1782 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

William Hayley

Anonymous, "Anecdotes of the Author" European Magazine 2 (December 1782) 447-48.



This excellent Poet is the son of a Sussex Gentleman, of easy fortune, by a Lady whose memory will be immortalized by the notice taken of her by her grateful son in the poem now reviewed [Essay on Epic Poetry]. The weakness of his youth and the consequent tenderness of his parent, are described in terms which do the highest honour to him both as a Poet and as a man. He received his early education at Eton, where he exhibited no marks of superiority and few of genius. By those who had the opportunity of observing him at that period of his life, we are told, that he was more distinguished by the fondness and affection of his mother than any qualities inherent in himself. From Eton he went to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he remained some time, and took a degree. We do not find that he ever studied with a view to the practice of any profession, and his poetical powers do not seem to have ripened into excellence, either soon in life, or with any remarkable degree of rapidity. As he dedicated himself to no profession, he early retreated to his paternal estate, and married a Lady whose taste was similar to his own, being directed to literary pursuits. She has already published a Translation of Madam Lambert's Advice, which is preceded by some complimentary verses written by her husband. The first production of Mr. Hayley was a Poem, addressed to the Bishop of London, severely arraigning the political sentiments of that Prelate, and vigorously defending the natural rights and liberties of mankind. Soon afterwards he printed his Essay on Painting, in two epistles, to Mr. Romney. This was at first thrown on the publick without a name, but the applause it was received with, the success which followed its publication, dissipated all his apprehensions, and gave him confidence enough to appear before the world in his own person. A second edition has his name placed in the title page, and this was followed by his Elegy on Mr. Thornton, his Essay on History, his Ode to Mr. Howard, the Triumphs of Temper, and the performance now under our consideration, all written within a short period, and all displaying strong marks of correctness, invention, ease, vigour, and facility of composition.

Mr. Hayley resides chiefly at his seat at Eartham, in the county of Sussex, where he cultivates his poetical talents. The world has already decided on his merits as a Poet, and we record with pleasure that one of the first Geniusses of the age is no less deserving of fame from the splendor of his literary powers, than he is of applause from the decency, the propriety, and the excellence of his private life.