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Mikeharvey

Autobiography of Benjamin Robert Haydon

I found a two volume edition (1926) of this book with an introduction by Aldous Huxley. Haydon (1786-1846) lived exactly at the same period covered by Richard Holmes' "The Age of Wonder" which I have written about elsewhere. He was a painter and knew lots of people, and his memoirs and diaries are chatty and readable and full of entertaining details about people and events.  I immediately turned to December 1817 which was the occasion of his famous dinner-party at which the guests were William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb and John Keats.  There was much conversation, especially about the conflict between science and poetry.  Lamb, who seems to have been a brilliant and witty talker, had too much to drink and was rather rude to Wordswsorth (who took it in good part), and to an intruder - a comptroller of stamps - whatever that is, who wanted to meet Wordsworth. Lamb eventually had to be bundled into another room to save embarrassment.  Wordsworth sonorously quoted at length from Milton and Virgil.  Keats was eager and intense.  He maintained that Newton had destroyed the poetry of the rainbow by reducing it to prismatic colours.  A toast was drunk to "Newton's health and the confusion of mathematics."  Haydon writes  "I never passed a more delightful time."  Also present was a man, Ritchie, who was an explorer soon to die in Africa.  Haydon's manservant was a sergeant who had been at Waterloo. Haydon at that time was working on a large painting of Christ's Entry into Jerusalem (now in America I believe) which hung next to the dining table. Haydon had used the heads of Wordsworth and Keats among the crowd.  I'm sorry Haydon didn't think fit to write down more of the conversation. Imagine being there!
At the same time I found an interesting-looking book by Edmund Blunden about the life of publisher John Taylor (1781-1864) who was the publisher of both Keats and John Clare.

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