Haydon and the Elgin Marbles; Leigh Hunt (October, 1816-January, 1817)
CHARLES COWDEN CLARKE had fostered the early poetic growth of his pupil and it was appropriately he who first drew him into the liberal and artistic circle, prominent members of which were Leigh Hunt, poet, graceful prose-writer and editor of the rebel journal The Examiner, and Haydon the painter.
Some time in 1816 Cowden Clarke, in a glow of anticipation, took to Leigh Hunt some of the young Keats's poems. Knowing that there was merit in them he anticipated some measure of praise, but, he said, 'my partial spirit was not prepared for the unhesitating and prompt admiration which broke forth before he had read twenty lines of the first poem.' Hunt himself wrote: 'I shall never forget the impression made upon me by the exuberant specimens of genuine though young poetry that were laid before me.'
The praise of a man recognized by the younger generation as one of its most sensitive and discriminating critics was gratifying enough but, to Cowden Clarke's delight, it was endorsed by the harder-headed Horace Smith, wit and man of letters, who happened to be present. Among the poems was a sonnet written on the day Hunt left prison ( February 3rd, 1815) beginning: 'How many bards gild the lapses of time.' Hunt read the sonnet aloud and in reference to the thirteenth line, 'That distance of recognisance bereaves,' Smith exclaimed: 'What a well-condensed expression for a youth so young!' Horace Smith's opinion was soon to be echoed by William Godwin, Basil Montagu and Hazlitt, to whom Hunt introduced the poems as they dined with him.
On May 5th Hunt had published in The Examiner the first poem of Keats's to be printed, the sonnet, 'O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell.' This, he stated, had been published 'without knowing more of him than any other anonymous correspondent'; it would therefore appear that it was after this date that Cowden Clarke took the sheaf of poems to him. The evidence as to when Keats first met Hunt is conflicting. Mr. Blunden considers that it was not until late in 1816; but from a rimed invitation to visit him at No. 7 Pond Street, Hampstead (where he spent a fortnight or more in October), sent by Haydon to John Hamilton Reynolds,1 it would appear as if Keats met Haydon,____________________