A volume of over 200 pages, with a dozen or more illustrations in colour (signifying Hayley’s patronage of painters), the aim of the publication is to promote attention to the work of Hayley. Containing essays by eleven scholars, the book demonstrates the continued relevance of Hayley’s kind of poetry – which was lauded in his time, his most successful poem, The Triumphs of Temper, achieving sixteen British editions between 1781 and 1817 which is far more, in the period, than any work by his ‘Romantic’ successors
The course of Hayley’s poetry and his other writings (notably, biographies of Cowper
and of the painter, George Romney) has run no smoother than his life. Born the grandson of a Dean of Chichester cathedral, he lost his father when he was aged three years, his sole brother when he was five, his first wife when he was fifty-two; further, his only son died aged nineteen, and his second wife stayed with him for barely three years before leaving Felpham and returning to London. Such misfortune has also attended his poetry. Despite the public success of The Triumphs of Temper, and despite successful associations with many of the leading cultural figures of his time (Flaxman, Blake, Romney, Wright of Derby, and Meyer - the miniaturist, to name the artists; the writers Cowper, Anna Seward, Charlotte Smith – to name just three; and public figures of the stature of Robert Lowth, John Howard, Elizabeth Carter, Edward Gibbon, Thomas Erskine, William Mason), his work was omitted entirely from Roger Lonsdale’s , The New Oxford Book of Eighteenth Century Verse – although that is a volume containing work by around two hundred and fifty poets.
Hayley claimed that poets have duty ‘to raise . . . the dignity’ of poetry by making it ‘beneficial to life and manners’: it is a duty the writers in this volume have seized with alacrity. Because of their work, whether showing the relationship of Hayley to Voltaire, discussing the continuous string of distinguished visitors at Eartham, outlining the strength Hayley possessed as a writer of epigraphs, detailing the history of The Triumphs of Temper, explaining Hayley’s delight in the work of Romney and his understanding of Emma Hart, or engaging us in an expansive account of Hayley’s life at Felpham, we understand more about Hayley’s claim and learn to respect a man – until today (!) – almost forgotten by cultural, and indeed literary, historians.