Richard Grant White

Richard Grant White (May 23, 1822 – April 8, 1885)[1] was one of the foremost literary and musical critics of his day. He was also a prominent Shakespearean scholar, journalist, social critic, and lawyer, who was born and died in New York City.[2]

Richard Grant White
Photograph of White by Mathew Brady, c. 1865
Born(1822-05-23)May 23, 1822
DiedApril 8, 1885(1885-04-08) (aged 62)
New York City, New York, U.S.
EducationColumbia Grammar School
Alma materBristol College
New York University
Alexina Black Maese
(m. 1850)
ChildrenRichard M. White
Stanford White
Parent(s)Richard Mansfield White
Ann Eliza Tousey
RelativesFrances Elizabeth Barrow (sister-in-law)

Early life

White was born on May 23, 1822 in New York City. He was born to Richard Mansfield White (1797–1849) and Ann Eliza (née Tousey)[lower-alpha 1] White (1802–1842),[3] and was eight in descent from John White, a puritan who was one of the founders of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut.[1] His father, a shipping and commission merchant, was from a wealthy old New England family that lived in New York City.[4] The elder White also served as secretary of the Allaire Iron Works company.[5]

His father was the second son of the Rev. Calvin White (b. 1762),[lower-alpha 2] who was successively a Congregational, Presbyterian, and Episcopalian minister who became a Roman Catholic in 1821.[7] His grandfather Calvin, who served as rector of Christ’s Church in Middletown, Connecticut, was first married to Phebe Camp and secondly to Jane Mardenbrough.[8][6]

White prepared for college at Dr. Muhlenberg's Institute in Flushing on Long Island and Columbia Grammar School.[1] He attended Bristol College in Pennsylvania from 1835 to 1837, and University of the City of New York (now known as New York University) beginning in 1837 and graduating with A.B. in 1839.[9] He distinguished himself as a scholar of letters and mathematics and was the orator and Grand Marshal at Commencement. He later received a M.A. from New York University as well.[3]


He studied medicine, with Dr. Alfred C. Post, and law, with Judge Woodruff, and was admitted to the Bar in 1845.[1][3] White, who was brought up as a patrician New Yorker, expected to receive a sizable inheritance from his father. The inheritance never materialized as his father was forced into bankruptcy and died in poverty in 1849 when his business was ruined by the advent of steam-powered shipping.[4]

With no inheritance allowing a life of leisure, White worked as a lawyer and became one of the foremost literary and musical critics of his day. He had a distinguished career in journalism and literature as an editorial writer and musical critic for The Courier and Enquirer, continuing when it merged into The New York World. He wrote many books and articles for the leading American magazines, and contributed to Appleton's and Johnson's Cyclopedias. Words and Their Uses was one of his most noted books.[3] White also authored several prominent national hymns.[10] In an editorial in The New York Times after his death, it was written:[11]

"By the death of Mr. Richard Grant White American literature loses an interesting writer and a variously accomplished man. Mr. White's Shakespearean studies are, perhaps, the most satisfactory results of his scholarship; more so, certainly, than his labors in verbal criticism. In these latter an extreme sensitiveness led him to regard every difference of opinion as almost a personal offense, and by reason of this peculiarity of temper his abilities were rated by the reading public less highly than they really deserved."[11]

While White wrote on a wide range of subjects, his essay "The Public-School Failure" from December 1880 that established him as a prominent and controversial social critic.[lower-alpha 3][12][13] His essay prompted several responses,[14][15] including from The New York Times which wrote in February 1881, "It is a libel, pure and simple, made up of an exaggerated statement of some of the poorest results contained in the report with some touches of false coloring. Mr. Whites conclusions on the first count are, therefore, vitiated. His argument that the theory of public schools is false is a 'medley of fallacies.'"[16]

Upon the outbreak of the U.S. Civil War, White became the chief of the United States Revenue-Marine (which later became the United States Coast Guard), an armed customs enforcement service, in New York.[4] He served in this role from 1861 to 1878.[9]

Shakespeare works

As one of the most acute students and critics of Shakespeare, White's scholarship was recognized and praised by scholars not just in the United States but in England, France, and Germany.[1] He published two editions of Shakespeare's works and other works, including Essay on the Authorship of the Three Parts of Henry VI (1859), and Riverside Shakespeare (1883 and 1901):[17] and "Shakespeare's Scholar". He also wrote books on subjects, such as 'Revelations: A Companion to the New Gospel of Peace " and a civil war satire, "The New Gospel of Peace, According to St. Benjamin". He was a vice-president of the New Shakespeare Society of London, England and edited a twelve-volume edition of Shakespeare from 1857 to 1865.

