three thousand pounds, which he was told would not affect him, as another name besides Fleetwood's was wanted merely as a matter of form, readily fell into the snare. It is perhaps won derful that Whitehead, who knew something of business and something of law, should have been deceived by a pretence so flimsy; but on the other hand it is not improbable that Fleetwood, who had the baseness to lie, had also the cunning to enjoin secresy, and Whitehead might be flattered by being thus admitted into his confidence. The consequence, however, was, that Fleetwood was unable to pay, and Whitehead, considering himself as entrapt into a promise, did not look upon it as binding in honour, and therefore submitted to a long confinement in the
Fleet-prison. If this transaction happened, as one of his biographers informs us, about the year 1742, Whitehead was not unable to have satisfied Fleetwood's creditors. He had in the year 1735 married Anna Dyer, the only daughter of 'sir Swinnerton Dyer, bart. of Spains-hall, Essex, with whom he received the sum of ten thousand pounds. By what means he was released at last without payment,
we are not told.
Long before this period', Whitehead, who from his infancy had discovered a turn for poetry, and had when at school corresponded in rhime with his father, distinguished himself both as a poet and a politician. In the latter character, he appears to have united the principles of jacobitism and republicanism in no very consistent proportions. As a jacobite, he took every opportunity of venting his spleen against the reigning family: and as a republican, he was no less outrageous in his ravings about liberty, which, in his dictionary, meant an utter abhorrence of kings, courts and ministers. His first production of this kind was the State Dun. ces, in 1733, inscribed to Mr. Pope, and written in a close imitation of that poet's satires. The keenness of his abuse, the harmony of his verse, and above all the personalities which he dealt about him with a most liberal hand, conferred popularity on this poem, and procured him the character of an enemy who was to be dreaded, and a friend who ought to be secured. He was accordingly favoured by the party then in opposition to sir Robert Walpole, and at no great distance of time, became patronized by Bubb Doddington and the other adherents of the prince of Wales's court. The State Dunces was answered in a few days by a Friendly Epistle to its author, in verse not much inferior. Whitehead sold his poem to Dodsley, for ten guineas, a circumstance which Dr. Johnson, who thought meanly of our poet, recollected afterwards when Dodsley offered to purchase his London, and conditioned for the same sum. "I might perhaps have accepted of less: but that Paul Whitehead had a little before got ten guineas for a poem : and I would not take less than Paul Whitehead'.”
In 1739, Whitehead published his more celebrated poem, entitled Manners, a satire not only upon the administration, but upon all the venerable forms of the constitution, under the assumption of an universal depravity of manners. Pope had at this time taken liberties which, in the opinion of some politicians, ought to be repressed. In his second dialogue of Seventeen Hundred and Thirty-eight, he gave offence to one of the Foxes, among others; which Fox, in a reply to Lyttelton, took an opportunity of repaying, by reproaching Lyttelton with the friendship of a lampooner, who scattered his ink without fear or decency, and against whom he hoped the resentment of the legislature would quickly be discharged'. Pope, however, was formidable, and had many powerful friends. With all his preju
"The first whimsical circumstance, which drew the eyes of the world upon him, was his introduction of the Mock Procession of Masonry, in which Mr. 'Squire Carey gave him much assistance: and so powerful was the laugh and satire against that secret society, that the anniversary parade was 'laid aside from that period." Captain Thomson's Life of Whitehead, p. vii. But Whitehead was long known to the world before this mock procession, which did not take place till the year 1744, 'Squire Carey was a surgeon in Pall Mall, and an associate of Ralph and other minor humourists of the day.
Boswell's Life of Johnson, vol. i. p. 102. edit. 1807.
dices, he was the first poet of the age and an honour to his country. But Paul Whitehead was less entitled to respect: he was formidable rather by his calumny than his talents, and might be prosecuted with effect.
Accordingly, in the house of peers, lord Delawar, after expatiating on the gross falsehoods and injurious imputations contained in the poem, against many noblemen and prelates of high character, moved that the author and publisher should attend at the bar of the house. On the day appointed, Dodsley appeared as the publisher, Whitehead having absconded. Dodsley pleaded that he did not look into the contents of the poem, "but that imagining there might be something in it, as he saw it was a satire by its title-page, that might be laid hold of in law, he insisted that the author should affix his name to it, and that then he printed it." In consequence of this confession, he was taken into the custody of the usher of the black rod, but released after a short confinement and payment of the usual fees*.
No farther steps were taken against the author of Manners: the whole pro cess, indeed, was supposed to be intended rather to intimidate Pope, than to pu nish Whitehead, and it answered that purpose: Pope became cautious, "willing to wound and yet afraid to strike," and Whitehead for some years remained quiet.
