Monday, 7 July 2014

Fashionable Diseases, Posthumous Diagnoses & Eliza Hayley

From 3-5 July  2014, I was at the Fashionable Diseases Conference at Northumbria and Newcastle Universities, inhaling information and ideas about illnesses – fashionable and unfashionable, psychological, physiological,  real and represented, imagined and imaginary – throughout the long eighteenth century and presenting a paper: "Marvellous mental infelicities": William Hayley, his first wife, Eliza, & William Cowper, "the most interesting of Sufferers".

I came away characteristically over-stimulated, thoughts and questions bubbling away in my brain, (and, naturally, tumbling out my mouth), having encountered a range of fascinating people presenting and discussing a deliciously wide range of perspectives.

And I left with one big question mark. It hangs over the concept, meaning and practice of "diagnosis" in general, and of posthumous diagnosis (especially of individuals who died a couple of hundred years ago) in particular.

There was a clear consensus that, for several reasons, attempting posthumous diagnosis is an unequivocally bad idea.

  1. What's the point? They're dead so there's no chance of curing them
  2. It distracts from talking about the more important aspects of an individual's work (in this context, the individuals concerned were, predominantly, writers)
  3. It says more about the diagnoser and their context than it does about the person being diagnosed or whatever illnesses/conditions they may or may not have had
  4. In almost all cases, this can only be pointless speculation: the diagnosis can never be confirmed, rendering the practice, in Roy Porter's words (I believe), a parlour game.

Yet, the impulse to do it is, it seems, almost irresistible: if it wasn't, I think it's unlikely that

      a. so many people would do it
      b. so many people would be so dead against it

I am guilty of a. So, the following may read as pure self-justification, but I hope there's a bit more to it than that. To be fair to me, I am a lifelong and enthusiastic hypochondriac (in the present, not long-eighteenth century, sense), and it was, at least in part, my generally anxious fascination with matters medical that drew me to William Hayley in the first place.

Also, as someone working biographically, I'm finding the process of exploring possible diagnoses particularly useful in framing my thoughts on Hayley's first wife, Eliza.

The best description I've yet encountered of Eliza is by the poet Anna Seward. She wrote it shortly after Eliza's death in 1897:

Fire in her affections, frost in her sensations, she shrunk from the caresses of even the husband she adored. Hence, while she had a morbid degree of tenaciousness respecting his esteem and attention, she was incapable of personal jealousy; and would amuse herself with the idea of those circumstances, with which she could so perfectly well dispense, being engrossed by another. …

… With sportive fancy; with no inconsiderable portion of belles-lettres knowledge; with polite address, and an harmonious voice in speaking, and with the grace of correct and eloquent language; with rectitude of principles, unsuspecting frankness of heart, and extreme good humour; she was, strange to say ! not agreeable, at least not permanently agreeable. The unremitting attention her manner of conversing seemed to claim, her singular laugh, frequent and excessive, past all proportion to its cause, overwhelmed, wearied, and oppressed even those who were most attached to her; who felt her worth, and pitied her banishment from the man on whom she doated.

(from Letters of Anna Seward: Written Between the Years 1784 and 1807, vol 5 pp22-25)
William Hayley – despite his medical knowledge and his particular interest in mental health issues – found himself unable name or, over the long term, meliorate to her condition. He recorded that "The fluctuation of her spirits was rapid to an alarming degree", "Though she is not, and perhaps never may, fall into absolute insanity,
the state of mind, to which she has long been subject, is to all who tenderly regard her, an evil much more distressing than madness itself; it is a state not easily described. At times suspicion and pride (the two frequent forerunners of absolute insanity,) appear its chief characteristics; at other times, depression and melancholy.
and that, as "one of her most attentive medical friends" said
“Her whole frame is full of pins and needles; at every turn they run into her, and she imputes the blame to the first cause that occurs to her agitated fancy.”
(Memoirs of the Life and Writings of William Hayley, Esq.  Vol 1, p210, p342, p484)
He also tells us that, "While he retained his health, and the native cheerfulness of his spirit, a lively imagination afforded him the best possible antidote for the marvellous mental infelicities of his pitiable Eliza. When he could no longer divert her volatile mind with lively sallies of fancy, she considered Eartham as a dungeon" (ibid p339). On one occasion "at a time when his health was cruelly shattered":
She said to him, with an air of innocent naïveté that proved she spoke only from painful ennui, “You were once the most agreeable man in the world, but you really have lost all your talents,” to which he mildly replied, “I believe, my dear, you speak something near the truth, according to your own ideas of it; yet it seems rather hard to hear it from you.”
(Memoirs of Thomas Alphonso Hayley p120)
I read Eliza's letters along with what Hayley and others say about her and I can't avoid speculating about her condition. Given that my medical qualifications don't even extend to an O level in biology, this is, at best, cheeky. But, for me, it's all part of trying to understand what made her tick, to get a feel for what she was like and why.

