Whitehead, Paul

, an English poet and satirist, the youngest son of Edmund Whitehead, a taylor, was born at his father’s house, in Castle-yard, Holborn, Feb. 6, 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 Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, afforded; and, at the usual age, was placed as an apprentice 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 Q,uin. Whitehead and Lowth were both of a lively disposition, and fond of amusement: Lowth had attached himself to the theatre, and by his 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 artful 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 wonderful 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 entrapped 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 ,*


The first whimsical circumstance, which drew the eyes of the worid 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 Thompson’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.

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 Dunces,” in 1733, inscribed to Mr. Pope, and written with a close imitation of that poet’s satires. The keenness of his abuse, and 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 Dodington, 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 Doclsley 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 a universal depravity of manners. Pope had at this time taken liberties which, in the opinion of some politicians, ought to be repressed. la his second dialogue of “Serenteen Hundred and Thirtyeight,” he gave offence to one of the Foxes, among others; which Fox, in a reply to Lyttelton, took an opportunity of repaying, by reproaching him 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 prejudices, 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 a 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. 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.

No farther steps were taken against the author of “Man-r ners;” the whole process, indeed, was supposed to be intended rather to intimidate Pope than to punish 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 encourage 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 value, 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 mustbe 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 “Honour *,” another satire at the expence of the leading men in power, whom he calumniates 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 canvassed

* " I must tell you that the cele- tice of exalting some characters, and

brated Mr. Paul Whitehead has been abusing others, without any colour of

at Deal, with a family where I often truth or justice, has something 80

visit; and it was my fate to be once shocking in it, that the finest genius

in his company, much against my will; in the world cannot, I think, take from

for having naturally as strong an an- the horror of; and I had much ado to

tipathy to a wit, as some people have sit with any kind of patience to hear it

to a cat, I at first fairly run away to out. Surely there is nothing mor

avoid it. However, at last I was drag- provoking than to see fine talents so

ged in, and condemned by my per- wretchedly misapplied." Part of a

verse fortune to hear part of a satyre letter from Mrs. Carter (in her Mejust ready for the press. Considered moirs lately published by the Rev. M as poetry and wit, it had some ex- Pennington) and, dated April 1745. tremeljrfine strokes but the | yilepracfor sir George (for whom also his patron Dodington 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 conviv.al hours of Mr. Dodington, 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 slovenl) habits, and who had neither taste nor talents. It was at his lordship’s house where Whitehead became acquainted with this man, ancUooked up to him as an oracle both in politics and physic; and here 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 our possession, it appears that Dodington had no great respect for Thomson, and merely used him, 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 trirles 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 800l. 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 expence 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 Havard, &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. So, 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 were the originals of many occasional pieces of poetry, written for the amusement of his friends, some of which had prohably been published without his name, and cannot now be distinguished. His Works were published in an elegant quarto volume (in 1777) by Capt. Edward Thompson, who prefixed memoirs of his life, in which however there is very little that had not been published in the Annual Register of 1775. The character Thompson gives of him is an overstrained panegyric, inconsistent in itself, and more so when compared with some facts which he had not the sense to conceal, nor the virtue to censure.

Whitehead’s character has never been in much esteem, yet it was not uniformly bad. Those who adopt a severe sentence passed by Churchill, in these lines,

"May I (can worse disgrace on manhood fall)

Be born a Whitehead and baptised a Paul." *

will want nothing else to excite abhorrence; but Churchill has taken too many liberties with truth to be believed without corroborating evidence. Besides, we are to consider what part of Whitehead’s conduct excited this indignation. Paul’s great and unpardonable crime, in Churchill’s eyes, was his accepting a place under government, and laying aside a pen, which, in conjunction with Churchill’s, might have created wonders in the political world. Churchill could not dislike him because he was an infidel and a man of pleasure. In point of morals, there was surely not much difference in the misfortune of being born a Whitehead or a Churchill.

