Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Headley, Henry

HEADLEY, HENRY (1765–1788), poet and critic, baptised at Irstead, Norfolk, 27 April 1765, was only son of Henry Headley, rector of that parish to 1768, and then vicar of North Walsham to his death on 6 Oct. 1785, at the age of fifty-seven. His mother, Mary Anne Barchard, married (on 21 Sept. 1789), after her first husband's death, Anthony Taylor of Gorleston, Great Yarmouth, and died 13 Oct. 1818, in her eighty-sixth year. Headley was one of Dr. Parr's pupils at Colchester school, and went with him to Norwich. At the former school he was idle, and at Norwich Parr was at first inclined to dismiss him on that ground, but through his father's persuasion was induced to give him another trial, and the experiment ‘succeeded speedily and amply. He displayed taste, he acquired learning, he composed well.’ On 14 Jan. 1782 he was admitted a commoner of Trinity College, Oxford, under the tuition of the Rev. Charles Jesse, and on the following 27 May (Trinity Monday) was elected scholar. Bowles, the poet, and William Benwell [q. v.], a man of literary taste, were also scholars, and became his friends. Thomas Warton was then a fellow of this college, and Headley, who was ‘poetical from top to toe,’ at once fell under Warton's influence. During his vacation visits from Oxford to his friends in Norfolk he fell in love with a beautiful woman, referred to in his poems as Myra, but their common friends thought the attachment indiscreet, and she was prevailed upon to marry a rival. The death of his father freed him from all restraint. He quitted Oxford in 1785, it is said in an agony of disappointment, and without any communication with his friends. He was then, it appears, privately married to another lady, and withdrew to Matlock. He returned to the university to take his degree of B.A., 16 May 1786, and introduced to his friends, says Beloe, ‘his wife, but such a wife! Who she was, where he found her, why he married her, are matters which, if known at all, can only be so to a very few.’ His next residence was at Norwich, where he occupied himself with the study of the old English poets, but he had been delicate from his youth, and fell a victim to consumption. He went alone to Lisbon in May 1788 in the hope of improving his health. Through a letter of recommendation from Windham he was admitted into the house of M. de Visme at Cintra, but his strength declined. In August he determined upon returning to Norwich, and after two months of much suffering died on 15 Nov. 1788, being buried at North Walsham on 20 Nov. near his parents and two sisters. An elegant inscription, composed, at the widow's request, by Benwell, for a monument to his memory, was first made public by Kett in 1790. His widow married again; according to Beloe, not without shame, and soon died.

Headley published anonymously in 1785 a volume of ‘Fugitive Pieces,’ all of which were written at the age of nineteen, and most of which had previously appeared in print. They were reissued with additions in 1786 as ‘Poems and other Pieces by Henry Headley,’ and the book was inscribed to Dr. P—r [Parr]. These poems were subsequently included in Davenport's ‘British Poets,’ vol. lxxiii., and in Park's ‘Poets,’ vol. xli. They were marked by taste and feeling, and, considering their date, by an unusual appreciation of nature. The work, which preserves his name, is entitled ‘Select Beauties of Ancient English Poetry. With Remarks,’ 1787, 2 vols., a second edition of which, with a biographical sketch by his friend the Rev. Henry Kett, of his own college, appeared in 1810. It was dedicated to his friend Windham, at once became popular, and, until the reprint, was ‘exceedingly scarce.’ It was Headley's intention to have published two more volumes of selections, and to have edited the more valuable poems of Robert Southwell, but death prevented the fulfilment of these designs. ‘The Critical Remarks of the late Henry Headley,’ which were added to an edition of Phineas Fletcher's ‘Purple Island’ in 1816, were mere extracts from the ‘Select Beauties.’ Headley's selections and notes show a refined taste and much knowledge of English poetry, but the information in the ‘Memoirs’ is rather meagre. A writer in ‘Blackwood's Magazine,’ xxxviii. 677 (1835), draws attention to the wholesale plagiarisms from his notes and criticisms in Anderson's ‘Collection of the Poets.’ To the ‘Olla Podrida’ of Monro, an intimate friend at school and college, Headley contributed the sixteenth number on the unrelieved horrors depicted by the authors of modern tragedies, and he is said to have been one of the writers in ‘The Lounger's Miscellany, or the Lucubrations of Abel Slug, Esq.,’ which ran to twenty numbers in 1788 and 1789. Under the disguise of ‘C. T. O.’ he furnished the following articles in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ viz. ‘Poetical Imitations in Milton,’ 1786, pt. i. pp. 134–6; ‘Pope, Crashaw,’ pp. 310–13; ‘Observations on Milton and others,’ pp. 486–8; ‘Poetry of Quarles,’ pt. ii. pp. 666–7, 926–8; ‘Parallel Passages,’ pp. 732–733; ‘Pennant's Zoology Considered,’ pp. 838–40; ‘Bon-mot of Dr. Bentley,’ 1787, pt. i. p. 125; ‘Remarks on Milton, Drayton, &c.,’ pt. ii. pp. 1080–2. Beloe prints (Sexagenarian, i. 179, ii. 335–45) a song not included in Headley's works and an essay on the character of Timon of Athens. The authenticity of some lines said to have been written by him in his illness (Gent. Mag. 1789, pt. ii. p. 649) was denied by his friend Benwell (ib. p. 679). A few letters from him to John Nichols are printed in the ‘Illustrations of Literature,’ iv. 745–6. A poem to his memory by Bowles, and an inscription for his tombstone by another correspondent, were inserted in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1788, pt. ii. p. 1104, and some lines by Kett appeared in the same periodical for 1789, pt. i. p. 75. The former was included in Bowles's ‘Sonnets and other Poems,’ was reproduced in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine,’ 1794, pt. ii. p. 645, and was prefixed, with the lines by Kett, to the reissue of Headley's ‘Select Beauties.’ His friends dwelt on the charm of his society and his cheerfulness during his declining days. Beloe, who had known him ‘in boyish days, and witnessed the earliest dawning of his genius,’ pays a tribute of unusual warmth to his memory.

[Gent. Mag. 1788 pt. ii. p. 1033, 1789 pt. ii. p. 953; Nichols's Illustr. of Lit. v. 210; Nichols's Lit. Anecd. viii. 157–8, ix. 28, 40; Johnstone's Parr, i. 163–4; Field's Parr, ii. 413–15; Phillips's Theatrum Poetarum, ed. Brydges (1800), pp. lxx–i; British Critic, xxxv. 481–5 (1810); Foster's Alumni Oxon.; Beloe's Sexagenarian, i. 172–9; Kett's Memoir of Headley; Palmer's Perlustration of Great Yarmouth, ii. 80, iii. 58.]

W. P. C.