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Hales, Thomas (1740?-1780) (DNB00)


HALES, THOMAS (1740?–1780), known as D'Hèle, D'Hell, or Dell, French dramatist, born about 1740, belonged to a good English family (Bachaumont, Mémoires Secrets, xvii. 17), which was settled, according to Grimm, who knew him well, in Gloucestershire. Grimm states that Hales (or D'Hèle, as he is always called in France) entered the English service in early youth, was sent to Jamaica, and, after having travelled over the continent, lived for some time in Switzerland and Italy (Correspondance Littéraire, Paris, 1880, xii. 496). Grétry, his one intimate friend, assures us that D'Hèle was in the English navy, where he first gave way to the excess in drink which partly ruined him (Mémoires, ou essais sur la Musique, i. 326). The date of his withdrawal from the service is fixed at 1763, while at Havannah (Suite du Répertoire du Théâtre Français, t. lvi. p. 85). He went to Paris about 1770, and wasted his small fortune. It is not known how he attained the mastery of the French language which he so delicately displayed in his charming conte, ‘Le Roman de mon Oncle.’ He gave this little literary masterpiece to Grimm for his ‘Correspondance Littéraire,’ July 1777. Through Suard, whose salon was always open to Englishmen, he made the acquaintance of Grétry, to whom he was recommended ‘comme un homme de beaucoup d'esprit, qui joignait à un gout très-sain de l'originalité dans les idées’ (Mémoires, i. 298). Parisian society was divided into the partisans of Piccini and Gluck, and D'Hèle ridiculed the fashionable musical quarrels in a three-act comedy, ‘Le Jugement de Midas,’ for which Grétry, after keeping it a long time, composed some charming music (E. Fétis, Les Musiciens Belges, ii. 145). The regular companies would not look at the piece, but, thanks to the support of the Chevalier de Boufflers, Mme. de Montesson undertook to bring it out at the private theatre of the Duc d'Orléans on 27 June 1778. Her admirable acting and savoir-faire—she filled the theatre with the high society of the day, including bishops and archbishops—largely helped the success of the piece. A few days later it was represented at Versailles. The press was loud in its praise (L'Esprit des Journaux, August 1778), and the ‘Journal de Paris,’ (29 June) printed some complimentary verses addressed to the authors. Grimm assured his correspondents: ‘Nous n'avons pu nous empêcher d'être fort étonnés à Paris qu'un étranger eût si bien saisi et les convenances de notre théâtre et le génie de notre langue, même dans un genre d'ouvrage où les nuances de style échappent plus aisément peut-être que dans aucun autre’ (Correspondance Littéraire, xii. 118). D'Hèle may have borrowed something from ‘Midas,’ an English burletta by Kane O'Hara (Baker, Biog. Dramatica, iii. 41), but the wit, light raillery, and ingenuity of ‘Le Jugement de Midas’ are all his own. For his verse he was obliged to solicit the help of Anseaume, of the Italian troupe (Mémoires de Grétry, i. 299); a like service was rendered him in his next comedy by Levasseur. D'Hèle contributed to the ‘Correspondance Littéraire’ in October 1778 a reminiscence of his Jamaica residence, relating to negro legislation in 1761 (Corr. Litt. xii. 170).

He followed up his first dramatic success with ‘Les Fausses Apparences ou l'Amant Jaloux,’ a comedy of intrigue, full of vivacity, humour, and pointed dialogue. Grétry again contributed the music. It was played before the court at Versailles in November 1778 (Grétry, Mémoires, i. 325), and at Paris on 23 Dec. Fréron thought it inferior to ‘Midas,’ although the author was ‘le premier depuis dix ans à la comédie italienne qui eut parlé français’ (L'Année Littéraire, 1778, t. vii.). La Harpe protested against the unstinted praise bestowed on the piece by certain journalists (Cours de Littérature, 1825, xv. 447, &c.). The plot is said to have owed something to Mrs. Centlivre's ‘The Wonder, a Woman keeps a Secret’ and Lagrange's ‘Les Contretemps,’ 1736. It was played at the Opéra Comique 18 Sept. 1850. His third piece, ‘Les Évènemens Imprévus,’ borrowed from an Italian source, ‘Di peggio in peggio,’ was given at Versailles on 11 Nov., and at Paris two days later. This was thought to be written with less care than its predecessors (Mercure de France, 4 Dec. 1779, pp. 84–8), but met with equal success (Journal de Paris, 14 Nov. 1779). It was not very satisfactorily translated into English by Holcroft, who, with all his knowledge of French literature, did not know the writer was an Englishman. It formed the basis of ‘The Gay Deceivers’ by George Colman the younger, given at the Haymarket on 12 Aug. 1804. Michael Kelly had brought it from Paris (Reminiscences, 1826, ii. 223). D'Hèle composed for the actor Volange a comédie-parade, ‘Gilles Ravisseur,’ played at the Foire St. Germain 1 March 1781, in the Théâtre des Variétés Amusantes.

