THE whole life of Richard Grant White was passed in New York. He was born there and he died there, and in all the intervening years his absences from the town were few and brief. He was already a man of fifty-five when, for the first and only time, he crossed the ocean to make a visit of three months to England exclusively. Eight years before, he had defended his right to call himself a Yankee by saying that “ for more than two hundred years my forefathers, on both sides, have been New England men ; and, besides, not one of us, myself included, has ever been across the water.” His knowledge of his own country from personal observation was also unusually limited for an American of any condition. Yet, long as he lived in New York, he never conceived any real affection for the great commercial capital. He was as a stranger in a strange city. New York, as he viewed it, was a mere mining camp, the resort of adventurers seeking fortune only ; and out of such material the construction of a tolerable society seemed to him impossible. “ Living in New York,” he used to say, after the building of the elevated railways, “ is like living in a boiler factory, with rattle and roar above and below.” He had no sympathies in common with its prevailing spirit, and few social ties outside of his immediate family. “ I can hardly say that I knew this accomplished man of letters,” wrote Mr. Richard H. Stoddard soon after Mr. White’s death, “ though I was acquainted with him for a quarter of a century and upward.” Yet the homes of the two were separated by two streets only. Even Mr. Stedman, who was his next - door neighbor in Tenth Street, might have made the same remark, pleasant as the relations between them were. Mr. George William Curtis and he were literary workers side by side, in their earlier days, but their contact was never more than superficial. During Mr. White’s life he had as contemporaries in New York, Bryant, Bigelow, Godwin, Greeley, Dana, Bayard Taylor, Willis, Fitz James O’Brien, Edgar Allan Poe, and other men of letters who gave distinction to the period, and nearly all of them of about his own age, and workers with him for newspapers and magazines ; but he was not on terms of intimacy with any one of the number.
From first to last he had no intimates among the writers of his day. Until the establishment of the Authors’ Club, a short time before his death, he belonged to none of the associations of his craft. He was not of the company of writers and artists whom Mrs. Botta and the Cary sisters gathered at frequent receptions, and he was unknown to the Bohemian crowd over whom Henry Clapp presided in the beer cellar of Pfaff on Broadway. He lived wholly apart from the ways and the sympathies of the literary class around him. He went to them neither for applause nor for intellectual stimulus. Probably he was never conscious of the need of any such support, for throughout his life he was strong in his self-reliance, and felt capable of estimating properly his own abilities. He was not subject to moods of self-depreciation, when he craved the encouragement of his fellows, but, with perfect bodily health and thoroughly sound nerves, his intellect moved with the precision and certainty of a well-balanced machine ; as he had need that it should work, for of necessity Mr. White was a laborious man during all his career, and the more so as he disdained to use arts which might have lightened his load. He was keenly sensitive about the dignity of his profession and the conduct becoming a gentleman. He prided himself on never having been an applicant for any place or favor. He would not elbow his way to a superior seat; for, of all God’s creatures, the being now described as a “ hustler ” was most odious in his eyes.
When, in 1866, he was applied to for information as to himself, to be used in the Cyclopædia of American Literature, edited by the Duyckincks, he responded thus decidedly and even contemptuously: “I particularly desire that, should the authors of the Cyclopaedia have intended to do me the honor of noticing me in their work, they will not do so. I neither claim nor desire a place in ‘ American literature,’so called, and I would rather be omitted.” Of course, this might imply only that, if he were to have a place in literature at all, he wanted it to be a literature not circumscribed by the boundaries of a single country, and limited to a mere branch of the English race ; but the answer exhibits also a carelessness of literary distinction which was more than whimsical. Many years before, at the time when he won his first recognition as a Shakespearean critic, he declared to Dr. Allibone that he would not write a single page to achieve all the reputation of all the Shakespearean critics that ever lived. He received the distinction that was infinitely more grateful to him when he was described in England as “the most accomplished and the best bred man that America had sent to England within the memory of the present generation ; ” and when it was said of him there that he “spoke like an Oxford man, and looked like a guardsman.”He was also pleased with the description of him published at the beginning of his literary career, as “ evidently a thoroughbred man of the world.” In other words, he prized more highly recognition of the distinction in himself, in his character and individuality, than any distinction conferred by mere literary reputation.
