200 years ago, Keats met his hero Leigh Hunt

On 19 October 1816, Charles Cowden Clarke and Keats walked to the Vale of Health in Hampstead to meet James Leigh Hunt, as well as the manic painter Benjamin Robert Haydon. This is Clarke’s recollection of the meeting:

‘That was a “red-letter day” in the young poet’s life and one which will never fade with me while memory lasts.
‘The character and expression of Keats’s features would arrest even the casual passenger in the street; and now they were wrought to atone of animation that I could not but watch with interest, knowing what was in store for him from the bland encouragement, and Spartan deference in attention, with fascinating conversational eloquence, that he was to encounter and receive.  As we approached the Heath, there was the rising and accelerated step, with the gradual subsidence of all talk, The interview, which stretched into three “morning calls,” was the prelude too many after-scenes and saunterings about Caen Wood and its neighbourhood; for Keats was suddenly made a familiar of the household, and was always welcomed.’

Hunt went on to introduce Keats to Charles Lamb, John Scott, Vincent Novello, and Charles and James Ollier (who would shortly publish his first book of Poems).

[Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke Recollections of Writers (1878; Fontwell: Centaur Press 1969) 133]

Leigh Hunt recalled:
We became intimate on the spot, and I found the young poet’s heart as warm as his imagination. We read and walked together, and used to write verses of an evening upon a given subject. No imaginative pleasure was left unnoticed by us, or unenjoyed; from the recollection of the bards and patriots of old, to the luxury of a summer rain at our window, or the clicking of coal in winter-time.

[James Leigh Hunt Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries (London: Henry Colborn 1828) 409-410]

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