Hayley, William (DNB00)

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HAYLEY, WILLIAM (1745–1820), poet, second son of Thomas Hayley and Mary Yates, was born at Chichester on 29 Oct. 1745, and was sent to Eton in 1757. In 1763 he entered Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he composed an ‘Ode on the Birth of the Prince of Wales,’ published in the Cambridge Collection, and reprinted in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ for January 1763, p. 39. At Cambridge he studied Spanish under Isola, and composed several poems, many of which are printed in his memoirs. In 1766 he was admitted to the Middle Temple, but did not leave Cambridge until the following year, when he left without taking a degree, and resided with his mother in London. A tour in Scotland which he made in 1767 produced several poems, some of them addressed to Frances Page, with whom he had fallen in love in 1763. The engagement was afterwards broken off, and Hayley married Eliza, daughter of Dean Ball, who was one of his guardians, in 1769. Soon after his marriage Hayley composed a tragedy, ‘The Afflicted Father,’ which was rejected by Garrick, and in 1771 he translated Corneille's ‘Rodogune,’ which he re-named ‘The Syrian Queen,’ and which was similarly rejected by Colman. During a visit to Bristol and the west of England he met William Pitt, the future statesman, at Lyme Regis, and in 1774 settled at Eartham, Sussex. In 1775 he addressed a ‘Poetical Epistle on Marriage’ to his friend Thornton, and an ‘Ode to Cheerfulness’ to Mrs. Clyfford, and in 1777 a long poetical epistle to Dr. Long. In 1777 also commenced his friendship with Romney, to whom he addressed his ‘Epistle on Painting.’ He addressed an ‘Epistle on History’ to Gibbon (1780), a long ‘Poetical Epistle’ to Admiral Keppel (1779), an ode to Howard the philanthropist (1780), and an ‘Elegy on the Ancient Greek Model’ to the Bishop of London (1779). Hayley's married life had not been fortunate, but his illegitimate child, Thomas Alphonso Hayley [q. v.], who was born on 5 Oct. 1780, was adopted by his wife, and treated as her own son. In 1781 Hayley published his most successful poem, ‘The Triumphs of Temper’ (London, 4to), which ran through twelve or fourteen editions, and, together with his ‘Triumphs of Music’ (Chichester, 1804), was ridiculed by Byron in ‘English Bards and Scotch Reviewers.’ In 1782 he published ‘Poetical Epistles on Epic Poetry’ addressed to Mason, and in 1785 the ‘Essay on Old Maids’ (London, 3 vols.), one of his few still readable works. In 1786 his wife's mind became affected, and a separation was arranged in 1789. Next year Hayley visited Paris, and wrote a French comedy, ‘Les préjugés abolis,’ which was never acted. In 1792 his employment on the ‘Life of Milton’ brought him into contact with Cowper, and a warm friendship sprang up between them, and soon afterwards he was introduced to William Blake by Flaxman, under whom his son was studying. The ‘Life of Milton’ was published in 1794, prefixed to Boydell and Nicols's edition of Milton's works, and a separate and enlarged edition in 1796. About this time Hayley assisted in procuring from Pitt a pension for his friend Cowper. In 1805 he published ‘Ballads founded on Anecdotes of Animals’ (Chichester, 12mo), interesting on account of the illustrations by Blake, for whose benefit the work was produced. Hayley was now engaged on a ‘Life of Cowper,’ who died in 1800, within a week of his son, and published it in 1803 [see under Cowper, William, 1731–1800.]

Hayley's wife had died in 1800, and in 1809 he married Mary Welford, from whom he separated three years later. His ‘Life of Romney’ was published at Chichester in 1809, but was coldly received, and severely attacked by John Romney in his ‘Memoirs of Romney,’ 1830. During his later years he withdrew to Felpham, near Eartham, where he lived in great seclusion, though he was visited by many distinguished friends. From 1812 till his death he was paid an annuity as the price of his memoirs, which he undertook to leave in a condition fit to be printed at his death. He died at Felpham on 12 Nov. 1820. Dr. J. Johnson, editor of the ‘Memoirs’ (1823), describes Hayley as cheerful and sympathetic, and possessed of great conversational ability. His friend Southey wrote: ‘Everything about that man is good except his poetry.’ But his verse was popularly successful, and on the death of Warton he was offered and declined the laureateship. Gifford long delayed inserting in the ‘Quarterly’ an article by Southey on Hayley, on the ground that he (Gifford) ‘could not bear to see Hayley spoken of with decent respect.’

His other works are:

  1. ‘Epistle to a Friend on the Death of John Thornton,’ 1780.
  2. ‘Plays of three Acts and in Verse, written for a Private Theatre,’ London, 1784.
  3. ‘Poetical Works of W. Hayley,’ Dublin, 3 vols. 1785.
  4. ‘The Happy Prescription, or the Lady relieved from her Lovers,’ 1785.
  5. ‘The Two Connoisseurs: a Comedy,’ 1785, 8vo.
  6. ‘Occasional Stanzas, written at the request of the Revolution Society,’ &c., 1788.
  7. ‘The Young Widow, or a History of Cornelia Sudley,’ 1789.
  8. ‘An Elegy on the Death of Sir W. Jones,’ 1795.
  9. ‘An Essay on Sculpture, in a series of Poetical Epistles to John Flaxman,’ 1800.
  10. ‘Three Plays with a Preface,’ Chichester, 1811, 8vo.

Hayley wrote also much verse and prose for various collections; some unpublished pieces are given in his ‘Memoirs,’ and others remained in manuscript.

[Memoirs of Hayley, ed. J. Johnson, LL.D., 1823; Quarterly Review, xxxi. 263–311 (article by Southey); Gilchrist's Life of Blake, pp. 75, 142–3, 156–7, 165, 167–9, 170, 174–5, 193, 196, 203; Swinburne's Life of Blake, 1865, p. 28; Gibbon, by John, Lord Sheffield, 1796, i. 138, 173, 556–8.]

N. D. F. P.