Two years ago my grandfather sold his large farm in the mountains of Maine and moved to an idyllic island house off the coast. To make the move easier, and because of the lack of space in the new house, he offered me some of the books from the large collection he had gathered over the years. At the time I, too, was in the process of relocating and dealing with the process of moving a substantial collection (until we have to move large quantities of them, we tend to forget that books are made out of trees...). Expecting he would have just a few volumes with which he would be willing to part, I eagerly accepted his offer. A few days later he showed up at my door with six boxes of books in the trunk of his car. “I’m not sure what exactly is in there,” he shrugged, “but they’re yours if you want them.” The majority of the books were 18th, 19th, and early 20th century volumes, many in foreign languages, most in good condition. Today they form the core of my little library.
This book is one of the English volumes from my grandfather’s collection, though it’s not in as good a condition as some of the others. The title is Moral Tales in Verse, Founded on Real Events. It was written by actor, playwright, and theatre manager Thomas Hull (1728-1808), “of the Theatre Royal, Covent-Garden”, and published in two volumes by George Cawthorn of the “British Library, Strand”, January 20, 1797. The book was dedicated to “His Grace the Duke of Leeds”. My copy has both volumes bound into one and I can’t find any information about whether it was issued that way by the printer or if a later owner of my copy had it bound that way. I also haven’t been able to find an estimated assessed value, but it is likely in the $100 to $200 range; its contemporary peers are priced slightly higher ($300 to $700) but the condition of my copy is poor (the front board is missing altogether; the rear board is detached; the spine is decayed; the contents, however, are in excellent condition with the exception of some foxing on the title page, its facing engraving, and a few pages throughout; tape residue on the back board suggests a previous owner tried, poorly, to reattach the board, and part of the spine--reading “Hulls Tales”--still exists and was used by one reader as a bookmark, resulting in discoloration on the paper where it was sandwiched for so many years).
The pages measure 12.5cm x 21cm and are made of a fairly sturdy paper bearing the watermark “TW / 1795” with the countermark “17 LEPRD 50”. The same paperstock was apparently used for both volumes of the book. The text was set in a large font (18 verse lines to the page) and ample room was left between the lines of the poems for improved readability. Printing was done in gatherings of four, with an initial signature, and volume indication, on the recto of the first page of each gathering (volume 1 runs from [A2]-[R2], there is a flyleaf at the front with an engraved portrait of Hull on the verso, but the paper is substantially heavier than the rest of the book and is thus not part of gathering A; volume 2 runs from [A4]-[Cc4]). Both volumes are also paginated in the top outer corner (volume 1 runs [i]-[xxviii] and -124; volume 2 runs -200 with an unnumbered flyleaf at the end). The book begins with the dedication to the Duke of Leeds and a preface in which Hull explains his project:
The following little Compositions, which I have dignified with the title of Moral Tales, have been the employment of several leisure hours, at different periods of time. Some of them have been written many years, as the respective dates specify, but none of them printed till now, except the last in the second volume, of which further mention shall be made in its proper place.
Mr. Addison describes himself, as always being possessed of a disposition to examine such old prints and ballads as he saw pasted upon the walls of cottages, &c. I have not only discovered the same turn in myself, (and I would I could find something else more similar to that excellent writer!) but I have ever, even from childhood, felt my attention peculiarly engaged by stories related in company, which have contained in them any thing of the marvellous and supernatural. Hence it is, probably, that I have so long retained many of the singular events whereon the ensuing compositions are founded.
I have been (I can say it with great truth) repeatedly urged to publish them by friends, who have seen the manuscripts. -- The Reader, perhaps, will call them very partial friends: it may be so. And I am ready to acknowledge that, after a careful revisal, they are much better calculated to elicit the approbation of a kind heart, than to obtain the commendation of a critical judgment.
Hull’s comments here--besides being generously lathered in the typical show of humility and disinterestedness that was the standard fare of author’s prefaces since the printing press arrived in England and perhaps earlier--are false in that at least one other story in the collection was previously published. Its poor reception (see below) may account for his brief absent-mindedness here.