I think there are five possibilities, as follows
  1. Asperger's: on the basis that she "she shrunk from the caresses of even the husband she adored", and that her social and conversational behaviour didn't conform to norms/social mores.
  2. Attachment Disorder: on the basis of her early life experience. Her mother had gone mad following the deaths of several of her children, and Eliza was the result of an attempt to cure her by getting her pregnant. And on the basis of her innocently naïve bluntness about her husband's loss of talents, her avoidance of touch and the nature and mode of her conversation.
  3. She was a healthy, intelligent and educated woman who was massively stressed by a combination of the limitations society and culture imposed on women at that point in time AND her unusual personal circumstances.
  4. A possibility that I haven't thought of/am unaware of.
  5. A combination of some or all the above.
So a range of speculative diagnoses, a range of possibilities. And I'm left pondering
  1. Why I feel the need – particularly given my total lack of medical credentials – to try to work this out.
  2. The fact that I have focused on three potential diagnoses that, while not exactly "fashionable diseases", are, at present, floating around in public consciousness.
  3. What it means for a lay person to try and diagnose someone. How far is it about about labelling or pigeonholing and/or trying to help/support and/or understanding and/or making allowances for, knowing how to react to, making judgements about – or being morally judgemental of – the individual we are trying to pin a diagnosis on? What does it mean about how we see ourselves in relation to others?
  4. How different individuals react differently to the same diagnosis: how for me a diagnosis could feel like a relief, a liberation, the first step to managing or curing a condition, while for someone else, it could feel like stigmatising label, a failure , simply, confirm a belief that all is decaying.
  5. If one is researching and writing a biography and its subject's physical or psychological condition has a significant impact on their life and experiences, can one, should one avoid thinking about a diagnosis? Or, is it not the speculation, the exploration, that's problematic, but the drive – where it exists – to prove or argue one possible diagnosis over the others?
  6. And how has what it means to make a diagnosis – both during the lifetime of an individual, and posthumously – changed over the centuries?
I'd be very interested to hear people's views…

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

A bit more Eliza

In May 1784 when Hayley's play Lord Russel is performed in Chichester – and he's in London, we find Eliza attending a rehearsal and, not only giving the actors notes, but also suggesting, in a letter to her husband, a change or two in the text…

She also has an active social life. Most days when she's not breakfasting, dining or staying with friends and relatives, Eliza seems to receive at least one visitor – often several. One of the people she sees socially (and doesn't seem very fond of) is Mrs Frankland. Mrs (Lady) Frankland was a celebrated rags-to-riches case: a beautiful young bare-foot American barmaid in a tattered frock, who attracted the attentions of an English aristocrat who educated her, took her as a mistress and eventually – after she dug him out of the rubble he was buried under during an earthquake in Lisbon – married her.

She spent the last few years of her life in Chichester where, years after her first husband died, she married a wealthy banker called John Drew.
More about her here.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

"she seem’d fitter to whine her good Man into the Act of feeding her child with pap than to fire his Spirit to the perpetration of Murder"

On Saturday 3 November 1787, William Hayley, George Romney and the Rev. Dr Warner went to watch Mrs Siddons play Lady Macbeth. Here's the review (of her performance, the subsequent farce and, um, the women occupying the boxes) Hayley wrote, the following day, in a letter to his wife Eliza…
 As I think it will amuse you to receive a full Account of our theatrical Amusement last Night I begin scribbling today to inform you that the dear Painter & Divine attended me to see Mrs Siddons as Lady Macbeth – 
The Pittore arriv’d at my Cell by 5 oclock to drink his Coffee with me; as soon as that short Ceremony was finish’d we proceeded to the Pit & luckily got excellent places three rows from the Orchestra — our old Acquaintance Mr Smith play’d Macbeth as He plays every thing, like a Gentleman & a Man of Intelligence, without the rare Gift of enchanting Genius – Mrs Siddons in the two first acts disappointed me much, & was infinitely inferior to my departed Idols Mrs Pritchard & Mrs Yates - By attempting to throw diabolical Spirit into her Countenance she made it Grotesque, & she display’d a most awkward Gesture with her elbow which put me in mind of a poor hawk in a Garden, attempting to fly with a Cut Wing. Her Features were to my Feelings so entirely out of Harmony with her Character that I was saying to myself every Moment
Her Eyes refute the Language of her Tongue 
Her Face indeed had the delicate air of a Woman just brought to bed, & she seem’d fitter to whine her good Man into the Act of feeding her child with pap than to fire his Spirit to the perpetration of Murder – But if her first Scenes were so unfortunate, the progress & close of her Part made us very ample Amends - The Banquet Scene she played with admirable dignity & Grace & her new dress as Queen was supremely magnificent & becoming - it was so much so that Romney suppos’d it the design of Sir Joshua — I have not yet mentioned the Passage where she most delighted us – it was the divine Scene of her soliloquy in sleep - I never saw in my Life a more perfect piece of Acting – Her night dress was admirably contriv’d for effect – by a sort of fine Bandage under her chin she gave to her Countenance an Expression perfectly new & her Features display’d indeed the royal Murderess worn almost to death by her Remorse — In this marvellous Scene she was many many degrees suprerior to the two great Actresses who in my Opinion surpass’d her (as I have told you) in the first part of the Play — Kemble play’d Macduff very well & shone particularly in the famous Scene of receiving the Tidings that his Wife & Children were massacred – We were tempted to stay the Farce for the sake of seeing Mrs Jordans in the Sultan - it is a little Musical & laughable Performance form’d on the story of Roxolane in Marmontel, the pert little capricious enchanting Slave who captivates the Grand Signor avec un petit nez retroussé — the comic acting of Mrs Jordans was as perfect in its way as the best Scene of Mrs Siddons & threw us all into some hearty Laughs — My reverend Neighbour & I walk’d home together as the Night was uncommonly fine, & tho I suffer’d a little in the Eyes from the Heat of the House yet this suffering was less than usual from the precaution of sitting near the cool Stage & altogether I have escap’d much better than I expected — The House was full but the Boxes exhibited an assemblage of the plainest women I believe that were ever collected in a Theatre so much so that I could not help saying to an Italian Gentleman who was talking near me in that Language that He must not judge of our Country Women by so unfortunate a Sample—

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Eliza in Hayley's Memoirs… & in reality

Despite his best efforts – and I think he tried to be fair – you don't get much of a sense of Eliza as a person from William Hayley's Memoirs. Early on, he declares that
The warm language of poetry could hardly bestow too much praise on the heart and mind of the young Eliza; and the poet, who, in the character of her brother, had taken a pleasure in cultivating them with the purest fraternal regard, took still higher pleasure in praising them, when a series of utterly unexpected incidents had made the nominal sister, his wife.
Incidentally, this isn't the first time that he mentions his role in educating her.

