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"Second only to Byron" by Richard Marggraf Turley
From The Times Literary Supplement
September 3, 2008

Second only to Byron
How Keats's most popular rival rescued him from the critics

By Richard Marggraf Turley

Richard Marggraf Turley was the winner of the 2007 Keats-Shelley Prize for poetry. He lectures in the Department of English and Creative Writing at Aberystwyth University. His book on Keats and “Barry Cornwall”, Bright Stars, will be published next year.

In July 1820, Keats’s career was in the doldrums. Having pinned all his hopes for “living by the pen” on the delayed Lamia, he was dismayed when the collection, despite containing tours de force such as “Ode to a Nightingale” and “The Eve of St Agnes”, appeared to mixed or hostile reviews. For most Romantic readers, Keats remained the jejune, justifiably sidelined author of the biggest flop of 1818, Endymion. In August, however, a beacon arrived in the form of an unattributed review in Constable’s Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, with a second installment following in October.

Written by an “outside contributor” with the “avowed purpose of gaining Keats a larger readership”, as Donald H. Reiman points out in his standard edition of Romantic reviews, the mysterious critique pronounced Keats a “poet of high and undoubted powers”. “If this be not poetry”, the reviewer declared, defiantly quoting excerpts from the vilified Endymion, while promising in the same breath a full-length review of Lamia, “we do not know what is”. The public relations exercise was effective, and marked the point at which the tide of negative reviews began to turn in Keats’s favour.

Romanticists accept Reiman’s view that the probable author of the timely defense was John Hamilton Reynolds, Keats’s close-bosom friend. To be sure, Reynolds had already published a partisan appraisal of Poems (1817) in the Champion, and some of his own lines, “Dian and Endymion”, appear at the foot of the October installment of the review, signed “I. R.”. An unpublished letter to the Editor of the Edinburgh Magazine, however, written in two goes in early August 1820, which refers to a recently submitted “Critique on Keats”, seems to suggest that Keats’s white knight was not the faithful Reynolds, but his most formidable poetic rival, “Barry Cornwall”.

The overlooked letter, now part of the Carl H. Pforzheimer Collection of Shelley and His Circle in the New York Public Library, not only provides the basis for a confident attribution to Cornwall – the pseudonym of Bryan Waller Procter (1787–1874) – but also sheds fascinating light on the complex, and conflicted, relationship between two fiercely competitive poets. This is the text of the letter in full:

Dr Sir, I return you the Critique on Keats as it stood – I have spoken I think quite well enough of his book – I was fearful when I sent it off that I had not. I send you some lines, which you can use or not as you please – pray use no ceremony with me.

I shall leave town in a few days but shall return in less than a month when I will send you a section of something – not of poetry I think, for I should only write of that when I could wished [sic] to speak very favourably, which cannot often occur. I scribble to you in haste, as usual driving off every thing to the last moment – Yours very truly, B. W. Procter
25 Store St. Bedford Square Tuesday

7 August – On my return to town this Evening I find that the people at the Coach-office would not take this in as a parcel – they said that it was too small – I have added therefore some news paper – Revd. R. Morehead Constable & Co. Edinburgh

The Revd Robert Morehead, the Dean of Edinburgh, was Editor of the Edinburgh Magazine, a new series of Constable’s Scots Magazine, between 1817 and 1826, together with Thomas Pringle and James Cleghorn, refugees from the newly launched Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine. Morehead’s journal defined itself against the “delinquencies” of Blackwood’s, whose eviscerating ad hominem attacks on the “Cockney School of Poetry” (Leigh Hunt, Keats and, in due course, Cornwall himself) Morehead abhorred. A Whig in politics, he counted among his literary confreres and correspondents prominent figures such as Lord Byron, Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg and the éminence grise of the Edinburgh Review, his own cousin Francis Jeffrey. Unusually for the period, the Edinburgh Magazine accepted unsolicited reviews; hence Cornwall’s reference to sending along another “section of something” on returning to town. Inspired by the magazine’s spirit of idealism, most contributors were happy to contribute material “gratis”. Cornwall’s allusion to sending back his essay “as it stood” suggests that he was parcelling up largely unaltered proofs. Despite anxieties that his original manuscript had not been sufficiently positive about Keats when he first “sent it off”, Cornwall seems to have been pleased enough with his defense of the bruised poet once he had seen it set up in type.

