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The Scottish Nation

WHITEFOORD, CALEB, an eminent wit and satirical poet, was born at Edinburgh in 1734. He was the only son of Colonel Charles Whitefoord, 5th regiment of foot, third son of Sir Adam Whitefoord, an Ayrshire baronet. He completed his education at the university of his native city. His father intended him for the church, but to the clerical profession he entertained such strong objections, that the colonel was obliged to relinquish his design. He was in consequence sent to London, and placed in the counting-house of Mr. Archibald Stewart, a wine merchant in York Buildings, where he remained about four years. While in this situation his father died in Galway in Ireland, leaving the principal part of his fortune to him and his sister, Mrs. Smith. Shortly after, Mr. Whitefoord went to France, where he resided about two years, until he came of age. On his return to England he commenced business in the wine trade, in Craven Street, Strand, in partnership with a gentleman of the name of Brown. Possessing strong natural talents, with wit, learning, and taste, he was well fitted to shine as an author, but he had no ambition for literary distinction. All he seemed anxious about was to be admitted to the intercourse of such men as Johnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith, Garrick, Foote, and other choice spirits of that day. Having accidentally formed an acquaintance with Mr. Woodfall the printer, at the solicitation of that gentleman he became a frequent contributor of short satirical pieces, both in prose and verse, to the ‘Public Advertiser,’ which attracted considerable notice for their humour and singularity. So careless, however, was he about the reputation which they brought him, that, as soon as dismissed from his pen, he took no farther concern about them, but left them exposed and deserted, till Almond and Debrett sought after, and gave them a place in that appropriate asylum, ‘The Foundling Asylum for Wit.’ He was the originator of that humerous class of whimsical conceits and pleasantries, at one time so much in vogue, under the titles of Ship News Extraordinary, Cross Readings, Errors of the Press, &c., and of course had many imitators. The shafts of his ridicule were so happily directed against the petitions, remonstrances, and grievances of Wilkes, and the other levellers of the day, that they attracted the notice of the ministry, and he was requested by a person high in office to write a pamphlet on the subject of the misunderstanding which then subsisted betwixt Great Britain and Spain, relative to the Falkland Islands. He declined the task himself, but recommended Dr. Johnson as the ablest person for the purpose. The latter was accordingly employed, and soon after produced his celebrated publication, entitled ‘Thoughts on the late Transactions respecting Falkland Islands.’ Adam Smith used to say, that though the wits and authors heartily hated each other, they all had a regard for Mr. Whitefoord. Garrick and Foote had long been at variance, but Mr. Whitefoord contrived to bring them together to a dinner at his house, and so complete was the reconciliation between them, that Garrick actually lent Foote £500 to repair his theatre in the Haymarket.

When commissioners were appointed to meet at Paris to treat of a general peace with America, after the separation of the colonies from the mother country, Mr. Whitefoord’s intimacy with Mr. Oswald and Dr. Franklin led to his being selected for the post of secretary to the British commission. After the signature on November 30, 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, afterwards Lord St. Helen’s, the minister charged to negotiate the definitive treaties of peace. Three of these treaties are in the handwriting of Mr. Whitefoord. His services on this occasion entitled him to some recompense from government; but Lord Shelburne having resigned before his return from the continent, his claim was rejected by the Coalition administration; nor was it till seven years after that a small pension was granted to him by his majesty. So high was the opinion generally entertained of his literary and scientific acquirements, that the Royal Societies of London and Edinburgh, the Society of Antiquaries, the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, and the Arcadian Society of Rome, admitted him a member of their respective bodies. He died in 1809, aged 75. He married rather late in life, and left four children. He was a member of the Literary Club founded by Dr. Johnson, and his character is faithfully delineated by Goldsmith in his well-known poem entitled ‘The Retaliation.’

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