The readers of the Examiner newspaper were informed, some time ago, by a solemn paragraph, in Mr. Hunt’s best style, of the appearance of two new stars of glorious magnitude and splendour in the poetical horizon of the land of Cockaigne. One of these turned out, by and by, to be no other than Mr. John Keats. This precocious adulation confirmed the wavering apprentice in his desire to quit the gallipots, and at the same time excited in his too susceptible mind a fatal admiration for the character and talents of the most worthless and affected of all the versifiers of our time. One of his first productions was the following sonnet, “written on the day when Mr. Leigh Hunt left prison.” It will be recollected, that the cause of Hunt’s confinement was a series of libels against his sovereign, and that its fruit was the odious and incestuous “Story of Rimini.”
What though, for shewing truth to flattered
Kind Hunt was shut in prison, yet has he,
In his immortal spirit been as free
As the sky-searching lark, and as elate.
Minion of grandeur! think you he did wait?
Think you he nought but prison walls did see,
Till, so unwilling, thou unturn’dst the key?
Ah, no! far happier, nobler was his fate!
In Spenser’s halls! he strayed, and bowers fair,
Culling enchanted flowers; and he flew
With daring Milton! through the fields of air;
To regions of his own his genius true
Took happy flights. Who shall his fame impair
When thou art dead, and all thy wretched crew?
The absurdity of the thought in this sonnet is, however, if possible, surpassed in another, “addressed to Haydon” the painter, that clever, but most affected artist, who as little resembles Raphael in genius as he does in person, notwithstanding the foppery of having his hair curled over his shoulders in the old Italian fashion. In this exquisite piece it will be observed, that Mr. Keats classes together WORDSWORTH, HUNT, and HAYDON, as the three greatest spirits of the age, and that he alludes to himself, and some others of the rising brood of Cockneys, as likely to attain hereafter an equally honourable elevation. Wordsworth and Hunt! what a juxta-position! The purest, the loftiest, and, we do not fear to say it, the most classical of living English poets, joined together in the same compliment with the meanest, the filthiest, and the most vulgar of Cockney poetasters. No wonder that he who could be guilty of this should class Haydon with Raphael, and himself with Spenser.
Great spirits now on earth are sojourning;
He of the cloud, the cataract, the lake,
Who on Helvellyn’s summit, wide awake,
Catches his freshness from Archangel’s wing:
He of the rose, the violet, the spring,
The social smile, the chain for Freedom’s sake:
And lo!—whose steadfastness would never take