Eliza Haywood (ca. 16951756)



  • Author
  • Poet
  • Actress
  • Translator
  • Bookseller
  • Publisher

Biographical details

Allison Muri, University of Saskatchewan
July 2022

Eliza Haywood was a prolific writer of novels, plays, translations, advice manuals, and periodicals over a long career which lasted from 1719 until shortly before her death in 1756. She was also on occasion an actor and for a short period a publisher and bookseller. Very little new evidence about Haywood’s personal life has surfaced since her first biographer David Erskine Baker explained in 1764 that she had suppressed most details:

from a Supposition of some improper Liberties being taken with her Character after Death, by the Intermixture of Truth and Falshood with her History, she laid a solemn Injunction on a particular Person, who was well acquainted with all the Particulars of it, not to communicate to any one the least Circumstance relating to her … All I have been able to learn is, that her Father was in the Mercantile Way, that she was born at London, and that, at the Time of her Death, which was, I think, in 1759, she was about sixty three Years of Age.—The Companion to the Play-house volume 2.

Haywood was born ca. 1693–5. Her parents remain unknown. Nothing is known of her upbringing or education, though she was clearly an able writer, editor, and translator. We do know that “Mrs. Haywood” appeared on stage as Chloe in Shadwell’s Timon of Athens; or, the Man-Hater at the Theatre Royal in Smock Alley, Dublin, in the fall of 1714. By 23 April 1717, she was back in London, appearing on stage at Lincoln's Inn Fields in John Banks’s The Unhappy Favourite: or, the Earl of Essex as the Countess of Nottingham.

The book that launched her career as one of the first English novelists was the successful three-part Love in Excess (1719–20). Quickly following this publication was an experiment in subscription sales, Letters from a Lady of Quality to a Chevalier translated from the French, published in December 1720. This relatively unsuccesful venture would be her only foray into subscription sales of her works.

In the early 1720s Haywood was a member of a coterie of writers gathered around poet, dramatist, and essayist Aaron Hill. This circle, dubbed the "Hillarians," included author Richard Savage and poet Martha Sansom (née Fowke). Haywood's later attack on Sansom's character in Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to the Kingdom of Utopia (1724) as the sexually licentious Gloatitia was followed in turn by Savage's The Authors of the Town; a Satire Inscribed to the Author of The Universal Passion (1725) in which he characterised Haywood as wanton woman and writer both: “A cast-off Dame, who of Intrigues can judge, / Writes Scandals in Romance—A printer’s Drudge! / Flush’d with Success, for Stage-Renown she pants, / And melts, and swells, and pens luxurious Rants.” The viciousness of these attacks contributed to the assumption that Haywood was Savage's own abandoned lover, but there is no evidence whatsoever for this, or for the oft-repeated conjecture that Savage had fathered a child with Haywood and then left her for Sansom.

Haywood was famously satirized in Alexander Pope's Dunciad (1728,1729), where she is exhibited with "Two babes of love close clinging to her waist" as a prize for the race between booksellers in the heroic games celebrating the inauguration of the new King of Dunces. Pope thus immortalized in print the gossip that she had had at least two illegitimate children. In an undated letter to an unknown recipient seeking patronage, Haywood herself claimed that she had two children to support, though she did not imply they were anything other than legitimate: "an unfortunate marriage has reduced me to the melancholly necessity of depending on my Pen for the support of myself and two Children, the eldest of whom is no more than 7 years of age." Biographer George Whicher proposed in 1915 that Haywood's estranged husband was the Reverend Valentine Haywood, but that notion is now widely disregarded. No other plausible candidates currently exist.

During her career Haywood wrote at least 43 works according to Leah Orr ("The Basis for Attribution in the Canon of Eliza Haywood," 2011), or at least 72 according to Patrick Spedding (A Bibliography of Eliza Haywood, 2004). Some of Haywood's best known works include The Injur’d Husband (1722), The British Recluse: Or, the Secret History of Cleomira, Suppos’d Dead (1722), Idalia: Or The Unfortunate Mistress (1723), Lasselia; or, The Self-Abandon’d (1723), The Rash Resolve (1724), Memoirs of a Certain Island Adjacent to Utopia (1724–5), Adventures of Eovaai (1736), The Female Spectator (1744–6), The Fortunate Foundlings (1744), The Parrot (1746), Epistles to the Ladies (1748–50), The Invisible Spy (1754), and the histories of Miss Betsy Thoughtless (1751) and Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy (1753). 

