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