Besides D'Hèle's devotion to the bottle he had a passion for an actress of the Comédie Italienne, Mademoiselle Bianchi, for whom he abandoned his dramatic career and all his friends. On being separated from her he died of grief, 27 Dec. 1780, aged about 40. He is a remarkable example of a man who, writing in a foreign language, attained fame in a department of literature wherein success is peculiarly difficult, and who has remained almost unknown in his own country. D'Hèle's three pieces remain in the repertory of the Théâtre Français. Grétry and Grimm have preserved some characteristic anecdotes of his philosophic humour and independence. Jouy praises the ingenious imbroglio of his plays (Théâtre, 1823, t. iv. p. xi); Hoffmann gives ‘L'Amant Jaloux’ as a model of comic opera in its best days; and his literary merit has been fully recognised by Barbier and Desessarts (Nouvelle Bibliothèque d'un homme de goût, 1808, ii. 197), La Harpe (Correspondance Littéraire, 1804, i. 30, ii. 254, 328, and Cours de Litt. 1825, xiv. 458), Geoffrey (Cours de Litt. Dram. 1825, v. 311–19), and M. J. Chenier (Tableau historique de la Littérature Française, 1816, p. 344).

His works are: 1. ‘Le Roman de mon Oncle, conte,’ first published in the ‘Correspondance Littéraire de Grimm et de Diderot,’ and by Van de Weyer, ‘Choix d'Opuscules,’ 1st series, 1863, pp. 70–4. 2. ‘Le Jugement de Midas, comédie en trois actes en prose mêlée d'ariettes, représentée pour la première fois par les comédiens Italiens ordinaires du roi, le samedi, 27 Juin, par M. d'Hèle, musique de M. Grétry,’ Paris, 1778, 8vo (2 editions); Parme, 1784, 8vo. 3. ‘Les Fausses Apparences, ou l'Amant Jaloux, comédie en trois actes, mêlée d'ariettes, représentée devant leurs majestés à Versailles en Novembre 1778, les paroles sont de M. d'Hèle, la musique de M. Grétry,’ Paris, 1778, 8vo (2 editions), and 1779, also Parme, 1781, 8vo; reprinted as ‘L'Amant Jaloux, ou les Fausses Apparences’ in ‘Bibliothèque Dramatique,’ 1849, t. xxx. 4. ‘Les Évènemens Imprévus, comédie en trois actes, mêlée d'ariettes, représentée pour la première fois par les comédiens Italiens ordinaires du roi le 13 Novembre, 1779, paroles de M. d'Hell, musique de M. Grétry,’ Paris, 1779 and 1780, 8vo; ‘Nouvelle édition, corrigée, conforme à la représentation et à la partition gravée,’ Toulouse, 1788, 8vo; translated as ‘Unforeseen Events, a comic opera, in three acts, from the French of M. d'Hèle,’ in the ‘Theatrical Recorder,’ by Thomas Holcroft, 1806, vol. ii. (Nos. 2, 3, and 4 are reproduced in ‘Petite Bibliothèque des Théâtres,’ 1784, 18mo, in ‘Œuvres de D'Hèle,’ Paris, 1787, 18mo, in ‘Théâtre de l'Opéra Comique,’ Paris, 1812, 8 vols. 18mo, t. vii., and in Lepeintre, ‘Suite du Répertoire du Théâtre Français,’ Paris, 1823, t. lvi., 18mo.). 5. ‘Gilles Ravisseur, comédie-parade en un acte et en prose par M. Dhell, représentée pour la première fois, à Paris, sur le Théâtre des Variétés Amusantes le 1er Mars 1781, et à Versailles devant leurs majestés le 10 Sept. suivant,’ Paris, 1781, 1782, and 1783, 8vo (reproduced in ‘Petite Bibliothèque des Théâtres,’ 1784, 18mo). 6. ‘Les Trois Frères Jumeaux Vénitiens,’ by Colalto, revised by D'Hèle and Cailhava in 1781, still in manuscript.

[The only satisfactory account of D'Hèle is by S. Van de Weyer, Lettre I. sur les anglais qui ont écrit en Français, first published in Miscellanies of Philobiblon Society, 1854, vol. i., and reproduced in Choix d'Opuscules, 1st series, London, 1863. See also Mémoires de Grétry and Correspondance de Grimm (passim), Luneau de Bois Germain, Almanach Musical, 1781; Almanach des trois grands spectacles de Paris, 1782; Mercure de France, 6 Jan. 1781; Nouveau Dictionnaire Historique, Caen, 1783, t. iv. 336; Annales Dramatiques, Paris, 1809; Michaud, Biographie Universelle, x. 603; Hoefer, Nouvelle Biographie Générale, xxiii. 138–9; Athenæum Français, 12 May 1855; Examiner, 26 May 1855; Journal des Débats, 22 June 1856; Saturday Review, 4 Oct. 1856. The article by A. Houssaye in Galerie de Portraits du xviiie siècle, 2e série, 1854, pp. 365–70, is very inaccurate, like the few scattered notices in English biographical dictionaries.]

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