Whitefoord, Caleb (DNB00)

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WHITEFOORD, CALEB (1734–1810), wit and diplomatist, the natural son of Colonel Charles Whitefoord [q. v.], was born at Edinburgh in 1734 and educated at James Mundell's school and Edinburgh University (matriculating on 3 March 1748). His father acquiesced in his objections to entering the ministry, and placed him in the counting-house of a wine merchant, Archibald Stewart, of York Buildings, London. During 1756 (having in the meantime set up in the wine business at 8 Craven Street), Whitefoord was in Lisbon in connection with his trade, and sent home a vivid account of the earthquake. Benjamin Franklin was his neighbour in Craven Street for some time; they became intimate, and their intimacy led to Whitefoord being chosen by Shelburne in 1782 as intermediary between Franklin, as minister of the United States at Versailles, and the British government. Whitefoord accompanied Richard Oswald [q. v.] to Paris in April and served for a year as secretary to the commission which concluded the peace with America. Burke, to express his poor opinion of the plenipotentiaries chosen, described Oswald as a simple merchant and Whitefoord as a mere ‘diseur de bons mots.’ It was not until 1793 that a pension of 200l. a year was secured to Whitefoord for his services.

Whitefoord's contributions to the ‘Public Advertiser,’ the ‘St. James's Chronicle,’ and other newspapers were numerous, his line being political persiflage and his aim to reveal the humorous side of party abuse. The ministry would have liked a pamphlet on the Falkland Islands difficulty from his pen in 1771, and it was he who recommended that the task should be assigned to Dr. Johnson. The latter thought highly of Whitefoord's essays in the periodical press, and Caleb was one of the guests at the Shakespeare Tavern when Johnson took the chair on 15 March 1773, prior to the first performance of ‘She stoops to conquer.’ Many of his best squibs, such as ‘Proposals for a Female Administration,’ ‘Errors of the Press,’ ‘Westminster Races,’ ‘Ship News,’ and ‘Cross Readings,’ are in the ‘New Foundling Hospital for Wit’ (1784, i. 129 sq.). The ‘Cross Readings’ delighted not only Johnson, but a critic of such taste as Goldsmith, and one so difficult to please as Horace Walpole. When Garrick set the fashion of writing caricature epitaphs in 1774, Whitefoord naturally tried his hand; and, Cumberland says, displayed more ill-nature than wit. Goldsmith, however, thought well of him, as is shown in the epitaph which he left among his papers to be worked into ‘Retaliation,’ and which was actually included in the fourth and subsequent editions:

    Here Whitefoord reclines, deny it who can;
    Tho' he merrily lived, he is now a grave man.
    What pity, alas! that so lib'ral a mind
    Should so long be to Newspaper Essays confined!
    Who perhaps to the summit of science might soar,
    Yet content if the table he set in a roar;
    Whose talents to fit any station were fit,
    Yet happy if Woodfall confessed him a wit. …

Whitefoord's correspondence with the Woodfalls and with James Macpherson (printed in the Whitefoord Papers) is of some literary interest; in August 1795 he received from John Croft, the antiquary of York, some inedited anecdotes of Sterne, which Croft had collected at his request (ib. pp. 223 sq.). Caleb lived on to patronise a generation far subsequent to that of his early associates Foote and Garrick. In May 1805 David Wilkie brought him a ‘letter of introduction’ from Sir George Sandilands, and the painter is said to have successfully transferred to the well-known canvas the grave expression which Whitefoord thought proper to the occasion. Whitefoord, who was F.R.S. (elected 1784), F.S.A., and a member of the Arcadian Society of Rome, died at his house in Argyll Street in February 1810, and was buried in Paddington churchyard (Wheatley and Cunningham, London, iii. 2). His fine collection of pictures was sold at Argyll Street on 4 and 5 May 1810.

A portrait by Reynolds (1782), owned by Charles Whitefoord, esq., of Whitton Paddocks, near Ludlow, was engraved in mezzotint by I. Jones in 1793. A sketch by George Dance (July 1795) was engraved by William Daniell, and a drawing by Cosway by P. Condé for the ‘European Magazine’ (1810). An anonymous portrait is at the rooms of the Society of Arts, for which body Whitefoord procured portraits of William Shipley [q. v.] and Peter Templeman [q. v.]; he was vice-president of the society in 1800 (Trans. Soc. of Arts, No. xxix.).

Whitefoord married late in life (1800) a Miss Sidney, and left four children. His eldest son, Caleb, graduated from Queen's College, Oxford (B.A. 1828, M.A. 1831), and became rector of Burford with Whitton in 1843.

[Whitefoord Papers, 1898, ed. Hewins; Gent. Mag. 1810, i. 300; Public Characters, 1801–2; Boswell's Johnson, iv. 233, ed. Hill; Walpole's Correspondence, v. 30, ed. Cunningham; Northcote's Life of Reynolds, i. 217; Forster's Goldsmith, bk. iv. ch. xx.; Cumberland's Memoirs, i. 367; Smith's Mezzotinto Portraits, p. 774; Cust's Society of Dilettanti, 1898, p. 123; Franklin's Works, ed. Sparks, vii. 242.]

T. S.