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immediately afterwards became intimate in the Hampstead household, and for the next year or two Hunt's was the strongest intellectual influence to which he was subject. So far as opinions were concerned, those of Keats had already, as we have seen, been partly formed in boyhood by Leigh Hunt's writings in the Examiner. Hunt was a confirmed sceptic as to established creeds, and supplied their place with a private gospel of cheerfulness, or system of sentimental optimism, inspired partly by his own sunny temperament, and partly by the hopeful doctrines of eighteenth-century philosophy in France. Keats shared the natural sympathy of generous youth for Hunt's liberal and optimistic view of things, and he had a mind naturally unapt for dogma-ready to entertain and appreciate any set of ideas according as his imagination recognised their beauty or power, he could never wed himself to any as representing ultimate truth. In matters of poetic feeling and fancy Keats and Hunt had not a little in common. Both alike were given to "luxuriating" somewhat effusively and fondly over the "deliciousness" of whatever they liked in art, books, or nature. To the every-day pleasures of summer and the English fields Hunt brought in a lower degree the same alertness of perception, and acuteness of sensuous and imaginative enjoyment, which in Keats were intense beyond parallel. In his lighter and shallower way Hunt also felt with Keats the undying charm of classic fable, and was scholar enough to produce about this time some agreeable translations of the Sicilian pastorals, and some, less adequate, of Homer. The poets Hunt loved best were Ariosto and the other Italian masters of the chivalrous-fanciful epic style; and in English he was devoted to Keats's own favourite, Spenser.
The name of Spenser is often coupled with that of "Lib
ertas, ""the lov'd Libertas," meaning Leigh Hunt, in the verses written by Keats at this time. He attempts in some of these verses to embody the spirit of the Fairie Queene in the metre of Rimini, and in others to express in the same form the pleasures of nature as he felt them in straying about the beautiful, then rural, Hampstead woods and slopes. In the summer of 1816 he seems to have spent a good deal of his time at the Vale of Health, where a bed was made up for him in the library. In one poem he dilates at length on the associations suggested by the busts and knick-knacks in the room; and the sonnet beginning, "Keen, fitful gusts are whispering here and there," records pleasantly his musings as he walked home from his friend's house one night in winter. We find him presenting Hunt with a crown of ivy, and receiving a set of sonnets from him in return. Or they would challenge each other to the composition of rival pieces on a chosen theme. Cowden Clarke, in describing one such occasion in December, 1816, when they each wrote to time a sonnet on the Grasshopper and Cricket, has left us a pleasant picture of their relations:
"The event of the after-scrutiny was one of many such occurrences which have riveted the memory of Leigh Hunt in my affectionate regard and admiration for unaffected generosity and perfectly unpretentious encouragement. His sincere look of pleasure at the first line
"The poetry of earth is never dead.'
'Such a prosperous opening!' he said; and when he came to the tenth and eleventh lines
"On a lone winter morning, when the frost
Hath wrought a silence '—
'Ah, that's perfect! Bravo Keats!' And then he went on in a dilatation on the dumbness of Nature during the season's suspension and torpidity."
Through Leigh Hunt Keats was before long introduced to a number of congenial spirits. Among them he attached himself especially to one John Hamilton Reynolds, a poetic aspirant who, though a year younger than himself, had preceded him with his first literary venture. Reynolds was born at Shrewsbury, and his father settled afterwards in London as writing-master at the Blue Coat School. He lacked health and energy, but has left the reputation of a brilliant playful wit, and the evidence of a charming character and no slight literary talent. He held a clerkship in an Insurance office, and lived in Little Britain with his family, including three sisters with whom Keats was also intimate, and the eldest of whom afterwards married Thomas Hood. His earliest poems show him inspired feelingly enough with the new romance and nature sentiment of the time. One, Safie, is an indifferent imitation of Byron in his then fashionable Oriental vein ; much better work appears in a volume published in the year of Keats's death, and partly prompted by the writer's relations with him. In a lighter strain Reynolds wrote a musical entertainment which was brought out in 1819 at what is now the Lyceum theatre, and about the same time offended Wordsworth with an anticipatory parody of Peter Bell, which Byron assumed to be the work of Moore. In 1822 he produced a spirited sketch in prose and verse purporting to relate, under the name Peter Corcoran, the fortunes of an amateur of the prize-ring; and a little later, in conjunction with Hood, the volume of anonymous Odes and Addresses to Eminent Persons which Coleridge on its appearance declared confidently to be the work of Lamb. But Reynolds had early given up the hope of living by literature, and accepted the offer of an opening in business as a solicitor. In 1818 he inscribed a farewell son
net to the Muses in a copy of Shakspeare which he gave to Keats, and in 1821 he writes again,
"As time increases
I give up drawling verse for drawing leases."
In point of fact, Reynolds continued for years to contribute to the London Magazine and other reviews, and to work occasionally in conjunction with Hood. But neither in literature nor law did he attain a position commensurate with the promise of his youth. Starting level, at the time of which we speak, with men who are now in the first rank of fame-with Keats and Shelley-he died in 1852 as Clerk of the County at Newport, Isle of Wight, and it is only in association with Keats that his name will live. Not only was he one of the warmest friends Keats had, entertaining from the first an enthusiastic admiration for his powers, as a sonnet written early in their acquaintance proves,' but also one of the wisest, and by judicious advice more than once saved him from a mistake. In connection with the name of Reynolds among Keats's associates must be mentioned that of his inseparable friend, James Rice, a young solicitor of literary tastes and infinite jest, chronically ailing or worse in health, but always, in Keats's words, "coming on his legs again like a cat;" ever cheerful and willing in spite of his sufferings, and indefatigable in good offices to those about him. "Dear noble generous James Rice," records Dilke-" the best, and in his quaint way one of the wittiest and wisest, men I ever knew." Besides Reynolds, another and more insignificant rhyming member of Hunt's set, when Keats first joined it, was one Cornelius Webb, remembered now, if remem1 See Appendix, p. 220.
bered at all, by Blackwood's derisory quotation of his lines
The Muses' son of promise, and what feats
He yet may do-"
as well as by a disparaging allusion in one of Keats's own later letters. He disappeared early from the circle, but not before he had caught enough of its spirit to write sonnets and poetical addresses which might almost be taken for the work of Hunt, or even for that of Keats himself in his weak moments.1 For some years afterwards Webb served as press-reader in the printing-office of Messrs. Clowes, being charged especially with the revision of the Quarterly proofs. Towards 1830-1840 he re-appeared in literature as Cornelius "Webbe," author of the Man about Town, and other volumes of cheerful gossiping Cockney essays, to which the Quarterly critics extended a patronizing notice.
An acquaintance more interesting to posterity which Keats made a few months later at Leigh Hunt's was that of Shelley, his senior by only three years. During the harrowing period of Shelley's life which followed the suicide of his first wife-when his principle of love, a law to itself, had in action entailed so dire a consequence, and his obedience to his own morality had brought him into such harsh collision with the world's-the kindness and affection of Leigh Hunt were among his chief consolations. After his marriage with Mary Godwin he flitted often, alone or with his wife, between Great Marlow and Hampstead, where Keats met him early in the spring of 1817. Keats," says Hunt, "did not take to Shelley as kindly as
1 See particularly the Invocation to Sleep in the little volume of Webb's poems pushed by the Olliers in 1821.