Page images

regard the abstract author ;-but were we to enumerate the various pleasures and advantages of literary biography, we should consume all our ink, and, it may be, with it, our readers' patience.

Hayley flourished at a period which some of our modern illuminati are apt to regard too lightly. In poetry, it is true, the standard of public taste is now considerably higher; but in almost every other branch of literature, there lived at that period many men whose names will be well and long remembered. Johnson and Garrick were passing away, but there was Gibbon as an historian, Warton as a critic, and Watson as a biblical scholar, who may certainly challenge a comparison with any succeeding names. Nay, in poetry itself, there was Cowper, whose excellences, notwithstanding the denunciation of my Lord Byron, are alone sufficient to rescue the age from the charge of poetical barrenness. With these, and with all the other “foremost men" of his time, Hayley was in habits of intimacy, and, in many cases, of correspondence. Of his friendship with Cowper, it is unnecessary to speak. To that friendship, the public owe their acquaintance with the character of that most amiable and admirable man ; and to the same source Hayley is principally indebted for the additional share of reputation which he at present enjoys.

For the information of such of our readers, who, inverting the rule observed at the Ancient Concerts, never open a book which has not been published within the present century, we shall trace a slight sketch of the Life of Hayley, which may serve to give some idea of his “ Memoirs.” He was born in 1745, and of his childhood he has left an account a little too minute and circumstantial. His poetical propensities displayed themselves very early, and one of his first compositions was “A voluntary Epistle to a young Lady, in Latin couplets.” At the age of twelve, he was sent to Eton, where he remained six years-imbibed more than the usual share of Greek and Latin-wrote an Ode to Ingratitude, and received “a most severe whipping" for secretly visiting one of the London theatres. On leaving school, he paid a visit to his mother at Chichester, and here we would notice the very feeling and amiable manner in which the biographer expresses himself whenever he has occasion to mention this excellent parent, whose virtues indeed seem to have rendered her worthy of all filial love and reverence. It was now high time for Hayley to fall in love, which he accordingly did on the first opportunity. The object of his adoration was a young lady whom he denominates " the fair Frances of Watergate," and with whom there happened to him the following romantic love-passage." “ When the young Frances and William had been a few days together, it happened that a thunder-storm surprised them in the groves mentioned above. The lady was constitutionally affected by the turbulent elements, and she actually fainted in the arms of William, an incident alluded to in the following impromptu of the young poet.” Will the reader pardon the non-sequitur? We apprehend that this thunder-storm was ominous, for after a profusion of promises and poetry, vows and verses, the match was broken off in a very inexplicable manner. The worthy Divine, who has edited these Memoirs, has omitted a whole parcel of letters relating to this embroglio. We confess we thought this an hiatus valde deflendus.

The occupations which employed the time of Hayley during his residence at college, and the friendships which he there formed, were such as might be expected from a person of his studious character and elegant taste. He devoted a portion of his time to improving himself in the art of drawing, read Demosthenes until one o'clock in the morning, and “indulged his fancy on the probable occupations of the distant nymph” to whom he was attached. He appears at this time to have exercised his pen in poetical compositions with considerable assiduity. On leaving Cambridge, Hayley visited Scotland, and resided for a little time in Edinburgh. On his return to Chichester, the love-affair with the gentle Fanny terminated as we have mentioned above.

He now began to think seriously of his prospects in life, for his fortune was by no means ample. At one period he had determined to pursue the law as a profession, and had even become a member of the Middle Temple; but the Muses triumphed over Themis, and Hayley became an author about the same time that he became a husband, His union with the Muse seems to have been more productive of happiness to him than his marriage with his mortal mistress, whose health and spirits were the victims of a nervous disorder.

Determined to push his fortune in the literary world with vigour, Hayley visited the metropolis in the year 1769, and diligently applied himself to dramatic composition. His tragedy of The Afflicted Father was offered to Garrick, who appears to have been unwilling to refuse it, but more unwilling to accept it. All the manœuvres of the manager were exerted to extricate him from this difficulty, which was not, however, effected without highly offending the dramatist, and more especially his young bride. The Syrian Queen met with no better fortune from Colman; and Hayley, tired of London and the theatres, returned to his paternal retreat at Eartham. Here he employed himself in various studies; composing poetical epistles to many of his friends, and throwing off copies of verses whenever he could find a fair occa. sion. In 1777, he produced bis Epistle on Painting.

