William Blake and the Bard of Eartham: A Chichester Friendship – Dr Diana Barsham of the University of Chichester presents an illustrated talk on William Hayley.

As part of the annual Chichester Festivities Dr Diana Barsham, Head of English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester presented the first South Coast Eighteenth-century and Romantic Research Group public event. Her illustrated talk on the extraordinary life of the Chichester poet, dramatist and biographer, William Hayley took place at the University of Chichester on 4th July.

The work of Hayley has been ignored for the last 200 years but in the late Eighteenth Century he was one of the most popular poets of his day and his poem ‘The Triumphs of Temper’ was a best seller. Hayley created the heroine of this poem as a role model for women, advising them on how to respond cheerfully to the trials of marriage, especially when their partners were unfaithful. Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire, and Nelson’s mistress, Lady Hamilton were both avid readers! Georgiana claimed the poem saved her marriage.

By the late 1790s Hayley was a famous and successful poet. It was at this time that a number William Blakeof tragedies in his life led him to form a strong but ill-fated friendship with the artist, mystic and poet, William Blake. As the friendship grew closer, Blake was persuaded to leave his native London to join Hayley in the village of Felpham near Bognor Regis. Hayley was the direct inspiration for Blake’s last two prophetic works, Milton and Jerusalem.

Dr Barsham argues: “As well as being a poet, a scholar and a model gentleman, Hayley was very much a man of the heart, benevolent and generous. Friendship meant everything to him and the rift with Blake darkened his life. For the past 200 years Hayley has been mostly ignored and forgotten. I want to bring back to life this once prominent and interesting man and re-evaluate his literary career.”

Dr Barsham is currently researching the life of William Hayley. Her last book was a critical biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. She has previously published lives of some pioneering but little known Victorian women writers.