Throughout, he calls her "his pitiable Eliza" and refers, again and again, to her mental health issues and his continued attempts to support her, even after they've separated. "The letters of Hayley", he writes (his Memoirs are in the third person):
to this very singular and highly meritorious mortal, afford a striking proof with what incessant tenderness and solicitude he endeavoured to counteract the infelicity of her constitution.
He also includes some comparatively anodyne extracts from her letters, some of which give a sniff of her archness, but none of her wit or sharpness. And, for some reason – unless I've missed the reference – he doesn't mention that she brought out two publications of her own.

The first was a translation of the Marchioness de Lambert's Essays on Friendship & Old Age, which came out in 1780 – the same year Mary Cockerell gave birth to Hayley's son, Thomas Alphonso.

Her introductory letter is followed by a poem. Both are addressed to William Melmoth who, in the introduction to his 1777 translation of Cicero's essay on friendship, had omitted to mention de Lambert "in speaking of the distinguished modern writers on Friendship", thus leading Eliza "though not intentionally, into those perils, that attend a novice in publication".

The poem is workmanlike, light-of-touch. In it, Eliza praises Melmoth's "soft Virgilian prose"…

 Whose beauties will outlive
The ruder verse I vainly frame,
To lovely LAMBERT’S injured name
     Full retribution give!
 and concludes in a manner both internationalist and feminist …
And France exulting, ranks her name
With those who constitute the same
     Of her Augustan Age.

Britain applauds so just a meed:
Let female worth, she cries, succeed,
     Where’er that worth may shine!
Let France unenvy’d boast her share
Of glory from her letter’d Fair,
     Since MONTAGU is mine!

Eliza's second work, written in 1788, but not published until 1796 – the year before she died – and then, anonymously, is the  cynical and "anti-Ciceronian" The Triumph of Acquaintance over Friendship: An Essay for the Times.

It is dedicated to a Mrs. N. "I determined," Eliza writes in the dedication,
to try my long meditated attack upon Friendship; trusting that it would dissipate the cold spleen with which I was possessed. Once embarked in such an undertaking, I found it expedient not to turn my hostile thoughts towards you, lest they should bend from their purpose before their task was accomplished.

"I pretend not", she claims,
to reason as a logician, but merely to conjecture as a woman. Relying therefore on that extensive indulgence, which is so liberally allowed to the weakness of my sex, I shall endeavour in the following pages to draw a comparison of the two sentiments of Friendship and Acquaintance.
It's an intriguing work: Eliza's argument isn't always easy to follow, and her analogies – like this one, for instance
A friendly letter which fatigues can be thrown into the fire, but friendly companions who are embroiled are not so easily disentangled.
– don't always quite work: which of the embroiled friends here is represented by the letter, and which by the thrower? Or, could one be the thrower and the other the fire?

Anyway, that's all I'll say for now, but I'll return to The Triumph of Acquaintance over Friendship in a later post. There's a lot to unpick in there…

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Eliza Hayley's letters

According to William Hayley, his first wife, Eliza, was a poor, "pitiable" thing. The "fluctuation" of her "spirits was rapid to an alarming degree" and she suffered from "marvellous mental infelicities".  Whilst her early letters give a hint of this – scarcely a paragraph goes by without a mention of her spirits, ailments minor or major (her own and other people's: one letter is almost exclusively devoted to the effects and treatment of thread worms) and the time she's been spending with local doctors – they're also lively, opinionated and, in places, deliciously acid.

While William is away, a friend "presses" Eliza "exceedingly" to come for dinner, but she decides to decline because Mrs Bull, who's staying with them "absolutely makes me sick". Although, on the upside, "she has been very ill & low with a sore throat so I hope she is less talkative…"

The next letter describes how she and Sally Steele (the daughter, I think, of William Hayley's godfather) have, after a major falling out, now returned their relationship to a civil footing. Eliza "heartily rejoiced at having ended a very unpleasant affair (that has given me infinite vexation) entirely to my satisfaction." One problem with this quarrel was that it looked like William's close friend John Thornton was about to propose to Sally.

Eliza addresses this issue head on. She doesn't think it's right for Thornton "to sacrifice his Happiness to a private Pique" of hers and seeks to assure him that, whilst she and Sally could never be bosom buddies, "I dare say we shall like each other as much as is necessary."

She's slightly more vehement - and no less acerbic - on the matter in a subsequent letter. "I absolutely wish," she writes, for  Thornton "to marry Sally (if he means to marry at all) that he may not add an other such to our acquaintance."

Eliza by George Romney

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

The end of the "intellectual machine"

The three fan letters Cowper received didn't cure his mental health problems. "The experiment for the restoration of his Mind," Hayley wrote, "did not certainly succeed to the extent of my Wishes, & my Expectations."

However, in Hayley's opinion, there was "great reason to believe, that the unexpected Letters, which He actually received, made a beneficial Impression on his Spirits; & gave a wonderful activity to his Mind, even while it seemed to be involved in impenetrable Gloom."

Around this time, after months of inactivity, Cowper resumed work on his long-neglected translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey. This could, of course,  have been coincidence, but Hayley attributed it firmly to his own intervention:

the Revival & Improvement of [Cowper's] Homer, while his Spirits appeared for unfit for such a Task, may be regarded as one of the most marvellous Facts, that can be discovered in the History of the human Mind.