In 1881, his friend, Mr. Chandler Wayland, of New York, having written to President Arthur suggesting his appointment as a foreign consul, Mr. White made haste to assure Mr. Arthur, with whom he had served in the New York custom house, that he “ never was an applicant for anything.” Yet he desired the appointment greatly. Nearly thirty years before, when he was a young man connected with the New York Courier and Enquirer, his delicacy and sense of propriety were offended because that journal spoke in praise of his article on Shakespeare in Putnam’s Magazine ; and accordingly he wrote to the editor, begging that “ the paper shall never laud me or my doings while I am part of it and above ground.” In 1878, when the Evening Post included him among those applying to be appointed librarian of the Astor Library, as successor to Mr. Carson Brevoort, he assured the editor that he had “ never at any time made application in any quarter for any position whatever, public or private.”
Yet that Mr. White was sensible of the practical advantages of professional publicity is shown in his reply to a proposition from Henry J. Raymond that he should come upon the editorial staff of the New York Times, then only recently established. “ I should expect,” he said, “ that my connection with the Times would be announced and my position acknowledged. I think this right in the case of any person, and particularly in mine, as I have suffered and am still suffering from the lack of such a simple act of justice on the part of the Courier and Enquirer. The public regards me as one whose chief object in life is to write musical reports, puff conjurers, and the like. I need not tell you,” he added, “ that I am thus placed in a false and injurious position ; ” for he had worked with Raymond on the Courier and Enquirer, and though generally supposed to be confined to musical criticism, was also the author of many of the most important leading articles on subjects of politics and international relations. At the same time he wrote to General Watson Webb, the proprietor of the Courier and Enquirer, asking that, “at a proper time and in a proper manner, my connection with it shall be acknowledged on just terms. I do not ask for praise of my abilities, I do not wish indorsement of my character,” he explained, “ but merely such an announcement as will give the public a correct idea of my position and the nature of my occupation. You will easily see that as a matter of business this is of vital importance to me.” He wanted his exact professional standing to be made known to everybody ; for he was not a shy and retiring man, by any means, and he resented then and always afterwards any classification of him with the ordinary run of writers. He had stepped at once into a high place in journalism while yet a very young man, and the anonymity of the newspaper had not altogether swallowed up his individual reputation. Because of that difference of fortune, too, he stood apart from many of the writers about him, for they were still struggling to escape from such submersion. The Bohemian, happy-go-lucky lives so frequent among them he knew nothing about from personal experience. He had been brought up after the straitest and most conventional fashion, and the serious struggle of life had come to him early, with burdens that repressed extravagant tendencies. He had neither convivial tastes nor the easy-going habits favorable to the formation of quick intimacies.
Therefore Mr. White was looked upon, by the younger writers more especially, as an arrogant and conventional man, starched, affected, and supercilious, incapable of other emotion than self-admiration, — vain, conceited, and a coxcomb. This impression was strengthened by the formality of his manners, the precision of his speech, and the suggestion in the cut of his garments and the character of his utterance that he was an Anglomaniac, who felt himself above his calling and his colleagues. As he was two inches upward of six feet in height, and carried himself with remarkable erectness, he did overtop them physically. Hence some of the bright young fellows of the newspapers took delight in stinging him with little arrows of witticism, to “ take him down ; ” and they found their opportunity in occasional slips into inaccuracy, natural enough in a writer so voluminous and treating of so large a variety of subjects. But the shafts penetrated his thin skin; for he was a sensitive man withal, and perhaps proportionately to his self-esteem. Why those irreverent youngsters singled him out for annoyance he could never imagine. He did not suspect the provocation to their mirth and malice, and thereby showed that he was not the self-conscious and affected man they supposed him to be. He was incapable of malice himself, — as incapable as he was of jealousy, — and though he had a keen sense of humor, as he demonstrated very conspicuously, he never resorted to its use as a cloak for envy and malignity. He could not accuse himself of any lack of courtesy to those with whom he came in contact, for he was always courteous and considerate to the last degree. If he never permitted obtrusive familiarity, neither did he himself fail in showing due regard for others. However much he might hold himself above the mere crowd of money-grubbers, he had a sincere and hearty respect for the men of his own calling, and he was quick to discover their ability, and generous in estimating and acknowledging it; all the more so because he could never look upon himself as a competitor with anybody or a rival of anybody.