On the whole, Cornwall’s own works had been well received under Morehead’s conductorship of the Edinburgh Magazine. Its review of his dazzling debut, Dramatic Scenes (1819), praised the “agreeable” volume, though it voiced concerns about Cornwall’s Cockney penchant for “breaking in upon the prevailing uses of language”. A report on the au courant poet’s third volume, Marcian Colonna (1820), a careering portrait of a violent sexual fantasist, baulked at its occasional flimsiness, but judged the work “extremely perfect within its own range”. A more candid caveat, however, was the critic’s sense that Cornwall was “getting into the way of writing too much and too hurriedly”, with the consequence that he could “scarce avoid falling into the prevailing fashion, of whatever that might be”.

What does the letter to Morehead tell us about Cornwall’s relationship with Keats? To address that question, we should put into relief Cornwall’s status in Romantic literary London, since the contrast with his current reputation throws up some instructive, and surprising, parallels between Keats’s and Cornwall’s poetic careers.

If we could canvass Romantic readers on their most popular poet after Byron in the early 1820s, the answer in all likelihood would be “Barry Cornwall”. Born eight years before Keats in 1787, he lived until 1874, ending his existence, like “Simon Lee”, as the “sole survivor” of an age. The son of a prosperous wine merchant, Procter attended Harrow School with Robert Peel and Byron. From 1816 to 1820, he practiced as a London solicitor, with rooms in fashionable Brunswick Avenue. For a spell, he juggled conveyancing with life as a city spark and pugilist, engaging the former bare-knuckle boxing champion of England, Tom Cribb, as his instructor and sparring with the celebrated slugger, the “Game Chicken”. Standing like Keats at just over five feet tall, “timid” in character with a “very white forehead”, as Nathanial Parker Willis recalled, he must have cut a curious figure opposite those slogging physiques.

Barry Cornwall’s first poems appeared in the Literary Gazette in late 1817. By February 1820, under Leigh Hunt’s tutelage, the “rising poet” had published three volumes of verse. Marcian Colonna, his theatrical portrait of an “unsettled mind”, even reminded one reviewer “powerfully” of Hamlet. In June 1821, in the wake of the triumphant Covent Garden staging of Cornwall's tragedy Mirandola, the Asiatic Journal and Monthly Miscellany declared that if the age’s most popular trio of authors, Byron, Scott and Moore, were measured against Cornwall for “rich imagery”, “elegant diction” and “delicacy of feelings”, the newcomer would “equal, if not surpass all the three!”.

Cornwall’s reputation as a leading poetic light extended beyond England. His first volume inspired musical settings by Mikhail Glinka, and individual poems served as forerunners to Alexander Pushkin’s Little Tragedies. (The last thing Pushkin wrote before going to his fatal duel with Baron Georges d’Anthès was a hurried note to Alexandra Ishimova about translating Cornwall into Russian.)

Cornwall’s poems were composed on similar themes to Keats’s, but garnered all the plaudits. With not much attention to quality control, Cornwall churned out a series of chattily Cockneyfied volumes that were racy without (quite) breaching decorum, and wore their erudition lightly. What’s more, he was shrewd enough to encourage, rather than, like the petulant Keats, dismiss, an increasingly flush constituency of female book-buyers. The tactically sophisticated Cornwall addressed the “crimsoning beauty” of A Sicilian Story (a pouting verse romance based, like Keats’s more darkly shadowed “Isabella”, on Boccaccio’s pot-of-basil tale from the fifth day of the Decameron) to “sweet ladies”. No prizes for guessing which version was more popular. As the London Magazine announced in 1823, Cornwall had quickly established himself as “one of Woman’s distinguished favourites”.

On the up in literary London, Cornwall immersed himself in commodity culture. His perfectly confected, à la mode “dramatic scenes” accorded closely with late Romantic taste. According to figures published in the Theatrical Inquisitor, Marcian Colonna shifted 700 copies in a single day, prompting the novelist Mary Russell Mitford to exclaim: “Everybody’s talking about Barry Cornwall”. (By contrast, John Taylor, publisher of Endymion and Lamia, complained that Keats barely managed to sell 500 copies in his lifetime.) William Hazlitt’s suppressed anthology, Select British Poets (1824), allocated the solicitor Cornwall nine whole pages, the same number as Keats, and more than Southey, Lamb, or Shelley.

