By the KLP Editors
Two hundred years ago today was an auspicious day for young John Keats. As we’ve seen while chronicling the beginnings of his epistolary career over the last few months, Keats was quickly gaining confidence in his poetic abilities. What a treat it must have been to appear as one subject of Leigh Hunt’s essay, “Young Poets,” published on this day in The Examiner. The other two poets Hunt praises didn’t fare so badly either: Percy Bysshe Shelley is remembered by a few people now and then, and John Hamilton Reynolds turned out to be rather prescient when he told his friend Keats, “Do you get Fame,–and I shall have it in being your affectionate and steady friend.” He certainly was affectionate and steady as Keats’s friend, as we’ll see come spring 2017 and well into 2018, when we’ll commemorate many letters written to Reynolds, some of which are among Keats’s most lively and loving. Your humble editors personally cannot wait for the airy pigs and archangelical acorns of Feb 2018.
But, as happens so often here at the KLP, we do get ahead of ourselves. Today we’re celebrating Hunt’s celebration of Keats. And we’re doing so even though Hunt just had to get in a little critique of his mentee, noting as he does of the Chapman’s Homer sonnet that it contains “one incorrect rhyme” and “a little vagueness in calling the regions of poetry ‘the realms of gold.'” Come on, Hunt! How about just saying some nice things? I suppose this is why disputes in the periodicals led to duels. Good thing we’ve figured out how to make public discourse kinder via the internet! Hunt does offer particular praise of the last six lines, and he notes, “The word swims is complete.” Agreed.
So enjoy Hunt’s tribute to the young members of this “new school of poetry,” a school which Hunt himself had a hand ☞ in constructing.* In addition to the “Young Poets” essay marking the first publication of Keats’s Champan’s Homer sonnet, it also went a long way toward solidifying Keats’s association with Hunt, an association that would affect Keats’s reception for a long time to come. One imagines John Gibson Lockhart reading the “Young Poets” essay and scheming about how he could turn this “new school” against itself. It’s worth remembering that the “Cockney School” attacks launched in fall 1817 were not only ideologically reactionary, but also simply reactions to the sense that there really was a dangerous school forming around Hunt and his pals. The KLP will sit in that classroom any day. Today is a special one, though, since Keats’s presence in The Examiner on 1 December 1816 was a crucial part of his ongoing education, and Hunt will continue as a significant figure as we follow Keats’s epistolary work these next few years.
*Bonus points to those readers who know that the pointing index figure symbol (called sometimes just an “index,” alternatively a “manicule”) was Hunt’s mark for essays in The Examiner which he himself authored. You can see one at the end of the “Young Poets” essay above. The trouble-makers over at Blackwood’s make a joke about Hunt’s “hebdomadal hand” in Cockney School No. III.