With the exception of owners’ names and some penciled comments at the front, the book lacks marginalia. On the recto of the front flyleaf there is a pencilled statement regarding the book’s containing 2 volumes; the rest of the writing is illegible due to fading of the pencil and foxing on the page (though it looks like the date “May 31 1866” heads the comment). The same hand has added the note “in 2 vols in one Book” to the title page and possibly the name penciled (upside down) on the verso of the final flyleaf that seems to read “H. W. Erving”. Two other hands appear in the book. A copper ink has written “W. J. Duane” on the title page and again above the dedication on A3r; this is possibly the same as the ink used to write (again upside down) on the verso of the final flyleaf a name that may be “W Duane”. Duane’s inscription on A3r has been crossed out by the third owner: “Anna P. Cu[r?]shing”. A final scribbler has used a thick gray-black crayon to add a squiggle on P4v that may or may not be a name; the exact same squiggle in the same medium has been added (once more, upside down) on the verso of the final flyleaf. Both of these crayon squiggles bear a remarkable similarity to the name on the final flyleaf that looks like “W Duane”.
I haven’t been able to find any information on H. W. Erving or Anna Cushing, but searching about for a likely candidate for W. J. Duane reveals the following candidate, as described in the May 13, 1894 New York Times: “William J. Duane, who was born in Ireland in 1780 and died in Philadelphia in 1865, was originally a printer, afterward a paper dealer. He then studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1815. He early became distinguished for his legal attainments, and occupied an enviable position at the Pennsylvania bar. For several years he represented Philadelphia in the State Legislature. During his father’s editorship of The Philadelphia Aurora, for years the leading organ of the Democratic Party, he was his assistant. In 1833 he became Secretary of the Treasury, but was removed by President Jackson for refusing to order the removal of the deposits from the United States Bank. In 1838 he published the ‘Narratives and Correspondences Concerning the Deposits.’ He also wrote ‘The Law of Nations Investigated,’ (Philadelphia, 1809.) and ‘Letters on Internal Improvement,’ (1811.) He was much interested in educational matters, and was a Trustee, and subsequently a Director, of Girard College.”
As with many books published in the 18th and 19th centuries, Hull managed to get his onto the press by selling advance subscriptions to numerous individuals. By the 1790s Hull was approaching the end of his career in the London theatre (see below for his biography) and was spending more time on his writing (including, at the time the Moral Tales in Verse was in preparation, his novel The History of Sir William Harrington, a book that took him 26 years to complete). He had built a numbered of key friendships, business partnerships, and acquaintances through his theatre work, and the list of subscribers in the book (B1r-D2r) contains many notable figures, including actors such as Sarah Siddons and Charles and John Kemble (as well as Eva Maria Veigel, the late David Garrick’s famously devoted widow), Shakespearean scholars such as the eccentric George Steevens and the notoriously unfortunate Samuel Ireland, and nobility such as the Duke of Gloucester, Prince William, and the Bishop of Rochester. The bulk of the subscribers seem to be clergy, lawyers, or individuals associated with the theatre (subscription publication makes strange bedfellows, I suppose...). None of the names inscribed in my copy as early owners appear in the list of subscribers (however, all but one of the people listed lived in England or Ireland; the sole exception is Mr. Owen Morris of Philadelphia; perhaps this is his copy and it ended up eventually in the hands of his fellow turn-of-the-century Philadelphian W. J. Duane).
The book’s contents take the form of thirteen narratives, most dedicated to an individual and each written in verse (most are in rhyming quatrains of forty to fifty stanzas, though several are simply blank verse without a stanza structure). The tales related all have at their heart a moral lesson, though given the nature of how Hull wrote them (often in pieces over several years; some were even published in prior collections or individually) their collection together under the rubric of “morals” is probably more of a later, editorial move on the part of the author. The publisher (presumably) has provided helpful footnotes throughout, indicating precisely where quotations originate from (mostly Shakespeare, the Bible, The Spectator, and Cotton’s Visions in Verse), what (and who) certain obscure passages reference, and what stories served as Hull’s sources. Despite the book’s subtitle (“Founded on Real Events”) some of the tales seem to echo narratives that were popular in drama and fiction at the time. There may have been some confusion about the book’s intended contents, because one footnote references a table of contents that does not, in fact, exist.
