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Guide to the Richard Grant White Papers
1838-1921
  MS 692

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400


@ 2011 New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by library staff. Finding aid by Christine George.

This finding aid was produced using the Archivists' Toolkit on November 04, 2011
Finding Aid is written in English.
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Biographical Note

Dates of Note
May 23, 1821 White was born in New York City
1839 White graduated from the University of the City of New York (now known as New York University)
1845 White was admitted to the bar
October 16, 1850 White married Alexina Black Mease
December 25, 1851 Son Richard Mansfield White was born
1853 White wrote a criticism of John Payne Collier’s “found” Shakespeare folio manuscript that was published in Putman’s Magazine. The folio is now understood to be a forgery
November 9, 1853 Son Stanford White, famous architect and murder victim from “The Trial of the Century,” was born
1854 Shakespeare’s Scholar, which included his 1853  Putman’s Magazine article was published
1860 White became staff member of the New York World
c.1861-c.1865 Wrote to the British newspaper the Spector as “A Yankee”
1861-1878 White was chief of the United States Revenue Marine in New York
1866 The New Gospel of Peace by St. Benjamin, which was a critique of “Copperheads,” was published
1870 Words and their Uses was published
April 8, 1885 White died in New York City

Richard Grant White, the famous writer and social critic, was born on May 23, 1821 in New York City to Richard Mansfield White (1797-1842) and Ann Eliza Toucey (1802-1842). White’s grandfather was Calvin White, rector of Christ’s Church in Middletown, Connecticut. The Whites had four other children: Marion White Williams (1823-1900), Ann Eliza White (1831-1849), Charles Mellvaine White (1834-1842), and Augusta White (b. 1838).

When White graduated from the University of the City of New York (now New York University) in 1839, he had no intention to become a writer. White first began studying medicine and then law. He was admitted to the bar in 1845. After White’s father died, he had to support two sisters and turned to writing. He was hired as a music critic for the Courier and Enquirer.

On October 16, 1850, White married Alexina Black Mease (b. 1802). They had two children: Richard Mansfield White in 1851 and Stanford White in 1853, the famous playboy architect who was also equally famous for his murder in 1906 and the ensuing “Trial of Century.”

White's writing eventually moved on to other topics, such as copyright in Great Britain and the United States, the public school system, the English language, and Civil War politics. As important as all of those writings were, perhaps what White was most known for was his work with Shakespeare.

White’s reputation as one of the preeminent Shakespeare scholars began when he published a criticism of Collier’s folio, a Shakespeare forgery, in Putman’s Magazine in 1853. White went on to publish extensively on Shakespeare, including the book  Shakespeare’s Scholar, which was published in 1854 and contained his article from 1853. White was one of the vice presidents of the New Shakespeare Society of London.

When the Civil War broke out in the United States, White sprang to action. He became the chief of the United States Revenue Marine in New York in 1861, a position he held until 1878. The U.S. Revenue Marine (which would later be turned into the U.S. Coast Guard) was formed in August 1790 as a way to enforce federal trade and tariff laws and combat smuggling. During the Civil War, the Revenue Marine assisted the U.S. Navy. White also wrote articles about the Civil War that were published in the Spector under the pseudonym “A Yankee” that helped shape British opinion of the war. In the United States, White was critical of the group known as “Copperheads.” Copperheads were Northerners who were against the Civil War and wanted a quick and speedy resolution with the South. His criticisms were readily apparent in his work,  New Gospel of Peace by St. Benjamin.

Throughout his life, White was interested in music. Later in life he became an expert in violin construction and was considered an excellent cello player. White’s obituary makes reference to how he would invite three other string players over to his house a couple times a week so that he could play in a string quartet. Richard Grant White died in New York City on April 8, 1885.

Sources:

Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence, et al, New York University: It’s History, Influence, Equipment and Characteristics with Biographical Sketches and Portraits of Founders, Benefactors, Officers and Alumni (Boston: R. Herndon Company, 1901), http://www.archive.org/stream/cu31924092721939/cu31924092721939_djvu.txt.

“Obituary: Richard Grant White,” NY Times, April 9, 1885, http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=F2061EF93B5411738DDDA00894DC405B8584F0D3.