Reviewers of all stripes found much to admire in Cornwall. Even the crotchety “Christopher North” at Blackwood’s lauded his “originality and genius”, at the same time as he encouraged his right-hand man, J. G. Lockhart (“Z.”), to cast a succession of calumnies on his Cockney counterpart, “Johnny Keats”. The Edinburgh Monthly Magazine, too, declared that Cornwall’s poetry evinced “truth, delicacy, and sometimes profundity of feeling”. In 1821, Gold’s London Magazine declared that in terms of “tenderness and delicacy”, even Shelley was “surpassed very far indeed” by Cornwall.

Few modern scholars agree. Cornwall’s popularity with critics and book-buyers is now usually ascribed to the vagaries of taste. Just how far his stock has sunk may be gauged from the single appearance of his surname in Oxford University Press’s 410-page Literature of the Romantic Period: A bibliographical guide (2001). Orthodox critical narratives dismiss the idea of a meaningful relationship between Cornwall and Keats as fanciful. Nonetheless, the cogs and levers of the two poets’ acquaintance are more intricate than is generally acknowledged. Cornwall and Keats were both protégés of Leigh Hunt, and active within his political and literary coterie. They published poems in that radical editor’s Examiner and also in his subtly subversive forerunner to the Filofax, the Literary Pocket-Book. In 1819, both men joined Shelley in writing criticisms of the Peterloo massacre, disguised as seasonal allegories on Autumn. They also appeared alongside each other in albums and literary magazines – in January 1820, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” was printed on a page facing Cornwall’s sonnet “To Michel Agnolo”, which also mused, if more one-dimensionally, on the dislocating immortality of stony-faced art:

Michael! thou wast the mightiest spirit of all
Who taught or learned Italian art sublime:
And long shall thy renown survive the time
When Ruin to herself thy works shall call.
One only, (and he perished in his prime,)
Could mate with thee; and in one path alone.
Thou didst regenerate art; and from the stone
Started the breathing image, perfect, great;
And such as haply, in his first state,
Man shall attain: And thou could’st trace the rhyme
That lifts its parents to the skies, thus bending
To thy resistless powers the sisters three,
Painting, and Sculpture, and wing’d Poetry.
– Whom can I place beside thee – not descending?

The last line is especially resonant, given its position on the page “beside” Keats’s greatest Ode. At the beginning of their careers, the pair also shared the entrepreneurial Ollier brothers as publishers. In 1820, they even competed to stage a tragedy at Covent Garden; unsurprisingly, given Cornwall’s superior commercial nous, it was Mirandola, a dizzying tale of patrifilial fracas, ending spectacularly with the execution of the Duke’s son Guido on the orders of his cuckolded father, that secured a lucrative run in January 1821 (Kemble and Macready playing the leads). In his last letter to Keats, who was dying in Italy at the time, Charles Brown, co-author of the rejected Otho the Great, puns cattily on how bad Cornwall’s play was likely to be: “Oh! Barry C: has a tragedy coming forth at the Theatre, christened Mirandola, – Mire and O la!”.

Today, Cornwall is discounted as humdrum, irredeemably adrift of any significant movements in the literature of the period. He is a mere “Romantic versifier” in W. J. Bate’s opinion; “melodious but trite”, according to James Sambrook, the author of Cornwall’s revised entry in the new edition of the Dictionary of National Biography; “trivial” according to Reiman; and “content to cater for the ‘mawkish’ taste” in the estimation of Ayumi Mizukoshi, who picks her words carefully to incorporate Keats’s own signifier of poetic failure. What little attention Cornwall still commands is due to his candid aperçus, in An Autobiographical Fragment (1877), of the characters and foibles of more illustrious figures such as Keats, Coleridge and Wordsworth, as well as those difficult, disputatious characters, Hazlitt and Hunt. His generous biography, Charles Lamb: A memoir (1866), is also plundered for quotable gobbets. Cornwall claims a place in footnotes, too, for his brief courtship of the recently widowed Mary Shelley. In journal entries from September 1824, she recalls in astonishingly frank terms how Cornwall reminded her of her dead husband: “[His] voice, laden with sentiment, passed as Shelley’s”. When he abruptly broke off contact to get engaged to the socialite Anne Skepper, Mary remarked wryly: “So much for my powers of attraction”.