Haywood operated a pamphlet shop at the Sign of Fame in the Great Piazza of Covent Garden from 1741–44, where she offered anti-ministerial works among other wares. In December 1749 she was arrested on suspicion of seditious libel in connection with a political pamphlet, A Letter from H—G---g ... to a Particular Friend (1749). In her deposition in 1750 she signed her address as Durham Yard in the Strand. From then, her whereabouts are uncertain. Haywood may have been living at number 2 Cowley Street in Westminster when she died, 25 February 1756. Papers reported variations of the following:

Yesterday Morning died, in the 60th Year of her Age, after a very severe Illness of three Months, which she bore with great Fortitude and Resignation, Mrs. Eliza Haywood, the celebrated Authoress of some of the best Moral and Entertaining Pieces that have been publish’d for these many Years. The great Hand she had in those elegant Productions the Female Spectator, and Epistles for the Ladies; together with her Histories of Miss Betsy Thoughtless, Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy, her Invisible Spy, and the Fortunate Foundings, will ever remain as living Monuments of her Merit.—Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer 1562, 26 February 1756

Erskine Baker characterized Haywood's career as one of redemption: "whatever Liberty she might at first give to her Pen, to the Offence either of Morality or Delicacy," he wrote,

she seem'd to be soon convinced of her Error, and determined not only to reform, but even attone for it; since, in the numerous Volumes which she gave to the World towards the latter Part of her Life, no Author has appear'd more the Votary of Virtue, nor are there any Novels in which a stricter Purity, or greater Delicacy of Sentiment, has been preserv'd ... I was told by one, who was well acquainted with her for many Years before her Close of Life, that she was good-natured, affable, lively, and entertaining; and that, whatever Errors she might in any Respect have run into in her youthful Days, she was, during the whole Course of his Knowledge of her, remarkable for the most rigid and scrupulous Decorum, Delicacy and Prudence, both with Respect to her Conduct and Conversation.—The Companion to the Play-House, 1764

Contemporary biographers choose a more nuanced approach to the well established narrative of Haywood's career as a progress from scandal to reform of both the author and her works (see, e.g., Patrick Spedding, "Shameless Scribler or Votary of Virtue? Eliza Haywood, Writing (and) Pornography in 1742," 2001; and "Eliza Haywood at The Sign of Fame," 2011; Katherine King, A Political Biography of Eliza Haywood, 2012; and Tiffany Potter, ed., Approaches to Teaching the Works of Eliza Haywood, 2020).

Dictionary of National Biography (1885–1900)