Cowper continued to work and when, on 31 January 1800, Hayley received a letter from Johnny Johnson, enclosing a short, newly translated passage from the Iliad, in Cowper's handwriting, he was ecstatic.

[I]t appeared to me as a blessed omen of his being entirely Himself again - The Emotions of my Heart upon that Idea immediately gave rise to the following …

Blest be the Characters so Kindly trac’d
In that dear Hand which I have longed to view
Pledge of Affection old and Kindness new
From the reviving Bard supremely graced
With all the Gifts of Fancy and of Taste
That can Endear the Mind! and given to Few
The rarer richer Gift, a Heart as true
As e’er the Arms of Amity embraced.

Ecstatic Tears I on the Paper shed
That speaks, my Cowper! of thy mental Health
And of thy Friendship, soothing as the Dove!
So weeps the Nymph, who, when long Storms are past
Welcomes from the Sea her Bosom’s rescued Wealth
To Life to Joy to Glory and to Love
It's hardly great poetry. But the last three lines are interesting. They seem, like a magic mirro,r to reflect a happy ending onto the final stanza of Cowper's last, original poem, "The Cast-away" (written March 1799 and first published in Hayley's biography of his friend):

No voice divine the storm allay'd,
   No light propitious shone;
When, snatch'd from all effectual aid,
   We perish'd, each alone:
But I beneath a rougher sea,
And whelm'd in deeper gulphs than he.
This is somewhat uncanny, as it's almost certain that Hayley didn't see the poem until January 1801.
A couple of weeks after Hayley received the letter that so fed his optimism, Cowper fell ill. A couple of months later, he was dead.

Monday, 26 May 2014

The "Intellectual Machine" cranks into action

After a lot of nagging by Hayley and the judicious application of Lady Hesketh's schmoozing skills, William Cowper started receiving letters of the type promised in "the Vision".

The first, written 9 August 1797, came from William Wilberforce.

When he caught sight of the letter, Cowper said "The outside tells me, I shall be taken away by Force, & the inside will tell me the Time when”. He did, however, read the letter with what the Reverend Johnny Johnson - Cowper's cousin and carer – described as "unusual Attention".

The second - hustled by Lady Hesketh - came from the Bishop of London late in September. It was an enthusiastic fan letter, detailing the religious enjoyment with which the Bishop read and re-read Cowper's poems.

Cowper's response?

“Never was such a Letter written, never was such a Letter read to a Man so overwhelmed with Despair, as I am — It was written in Derision – I know, & I am sure of it.”

Johnson challenged this: Cowper shouldn't say such a thing of a man as good as the Bishop of London!

“I should say so", Cowper replied, "of an archangel, were it possible for an archangel to send me such a Letter, in such Circumstances.”

Friday, 23 May 2014

"a large & Complicated intellectual Machine, which I have invented"

"My keen sensations in perusing these heartpiercing Lines have been a painful Prelude to the following Ecstatic Vision", wrote William Hayley, in a letter to William Cowper, sent four days after he received Cowper's devastating note.

— I beheld the Throne of God, whose Splendor, tho in Excess, did not strike me blind, but left me power to discern,  on the steps of it, two kneeling angelic Forms.

A kind Seraph seemed to whisper to me, that these heavenly Petitioners were your lovely Mother, & my own; both enjoyed fervent Supplications for your Restoration to mental Serenity, & Comfort.— I sprang eagerly forward to enquire your Destiny of your Mother.—Turning towards me, with a look of Seraphic Benignity, she smiled upon me, & said: “Warmest of earthly Friends! Moderate the anxiety of thy Zeal, lest it distract they declining Faculties! & know, as a Reward for thy Kindness, that my Son shall be restored to Himself, & to Friendship.

But the all-Merciful & almighty ordains, that his Restoration shall be gradual; & that his Peace with Heaven shall be preceded by the following extraordinary Circumstances of signal Honour on Earth.— He shall receive Letters from Members of Parliament, from Judges, & from Bishops, to thank Him for the service that He has rendered to the Christian World by his devotional Poetry. These shall be followed by a Letter from the Prime Minister to the same effect; & this by Thanks expressed to Him on the same account, in the Hand of the King Himself.— Tell Him, when these Events take place, he may confide in his celestial Emancipation from despair, granted to the Prayer of his Mother; & He may rest satisfied with this assurance from Her, that his Peace is perfectly made with Heaven.—Hasten to impart these blessed Tidings to your fav’rite Friend! said the Maternal Spirit; & let your Thanksgiving to God be an Increase of reciprocal Kindness to each other!—

In classic direct marketing style, Hayley added a call-to-action PS:

if any of these Incidents speedily take place, which your angelic Mother announced to me in this Vision, as certain signs of your Recovery, I conjure you in her Name, my dear Cowper, to communicate them to me, with all the kind dispatch, that is due to the tender anxiety of sympathetic affection!— Heaven grant that I may hear from you again very soon!— adieu!
He then tried to kickstart his "large & Complicated intellectual Machine" by persuading politicians and church men to write to Cowper. He was careful, however, to keep his overall plot a secret: one he shared only with Cowper's relations/carers, the Reverend John Johnson and Lady Harriot Hesketh.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Imagine receiving this from your best friend…

“It was on Tuesday, the 20th of June 1797,” wrote William Hayley in the second of his unpublished Two Memorials of Hayley’s Endeavours to serve His Friend Cowper, “that after long lamenting the calamitous suspension of our Correspondence, I received in Sussex a Letter with the Post Mark of Dereham, containing the following Words, in the Hand-writing of Cowper, but with no signature.”

