White, Joseph (1745-1814) (DNB00)

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WHITE, JOSEPH (1745–1814), orientalist and theologian, was born at Stonehouse (or, according to another account, Stroud) in Gloucestershire in 1745, and was the son of Thomas White, a journeyman weaver. He received his earliest education in one of the Gloucester charity schools, and started life in his father's employment. His talents and attainments, however, attracted the notice of some wealthy neighbours, who enabled him to pursue his studies at Ruscomb, and again at Gloucester, and the liberality of John Moore (1730-1805) [q. v.] (afterwards bishop of Bangor and archbishop of Canterbury) enabled him to enter Wadham College, Oxford, as a commoner on 6 June 1765. In September of that year he became scholar of his college, where he shortly afterwards obtained the Hody exhibition for Hebrew, as well as other prizes. He was fellow from 1771 until 1788, and filled various college offices. He graduated B.A. on 5 April 1769, M.A. on 19 Feb. 1773, B.D. on 17 May 1779, and D.D. on 17 Dec. 1787. At his patron's desire he devoted himself to the study of Syriac, Arabic, and Persian, and in 1775, by a unanimous vote, was elected to the Laudian chair of Arabic. At the suggestion of Bishop Lowth the delegates of the Clarendon press entrusted to White the task of completing and issuing an edition of the Philoxenian (or rather Harklensian) version of the New Testament, for which Glocester Ridley [q. v.] had left materials based on two manuscripts which he had brought from the east and afterwards presented to New College. Ridley's materials were, however, of little use to White, who had both to copy the manuscripts and translate the text himself. His edition appeared in 1778, and exhibited both his scholarship and his accuracy in a favourable light; and since no other edition of this important version has ever appeared, it is the work by which he is still remembered. A volume of comments which he at one time planned as a supplement to the edition never appeared. From 1780 to 1783 he was occupied in preparing an edition of the Persian text of the 'Institutes of Timur,' of which a specimen was issued in the former year, while the whole appeared in 1783, at the expense of the East India Company. The text was accompanied by a translation into English from the pen of Major Davy, then Persian secretary to the governor-general of Bengal. In 1783 White, who was already one of the preachers at Whitehall Chapel, was appointed to the recently founded Bampton lectureship for 1784, his subject being a comparison between 'Mahometism' and Christianity, which his studies had well qualified him to treat. He was, however, somewhat diffident of his rhetorical ability, and, regarding the appointment as the chance of his life, he took the dangerous step of secretly associating with himself some persons in whose capacity he had confidence, and to one of these, Samuel Badcock [q. v.], a clergyman in poor circumstances, he entrusted the composition of one entire discourse and of large portions of others, including the exordium to the series. The result justified his selection of coadjutors; the sermons, which contained among other matter a courteous answer to Gibbon, as well as a reply to Hume, were greatly admired when delivered, and favourably received by the press; and indeed, though the thought is shallow, the arrangement is lucid, the manner exceedingly refined, and the language everywhere choice and felicitous, and in the fifth lecture even exquisite. Badcock, who as newspaper writer did something to press the sale of the book, of which several editions were speedily exhausted, kept silence while praises that were due to him were lavished on White; but his silence was not gratuitous, and the day when some important preferment should be White's reward was anxiously expected by both. In 1787 White was, through Moore's interest, presented by the dean and chapter of Ely to the rectory of Melton in Suffolk; and supposing this to be all that the Bampton lectures would produce, he hurried on the printing of a learned work, the Arabic description of Egypt by Abdullatif, a writer of the last century of the caliphate. But he despaired too soon; for early in 1788 he was presented by Lord-chancellor Thurlow to a prebend at Gloucester Cathedral, of which the value was considerable. His preferment came none too early. Shortly after the presentation Badcock died, and White, in his letter of condolence to his sister, requested her to return all letters of his that might be found in Badcock's papers; but Miss Badcock, knowing or guessing the value of the correspondence, took the opinion of R. Gabriel, to whom her brother had been curate, and who had some dealings with White of a nature to give him a clue to the relations between the two men. Among the papers was found a bond for 500l. which White at first refused to pay, alleging a legal flaw, and also asserting that it was for help which had never been actually rendered, but afterwards agreed to renew, hoping thereby to prevent the truth about the lectures getting abroad. His compliance came too late. Gabriel had meanwhile circulated the story, and being challenged from several quarters to produce evidence for his assertion, at length published a number of White's letters to Badcock, giving irrefragable evidence of the joint authorship, and also suggesting that yet other hands had been employed on the discourses. Gabriel's pamphlet ran through several editions; and additional force was lent to it by a rejoinder from one of White's partisans, in which Gabriel was virulently attacked, but his charges were left unanswered. White kept silence as long as possible. At last, in 1790, being compelled to answer, he published an account of his literary obligations, in which he apparently endeavoured to conceal nothing, but maintained still that the 500l. bond was for help in a projected history of Egypt, of which his 'Abdullatif' was to be the forerunner. His pamphlet seems to have satisfied the public, but White did not attempt again the role of popular preacher.

Between 1790 and 1800 he published little. In the latter year his edition of 'Abdullatif ' at last appeared, with a dedication to Sir William Scott. He had printed the text sixteen years before, but, not being satisfied with it, had presented the copies to Paulus of Jena, afterwards famous as the leader of rationalism, who issued the work in Germany. White's edition embodied a translation which had been commenced by the younger Edward Pococke [see under Pococke, Edward], but was completed by White himself. This is the only part that ever appeared of a great work on Egypt which he seems to have planned, and which Badcock was to have rendered popular in style. The time, however, was by no means ripe for such a work, and the elaborate monograph on Pompey's Pillar which White published in 1804 became antiquated as soon as the science of Egyptology was started. The rest of White's literary work was concentrated on the textual study of the Old and New Testaments, and earned him in 1804 the regius professorship of Hebrew at Oxford, carrying with it a canonry of Christ Church. Besides various pamphlets, in which he advocated a retranslation of the Bible, and proposed a new edition of the Septuagint, to be based on the Hexaplar-Syriac manuscript then recently discovered at Milan, he published in 1800 a 'Diatessaron or Harmony of the Gospels,' and in his edition of the 'New Testament in Greek' (1st edit. 1808; often reprinted) endeavoured to simplify and popularise Griesbach's 'Critical Studies.' His last work, 'Criseos Griesbachianae in Novum Testamentum Synopsis' (1811) contains a summary of the more important results. Both as a theologian and as a critic he was ultraconservative.

White died at Christ Church, Oxford, on 23 May 1814. He married, in 1790, Mary Turner, sister of Samuel Turner (1749?1802) [q. v.] who visited Thibet as a British envoy. Her death in 1811 affected him severely.

Persons who knew White declared him to be of an indolent disposition, and it is a fact that in most of his books he embodied where possible the labours of others. His linguistic attainments were, however, very great, and compare favourably with those of the most eminent orientalists of his time, with many of whom, including Silvestre de Sacy, he was in communication. His portrait was painted by William Peters and presented to the university of Oxford. It was engraved by Joseph Thompson and appeared in the 'European Magazine' for October 1796.

[Nichols's Illustrations of the Literary Hist, of the Eighteenth Century, iv. 858-65; Gardiner's Register of Wadham Coll. vol. ii.; Langles's Nécrologie de J. W.; Gent. Mag. 1814, i. 626.]

D. S. M.