So prolific was the poet's muse, that there was scarcely a single celebrated individual to whom he did not address some stanzas, which were frequently the means of his forming new intimacies and friendships. In this manner he became acquainted with the philanthropic Howard ; and the Epistles on History, addressed to Gibbon, procured for their author the friendship of that illustrious historian. In 1781, The Triumphs of Temper, the most successful of all Hayley's works, made its appearance, and produced a most favourable impression upon the public. He became the popular poet of the day, and even the rough Chancellor Lord Thurlow sought his society. With Gibbon, who appears to have admired his poetry, he became very familiar. Encouraged by his new success, Hayley brought forward another tragedy in 1789, which was represented at Drury-lane and Covent-garden on the same evening. At the former it failed, but was received with tolerable favour at the latter theatre. Eudora, another tragedy, was withdrawn after the first night's representation. Hayley's talents were certainly any thing but dramatic. In 1792, he became acquainted with Cowper; but the public are sufficiently informed upon this part of his history. About this period he wrote his Life of Milton. Mrs. Hayley, who had been for some time separated from her husband in consequence of her


culiar state of health, died in 1797 ; and a few years afterwards the poet lost his beloved son, of whom a copious memoir is given in the present volumes. From this period, until his death in 1820, Hayley lived very

much in retirement. He was, however, tempted, in the year 1808, to adventure once more upon the perilous sea of matrimony; but the speculation was unfortunate, and in a few years after their union the parties separated. Nothing in Hayley's temper, which was very mild and cheerful, seems to have occasioned either this or his former separation, but his studious habits were, probably, not very agreeable to his companions. He produced several works in addition to those which have been mentioned: an Essay on Old Maids, in 3 volumes—a work full of gay amusement, and evincing a considerable extent of reading; several comedies in rhyme; a Life of Romney the Painter, and many other minor compositions.

The Memoirs contain many original letters, some of which possess considerable interest, and also several unpublished poetical pieces, which do not rise above the ordinary level of Hayley's genius. As a short specimen, we shall select a copy of verses addressed to Miss Hannah More, which, from the tone of them, must certainly have been written in the last century. There is something peculiarly piquant in the idea of the excellent author of " Colebs" and "Moral Sketches” being addressed in the following strain :-

To Miss Hannah More.
Thy verse, sweet sister of the lyre!

A hapless poet found,
His brain oppress’d with feverish fire,

His eyes in darkness drown'd:
But with a magical control

Thy spirit-soothing strain
Dispels the languor of his soul,

Annihilating pain.
If to relieve the sickly hour,

Thy distant hand can frame
A tuneful charm of such high power

To kindle pleasure's flame;
How may he scorn all human charms !

How blissful his condition !
Who shall encircle in his arms

So lovely a magician! One of Hayley's critical friends imagined the conclusion of these verses “ rather too warm,” but the poet himself conceived them to be

perfect water-gruel," and thought that the fair object of them must be“ very prudish indeed” if they offended her. In fact, Hayley's pen never trespassed beyond the bounds of delicacy, and yet it is singular enough that a comedy which he had written in French, and which was offered to one of the Parisian theatres, was rejected on account of an alleged impropriety in the introduction of a lady upon the stage whose character was not altogether unblemished. Upon the appearance of the Essay on Old Maids, also, the nice sense of propriety in some of the sisterhood was scandalized at several passages in that work, which were not in truth at all calculated to offend decorum.

A very useful lesson upon the unsubstantial nature of literary popu

[ocr errors]

larity may be gleaned from these volumes, which furnish abundant instances calculated to make many of our living authors tremble for their posthumous reputation. Several individuals are mentioned by Hayley in glowing terms of praise, whose very names have long since faded from the public ear. Who, for example, in the present generation ever heard of "the immortal Mundy ?" In the same manner Miss Seward is eulogised so warmly as to justify, in some degree, Porson's satirical verses.

