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Eliza Haywood, Overlooked Authorial Pioneer

Called both the “Great Arbitress of Passion” and insulted as “Juno of majestic size,” Eliza Haywood occupied a complicated place among her contemporaries. The incredibly prolific author wrote novels, plays, and pamphlets, and her writing incited controversy among her peers. Today scholars appreciate Haywood’s role as a feminist writer, and collectors can build an expansive and diverting personal library around her many works.

A Start on the Stage

Eliza-Haywood

Eliza Haywood

Haywood’s origins are obscure, mainly because she gave conflicting accounts of her own life. But experts agree that she was born in or around 1693. Born Elizabeth Fowler, she first appears on the public record in 1715 as “Mrs. Haywood” in Thomas Shadwell’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens; Or, The Man-Hater at Dublin’s Smock Alley Theatre. She shared the stage with bookseller William Hatchett, who would be her companion and lover for over 20 years; the two never married, but Hatchett was the father of Haywood’s second child.

By 1717, Haywood had made her way to Lincoln Inn Fields, where she worked for John Rich. Rich had Haywood write an adaptation of The Fair Captive, but the play ran for only three nights. Rich staged the play for a fourth night, giving the proceeds to Haywood. Haywood’s own first play, A Wife to be Lett was staged six years later in 1723. She would go on to join Henry Fielding at Haymarket Theatre, staging opposition plays. In 1729, Haywood wrote Frederick, Duke of Brunswick-Lunenburgh to honor George II, the head of Tory opposition to Robert Walpole’s ministry.

More successful, however, was an opera based on of Fielding’s The Tragedy of Tragedies. Called The Opera of Operas (1733), Haywood’s adaptation included an important difference: it includes a reconciliation scene. By this time, George I and George II had reconciled, thanks to Caroline of Ansbach, and Haywood includes this development–along with symbols borrowed from Caroline’s grotto. These hints weren’t lost on Haywood’s audience, and they signaled her shift in politics to support the Tories. Fielding, however, kept up his oppositional activities, and Robert Walpole responded with the Licensing Act of 1737. The legislation effectively stopped all new plays from being produced, leaving Haywood, Fielding, and their contemporaries to pursue other authorial genres.

Amatory Fiction and Parallel Histories

By this time, however, Haywood had already exhibited talent in a variety of genres. Throughout the 1720′s, she wrote the kinds of novels that would today be called “bodice rippers.” Haywood made her debut with Love in Excess; Or, the Fatal Enquiry (1719-1720), which offered a surprisingly positive view of a fallen woman. The novel was published in two separate volumes thanks to the economy of the time; authors were paid flat fees for their work, rather than royalties, so it behooved Haywood and her contemporaries to publish their works in multiple volumes.

Watch an Oxford University lecture on Haywood’s Love in Excess and Defoe’s novels>>

Had she gotten royalties for Love in Excess, she’d have been well off, indeed. The book was reprinted six times over the next decade. To advertise subsequent editions, Haywood’s colleagues wrote in praise of Haywood’s seductive writing. Richard Savage exclaimed that her “soul-thrilling accents all our senses wound” to promote the second printing of the novel’s first edition, and James Sterling wrote in 1725 that Haywood was the “Great Arbitress of Passion.”

Haywood continued penning novels for the next three decades. She, Aphra Behn, and Delarivier Manley came to be known as “the fair triumvirate of wit,” and Haywood contributed fully to the literary life of her era. Her Adventures of Eovaii: A Pre-Adamitical History (1736) mocks the idea that a woman should barter her virginity to obtain a place in society, later popularized by Samuel Richardson in Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded (1740). Henry Fielding would also satirize Richardson’s novel with An Apology for the Life of Mrs. Shamela Andrews (1741).

Haywood’s writing evolved considerably over time, as did her evaluations of marriage and relationships between women and men. The History of Betsy Thoughtless (1751) is considered the first novel of female development written in English, and it’s also unusual for its focus on marriage, rather than courtship, which became popular and reached a peak in the nineteenth century with authors like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë.

Pamphlets and Periodicals

Duncan-Campbell

Duncan Campbell

Along with her thrilling novels of the 1720′s, Haywood also published a number of titillating pamphlets about the life and supposed talents of the deaf and mute Duncan Campbell. Campbell allegedly had a gift of prophecy, which was attributed to numerous supernatural sources. Haywood published A Spy Upon the Conjurer (1724) and The Dumb Projector (1725). It’s also conjectured that Haywood wrote, along with Daniel Defoe and William Bond, The History of the Life and Adventures of Mr. Duncan Campbell (1720).