The peculiarities of Mr. White so frequently denounced as sheer affectation came to him honestly by inheritance, though they were intensified by his manner of life. He had not rubbed them off in the rough friction of the world, but had brought down the formal courtesy and courtliness of the past to a generation which sometimes carries real or affected simplicity of manner to the verge of positive ungraciousness. His carriage and his speech and address were the outward indications of an interior quality ; and hence they were natural to him.
In 1821, at the birth of Grant White (as he was called in England, and preferred to be called), his father was a prosperous though not affluent South Street merchant, and one of the aristocracy of New York commerce in the days before the decay of our American shipping. White was brought up amid surroundings of the strictest conventionality and greatest conservatism. His father was careful in his regard for all the proprieties of life, a rigid Episcopalian of the Low Church school, punctilious in his deportment, fastidious in his dress, tenacious of his dignity, and unbending in his convictions. His interest in the Episcopal Church was so strong and his standing as a layman so high that he sat in the Diocesan Convention of New York year after year ; and as he was one of the main pillars of the Evangelical party, his house was frequented by clergymen in sympathy with his views. These were the home influences under which White grew up. It was not a household to develop spontaneity of manner, though it cultivated the graces of courtesy and consideration.
The great object of his admiration, in both his youth and maturity, was his grandfather, the Rev. Calvin White, a stiff-necked Connecticut Tory, to whom he bore a striking resemblance in some of his own most marked characteristics. In 1884, or not long before White died, he wrote a biographical sketch of this remarkable old gentleman, intended for private circulation, but never printed; and in dedicating it to his two sons, Richard Mansfield White and Stanford White, he described the paper as a “ brief memorial of their great - grandfather, whose virtues and graces I cannot expect them to equal, but which I hope they may emulate.” The Rev. Calvin White was a descendant, in the fifth generation, of John White, who came from London to Cambridge, in Massachusetts, in the year 1632, and founded a family of some distinction in both the Massachusetts and Connecticut colonies. He was born at Middletown, in Connecticut, in 1762; and as he lived to the great age of ninety-one years, the span of his life stretched from the period before the Revolution to within a few years of the civil war. Yet during all that time he remained an implacable Tory and a rigid aristocrat, in his boyhood, his youth, and his age. He never voted, and he never performed any act which recognized the lawfulness of the new government except the unavoidable obligation of paying taxes. As late as the year 1850, when he was driving with some friends in the vicinity of Orange, in New Jersey, and a place through which he was passing was pointed out to him as having been so strong a Tory neighborhood during the Revolution that it was still called Tory Corners, the old man uncovered his head and bowed in reverence. For him the sole sovereign was still the sovereign of England. The sovereignty of the American people was usurpation only, in his eyes, no matter how successful it might have been.
The Rev. Calvin White was graduated at Yale in 1786. He entered the Congregational ministry, but soon passed over to the Episcopal Church. In 1822 he made a further and a final change, and landed in the Church of Rome, whither he was led logically by his devotion to authority. It was an almost unheardof step in the New England of those days, and it astounded his neighbors as much as if he had gone into downright heathen idolatry. But he was not a man to commit his conscience to other people’s keeping, and he was always straightforward and uncompromising in whatever he did. He was no more afraid of becoming a Roman Catholic in opposition to the sentiment prevailing about him than he had been afraid to declare his loyalty to King George before the cowboys of the Revolution. Yet he was a studious, refined, and courteous man, who did not obtrude his new faith even on his own family, for they continued to worship in the Episcopal Church. He went over to Roman Catholicism simply through the action of his own mind and his independent considerations of the facts of ecclesiastical history. Though he was a man of sixty years at the time, in the full vigor of his intellect, and the Roman Catholics would have been glad to make much of him, he declined every proposal for his advancement in their ranks. He remained at his Connecticut home ever after he was displaced from the Episcopal ministry, a simple layman. He never weakened in his new faith. He had sacrificed to it his position, his prospects, all his worldly interests, but he would not draw back.