How very erroneous Whitehead’s life had been, is too evident from his having shared in those scenes of blasphemy and debauchery which were performed at Medmenham, or Mednam Abbey, a house on the banks of the Thames, near Marlow in Buckinghamshire. His noble patron (then sir Francis Dashwood), sir Thomas Stapleton, John Wilkes,


Capt. Thompson, whose notions of right and wrong are more confused than those of any man who ever pretended to delineate a character, says that in these lines Churchill meant “to be neither illiberal nor ill-natured.” “One would conclude, that he had a very particular enmity to P. Whitehead, but, to do him justice, he had enmity to no man: very few breasts ever possessed more philanthropy, charity and honour!”‘

| Whitehead, and others, combined at this place in a scheme of impious and sensual indulgence, unparalleled in the annals of infamy; and perhaps there cannot be a more striking proof of want of shame, as well as of virtue, than the circumstance which occasioned the discovery of this refined brothel .

After such an account of the indecencies practised at this place, as could become the character only of the shameless narrator, Capt. Thompson sums up the whole in these words, which are an additional specimen of his ability in delineating moral character “Now all that can be drawn from the publication of these ceremonies is, that a set of worthy, jolly fellows, happy disciples of Venus and Bacchus, got occasionally together, to celebrate Woman in wine; and to give more zest to the festive meeting, they plucked every luxurious idea from the ancients, and enriched their own modern pleasures with the addition of classic luxury.” It may be necessary to inform the reader, that among their modern pleasures, they assumed the names of the apostles, nothing in whose history was sacred from their impious ribaldry.

Wilkes was the first person to disclose the shocking secret, and that merely out of a pique against one of the members who had promoted the prosecution against him for writing the “Essay on Woman.” In the same note, to one of Churchill’s poems, in which he published the transactions of this profligate cabal, he was not ashamed to insert his own name as a partner in the guilt.

That Whitehead repented of the share he took in this club, we are not told. His character suffered, however, in common with that of the other members; and he appears to have been willing to “buy golden opinions of all men” by acts of popularity, and gain some respect from his social, if he could gain none from his personal virtues. Sir John Hawkins represents him, as by nature a friendly and kind-hearted man, well acquainted with vulgar manners and the town, but little skilled in knowledge of the world, and little able to resist the arts of designing men. He had married a woman of a good family and fortune, whom, though homely in her person, and little better than an ideot,

His biographer, above mentioned, calls her “a most amiable lady.” She died, however, young.

he treated not only with humanity, but with tenderness, hiding, as well as he was able, those defects in her understanding, which are oftener the subjects of ridicule than compassion. At Twickenham, adds sir John, he manifested the goodness of his nature in the exercise of kind offices, in healing breaches, and composing differences between his poor neighbours.

But whatever care Whitehead took to retrieve his character, and throw oblivion over the most blameable part of | his life, he unintentionally revived the whole by a clause in his will, in which, out of gratitude, he bequeathed his Heart to lord Le Despenser, and desired it might be deposited, if his lordship pleased, in some corner of his mausoleum. These terms were accordingly fulfilled, and the valuable relic deposited with the ceremony of a military procession, vocal performers habited, as a choir, in surplices, and every other testimony of veneration. The whole was followed by the performance of an oratorio in West Wycombe church. The following incantation which was sung at the placing of the urn in the mausoleum, may be a sufficient specimen of this solemn mockery:

"From earth to heaven WhiteheadS soul is fled;

Refulgent glories beam around his head!

His muse, concording with resounding strings,

Gives angels words to praise the King of Kings."

His poems were appended to the last edition of Dr. Johnson’s collection, yet it may be doubted whether any partiality can assign him a very high rank even among versifiers. He was a professed imitator of Pope, in his satires, and may be entitled to all the praise which successful imitation deserves. His lines are in general harmonious and correct, and sometimes vigorous, but he owed his popularity chiefly to the personal calumnies so liberally thrown out against men of rank, in the defamation of whom a very active and extensive party was strongly interested. Like Churchill’s, therefore, his works were forgotten when the contending parties were removed or reconciled. But he had not the energetic and original genius of Churchill, nor can we find many passages in which the spirit of genuine poetry is discoverable. Of his character as a poet, he was himself very careless, considering it perhaps as only the temporary instrument of his advancement to ease and independence. No persuasions could induce him to collect his works, and they would probably* never have been collected, had not the frequent mention of his name in conjunction with those of his political patrons, and the active services of his pen, created a something like permanent reputation, and a desire to collect the various documents by which the history of factions may be illustrated. 1


English Poets, 21 vols. 8vo. 1310.