White was born in Bedford. His father, William White, a member of the Nonconformist community of the Bunyan Meeting, became well known as a doorkeeper at the House of Commons and wrote sketches of parliamentary life for the Illustrated Times.
White himself was educated at Bedford Modern School until the family moved to London. There he was trained for the Congregational ministry, but the development of his views prevented his taking up that career; the same unconventional views got him expelled from New College, London,
He had served an apprenticeship to journalism before he made his name, or rather his pen name, "Mark Rutherford", famous with three novels.
Under his own name White translated Spinoza's Ethics (1883). His later books include Miriam's Schooling, and Other Papers (1890), Catherine Furze (2 vols, 1893), Clara Hopgood (1896), Pages from a Journal, with Other Papers (1900), and John Bunyan (1905).
There is now a Mark Rutherford School in Bedford and a blue plaque commemorates White at 19 Park Hill in Carshalton