“ The celebrated Miss Seward,” and “the sublime Muse of Lichfield," sound rather amusingly to modern ears. Hayley appears to have measured the reputation of this long-forgotten lady by her own standard ; and a more fallacious mode of estimation could not have been adopted. We may here notice the very extraordinary habit in which “the Poet of Eartham," as he styles himself, indulged, of describing his friends by some strange periphrasis, a practice which deteriorates much from his otherwise pleasing style. He appears to have felt an unconquerable aversion to sirnames, for after having once mentioned them, he avoids the repetition of them with the most amusing ingenuity. In his letters he frequently denominates himself “ William of the Turret,” from a cottage residence to which he had given that name; or, " the Hermit;" or, in the earlier part of the Memoirs, “ the young Poet of Sussex.” Gibbon is “ the Roman Eagle.” Helen Maria Williams “ the young Muse," and Mrs. Opie “ the excellent Amelia of Norwich.” The reader is occasionally at a loss to determine the identity of the personages thus described, and is puzzled between the amiable Physician of St. Alban's" and "the admirable Physician of Derby."

Nothing is more remarkable in the literary character of Hayley than the strong propensity he displayed for writing epitaphs. No tombstone was too haughty or too humble for this exertion of his talents. He was unfortunate in losing many of his early friends by death, but the mournful pleasure which he enjoyed in celebrating their virtues in an epitaph appears always to have afforded some consolation to bis grief. Cowper-his nurse—his footman-Bishop Watson-and a parish clerk (who was lucky enough to die during the Poet's residence within the parish), were all commemorated in very smooth verse. Upon one occasion Dr. Johnson happened to have composed an epitaph upon a lady, to whose manes our Poet had already rendered the same service. Johnson, on seeing the rival lines, without being informed of the author's name, exclaimed, " It is unequal, but the man has much poetry in his mind.” “If,” adds Mr. Hayley, with great simplicity," he is the very envious being he is generally supposed to be, he will detest me most cordially."

That portion of the work which has fallen to the lot of the present editor matches exceedingly well with the prior part of the volumes. It contains some details of the last years of the Poet's life, and a summary of his character, upon the whole, fair and candid. We have only space to add, that the “ Memoirs of Thomas Alphonso Hayley" present an account of a very amiable and clever boy, who was well entitled to fill a place in Klefekerus’s Bibliotheca Eruditorum præcocium. An affectionate father, who lost a child like this, in the very bloom of his promise, may be pardoned in consecrating to his memory so copious a memoir as the present.


and gay,

RESPLENDENT the morn of her last day shone
On the cloud-capp'd tower of Babylon ;
And her lofty walls rose in proud array,
And her terraced gardens look'd green
And the stream of the river of Paradise
Flash'd a flood of light to her clear blue skies ;
She stood in the strength of her haughty sway,
The pride of the turretted Cybele.
Yet the sentinel sees from her battlements high
The Medes and the Persians before her lie,
And their steel helms blaze in the full sun-beam,
Far, far as his vision can catch their gleam:
And long by her hundred gates they had sate,
While she laugh'd in contempt at their battle-state,
And trusting to bulwark and massy wall,
Gave her days to pleasure and festival.
But her time is come the last sun hath shone
On the tower of magnific Babylon-
The day that shall see her the spoil of the foe,
And trample the strength of the mighty low.

'Tis midnight, and the feast is done, The revellers wrapp'd in sleep;

The long-drawn streets of Babylon
Are hush'd in silence deep;
And her palace floors are floating in wine,
And purple and gold in the pale moonshine

Bestrew them in many a heap.:-
The guards are stretch'd drunk in the marble hall,
That no more shall wake at the trumpet's call;
And glozing courtiers lie tranquil there,
That no more in the crimes of a court shall share ;
And fair girls repose in the harem's bound,
That no more shall dance to the timbrel's sound.
The monarch alone on his golden bed
Tosses sleepless, and fever'd, and hurried.
He had seen at the revel a phantom hand,
Unearthly in hue, and of outline grand,
On the banquet-wall trace in letters of light
The doom of his kingdom, and fall of his might.

But wherefore?-was not every gate

Of brass, and guarded well-
And if his trusty guards were beat,

Their shouts and cries must tell-
He had thousands to aid them as brave as their foe,
Then why should danger be threatening him now,

And fear unloose her spell ?-
He starts, then he listens-no sound not a breath!
Up, king! 'tis the silence that harbingers death.
They have turn'd the Euphrates, its channel is dry,
And the arm’d host is entering privily;
The soldiers of Cyrus, the lord of the East,
Are entering the chambers of revel and feast,
And pouring forth blood mix'd with wine on the floors,
Ere the inmates awake or the battle-din roars.
Now the tumult begins, and lock, bolt, and bar,
Give way to the conqueror's cimeter,

« PreviousContinue »