Darley, George (1795–1846), poet, critic, and mathematician, was born in December 1795 in Dublin, eldest of the seven children of Arthur Darley (1766–1845), merchant and grocer, and his wife and distant cousin Mary (d. 1833), daughter of John Darley, a customs officer in Newry. Soon after his birth, Darley's parents moved to America where they remained for several years. Darley was raised by his grandfather, George Darley, of Springfield, Co. Dublin, and was privately educated before entering TCD in July 1815. He was an excellent student and, after graduating in mathematics and classics in November 1820, was awarded a fellowship. He resolved to pursue a literary career, however, and moved to London the following year. His first book, a verse dialogue between a mystic and the moon entitled The errors of ecstasie, appeared in 1822 and was indifferently received, but by the end of that year he had embarked upon a more successful appurtenant career as a writer for the London Magazine. Though he contributed poems, stories (notably ‘Lilian of the vale’), and ‘dramaticles’ (short dramatic sketches) under several pseudonyms, he achieved his greatest impact with the acerbic series, ‘Letters to the dramatists of the day’ (1823). These articles, signed as ‘John Lacy’, stringently criticised contemporary dramatic writing and provoked widespread comment and debate. Through his connection with the London Magazine he became widely acquainted in the London literary scene, forming particularly close friendships with Charles Lamb, John Taylor, John Clare, Henry Cary, and Allan Cunningham, that survived the demise of the journal in 1825. Temperamentally, however, he tended to be somewhat reclusive and solitary, a condition often attributed (by himself and others) to his chronic stammer, which developed in his childhood.
In 1826 he published under the name ‘Guy Penseval’ a commercially and critically unsuccessful collection of stories and prose poems entitled The labours of idleness. This was followed by Sylvia, or, The May queen (1827), a pseudo-Elizabethan pastoral verse drama that received some moderate acclaim, and was admired by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He also produced one of his better-known poems around this time, ‘It is not beautie I demande’ (The Literary Gazette, 12 Apr. 1828), which so deftly imitated archaic poetic form that (in an oft-quoted incident) it was later included as an anonymous Caroline lyric in Francis Turner Palgrave's The golden treasury (1875). Darley found more popular and financial success with a series of five textbooks on mathematics and astronomy (published 1826–30), which were highly regarded and frequently reprinted over the next two decades. He persevered in his creative writing, reprinting The labours of idleness as the second volume of The new sketch book (1829, under the pseudonym ‘G. Crayon, Jun.'), but widespread recognition as a writer continued to elude him, and in 1830, having published his last textbook, Familiar astronomy, he turned his critical faculties to the appreciation of art. He travelled to Paris, where he visited his brother William (d. 1857), a painter who seems to have spent most of his life in Paris, occasionally exhibiting at the Royal Hibernian Academy of Arts (1843, 1846), and contributing art reviews to The Athenaeum. Darley spent the next five years visiting galleries in France, Rome, Milan, and Brussels, writing characteristically severe though perceptive essays for The Athenaeum, which expressed a then novel preference for the Italian painters of the early Renaissance.
Darley returned to London in 1835, where he became the regular theatre reviewer for The Athenaeum, and in the same year privately printed for circulation among his friends the long poem Nepenthe (a published version appeared in 1839). This dense, opaque philosophical allegory, embedded in the narrative of a poetic vision quest, is now critically lauded for its frequent demonstrations of his extraordinary lyrical power and formal skill. Nevertheless, Nepenthe, along with the two closet historical dramas Thomas à Beckett (1840) and Ethelstan; or, the battle of Brunanburh (1841), proved no more successful than any of his previous literary work. Darley's brother Charles (1800–61), professor of English and history at QCC, also harboured literary aspirations, and his dramatic tragedy ‘The plighted troth’ was produced unsuccessfully by William Charles Macready at Drury Lane in 1842, a year after the Darleys’ nephew Dion Boucicault (qv), created a sensation with his play ‘London assurance’.
For the last years of his life Darley supported himself largely by his journalism, contributing reviews, short stories, and verse to The Athenaeum, Bentley's Miscellany, and the Illuminated Magazine, under various pseudonyms (it is speculated that much of his work remains untraced). In addition he produced an incisive introduction to an edition of the plays of Beaumont and Fletcher (1840). He continued to travel, visiting Germany (1837–8), and making several trips to Ireland (1839, 1841, 1842, and 1844). Though Irish inspiration is only occasionally visible in his work (for example, the long lyric ‘The flight of the forlorn’), he maintained a close correspondence with his Irish relatives in his last years, and his letters frequently express a nostalgic attachment to his homeland. Two of his last published poems were signed ‘George Springfield’. His health, never strong, declined rapidly in his last years (he seems to have received medical treatment in Paris in 1845), and he was further troubled by financial worries. He died 23 November 1846 at his lodgings at 2 Lower Belgrave Street, London, and was buried in Kensal Green cemetery. Though almost entirely overlooked in his own lifetime, since the early twentieth century Darley has been somewhat critically rehabilitated, and is regarded as a significant minor poet of the ‘Elizabethan revival’ of the late Romantic period.