Monday, 3 July 2017

Tell me, O! Eliza Haywood!

The following quote is from the long-forgotten Richard Savage, edited, with occasional notes by Charles Whitehead, Illustrated by John Leech, Bentley’s Miscellany, vol. 8–10 (London: Richard Bentley, 1842), 9.38–39 (here):

I was silent. To say the truth, I managed that scene — for, after all, it must be so called — very awkwardly. And yet the case itself was scenic; and upon a little reflection it will be admitted that the manner of performance ought to have very little to do with the question. Tell me, O Eliza Haywood !* thou great genius of modern fiction! thou, who knowest, or sayest thou dost know, all the passions and feelings that work or play in the bosom of mankind, (would that thou wouldst depict them better!), tell me what ought to have been done upon that occasion, and how?
  I was silent, I have said; but at length I answered …

* Eliza Haywood, although now nearly forgotten, attained during her life-time to an enviable celebrity. Pope, in his Dunciad, has heaped terrible infamy upon her head. Her plays I have not seen; but I have looked into her novels — of which ‘The History of Betsy Thoughtless’ and ‘Jenny and Jemmy Jessamy’ are the most considerable. They possess no common degree of merit, but are altogether unfit for modern perusal.

Whitehead's serialised novel, the Introduction to which claimed that is was an "autobiographical memoir" (8.20), was reprinted in Bentley's Standard Novels, without notes, re-written and with the ending changed (!—according to Royal Gettmann here), as Richard Savage. A Romance of Real Life, 3 vols. (London: Richard Bentley, 1842), with the quote at 2.63–64 (here); it was reprinted, again without notes, and with further edits, including the removal of the paragraph mentioning Haywood, Richard Savage. A Romance of Real Life, A New Edition, with an introduction by Harvey Orrinsmith (London: Richard Bentley, 1896), with the relevant section on page 185 (here).

In a biography of 1884 (in the title of which he was already being described as "A Forgotten Genius"), H. T. Mackenzie Bell describes Richard Savage as "unquestionably Whitehead's greatest work" and repeats the claim of one "Miss Hogarth … that she had often heard Dickens speak with 'great admiration' of the novel Richard Savage" (H. T. Mackenzie Bell, A Forgotten Genius: Charles Whitehead: A Critical Monograph (London 1884; 2nd ed., with some additional material, 1894), 24; online here).

Charles Whitehead was born 4 September 1804, left for Australia 1857 and died in Melbourne Hospital, 5 July 1862. Since this makes Whitehead an honourary Australian, a Melbournian in fact, the Australian Dictionary of Biography contains an entry for him (here), but the National Library of Australia contains only one, incomplete poem of his in manuscript (an attack on H. F. Watts, editor of the Melbourne Argus, sent to Bell by James Smith, editor of the Australasian) and copies of his "greatest work" are scarce in Australian libraries (only three copies of each of the 1842 and 1896 editions). According to the ADB, Whitehead was an alcoholic, impoverished and sometimes homeless; his wife was "mentally deranged" and had died in 1860, he "was picked up exhausted in the street," died (at aged 58) and "was buried in a pauper's grave."

Whitehead's romantic biography of Savage is one of many fictionalised accounts of the writer but—as far as I know—the only one which mentions Haywood, even in passing. Although Whitehead was probably right that, in 1842, Haywood was "now nearly forgotten"—it is nevertheless amusing that he refers to her as such, since even the great John Leech and the justly celebrated Bentley's Standard Novels have not kept his own work from being even more forgotten than Haywood's works were at the time. Likewise, although it is nice to have a record of a Haywood reader from this period ("I have looked into her novels … They possess no common degree of merit"), his peroration (that they are "altogether unfit for modern perusal") is what has landed him a place on my Wall of Shame.

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