Lives of
Scottish Poets
edited by

Center for Applied Technologies
in the Humanities

*    *    *    *    *

Literary Chronicle
New Monthly Magazine
Monthly Review
Notes and Queries
Gibson and Laing
Halkett and Laing
Scottish Notes & Queries

Part I. (Volume I.)
James the First
Thomas the Rhymer
John Barbour
Andrew Wyntoun
Gavin Douglas
Allan Ramsay
William Meston
John Home
James Beattie
Robert Burns

Part II. (Volume I.)
James the Fifth
William Dunbar
Sir James Inglis
Henry the Minstrel
Sir David Lyndsay
Alexander Barclay
Alexander Montgomerie
William Alexander
William Drummond
James Thomson
John Oswald

Part III. (Volume II.)
James the Sixth
Sir Richard Maitland
Arthur Johnston
Hamilton of Bangour
Hamilton of Gilbertfield
Samuel Colvil
Alexander Ross
John Armstrong
John Ogilvie
James Macpherson
Charles Salmon

Part IV. (Volume II.)
Alexander Hume
John Bellenden
Mark Alexander Boyd
Ninian Paterson
William Wilkie
Robert Fergusson
William Julius Mickle
Alexander Geddes
James Grahame

Part V. (Volume III.)
Robert Henryson
Alexander Scott
Walter Kennedy
John Ogilby
Alexander Pennecuik
Alexander Cunningham
David Mallet
William Falconer
Francis Garden
Robert Blair
James Moor
James Graeme
Caleb Whitefoord
James Grainger
Hector Macneill
John Wilson

Part VI. (Volume III.)
Robert Kerr
Richard Lord Maitland
Thomas Hamilton
Charles Hamilton
Michael Bruce
Thomas Blacklock
John Logan
Andrew Macdonald
James Mercer

Appendix. (Volume III.)
James I
Allan Ramsay
John Home
Robert Burns
William Drummond
Robert Fergusson
Alexander Scott
John Wilson



Caleb Whitefoord [note] was born at Edinburgh in 1734. He was the only son of Colonel Charles Whitefoord, [note] of the 5th regiment of foot, third son of Sir Adam Whitefoord, Bart. of Ayrshire. After going through all the branches of a polite education at the schools and University of Edinburgh, he was sent to London, and placed in the counting-house of Mr. Archibald Stewart, an eminent wine merchant.


While in this situation his father died, leaving to Caleb and a sister the bulk of his fortune. Shortly after, Mr. Whitefoord went to France, where he spent about two years. He then returned to England, and being of age, embarked his patrimony in the wine trade, in partnership with a Mr. Thomas Brown.


Mr. Whitefoord's life, after this period, was one of continued gaiety and enjoyment. He possessed strong natural talents, wit, learning, and taste; but, content that these were such as to recommend him to the society of the most choice spirits of his day, his ambition aspired no higher. Delighted with the intercourse, and honored by the esteem, of such men as Johnson, [note] Reynolds, [note] Goldsmith, [note] Garrick, [note] and Foote, [note] he appears to have looked with considerable indifference on all the world besides. Had he not accidentally formed an acquaintance with Mr. Woodfall [note] the Printer, it is doubtful whether he would ever himself
have attempted to appear as a writer; and, when stimulated to it by that gentleman, he consented, rather to amuse a vacant hour, than with any view to literary distinction. To Woodfall's paper, the Public Advertiser, he became a frequent contributor of short satirical pieces, both in prose and verse, which attracted much notice for their singularity, wit, and humour; but so careless was he about the reputation which they brought him, that, as soon as gone from his pen, he took no farther concern about them, and left them exposed and deserted, till Almon [note] and Debrett [note] sought after and gave them a place in that appropriate asylum, The Foundling Hospital for Wit.


In his political sentiments, Mr. Whitefoord was attached to the ministry of the day; and his satire took a corresponding direction. Of its tendency to serve them, Dr. Smollet has expressed a very flattering opinion in the following passage of a letter whirls he wrote to Mr. Whitefoord, from Italy, in 1770. “You could not,” he says, “have made me a more agreeable present than the papers I received by the hands of my good friend Dr. Armstrong. Some of the pieces I had read with great pleasure in one of your evening papers; but my own satisfaction is much increased, by knowing that you are the author, for, without flattery, I really think these fourteen letters contain more spirit, wit, and humour, than all I have as yet seen written on the other side of the question; and I am fully persuaded, that if you had two or three coadjutors of equal talents to play into one another's hands, and keep up the ball of argument and ridicule, you would actually, at the long run, either shame or laugh the people out of their absurd infatuation. Your ideas
of characters and things so exactly tally with mine, that I cannot help flattering myself so far as to imagine, I should have expressed my sentiments in the same manner, on the same subjects, had I been disposed to make them public; supposing still, that my ability correspond with my ambition.” “I hope you will not discontinue your endeavours to represent faction and false patriotism in their true colours, though I believe the Ministry little deserve that any man of genius should draw his pen in their defence.”