The noise, however, which this prosecution occasioned, and its failure as to the main object, induced Whitehead's enemies to try whether he might not be assailed in another way, and rendered the subject of odium, if not of punishment. In this pursuit, the authors of some of the ministerial journals published a letter from a Cambridge student, who had been expelled for atheism, in which it was intimated that Whitehead belonged to a club of young men who assembled to encou rage one another in shaking off what they termed the prejudices of education. But Whitehead did not suffer this to disturb the retirement so necessary in his present circumstances, and as the accusation had no connection with his politics or his poetry, he was content to sacrifice his character with respect to religion, which he did not valuc, in support of the cause he had espoused. That he was an infidel seems generally acknowledged by all his biographers, and when he joined the club at Mednam Abbey, it must be confessed that his practices did not disgrace his profession.
In 1744, he published The Gymnasiad, a just satire on the savage amusements of the boxers, which were then more publicly, if not more generally encouraged, than in our own days. Broughton, who died within these few years at Lambeth, was at that time the invincible champion, and Whitehead accordingly dedicated the poem to him in a strain of easy humour. Soon after he published Honours,
In order to procure this lenity, Dodsley drew up a petition to the house, which the earl of Essex, one of the noble personages libelled in the poem, had the generosity to present. Victor, in one of his Letters, informs us that he had the boldness to suggest this measure to the earl. C.
5" I must tell you that the celebrated Mr. Paul Whitehead has been at Deal, with a family where I often visit: and it was my fate to be once in his company much against my will: for having naturally as strong an antipathy to a wit, as some people have to a cat, I at first fairly run away to avoid it. However, at last I was dragged in, and condemned by my perverse fortune to hear part of a satyre just ready for the press. Considered as poetry and wit, it had some extremely fine
another satire at the expense of the leading men in power, whom he calum. niates with all that relentless and undistinguishing bitterness in which Churchill afterwards excelled.
We next find him an active partizan in the contested election for Westminster, between lord Trentham, and sir George Vandeput, in 1749. He not only can. vassed for sir George (for whom also his patron Doddington voted) but wrote the greater part of his advertisements, handbills and paragraphs. He wrote also the case of the hon. Alexander Murray, who was sent to Newgate for heading a riot on that occasion.
In 1755, he published An Epistle to Dr. Thomson. This physician was one of the persons who shared in the convivial hours of Mr. Doddington, afterwards lord Melcombe, although it is not easy to discover what use he could make of a physician out of practice, a man of most slovenly habits, and who had neither taste nor talents. It was at his lordship's house, where Whitehead became acquainted with this man, and looked up to him as an oracle both in politics and physic, and nere too he associated very cordially with Ralph, whom he had abused with so much contempt in the State Dunces. From his Diary lately published, and from some of his unpublished letters, in my possession, it appears that Doddington had no great respect for Thomson, and merely used Whitehead, Ralph and others, as convenient tools in his various political intrigues. Whitehead's epistle is an extravagant encomium on Thomson, of whose medical talents he could be no judge, and which, if his Treatise on the Small-pox be a specimen, were likely to be more formidable to his patients than to his brethren.
Except a small pamphlet on the disputes, in 1768, between the four managers of Covent-Garden Theatre, the Epistle to Dr. Thomson was the last of our author's detached publications. The lesser pieces to be found in his works were occasional trifles written for the theatres or public gardens. He was now in easy, if not affluent circumstances. By the interest of lord le Despenser, he got the place of deputy-treasurer of the chamber, worth 8001. and held it to his death, On this acquisition, he purchased a cottage on Twickenham Common, and from a design of his friend Isaac Ware, the architect, at a small expense improved it into an elegant villa. Here, according to sir John Hawkins, he was visited by very few of the inhabitants of that classical spot, but his house was open to all his London acquaintance, Hogarth, Lambert and Hayman, painters, Isaac Ware, Beard and Howard, &c. In such company principally he passed the remainder of his days, suffering the memory of his poetry and politics to decay gradually. His death happened at his lodgings in Henrietta Street, Covent-Garden, Dec. 30, 1774. For some time previous to this event he lingered under a severe illness, during which he employed himself in burning all his manuscripts ; among these
strokes: but the vile practice of exalting some characters, and abusing others, without any colour of truth or justice, has something so shocking in it, that the finest genius in the world, cannot, I think, take from the horrour of, and I had much ado to sit with any kind of patience to hear it out. Surely there is nothing more provoking than to see fine talents so wretchedly misapplied," Part of a letter from Mrs. Carter, (in her Memoirs lately published by the rev. Mr. Pennington) and dated April 1745.