Cornwall has a contemporary equivalent in a figure such as Jack Vettriano: undeniably popular, but not to be taken seriously. Just as the art establishment winces at Vettriano’s un-ironic butlers and noirish semi-nudes, we reject Cornwall for not offering the layered complexities our long admiration for Keats has conditioned us to expect. Yet Cornwall’s poems offer more than just fine phrase-making, and form a vital context to Keats’s poetic evolution and reception. Early drafts show that Keats was seduced on various occasions by Cornwall’s commercial style. To be sure, Keats is most canonically “Keatsian” at moments of strategic retreat from Cornwall’s populist aesthetic; but, by the same token, Cornwall achieves his most durable successes, seen through a modern lens, when he eschews voguish cliché to reproduce the hallmarks of Keats’s own poetry, poetry lived at a pitch.

Notwithstanding popular acclaim, Cornwall’s feelings towards a writer whose friendship he was more anxious to secure than vice versa, were mixed – especially when the issue of originality cropped up. His advocates were charmed by his blending of the spirit of English and Italian Renaissance writers with a modern sensibility, which they credited with rejuvenating contemporary poetics. Moreland’s journal thanked Cornwall for helping to create the vogue for medievalizing poems that attracted Keats himself: “We are happy to observe, that the success of Mr Cornwall has induced other writers to recur to the same source from which so much may yet be drawn: Mr Keats has been versifying Italian tales; and we have now to make some remarks on a translation by Mr Leigh Hunt”. But several of the age’s soi-disant arbiters of taste regarded Cornwall as a fraudulent imitator of his more distinguished precursors, Massinger, Beaumont and Fletcher, and Spenser. Question marks also hung over his debt to living authors, especially Keats.

Not so thick-skinned that he could ignore these charges, Cornwall reveals his anxiety in the “Critique on Keats” when he clarifies the chronology of the duo’s adaptations from the Decameron: “‘Isabella; or The Pot of Basil’ is a story from Boccaccio, and is the same as was given to the public some time ago, by Mr Barry Cornwall, under the title of ‘A Sicilian Story’”. “Some time ago” seems to do no more or less than record a fact of publishing history, but it does not tell the whole story. It was Hazlitt's recommendation, as far back as February 1817, that sent both Keats and Cornwall to Boccaccio in the first place. Seated among the fashionables, Quakers and Dissenters in the colonnaded auditorium of the Surrey Institution, they heard Hazlitt break off from his lecture on the English poets to remark that certain stories from the Italian author lent themselves to lucrative modernizations. Cornwall’s future wife, Anne Skepper, was there too, and long afterwards recalled the unusual shape of Keats’s face, noting that it “had not the squareness of a man’s, but more like some women’s faces I have seen (particularly one in the Looking Glass)”. We can only conjecture whether Cornwall also saw Keats in his spouse’s face.

The aspiring poets appear to have begun composing their respective versions of “Isabella” in early 1819. Cornwall’s soft-focused reimagining reached reviewers’ hands in December that year, while publication of Keats’s grisly “Isabella” with its loamy, putrefying secrets, was delayed until July 1, 1820, when Lamia appeared in an edition of 500 copies. By the time Keats's poem made it onto the bookstands, a second edition of A Sicilian Story had already beaten it to press. Even Cornwall’s third volume, Marcian Colonna, full of lunatic wails and groans, published by the third or fourth week of June, pipped “Isabella” to the booksellers by about a week, deflecting still further interest from the frustrated Keats. It was hardly a propitious atmosphere in which to be received. When “Isabella” finally appeared, potential pundits were already too familiar with the tale, as retold by a significantly more popular poet.

Although he had deprived Keats of the popular vote, Cornwall sensed the critical wind was likely to change direction – there was little doubt in his mind whose poetry would be judged more durable by posterity. In 1930, F. L. Pleadwell, the collector of rare manuscripts, published a Cornwall letter in Notes and Queries. The inaccurate transcript appeared without commentary and with a wrongly assigned addressee, and was not subsequently collected in the critical biography of Cornwall by R. W. Armour (1935: the last full-length work on the poet). The letter, also in the Pforzheimer Collection, shows Cornwall pricklish on the subject of Keats and plagiarism. It makes for interesting reading alongside the correspondence with Morehead two years earlier:

25 Store St.
Bedford Square


Dear Sir,

I send you Coleridge’s Wallenstein & his earlier poems (some of which you will perceive have been incorporated with the Sybilline Leaves.)