The Ministry themselves were so satisfied with the abilities which Mr. Whitefoord had displayed in their support, that he was requested by one of their number to write a pamphlet on the subject of the misunderstanding which then subsisted betwixt Great Britain and Spain, in regard to the Falkland Islands. Mr. Whitefoord declined engaging in the task himself, but recommended Dr. Johnson, [note] as the ablest person who could be selected for the purpose. Dr Johnson was accordingly employed, and produced his celebrated pamphlet, entitled, “Thoughts on the late transactions respecting Falkland Islands.”


In the course of his lighter effusions, Mr. Whitefoord had the merit, such as it is, of giving birth to that numerous class of travesties and conceits, which were at one time so much in vogue, under the titles of Ship News Extraordinary, Cross Readings, Errors of the Press, &c.


The various sallies of one kind or another which continued to proceed from his pen, are said to have emancipated the diurnal prints from a dullness and insipidity which before pervaded them. The same praise has, however, been given to Goldsmith [note] for the
effect produced by his “Citizen of the World,” which originally appeared in detached letters in the Public Ledger, and nearly about the same period as the effusions of Whitefoord. They may possibly have divided the honor between them; though it is not clear, that the diurnal press was at all in so low a state as has been represented.


Satire has been proverbially a dangerous occupation; but it was otherwise with Whitefoord. He mixed so much good humour and pleasantry in all his attacks, that he made few or no enemies.


Adam Smith [note] used to say, that though the wits and authors heartily hated each other, they had all a regard for Mr. Whitefoord. When any quarrel or disagreement occurred among them, he was never at ease till he saw the parties reconciled. His favourite practice was to invite them to his house, give them an excellent dinner, and make them drink a glass of reconciliation. Garrick [note] and Foote [note] had long been at variance; but Mr. Whitefoord contrived to bring them together at one of these dinners, and so complete was the renewal of their friendship, that Garrick actually lent Foote £500, to repair his theatre in the Hay-market.


Of the celebrated Literary Club, founded by Dr. Johnson, Mr. Whitefoord was a member; and though it included many far abler men, it could beast of none who contributed in a higher degree to the hilarity of its meetings. Having on one occasion read to the Club some ludicrous epitaphs which he had written, in concert with Sir Joshua Reynolds, [note] on the supposed death of Dr. Goldsmith [note] and Dr. Cumberland, [note] the two doctors were at first very angry with the
writer. Mr. Whitefoord, for this reason, remained away from the next meeting; but sent the following poetical apology, addressed to Sir Joshua Reynolds :—

to sir joshua reynolds and co.
From Mr. Whitefoord.
Admire not, Dear Knight,
That I keep out of sight;
Consider what perils await him
Who, with ill-season'd jokes,
Indiscreetly provokes
The “genus irritabile vatum.”
I felt when these swains
Rehears'd their sweet strains,
That mine had too much lemon juice;
And I strove to conceal,
For the general weal,
What at last I was forc'd to produce.
After such panegyric,
The least thing satiric
Must put both the bards into twitters;
'Twas impossible they,
After Sipping Tokay,
Could relish a bumper of bitters.
Do talk to each bard,
Beg they won't be too hard,
But be merciful as they are stout;
I rely on your skill,
Say—just what you will,
And, as you brought me in, bring me out.
To the company, too,
Some apology's due;
I know you can do it with ease:
Be it your's, sir, to place,
In the best light, my case,
And give it—what colour you please.
For those brats of my brain,
Which have caus'd so much pain,
Henceforth I'll renounce and disown 'em;
And still keep in sight,
When I epitaphs write,
“De mortuis nil, nisi bonum.”

The “Retaliation” of Goldsmith [note] is well known. The portrait which he has there drawn of Mr. Whitefoord, is one of the most faithful and spirited which it contains.

