The most remarkable incidents in Hayley's Life are to be collected from his Memoirs of himself, edited by his friend the Rev. Dr. Johnson, better known as the favourite kinsman of Cowper. The Memoirs, though somewhat more copious than many readers might have wished them, are yet far from being devoid of entertainment to the lovers of literary biography.
William Hayley was born at Chichester, on the 29th of October, 1745. His father was a private gentleman, son of one Dean of Chichester, and nephew to another. Having enriched himself by an union with the daughter of an opulent merchant, who died without leaving him any children, he married for his second wife, Mary, a daughter of Colonel Yates, a representative in Parliament for the city of Chichester, the mother of the poet.
His father dying when he was three years old, and his only brother soon after, William became the sole care of a discreet and affectionate woman. A similar lot will be found to have influenced the earlier years of many who have been most distinguished for their virtues or abilities in after life. He was taught to read by three sisters of the name of Russell, who kept a girls' school at Chichester; and pleased himself by relating that, when in his 63rd year, he presented to one of them, who still continued in the same employment with her faculties unimpaired, a recent edition of his Triumphs of Temper. His first instructor in the learned languages was a master in the same city, who appeared to be so incompetent to the task he had undertaken, that Mrs. Hayley removed her son to the school of a Mr. Woodeson, at Kingston. He had hot been long here, when he was seized with a violent fit of illness, which obliged: his mother, who had now fixed her residence in London, to take him home, after having nursed him for some weeks at Kingston, with little hopes of life. Of the anxiety with which she watched over him, he has left the following pathetic memorial in his Essay on Epic Poetry.
Thou tender saint, to whom he owes much more
Than ever child to parent owed before,
In life's first season, when the fever's flame
Shrunk to deformity his shrivel'd frame,
And turn'd each fairer image in his brain
To blank confusion and her crazy train,
'Twas thine, with constant love, through lingering years,
To bathe thy idiot orphan with thy tears;
Day after day, and night succeeding night,
To turn incessant to the hideous sight,
And frequent watch, if haply at thy view
Departed reason might not dawn anew;
The first sign he gave of returning intellect, was an exclamation on seeing a hare run across the road as they were taking an airing in Richmond park. On his recovery, his mother provided him a private tutor in Greek and Latin, of the name of Ayles, formerly a fellow of King's College, Cambridge; while she herself, and his nurse, a faithful servant in the family for more than fifty years, encouraged his early propensity for English literature; the former by reading to him and the other by making him recite passages out of tragedies, of which the good woman was passionately fond.
In August, 1757, his mother placed him at Eton where he remained about six years, at the end of which time he was removed to Trinity Hall, Cambridge. Like many others, he acknowledges the illusion of considering our school-boy days as the happiest of life. The infirmities, which his sickness had brought on, made him extremely sensible to the jibes and rough treatment of the bigger boys, and the accidental neglect of a Greek lesson exposed him to a flogging which he never quite forgave. One of his tutors at Eton was Dr. Roberts, author of Judah Restored, a poem, in which the numbers of the Paradise Lost are happily imitated. By him, the young scholar was confirmed in that love of composing verse which he could trace back to his ninth year. There is little promise in the specimens he gives of his earlier attempts. His English ode on the birth of the present King, inserted in the Cambridge collection, is an indifferent performance, even for a boy. At the university, he describes himself to have studied diligently, to have given many of his hours to drawing and painting, and to have formed friendships which were dissolved only by death. On Thornton, a member of the same hall, the most favoured of these associates, whom he lost when a young man, he wrote an elegy, which is one of the best of his works. With him he improved himself in the Spanish and Italian languages, the latter of which they studied under Isola, a teacher at Cambridge, afterwards creditably known by an edition of the Gerusalemme Liberata. Hayley entered his name at the Middle Temple on the 13th of June, 1766, and in the following year quitted Cambridge without a degree. He now made some ineffectual attempts towards fixing his choice of a profession in life; but at last poetry, and especially the drama, were suffered to engross him. In October, 1769, he married Eliza, the daughter of Dr. Ball, Dean of Chichester. This lady had been the confidant of his attachment to another. The match was on his part entered on rather from disappointment than love; and was made contrary to the advice of his surviving parent, who represented to him the danger there was lest his wife should inherit an incurable insanity under which her mother long laboured. Many years after, he put her away, fancying himself no longer able to endure a waywardness of temper, which, as he thought, amounted nearly to the calamity that had been apprehended. In the summer of 1774, he retired with his wife and mother from Great Queen-street, where they had hitherto resided, to his paternal estate at Eartham in Sussex; but in the ensuing winter his mother went back to London for medical advice and there died.