Something of the character of this stubborn old Tory is rather amusingly revealed by his experience as rector of Grace Church at Jamaica, on Long Island, soon after he entered the Episcopal ministry. Before he had been there long he began to complain bitterly of the dilapidation of the rectory. Instead of remedying the evil, the vestry put off the repairs to a more convenient time, and then they proceeded to give utterance to their own complaints. They found fault with him as an uncompanionable man, haughty and exclusive. He “ neglects visiting his people in a friendly way,” they said, “and more so in visiting the sick.” As the terms of the settlement were that it should last only “ during such time as both parties live in good fellowship and peace,” and because he deemed the criticism of him impertinent, the Rev. Mr. White left Jamaica abruptly. He would endure no offense against his dignity ; “ for,” as his grandson says of him, “with great simplicity of character, and a kindness of heart that won the loving respect of all who knew him, he had in a very marked degree one trait which may possibly be out of place in a parish priest, — the personal pride of a high-minded gentleman.” Elsewhere in the same memorial White declares that he had never seen " in any country his equal in the combined simplicity, grace, and courtliness of his manners ; " and the respect, he gave to others he demanded from them in return. “Throughout his long career he would have nothing to do with those who treated either him or others without proper respect and consideration. With such persons his intercourse ceased abruptly and at whatever cost.”
This description of the grandfather fits equally the grandson ; for in many respects White was his grandfather over again. He was not a Tory, like him, but only because he came at a later and a different period. He was no more in sympathy with the prevailing sentiment of his day than his grandfather had been, and he was no less uncompromising. He did not even vote at elections after he was thirty years of age, though from that time onward the republic passed through the ordeal of the slavery agitation, the civil war, and the period of reconstruction. Though of New England descent, both he and his grandfather were far away from New England convictions and influences. They looked more admiringly on England than on their own country; and they were proud of their English descent rather than of their American citizenship. This does not imply that the younger White was disloyal to the Union, for he proved his hearty loyalty by his " Yankee " letters to the London Spectator during our civil war, and by his enthusiastic devotion to the cause of the Union from first to last. By those letters, as the Spectator said without exaggeration, after his death, “he did as much as any single man to prevent the cultivated public of this country [England] from drifting into hopeless error concerning the true issues involved in that momentous controversy.” Yet White’s sympathies were not democratic ; they were altogether aristocratic. He cared no more for the opinion of the majority than his grandfather had cared before him. He preferred to be in the minority, even if it consisted of himself alone. As to his religious views he was far apart from the elder White, whose change of faith was to him incomprehensible. “ I cannot understand.”he says in his memorial, “ how an intelligent, educated man, capable of ‘discourse of reason,’ can go from Protestantism to the Church of Rome (a very different matter from a resting in that religion, or any other, into which he has been born, and in which he has been bred).” He seems to have agreed with John Van Buren that it is “ unbecoming in a gentleman to change either his religion or his politics.” Therefore, when White himself passed into agnosticism, he made no outward break with the Church in which he had been reared. He kept the religion of his fathers as an inheritance of which he was proud, though he had ceased to believe in it.
In his early life he conformed strictly to Church usages. While he was still a lad, his family crossed the East River, and took up their residence in Brooklyn, which was then a mere village. It was also as village-like in the ways and tone of its society as if it had been in the centre of agricultural New England instead of a suburb of bustling New York. The prevailing influences were strongly religious. Not until many years afterwards were there any public amusements in the town. Church-going, little “teas,” a few dances of the most unobjectionable sort, choir-meetings, sewing-circles, and the various gatherings which church activity calls out furnished the staple and substantially the only social relaxations. It was a sober and God-fearing community, very conservative, intelligent, though possibly tinged with Philistinism, Puritanical, with no great wealth, but much comfort and no little self-complacency. The only means of communication with Manhattan Island were the ferries; slow and inconvenient as compared with those of this day. Hence Brooklyn was totally distinct from New York socially, though its population was made up chiefly of people who spent their days in the activities of the greater town, and their nights only in Brooklyn. Early to bed and early to rise, twice a day to church on Sunday, and observe all the proprieties were the prevailing rules of conduct among the good people in whose society White passed the years from youth to early manhood.
