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Written on the day that Mr. Leigh Hunt
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.
The Hunts left prison on the 2nd of February 1815, according to Leigh Hunt's own account, though Thornton Hunt says the 3rd at page 99, Volume I, of the Correspondence (1862). The expressions employed towards Leigh Hunt in this sonnet are not, one would say, intemperate ; and yet, adding the innocuous phrase in Sleep and Poetry (lines 354-5),
It was a poet's house who keeps the keys
Of pleasure's temple, and the fact that the little volume was dedicated to Hunt, Professor Wilson, well described by Horne as "the clown of Blackwood's Magazine," found sufficient ground for one of the unseemliest of the coarse pleasantries delivered in the character of Christopher North”—to wit the allegation that Keats fed Hunt“ on the oil cakes of flattery” till he became “flatulent of praise." Keats's real offence in the eyes of Wilson was of course his friendship with such a radical as Hunt, 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. What Hunt had written was the truth, no doubt; but it was unfortunate for Keats, at his start in literature, to subscribe to such truth
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 !
telling as this, for instance, in which Hunt translated The Morning Post's “language of adulation into that of truth":
“What person, unacquainted with the true state of the case, would imagine, in reading these astounding eulogies, that this ‘Glory of the people’ was the subject of millions of shrugs and reproaches !-- ... that this ‘ Exciter of desire' [bravo ! Messieurs of the Post!]-this ‘Adonis in loveliness' was a corpulent man of fifty ! -in short, this delightful, blissful, wise, pleasurable, honourable, virtuous, true, and immortal prince, was a violator of his word, a libertine over head and ears in disgrace, a despiser of domestic ties, the companion of gamblers and demireps, a man who has just closed half a century without one single claim on the gratitude of his country, or the respect of posterity !”
Even towards such a ruthless polemic as Professor Wilson one must seek to be just; and I do not doubt that he felt called upon to oppose the Hunt set with every pulsation of “a heart as rough as Esau's hand,” but loyal enough to those politicians whom Keats called the Prince Regent's “wretched crew.” It was really, I take it, from this poor little sonnet that the animus of the predominant press party against Keats originated. An article celebrating “The Departure of the Proprietors of this Paper from Prison" occupied the first page of The Examiner for Sunday, the 5th of February 1815. The opening is as follows :
“ The two years' imprisonment inflicted on the Proprietors of this Paper for differing with the Morning Post on the merits of the PRINCE REGENT, expired on Thursday last; and on that day accordingly we quitted our respective Jails.” On the subject of how they felt on the occasion, Hunt excuses himself from particularity, but observes with characteristic pleasantness, " there is a feeling of space and of airy clearness about everything, which is alternately delightful and painful.” The greater part of the article is far from being in Hunt's best manner ; but the end should stand on record here : “We feel that we have driven another nail or two into the old oaken edifice of English Liberty ; and if we have rapped our fingers a little in the operation, it is only a laugh and a wring of the hands, and all is as it should be." VOL. I.
In Spenser's halls he stray'd, 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 ?
How many bards gild the lapses of time!
Of my delighted fancy,–I could brood
These will in throngs before my mind intrude :
But no confusion, no disturbance rude
The songs of birds—the whisp'ring of the leaves
The voice of waters—the great bell that heaves With solemn sound,—and thousand others more,
That distance of recognizance bereaves, Make pleasing music, and not wild uproar.
Hunt adduces the first line (see Appendix) as an example of Keats's “sense of the proper variety of versification without a due consideration of its principles”, and very justly adds, " by no contrivance of any sort can we prevent this from jumping out of the heroic measure into mere rhythmicality.” Clarke records that when this and one or two other early poems of Keats were first shown by him to Hunt, Horace Smith, being present, remarked on the 13th line, “ What a well-condensed expression for a youth so young !"
To a Friend who sent me some Roses.
As late I rambled in the happy fields,
What time the sky-lark shakes the tremulous dew
From his lush clover covert ;—when anew Adventurous knights take up their dinted shields: I saw the sweetest flower wild nature yields,
A fresh-blown musk-rose; 't was the first that threw
Its sweets upon the summer : graceful it grew As is the wand that queen Titania wields.
This sonnet was addressed to Charles Wells, the author of Stories after Nature, Joseph and his Brethren, and a few fugitive compositions. His great dramatic poem, Joseph and his Brethren, probably came out late in 1823, for though the title-page is dated 1824, the label at the back is dated 1823. The book was left in oblivion till within the last few years. Wells, however, lived to find himself famous in 1876, on the issue of a revised edition, which I had the pleasure of fitting for and seeing through the press for him. He died at Marseilles on the 17th of February 1879, in his 78th year, having finally corrected and interpolated a copy of the new edition of his great work for some future re-edition. A single sentence from one of his last letters to me gives more insight into his character than anything of many times greater extent that could be added here :
“In stopping Joe” (latterly he wrote of Joseph and his Brethren in this familiar way as a rule, and under the term stop he included the whole work of revision and seeing through the press)—“In stopping Joe-if another fifty years does not (and it will not) stop