Here Whitefoord reclines, and deny it who can,
Though he merrily liv'd, he is now “a grave man.”
Rare compound of oddity, frolic, and fun,
Who relish'd a joke, and rejoic'd in a pun;
Whose temper was generous, open, sincere,
A stranger to flatt'ry, a stranger to fear;
Who scatter'd around, wit and humour at will,
Whose daily bon mots half a column might fill.
A Scotsman, from pride and from prejudice free;
A scholar, but surely no pedant, was he.
What a pity, alas! that so lib'ral a mind
Should so long be to newspaper essays confin'd;
Who perhaps to the summit of science could soar,
Yet content, if the table he “set in a roar;”
Whose talents to fill any station were fit,
Yet happy if Woodfall
[note] confess'd him a wit.
Ye newspaper witlings! ye pert scribbling folks,
Who copied his squibs, and re-echoed his jokes;
Ye tame imitators! ye servile herd, come,
Still follow your master, and visit his tomb;
To deck it, bring with you festoons of the vine,
And copious libations bestow on his shrine;
Then strew all around it, you can do no less,
Cross-readings, ship-news, and mistakes of the press.
Merry Whitefoord, farewell! for thy sake, I admit,
That a Scot may have humour, I had almost said, wit:
This debt to thy mem'ry I cannot refuse,
Thou best humour'd man, with the worst humour'd muse.

When the American colonies succeeded in separating themselves from the mother country, and Commissioners were appointed to meet at Paris to treat of a general peace, Mr. Oswald, [note] who had bailed Mr. Laurens [note] from his confinement in the Tower, was the gentleman delegated by our Government, as more acceptable than any other, to the American Commissioners; and, from a similar principle of selection, Mr. Whitefoord, who was the friend of Mr. Oswald, as well as of Dr. Franklin, [note] and had latterly become a convert to the claims of America*, was appointed

* There is a fable in the Foundling Hospital for Wit, addressed to time Minister on the subject of America, entitled, “the Hen and the Golden Egg,” subscribed with Mr. Whitefoord's initials (C. W.) It has little merit, but opens with a smart couplet:
Had æsop [note] been able, what mortal so able,
To write your gazettes, as he dealt much in fable.
secretary to the British Commission. After the nature, on the 30th of November, 1782, of the preliminary articles, declaratory of the Independence of the United States, Mr. Oswald returned to London, but Mr. Whitefoord remained at Paris several months longer, as secretary to Mr. Fitzherbert
[note] (afterwards Lord St. Helens), who was the minister charged to negociate the definitive treaties of peace with the United States, and those European Powers who had espoused their cause. Three of the treaties concluded on this occasion, are in the hand-writing of Mr. Whitefoord.


Services of so important a diplomatic description seldom fail of being handsomely rewarded. Prior [note] got two hundred guineas, and was made a gentleman of the bed-chamber, for being secretary at the treaty of Ryswick; but Mr. Whitefoord was in no such luck. On returning from the continent, he found that Lord Shelburne [note] had resigned, without making any provision for him; and he was obliged to prefer his claims to the coalition administration, by whom they were rejected. Seven years after, the neglect which he had experienced was brought under the notice of the King, who was pleased to order him a pension, but of so small an amount as to induce a suspicion, that even at that late period, a person might have a better recommendation to royal favour than that of having written the treaty which established the independence of America.


While thus poorly requited for his services to the government, Mr. Whitefoord found ample sources of consolation in the increased esteem with which he was regarded, not only by his friends, but by the commu-
nity at large. So high was the opinion generally entertained of his literary and scientific acquirements, that the Royal Society of London, the Royal Society of Edinburgh, the Society of Antiquaries, and the philosophical Society of Philadelphia, each elected him to be a member of their body; and in the fine arts, of which he had formed an admirable collection of specimens, his judgement as a connoisseur was held in such repute, that the Society for Improvement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce, elected him, first, to be the Chairman of their Committee of Fine Arts, and afterwards to be their Vice President, an honour which it has been usual to confer on persons of elevated rank alone.


Mr. Whitefoord survived nearly all his early and most esteemed associates. He died in 1809, at the advanced age of seventy-five. He married, late in life, a lady of the name of Sedley, by whom he left four children, two sons and two daughters.


The excellent character which Goldsmith drew of Whitefoord, when in the flower of his days, is that which will accompany his name to posterity. The events of his after life furnish no cause either to add or take away any thing. His diplomatic employments, his learned honors, all prove how truly Goldsmith had conjectured, that although engrossed by the pleasures of the passing hour, he was possessed of talents equal to any station or attainment. Neither did his muse ever produce any thing which could entitle her to a better character for good humour, than Goldsmith has been pleased to allow her. What she might have yielded to an assiduous courtship we know not; but
it is but too clear, that Whitefoord was not of the number of those who can boast of favours at first sight Yet, although without memorial as a philosopher, without eminence as a poet, the affection with which Whitefoord was universally regarded to the last, shows that he had social virtues which entitle him to remembrance as one of the best and happiest of men. Had it chanced to have been my lot to select an epitaph for his tomb, it should have been one of few words; but the words of the same admirable writer who has done such justice to all that was bright and fair in his character:—

“Merry Whitefoord, farewell!”
G. G.