William's Obituary in The Times, 17 Mar 1913
We regret to record the death of Mr. William Hale White ("Mark Rutherford"), which occurred on Friday at Groombridge.
Twenty years ago, while the books which bore the name of "Mark Rutherford" on their title-page were being widely read and discussed, few people knew that the author's real name was William Hale White. The employment of a pseudonym, and sometimes of two (for some of "Mark Rutherford's" work was "edited by his friend Reuben Shapcott") was sufficient to prove a retiring disposition, and Mr. Hale White was little before the world in person.
He was born at Bedford in 1829. His father, William White, was a printer and bookseller in that town, a village preacher, a Sunday school teacher, and a trustee of the famous Bunyan Meeting, then called the Old Meeting; a keen Liberal politician, and an orator of great power and persuasion. In 1848 his son, William Hale White, joined the Bunyan Meeting, and in the same year was approved as a future minister, and sent to Cheshunt College for training. From Cheshunt he passed in the following year to Kew College, St. John's Wood. His career there was brief. In 1851 he and two other students fell under suspicion of heresy on the subject of the inspiration of the Bible, and he was expelled, His father hoped that Mr. John Jukes, then minister of the Bunyan Meeting at Bedford, would take up the defence but hoped in vain, William Hale White gave up all idea of the ministry, and the family broke its connexion with the Bunyan Meeting. The story, slightly disguised, is told in the most autobiographical of "Mark Rutherford's" novels, "The Revolution in Tanner's Lane," where his father appears as Isaac Allen, and Mr. Jukes, in a portrait none too flattering, as the Reverend John Broad.
William White, the father, seems to have been an able man who had worked his way up. His son wrote of him many years later as "a compositor in a dingy printing office," who "repeated verses from 'Childe Harold' at the case"; and the love of Byron (which we find transferred to the Zachariah Coleman, of "Tanner's Lane") descended to his son. But he does not seem to have been a. successful man in business. He gave up printing and stationery and started a tannery. Later (owing, it has been hinted, to the interest of the Bedford family, who, while admiring his ability, found him a thorn in the flesh) he became doorkeeper to the House of Commons. Here his remarkable gifts were recognized by John Bright, Disraeli, and many other members, who used frequently to find their way to him for a talk. Some papers on the House, which he wrote for the Illustrated Times, were collected many years afterwards by Mr. Fisher Unwin, the friend and the chief publisher of his son, and issued under the title of "The Inner Life of the House of Commons."
The life of his son, the subject of this memoir, was less eventful the ministry being closed to him, he became a hack writer. He contributed articles to the "Imperial Dictionary of Universal Biography," among which his life of Franklin is especially good, For many years he practised journalism, supplying weekly letters to provincial papers; and a connexion with John Chapman, the remarkable editor of the Westminster Review, brought him acquainted with Chapman's assistant editor, George Eliot, among whose circle of friends he moved. His earliest separate publication was a letter to George Jacob Holyoake on Parliamentary Reform. Meanwhile he had obtained a post in the Admiralty, rising at last to that of Assistant Director of Contracts; and, as his improving means allowed him, he gave up journalism and began to write his books. He lived, first, at Carshalton, and later at Hastings, and at Groombridge, Kent. He married, and by his first wife became the father of Dr. William Hale White, the well-known physician. A few years ago he married Dorothy, daughter of Mr. Horace Smith, the metropolitan magistrate.
Of his love for Byron we have spoken. Carlyle to whom he wrote a boyish letter about himself and "Latter Day Pamphlets" in 1850, and Ruskin, who is said to have incorporated White's own description of his house in the original edition of "Fors Clavigera," were also among his admired authors. But there is little of any of them in his own work. The individuality of that work may help to explain why the public that knew it was comparatively small and intensely enthusiastic. H. D. Traill was one of the first to see its merits; Mr. W. D. Howells wrote that it marked a new era in fiction; there are those who acclaim "Mark Rutherford" as greater than Meredith. The books that have won such opinions are these :- "The Autobiography of Mark Rutherford" (1881); "Mark Rutherford's Deliverance" (1880); "The Revolution in Tanner's Lane" (1887); "Miriam's Schooling and other papers" (1890): "Catherine Furze" (1894); and "Clare Hopgood" (1896). In point of construction none of them are strong, and their pure and graceful diction must have been old-fashioned when they were written; but what we might call their idea-plot - the development of the ideas which underlie the action-is always complete and shapely; the characterization is at once a cute and profound, implying an eye that noticed details and a mind which saw deep into the workings of the human heart and spirit; and the reader who is surprised at the omission of an apparently important episode will always find on reflection that he and not the author has misjudged its importance. There are certain subjects on which "Mark Rutherford" writes peculiarly well; of Dissent, past and present, and particularly of Calvinism, which he admired though he could not accept it (it has been well said of him that he had "an intimate knowledge of orthodoxy and a warm sympathy for heretics"); of mean, trivial, and malignant women, and the tortures they inflict on their husbands; of the lower middle class; of the tyranny of conscience; of country life in the "hungry forties," and of the misery of diffidence and self-distrust. He has an extraordinary knowledge of loneliness and depression, and of self-deception and humbug; and, for all the primness of his manner, he has said some things about religion and love which have startled more than the Dissenters who formed his first and perhaps his chief public. And a prominent quality in him is his pity for the poor and oppressed, for the lonely and the sensitive, for the unhappily married - for all the world, indeed, except hypocrites and landlords. All his life he was a Radical and something of a rebel; and it seems as if in the Bedford of his boyhood (the period of which he liked best to write) his mind must have taken a. certain cast which it retained through all its later developments.
Next to his novels he is best known by a translation of "Spinoza's Ethic." which he made with Amelia. Hutchinson Stirling, by his "Life of Bunyan" and by his "Pages from a Journal." This collection of essays, stories, notes, and criticisms, to which a new volume was added recently, show many sides of the author's mind and add much to the revelation of it that can be had from the novels. He wrote also an able "Examination of the Charge of Apostasy against Wordsworth," a description of Mr. T. Norton Longman's collections of Wordsworth and Coleridge manuscripts, and a preface to his own selections from Johnson's Rambler.