William Hayley Esqr
near Chichester

Ignorant of every thing but my own instant & impending Misery, I know neither what I do, when I write, nor can do otherwise than write, because I am bidden to do so. Perfect Despair, the most perfect, that ever possessed any Mind, has had Possession of mine, you know how long, and knowing that, will not need to be Told, who writes.

Hayley adored Cowper: his love for the older poet was "as strong as manly friendship can be" and so he was, unsurprisingly, deeply affected by this letter. “I believe," he wrote "it is hardly possible for Language to describe all the various Emotions, that this dark billet of my desponding Friend produced in my Heart.”

But he was also ever-hopeful and his “fervent affection for the dear Sufferer”, combined with “a Fancy naturally inclined to cherish the most sanguine Hopes of what it ardently wishes”, to inspire him to try something quite extraordinary to improve Cowper’s state of mind. It was, in his words, "a large & Complicated Intellectual Machine", and I’ll tell you all about it in my next post

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Third person, first person?

The New York Times asked Salman Rushdie why he wrote Joseph Anton, his account of life under the fatwa, in the third person. He responded that he felt using the first person hampered his progress.
Each time I tried [to write the book], it didn’t work and so I put it aside. And then I realized that one of the things I was really disliking was the first person, this endless “I,” things happening to “me,” and “I felt” and “I did” and “people said about me” and “I worried.” It was just absurdly narcissistic. So at a certain point I thought, “Let me just see what happens if I write it novelistically, in the third person.” And the moment I started doing it was like the kind of “open sesame” that gave me the book.

Meanwhile James Camp wrote, in The New York Observer, that the third person voice would be the first thing readers would notice. He remarked, pointedly, that it “is not a perspective often associated with self-awareness.”

While the author of Joseph Anton – a book that’s fascinating, thought-provoking and irritating in about equal measure – doesn’t always show himself to be the most dispassionate of self-observers, I don’t think this is either down to, or responsible for, his choice of the third person. 

I suspect it’s more accurate – and consistent with Rushdie’s professed reasons for choosing the perspective – to say that the third person is not a perspective often associated with self-exposure. It’s helpful in evading the confessional, and useful to self-aware memoirists and autobiographers who wish to avoid revealing themselves in their work.

Almost two hundred years before Rushdie, William Hayley – having published biographies of Milton, his friends William Cowper and George Romney, and a memoir of his son, Thomas Alphonso Hayley – wrote his own life in the third person. Somewhat lazily edited by Cowper’s relative/carer Rev. John Johnson, it’s a long book, generally honest and egalitarian to the extent that its publisher complained that Hayley seemed to think that “unknown personages connected with him merely by family ties or juvenile affection” and “his literary career and his intercourse with persons of talent and celebrity” would be of “equal interest” to his readers.*

One of my first steps towards creating the zoeography app was to take around 440 shortish extracts from Hayley’s memoir, and ‘translate’ them into the first person. Finicky and – as I’m sure you can imagine – time-intensive, it still proved a fascinating exercise. There is, I suspect, no better way to explore what’s gained and lost by writing about oneself as ‘he’ or ‘she’ rather than ‘I’.

High on the list of benefits has to be status delineation. Hayley often dubs himself “the poet”, as in “The poet of Eartham having finished his life of Milton, in the autumn, took it with him, when he set forth on his second visit to Cowper.” And “The tender gloom which the sudden loss of this memorable man (so long endeared to the poet) had thrown over his mind, prepared him to sympathize in the recent domestic affliction of his noble friend, Lord Egremont”. Using the third person enables Hayley to position himself within his profession and within society much more easily than he could have done using the first person. It’s a significant advantage for someone as concerned with controlling his image, and with posterity, as Hayley was.

But the downside is the loss of intimacy. We may be better placed to perceive the writer’s position within his networks but, there’s a corresponding distancing and dilution of his/her emotions and experiences. Which makes it a slightly odd choice for one of Sensibility's leading votaries.

I’ll be thinking and writing about this more as my research and development progress, and would be interested to read any comments…

* quote from an unpublished letter from Henry Colburn to Rev Johnson.

Friday, 16 May 2014

William Hayley & William Blake

Most people who've heard of William Hayley have done so because of his connection with William Blake.

It was Hayley who persuaded Blake to quit London for Felpham in Sussex in 1800 in order to illustrate Hayley's life of Cowper. Blake visited and found a cottage to rent in July, and he and his wife Catherine made the move in September.

At first the two Williams were delighted with each other. Blake wrote:

Away to sweet Felpham, for heaven is there:
The ladder of Angels descends through the air,
On the turret its spiral does softly descend,
Through the village it winds, at my cot it does end.

The bread of sweet thought and the wine of delight
Feed the village of Felpham by day and by night;
And at his own door the bless'd Hermit does stand,
Dispensing, unceasing to all the wide land.

Blake didn't think of Hayley as "the bless'd Hermit" for long and the relationship between the two men deteriorated over the three years Blake lived in Sussex. It's not surprising: the two men were fundamentally incompatible; Blake's fiery visions were beyond the ken of his well-meaning but interfering employer, who was at the time, in the throes of grief following the deaths of both his best friend Cowper and his son, Thomas Alphonso (of whom, more later).

It's easy to imagine what drove Blake to write his notorious epigrams on Hayley (it's also easy to imagine him carving the letters into the page in frustration):

Of Hayley’s Birth
Of Hayley’s birth this was the happy lot:
His mother on his father him begot.

 On Hayley
To forgive enemies Hayley does pretend,
Who never in his life forgave a friend,
And when he could not act upon my wife
Hired a villain to bereave my life.