He had endeavoured, but in vain, to bring several of his tragedies on the stage. Garrick, with some hollow compliments, rejected one, called the Afflicted Father, of which the story appears to have been too shocking for representation. It was that a father had supplied his son, under sentence of death, with poison, and when too late found that he was pardoned. Another called the Syrian Queen, which he had imitated from the Rodogune of Corneille, was refused with more sincerity by Colman. A third met no better reception from Harris. "Persuaded," as he says, "by his own sensations that he had a considerable portion of native poetic fire in his mind, he resolved to display it in a composition less subject to the caprice of managers, yet more arduous in its execution. In short, he determined to begin an epic poem." He chose for his subject the extorting of Magna Charta from King John. The death of his friend Thornton in 1780, who had watched the progress of this essay with much solicitude for its success, chiefly induced him to relinquish a design, which was in truth ill fitted to his powers. In the Essay on Epic Poetry, he recommended it to Mason, who was not much better able to accomplish it than himself. I am unwilling to detain my reader by an account of the numerous poems, which he either did not complete or did not commit to the press. His unpublished verses, as he told me a few years before his death, amounted to six times the number of those in print.
His first publication was the Epistle on Painting to Romney, in 1778. The two next in the following year were anonymous, the one A Congratulatory Epistle to Admiral Keppel on his Acquittal; the other An Essay on the Ancient Greek Model (as he called it) to Bishop Lowth, remonstrating against the contention which the bishop had entered into with Warburton, and which he thought unworthy so excellent a prelate. In 1780, he produced besides the Verses on the death of Mr. Thornton, an Ode to Howard, and the Epistles on History addressed to Gibbon, which gained him the intimacy of the historian and the philanthropist. The success of these works encouraged him to project the Triumphs of Temper, the most popular of all his poems, which he published in 1781. The next year saw the publication of his Essay on Epic Poetry; in the notes to which he introduced much information on the poetry of Italy and Spain, then less known among us than at present; and he endeavoured to rouse the spirits of Wright the painter at Derby, by an ode, which was printed for private circulation. In 1784, he published a volume of plays, consisting of tragedies and comedies, the latter of which were in rhyme. The gratification of seeing his dramas represented on the stage, which he had before solicited in vain, was now offered by Colman, who proposed through the author's bookseller to bring out a tragedy and comedy, Lord Russell, and The Two Connoisseurs, at the Haymarket. "A comedy in rhyme," the manager observed, "was a bold attempt; but when so well executed as in the present instance, he thought, would be received with favour, especially on a stage of a genius somewhat similar to that of a private theatre for which it was professedly written." Both tragedy and comedy were well received, but with so little emolument to the poet, that he had to pay for his own seat at the representation. Marcella, the other tragedy, was also acted, in 1789, when it was condemned at one house, and in three nights after applauded at the other. The author accounted for this whimsical change of fortune by supposing the piece to have been played only on a few hours' preparation by the manager at Drury-Lane, in order to get the start of Harris and prevent his success by having the play damned before it appeared on his theatre.
Hayley was, however, now in great favour with the public; the first edition of his plays was sold in a fortnight; and through the intervention of his friend Thomas Payne, the bookseller, he re-purchased for £500 from Dodsley the copyright of all he had written. It would have been well if his poetical career had closed here; for whatever he did afterwards in this way met either with disregard or contempt. Such was the fate of a Poem on the Anniversary of the Revolution in 1788; of an imitation of a German opera, called the Trial of the Rovers, which he sold to Harris for £100. but which failed at Covent-Garden in 1789; of Eudora, a tragedy, acted with no better success in 1790; of the National Advocates, intended to commemorate the triumph of Erskine in his defence of Horne Tooke in 1795; of an Elegy on Sir William Jones in the same year; of an Essay on Sculpture in 1800; of Ballads on Animals, the most empty of his productions that I have seen, in 1802; of the Triumphs of Music in 1804; of Stanzas to the Patriots in Spain in 1808; and of another volume of plays in 1811.
