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After Thomas Gray refused
the laureateship, it was passed to William Whitehead (1715-1785),
a poet who was more acceptable at court. Whitehead was a Fellow
of Clare College, Cambridge, a tutor to Lord Villiers, son of the
Earl of Jersey, and travelling tutor to Viscount Nuneham, son of
the Earl of Harcourt, who was Governor to the Prince of Wales (later
George III). While William Mason recommended that the writing of
the odes be farmed out, Whitehead was far more conscientious. For
some 28 years, he contented himself in writing the obligatory verse,
avoiding flattery and domestic politics, and bolstering Britain's
place in world affairs. Indeed, he was the first laureate to see
past court and party divisions and speak of the 'spirit of
England'. When Cibber died, Whitehead's Elegies (1757)
were circulating at one shilling each. On display is the first edition.
William Whitehead, Elegies. With an Ode to the Tiber. Written Abroad.
London: Printed for R. and J. Dodsley, 1757.
DeB. Ec 1757 W
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Whitehead had some status at
Drury Lane and was employed by David Garrick as a reader of plays.
One malcontent he faced was Oliver Goldsmith, who disagreed with
his decision on the play, The Good Natur'd Man. Whitehead's
major detractor was, however, the satirist Charles Churchill. Although
tough enough to weather Churchill's barbs, some of Whitehead's
later plays appeared anonymously. The Goat's Beard (1777)
was one of them.
William Whitehead, The Goat's Beard. A Fable. 2nd ed. London:
Printed for J. Dodsley, 1777.
DeB. Ec 1776 K