White, James (1775-1820) (DNB00)

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WHITE, JAMES (1775–1820), author of ‘Falstaff's Letters,’ baptised on 7 April 1775, was the son of Samuel White of Bewdley in Worcestershire. Born in the same year as Charles Lamb, he was educated with him at Christ's Hospital, where he was admitted on 19 Sept. 1783 on the presentation of Thomas Coventry. He left the school on 30 April 1790 in order to become a clerk in the treasurer's office. After remaining for some years in that position he founded an advertising agency at 33 Fleet Street, which is still carried on. To this business he united that of agent for provincial newspapers.

White was the lifelong friend of Charles Lamb. He was introduced by Lamb to Shakespeare's ‘Henry IV,’ and was at once fascinated by the character of Falstaff, whom he frequently impersonated in the company of his friends. By his success in sustaining the character at a masquerade he roused the jealousy of several small actors hired for the occasion, and according to his friend and schoolfellow John Mathew Gutch [q. v.], he was generally known as ‘Sir John’ among his intimates. In 1796 he published ‘Original Letters, &c., of Sir John Falstaff and his Friends’ (London, 8vo). William Ireland's forgery, ‘Vortigern,’ was produced at Drury Lane in the same year, and the ‘Letters’ were prefaced by a dedication in black letter to ‘Master Samuel Irelaunde,’ the forger's father, which was probably written by Lamb. The ‘Letters’ were held in the highest esteem by Lamb, who induced Coleridge to notice them in the ‘Critical Review’ for June 1797, and himself contributed an appreciation of them to the ‘Examiner’ for 5 Sept. 1819. ‘The whole work,’ he wrote, ‘is full of goodly quips and rare fancies, all deeply masked like hoar antiquity.’ Notwithstanding his enthusiasm, which led him to purchase every second-hand copy he found on the booksellers' stalls and present it to a friend in the hope of making a convert, the sale of the ‘Letters’ was inconsiderable, and they brought their author little fame. A second edition appeared in 1797, composed of unsold copies of the first with new title-pages, but the work was not reprinted until 1877, when a new edition was issued with an elaborate memoir (London, 12mo).

White died in London at his house in Burton Crescent, on 13 March 1820. He married a daughter of Faulder the bookseller, and left three children. He was a man of infinite humour, one ‘who carried away with him half the fun of the world when he died’ (Essays of Elia). Lamb always spoke of him with great affection. ‘Jem White,’ he said to Le Grice in 1833, ‘there never was his like. We shall never see such days as those in which he flourished.’ He commemorated White's annual feast to the chimney-sweeps in one of his most familiar essays, and in the essay ‘On some Old Actors’ he gives a pleasant account of White's discomfiture by Dodd the comedian.

The author of ‘Falstaff's Letters’ must be distinguished from James White (d. 1799), scholar and novelist, who was probably a relative. This James White was elected a scholar of Trinity College, Dublin, in 1778, and graduated B.A. in 1780. He was well versed in the Greek language, edited one or two classical works, and wrote three historical novels of some merit. Towards the close of his life his conduct became eccentric, and he imagined himself the victim of a conspiracy. He died, unmarried, at the Carpenters' Arms in the parish of Wick of Gloucestershire on 30 March 1799, in great destitution. He was the author of:

  1. ‘Hints of a Specific Plan for the Abolition of the Slave Trade,’ 1788, 8vo.
  2. ‘Conway Castle,’ and other poems, London, 1789, 4to.
  3. ‘Earl Strongbow; or the History of Richard de Clare and the Beautiful Geralda,’ London, 1789, 2 vols. 12mo; German translation by Georg Friedrich Beneke, Helmstädt, 1790, 8vo.
  4. ‘The Adventures of John of Gaunt,’ 1790, 3 vols. 12mo; German translation, Helmstädt, 1791, 8vo.
  5. ‘The Adventures of King Richard Cœur de Lion,’ London, 1791, 3 vols. 12mo.
  6. ‘Letters to Lord Camden,’ 1798.

He also translated:

  1. ‘The Oration of Cicero against Verres,’ 1787, 4to.
  2. Jean Paul Rabaut Saint-Etienne's ‘History of the French Revolution,’ London, 1792, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1793.
  3. ‘Speeches of M. de Mirabeau the Elder,’ Dublin, 1792, 8vo (Annual Register, 1799, ii. 11; Reuss, Register of Living Authors, 1770–90; ib. 1790–1803; Cat. of Dublin Graduates).

[The Lambs, their Lives, their Friends, and their Correspondence, by W. C. Hazlitt, 1897, pp. 24–6; Life, Letters, and Writings of Lamb, ed. Fitzgerald, 1886; Letters of Lamb, ed. Ainger, 1888; Letters of Lamb, ed. Hazlitt, 1882–6 (Bohn's Standard Library); Hazlitt's Mary and Charles Lamb, 1874; Charles Lamb and the Lloyds, ed. E. V. Lucas, 1898, pp. 48–50; Southey's Life and Corresp. 1850, vi. 286–287; Gent. Mag. 1820, i. 474.]

E. I. C.