Yet he still continued to secure to himself some share of attention by several works in prose. In the Essay on Old Maids, published in 1786, there is an agreeable combination of learning, sprightliness, and arch humour. He now and then approaches to irreverence on sacred subjects, but, as I am persuaded without any ill intention; the dedication of the book to Mrs. Carter gave much offense to that lady. His Dialogues on Johnson and Chesterfield, in 1787, contrast the character of these writers in a lively manner and with some power of discrimination, but the partiality of the author is very evident. He had himself "sacrificed" too successfully to the Graces to be a fair umpire between the rough scholar and the polished nobleman. The Young Widow, or the History of Cornelia Sedley, a novel, was published without his name (as the last-mentioned two books had also been) in 1789. For this he received £200 from Mr. Nichols. The purchaser found his bargain a hard one: for the novel had little to recommend it, being deficient in probability of incident and character. He made up for the loss by presenting his bookseller with another anonymous work entitled the Eulogies of Howard, a Vision, in prose. His Life of Milton, was intended for an edition of the poet to be published by Nichols the King's printer; but an abridgement of it only was employed in 1794, for the purpose, some passages being not thought courtly enough for the royal eye. He afterwards published it without mutilation. The design of this work, to which he devoted two years of diligent application, was to vindicate Milton from the asperity of Johnson — a task, which according to the general opinion, has since been more ably executed by Doctor Symmons. He had, however, reason to be satisfied with this undertaking, as it led to an acquaintance and friendship with Cowper, who was at the same time engaged in writing notes to Milton. Eight years after, it fell to his lot to write a Life of Cowper himself. This proved to him the most lucrative of all his literary engagements; but its success was owing principally not to the narrative but to the private letters of Cowper which accompanied them. Of the Life and Letters he added another volume in 1804; and in 1809 wrote the Life of Romney, which, having no such attraction, did not recommend itself to the public notice.
From the time that he left London, in 1774, till his death, a period of 46 years, he was seldom long absent from his home, first at Eartham, and afterwards at Felpham, a pleasant village on the seashore, distant only a few miles from his former residence. Cowper, who visited him at Eartham, in 1792, speaks of the house as "the most elegant mansion he had ever inhabited, surrounded by the most delightful pleasure grounds he had ever seen," and observes "he had no conception that a poet could be the owner of such a paradise." The house was built, and the pleasure grounds laid out by himself. Here I saw him in the next summer but one after Cowper's visit. His habits appeared to me such as they were long afterwards described by Mrs. Opie — those of extreme retirement, of abstemiousness, and of family devotion. He was at that time employed on his Life of Milton, and in educating his son, a promising boy, who under the age of fourteen, had began to translate the Epistles of Horace into tolerable blank verse. On accompanying me the next morning out of "Paradise," the lad spoke to me with some sorrow of his father's refusal to let him "join a pack of hounds in the neighbourhood." He died in his 20th year, a victim probably to the secluded life and the studious habits to which his parent had so early devoted him. His mother, a servant in the family, as I was told by Anna Seward, declared him to be the son of a young orphan, named Howell, who having been benevolently received by Hayley into his house, and through his means promoted in the military service of the East India Company, soon after perished by shipwreck. But the features of the boy told a different story and one more consonant to that of the poet, by whom he was always acknowledged for his son. He was, for some time the pupil of Mr. Flaxman, who augured highly of his abilities, and who, if the young man had lived, would certainly have done all that could be done by example and instruction to render him illustrious in his art and respectable as a man.
Considering his independence on any profession, the ease of his manners, his talents for conversation, and his knowledge of modern languages, it may be wondered that Hayley did not mix more in society, or visit other countries besides his own. Once, indeed, when a young man he made an excursion to Scotland; and, in the summer of 1790, passed three weeks at Paris with his friends, Carwardine and Romney, from whence, much to the scandal of the neighbourhood, he brought back a French governess for his son. Mrs. Hayley had then left him, or rather had been gently forced out of his house; and, afterwards when she begged for leave to return, was denied it. From his own account of the matter, and from the letters that passed between them, some of which he has published in his Memoirs, it is difficult to acquit him of blame, and not to wish that he had endured with more patience the foibles of a woman, who, though irreproachable in her own conduct, was more indulgent than she need have been to his frailties. He appears, however, to have been anxious for her happiness after they were separated. She died in London in 1797, and received from her husband, the empty honours of a funeral sermon and an epitaph. He was loth to quit his home except on some errand of friendship, when he was ever ready to run to the Land's End. I remember his quoting to me the following line out of Aeschylus, on the advantage of a master's presence in his own family [Greek characters].
