Synopses & Reviews
On December 28, 1817, the eccentric painter B. R. Haydon gave a famous dinner party in his painting room in London. He invited, among others, three of the greatest literary lights of the age: the poets John Keats and William Wordsworth and the essayist and wit Charles Lamb. Over the course of a long winter evening of delights, the guests recited poetry, indulged in high-minded conversation, and took part in ridiculous antics, with such displays of brilliance and wit that the party came to be known as the Immortal Dinner. Penelope Hughes-Hallett celebrates this unique gathering by vividly bringing to life these illustrious diners against a backdrop of social change. Literary London society was at its extraordinarily gifted best just two years after Waterloo: the Elgin Marbles controversy still raged; Mrs. Siddons performed Lady Macbeth in her drawing room to a distinguished audience; Joseph Ritchie, a young physician and would-be poet, prepared to explore the River Niger with a copy of Keats in his pocket. The Immortal Dinner offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives and thoughts of this literary elite at a turning point in English society. It recaptures these rare spirits, using a great many of their own words from letters and diaries. With 75 black-and-white illustrations and 2 maps.
"Henry Adams captured the essence of the 11th-century Norman age in a celebrated description of a dinner that William soon-to-be Conqueror hosted at Mont Saint Michel. Hughes-Hallett performs the same feat for the age of high English Romanticism. The reconstructed dinner—hosted in 1817 by Benjamin Robert Haydon for Wordsworth, Keats, Lamb, and Monkhouse—is placed within a context of scene-setting detail and denouement that place the reader upon a familiar footing with the participants and their society. One becomes, effortlessly, a privileged member of the party. As such, we come to know enough about Joseph Banks, Sarah Siddons, Leigh Hunt, Wellington, Hazlitt, Byron, Coleridge, and their dozens of friends, enemies, families, triumphs, tragedies, their Elgin marbles, London architecture and geography, and every other contemporary subject, as to promptly appreciate with wink, tear, or nod the conversation of an immortal evening. At the center is the light that is shed on the exceedingly interesting life of the painter Haydon, while the rest revealed in greater or lesser chiaroscuro detail. Our knowledge of those we already knew well is enriched or vivified. For the rest there are new figures to greatly admire— such as the patient and considerate Monkhouse. And there is human frailty—such as Mary Lamb's madness—and the way of the world— Haydon's own sad demise—to contemplate. What a splendid evening one can spend at the table of Haydon's Lisson Grove lodgings and in his world, courtesy of this wonderful, eloquently evocative and provocative book. And as is appropriate for such a social occasion, rich scholarship is distributed inconspicuously among laughter, brilliant conversation, wit, the elegant comestibles. Appropriate to the age of the familiar essay, comfortably amusing conversation may in an unguarded moment seize one viscerally. High flown sentiments, ideals, and acts may inspire admiration or may beg indulgence where we recognize that a dear friend is once again riding his charming and familiar hobby-horse or nursing the injuries of life." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
In 1817 the eccentric history painter B.R. Haydon gave a famous dinner party. The occasion was significant as an encounter between the first and second generations of the Romantic poets, and it provides a vivid and fascinating glimpse into the lives and thoughts of this particular group at a crucial turning point in English society.