HAYWOOD, Mrs. ELIZA (1693?–1756), authoress, daughter of a London tradesman named Fowler, is said to have contracted at an early age a marriage, which proved unhappy, with a man named Haywood. Literary enemies represented that her character was bad, and that she had two illegitimate children, one by a peer, and the other by a bookseller (Curll, Key to the Dunciad, p. 12). Her friends asserted, on the other hand, that her husband, Haywood, was the father of her two children, and that, when he abandoned her and them, she was driven to the stage, and ultimately to literature, in order to support them. She seems to admit ‘little inadvertencies’ in her own life (cf. Female Dunciad, p. 18), but her novels hardly suggest that their author was personally immoral. She owed her evil reputation to the freedom with which she followed the example of Mrs. Manley in introducing into her romances scandals about the leaders of contemporary society, whose names she very thinly veiled. Mrs. Haywood first appeared in public as an actress at Dublin in 1715 or earlier, but soon came to London. Steele, to whom she dedicated a collection of her novels in 1725, described, in the ‘Tatler’ for 23 April 1709, a visit which he paid to ‘Sappho, a fine lady who writes, sings, dances, and can say and do whatever she pleases without the imputation of anything that can injure her character.’ Again, in the ‘Tatler’ for 12 July 1709, Steele refers to his intimacy with Sappho, and writes more respectfully of her. The editors of the ‘Tatler’ identify Steele's Sappho with Mrs. Haywood, but the dates scarcely admit of the identification (cf. Tatler, ed. Nichols, 1786, i. 54, ii. 50; ib. ed. Chalmers, 1806, i. 54, 427). On settling in London Mrs. Haywood was employed in 1721 by the theatrical manager Rich to rewrite a manuscript tragedy, in blank verse, entitled ‘The Fair Captive,’ by a Captain Hurst. Her version was acted without success at Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre on 4 March 1721, with Quin in the chief part (Mustapha), and it was published in the same year with a dedication to Lord Gage (cf. Genest, iii. 59–60). Two years later she wrote a comedy, ‘A Wife to be Lett.’ This was acted at Drury Lane, 12 Aug. 1723, and in the absence (it was stated), through indisposition, of the actress to whom the heroine's part (Mrs. Graspall) was assigned, Mrs. Haywood herself undertook that rôle, and also spoke the epilogue (ib. iii. 113–14). The piece was published in 1724. Once again she tempted fortune with a tragedy, ‘Frederick, Duke of Brunswick-Lunenburgh,’ which was acted at Lincoln's Inn Fields, 4 March 1729 (ib. iii. 241–2), and published immediately afterwards, with a dedication to Frederick, prince of Wales, and a disclaimer of any intention of reflecting on current politics. Her only other association with the theatre was as collaborator with William Hatchett in the libretto of ‘Opera of Operas, or Tom Thumb the Great … set to music … by Mr. Lampe,’ an adaptation of Fielding's ‘Tragedy of Tragedies,’ which was successfully performed at the Haymarket and Drury Lane theatres in 1733 (ib. iii. 408). Meanwhile Mrs. Haywood had become known as a voluminous writer of fiction. Her earliest novels dealt conventionally, if at times somewhat licentiously, with the trials and temptations of virtuous ladies. She wrote clearly and brightly, and her books sold rapidly. ‘Love in Excess, or the Fatal Enquiry’ reached a fifth edition in 1724. In the same year appeared ‘A Spy on the Conjurer, or a Collection of … Stories with … Letters’ relating to Duncan Campbell [q. v.], ‘revised by Mrs. Eliz. Haywood.’ This work has been wrongly claimed for Defoe. It was doubtless concocted wholly by Mrs. Haywood (cf. W. Lee, Life of Defoe, i. 327). In 1725 appeared her ‘Tea Table, or a Conversation between some polite Persons of both Sexes at a Lady's Visiting Day,’ and there, as in her novel of the ‘Injur'd Husband, or Mistaken Resentment’ (Dublin, 1724), she warned her readers in an advertisement that she had ‘no particular persons or families in view.’ But in her ‘Memoirs of a certain Island adjacent to Utopia, written by a celebrated author of that country. Now translated into English’ (London, 1725, 2 vols. 8vo), she introduced many scandalous episodes, and appended a ‘key’ in which the fictitious names in her narrative were identified with well-known living persons (through their initials). The success of ‘Utopia’ led Mrs. Haywood to produce in 1727 a similar work, ‘The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania,’ also with a ‘key.’ These two ‘most scandalous’ works excited the wrath of Pope, and some of the bitterest and coarsest lines in the ‘Dunciad’ (1728) ridicule Mrs. Haywood (bk. ii. ll. 157 sq.). In the early editions Pope represents her as one of the prizes for which Curll and Chapman, the publisher of her ‘Utopia,’ race against each other. In the final edition Osborne's name was substituted for Chapman's, but in all Mrs. Haywood is won by Curll. In a note on the passage, Pope describes her as one of those ‘shameless scribblers … who, in libellous memoirs and novels, reveal the faults or misfortunes of both sexes, to the ruin of public fame or disturbance of private happiness.’ Mrs. Haywood seems to have mildly retaliated by contributing a few pages to the ‘Female Dunciad,’ 1729 (a collection of scurrilous attacks on Pope made by Curll). Mrs. Haywood there speaks well of Curll, but despite Pope's assumption that Curll and Mrs. Haywood were closely associated in business, their only connection seems to have sprung from a desire to avenge themselves on Pope. Pope's attack was repeated by his friends. Swift wrote of her (26 Oct. 1731) to the Countess of Suffolk, who seems to have feared her pen, as a ‘stupid, infamous, scribbling woman’ (Swift, Works, ed. Scott, xvii. 430). Lord Peterborough, in a letter to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in 1735, denied that Pope referred to Lady Mary in a well-known passage in his first satire. He represented that Pope had assured him that such women as Mrs. Centlivre, Mrs. Haywood, Mrs. Manley, and Mrs. Behn were alone the objects of his satire (Pope, Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iii. 279). Horace Walpole wrote contemptuously of her as the counterpart of Mrs. Behn on 10 June 1743 (Letters, ed. Cunningham, i. 251). Mrs. Haywood's later works of fiction were for the most part inoffensive, although she has been credited with one later effort in slanderous literature, viz. ‘The Fortunate Foundlings, being the Genuine History of Colonel M—rs and his sister Madame de P—y, the issue of the Hon. Ch—s. M—rs, son of the late Duke of R—l—d,’ 1744, 12mo (Halkett and Laing). In an advertisement appended to vol. i. of ‘The Virtuous Villager, or Virgin's Victory, being the Memoirs of a Great Lady at the Court of France, written by herself’ (London, 1742, 2 vols. 8vo: a translation by Mrs. Haywood from the Chevalier Mouhi's ‘Le Paysan Parvenu’), ‘Eliza Haywood’ is described as a publisher at the sign of ‘Fame’ in Covent Garden. Only two books appear on her list of publications, and her career in the profession was probably brief. Between 1744 and 1746, in association with some friends, she issued in twenty-four monthly parts ‘The Female Spectator,’ a collection of moral tales and reflections. It was reissued in 4 vols. with a frontispiece, showing four ladies seated at a table (1745–6), and the volumes were dedicated respectively to the duchesses of Leeds, Bedford, and Queensberry, and the Duchess-dowager of Manchester. There followed a like venture, ‘The Parrot, with a Compendium of the Times,’ nine numbers of a periodical issued weekly between 2 Aug. and 4 Oct. 1746. To one of Mrs. Haywood's later novels—‘The History of Jemmy and Jenny Jessamy’ (1753, 12mo, 3 vols.; another edit. 1785, 8vo)—Sir Walter Scott refers at the close of his ‘Old Mortality,’ and makes an old lady praise it as being ‘indeed pathos itself.’ Mrs. Haywood's latest works were ‘The Wife, by Mira, one of the authors of the “Female Spectator,”’ London, 1756, 12mo, and ‘The Husband in Answer to the Wife,’ London, 1756, 12mo. Mrs. Haywood died, after an illness of three months, apparently in London, on 25 Feb. 1756. A collected edition of the novels, plays, and poems which Mrs. Haywood had written at the time appeared in 1724 in four volumes. To it was prefixed her portrait by Kirkall, to which Pope makes contemptuous allusion in the ‘Dunciad.’ Another portrait by Parmentier was engraved by Vertue. In 1725 appeared her ‘Secret Histories, Novels, and Poems,’ a shorter collection (2 vols.), dedicated to Steele. Besides the works already mentioned Mrs. Haywood published (all in London): 1. ‘The British Recluse, or the Secret History of Cleomira, suppos'd dead,’ 1722, 8vo; 3rd edit., Dublin, 1724. 2. ‘Idalia, or the Unfortunate Mistress,’ 1723. 3. ‘Lassellia, or the Self-Abandon'd,’ 1724. 4. ‘The Rash Resolve, or the Untimely Resolve,’ 1724. 5. ‘Letters of a Lady of Quality to a Chevalier,’ 1724. 6. ‘Poems on several occasions,’ 1724. 7. ‘The Surprise,’ 1725. 8. ‘The Fatal Secret,’ 1725. 9. ‘Fantomima, or Love in a Maze,’ 1725. 10. ‘Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, being the Secret History of her Life. Translated from the French,’ London, 1725, 8vo. 11. ‘The Disguis'd Prince, or the Beautiful Parisian,’ 1728 (from the French). 12. ‘The Fair Hebrew,’ anon., 1729. 13. ‘Persecuted Virtue, or the Cruel Lover,’ anon., 1729. (This and the former book are ascribed to Mrs. Haywood in an advertisement-sheet in her tragedy of ‘Frederick, Duke of Brunswick-Lunenburgh.’) 14. ‘Love Letters on all occasions. Lately passed between persons of Distinction,’ 1730, 8vo. 15. ‘La Belle Assemblée, a curious collection of some very remarkable incidents which happened to Persons of Quality; translated from the French of Mdme. de Gomez,’ 1732 (?), 4th edit. 4 vols. 12mo. 16. ‘L'Entretien des Beaux Esprits,’ a sequel to ‘La Belle Assemblée,’ containing twelve novels, 1734, 2 vols., dedicated to Charles Seymour, duke of Somerset. 17. ‘The Unfortunate Princess [of Ijaveo], interspersed with several curious and entertaining Novels,’ London, 1741, dedicated to the Duchess-dowager of Marlborough. 18. ‘A Present for a Servant Maid, or the sure means of gaining Love and Esteem,’ 1743, 8vo. 19. ‘The Fruitless Enquiry. Being a Collection of several entertaining Histories and Occurrences which fell under the Observation of a Lady in her search after Happiness,’ 1747, 12mo, dedicated to Lady Elizabeth Germain. 20. ‘The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless,’ 1751, 12mo, 4 vols.; another edit. 1783, 8vo. 21. ‘Invisible Spy’ (Watt). 22. ‘Adventures of Nature’ (ib.) 23. ‘Epistles for the Ladies,’ 2 vols. (ib.) 24. ‘History of Leonora Meadowson,’ 1788, 12mo, 2 vols.

