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had ever less reason to complain of their severity) seemed to have given him the same disgust to the idea of publishing, that sickened upon the spirit of this literary lady, and slackened all her nerves of poetic industry * The repetition of a dose of wholesome reproof, so unpalatable to a man whose taste and appetite had been palled by the lusciousness of praise, was likely to renew this feeling; and accordingly we do not find him again making his appearance as an author until the year 1800, when he printed his Essay on Sculpture, addressed in an epistle to Flaxman, to whom his son had been for some years a pupil, with every promise of future excellence in the art which that great sculptor so successfully cultivated. His health had, however, been delicate from childhood; and a curvature of the spine, a most dangerous malady, whose symptoms had for some time been mistaken for a slight injury to the muscles of the breast, baffled all the anxious efforts of his affectionate parent, by change of air and the best medical advice, to prolong a life deservedly most dear to them, beyond his eighteenth year. He died in the month of June, 1800. The death of Mrs. Hayley, three years before, under peculiarly distressing circumstances, had materially affected her husband's spirits, heart, and, coupled with his own declining health, whích never had been strong, rendered him the less able to struggle with a bereavement so severe. She was a woman endowed with powers of mind of so superior an order, that she was strongly suspected of having assisted her husband in the composition of his works - a detraction from their merits, to which most authors have been subjected who have had literary wives. She was in frequent correspondence with Miss Seward; but the only works she published were a translation of “ The Marchioness Lambert's Essays on Friendship and Old Age, with an Introductory Letter to William Melmoth, Esq.” to which a sonnet by her husband was prefixed, and “ The Triumph of Acquaintance over Friendship, an Essay for the Times.” The former was printed in 1780; the latter in 1796, the year previous to her death, which happened on the 8th of November, 1797. In the interval between the publication of his elegy on sir William Jones and the “ Essay on Sculpture, their author had also sustained another loss, deeply affecting the feelings of a heart as susceptible of friendship as was his. On the 25th of April, 1800, Cowper's weary and shattered frame found rest and quiet in the grave. He had
* Seward's Letters, ii. 272.
only written two short and sorrowful letters to Hayley since his removal into Norfolk; and that devoted friend was prevented the melancholy pleasure of seeing him once again in the flesh — their spirits have, we trust, long since, been reunited in a better and a happier world — by the dangerous illness and impending death of the darling child who soon followed the poet, by whom he had been distinguished in the budding of his talents, to the house appointed for all the living: Under such a pressure of accumulated distress, it is not to be expected that any man could write with his wonted force
« Slow comes the verse which real grief inspires :
What mourner ever felt poetic fires ?” With these lines of the poet, to the truth of which we cordially subscribe, in our recollection, we shall pass no harsher criticism upon the Essay on Sculpture, than that its versification is more prosaic and faulty than that of its author's other didactic poems, to which it is certainly inferior in all points but the notes, in which Mr. Hayley exhibited his wonted taste and learning. The epistolary correspondence of Miss Seward, in her criticisms upon this work, exhibits a singular and lamentable instance of the insincerity of praise from those who have not firmness or honesty enough to tell their friends the truth. To the author of the poem she writes, with an affectation but too frequently apparent in letters written for the public, and not for the correspondent, “ The Epistles on Sculpture admirably widen the circle of your Encyclopedian muse, which enriches the literary fame of Britain with poetic celebration of the arts and sciences, traces their progress, and recals the just claims of their professors from the oblivious shadows of time *.” She ventures, indeed, gently to hint at the too frequent recurrence of certain epithets in so rich a poem; yet within a fortnight she refers another correspondent to that same rich poem, as a proof that the genius of the author had rapidly declined from its meridian. Such is the sincerity of flatterers. By such Hayley was unfortunately surrounded, and they were the bane of his improvement in the tuneful art.
Happily, however, for his lasting reputation, circumstances over which he had little control, marked out for him a path of literature in which he was infinitely better calculated to shine. On the 19th of March, 1802, his friend
* Letters, iv. 302.
