Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817

Article excerpt

The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817, by Penelope Hughes-Hallett.

Henry Adams captured the essence of the 11th-century Norman age in a celebrated description of a dinner that William soon-to-be Conqueror hosted at Mont Saint Michel. Hughes-Hallett performs the same feat for the age of high English Romanticism. The reconstructed dinner-hosted in 1817 by Benjamin Robert Haydon for Wordsworth, Keats, Lamb, and Monkhouse-is placed within a context of scene-setting detail and denouement that place the reader upon a familiar footing with the participants and their society. One becomes, effortlessly, a privileged member of the party. As such, we come to know enough about Joseph Banks, Sarah Siddons, Leigh Hunt, Wellington, Hazlitt, Byron, Coleridge, and their dozens of friends, enemies, families, triumphs, tragedies, their Elgin marbles, London architecture and geography, and every other contemporary subject, as to promptly appreciate with wink, tear, or nod the conversation of an immortal evening. At the center is the light that is shed on the exceedingly interesting life of the painter Haydon, while the rest revealed in greater or lesser chiaroscuro detail. …

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