White, Walter (DNB00)

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WHITE, WALTER (1811–1893), miscellaneous writer, born on 23 April 1811 at Reading in Berkshire, was the eldest son of John White, an upholsterer and cabinet-maker of that town. He was educated at two local private schools, one of which was kept by Joseph Huntley, the father of the founder of Huntley & Palmer's well-known biscuit manufactory.

At the age of fourteen Walter left school and began to learn his father's trade, spending much of his leisure in reading and in the study of French and German. He continued cabinet-making at Reading until 1834. On 19 April of that year he sailed for the United States of America with his wife and children, in the hope of earning more money. He worked at his trade in New York and Poughkeepsie, but without improving his circumstances. He has given a detailed and pathetic account of his experiences as an emigrant in an anonymous article entitled ‘A Working Man's Recollections of America’ (Knight's Penny Magazine, 1846, i. 97). Finally, on 20 May 1839, he returned with his family to the old world, where he rejoined his father's business. In October 1842 he went to London, and, the cabinet-making trade being still in a depressed condition, he accepted a situation as clerk to Joseph Mainzer [q. v.], author of ‘Singing for the Million.’ In the following year he accompanied him to Edinburgh, where Mainzer was candidate for the chair of music. While at Edinburgh White attended some lectures to the working classes by James Simpson (1781–1853) [q. v.] Simpson introduced him to Charles Richard Weld [q. v.], then assistant secretary to the Royal Society, who offered him the post of ‘attendant’ in the library of that body.

White entered upon his duties at the Royal Society's rooms in Somerset House on 19 April 1844, and was officially confirmed in the appointment on 2 May, at a salary of 80l. a year. His work was at first largely mechanical, but increased in importance. When Weld retired in 1861, White was at once elected to the post of assistant secretary and librarian. In this position he met and conversed with many eminent men; some account of his intercourse with them is given in his published ‘Journals.’

While an ‘attendant,’ or, as he was afterwards designated, ‘clerk,’ White began serious literary work. Between 1844 and 1849 he wrote no fewer than two hundred articles for ‘Chambers's Journal’ (Journals, p. 93), besides occasional contributions to other serials. It was at this time also that he began the holiday walks which furnished the material for all his best known books. These walks he commenced in 1850 with a month's tramp in Holland, a narrative of which he published under the title of ‘Notes from the Netherlands’ (Chambers's Journal, 1858, vol. xv.)

White resigned the assistant-secretaryship of the Royal Society on 18 Dec. 1884, and received a pension to the full amount of his salary. He resided at Brixton until his death, 18 July 1893. In 1830 he married Maria Hamilton. His domestic lot was not happy. His wife left him in 1845 (Journals, pp. 67, 95), his sons emigrated, and for the last thirty years of his life he lived quite alone.

Besides contributions to magazines, he published: 1. ‘To Mont Blanc and Back Again,’ London, 1854, 12mo. 2. ‘A Londoner's Walk to the Land's End,’ London, 1855, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1861. 3. ‘On Foot through Tyrol in the Summer of 1855,’ London, 1856, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1863. 4. ‘A July Holiday in Saxony, Bohemia, and Silesia,’ London, 1857, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1863. 5. ‘A Month in Yorkshire,’ London, 1858, 8vo; 4th ed. 1861. 6. ‘Northumberland and the Border,’ London, 1859, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1863. 7. ‘All Round the Wrekin,’ London, 1860, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1860. 8. ‘Eastern England from the Thames to the Humber,’ London, 1865, 2 vols. 8vo. 9. ‘Rhymes,’ 1873. 10. ‘Holidays in Tyrol, Kufstein, Klobenstein, and Paneveggio,’ London, 1876, 8vo. 11. ‘Obladis: a Tyrolese Sour-Spring,’ Birmingham, 1881, 8vo. He edited ‘A Sailor Boy's Log-book from Portsmouth to the Peiho,’ London, 1862, 8vo (the ‘sailor boy’ was his third son, Henry).

[The Journals of Walter White, London, 1898, 8vo; Men of the Time, 1891; Athenæum, 29 July 1893; Minutes of Council of the Royal Society (unpublished); private information.]

H. R.