The tales in the book usually begin with a verse dedication to an individual, followed by the tale itself. The contents of the first volume are:
“Henry: or, Virtue its Own Reward. Addressed to John Beard, Esq. 1771”
“Foscue: or, Vice its Own Punishment. Addressed to ******” (“written in the form of the old English ballad”)
“Eldred; or, The Justice of Retaliation. Written in the Year 1783. Addressed to Miss M******”
“The Excellence of Self-Denial. Exemplified in Sir Philip Sidney. Written in the year 1762.” Dedicated to “The Hon. William Keppel, on his return from the Conquest of the Havannah, in 1762.”
“The Unconscious Avenger: or, The Tale of Alleyne. In the Antient Ballad Style, in Two Parts.”
“The Needy Man’s Security; or, The Tale of Alcon. Addressed to my long beloved friend Thomas King, Esq.” [This particular dedication contains numerous references to the many Shakespeare performances the two men enjoyed over the years, including Falstaff, Hotspur, As You Like It, and Macbeth, and actors such as Quinn, Woffington, Pritchard, Barry, Cibber and Garrick.]
“What is the Best; or, The Tale of Alvarez.” Begins with “Address to a Departed Friend.”
The contents of the second volume are:
“The Force of Friendship: or, The Tale of Muley-Zeydan. Addressed to Theodore Maurice, Esq.”
“Mutual Self-Reproof: or, The Tale of Cadwal. In Two Parts.” [Hull had previously published this tale on its own several years earlier but it met with very little success.]
“Retribution: or, The Tale of Durand.” Begins with “Address to Mrs. B----------”
“The Test of Love: or, The Tale of Edward and Orra.” Begins with “Address to W. Wilberforce, Esq. M.P.” As befits a tale dedicated to William Wilberforce, the Member of Parliament who almost single-handedly put an end to England’s participation in the slave trade, Hull’s story is an anti-slavery narrative about a married couple from Africa whose lives are nearly destroyed by the slave trade to the Americas. Hull’s dedication to Wilberforce is, itself, an eloquent and forceful damnation of both slavery and the racism upon which it was predicated.
“Chedder Clifts: or, Raymond. Addressed to Maria.”
“The Advantages of Repentance. In Blank Verse. Founded on the Anecdotes of a Private Family, in *********shire.” [This was also published separately in the 1770s. Unlike “The Tale of Cadwal” this was a success with the reading public, going through four editions and eventually being entirely sold-out. It was included in this collection at the insistence of Hull’s friends.]
Trevor Griffiths has written the best available biographical summary of Thomas Hull, for the Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford UP):
[Thomas Hull] was born in London in the house in the Strand where his father, whose identity is otherwise unknown, practised as an apothecary. According to the Biographia dramatica, Hull was educated for some time at Charterhouse School and had been intended for the church, but he rejected that vocation and also failed as an apothecary. He appeared as an actor at the Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, for the 1753–4 season and then played at Bath from 1754 until 1758. The Bath engagement ended controversially: Hull accused the theatre owner, John Palmer, of reneging on an agreement that Hull should manage the theatre from 1757, on a three-year contract with escalating rewards, and of ousting him from the theatre without a benefit. Some indication of Hull's plight may be gleaned from the fact that he ended his pamphlet of complaint with an advertisement for apothecary's wares ‘at the lowest Prices’ (Highfill, Burnim & Langhans, BDA, 3.34).
