Joseph Timothy Haydn was an Irish journalist, dictionary compiler and author of Dictionary of Dates, which made its first appearance in 1841, and is still in its 25th edition, one of the most frequently consulted books in any public reference library.
Born in Limerick in 1786, his father was Thomas Haydn, “a private gentleman of Ireland,” and his mother is Miss FitzGerald, sister of the Knight of Glin. Like most Catholics of the time he was educated abroad and put into business on his return to Ireland. Not liking the latter, he soon took to journalism and in 1821 we find him co-operating with F. W. Conway in the production of a theatrical journal, “The Stage.”
In 1828 he was appointed editor of the “Dublin Evening Mail”, a newspaper still in existence, although founded expressly to attack the Marquis of Wellesley.
Some time around this period Haydn verted to Protestantism and we find him attacked in the “Dublin and London Magazine” and imagined as saying: “I wonder where is my recom-pense for all my labours; I have given up my old religion – I have established the “Star” – I have endured abuse – I have submitted to a caning – I have borne the expense of sixteen actions at law in my earnestness to support Protestant Ascendancy – yet, curse the thing Protestant Ascendancy will do for me.”
Since this vitriolic attack, typical of its time, is probably an exaggeration, it is well to quote a more sober estimate of his character, which appeared in the “Westminster Review” of 1830: “A man of considerable ability and wonderfully mechanical, but he has been characterised by an unsteady and veering type of mind. Although he has been connected with many journals in Dublin and advanced some of them into a condition that yielded emolument and promised permanence, he is now unconnected with any paper. Mr. Haydn has done more for the Irish Press in regard to typography, a department which needed large and radical improvements, than any other man; and if others had the merit of maintaining its literary dignity, he certainly introduced the taste and habit of neat and creditable printing.”
The candour of these criticisms probably explains Haydn’s return to Limerick and in 1834 we find him as partner to W. D. Geary of the Limerick Star and Evening Post, the paper for which Gerald Griffin reported the Colleen Bawn trial as a youth. At the same time he was sole proprietor of the Limerick Times. Haydn’s stay in Limerick was short and in 1839 he arrived in London to work for the daily and weekly press.
It was here Haydn started the work most congenial to his mind. As newspaper editor, his twistings and turnings, as well as his vicious pen, had given him an unsavoury reputation. His work on reference books has more than compensated for this and has made his name an honoured one among students. As already stated, his Dictionary of Dates was first pub-lished in 1841. His “Books of Dignities,” a modernised form of “Beatson’s Political Index,” appeared in 1851, and was authentic enough to merit a revised edition as late as 1894.
The fame of these two books was so great that a familiar series of reference books, containing: “University Index of Biography,” “Bible Dictionary,” “Dictionary of Popular Medicine,” etc., were named after him, although he had nothing to do with their compilation.
Probably his most useful work for Irish readers was his edition of “Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary,” which was published in eight volumes in 1849. This is a very complete, alpha-betical list of the towns of Great Britain and Ireland and although Joseph Haydn was only the editor, no doubt he was responsible for the very excellent notices which appear in it of Irish towns and cities.
In 1811 Haydn married Marie Lee and had ten children by her. He married Mary Johnson of Quarrymount, Offaly, in 1836 and had a further three.
As a reward for his labours, Haydn was granted a small post in the Admiralty Record Department and was enjoying a pension of £25 per annum from this when he died on 17th January, 1856, in Crawley Street, Oakley Square, London.
This amount was doubled and continued to his widow, by the kindness of Lord Palmerston. He was 69 when he died and in the words of a contemporary, his career “was more than commonly chequered with alternations of success and adversity.”