Hugh Kelly

From A Compendium of Irish Biography, 1878

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Kelly, Hugh, a dramatist, was born at Killarney in 1739. Having received a tolerable education, and served his time to a stay-maker, he went to London, where before long he obtained employment as a scrivener. In 1762 he began to write for the press, and was entrusted with the management of the Ledger and other minor periodicals. His satire of Thespis attracted the attention of Garrick, who brought out for him his first comedy of False Delicacy, which had great success. A writer in the University Magazine says: "We may thank our stars that the degeneracy of modern taste has utterly repudiated this vapid sentimentality. At the same time let it be fully admitted that none but an accomplished and elegant mind could have conceived and written this comedy." His second work, although of equal merit, met a far different fate, in London at least. Kelly had rendered himself unpopular as a government hack-writer, and for several nights Drury-lane was turned into a "bear-garden" by the determination of Wilkes's friends not to listen to the play, and the wish of the author's friends that it should be heard; while the desire of Garrick and Kelly that it should be withdrawn was not listened to. Kelly brought out several other plays, many under an assumed name, and they were mostly successful. The writer from whom we have previously quoted, remarks: "On summing up his pretensions as a dramatic writer, we perhaps strain a point in his favour when we place him in the middle rank of the second class." It must have been a bitter enemy who when asked if he had hissed one of his plays, replied: "How could I? a man can't hiss and yawn at the same time." Desirous of more settled employment than authorship, he entered at the Middle Temple, and was studying law when he was cut off after a few days' illness, 3rd February 1777, aged 37.

Sources

116. Dublin University Magazine (45). Dublin, 1833-'77.

338. Walker's Hibernian Magazine (1777). Dublin, 1771-1811.
Walker, Joseph C, see Nos. 20, 108.

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