Poems: by G. D. Harley, of the Theatre Royal, Covent…

~ Poems: by G. D. Harley, of the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. 1796... London: Printed for the Author, by J. Jarvis; and sold by Martin and Bain... W. Miller... and T. Bellamy [ 1796].

12mo (187 × 110 mm) in half-sheets, pp. [2], 168, 149–160, 181–295, [1]; without the half-title, else complete despite pagination (the subscribers’ list bound before the Contents leaf); contemporary tree calf, rubbed, corners worn, short scrape to rear board, spine worn; inscription dated 1811 to front free endpaper, ticket of the bookseller Henry Godwin of Bath (fl. 1808–22).

First edition: the first major book of poetry by a professional actor. ‘We have read this volume of poems with much pleasure. The descriptive parts are very excellent; the compositions in general possess originality, and frequently charm by tenderness and simplicity. Mr. Harley’s chief error seems to be prolixity, and the pursuing of a thought too far...’ (Critical Review).

Most of the book is taken up by only six poems, and printed in small type. The Monthly Review acidly remarked: ‘The subscribers to this volume will certainly not complain of their bargain as far as quantity is concerned, for never have we seen new poetry dealt our in fuller measure. Whatever be the author’s subject, sentiment, description, or morality, he never fails of giving enough. Here is a poem on Night that would almost require a night’s reading to get through it; and a Legacy of Love to a Child, as long as was ever bequeathed by a lawyer’s pen in a real last will and testament’.

Included is a 25-page poem, ‘The Cat’. ‘... Oh gentle TABBY! How much I do admire / Thy graceful form, thy smooth and cleanly skin, / By rough toungue cleans’d, and ear by foot refresh’d.’

Harley found success as an actor at Covent Garden from the year 1789 and there played several major roles, including Richard III, Iago, Shylock, Lear, and Jacques. This poetic collection dates from his last year in London, thereafter he performed with considerable success in Bath, Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Dublin and elsewhere. Jackson, p. 211.

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