He seems to have taken delight in the instruction of youth; besides his own boy, he undertook to educate gratuitously two sons of his friend, Mr. Carwardine, and one of his neighbour Lord Egremont. On the death of Warton, he declined some advances that were made him through his friends, towards an offer of the laureatship. Nothing but a high sense of independence could have prompted this refusal; for, though no courtier, he was not wanting in loyalty; and the stipend would have been a welcome addition to an income which barely sufficed his own moderate wants and his liberal contributions to the necessities of others.
He was not more fortunate in a second marriage than he had been in his first. The vain confidence which he placed in his good stars on this occasion shall be told in his own words, which are as follows:
"While he was deeply engaged in his biographical compositions he used to say, 'I have not leisure to wander from my hermitage, and look into the world in quest of a wife; but I feel a strong persuasion that if it is really good for me to venture once more on marriage,
of deepest hazard and of highest hope,
my kind stars will conduct to my cell some compassionate fair one, fond of books and retirement, who may be willing to enliven, with the songs of tenderness, the solitude of a poetical hermit.'
"Such was the frame of mind in the recluse when an incident occurred, that gradually seemed to accomplish a completion of his prophecy. This incident was a visit from an old ecclesiastical acquaintance, attended by two young ladies, Mary and Harriet Welford, daughters of an aged and retired merchant on Blackheath.
"The countenance and musical talents of the elder sister made a strong impression on the sequestered poet. Their accidental visit gradually led to his second marriage, on the 23d of March 1809, an event attended with much general exultation and delight, though evidently, like the usual steps of poets in the world, rather a step of hasty affection than of deliberate prudence."
In three years they were separated; I know not for what reasons. On shewing me some gaps in his library, he said that they had been made by proceedings in Doctors Commons.
To Felpham where he passed the last twenty years of his life, there retired also, to end his days in privacy and quiet, Doctor Cyril Jackson, who had been many years Dean of Christ Church, and in that time had refused some of the highest honours in the church. It is said that when Hayley waited on him, the Doctor declined entering upon an interchange of visits; but said that he should be happy to establish an intercourse of a different kind, and to send him occasionally books, or anything else which he might happen to have, and which Hayley might be without, and to receive from him the same neighbourly accommodations in return. Accordingly when the poet took a wife in his old age, he sent the Doctor a piece of the wedding cake, with a message, that he hoped at some future time to receive a neighbourly communication of the same sort in return.
In 1818, he told me that his medical attendant was apprehensive of his becoming dropsical, and had prescribed him a glass of port wine after his dinner. His usual drink before this had been water. In the October of the following year he wrote to me that "he had been assailed by two of the most formidable enemies of the human frame; and had been almost demolished by a fit of apoplexy, and a fit of the stone: the blow from the former," he adds, "was so violent, that my physician despaired of my revival; but, by the mercy of Heaven, I am so far revived, that I can again enjoy a social and literary intercourse with my friends; and even dabble again in rhyme; but, as I suspect, that my rhymes, like the Homilies of Gil Blas' Archbishop, may savour of apoplexy, I think it right to keep them in utter privacy."
His other complaint, the stone, terminated his life on the 12th of November, 1820.
"Under all his sufferings (says his early friend, Mr. Sargent), he was never heard to express a querulous word; and, if I had not seen it, I could not have thought it possible for so much constant patience and resignation to have been exhibited under so many years of grievous pain. Of his severe disease he spoke with great calmness; and when there seemed to be some doubt among his medical friends, as to the existence of a stone in the bladder, he said to me in a gentle tone, 'I can settle the controversy between them; I am sure there is, for I distinctly feel it.' A very large stone was found, after his decease. An accidental fall from the slipping of his foot, brought on his last illness and death. When I came to him, the day before he died, he mentioned this circumstance, and expressed a strong hope that God was, in mercy, about to put a period to his suffer. He had received the Sacrament about a fortnight before, from the Rev. Mr. Hardy, the neighbourhood, towards whom he always expressed a most friendly regard."
To this satisfactory account of Hayley's latter days, let me be allowed to add, that which is given by the son of his friend, the Rev. John Sargent.
