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Most Sacred Things

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William Hayley (1745-1820) is a neglected figure whose influence on literary and cultural history is now being recognised. But who was he? Dr Lisa Gee has been researching and cataloguing the Fitzwilliam Museum’s Hayley Papers.

The Fitzwilliam Museum holds the world’s largest collection of manuscript material relating to William Hayley (1745-1820). But who was he? A largely unknown figure today, Hayley was an acclaimed poet, a multi-lingual scholar and the author of the bestselling and highly influential The Triumphs of Temper (which advised young women on how to attract and keep a husband and was written in rhyming couplets). He achieved both commercial and critical success before, towards the end of his life, his work fell out of fashion. Posthumously, he became a laughing-stock, remembered only for irritating William Blake and writing bad poetry. But who was he really?

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