The Sussex Coast - online book

A Literary & Historical travel guide to the Sussex Coast

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92                    THE SUSSEX COAST
Hayley's prose works, though nearly forgotten, are better on the whole than his verse, and a brief account of two of them may be of interest. He lived to see his fame as a writer reduced to the very modest level at which it has remained ever since, in this repect having a very different career from that of Blake, who died before he had been seriously "discovered." Hayley, however, wins our respect by his complete absence of petty feel­ings, by his generous appreciation of the work of others, and by not displaying jealousy of rivals when his star was rapidly waning. His Essay on Old Maids is a rather whimsical composition in no less than three volumes, totalling about 750 pages, and there are no digressions. In addition to an exhaustive disquisition into the matter from his own experience, the whole history of virginity is elucidated by extensivejquotations from the Bible, the Greek and Latin classics, the Fathers of the Church, and mediaeval and modern European literature. It is worked out with considerable learning and some humour, and though a little indelicate in parts (to employ a favourite word of Hayley's own) it is less so than many of its authorities. After reading the work through it must be admitted that we do not feel we have got anywhere. It is not very easy to summarise the essay, but perhaps the following page from vol. iii. (p. 134) will give a general idea of its style—
" Mr. Malone, in his very ingenious and amusing attempt to ascertain the order in which the plays of Shakespeare were written, has allotted the comedy of All's Well that Ends Well to the year 1598. I was at first inclined to suppose, that this elegant and accurate commentator was mistaken in this article, from an idea, that Shakespeare
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