"More perfect patience than Hayley manifested under his excruciating tortures, it never was my lot to witness. His was not only submission, but cheerfulness. So far could he abstract himself from his intense sufferings, as to be solicitous, in a way that affected me tenderly, respecting my comfort and accommodation as his guest; a circumstance that might appear trivial to many, but which, to my mind, was illustrative of that disinterestedness and affection which were so habitual to him in life as not to desert him in death. That his patience emanated from principles far superior to those of manly and philosophical fortitude, I feel a comfortable and confirmed persuasion, not merely from the sentiments he expressed when his end was approaching, but from the more satisfactory testimony of his declarations to his confidential servant in the season of comparative health. Again and again, before his last seizure, did he read over a little book I had given him, Corbett's Self-Examination in Secret, and repeatedly did he make his servant read to him that most valuable little work, of which, surely, no proud and insincere man can cordially approve; and to her did he avow, when recommending it for private perusal, 'In the principles of that book I wish to die.' He also mentioned to her, at the same time, his approbation of the Rev. Daniel Wilson's Sermons, which had been kindly sent to him. He permitted me frequently to pray with him, as a friend and minister; and when I used the confessional in the communion service of our church, and some of the verses of, the fifty-first psalm, he appeared to unite de voutly in those acts of penitence, and after wards added, 'I thank you heartily.'
"With emphasis did I hear him utter the memorable words, 'I know that my Redeemer liveth, &c.' and on my reminding him that Job exclaimed also, 'Behold I am vile,' he assented to the excellence of that language of repentance and humility. Indeed, I well remember his heartily agreeing with me in an observation I made some months before, 'That a progress in religion was to be discerned by a progressive knowledge of our own misery and sinfulness.' The last words almost I heard fail from him, contained a sentiment. I should wish, living and dying, to be my own — 'Christ have mercy upon me! O my Saviour, look down upon me, forsake me not.'"
Of his habits during the latter part of his life, Mrs. Opie, who has the art of conferring an interest on whatever she relates, has given this very pleasing account, in a letter addressed to the Editor of his Memoirs. "In consequence of a previous correspondence with Mr. Hayley, the result of his flattering mention of roe in the twelfth edition of the Triumphs of Temper, I went to his house on a visit, in the year 1814. Nothing could exceed the regularity and temperance of Mr. Hayley's habits. We did not breakfast till a little before eight, out of compliment to me, I believe; but, as he always rose at six, he breakfasted at half-past seven when he was alone; and as soon as he returned from his usual walk in the garden; you remember how rapidly he walked, spite of his lameness, bearing on his stick on one side, and his umbrella on the other. During breakfast, at which he drank cocoa only, he always read; and, while I was with him, he read aloud to me. We then adjourned to his sitting room, the upper library, and he read to me, or I to him, till coffee was served in the dining-room, which was, I think, at eleven o'clock. That repast over, we walked in the garden, and then returned to our books; or I sang to him till it was time for us to dress for dinner-with him a very temperate meal. He drank water only at dinner, and took coffee instead of wine after it. The coffee was served up with cream and fruit in the upper library.
"After dinner I read to him, or he read to me, till it was near tea-time, when we again walked in the garden, and on our return to the house, cocoa was served for him, and tea for me. After tea I read aloud or sang to him, till nine o'clock, when the servants came in to prayers, which were manuscript compositions, or compilations of his own; and which, as you well know, he read in a very impressive manner. He then conversed for half an hour, or I sang one or two of Handel's songs to him, or a hymn of his own; and then we retired for the night. I think he had for some years been in the habit of waking at five o'clock, and composing a hymn, but I do not remember to have heard him mention having been so employed, while I was his guest.
"With the single exception of a drive to Chichester, and to Lavant, where we spent a day with Mrs. Poole, and of having one or two friends to tea three times, there was no variety in the life which I have above described, during the whole month I passed with Mr. Hayley; and, I believe, the year that followed, to the time of his death, were as little varied as the days I have detailed. The Honourable Miss Moncktons, and their sister, Mrs. Milnes, drank tea with us once, as they were very ambitious of being presented to Hayley, and their conversation great musical powers were justly appreciated by him.