In 1744, Haywood undertook a new and impressive task. She began issuing The Female Spectator, the first periodical written by women, for women. It was Haywood’s response to The Spectator, an incredibly popular periodical issued by Joseph Addison and Richard Steele, and she followed the example of John Dunton’s Ladies’ Mercury. In The Female Spectator, Haywood wrote using four personas, rather than her own name. She issued four volumes of the periodical between 1744 and 1746. When Haywood published her conduct book The Wife a decade later, she originally published under the “Mira” persona she’d used in The Female Spectator. But The Wife’s companion piece, The Husband was published shortly thereafter under Haywood’s own name.

Haywood again ran into trouble for expressing her political views with The Parrot (1746) and A Letter from H__ G__g, Esq (1750). She created fictional accounts of the exploits of Bonnie Prince Charlie, which proved an ill advised topic to address on the heels of the Jacobite uprising. A stack of the pamphlets was found in her home, and Haywood was arrested and charged with seditious libel–as was Hatchett.. Haywood argued that she hadn’t written or printed the pamphlets, but that someone had left them at her home. Neither Haywood nor Hatchett ever went to trial.

Haywood’s Appearance in Pope’s Dunciad

Eliza-Haywood-Memoirs-Island-Kingdom-Utopia

The first volume of ‘Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia’ (1725)

Ever interested in politics, Haywood published a series of parallel histories, notably Memoirs of a Certain Island, Adjacent to Utopia (1724) and The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania (1727). In the former, Haywood not only picks a fight with her contemporary Martha Fowkes, but she also not so subtly alludes to her one-time affair with Richard Savage–and to Savage’s lack of proper pedigree. Savage claimed that he was the illegitimate heir of a wealthy family, and many details of his claims have been corroborated. He also murdered a man but managed to dodge the death penalty.

Savage’s purported lowly origins only served to heighten his notoriety. A poet (and the father of Haywood’s first child), Savage became a famous figure, so much so that Samuel Johnson deemed him worthy of biography. The success of Johnson’s Life of Savage (1744) pushed both Johnson and Savage to even greater prominence. Savage’s celebrity would soon present a challenge for Haywood. Intimately familiar with the hacks of Grub Street whom Alexander Pope so openly despised, Savage fed Pope plenty of details for the Dunciad Variorum (1729). Savage undoubtedly aided Pope in excoriating Haywood, who unabashedly wrote to feed her two children. Pope found Haywood absolutely “vacuous.” He refers to her as the “phantom priestess,” an allusion to Fantomina and calls her “Juno of majestic size, with cow-like udders, and ox-like eyes.”

Richard-Savage

Richard Savage

Savage’s sycophancy paid off with years patronage from Pope, and he enjoyed several years of prosperity. But one by one, his patrons dropped away until Pope was the last remaining. In 1743, even Pope wrote to cut off ties, and Savage soon found himself penniless. He died in debtor’s prison. Though at the time Savage enjoyed a strong reputation as a poet, today his works are mostly overlooked in favor of his more illustrious contemporaries.

Unfortunately for Haywood’s legacy, for centuries she was remembered primarily for her appearance in the Dunciad. It’s only in the last several decades that scholars have begun to recognize Haywood’s varied contributions–and more remain to be discovered, since Haywood so frequently published anonymously. Today, experts see Haywood’s novels as a pivotal transition between lurid novels like those of Aphra Behn and the more plain spoken works epitomized by Frances Burney.

For collectors, Eliza Haywood offers limitless opportunities to build a rich collection. A truly prolific author, Haywood could keep the dedicated completist busy for a lifetime! And her fascinating relationships with other authors offer numerous directions to extend a collection.

Further Reading

Williams, Kate. ‘The Force of Language, and the Sweets of Love’: Eliza Haywood and the Erotics of Reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa. Lumen: Selected Proceedings from the Canadian Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies/ Lumen:travaux choisis de la Société canadienne d’étude du dix-huitième siècle, vol. 23, 2004, p. 309-323

Wilmouth, Traci. A Savage Spy: The Role of Richard Savage in Composing Pope’s Dunciad. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. 2007.

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Alexander Pope’s Legacy of Satire and Scholarship

Alexander-Pope

On May 21, 1688 Alexander Pope was born to Alexander and Edith Pope. Despite all odds, Pope would blossom into a preeminent British poet of the eighteenth century. Pope left behind an ingenious translation of Homer’s Iliad, along with a robust body of poetry and criticism. Though history has not always been kind to Pope, he’s recognized as a truly masterful poet whose influence can still be felt.

Challenges of Anti-Catholicism and Illness

Pope’s parents were recent converts to Catholicism, and they chose an inopportune time to leave the Church of England; anti-Catholic sentiments ran high, and the Test Acts seriously limited the rights and opportunities of Catholics. The family was forced to move out of London to Binfield. Catholics were also forbidden to attend public schools, so Pope was mostly educated at home by his aunt. For a few years he attended a Catholic school in London, but he taught himself French, Italian, Latin, and Greek. Pope had discovered Homer by the time he was six years old.