Romney died at Kendal, in the arms of a wife whom he had quitted for years without a causė, but who received him with kindness when he retired to the scenes of his youth, shattered in constitution and spirits, and wishing for nothing so anxiously as a faithful nurse. From that period, Hayley was actively engaged in collecting materials for biographical memoirs of this extraordinary artist, and of the amiable poet to whom he had introduced him, and whose life, though widely differing in some important respects, in a few of its leading features but too closely resembled his. Those of Cowper were first arranged and presented to the public, by whom, as it had been expected with impatience, it was received with merited approbation. We are far from thinking it free from faults; but notwithstanding some verbosity and affectation of style, a disposition uniformly to praise, and a frequent extravagance in the praise itself, we cannot but think this life of Cowper one of the most interesting pieces of biography in the English language. The memoirs of Romney were so much longer in preparation, that three intervening publications call for
previous notice at our hands. The first is the “ Triumph of Music,” published in the year 1804, and completing its author's poétical commemorations of the sister arts. This is a singular performance; and though exhibiting very gratifying proofs of religion, which he had always defended in his works, (having, latterly at least, made a deep impression upon the poet's heart,) we cannot, upon that account, be blind to its literary defects. The versification is tamer and more hobbling than any
of Mr. Hayley's former productions; and the novelty of the combination of lyrical and didactic poetry, ode, lıymn; elegy, and sonnet, in one piece, is only exceeded by the completeness of its failure. 6 Rincurres de la verre" is indeed a much more correct description of its merits, than the unqualified praise bestowed upon it by another critic, by whom its pious tendency must have been considered a sufficient atonement for a thousand faults, or it never would have been praised by him as it is. Those faults attracted the attention of the literary giants of the north, critics of a very different description to those who had so liberally dealt to Mr. Hayley praises by the wholesale, whenever his name made its appearance on their table; and although the Edinburgh Reviewers are any thing rather than an oracle with us, we so completely coincide with their remarks on the general merits of our author's poetry, that we shall transcribe them into our pages, instead of clothing the same sentiments in less powerful language of our own. “ Fortune," say these critics very truly,“ has her favourites in the republic of letters as well as in the aristocracy of wealth. Desert is sometimes left, we are afraid, to pine in obscurity, while mediocrity is occasionally promoted to a share of public notice and indulgence, which appears surprising, when its claims come to be fairly investigated. To the latter class we conceive the author of the poem before us to belong. His indefatigable industry during a long life, his character as a polite scholar, and his intimacy with men of the first literary eminence, are circumstances quite independent of the divine inspiration of genius; but in Mr. Hayley's case they have so well supplied the deficiency, that his name carries to the general ear a sort of classical sound. The charm dissolves, however, upon a near examination; and leaves us to discover, in all the productions of his muse, a decided and invariable mediocrity. There is scarcely any passage, in all his metrical compositions, which may not be reduced, by a few slight transpositions, to sober, sensible prose, without one distinguishable fragment of the scattered poet. Even in his earlier works, when the vigour of his fancy was unimpaired, there is a continual tameness of conception, and monotony of versification, that show he was not born for the higher flights of poetry." After paying a merited compliment to the general excellence of his notes --- unhappily wanting to this poem, they very justly add,
" When Mr. Hayley refers us to a note, it is not an interruption, but a relief; and we gladly quit languid verse for agreeable prose *.”
The opinion here expressed of the merits of this poem, accorded in substance with that of most of the critics of the day. Mr. Hayley had survived his reputation as a poet situation, in our esteem, infinitely more pitiable than that of never having enjoyed a reputation to survive. He published, however, in the following year, a volume of ballads, founded on anecdotes relating to animals; a work not by any means calculated to revive his fame, though fully equal in its merits to the modesty of its pretensions, which were those of a higher class of nursery rhymes.
In the year 1809, he gave to the public, in a quarto volume, ornamented with designs by Fladman, the long expected translation of Milton's Latin and Italian poems, with the fragments of cominentary on Paradise Lost, by Cowper, for the benefit of whose orphan godson, a son
* Edinburgh Review, vi. 56.
of his friend, Rose, Mr. Hayley undertook the task of preparing them for the press, introducing them by some prefatory remarks, and adding a variety of notes, exhibiting, as usual, the extent and variety of his reading, and the correctness of his taste and judgment. The work was handsomely printed and ornamented, but unfortunately abounds with typographical errors, attributable in part to the incorrectness of a country press, and in part, we doubt not, to the failing eyesight of its benevolent editor, which, always so weak, from a strong tendency to internal inflammation, (for not the slightest external injury could be seen,) that it is wonderful how he wrote so much as he did, grew
weaker as he advanced in age. In the following year, the Life of Romney, on which he had long been engaged, made its appearance; and may be very justly characterised, in the words of one of its author's most uniformly friendly critics, one of the most ingenious and affectionate tributes ever paid to the memory of a departed friend *.” Indeed, its chief fault is that it is too much so; that there is more of friendship and the friend, than of the artist and his works, of his heart than of his mind, his feelings than his actions, in its pages. The subject was not so attractive as the Life of Cowper; there is more of affectation, and more of self, in the shape of sonnets and other poems, hitched into a narrative with which they are seldom connected, too evidently for mere display, than in that admirable piece of biography: yet, notwithstanding these deductions, the Life of Romney is a work doing no discredit to its author's established reputation in this interesting walk of literature. And well would it have been for his general reputation
a writer, had this work been his last; but unhappily mistaking his forte to the close of life, he published, in 1811, “ three plays, with a preface, including dramatic observations by lieut. gen. Burgoyne,” through whose kind interference Eudora, one of the trio of tragedies, was represented on the stage, and was no sooner on than it was deservedly hooted off.
“ Fir'd that the house rejects him, 'sdeath he prints it,
To shame the fools”. The only persons whom it ought to have shamed, or whom in all probability it did shame, were, however, the author, and the few friends who still maintained his claim to great
* Gentleman's Magazine, lxxix. 1147.