"The next year I repeated my visit to Felpham, and found the Moncktons at Bognor, with their brother, and sister, Viscount and Viscountess Galway. The latter were eager to make Mr. Hayley's acquaintance, and I easily obtained leave to introduce them. At the same time, the Countess of Mayo, and Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Smith, requested of me a similar introduction, and this application drew from our friend the following remark; 'I think, my dear, you had better show me, at a shilling a-head.' Leave was granted me to present these new visitants; and they afterwards, I found, introduced Lord Mayo. That year Mr. Hayley was unable to bear the motion of a carriage, from the increased pain his hip-joint, and, from that time, he scarcely ever left his own precincts.
"The next year I went to Scotland, and did not see Felpham till the year 1817. I found Mr. Hayley was become fond of seeing occasional visitors, and that Earl and Countess Paulett, and Lady Mary Paulett, as well as Lord and Lady Mayo, and Mr. and Mrs. T. Smith, were frequent callers on him that year. The Miss Godfreys were also his guests, and with them I occasionally paid visits, but for the most part our life was as unvaried as it was in 1814 and 1815.
"In 1818, I was unable to visit Felpham; but in 1819, I went down to Bognor in considerable alarm, on hearing of our poor friend's illness; and I was not certain that I should not arrive too late to see him. But I found him out of danger; and had the happiness of returning to London at the end of the week, leaving him recovering. But I saw him no more. He died in November of the following year.
"You will wish to know what we read aloud. Chiefly manuscript poems and plays of Mr. Hayley's, and modern publications. One of the former was a sensible, just, and, as he read it, an apparently well-written Epistle to a Socinian friend on the errors of his belief. You know, I suppose, that our friend always read the Bible and Testament before he left his chamber in a morning." Hayley's Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 204. The epistle, of which Mrs. Opie speaks, was printed with a few other "Poems on serious and sacred Subjects," to be distributed among the friends of the author, two years before his death.
His person and character are well described by the Rev. Doctor Johnson, in the following words: "He was considerably above the middle stature, had a countenance remarkably expressive of intellect and feeling, and a commanding air and deportment that reminded the beholder rather of a military officer, than of the character he assumes in the close of his epistolary addresses (he used to sign himself the Hermit). The deplorable infirmity, however, of his early years, had left a perceptible lameness, which attended him through life, and induced a necessity of adventitious aid, towards procuring him the advantage of a tolerably even walk.
"As to his personal qualities, of a higher order, these were cheerfulness and sympathy in a very eminent degree; so eminent, indeed, that as no afflictions of his own could divest him of the former, so neither could the afflictions of others find him destitute of the latter. His temper also was singularly sweet and amiable, being not only free from ebullitions of anger, but from all those minor defects which it is needless to enumerate, and to which social peace and harmony are so repeatedly sacrificed. It was the most even in its exercise, that the writer of this brief account of him ever witnessed. Whether this regular flow of good humour was owing to the native cheerfulness of his mind — to the habit which he had contracted of viewing every adverse circumstance on its bright side — to a course of self discipline, which he did not avow to others, or to the joint operation of all these, it is not possible to say; but certain it is that it was one of his most striking peculiarities.
"In all these respects there can be no doubt that the character of Hayley was worthy of imitation; and the Editor feels that he should be deficient in a becoming attention to the expressed wish of the author, in the close of his Memoir, if he did not briefly advert to the importance, both to individual and social happiness, of endeavouring to cultivate to the utmost those eminent ingredients of a beneficial life — cheerfulness, sympathy, and good temper.
"Closely connected with these was a rich assemblage of amiable qualities, which the Editor cannot do better than display in the following extract, from the before-mentioned sketch, by the Rev. Samuel Greatheed. 'Hayley retained, I believe, throughout his life, a high sense of honour, inflexible integrity, a warmth of friendship and overflowing benevolence. The last was especially exerted for the introduction of meritorious young persons into useful and respectable situations; and it was usually efficient, as it never relaxed while they justified his patronage. He did not, indeed, scruple, while it was in his power, to entrust them with large sums, when there appeared a prospect of their future ability for re-payment; but as this prospect not seldom failed, either through death or unavoidable impediments, his property was greatly reduced by such beneficence.'
