Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bayly, Thomas Haynes
BAYLY, THOMAS HAYNES (1797–1839), song-writer, novelist, and dramatist, was born at Bath on 13 Oct. 1797. He was the only child of Mr. Nathaniel Bayly, an influential citizen of Bath, and on the maternal side was nearly related to the Earl of Stamford and Warrington and the Baroness Le Despencer. At a very early age Bayly displayed a talent for verse, and in his eighth year was found dramatising a tale out of one of his story-books. On his removal to Winchester he amused himself by producing a weekly newspaper, which recorded the proceedings of the master and pupils in the school. On attaining his seventeenth year he entered his father's office for the purpose of studying the law, but soon devoted himself to writing humorous articles for the public journals, and produced a small volume entitled ‘Rough Sketches of Bath.’ Desiring at length some more serious occupation, he proposed to enter the church. His father encouraged his views, and entered him at St. Mary Hall, Oxford; but although Bayly remained at the university for three years, ‘he did not apply himself to the pursuit of academical honours.’ To console himself after an early love disappointment, Bayly travelled in Scotland, and afterwards visited Dublin. He mingled in the best society of the Irish capital, and it was here that he distinguished himself in private theatricals, and achieved his earliest successes as a ballad writer.
Bayly returned to London in January 1824. Having given up all idea of the church, he had formed the determination to win fame as a lyric poet. In 1826 he was married to the daughter of Mr. Benjamin Hayes, Marble Hill, county Cork. The profits from his literary labours were at the time very considerable, and his income was increased by his wife's dowry. While the young couple were staying at Lord Ashtown's villa called Chessel, on the Southampton river, Bayly wrote, under romantic circumstances, the song ‘I'd be a Butterfly,’ which quickly secured universal popularity. Not long afterwards he produced a novel entitled ‘The Aylmers,’ in three volumes; a second tale, called ‘A Legend of Killarney,’ written during a visit to that part of Ireland; and numerous songs and ballads, which appeared in two volumes, named respectively ‘Loves of the Butterflies’ and ‘Songs of the Old Château.’ Breaking up his establishment at Bath, Bayly now repaired to London. There he applied himself to writing ballads as well as pieces for the stage, some of which became immediately popular. This was not the good fortune, however, of the play ‘Perfection,’ now regarded as his best dramatic work. Bayly scrawled the whole of this little comedy in his notebook during a journey by stagecoach from Bath to London. It was declined by many theatrical managers, but ultimately Madame Vestris, to whom it was submitted, discovered its merits and produced it, the favourite actress herself appearing in it with great favour. Lord Chesterfield, who was present on the first night, declared that he never saw a better farce. The piece became a great favourite at private theatricals, and on one occasion it was produced with a cast including the Marchioness of Londonderry, Lord Castlereagh, and Sir Roger Griesly. ‘Perfection’ was succeeded by a series of popular dramas from the same pen.
The year 1831 found Bayly overwhelmed by financial difficulties. He had invested his marriage portion in coal mines, which proved unproductive. The agent who managed Mrs. Bayly's property in Ireland failed to render a satisfactory account of his trust. Another agent was afterwards found, who again made the property pay; but Bayly in the meanwhile fell into a condition of despondency, and lost for a time the light and graceful touch which had made his verse so popular. He also suffered in health, though a temporary sojourn in France enabled him to recover much of his former mental elasticity. A poem he wrote at this time, ‘The Bridesmaid,’ drew a flattering letter from Sir Robert Peel, and formed the subject of a remarkable picture by one of the leading artists of the day. After his loss of fortune, Bayly wrote diligently for the stage, and in a short time he had produced no fewer than thirty-six dramatic pieces. In 1837 appeared his ‘Weeds of Witchery,’ a volume which caused a French critic to describe him as the Anacreon of English romance. An attack of brain-fever prevented him from writing a work of fiction for which he had entered into an arrangement with Messrs. Bentley; but from this illness he recovered, only, however, to suffer from other and more painful diseases. He still hoped to recover, but dropsy succeeded to confirmed jaundice, and on 22 April 1839 he expired. He was buried at Cheltenham, his epitaph being written by his friend Theodore Hook.
Many of Bayly's songs are familiar wherever the English language is spoken. Amongst the most popular are ‘The Soldier's Tear,’ ‘I never was a Favourite,’ ‘We met—'twas in a Crowd,’ ‘She wore a Wreath of Roses,’ ‘I'd be a Butterfly,’ ‘Oh, no, we never mention her;’ and of humorous ballads, ‘Why don't the Men propose,’ and ‘My Married Daughter could you see.’ There is no lofty strain in any of Bayly's productions, but in nearly all there is lightness and ease in expression, which fully account for their continued popularity. ‘He possessed a playful fancy, a practised ear, a refined taste, and a sentiment which ranged pleasantly from the fanciful to the pathetic, without, however, strictly attaining either the highly imaginative or the deeply passionate’ (D. M. Moir).
In addition to his songs and ballads, which have been ‘numbered by hundreds,’ and his numerous pieces for the stage, the following is a list of Bayly's works: 1. ‘The Aylmers,’ a novel. 2. ‘Kindness in Women,’ tales. 3. ‘Parliamentary Letters, and other Poems.’ 4. ‘Rough Sketches of Bath.’ 5. ‘Weeds of Witchery.’[Bayly's various Works, and Songs, Ballads, and other Poems, by the late Thomas Haynes Bayly, edited by his Widow, with a Memoir of the Author, 1844.]