In the morning he crossed the river to New York to attend Dr. Anthon’s famous grammar school, and, as he grew older, to attend the university in Washington Square, and at night he returned to Brooklyn. Naturally, as he had a taste for music and a good bass voice, he sang in the choir of St. Ann’s Church; but as he wore his hair long, with the auburn locks falling over his shoulders, and was looked upon as a genius by the simple community, the steady-going Brooklyn people were a little shy of his eccentricity and doubtful of his future. His father’s severe notions as to the gravity of life were shocked by the boy’s devotion to music. Singing in the choir of St. Ann’s was proper enough, in the paternal opinion ; but when his son went further, and sought to acquire technical facility as an instrumental performer, and even essayed musical composition, he was much troubled in spirit. At that time, and not in Brooklyn only, by any means, a fiddler was regarded as a trifling sort of fellow, of unmanly tastes and useless for serious affairs ; and young White was a fiddler. His father was the more distressed because his ambition for his son was that he should become a clergyman, and these tastes seemed to him worldly, unprofitable, and unbefitting the dignity of a youth destined for the holy profession.
Young White was obstinate in following out his natural tendency. He clung to his music with increasing persistency; his friendships were based on harmony of tastes with reference to it, and he found his most delightful association and occupation in an amateur string quartette in Brooklyn, which he joined when he was a college lad. The first violin of this quartette was Mr. M. H. Meyer, the father of Mrs. Jeannette Meyer Thurber (who has won so much deserved distinction by her enthusiasm and practical efforts for the encouragement of a school of American music) ; the second violin was a brother of Bishop Cleveland Coxe; a Mr. Rankin played the violoncello, and Mr. White the viola, or tenor.
It was a very earnest company, and a very rare one of its kind, at that period especially. These enthusiasts undertook the interpretation of a high class of musical compositions. White also studied the art and science of music with a thoroughness unusual for an American of his day and for a youth of his years ; and he acquired a certain facility as a composer himself. Some of these early compositions of his still remain (a circumstance that shows the interest he retained in them, for he was remarkably careless about preserving his writings) ; but the great bulk of them were destroyed by him when his critical ability became keener and his taste more fastidious. Mr. Meyer speaks of him as having been a player of much promise, in those early days, — patient, cheerful, earnest, and untiring. He describes him as distinguished also by the unvarying gentleness of his disposition and his careful regard for the feelings of others,— qualities which are sorely tried by the experiences of an amateur quartette. This is the tribute to him of his musical friends generally. Among them he had his closest intimacies, so far as he had any intimacies at all, and to them he revealed himself as very different from the man he was supposed to be even by most of the people who thought they knew him well. He was unusually susceptible to beauty in woman or in art, and his delight in it was almost boyish in the enthusiasm of its manifestations. Underneath his external formality was a charming naïveté, which remained to the very last, but which he exhibited only to those to whom he was drawn by congeniality of tastes or temperament. He was quickly interested in people, or was utterly indifferent to them.
The knowledge of music, upon which his father and his associates generally looked with so much contempt, soon proved of substantial value to him ; and it was the more profitable because its possession was then unusual in this country. His early passion determined his career. After having entered upon the study of medicine, its practice became distasteful to him, and he took up the law, and was admitted to the bar in 1845. Shortly before that time his father died, after having hopelessly wrecked his fortune. White therefore was forced to earn his own living; and as he had two sisters dependent upon him, he required a more immediate income than it was possible for him to get from his profession. Happily, Henry J. Raymond, then the manager and editor of the Courier and Enquirer, had heard of his musical ability, and invited him to become the musical critic of that journal. White’s criticisms commanded attention at once. They were more intelligent and more thorough and independent than any which had appeared before in this country. They even provoked comment abroad; and soon he was a conspicuous man in New York, for his authorship of the criticisms could not be long concealed. This was before he was twenty-five years old ; and ever thereafter he remained a notable personage.