 To Hayley
Thy friendship oft has made my heart to ache:
Do be my enemy—for friendship’s sake.
On Hayley’s Friendship
When Hayley finds out what you cannot do,
That is the very thing he’ll set you to;
If you break not your neck, ‘tis not his fault;
But pecks of poison are not pecks of salt.
On Hayley the Pickthank
I write the rascal thanks, till he and I
With thanks amd compliments are quite drawn dry.

But when it really mattered, William Hayley was there for Blake. When Blake was tried for sedition (the death penalty applied in the event of conviction), William Hayley organised and funded his defence. And Blake felt some remorse about some of the things he'd written about Hayley "Burn," he instructed his foremost patron, Thomas Butts, "what I have peevishly written about about any friend."

Hayley continued to commission occasional work from Blake for a few years after Blake returned to London but, within a few years, their correspondence petered out.

For a more complete (& slightly whimsical) exploration of the relationship between the two men, see - a thing I made for if:book UK's Songs of Imagination & Digitisation a few years back.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

William Hayley & William Cowper's pension - part 5

Hayley was crushed by the news of Cowper's illness. He was also furious with the Prime Minister. "I was persuaded," he wrote, "that the animation which the patronage of Mr Pitt might have afforded to his declining Spirit, would have preserved the unhappy Sufferer from this miserable depression."

He decided to write, once more, to Pitt. And he didn't mince his words.

It is not often that a Hermit can be deceived by a Prime Minister; yet I am an Example, that such an extraordinary Incident may happen; for in Truth, my dear Sir, I most credulously confided in yr kind Promise of writing to me soon, concerning your liberal Intentions in favor of my admirable Friend Cowper —alas! instead if hearing form you such Tidings, as I hoped would make him happy, I have just heard from another Quarter that He is recently sunk into that gloomy Wretchedness, a half frantic despondency, from which I was sanguine enough to expect, that yr just Esteem & Beneficence might preserve him.

Now perhaps even yr Kindness may hardly give him a gleam of Satisfaction — your Enemies (a great man can not live without Enemies) affirm, that you have little Feeling: this opinion I have long rejected from my disposition to cherish an enthusiastic regard for you: but the rejected opinion I am now unwillingly putting to the Test —You must have little Feeling indeed, if this Intelligence does not make you lament, as I do most cordially, that an unfortunate delay in providing for a Man of a marvellous Genius, may have conduced to plunge him in the Worst of human Calamity.

How far it is probable that yr Favor might have preserved him from this Evil, or may be likely to restore him from it, perhaps my Lord Spencer may be able from fuller Information to judge better than I can at present: he is a Neighbour & a Friend to the great afflicted Poet, yet if I remember right, not personally acquainted with Him: & his Ldship has kindly promised me (should opportunity arise) to recall to your Remembrance what I said to you in Cowper’s Behalf. Ld Spencer enters (as you kindly did when you allowed me the Honor of conversing with you) into the cruel singularity of Cowper’s situation, & I am confident that you both sympathize in thinking that our Sovereign’s munificence could not be more worthily exerted, than towards this wonderful Man, whether it shall please Heaven to bless him with a restoration of his rare mental Endowments, or still to afflict him with a melancholy alienation of Mind.

I will not utterly relinquish the hope, that you may yet be able to serve him: afflicting as the delay has proved, I am inclined to impute it to such difficulties & Obstructions, as Men, even of excellent Hearts & high Stations too frequently find in their endeavours to befriend the Unfortunate.

I write in the frank & proud Sorrow of a wounded Spirit, but with a cordial & affectionate wish, that Heaven may bless you with unthwarted Power to do Good, & with Virtue sufficient to exert it —

I retain a lasting sense of the very engaging Kindness, with which you allowed me to pour forth my Heart to you on this interesting subject, & I am most sincerely my dr Sir

yr very grateful tho afflicted Servant


Feb 27 1794

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

William Hayley & William Cowper's pension - part 4

When Thurlow went silent, Hayley didn't give up on securing Cowper a pension. He took advice from several friends and decided to do what historian Edward Gibbon (of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire fame) suggested and approach the Prime Minister, William Pitt, directly, asking for a meeting.

Pitt responded immediately, inviting the self-styled hermit in for a chat.

Hayley was so anxious beforehand that on his friend George Romney's advice he knocked back a glass of port (he rarely drank alcohol) which, rather than steadying his nerves, gave him a headache.

But Pitt was very welcoming, and responded so positively to Hayley's petition on behalf of Cowper, that Hayley became a tad over-emotional and ended up grabbing the PM's hand and kissing it "in a Transport of that sensibility which has made me too often the dupe of my own Heart."

Pitt promised to write to Hayley soon. Hayley waited, but in vain. So, as advised by a couple of other friends,  he wrote to Lord Spencer, asking him to prod Pitt's memory. Spencer promised to oblige at the next possible opportunity.

Then Hayley received news "of the darkest complexion". Cowper had sunk into a "deep & wretched despondency".

"I now too clearly perceived," he wrote, "that the horrible impending Mischief, which I had so anxiously laboured to avert from the Mind of my incomparable Friend, had fallen on him with all its weight, & perhaps so fallen, as to overwhelm his enchanting Faculties forever—"

Saturday, 10 May 2014

William Hayley & William Cowper's pension - part 3

Sadly the "animating" verse William Hayley sent to Lord Thurlow failed to have the anticipated effect.

"I was vain enough," Hayley later wrote "to expect a very gracious answer to this Epistle – judge then of my surprise & mortification in receiving no answer at all."

