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Alfred H. Miles, ed. The Sacred Poets of the Nineteenth Century. 1907.

By Critical and Biographical Essay by Alfred H. Miles

Joseph Blanco White (1775–1839)

ECCENTRICITIES of inspiration, which sometimes result in productions that may almost be called fortuitous, occur in poetry as in other departments of art; and single poems, like single speeches and single pictures, sometimes baffle all accounting for. Of such the famous sonnet “To Night,” by Joseph Blanco White, is perhaps the most striking example.

Joseph Blanco White (1775–1839) was born at Seville, in the year 1775, of Irish parents. He published “Letters from Spain” (1822), “Practical and Internal Evidence against Catholicism” (1825), and other works of theological polemics. He also translated into Spanish the “Evidences” of Porteus and Paley, “The Book of Common Prayer,” and some of the “Homilies,” and at one time edited the London Review. He wrote little verse, and, with the exception of the sonnet on Night and Death, none that calls for remark. This sonnet Coleridge characterised as “the finest and most greatly conceived sonnet in our language”; and Leigh Hunt declared that for thought it “stands supreme perhaps above all in any language, nor can we ponder it too deeply or with too hopeful a reverence.” As Mr. Sharp pointed out in his “Sonnets of the Century,” quite a Bianco-White literature has grown up round this sonnet, further particulars concerning which may be found in Main’s “Treasury of English Sonnets.”