HENRY HEADLEY, a very elegant poet and critic, was born at Irstead in Norfolk in 1766. At an early age he was placed under the care of the rev. Mr. Samuel Parr, then master of the grammar-school at Norwich. Even at this period he exhibited a superior elegance of mind, taste, and genius. He had a certain pensiveness of manner, which conciliated esteem and sympathy; and which, though it might in part have been excited by the delicacy of his constitution, was promoted and increased by his studious pursuits. From Norwich he removed, in 1782, to Oxford, where he became a member of Trinity college, a circumstance for which the world was probably indebted for his celebrated publication on the old English poets. Thomas Warton was then resident, as senior fellow of the college, and Headley naturally became acquainted with his labours as a poetical historian, which confirmed the bias of his mind; and from this time the study of old English poetry superseded every other literary pursuit.
He left Oxford after a residence of three years, in which interval he lost his father. His biographer informs us that his friends could not for some months discover the place of his residence; but that at length it appeared he was married, and had retired to Matlock in Derbyshire. From our other authority, however, we learn, that during his occasional visits from Oxford to his friends in Norfolk, he formed an attachment of the tenderest kind to a very beautiful woman, now alive, but of no fortune. Many of the most charming and interesting of his poetical compositions were addressed to this lady. The connexion appeared to their common friends to be indiscreet, and the object of his affections married a deserving man, with whom she is now happy in a lovely family. It appears, however, that he did marry hastily, in the anguish of disappointment, a lady, who died before him. From Matlock he went to reside at Norwich, and in a short time the consumptive tendency of his constitution rendered it advisable to try the climate of Lisbon, from which he returned only to die, at Norwich, in November 1788.
What Headley might have produced, had he lived to persevere in the line of study in which he had engaged, may be easily conjectured from the Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry, which he published in 1787, 2 vols. 8vo. It may be said to have given a new direction to the public taste, and to have pointed out to poetical antiquaries those objects of research which they have since pursued with equal avidity and success. These volumes soon became popular, and certainly possess various claims to attention, whether we consider the taste and judgment with which the selection was made, or the neatness, point, and felicitous discrimination of character with which the biographical sketches are universally marked. Previous to the appearance of this work, Mr. Headley had published a small volume of original poems, and is said to have contributed some papers to the Olla Podrida, and to a less known periodical paper, entitled The Lucubrations of Abel Slug, of which a few numbers only were printed.