Synopses & Reviews
On December 28, 1817, the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon hosts what he refers to in his diaries and autobiography as the "immortal dinner." He wants to introduce his young friend John Keats to the great William Wordsworth and to celebrate with his friends his progress on his most important historical painting so far, , in which Keats, Wordsworth, and Charles Lamb, also a guest at the party, appear. After thoughtful and entertaining discussions of poetry and art and their relation to Enlightenment science, the party evolves into a lively, raucous evening. This legendary event will prove to be a highlight in the lives of these immortals.
"Who but a poet could bring such vitality of imaginative insight to history that a night passed nearly 200 years ago could come back to vivid life? But more than re-creating one extraordinary gathering, Stanley Plumly knows what makes an evening truly immortal: located within those few hours that pass among extraordinary souls in heated conversation lurks the singular imprint of each man's history and the yet unseen map of time unspooling its fortunes ahead of each. Plumly offers us some outline of fate's thumbprint as it secretly presses itself down onto four lives, giving us that knowledge these men can sense but not yet see themselves. In doing so, he gives his readers the great gift of showing not only the intermingled yarn of unique lives as they weave together and pull apart--of one evening as it reaches forward and backward into art's eternity--but also a privileged glimpse into the inner life of the artist and the ongoing struggle of faith, ambition, devotion, vision that undergird not only the greatest works of art but also those that (so humanly) fall short of their lofty mark." Dan Beachy-Quick
"In circling around Benjamin Haydon's dinner party in 1817, Stanley Plumly directs a beam of brilliant light into the mysteries of art and friendship. Haydon's own talent (though he misunderstood it) was for portraiture. Plumly has created portraits of Keats, Wordsworth, Lamb, and Haydon so sensitive and revelatory, one feels he must have known them and have attended the party. This book about the passion and heartbreak of art is, itself, a work of art, a majestic achievement." Rosanna Warren
"Stanley Plumly takes a single dinner, one grand night, and spins it out into a dramatically detailed, compulsively readable, and surprisingly wide-reaching meditation on romantic art and poetry. This book may be as close as we will ever get to sitting at table with some of the nineteenth-century immortals." Edward Hirsch
"Stanley Plumly's is a gateway to the Romantics, with the spotlight firmly on Keats, Haydon, and Wordsworth. I can't think of a more lively, thoughtful, or erudite introduction to them. Plumly's great gift is to bring their world to life through an act of intuitive sympathy that is the hallmark of a great creative writer, and which can be found nowhere else. is destined to become an essential companion to our study of Romanticism in exactly the same way as his earlier Posthumous Keats." Duncan Wu
"Written with great eloquence and insight ... The colorful portrait [Plumly] paints is that of a select artistic fraternity, frequently contrary in their opinions and attitudes, who nevertheless knew that they were making a significant impact on the spirit of their age." Publishers Weekly
"Deeply considered... an essay on mortality as much as immortality." Michael Dirda
A window onto the lives of the Romantic poets through the re-creation of one legendary night in 1817.
The author of the highly acclaimed , praised as "full of . . . those fleeting moments we call genius" (), now provides a window into the lives of Keats and his contemporaries in this brilliant new work.
About the Author
Stanley Plumly's many awards include the Delmore Schwartz and William Carlos Williams Awards and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He is a Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland, College Park.