Hull first appeared in London at Covent Garden on 5 October 1759. He subsequently enjoyed a long London career in secondary roles, interspersed with summers of provincial theatrical appearances and management in, for example, Birmingham, Bristol, Margate, and Brighton. He married the actress Anna Maria Morrison at an unknown date between 1764 and 1766. They appear to have had at least one child (a Master Hull was in the company at Bristol in 1769 when Thomas and Anna Maria Hull were there).
In an acting career of more than fifty years Hull played well over 200 characters and missed only one performance, as a result of illness. In London he started in roles such as Renault in Thomas Otway's Venice Preserv'd, Horatio in Hamlet, Antonio in The Merchant of Venice, and Pinchwife in William Wycherley's The Country Wife. He stayed at Covent Garden as an actor until 28 December 1807, and was acting manager from 1775 to 1781. With few exceptions, such as Prospero and Angelo, which he took over in 1776–7 when he was manager, he continued to play significant parts but was seldom the motor of the action. He was the epitome of a sound company man and, as his early problems at Bath suggest, concerned with professional conditions of service; in 1765 he was one of the prime movers in the establishment of the Covent Garden Theatrical Fund to provide a pension fund for old or ill actors and actresses.
According to Francis Gentleman (1770), Hull was ‘very capable of supporting paternal characters with propriety and feeling’ and was well suited for the ‘graver parts of comedy’, since ‘declamation and paternal tenderness are his style, not love nor fire’; he was ‘better calculated for exhibiting amiable and tender feelings, than any which border on gloomy and sanguinary designs’ and ‘had nature given him executive requisites equal to his judgment and assiduity, he would have been a capital pillar of the stage’. Francis Godolphin Waldron in 1795 suggested that it was time he retired, noting that he ‘has long enjoyed a respectable rank in the theatrical world in personating old trusty Stewards and parts that require an apparent honest sincerity of expression’, but, as Genest noted, ‘he stayed on the stage until he was quite worn out’.
As a writer, Hull was a ‘respectable’ (Baker), if undistinguished, practitioner of most of the eighteenth century's theatrical genres. None of his dramatic works long survived him in the repertory, and several were written as novelties for his own or others' benefits—for example, a version of Timon of Athens, adapted from that by Shadwell, for his own benefit in 1768, or Iphigenia, or, The Victim, an adaptation of Abel Boyer's Achilles, itself a translation of Racine, for Mrs Barry's benefit in 1778. He adapted The Comedy of Errors twice, once as The Twins and once under Shakespeare's title, and turned Beaumont's and Fletcher's The Beggar's Bush into a comic opera, The Royal Merchant (with music by Thomas Linley, 1767). The Perplexities, originally staged in 1767 on the same bill as his The Fairy Favour, a masque to music by J. C. Bach, was one of Hull's more successful pieces. A mediocre if competent adaptation of Samuel Tuke's Adventures of Five Hours, the play is ‘a chaos of balconies, cloaks, rapiers and dark lanterns’ (Biographia dramatica), deploying a range of love–honour conflicts in a Spanish setting with a familiar cast of jealous brothers and spirited young women, mistaken identities, and hidden doors. Hull's popular tragedy Henry II, or, The Fall of Rosamund, adapted from William Hawkins's play of 1749, was staged in an early version at Birmingham in 1761 and revised at the suggestion of Hull's friend the poet William Shenstone. Although Joseph Knight suggested in the Dictionary of National Biography that the play ‘could rank with most tragedies of the day’, it is a sentimental small-cast tragedy in which affairs of state are little more than period colour, and the verse, at best competent, is haunted by the thinnest Shakespearian overtones mediated through Dryden and Rowe. Hull also achieved success with a patriotic afterpiece, The Spaniards Dismayed, or, True Blue Forever, also known as True Blue, or, The Press Gang, adapted from Henry Carey's Nancy, first staged in 1776. His non-dramatic works include the novel The History of Sir William Harrington (1771–97), which was translated into both French and German.
Hull's wife died on 23 October 1805, and he himself died on 22 April 1808, at his house near Dean's Yard, Westminster. Both were buried in the churchyard of St Margaret, Westminster.