I send you a little sketch of mine (Peleus & Thetis), written & printed before Endymion came out, & to which, more especially to the last part, the Hymn to Diana bears a stronger resemblance in point of Style than to the hymn to Pan. I do this in order to exonerate myself from plagiarism. In Truth tho my Hymn was sketched before I ever read the address to Pan. I have added something you will see.

If then I have improved it a little you like it, it is of course at your Service – but I would rather that you should print it without my name, as I was nearly losing a Client sometime since because it was conjectured I had been guilty of the Sin of Poetry – This is all very silly but unfortunately for the present I must be an “Anonny mouse” as the author of Highgate Tunnel says.

Yours truly, B. W. Procter

The 3 lines against which I have placed an X were added by a friend.

– Remember half past five! of Course I can have no other objection to appear in good Company than what I have mentioned.

Cornwall is eager to clarify that his “Hymn to Diana” – set “upon the Latmos hill” and focused on the goddess’s “own pale boy, Endymion” – printed in Leigh Hunt’s Literary Pocket-Book for 1819, owes a debt not to Keats’s poem, but to his own, “The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis”, which he emphasizes was “written and printed before Endymion came out”. Of course, Cornwall is also claiming, “in Truth tho”, that he was “doing” Endymion before Keats.

Cornwall may have had a point; at any rate, the issue of plagiarism between the two is not nearly as clear-cut as we might assume. For example, in late 1819 or early 1820, both poets wrote “Bright Star” sonnets, containing startling rhetorical parallels. Keats’s famous poem begins: “Bright Star! would I were stedfast as thou art”; lines 9–10 of Cornwall’s (now) obscure counterpart run: “. . . would I fain be unto thee / Stedfast for ever”. Where Keats talks about bright stars, Cornwall’s piece boasts – perhaps with a competitive nod to Keats – that his lady is “brighter than the brightest star”. While Keats’s sonnet is reflexive, musing on his wish to be constant as the polar star, the more worldly Cornwall (as one ought in a love sonnet) shifts attention to his “young love”, his watcher of the skies, flattering her that she is the real jewel in the firmament. But the similarities are astonishing. Cornwall’s poem was published as the last item in Marcian Colonna, while Keats’s did not appear in print until 1838, when Charles Brown sent it off to the Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal. Both “solutions” to the problem of precedence are equally unpalatable to Keats scholars: either Cornwall knew Keats well enough to have been shown a manuscript of his poem; or Keats saw Cornwall’s published piece before he wrote his own sonnet. (Keats had certainly read it by June 1820, because Cornwall sent him a presentation copy of Marcian Colonna, begging Keats to “think as well of [it] as you can”.)

Pleadwell conjectured that the recipient of the letter about “Peleus and Thetis” was the publisher Charles Ollier, but offered no supporting evidence for his hunch. A much more probable candidate is Alaric Watts, “father of the literary album”. It was Watts who reprinted Cornwall’s “fugitive” epyllion “The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis” (which had first appeared on April 4, 1818, in Jerdan’s Literary Gazette, signed “B”) in his anthology, the Poetrical Album (1828: the volume was ready for press in 1824, but was delayed for four years by a series of copyright disputes). In the light of the letter to Watts, it seems obvious now that Cornwall’s touchiness over likely comparisons with Keats, galling as he found them, was responsible for his decision not to include “Peleus”, one of his best poems, in any of his volumes. The “Hymn to Diana” also remained uncollected, almost certainly for the same reason.

Cornwall was right to worry about how his relation to Keats, and especially Endymion, was perceived by outsiders. In its review of A Sicilian Story in June 1820, the Monthly Magazine wagged a censorious finger: “In a few passages we observe rather too strong a resemblance to the Endymion of Mr. Keates, who is the precursor of Mr. C in the mythological and classical style of poetry, engrafted on that of the present age”. Pooh-poohing the idea of such debt to Keats in his dispatch to Watts, Cornwall nevertheless appears to pick up the Monthly Magazine’s rhetoric (“too strong a resemblance”).

Aiming his books at the same audience as Keats while trying to disperse the lingering whiff of plagiarism, Cornwall had reason enough to be content to see his luckless contemporary’s volumes sink without trace. However, Cornwall had a generous spirit, fortunately for Keats. In spite of any ambivalent feelings, he was able to appreciate, and delight in, his rival’s genius. Later in life, Cornwall acknowledged Keats as “by nature the most essentially a poet in the present century”. What the letter to Morehead now allows us to see is that Cornwall was prepared to step in on behalf of his less successful rival when it mattered most.