When Pope was 12 years old, he published his earliest extant work, Ode to Solitude. That same year, he developed the first symptoms of a disease that would cripple him for the rest of his life. Now largely accepted to be Pott’s disease, a form of tuberculosis, the illness stunted Pope’s growth and caused severe deformation of his spine. He never grew over four-and-a-half feet, and he remained frail and asthmatic throughout his life. Pope’s size and appearance would later make easy fodder for his detractors, who called him the “hump-backed toad.”

A Rapid Rise to Fame

In 1710, Pope’s Pastorals appeared in Jacob Tonson’s Poetical Miscellanies. Pope claims, however, that he wrote the poem earlier, when he was only 16 years old. The following year saw Essays on Criticism published anonymously–but everyone knew it was Pope. The work highlighted Pope’s mastery of (and preference for) the heroic couplet. It also attracted the attention of more established poets Jonathan Swift and John Gay. Together, the three poets would go on to found the Scriblerus Club. Its purpose: to satirize ignorance and poor taste. Scriblerus, a precursor to Pope’s Dunciad, features the inept character Martinus Scriblerus, who embodies incompetent criticism and scholarship.

When Pope published The Rape of the Lock in 1712, he cemented his position as an outstanding poet of the time. The poem pokes fun at a real-life squabble between two prominent Catholic families over the theft of a young woman’s lock of hair. Pope was now part of a circle of elite writers that included not only Swift and Gay, but also Joseph Addison, Thomas Parnell, and John Arbuthnot. These writers were all overtly Tory, but Pope’s true political standing was never clear.

An Authorial Living Thanks to Homer

Swift consistently encouraged Pope to undertake a translation of Homer’s Iliad. The project was a huge risk; Pope was only 25 at the time and still had anti-Catholic laws working against him. He didn’t have a private patronage as many other writers had. Thus Swift undertook the work of building a subscription list for Pope’s translation. Swift’s efforts paid off. He built an impressive list in both length and prestige. Thanks to the subscriptions, Pope did what few other authors of the time could: he actually made a comfortable living as a writer.

Iliad-Homer-Alexander-Pope

Pope published The Iliad in six volumes, writing 30 to 50 verses per day. He wrote his drafts on the backs of letters to him and to his mother. His first volume came out in 1715, at the same time that Thomas Tickell published a rival edition. Pope’s was accepted as quite superior, even though it bears little resemblance to the original Greek text. Samuel Johnson even declared it the best translation of all time, in any language. Pope used the same subscription model when he tackled The Odyssey.

When Pope’s father passed away in 1719, Pope moved back to the family estate at Twickenham. He used the profits from The Iliad to construct an incredible grotto on the property. It had a camera obscura and other enticing features. The grotto still stands today, though it’s not often open to the public.

Alexander-Pope-Grotto

Pope Sparks Controversy

Pope decided to undertake his own adaptation of Shakespeare. It didn’t meet the same acceptance as his adaptations of Homer because Pope “corrected” the Bard’s verse. He also changed the text in many places, but left earlier corruptions untouched. Scholar and critic Lewis Theobald excoriated Pope for the work. Pope fought back, making Theobald the protagonist of the Dunciad.

Pope’s Dunciad sparked an incredibly hostile response–so hostile that Pope would leave his house only with two loaded pistols in his pockets. William Broome, who had collaborated with Pope on The Odyssey, also found himself a target in the Dunciad. He was surprised that Pope didn’t receive more vituperation: “I wonder he’s not been thrashed, but his littleness is his protection; no man shoots a wren.”

In 1735, a year after Pope published Essay on Man, Pope placed himself at the center of another controversy. An unauthorized version of Pope’s correspondence appeared, the work of notoriously unscrupulous publisher Edmund Curll. Collected correspondence was relatively rare at the time, so the publication caused quite a furor. In reality, Pope had edited his own letters and delivered them to Curll in secret.

Pope’s health began to suffer in 1738. He turned his attention to revising the Dunciad, this time with British poet laureate Colly Cibber as the protagonist. Cibber was widely thought to lack talent and to have used political connections to get the position of laureate.

Reception of Pope

Pope’s work remained influential until the nineteenth century. The Romantics saw Homer as a bard, a poet close to nature. Pope’s imposition of rigid structure on the blind poet’s work was considered quite the opposite–unnatural, contrived. Furthermore, the Romantics saw little merit in Pope’s acerbic wit and biting criticism. Later, however, writers and scholars recognized that Homer’s Greece was a place of strict adherence to customs about sacrifice, prayer, war, and hospitality. The strict prosody of Pope’s adaptation reflected the codified social customs of Greece. Pope is now esteemed as one of the great writers of his century. 

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