Personal life

On October 16, 1850, he was married to Alexina Black Maese (1830–1921), the daughter of Charles Bruton Mease and Sarah Matilda (née Graham) Mease, a Charleston family who was then living in New York.[4] At the time of their wedding, both the bride and groom were painted by Daniel Huntington.[4] In 1860, they were temporarily living at Ravenswood in Long Island.[5] They had two children:[3]

White owned a violoncello now part of the collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts.[20]

White died of pneumonia at his home on 330 East 17th Street in New York City on April 5, 1885.[21][1] After a funeral at St. Mark's Church, he was buried at Rosedale Cemetery in Orange, New Jersey.[22]

Published works

On Shakespeare
  • Memoirs of Shakespeare
  • Studies in Shakespeare
  • Shakespeare's Scholar (1854)
  • Essay on the Authorship of the Three Parts of Henry VI (1859)
  • Riverside Shakespeare (1883 and 1901)
Other topics
  • The New Gospel of Peace by St. Benjamin (pseudonym used by White) (1866). A satire of the civil war written in biblical language.[2]
  • Words and their Uses (1870)
  • Life of Pauline Markham (c. 1871), with Pauline Markham
  • England Without and Within (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co. 1881; London: Sampson Low & Co., 1881)[23]
  • The Fate of Mansfield Humphreys (1884), a novel
  • Recent exemplifications of False Philology with contributions by Richard Grant White / by Fitzedward Hall. (This was a critique of Words and their uses.)[24]


  1. White's mother's maiden name was either Tousey or Towsey.
  2. His great-grandfather was Moses White, himself the eldest son of Deacon Isaac White, who was born in Upper Middletown in 1727 and was a hatter by trade who married Huldah Knowles of Hartford, Connecticut in 1749.[6]
  3. White relies in part on Zachariah Montgomery's book, The Poison Fountain for some arguments against public education.
    1. "Obituary | Richard Grant White". The New York Times. April 9, 1885. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    2. A Library of American Literature from the Earliest Settlement to the Present Time Vol. VIII: "Literature of the Republic Part III—Continued, 1835–1860", Edmund Clarence Stedman and Ellen Mackay Hutchison, 1889, pp. 3–19 (Google Books)
    3. Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence; MacCracken, Henry Mitchell; Sihler, E. G. (Ernest Gottlieb); Johnson, Willis Fletcher (1901). New York University; Its History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics, with Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Founders, Benefactors, Officers and Alumni;. Boston, MA: R. Herndon Company. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    4. Broderick, Mosette (2010). Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White: Art, Architecture, Scandal, and Class in America's Gilded Age. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. p. 61. ISBN 9780307594273. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    5. Kellogg, Allyn Stanley (1860). Memorials of Elder John White. Higginson Book Company. pp. 220, 272. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    6. White, Andrew Curtis (1892). Memorials of Roderick White and His Wife, Lucy Blakeslee of Paris Hill, N.Y., with Some Account of Their American Ancestors and a Complete Record of Their Descendants. White Family. p. 8. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    7. Archives, Episcopal Church General Convention Commission on; Hobart, J. H. (1804). Archives of the General Convention. Privately printed. p. 323. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    8. Baldwin, Charles C. (2012). Stanford White. Springer Science & Business Media. p. 15. ISBN 9781468462227. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    9. "Guide to the Richard Grant White Papers 1838-1921 MS 692". New York University. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    10. Garnett, Richard; Vallée, Léon; Brandl, Alois (1899). The Universal Anthology: A Collection of the Best Literature, Ancient, Mediaeval and Modern, with Biographical and Explanatory Notes. Clarke Company, Limited. p. 223. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    11. "Editorial Article 7 -- No Title". The New York Times. April 9, 1885. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    12. Rennick, Michael; Weiss, Robert M. "TCRecord: Article". Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    13. White, Richard Grant (December 1880). "The Public-School Failure". The North American Review. 131 (289): 537–551. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    14. Shinn, Charles (January 1881). "Our Public Schools". The Pacific School and Home Journal. 5. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    15. Philbrick, John D. (March 1881). "The Success of the Free-School System". The North American Review. 132 (292): 249–263. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    16. "THE MARCH MAGAZINES.; THE NORTH AMERICAN REVIEW". The New York Times. February 19, 1881. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    17.  "White, Richard White". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). 1911. p. 601.
    18. "THAW MURDERS STANFORD WHITE; Shoots Him on the Madison Square Garden Roof. ABOUT EVELYN NESBIT". The New York Times. June 26, 1906. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    19. "Benjamin Thaw Too Ill to be Told of His Brother's Crime". New York Times. June 26, 1906. Retrieved October 9, 2010. Social and financial circles in Pittsburg were greatly shocked to-night by the news from New York that Harry K. Thaw had shot and killed Stanford White. The Thaws have for years been social leaders here. Harry Kendall Thaw, the husband of Florence Evelyn Nesbit, over whom Thaw and White are said to have quarreled, has for some years been the black sheep of the Thaw family.
    20. Museum of Fine Arts, Provenance for Violoncello in their collection, Until 1885, Richard Grant White (1822–1885); by descent to his son, Stanford White, architect of the American Renaissance; by descent to his grandson, Frederic Lawrence Peter White; July 15, 1991, gift of Frederic Lawrence Peter White to Tobias Swift White; gift of Tobias Swift White in memory of Frederick Lawrence Peter White to the MFA. (Accession Date: February 24, 2010)
    21. "Richard Grant White's Illness". The New York Times. March 3, 1885. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    22. "Funeral of Richard Grant White". The New York Times. April 11, 1885. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
    23. The book is "one of the most veracious and vivid pictures of English life ever drawn by an outsider" (The Spectator, Aug. 13, 1881, p. 1052). Other favorable reviews in English publications include a notice in The Athenaeum (Aug. 13, 1881, p. 205) and Grant Allen in The Academy (Aug. 27, 1881, pp. 153-4).
    24. New York Times article February 26, 1873
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