Perhaps the fashionable writer felt guilty that his often flimsy verse had so entirely displaced Keats’s in the public imagination. Contributing one of the earliest obituaries of Keats in Baldwin’s London Magazine in April 1821, shortly after news of the poet’s death reached England, Cornwall goes some way towards setting the record straight. He even works in a reference to The Fall of Hyperion, Keats’s extended meditation on the pain of usurpation:

[Keats] has been suffered to rise and pass away almost without a notice; the laurel has been awarded (for the present) to other brows: the bolder aspirants have been allowed to take their station on the slippery steps of the temple of fame.

It is a fascinating thought, and one that ought to lead us to revise our prejudices about Cornwall’s importance to understanding Romantic literary culture, that as well as performing an important service to Keats’s posthumous reputation with his speedy obituary, Cornwall also did his best for Keats in the poet’s own lifetime. How many Romanticists have mused over whether they would have been equal to the task of recognizing Keats’s masterpieces when they first appeared? Cornwall faced precisely this “test”, we now know, in his “Critique on Keats”. Mastery of the market had certainly not vulgarized his taste. On the contrary, he was one of the first readers to announce the genius of “Ode to a Nightingale”:

Among the minor poems we prefer the “Ode to a Nightingale.” Indeed, we are inclined to prefer it beyond every other poem in the book; but let the reader judge. The third and seventh stanzas have a charm for us which we should find it difficult to explain. We have read this ode over and over again, and every time with increased delight.

Keats told Reynolds that Cornwall’s poems, composed on “the Seasons, the Leaves, the Moon &c.”, teased him, portraying his arch rival’s irresistible appeal as no more than a knack for ringing “triple bob majors” on fashionable topics. In Cornwall, Keats found his worst imaginable competitor, someone who on the face of it sounded just like he did, but who marketed himself as the acceptable face of Cockney poetry to emerging mass markets. Still, Keats had the judgement to see that Cornwall “like[d] poetry for its own sake, not his”. This selflessness comes through strongly in Cornwall’s defence of his floundering Cockney School stablemate.

For Keats perhaps also found in the genial solicitor his best reader. Without Cornwall’s altruism in sending Morehead his almost certainly unsolicited review of an unpopular author, Keats’s reputation may have taken longer to recover after the debacle of Endymion. Aside from a reasonable appraisal in the Monthly Review in July, and a clearly partisan review by Cornwall’s friend Charles Lamb, in the New Times on July 19, 1820, reprinted by Hunt in the Examiner on July 30 (hardly the kind of support Keats needed), initial reviews of Lamia were dispiriting. On July 29, the Literary Chronicle professed to feeling let down, and on August 6, 1820, one day before Cornwall’s “return” to town, the anti-radical Guardian dismissed Lamia as a “nose-gay of enigmas”.

With characteristic good timing, Cornwall got his review out at the make-or-break point for Keats. The first installment challenged the critical consensus on Endymion, laying the path for serious reconsideration of Keats’s talents. It seemed to do the trick, for at this point Keats’s fortunes improved. With the exception of Blackwood’s dogged ill-will, other literary journals, following the Edinburgh Magazine’s authoritative lead, began to tune in to Keats’s achievement. In September 1820, the New Monthly Magazine noted the poet’s astonishing improvement; in the same month a glowing report appeared in Baldwin’s London Magazine. Shortly after, the Monthly Magazine trumpeted that Keats was entitled to stand “equally high in the estimation of public opinion, as he of the Dramatic Scenes” (Cornwall!). By the time the second half of Cornwall’s critique was published in October, it capped a run of favourable reviews.

Keats, it seems, remained unaware of Cornwall’s hand in repairing his fortunes, and it is unlikely that any of his circle knew either – if they had known, the group’s condescending attitude towards the voguish poet might have changed. In 1824, Cornwall went on to perform another service to Romantic poetry, helping to arrange the financial backing Mary Shelley needed for the posthumous publication of her drowned husband’s poems (Percy Shelley, too, had sneered, left, right and centre behind Cornwall’s back). The hitherto unsuspected role of Barry Cornwall in talking up Keats in his own day, though, should be more than sufficient to attract new attention to this colourful and unfairly forgotten figure, and his conflicted relationship with the greatest lyric poet of his generation.





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