[Authorities cited; Chalmers's Biog. Dict.; Baker's Biog. Dram.; Pope's Works, ed. Elwin and Courthope, iv. 141, 330; Halkett and Laing's Dict. of Anonymous Lit.; Watt's Bibl. Brit.; Brit. Mus. Cat., where far fewer works than those noticed here are assigned to Mrs. Haywood. The initials of the living persons mentioned in the keys to Mrs. Haywood's ‘Utopia’ and ‘Caramania’ are expanded in a contemporary hand in the British Museum copies.]

S. L. L.

Encyclopædia Britannica 11th edition (1911)

HAYWOOD, ELIZA (c. 1693–1756), English writer, daughter of a London tradesman named Fowler, was born about 1693. She made an early and unhappy marriage with a man named Haywood, and her literary enemies circulated scandalous stories about her, possibly founded on her works rather than her real history. She appeared on the stage as early as 1715, and in 1721 she revised for Lincoln’s Inn Fields The Fair Captive, by a Captain Hurst. Two other pieces followed, but Eliza Haywood made her mark as a follower of Mrs Manley in writing scandalous and voluminous novels. To Memoirs of a certain Island adjacent to Utopia, written by a celebrated author of that country. Now translated into English (1725), she appended a key in which the characters were explained by initials denoting living persons. The names are supplied to these initials in the copy in the British Museum. The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania (1727) was explained in a similar manner. The style of these productions is as extravagant as their matter. Pope attacked her in a coarse passage in The Dunciad (bk. ii. 11. 157 et seq.), which is aggravated by a note alluding to the “profligate licentiousness of those shameless scribblers (for the most part of that sex which ought least to be capable of such malice or impudence) who in libellous Memoirs and Novels reveal the faults or misfortunes of both sexes, to the ruin of public fame, or disturbance of private happiness.” Swift, writing to Lady Suffolk, says, “Mrs Haywood I have heard of as a stupid, infamous, scribbling woman, but have not seen any of her productions.” She continued to be a prolific writer of novels until her death on the 25th of February 1756, but her later works are characterized by extreme propriety, though an anonymous story of The Fortunate Foundlings (1744), purporting to be an account of the children of Lord Charles Manners, is generally ascribed to her.

A collected edition of her novels, plays and poems appeared in 1724, and her Secret Histories, Novels and Poems in 1725. See also an article by S. L. Lee in the Dictionary of National Biography.