He was, he says,"half inclined to tell him, in a second Letter, how I felt this rudeness from a Man, who can be, whenever he pleases, most enchantingly polite. On reflection however, I thought it became me most not to write to him again, & I therefore vented my own ill-humour in the few following verses, which I sent to Carwardine, & told him that he might, if he had Courage sufficient, repeat them to his patron.

Why, wrapt in Clouds, no Sun pervades,
Sullen as Ajax in the shades,
  Why Thurlow art Thou mute?
When courtesy unstained by art
addresses to thy manly heart
  an amicable suit?

The Muse, Thou hear’st with dumb disdain
call’d thee from troubles dark & vain
  To scenes of sweet Relief,
That might thy rigid Brow unbend
and shew Thee in thy antient Friend
  of living Bards the Chief

Touched by thy silent disrespect,
Two Poets blame thy rude neglect
  with dignity serene;
We, tho aloof from public Jars, [?illeg]
We have thy Pride, but (thank our stars)
  Thy Pride without thy spleen

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

William Hayley & William Cowper's pension - part 2

“You must be aware," Thurlow responded,  "that it would require great delicacy to hint an Idea of this sort to the King”

Hayley wasn't so easily deflected. "My Lord," he said, "I am the most ignorant man alive in all matters that relate to the Court, but this I can say in answer to your objection, that such an application, as I have presumed to suggest, would be no difficult affair, if the King speaks of his own mental infirmity with the Frankness that Cowper does."

He went on to remind Thurlow of how, back in the days when he'd been a fellow student of Cowper's Thhurlow had encountered him "in a moment of his darkest Despondency", and "treated him on that calamitous occasion with all the Kindness, that a Friend can  exert.”

The Chancellor appeared convinced by Hayley's argument. Then, a few days after their meeting, he lost his job.

But Hayley's hope didn't die.

"I still persuaded myself, that as he had personal Intercourse with the royal Family, he would avail himself of some favorable opportunity to become, what I wished him to be, the architect of Cowper’s Fortune."

And, naturally, in order to animate Lord Thurlow to that end, Hayley sent him a poem:

Yes! now your hand, with decent Pride,
Relinquishes that seal unstained,
Which Bacon, Law’s less upright Guide!
With many a sordid spot prophaned;

Haply from [illegible word] pomp released,
You now, escaping thorny strife,
Have time to grace a Hermit’s Feast,
and honour sweet, sequestered Life:

Here nature reigns [illegible word] Souls elate;
Her tranquil smiles their scene endear;
And Fancy, Freedom, Friendship wait
To hail their Favourite Cowper here.

To dignify this dear Retreat
Would I could tempt you to descend,
and in our first of poets meet
Life’s richest Gift, an antient Friend!

When Talents & Virtue a Mortal endear,
  yet fail to preserve him from Fortune’s controul,
Who find her weak Captive in Want’s narrow sphere
  With adversity, Irons [?], that enter the soul.

Say! is it not, Thurlow, an office divine
  With the firm hand of Friendship to cancel such Wrongs?
May the verses of Cowper proclaim it is thine,
  While Genius & Gratitude hallow his songs!

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

William Hayley & William Cowper's pension - part I

William Hayley went to visit the poet William Cowper at his home in Weston for the first time in April 1792 and…

"I was grieved to the soul in hearing, that the Income of such a Man as Cowper arose partly by pitiful & precarious Contribution from Relations & Friends.– it immediately became the first wish of my Heart to procure for him a becoming Independance." [sic]
This became "the darling project" of Hayley's "sanguine Spirit", despite the fact that

"An austere Critic might here tell me, that it would have been more Prudent, & more fashionable to have rather regarded as my first object the Improvement of my own shrinking Finances, which were not, I must confess, at the time I speak of, nor are they at present in a very flourishing Condition."
Still, there was no austere critic to hand - or if there was, Hayley ignored him or her, and determined to lobby the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Lord Thurlow - an old friend of Cowper's from his law student days.

Beforehand, he persuaded another friend, Thomas Carwardine, who'd sent a copy of Cowper's poems to Thurlow's daughter Catherine to get Catherine to forward the book on to him. She did, and he then inserted the following encouraging verses:

To Miss Catherine Thurlow
with Cowper’s Poems.

Sweet Nymph! accept a Bard, for whom
Rich amaranths with Roses bloom
  To deck his moral Lyre;
Dear, doubly dear, must wit & Truth
Be deemed by you, from one whose youth
  Was social with your sire.
apart by different stars impelled
Their course, as Mortals, both have held
  To suffer, & to drudge:
But Genius kept them both in view,
and to the Heights of Honor drew
  The Poet, & the judge.

Ingenuous Girl! while here you see
How their fraternal Hearts agree
  In Energy & Truth
May you restore, & teach to blaze
With double Glory’s blended rays
  The Friendship of their youth!

Despite being both "overwhelmed with Business" and "splenetic", the Chancellor found a time slot for Hayley to plead Cowper's case.

And he did so, he tells us, in an extraordinary, unpublished document written in 1794, with "vehemence & intrepidity"

"I appealed to the Chancellor, if it would not singularly become the King to bestow his munificence on Cowper, not only as a proper Compliment to a Man of Genius & virtue … but as an act of personal thanksgiving & Gratitude towards Heaven, for having restored his Majesty from that mental Malady, by which this wonderful & most interesting poet has been periodically afflicted:—"

Monday, 5 May 2014

Introducing William Hayley

Although now – unless you’re a Blake aficionado or an 18th century specialist – you’re unlikely to have heard of William Hayley (1745-1820), in his time he was highly influential.

