Robert R. Bataille demonstrates convincingly that between 1767 and 1777, Anglo-Irish writer Hugh Kelly made major contributions in three areas of British culture: politics, journalism, and theater. Bataille shows how all three activities were integrated in Kelly’s life, suggesting that such interrelationships often existed in the rough and ready London culture during the early reign of King George III.
When he discovered several newspaper campaigns that Kelly orchestrated as a paid political propagandist for George III and his ministers, Bataille understood in part how important Kelly was to his era. In his capacity as propagandist, Kelly defended Hanoverian colonial policies on the eve of the American Revolution, served as a key opponent of the radical Wilkites, and promoted the acceptance of the 1774 Quebec Bill, which established, among other things, the right of the recently defeated French citizens of Quebec to maintain the French language.
A belletristic journalist, Kelly published theater reviews and essays that played a major role in shaping the taste of his era. He wrote in defense of the controversial sentimental drama, and whenever he could, he promoted the major theatrical figure of the age, David Garrick. Under his editorship, the newspaper Public Ledger became a leading source of theater information. Seeking to raise the status of the profession of journalism, he wrote essays and articles that provided his middle-class readers with an insider’s view of the operations of the journalist.
Assessing Kelly’s contributions to the novel and drama, Bataille argues that this powerful journalist stands in the vanguard in the larger struggle against traditional attitudes supporting male superiority and aristocratic privilege. Kelly wrote in favor of gender equality and middle-class respectability, striving to inculcate what modern scholars refer to as the values of sensibility. Bataille also argues, however, that Kelly knew his audience. Instrumental in the rise of professional writing and popular culture, he understood that he had to observe the needs of his audience, detecting cultural trends and using the skills of the rhetorician.