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HAYLEY, William.

Plays of Three Acts; written for a Private Theatre.

London: T. Cadell, 1784 Stock Code: 139629
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First edition. Lovely copy of the collected theatrical works of this now largely forgotten, but once highly popular writer, exceptionally prettily bound and with an attractive provenance. Hayley is best remembered today as a friend and patron of George Romney and William Blake, and biographer of Milton.

Hayley (17451820) "although affluent was determined on a literary career" (ODNB), his plays were singularly unsuccessful, Anna Seward considered 'Lord Russell', collected here, "lacking in spirit and variety", and that 'Marcella', also in this volume, had a "disgusting plot" and was "never likely please". His essays and poems met with greater success, his didactic poem Triumphs of Temper (1781), intended "to reform the entire feminine mind of England by the advice" was appreciated by Emma Hamilton who thanked Hayley "for the lessons she had learnt from the poem", which ran to fourteen editions and proved to be the most durable of all his publications. His life of Milton, originally commissioned by Boydell was similarly popular. Remarkably, he was offered the laureateship in 1790, which he declined for unknown reasons. Southey provided an excellent summary of Hayley's life and work; "confessedly the most popular and the most fashionable of living poets by grace of the public King of the bards of Britain... because the verse was on a level with the taste of the age.... Everything about that man is good except his poetry."

This delightful copy is from the library of Charles William Vane, third marquess of Londonderry (17781854), with his elaborate armorial bookplate to the front pastedown. A brave but not particularly brilliant soldier, Sir John Moore described him as "a very silly fellow", he served with variable distinction through the Peninsular War, his arms with hussar supporters including his military awards. His Narrative of the war, based on his correspondence with his half-brother Lord Castlereagh, was not uncontroversial.

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Quarto (266 x 210 mm). Contemporary polished calf, red morocco label, flat bands milled gilt, compartments gilt with large floral spray tools, arabesqued foliate corners, floral rolled panel to the boards, milled edge-roll gilt, edges stained yellow, grey-blue/pink shell marbled endpapers.


With half-title.


A little rubbed, a few minor scrapes, corners bumped, back joint just started at the tail end, blanks front and back browned and with tan burn, else a very good copy.


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