The radical voice
Not surprisingly, like many people who have radical new ideas, White found it very hard going battling against the vested interests of the establishment.
Newspapers were the mass media of White’s time, and controversy over his theories raged for years in the press – in some of the daily papers as well as the specialist musical and medical publications.
Not everyone was against him. There were well-respected medical authorities who were convinced by White’s evidence for his theory; but there were more who weren’t, despite the fact that, as one of White’s supporters pointed out, ‘his opponents who attempt to demolish his theories have nothing nearly so plausible to offer us instead’. The fight got pretty dirty, some of the opposition resorting to character assassination in the absence of any better arguments.
With hindsight, White may not have helped his cause by absolutely refusing to compromise any of his beliefs, and his general attitude of ‘If you’re not with me then you’re against me’ probably antagonized some people. On the other hand, his completely unshakeable belief that his theory was right must have been what kept him going when everything and everyone seemed to be against him.
White had started his life as very much a part of the Victorian musical establishment: a church musician, pupil at a well-respected London music school, and a teacher passing on the musical knowledge he himself had learnt. Now, because he had dared to publish the results of researches that challenged the accepted ‘truth’, he had become a subversive, shunned by the society he had once belonged to.
He was neither the first, not will he be the last, original thinker to suffer in this way, but it must have hurt him to read in the press that he was thought a ‘crack-brain’.
Perhaps even more painful was that in the end he was simply ignored by those who did not, or simply could not, believe he was right.
In one attempt to prove his methods to the establishment he offered to teach for a year (free) three singing students who had failed their exams at London’s Royal College of Music, and to have them examined again at the end of the year by independent judges to see whether they were still failures. Because White himself was open-minded and believed the most important thing was to find out the truth, he rather naively thought that the Royal College would be equally open-minded about putting his methods to the test and would judge him on his results with the students. In fact the Principal of the Royal College simply refused even to discuss White’s offer.
What did the public think?