While he was a writer on this journal Preston Brooks made his assault upon Charles Sumner, in May, 1856. The Courier and Enquirer, in a leading article written by White, denounced the outrage in terms of the greatest severity. Thereupon Brooks demanded the name of the author from General Watson Webb, who was then in Washington. Webb telegraphed : “ Will the writer of the leader in Monday’s C. and E. hold himself personally responsible for that article, and respond by meeting Mr. Brooks, or am I to assume the responsibility? ” White, without hesitation, replied thus to Brooks directly : —
COURIER AND ENQUIRER OFFICE. NEW YORK. May 27, 1850.
SIR, — Having learned that you have made the leading article in the Courier and Enquirer of Monday the subject of inquiry addressed to General Webb, I beg to say that that article was written by me, and that I am responsible for it.
Your obedient servant,
R. G. WHITE.
White remained unperturbed ; but the matter was carried no further by the South Carolinian.
Like nearly all New York writers, whatever their distinction, White pursued his literary career amid the distractions of exacting journalistic labors and actual participation in business affairs. From 1854 to 1859 he was regularly on the staff of the Courier and Enquirer, a daily newspaper. Then he was associated with the New York World for a year after its first establishment. From 1861 to 1878 he held the place of head of the revenue marine bureau in the New York custom house ; and it was no sinecure. It called for the constant exercise of the method and administrative skill which marked him to an unusual degree. These qualities were also displayed by him when he did arduous volunteer service as the secretary of the famous Metropolitan Sanitary Fair in New York, the great bazaar kept open for three months, and which earned nearly two millions of dollars for the sick and wounded of the war. During all this time he was also at work on magazine papers, reviews, and books; and his literary production was both enormous and various.
His first publication, in 1845, was a pamphlet containing a close legal argument against the suspension of Bishop Onderdonk, and it is interesting as suggesting White’s concern about religious affairs at that period of his life. The same year, also, he sat as a delegate in the Diocesan Convention at St. John’s Chapel. In 1846 his first magazine article was published in the American Magazine. It was on Beethoven, and was remarkable as being the first critical estimate of the great composer that had appeared in this country, and it was really the most notable discussion of the subject that had yet appeared in the English language. Its style shows marks of youth occasionally, for White was then in his twenty-fourth year only, hut it has the directness and perspicuity which afterwards distinguished him. His articles on Shakespeare in Putnam’s Magazine followed in 1853, his first book, Shakespeare’s Scholar, in 1854, and his critical edition of Shakespeare’s works during the years 1857-63. Then came his four years’ series of “ Yankee ” letters to the London Spectator, his New Gospel of Peace (which earned more money for him, with its sale of more than one hundred thousand copies, than all the rest of his books combined), his Words and their Uses, and other volumes. Yet meanwhile journalistic and custom-house duties required from him an amount of labor which alone seemed to be enough for his energies; and it would have been enough for a man of ordinary capacity and endurance. Besides all this, he wrote steadily for magazines. Even after he ceased to be connected with any particular newspaper, he was a frequent contributor to journals; and he was distinguished throughout his career for the punctual performance of his literary engagements, and also for his freedom from the irascibility and touchiness sometimes displayed by his craft. He was never on the lookout for slights, for he could not conceive it possible that anybody would slight him.
For more than thirty years after the breaking up of the stringed quartette in Brooklyn White was obliged to cast aside his musical instruments entirely. He did not touch the violoncello during all that time, bitter as the deprivation was to him ; but, chancing to meet Mr. Meyer in Printing House Square one day, the old passion was aroused in him anew, and he proposed at once that they should get up a new quartette. The result was that in December, 1877, the quartette was formed; and it began weekly practice, which lasted almost without interruption, save in the summer, until March, 1885, or until within a few days of White’s death. It consisted of Mr. Meyer as first violin ; Mr. Chandler Wayland, second violin ; Mr. D. T. Wade, viola; and Mr. White, violoncello. With few exceptions, its meetings were on Thursday, and at Mr. White’s house. They afforded him the occupation in which he took his intensest delight and found his most satisfying resource. “ If any disappointment or vexation comes up during the day,” he used often to remark, “I think, Ah, well ! we shall have our quartette next I hursday; and peace comes back to me.”He was so urgent about punctuality that the other members usually arrived at the door at almost the same moment, eight o’clock exactly. Then music began promptly, for White had everything prearranged, with his customary method, and it continued until half past ten, when the company left as promptly as they came, well knowing that their host’s working hour had come ; for his writing was done almost wholly late at night. The programme of the evening was two quartettes, as a rule, beginning with a Haydn or a Mozart, and ending with one of the first six of Beethoven. Mozart was White’s favorite among composers ; a heaven-inspired and true musician, as he described him, with less of his own personality in his music than any other. He felt and admired the rugged power and grandeur of Beethoven, but to him they seemed to be more colored by the sadness of the life, and the irritable disposition and the physical defects of the man. White found never ceasing delight in the sunny cheerfulness of Haydn ; whose compositions, moreover, can be played with much facility by amateurs. His idea of Wagner was a little like the Frenchman’s, — that his music is still the music of the future. He respected Wagner’s ability and his scholarship, but mourned his lack of rhythm ; White’s fancy being more for the music of complete rhythm and cadences. The new fashions in music never took hold of him. He believed thoroughly in form and a rigidly conventionalized style, and therefore was altogether outside of the influence of Wagner.
