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Hugh Kelly (1739 – 3 February 1777) was an Irish dramatist and poet.

Son of a Dublin publican, he was born at Killarney, County Kerry. He was apprenticed to a staymaker, and in 1760 went to London. Here he worked at his trade for some time, and then became an attorneys clerk. He contributed to various newspapers, and wrote pamphlets for the booksellers. In 1767 he published Memoirs of a Magdalen, or the History of Louisa Mildmay (2 vols.), a novel which obtained considerable success. In 1766 he published anonymously Thespis; or, A Critical Examination into the Merits of All the Principal Performers belonging to Drury Lane Theatre, a poem in the heroic couplet containing violent attacks on the principal contemporary actors and actresses. The poem opens with a panegyric on David Garrick, however, and bestows foolish praise on friends of the writer. This satire was partly inspired by Churchill's Rosciad, but its criticism is obviously dictated chiefly by personal prejudice. In 1767 he produced a second part, less scurrilous in tone, dealing with the Covent Garden actors. His first comedy, False Delicacy, written in prose, was produced by Garrick at Drury Lane on January 23, 1768, with the intention of rivalling Oliver Goldsmith's Good-Natured Man. It is a moral and sentimental comedy, described by Garrick in the prologue as a sermon preached in act. Although Samuel Johnson described it as totally void of character, it was very popular and had a great sale. In French and Portuguese versions it drew crowded houses in Paris and Lisbon. Kelly was a journalist in the pay of Lord North, and therefore hated by the party of John Wilkes, especially as being the editor of the The Public Ledger. His Thespis had also made him many enemies; and Mrs Clive refused to act in his pieces. The production of his second comedy, A Word to the Wise (Drury Lane, March 3, 1770), occasioned a riot in the theatre, repeated at the second performance, and the piece had to be abandoned. His other plays are: Clementina (Covent Garden, February 23, 1771), a blank verse tragedy, given out to be the work of a young American clergyman in order to escape the opposition of the Wilkites; The School for Wives (Drury Lane, December 11, 1773), a prose comedy given out as the work of Major (afterwards Sir William) Addington; a two-act piece, The Romance of an Hour (Covent Garden, December 2, 1774), borrowed from Marmontel's tale L'amitié à l'épreuve; and an unsuccessful comedy, The Man of Reason (Covent Garden, February 9, 1776). He was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1774, and determined to give up literature. He failed in his new profession and died in poverty.

See The Works of Hugh Kelly, to which is prefixed the Life of the Author (1778); Genest, The story of the Stage (v. 163, 263, 269, 308, 399, 457, 517). Pamphlets in reply to Thespis are: Anti-Thespis (1767); The Kellyad... (1767), by Louis Stamma; and The Rescue or Thespian Scourge... (1767), by John Brown-Smith.




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