1785-1806
portrait

March 21, 1785, Nottingham, England.

October 19, 1806, Cambridge, England.

Cambridge, England. The graveyard is opposite St. John’s College, in an area now often used as a market; only slab gravestones survive.

Son of a butcher, White was a gifted poet. His Clifton Grove, A Sketch in Verse with Other Poems, published when he was 17, reveals his teenage skepticism. After reading Thomas Scott’s Force of Truth, he underwent a conversion described metaphorically in his poem The Star of Bethlehem (now sung as When Marshaled on the Nightly Plain). White enrolled at St. John’s College, Cambridge, planning to become a minister, but he fell ill and died before graduation. Some said he destroyed his health by over application to his studies; Byron wrote a lament to White in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers:

Unhappy White! while life was in its spring,
And thy young muse just waved her joyous wing,
The spoiler came; and all thy promise fair
Has sought the grave, to sleep for ever there.
Oh! what a noble heart was here undone,
When Science’ self destroy’d her favourite son!
Yes, she too much indulged thy fond pursuit;
She sow’d the seeds, but Death has reap’d the fruit.
’Twas thine own genius gave the final blow,
And help’d to plant the wound that laid thee low.
So the struck eagle, stretch’d upon the plain,
View’d his own feather on the fatal dart,
And wing’d the shaft that quiver’d in his heart.

  1. Christians, Brethren, Ere We Part
  2. Lord Our God Is Clothed in Might, The
  3. Oft in Danger, Oft in Woe
  4. When Marshaled on the Nightly Plain