Of course, the work of amateurs is trying to the patience. It must be gone over again and again, for it is always more or less tentative; but White’s patience and gentleness were inexhaustible. “Never mind, gentlemen,” he would say; “ it will go better next time.” When he enjoyed a passage especially, his countenance would take on a rapt expression, and he would be entirely unconscious of his surroundings. As a player, he was much above the average of amateur performers, though he had taken up the violoncello comparatively late in life. He had studied earnestly under the tuition of Frederick Bergner, the well-known violoncello virtuoso, and his knowledge of music was precise and extensive. Literature was his work, music his pleasure and his passion.
He was also fond of tinkering at musical instruments, and their history and mechanism had a curious interest for him. He had a workshop for their repair at his house. Here he delighted to tinker at violins. He would take them to pieces, to see whether, by some little alterations, he could not improve their tone; and when he was puzzled as to what to do, he would bring violin makers and experts into consultation, or would go to them himself with huge violoncellos in his arms. Hardly a day passed that he was not in their shops. They were his favorite resorts. It was amusing to see this tall and stately man taking the wounded parts of instruments in a big green violoncello case to a violin doctor on the Bowery ; gliding down side streets in ghostly fashion to escape observation. Everybody in New York who had anything to do with the making or repairing of violins knew Richard Grant White, and had an affection for him. It was a scene for a great picture to see him take a violin in his hands and study it intensely, to discover the secret of its tone-producing capacity. Usually, when the quartette sat down to play, he had by him his whole collection of five favorite violoncellos, and he changed from one to the other at different movements, with a view to studying and comparing the peculiar qualities of each. Among them were an Amati, a Bergonzi, and a Gagliano.
The meetings of the quartette continued until late in March, 1885 ; and White died on the 8th of the next month. He was not willing that they should cease because of his illness, but craved them all the more for that very reason. He played himself when the mark of death was already on his features. He sat by his much-beloved ’cello a gaunt and spectral figure, illumined by the vitality of his absorbing passion. The late Joseph W. Drexel was an equally enthusiastic violoncello performer, and he organized another string quartette of amateurs, which met at his house during part of the same period. When he, too, was mortally ill, a few years after, and death was close at hand, as his fellow-players could see by unmistakable signs, he was wheeled in by his servant to take his post at the ’cello. The great banker and the hard-worked man of letters each turned to music for comfort in his dying hours. Not the touch of death itself could chill that passion.
White’s correspondence with Mr. Chandler Wayland, who is a man of fortune and of affairs, was frequent; but it was of the most informal kind, consisting usually of brief reminders of the meetings of the quartette, perhaps with some humorous remark added, or a grateful acknowledgment of a courtesy extended. If the letter reached any length, it almost invariably concerned White’s hobby of tinkering violins. Here, for instance, is part of a letter written in May, 1883 : —
“ Of course you are curious to see, or rather to hear, the result of my manipulation of your fiddle; and so am I. But that sort of thing is not to be hurried. I shall, however, send you the fiddle in a day or two ; telling you nothing about it, and leaving you to discover what the change is, if any has been accomplished. I hope for the best, or at least for a betterment of the quaint, dainty old thing. We shall see.
