Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whyte, Samuel

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WHYTE, SAMUEL (1733–1811), school-master and author, born in 1733, was natural son of Captain Solomon Whyte, deputy-governor of the Tower of London. In a note to verses on himself Whyte says that ‘he was born on ship-board approaching the Mersey [and] Liverpool was the first land he ever touched’ (Poems on Various Subjects, 3rd ed.). His mother died after giving birth to him.

Whyte's first cousin, Frances Chamberlain (her mother was sister of Whyte's father), became the wife of Thomas Sheridan [q. v.] The Sheridans were very kind to Whyte; indeed, he termed Mrs. Sheridan ‘the friend and parent of my youth.’ He was placed as a boarder in Samuel Edwards's academy in Golden Lane, Dublin (Gilbert, Dublin, iii. 200). His father died in 1757, and his estate passed to his nephew, who was Mrs. Sheridan's elder brother, Whyte receiving a legacy of five hundred pounds. On 3 April 1758 he opened a ‘seminary for the institution of youth’ at 75 (now 79) Grafton Street, Dublin. He described himself as ‘Principal of the English Grammar School.’ Mrs. Sheridan persuaded her husband's sisters, Mrs. Sheen and Mrs. Knowles, and other ladies to send their children to be taught, and, ‘thus favoured, young Whyte had a handsome show of pupils on first opening his school’ (Memoirs of Frances Sheridan, p. 83). Her own three children, the eldest not seven, were among them. Charles Francis remained a few weeks only, while Richard Brinsley and his sister Alicia were under Whyte's care as a schoolmaster for upwards of a year.

Whyte was proud of having had the famous Sheridan as a pupil. But in a footnote to page 277 of the third edition of his poems he made a fanciful statement which is the origin of the myth about Sheridan and his brother being styled by him ‘impenetrable dunces.’ He repeated the footnote story to Moore in after years, and Moore aided in diffusing it (Memoirs, i. 7). Miss Lefanu has exposed Whyte's inaccuracy (Memoirs of Frances Sheridan, p. 85), while Sheridan's elder sister, writing to Lady Morgan in 1817, charges the schoolmaster of her childhood with wilful misrepresentation (Lady Morgan, Memoirs, ii. 61). On the other hand, Whyte was grateful for the kindness he received from Thomas Sheridan and his wife, and made a substantial return when fortune frowned upon them.

His first work was a ‘Treatise on the English Language,’ which, though printed in 1761, was not published till 1800. He wrote two tragedies and put them in the fire after Thomas Sheridan had undertaken to get them represented. He was a fluent versifier, and some of his verses appeared in 1772 in a quarto entitled ‘The Shamrock, or Hibernian Cresses,’ practical proposals for a reform in education being appended (another edit. 1773, 8vo). His reputation had led to the offer in 1759 of the professorship of English in the Hibernian Academy; but, thinking that Thomas Sheridan had been unfairly overlooked, he declined it. His custom was to make his pupils represent a play at the annual examination, and some became actors in consequence. Being blamed for this, he wrote in self-defence a didactic poem, ‘The Theatre,’ which was published in 1790. Whyte's son, Edward Athenry, who had become his partner, collected his works in 1792, of which four editions were printed. Copies were given as prizes to the pupils who distinguished themselves, while each one who fell short of the required standard received his engraved portrait.

After the union between Great Britain and Ireland the attendance at Whyte's school diminished owing to Irish parents sending their children to England for their education. He died at 75 Grafton Street, Dublin, on 11 Oct. 1811. His son conducted the school till 1824, when he migrated to London and afterwards died there.

Whyte's works, in addition to those named above, included: 1. ‘Miscellanea Nova, with Remarks on Boswell's “Johnson” and a Critique on Bürger's “Leonora,”’ 1801, 8vo. 2. ‘The Beauties of History.’ 3. ‘The Juvenile Encyclopædia.’ 4. An edition of ‘Matho.’ 5. An edition of ‘Holberg's Universal History.’ 6. ‘A Short System of Rhetoric.’ 7. ‘Hints to the Age of Reason.’ 8. ‘Practical Elocution.’

[Gilbert's History of Dublin, iii. 200–10; Gentleman's Magazine, 1811, ii. 486; Alicia Lefanu's Memoirs of Mrs. Frances Sheridan, pp. 82–6; The Junto, or the Interior Cabinet laid open.]

F. R.