« PreviousContinue »
ing, in the part of Marcia, in Cato. He was a graceful reciter; and is said to have been very handsome in his youth. Even his likeness, which is given in Mason's edition of his works, though it was taken when he was advanced in years, has an elegant and prepossessing countenance. It was observed, that his school friendships were usually contracted with youths superior to himself in station. Without knowing his individual associates, it is impossible to say whether vanity, worldly prudence, or a taste for refined manners, predominated in this choice; but it is observable, that he made his way to prosperity by such friendships, and he seems to have early felt that he had the power of acquiring them. At Winchester he was school-tutor to Mr. Wallop, afterwards Lord Lymington, son to the Earl of Portsmouth.
At the election to New College, in 1735, he was treated with some injustice, being placed too low in the roll of candidates; and was obliged to leave Winchester, without obtaining from thencé a presentation to either university. He, however, obtained a scholarship at Clare-hall, Cambridge, from the very circumstance of that low extraction for which Mason apologizes. Being the orphan son of a baker, in Cambridge, he was thought the best entitled to be put on the foundation of Pyke, who had been of that trade and town. His scholarship was worth only four shillings a week: and he was admitted as a -sizer; but the inferiority of his station did not prevent his introduction to the best society; and, before he left the university, he made himself known by several publications, particularly by his “ Essay on the Danger of writing Verse.” Having obtained a fellowship, and a master's degree, he was on the point of taking orders, when his intention was prevented, in consequence of his being invited by the Earl of Jersey to be the domestic tutor of his son, Viscount Villiers. This situation was made peculiarly agreeable to him, by the kindness of the Jersey family, and by the abundant lei. sure which it afforded him, to pursue his studies, as well as to enjoy public amusements. From frequenting the theatre, he was led to attempt dramatic composition. His first effort was a little farce, on the subject of the Pretender, which has never been published. In 1750 he brought upon the stage a regular tragedy, the “Roman Father,” an imitation of Corneille's Horace. Mason has employed a good deal of criticism on this drama, to prove something analogous to the connoisseur's remark in Goldsmith, “that the piece would have “ been better, if the artist had bestowed more pains “ upon it." It is acknowledged, at the same time, by his biographer, that the Roman Father was long enough in its author's hands to receive many alterations ; but these had not been for the better. It was put through the mangle of Garrick's criticism ; and he, according to Mason, was a lover of no beauties in a play, but those which gave an opportunity for the display of his own powers of representing sudden and strong effects of passion. This remark of Mason accords with Johnson's complaint of Garrick's projected innovations in his own tragedy; “ that fellow," he said, “ wants me to make Ma. “ homet mad, that he may have an opportunity of “ tossing his hands, and kicking his heels." For the faults of the piece, however, it is but circuitous and conjectural justice to make Garrick responsible; and, among those faults, the mode of the heroine's death is not the slightest. After Corneille's heroine has been stabbed by her brother, she appears no more upon the stage. The piece, to be sure, drags heavily after this event; for, in fact, its interest is concluded. Whitehead endeavours to conquer this difficulty, by keeping her alive, after she has been wounded, in order to have a conference with her father, which she terminates by tearing the bandages off her wounds, and then expires. But the effect of her death by this process, is more disagreeable than even the tedium of Corneille's fifth act. It inspires us with a sore physical shuddering, instead of tragic commiseration'.
In 1754 he brought out, at Drury Lane, his tragedy of “ Creusa," a play which, though seldom read, and never acted, is by no means destitute of
· The directions for tearing of the bandages are given in Mason's edition of Whitehead's Works. I observe that in later editions of the play they are omitted; but still, with this improved attention to homanity, the heroine protracts her dying scene too long.
dramatic feeling and conception. The subject is taken from the “ Ion" of Euripides; but with bold, and sometimes interesting alterations. In the Greek story, Creusa, Princess of Athens, who had been violated by Apollo, had concealed her shame by exposing her infant. She had afterwards married Xuthus, a military stranger, who, at her father's death, succeeded, in her right, to the throne of Athens. But their marriage-bed having proved fruitless, they arrive at Delphi, to consult the oracle for an heir. The oracle pronounces, that the first whom Xuthus shall meet in going out of the temple is his son. He meets with lon, a youth of unknown parentage, who had been reared as a servant in the holy place, and who, in fact, is the child of Creusa, whom she had exposed. Xuthus embraces Ion for his son ; and, comparing his age with the date of a love adventure, which he recollected in former times, concludes that Ion is the offspring of that amour.
It is no sooner known that Xuthus has found a son of his own blood, than the tutor of Creusa exhorts the queen to resent this indignity on her childless state, and to rid herself of a stepson, who may embitter and endanger her future days. The tutor attempts to poison Ion, but fails -Creusa is pursued to the altar by her own son, who is with difficulty prevented from putting her to death; but a discovery of their consanguinity takes place-Minerva descends from heaven to confirm the proofs of it; and having predicted that lon shall
reign in Athens, and prudently admonished the mother and son to let King Xuthus remain in the old belief of his being father to lon, leaves the piece to conclude triumphantly.-Such is the bare outline of the ancient drama. Whitehead's story is entirely tragical, and stripped of miraculous agency. He gives a human father (Nicander) to (Ilyssus) the secret child of Creusa. This Nicander, the first lover of the lady, had, on the discovery of their attachment, been driven into banishment by Creusa's father, but had carried with him their new-born offspring : and both he and the infant were supposed to have been murdered in their flight from Athens. Nicander, however, had made his way to Delphi, had entrusted his child to the temple; and, living in the neighbourhood, passed (under the name of Aletes) for the tutor of the mysterious orphan. Having obtained a high character for sagacity, he was consulted by the priestess Pythia herself; and he is represented as having an influence upon her responses : (it is an English poet, we must recollect, and not a Greek one, who is telling the story). Meanwhile, Creusa having been forced to give her hand, without her heart, to Xuthus, is still a mourner, like Lady Randolph', when, at the end of eighteen years from the birth of Ilyssus, she comes to consult the oracle. Struck at the first
If any recollection of Home's tragedy should occur to the reader of Whitehead's, it is but fair to remind him, that the play of Crensa was produced, a year or two earlier than that of Douglas.