“ You must, however, no longer call it your Amati, for its authorship has been discovered, positively and without the slightest doubt. You will rememher that I told you that it puzzled me ; but that I was sure it was an old Italian work, of the Cremona school, and more like that of the eldest Amati (Andreas) than that of any other maker known to me, but that the Nicolas Amati label was ridiculously out of place on it. Now it proves to be by Pamphilon, a maker little known, and whose violins are very rare. He is reckoned by some as an English maker, and by others as Italian ; the fact being, I think, that he was a Frenchman, who learned his trade with the Amatis at Cremona, whence he got the secret (or rather receipt, for it was no secret) of the varnish, and who, after making violins somewhere in Italy, went to London, and set up business on old London Bridge, when the bridge was really a cross-river street, with houses and shops on each side of it. He imitated Andreas Amati; and hence, you will see, my conclusion. Your violin was made about 1670 to 1680, and probably before he went to London. It is as surely by Pamphilon as my great ’cello is by Carlo Bergonzi, and as my pet ’cello is not by any one of the Amatis. Possess your soul (and your fiddle) in patience ; the question is settled.”
In a brief card written a few months afterwards, he says : “ I hear that Wiffen praises Tubbs [a violin maker] highly for the improvement in your fiddle. Don’t undeceive him.”
In August, 1880, writing to Mr. Wayland, who was then abroad, he gives his estimate of Adelina Patti in a very striking way : —
“ The pleasure of both of us was in the passage about the Scotch Sah-bath keepers ; their approval of the criticism of Adelina Patti. I have not heard Patti since I was a young fellow, and she was a little girl running about behind the scenes in short clothes, chirping and running roulades like a little canary bird. She and her elder sister (a swarthy hussy) had, as you say she has now, voices like a flute, with no more soul, no more vibration ; and their style was merely that of highly finished vocalism,—not the first indication of the grand style. This was the more remarkable as their mother was a great artist of the grand school, with a large and simple style, who would sing a grand cantabile or declamatory passage in a way that would lift you right out of your boots. I heard her sing Romeo in one of the old Italian operas. Phœbus, how she did make love ! and such legs ! I shall never forget it. These girls got their voices and their style from their father, a piping tenor named Patti, of course. When he got fat I called him Patti de foie gras, at which people laughed. The joke was afterwards stolen from me, and appropriated by a set of writers for the press of New York, who said that I was a surly, uncompanionable fellow, without any humor, which perhaps I am.
“ What you say about the tone of the violins in England is true, too. The tone is richer and fuller there. I am glad to see that you have been enjoying your trip. Europe is a great place, — great all over, and great in spots. Would that I might reasonably hope to see England again, and the Continent, which I have never seen ! ”
In the February before his death he writes : “ Do come to see a poor fellow. I have become imbecile, — feel like an invalid oyster, or a new-born baby feebly fumbling its way toward an individual consciousness.”
White’s correspondence was not great, and none of it consisted of the letters to friends which so many obliging persons of his standing compose for the benefit of their biographers, and to go down to history as a part of their literary remains. He made no preparation whatever for his biographer. He does not seem to have thought about that functionary at all. He left no papers concerning his personality. The views and opinions he had had to express for the public he had published himself. Few men of his distinction die leaving so little evidence of a desire to court posthumous fame. But his music and his violoncellos, his bows and the tools of his workshop as a violin mender, were watched and kept with loving care to the very end !
Richard Grant White was a man whose individuality stood out prominently among American writers, — a man of force and distinction. His literary style represents and expresses his true character in its virile strength and its simplicity and perspicuity. There is no affectation about it. It is the style of a writer who has no other aim than to make clear his thought and to elucidate his subject ; to inform and influence his reader rather than to display himself. If he put his personality forward, as he did sometimes under the provocation of criticism, it was done boldly and frankly, and not through literary trick and artifice.
He was also a thoroughly independent thinker; and he wrote invariably with a serious purpose, never for the mere exhibition of literary dexterity. His work has no trace of imitation in it ; his style is wholly his own, formed by his individuality and shaped and colored by the peculiarities of his own mind, not modeled after any other.
Francis P. Church.