1832 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hayley

William Clarke and Robert Shelton Mackenzie, in The Georgian Era: Memoirs of the most eminent Persons who have flourished in Great Britain (1832-34) 3:563-64.



WILLIAM HAYLEY, descended from a respectable family at Chichester, was born in that town on the 29th of October, 1745. He lost his father at three years of age, and, after having received the rudiments of education in his native town, was sent to a school at Kingston-upon-Thames, whence, in consequence of a severe illness, occasioned by mismanagement, he was removed to the care of a private tutor at Teddington. Here he took great delight in poetry and dramatic composition; and, one day, reciting, with great vehemence, the lines which immediately precede the death of Othello, he, in his ardour, actually thrust the knife into his breast, and was near ending his days in reality. In August, 1757, he was sent to Eton, and quitted it in 1763; in which year he was entered of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where poetry and painting seem to have occupied the chief part of his time. In June, 1766, he was admitted a student of the Middle Temple, but took no further step towards going to the bar, and appears to have left the university in 1767, without taking any degree. In 1769, after a somewhat romantic attachment, he married a Miss Ball; the derangement of whose mother induced Mrs. Hayley to ask her son how he would feel if his wife should fall a victim to the same calamity. "In that case," he replied, "I should bless my God for having given me courage sufficient to make myself the legal guardian of the most amiable and most pitiable woman on earth." After having had two tragedies rejected, The Afflicted Father and The Syrian Queen, he retired to Eartham, and, devoting himself to poetical composition, published, in 1778, An Epistle to an Eminent Painter; and, afterwards, successively, An Epistle to Adam Keppel, Elegy on the Ancient Greek Medal, and Epistle to a Friend on the Death of John Thornton, Esq. In 1780, appeared his Essay on History; and, in 1781, his celebrated Triumphs of Temper. He afterwards published separate Essays on Epic Poetry, Painting, and Sculpture; The Triumph of Music; a prose Essay on Old Maids, in three volumes; and his Life and Correspondence of Cowper. The death of a natural son having induced him to remove to Felpham, in Sussex, he died there on the 12th of November, 1820. Hayley's best productions are, his Essay on Old Maids, and Triumphs of Temper; the latter performance has much poetical merit, and will probably suffer little in the general estimation, by Lord Byron's couplet against it in the English Bards, &c. Sheridan has also the following lines to the author:—

Miss keeps her temper five long cantos through—
Egad! its more than half your readers do;

a sarcasm which may be ascribed, like that of the noble poet, to mere wantonness. His other works, with the exception of the Life of Cowper, have obtained little notice, nor do they indeed rise much above mediocrity.