What did she do with those beds?
- A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood by Kathryn King
Pickering and Chatto, 288 pp, £60.00, June 2012, ISBN 978 1 85196 917 3
Alexander Pope’s slur has loomed for centuries over the reputation of Eliza Haywood, the most prominent female author of her day. In The Dunciad, she is the prize of a pissing competition held between talentless hacks:
Who best can send on high
The salient spout, far-streaming to the sky;
His be yon Juno of majestic size,
With cow-like udders, and with ox-like eyes.
Vol. 35 No. 2 · 24 January 2013
From Norma Clarke
Thomas Keymer writes about Eliza Haywood, who was arrested in 1749 and questioned about her pamphlet attacking George II but supposedly written by a Gentleman of the Bedchamber serving the Young Pretender (LRB, 3 January). Three years earlier, another bookseller, Ralph Griffiths, had been hauled in to explain his novel, Ascanius, which featured Charles Edward Stuart as the protagonist. Griffiths represented the book as a gentlemanly pastime, ‘a pleasant expedient … calculated for no bad purposes whatever’, and insisted on his loyalty to the Protestant succession. The novel did well. An earlier pamphlet of his, purporting to be the letters of executed Jacobites, had been seized and his whole stock confiscated. He got off by protesting that the letters only pretended to be real; or, as he put it when complaining about the loss of time and expense in going backwards and forwards to Westminster trying to retrieve his property, represented ‘the whimsical production of my own Brain’. Fact or fiction, political allegiance or opportunity to sell words? Nobody knows. But I don’t think we have to assume, as Keymer suggests, that Haywood ‘never really mattered enough’ to be prosecuted. Booksellers like Griffiths and Haywood knew how to play the game with the authorities. Griffiths, mind you, could be more direct. When the Duke of Newcastle’s men came for him after he published Fanny Hill, he reportedly threatened them ‘with a large hammer’. He wasn’t prosecuted for that, either.
Vol. 35 No. 3 · 7 February 2013
From Thomas Keymer
In her witty response to my piece about Eliza Haywood Norma Clarke cites the troubles of wily Ralph Griffiths, an expert in getting himself arrested for seditious – also, Clarke notes, obscene – libel, and then in getting off (Letters, 24 January). The difference is that Griffiths’s Ascanius came out just months after Culloden, when the ministry was still paranoid about Jacobitism, and sold alarmingly well: 1750 copies in a few weeks, said Griffiths’s printer. Haywood was late to the game with the Goring pamphlet, and her pamphlet stayed on the shelf.
As time went by, it became increasingly hard for publicity-hungry authors to get prosecuted for seditious libel, not least because, as the authorities had known since Defoe in 1703 or even William Prynne in 1637, conviction could backfire badly. Except in really prominent cases, quiet harassment was a better way to keep the lid on things. In 1755-57, John Shebbeare had to bring out five increasingly strident Jacobite pamphlets before finally forcing prosecution with an over the top sixth pamphlet. Handbills fêting ‘the British champion’ were distributed around the pillory at Charing Cross; Shebbeare lounged at ease on the scaffold, shielded from the sun by a parasol, surrounded by cheering spectators.