Alongside reams of poetry, a dozen or so unsuccessful plays, a slew of verse and prose essays (he was the first person to publish any of Dante’s work in English), and one novel, Hayley wrote one of the late eighteenth century’s bestselling self-help books: The Triumphs of Temper, advising young women on how to attract and keep a husband. It was written in rhyming couplets and modelled on Pope’s The Rape of the Lock.

Despite this success, his own marriages – he wed twice – were not happy. His first wife, who, in his memoirs he often describes as his “pitiable Eliza”, suffered from “marvellous mental infelicities”  which, in Hayley’s telling, led, ultimately, to their separation.

Little is known of his second marriage, except that it lasted under four years and ended with a case in the Doctors’ Commons. However, I’m in the process of trying to decipher a heavily redacted letter Hayley wrote to a friend in 1816 in which he describes himself as having been lured or tricked

into a calamitous marriage by a subtle plot between two beautiful sisters & a hypocritical Presbyterian all of whose artful machinations [illegible] I have lately discovered

More to follow when I’ve completed my detective work.

Hayley also functioned as an amateur doctor, treating the villagers around his home in Eartham, Sussex, where he was well loved, and was proud of never having killed anyone.

He also had a particular interest in the relationship between mental health issues and creativity, and took an active part in supporting, and attempting to cure, William Cowper, George Romney, Joseph Wright of Derby and Charlotte Smith amongst others (he also, on occasion, negotiated book deals for Smith).

Hayley coaxed William Blake to Sussex from London in 1800 and provided – as the antithetical element in Blake’s dialectical approach – inspiration for some of his prophetic poetry. It’s also likely that, in standing bail for Blake when he was tried for sedition in 1804, hiring a lawyer and speaking for him in court, he saved the visionary’s life. Sedition, after all, carried the death penalty.

For a combination of political and health reasons, in 1790 Hayley turned down Pitt’s offer of the poet laureateship. After his own, unpleasant experiences at school – he nearly died at Kingston Grammar and was bullied and beaten at Eton – he paid close personal attention to the education of his son Thomas Alphonso (whose mother was neither of Hayley’s wives), which was mostly undertaken at home in Eartham, West Sussex where he also tutored some of his friend and neighbour, Lord Egremont’s children.

He died aged 75 in 1820.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

A "zoeography"?

As well as building HayleyWorld itself, my PhD in Digital Writing by Practice requires me to write a 20,000-word "critical component". One chapter of this explores the theory and history of biography.

In one of the books I was reading for research purposes I found this:
Greek, unlike English, Latin, and many other languages, has not one, but two different words for life: bios, but also zoe. The latter denotes vital energy, either natural or physical or—in Christian authors—spiritual and divine, that is, the quality of being alive; as for bios, it means rather mode of life, manner of living, often what we name ‘conduct’ or ‘behaviour’.
(Sergei S Averintsev in Mapping Lives: The Uses of Biography edited by Peter France and William St Clair.)
One of the most heated debates in biographical/life-writing theory concerns how much – if any – "novelistic" imagination can and should be applied in the making of texts that readers expect to be factual. As a non-fiction writer, my sympathies sit most comfortably at the "none or as little as possible" end of the spectrum.

I came across Averintsev's comment just as I'd started to feel a little uncomfortable describing what I was making as a "biography". Whilst all the information in it would be (as far as possible) factual and accurate, the conceit behind it – that the reader would "get to know" someone who'd been dead for almost 200 years as if they were getting to know him in real life – introduced an obvious element of fiction.

So, as it's going to be a new form of biography anyway, and because I can (after all, the word isn't being used for any other purpose), I've decided to call it a zoeography.

Something that is true to the energy, the particular individual qualities of the life it tells – in this case William Hayley's – but which includes an element of fictionalisation – in this case, in the manner of its telling.

So, what's new about it?

Although reading a book about someone can be an excellent way of getting to know about them, it’s not like getting to know them. The ways we impart and receive information during interpersonal contact are radically different from the ways we absorb stories from books. The order of information sharing, what is given and withheld at any particular moment, how much the sharer reveals about any particular event, what happened, how they feel, their degree of honesty, and so on, vary, depending on all kinds of factors, including why and how people meet, how much time they spend together, how much they like each other – and in which kind of way. If people were books, they would be a different book for each individual they formed a relationship with.

And that's how I want to make HayleyWorld. As a different experience for every reader, based on their individual interests and interactions with the app. This means that I need to break down each story/event in William Hayley's life into a "nugget" of information, write each significant nugget in tow or three ways, with varying levels of detail and emotional content, so that Hayley "tells you" the story in a way that's appropriate to how well you've got to know each other.

So, yes, readers will be asked to enter some information about themselves. Their journey through William Hayley's life and storyworld will be determined partly by their choices and partly by other triggers including chronological date, the amount of time they've spent in his company and what William Hayley "wants" to tell them about…

Making that work isn't going to be easy. There are certain aspects of the process – particularly ensuring that the various nuggets link up every which way into different, but equally satisfying, narratives – that will be exceptionally challenging

HayleyWorld will be built as an app for tablets and smartphones, using Padify, and – thanks to Michael Kowalski – with help from Contentment's team of developers.

Hello & welcome

… to Making HayleyWorld, which will feature
  • snippets from my research into William Hayley (1745-1820)
  • info on my progress transforming my research into a new kind of biography, or zoeography
  • related stuff
  • unrelated stuff when I'm distracted by other things I have – or want – to do.
Expect 18th century gossip, comedy, tragedy, marital discord, madness, dubious medical interventions and some mediocre poetry alongside the occasional disquisition on creative and technological choices and processes.

Hope you enjoy it - and please talk to me through Twitter or via my website.

Incidentally, you may also like William Hayley's tweets (I help him with those).