London: Printed for T. Cadell, in the Strand, 1786. Second edition, bound from the sheets of the first edition (1785). Dedicated to Elizabeth Carter, prominent blue-stocking, esteemed translator of Epictetus, and friend of Samuel Johnson. Bound with the half-titles. Leather, board edges a bit rubbed, shallow crack in spine of Vol. III. Old small book label in each volume. Overall a very good, tight copy. Contemporary sheep over marbled boards, gilt-ruled flat spines with olive morocco labels. Three volumes, octavo. xix, [1, blank], 261; , 250; , 255 pp. Item #15867
William Hayley (1745-1820), friend of Blake and Cowper, is best known for The Triumphs of Temper (1781) and The Triumphs of Music (1804). Though he was offered the poet laureateship in 1790, his work was not highly regarded among his peers. Byron ridiculed him in English Bards and Scotch Reviewers, and Southey said of him, “Everything about that man is good except his poetry.” According to the D.N.B., the present work is one of his few that is “still readable.”.
It is indeed a rather curious essay. Hayley presents a history of the position of single older women in society from ancient times, and includes examples of the treatment of old maids from literature. His view is a romantic one, and he always equates spinsterhood with virginity. (“It is my intention …to redress all the wrongs of the autumnal maiden…I devote myself, with a new species of Quixotism to the service of Ancient Virginity.”). Still, Hayley was a true friend of women authors. Amongst those whose work he encouraged were Anna Seward and Charlotte Brooke.