John Keats describes his discovery of Elizabethan verse. George Chapman completed his translation of Homer in 1616. Vasco Nunez de Balboa (not Cortez) reached the isthmus of Darien in 1510, and saw the Pacific Ocean in 1513.
This famous sonnet first appeared in the Examiner in an essay by Leigh Hunt entitled "Young Poets": "He has not yet published any thing except in a newspaper; but a set of his manuscripts was handed us the other day, and fairly surprised us with the truth of their ambition, and ardent grappling with Nature. In the following Sonnet there is one incorrect rhyme, which might be easily altered, but which shall serve in the mean time as a peace offering to the rhyming critics. The rest of the composition, with the exception of a little vagueness in calling the regions of poetry 'the realms of gold;' we do not hesitate to pronounce excellent, especially the last six lines. The word 'swims' is complete; and the whole conclusion is equally powerful and quiet" p. 761. The other "young poets" are Shelley and John Hamilton Reynolds.
Leigh Hunt: "Chapman certainly stands upon no ceremony. He blows as rough a blast as Achilles could have desired to hear, very different from the soft music of a parade. 'The whales exult' under his Neptune, playing unwieldy gambols; and his Ulysses issues out of the shipwreck, 'soaked to the very heart;' tasting of sea-weeds and salt-water, in a style that does not at all mince the matter, or consult the proprieties of Brighton. Mr. Keats's epithets of 'loud and bold,' showed that he understood him thoroughly. The men of Cortez staring at each other, and the eagle eyes of their leader looking out upon the Pacific, have been thought too violent a picture for the dignity of the occasion; but it is a case that requires the exception. Cortez's 'eagle eyes' are a piece of historical painting, as the reader may see by Titian's portrait of him. The last line, 'Silent-upon a peak in Darien,' makes the mountain a part of the spectacle, and supports the emotion of the rest of the sonnet upon a basis of gigantic tranquillity." in Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries (1828) 249.
Leigh Hunt: "Even in his earliest productions, which are to be considered as those of youth just emerging from boyhood, are to be found passages of as masculine a beauty as ever were written. Witness his Sonnet on reading Chapman's Homer, — epical in the splendour and dignity of its images, and terminating with the noblest Greek simplicity" Imagination and Fancy (1844) 314.
William Howitt: "it was in the pages of the Examiner, that, amid specimens of young poets, I first made acquaintance with the magnificent sonnet of Keats on reading Chapman's Homer, and with Shelley's Hymn to Intellectual Beauty. From that hour there could be no moment's question, but that great men were come amongst us; those men who, in fact, 'turn the world upside down,' and by which turning upside down, the only process, the asps and scorpions of malice are shook out of it, and all its strong-rooted fabrics of prejudice and pride are toppled into the dust" Homes and Haunts of the Most Eminent British Poets (1847) 1:426.
Charles Cowden Clarke: "A beautiful copy of the folio edition of Chapman's translation of Homer had been lent me. It was the property of Mr. Alsager, the gentleman who for years had contributed no small share of celebrity to the great reputation of the Times newspaper by the masterly manner in which he conducted the money-market department of that journal. Upon my first introduction to Mr. Alsager he lived opposite to Horsemonger Lane Prison, and upon Mr. Leigh Hunt's being sentenced for the libel, his first day's dinner was sent over by Mr. Alsager. Well, then, we were put in possession of the Homer of Chapman, and to work we went, turning to some of the "famousest" passages, as we had scrappily known them in Pope's version.... Chapman supplied us with many an after-treat; but it was in the teeming wonderment of this his first introduction, that, when I came down to breakfast the next morning, I found upon my table a letter with no other enclosure than his famous sonnet, 'On First Looking into Chapman's Homer.' We had parted, as I have already said, at day-spring, yet he contrived that I should receive the poem from a distance of, may be, two miles by ten o'clock" 1861; in Recollections of Writers (1878) 129-30.
Oliver Elton: "John Keats (1795-1821) has at length been treated, deservedly, like an ancient classic. He has been well and fully edited, and the books, marbles, and pictures that quickened his art are not likely to be much better known than they are. Greatly as we wish he had lived longer, he is by no means one of the 'inheritors of unfulfilled renown.' His fellow-poets have praised and judged him beyond appeal. He has been so much studied that we are in danger of losing him in the commentary. There seems little more to say, unless we can write of him as he wrote of Chapman or of Milton" Survey of English Literature 1780-1830 (1912) 2:230.
Much have I travel'd in the realms of Gold,
And many goodly States and Kingdoms seen;
Round many western Islands have I been,
Which Bards in fealty to Apollo hold;
But of one wide expanse had I been told,
That deep-brow'd Homer rul'd as his demesne;
Yet could I never judge what men could mean,
Till I heard CHAPMAN speak out loud and bold.
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies,
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like a stout CORTEZ, when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific, — and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise,—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.