"Another distinctive mark of the character of Hayley, which few possess by nature, and still fewer attain to by art, was an eminently great conversational ability. It was scarcely possible for any one to be in his company an hour, how distinguished soever his own gifts or acquirements might be in the possession and exercise of colloquial powers, without being conscious of his superiority in this respect. It has been a subject of repeated astonishment to the Editor, that in a soil so unfavourable to the growth of this faculty, as seclusion must necessarily be, it should yet have arrived at such a pitch of exuberance, in the case of the retired subject of this Memoir, as only an interchange of the best informed minds, and that continually exercised, could be supposed capable of producing. He can only attempt to account for it from the opportunities which the author enjoyed, through the. advantage of one of the finest private libraries in the kingdom, of conversing at all hours, and in all conceivable frames of mind, with the illustrious dead of every age and nation. But the solution of the difficulty is still incomplete, for although these literary 'Pleiades' could furnish as it were 'the sweet influences of rain and sunshine,' to foster his native talent; yet, breath being denied them, its improvement is more than his friend Cowper could have accounted for, without violating his poetical axiom, that
—Ev'n the oak
Thrives by the rude concussion of the storm.
"As to the defects of the character of Hayley, perhaps the most prominent feature was a pertinacity of determination with regard to his modes of action, which has been seldom exemplified to the same extent in the case of others. When, in the contemplation of supposed advantage, whether to himself or his friends, he had once matured his purpose, it was an attempt of no ordinary difficulty to divert him from the pursuit of it. To this may, perhaps, be attributed the perpetual disappointments with which his life was chequered. Certain it is, that his matrimonial infelicities may be traced to this source. His first adventure of the kind alluded to, had the warning voice of his surviving parent against it, and, it may naturally be supposed, the dissuasive arguments of all his thinking and judicious friends. And as to the similar connexion he formed in the decline of life, he must have overcome obstacles both numerous and weighty, with respect to his own situation and habits in accomplishing that object of his wishes. Instead of entering into a detail of these, however, it will be more profitable to secure the good effect that may arise from the contemplation of the former part of his character, from the danger of being neutralized by the present exhibition of it. This may, perhaps, be accomplished by reminding the reader of that principle of our lapsed nature, which Inclines us, too often, to confound evil with good. The good, in Hayley's ease, appears to have been the viewing, through his native cheerfulness, every dispensation of Providence on its bright side; and the evil, his applying this rule to what might be not improperly designated the dispensation of his own will. There can be no doubt that his example in the first instance, and his mistake in the last, are equally to be followed and avoided.
"Another failing observable in the character of Hayley, was the little attention he paid to public opinion, in regard to his modes and habits of life. During his long residence in his paternal seat of Eartham, though he occasionally received friends from a distance, and especially the votaries of literature and the fine arts, yet to the families in his vicinity he was not easily accessible. He seems, indeed, to have been almost an insulated mortal among them; and one who, discharging himself from the obligation of what is commonly call ed etiquette, made it impossible to maintain with him the reciprocities of intercourse. It is true, indeed, that the attention of the possessor of Eartham was considerably engrossed by meditation and study; but this increased rather than lessened his adaptation to society, and made the effect of his seclusion the more to he lamented." Hayley's Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 220.
As Hayley was too much extolled at the beginning of his poetical course, so was he undeservedly neglected or ridiculed at the close of it. The excessive admiration he at first met with, joined to that flattering self-opinion which a solitary life is apt to engender, made him too easily satisfied with what he had done. Perhaps he wrote worse after his acquaintance with Cowper; for, aiming at a simplicity which he had not power to support, he became flat and insipid. He had at no time much force of conception or language. Yet if he never elevates he frequently amuses his reader. His chief attraction consists in setting off some plain and natural thought or observation, by a sparkling and ingenious similitude, such as we commonly find in the Persian poets. To this may be added a certain sweetness of numbers without the spirit and edge of Pope, or the boldness of Dryden, and fashioned as I think to his own recitation, which, though musical, was somewhat too pompous and monotonous. He was desirous that all his rhymes should be exact; but they are sometimes so only according to his own manner of pronouncing them. He holds about the same rank among our poets that Bertaut does among the French; but differs from him in this; that, whereas Bertaut was the earliest of a race analogous to the school of Dryden and Pope, so Hayley was the latest of the correspondent class amongst ourselves.
