Harry Brown’s Letters to his Friends: To J. K.

John Strachan
Bath Spa University

Re: Keats’s 10 May 1817 letter to Leigh Hunt

Leigh Hunt, as is well known, was one of Keats’s earliest patrons, and his first publisher (the younger poet’s sonnet ‘O Solitude, if I must with thee dwell’ appeared in the Examiner on 5 May 1816). Under the pen name ‘Harry Brown’, Hunt wrote a series of conversational verse epistles to his poetic and political allies, gossipy yet profound in their own way, which were published in the Examiner in 1816. These included tributes to like-minded friends, including William Hazlitt, Charles Lamb and Thomas Moore. He never wrote one to John Keats …

‘Harry Brown’s Letters to his Friends. Letter VIII.
To J. K.’

Today your letter, sent up from Margate.
A pleasure to read, and a change from the duns:
The midget, the gossip, and why you were late
In replying.  Your wit, your style, your puns,
Why my Junkets, if I might be so bold —
I’d not be lying to say that it stuns
Me to think it — but yes — the realms of gold
Await you, for the gifts that you’re sent.

But seize the day — for we don’t all grow old;
Your gift’s for so much more than the lament
Of Castlereagh and Prinny — and me in the gaol.
Your righteous rage at them — yes, it must be spent,
But there’s vintage as well as town ale.

Whate’er I write and whatever I say,
In Apollo’s assizes I’m bound to fail.
But you’re worth much more than mere today,
And when my wits the Tories bedraggle,
And when politics presses in, then I can say
That now of new poets there’s a gaggle —
Those young poets, of whom I can tell,
So with Apollo I’ll not haggle.

Why thank you, all the nymphs are well,
Oceanid, nereid, naiad, dryad,
The ones that came to me in my cell
Wafted me wheresoe’er — from the bad,
Beyond the motes of Bigotry’s sick eye.
They thought that they could make me mad,
That what I stood for — that would die
But liberty’s a thing that will not fall,
I’ll not submit to an empty lie.
You fight in your own way, against all
Who seek to deny a place in the sun
For peasant, for poet, for great and for small.

What little time we have, then we are gone
And utterance leaves us. — But you’ll live on,
A Poet more than other Men, dear John.

 

Bibliography

Leigh Hunt, Poetical Works, ed. John Strachan, vols 5 and 6 of Robert Morrison and Michael Eberle-Sinatra, general editors, The Selected Writings of Leigh Hunt, 6 vols (London: Pickering and Chatto, 2003).

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