Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead

‘A Task enough to make one frantic’: William Hayley’s Memorialising


  • Lisa Gee King's College London, University of Cambridge, University of Birmingham



Anna Seward (1742-`1809), epitaphs, life writing, death, William Cowper (1731-1800), William Hayley (1745-1820)


This paper explores Hayley’s approach to, and writing about, memorialising, focusing on his manuscript collection of epitaphs, his letters to Anna Seward about her epitaph on Lady Miller, and his memoirs and biographies. How typical was he of late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century memorialists? What does his writing about death—and his writing about writing about death—tell us about how his contemporaries were supposed to feel and express their feelings about the dead? How do his works illustrate what he and his contemporaries were expected to reveal or conceal about the dead, and about the living? How different, in that respect, were the works designed to be read by the public from those intended only for the deceased’s nearest and dearest? How did the author’s death change the expected readership?

Author Biography

Lisa Gee, King's College London, University of Cambridge, University of Birmingham

Lisa Gee is Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre for Life-Writing Research, King’s College London, where she is working to secure partnerships and funding for A Museum of Relationships: the correspondence of William Hayley (1745–1820)—a digital edition of letters to and from William Hayley, the pilot for which is running at The Fitzwilliam Museum, University of Cambridge. She is Research Fellow in Future Thinking at the University of Birmingham and Associate Fellow, the Centre for Visual Culture, University of Cambridge. E-mail:





Life Writing & Death: Dialogues of the Dead