1817
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Written on the Day that Mr. Leigh Hunt left Prison.

Poems, by John Keats.

John Keats


A sonnet, composed in 1815 and published in 1817: "In Spenser's halls he strayed, and bowers fair, | Culling enchanted flowers." John Keats dedicated his first volume of poems to Leigh Hunt, who was reading Spenser while imprisoned for libel: "There is a note in the fifth volume of my Spenser, which I was then reading, in these words: — 'Much dearer for the things, which come through hard distresse'" Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries (1828) 422.

Leigh Hunt: "Though I was a politician (so to speak), I had scarcely a political work in my library. Spensers and Arabian Tales filled up the shelves; and Spenser himself was not remoter, in my eyes, from all the commonplaces of life than my new friend. Our whole talk was of idealisms. In the streets we were in the thick of the old woods" Autobiography (1850) 2:39.

Charles Cowden Clarke: "it was upon an occasion, when walking thither to see Leigh Hunt who had just fulfilled his penalty of confinement in Horsemonger Lane Prison for the unwise libel upon the Prince Regent, that Keats met me; and, turning, accompanied me back part of the way. At the last field-gate, when taking leave, he gave me the sonnet entitled, 'Written on the day that Mr. Leigh Hunt left Prison.' This I feel to be the first proof I had received of his having committed himself in verse; and how clearly do I recall the conscious look and hesitation with which he offered it! There are some momentary glances by beloved friends that fade only with life" 1861; in Recollections of Writers (1878) 127.

Keats's friendship with Hunt attracted the ire of Blackwood's Magazine in its essay on the Cockney Poets, August 1818: "Professor Wilson, well described by Horne as 'the clown of Blackwood's Magazine,' found sufficient ground here for one of the unseemliest of his coarse pleasantries — to wit the allegation that Keats fed Hunt 'on the oil cakes of flattery' till he became 'flatulent of praise'. Keats's real offence was of course his friendship with a radical, and his venturing to characterize as 'showing truth to flatter'd state' the article in The Examiner for which Hunt and his brother were imprisoned for two years and fined a thousand pounds, — an article which Hunt, doing battle with the Morning Post, thus translated the 'language of adulation into that of truth'" John Keats, Poems, ed. H. Buxton Forman (1901) 1:41n.

Oliver Elton: "How Leigh Hunt's writing affected Keats for ill has often been told: the touches of commonness or sickliness, the rhyming down-at-heel (in which Keats at first much outdid his master), the want of poetic sureness and concision. But Keats gained far more good from Hunt than harm. For one thing, he was introduced by him to the enchanted gardens of romantic poetry. He saw 'beautiful things made new'; he had an example of verse that with all its flaws revealed an imperturbable, free delight in pure beauty, in telling a story for its own sake, and in imaginative richness; and this delight, though it had its snares, and had to be braced and lifted by higher inspirations, was to Keats invaluable. Later, indeed, he turned on Hunt and repudiated his ungirt style and temper; 'He makes beautiful things hateful,' said Keats vehemently; and this verdict, though hardly just, represents the better and higher genius of Keats casting aside his early preconceptions" Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 2:227.



What though, for showing truth to flatter'd state,
Kind Hunt was shut in prison, yet has he,
In his immortal spirit, been as free
As the sky-searching lark, and as elate.
Minion of grandeur! think you he did wait?
Think you he nought but prison walls did see,
Till, so unwilling, thou unturn'dst the key?
Ah, no! far happier, nobler was his fate!
In Spenser's halls he strayed, and bowers fair,
Culling enchanted flowers; and he flew
With daring Milton through the fields of air:
To regions of his own his genius true
Took happy flights. Who shall his fame impair
When thou art dead, and all thy wretched crew?

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