In one respect he is deserving of most honourable notice. During the course of a long literary life, I doubt whether he was ever provoked to use a single word of asperity or sarcasm towards any of his contemporaries. This was praise which alone ought to have exempted him from the harsh and unmerited censure of Porson, by whom he was called Criticorum et Poetarum pessimus. He sometimes, on the other hand, indulged himself too much in a lavish and indiscriminate commendation of contemporary writers. But from whatever might appear like flattery of the great, he scrupulously abstained. When the Princess Charlotte visited him at Felpham, he would not present some verses he had written on her, lest he should he thought capable of that meanness.
His Essays on Painting, History, and Poetry, contain much information that may be useful to young artists and students. That on Sculpture is very inferior to the rest; as the Triumph of Music is to the Triumphs of Temper. The last of these is a poem that still continues to interest a class of readers, whose studies are intimately connected with the happiness and well being of society. The design of it, which is to shew the advantages of self-control to the mind of a well-educated girl, is much to be commended. The machinery though it required no great effort in the production, yet suffices to give some relief to the story. It has been remarked that the trials of the Heroine are too insignificant. But of one of them, at least, the calumny in the newspaper, this cannot properly be said. Nor would the purpose of the writer have been so well answered, if he had been more serious, and had uttered his oracles from behind a graver mask.
The taste which has been lately excited amongst us for Spanish and Italian literature, after having slept nearly since the age of Elizabeth, may be attributed in a great measure to the influence of his example. Gray, Hurd, and the two Wartons, had done something towards awakening it, but the spell was completed by him. The decisive impulse was given by the copious extracts from the great poets in those languages, which he inserted in the notes to his Essay on Epic Poetry, and which he accompanied by spirited translations. Lord Holland, the best informed and most elegant of our writers on the subject of the Spanish theatre, declared that he had been induced to learn that language by what Hayley had written concerning the poet Ercilla.
I have heard his Greek scholarship questioned in consequence of an error which, in his Epistles on History, he has made in the quantity of the word Olorus, the name of the father of Thucydides; but from a casual mistake of this sort, no decisive inference can be drawn.
There is little knowledge of human life and character to be gained from his writings. He had seen mankind chiefly through the medium of books, and those such as did not represent them very faithfully to him, that is, in ordinary plays and novels. Indeed he appeared to consider the real affairs of life in which he was concerned much in the light of a romance, and himself and his friends as so many personages acting in it, all meeting with marvellous adventures at every turn, and all endowed with admirable qualities, to which their petty frailties served only as foils. It is impossible in reading his memoirs to avoid smiling at the importance he attaches to very ordinary occurrences. I am not sure whether it was not this propensity that led him to magnify his own distresses in living with his first wife. That lady I well recollect to have been lively and elegant in her manners, and much addicted to literary pursuits, of which she gave a proof in translating Madame de Lambert's Essay on Friendship. Her excessive zeal for her husband's reputation as an author, he has bantered with some humour in the play of the Mausoleum, where Mrs. Rumble, the wife of a poet is introduced: "Who crows o'er her husband's poetical eggs." The character of Rumble in the same play appeared so evidently designed for Johnson, though the author disclaimed that intention, that Boswell, when he read it on its first coming out, at Anna Seward's, exclaimed, "It is we. It is we." Trope, who
Talks in a high strutting style of the stars,
Of the eagle of Jove, and the chariot of Mars,
was meant for Mason; and by Facil,
Whose verse is the thread of tenuity,
A fellow distinguish'd by flippant fatuity,
Who nonsense and rhyme can incessantly mingle,
A poet — if poetry's only a jingle,
he intended to represent himself.
The name of Facil was but too appropriate. The slender thread of his verse was hastily and slightly spun.
His comedies are adapted to the entertainment of those readers only who have formed their taste on the French drama. His tragedies are some of the most endurable we have in what a lively modern critic has termed the rhetorical style. Yet he had some skill in moving compassion.
His diction, both in poetry and prose, is vitiated by the frequent recurrence of certain hyperbolical expressions, which he applies on almost all occasions.
He was particularly fond of composing epitaphs, of which, as I remember, he showed me a manuscript book full. One of these on Henry Hammond, the parish clerk at Eartham, is among the best in the language. It is inserted in the Memoirs which Hayley wrote of his son.
An active spirit in a little frame,
This honest man the path of duty trod;
Toil'd while he could, and, when death's darkness came,
Sought in calm hope his recompense from God.
His sons, who loved him, to his merit just,
Raised this plain stone to guard their parent's dust.