The Writing Life of Hugh Kelly: Politics, Journalism, and Theater in Late-Eighteenth-Century London

By Robert R. Bataille | Go to book overview

6
Confrontation with the Wilkites

Athough the publication of Thespis, Memoirs of a Magdalen, and False Delicacy placed Kelly in a higher sphere of London literary life than he was accustomed to, he continued to work away in the Grub Street world of journalism. It was this work, after all, that enabled him to produce theater reviews, compose Thespis itself, and hence offer something to David Garrick in return for the manager's aid in building a career as a playwright. Tracing Kelly's journalism from 1766 until his departure from the Public ledger sometime in late winter or early spring 1772 is difficult: it simply cannot be done directly because most of the Ledger's issues are missing. One must rely once again on occasional facts and anecdotes, the last often produced by anonymous and sometimes hostile sources. Even anecdotes are at times scarce, so that one must often turn to more generalized accounts, written by contemporaries, like Cooke, some years after the events themselves had taken place.

These obstacles to constructing a skeletal record of Kelly's writing career even after he achieved some fame with False Delicacy in early 1768 until A Word to he Wise in March 1770 are significant. Certainly the events surrounding the production of False Delicacy throw some light on Kelly's relationships. Because of the play, we learn of his connection to Garrick; we learn of Bickerstaff's jealousy; and we learn of the supposed dissolution of the friendship with Goldsmith. But by the spring of 1768, the biographical trail once again grows faint. Until it ceased publication on 16 April 1768, the Theatrical Monitor continued to attack Kelly for his partiality toward Garrick even after it gave Kelly's first play a positive review. But detailed references to his ongoing professional life--which was still the life of a journalist--are rare. Not until the late spring of 1769 did Kelly come before the public eye once again and begin to leave biographical traces that can be followed to the next main event of his writing life: the damnation of his second comedy by a Wilkite mob.

Kelly was still involved in editing the Public Ledger, as he had been for nearly three years. Because copies of the paper for the later years of the 1760s are not

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