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Bright Stars

Bright Stars: John Keats, Barry Cornwall and Romantic Literary Culture

Volume: 57
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Bright Stars
    Book Description:

    If we could ask a Romantic reader of new poetry in 1820 to identify the most celebrated poet of the day after Byron, the chances are that he or she would reply with the name of ‘Barry Cornwall’. Solicitor, dandy and pugilist, Cornwall – pseudonym of Bryan Waller Procter (1787-1874) – published his first poems in the Literary Gazette in late 1817. By February 1820, under the tutelage of Keats’s mentor, Leigh Hunt, Cornwall had produced three volumes of verse. Marcian Colonna sold 700 copies in a single morning, a figure exceeding Keats’s lifetime sales. Hazlitt’s suppressed anthology, Select British Poets (1824), allocated Cornwall nine pages – the same number as Keats, and more than Southey, Lamb or Shelley; Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine pronounced Cornwall a poet of ‘originality and genius’; and in 1821, Gold’s London Magazine announced that in terms of ‘tenderness and delicacy’ even Percy Shelley was ‘surpassed very far indeed by Barry Cornwall’. It is difficult to square Cornwall’s early nineteenth-century popularity with his subsequent neglect. In Bright Stars Richard Marggraf Turley concentrates on Cornwall’s phenomenonal success between 1817 and 1823, emphatically returning an important and unjustly neglected Romantic author to critical focus. Marggraf Turley explores Cornwall’s rivalry – and at various junctures, political camaraderie – with fellow Hunt protégé Keats, whose career exists in a fascinatingly mirrored relationship with his own trajectory into celebrity. The book argues that Cornwall helped to structure Keats’s experience as a poet but also explores the central question of how Cornwall’s racy and politically subversive poetry managed to establish a broad readership where Keats’s similarly indecorous publications met with review hostility and readerly indifference.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-514-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Note on Sources
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. Preface
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Introduction: Bubbles or Gold on the Bounteous Tree? Cornwall’s Celebrity
    (pp. 1-27)

    He occupies privileged space in the convivial scene, wedged tightly between Romanticeminence gris, Robert Southey, and the fictitious editor ofFraser’s Magazine, ‘Oliver Yorke’ (William Maginn’s spiky alter ego). Other confrères, contributors and prominent men-of-letters crowded around the table in Daniel Maclise’s sketch include elder statesman Coleridge, leaning baggily on a cane, and a pince-nezed Hogg, tartan plaid over his shoulder. Keats’sbête noire, Lockhart (Blackwood’simplacable ‘Z.’), is also there, as well as Carlyle and Thackeray.¹

    More so, perhaps, in the frontispiece lithograph of the ‘Fraserians’, printed in Maginn’s journal for January 1835, than in Maclise’s original pencil...

  7. 1 ‘Breathing Human Passion’: Cornwall and Popular Romanticism
    (pp. 28-66)

    Recent scholarship has done much to crystallize our sense of coterie culture in the Romantic period. Jeffrey N. Cox’sPoetry and Politics in the Cockney School(1998) rehabilitated a number of Romantic figures long considered peripheral, and new digital resources such as theRomantic Circleshypertext editions archive are currently returning a host of interesting characters to view. Nicholas Roe’s recent studies of Leigh Hunt, including his superb biographyFiery Heart(2005), have similarly pulled a major Romantic presence into sharper definition.¹ Not so Cornwall, scarcely less a phenomenon in his own day, and arguably a better poet. After almost...

  8. 2 ‘Slippery Steps of the Temple of Fame’: Cornwall and Keats’s Reputation
    (pp. 67-91)

    In July 1820, Keats’s career was in the doldrums. Having pinned all his hopes for ‘living by the pen’ on the delayedLamiavolume, he was dismayed when his new collection, despite boasting such tour-de-force performances as ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ andThe Eve of St Agnes, appeared to mixed or hostile reviews. For most Romantic readers, Keats remained the jejune, sidelined author of one of 1818’s biggest flops,Endymion. In August, however, a beacon light arrived in the form of an unattributed review in Constable’sEdinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany, a second instalment following in October.¹

    Written by an...

  9. 3 Bright Stars and Close Bosom-Friends: Keats, Cornwall and ‘Cockney’ Politics
    (pp. 92-109)

    Jeffrey N. Cox’s study of a ‘Cockney’ community of writers gathered around Leigh Hunt dismantles tenacious myths about Romantic isolation. Second-generation Romantic poets, Cox argues, should be seen in the context of a rich network of writers, editors, dilettantes and friends who published, read and reviewed each other’s work.¹ This ‘community’ included Keats, Percy Shelley, John Hamilton Reynolds, Cornelius Webb, P. G. Patmore, Charles Cowden Clarke, Hazlitt, the Ollier brothers, Charles Lamb and Barry Cornwall. As long ago as 1951, G. H. Ford suggested that Keats must have known Cornwall to some degree from an early stage: ‘Both moving in...

  10. 4 The Scent of Strong-Smelling Phrases: Cornwall’s Popular Eroticism
    (pp. 110-133)

    Leaving aside for the moment our own estimation of the respective merits of Keats and ‘Barry Cornwall’, popular Romantic taste preferred the latter’s slant on medieval Italian verse and his Elizabethan-styled dramatic ‘scenes’ – self-contained verse dramas – to the former’s own Hunt-inflected corpus. In this chapter, I return to one of this book’s central conundrums – why did Cornwall appeal so decisively to early nineteenth-century audiences in a way that Keats emphatically didn’t? – to suggest that a significant part of Cornwall’s fascination lay in his frank skill with narratives of love.

    To locate Cornwall’s popularity in his success at supplying the appetite...

  11. 5 Metropolitan Commissioners of Lunacy
    (pp. 134-170)

    Situated within a ‘common intellectual framework’, as Susanna Blumenthal argues, Romantic physicians and lawyers found themselves at the forefront of major conceptual shifts in attitudes towards mental pathology.¹ Solicitorand doctor-poets Keats and Cornwall were exceptionally well placed, then, to take the temperature of increasingly humane institutional views towards psychiatric illness. However, as well as furnishing them with a fund of shared insights into psychic imbalance, the two men’s professional training offered opportunities – or temptations – to use encounters with soulsin extremisas material for poems designed for audiences with salty appetites for lurid fictions of insanity.

    Where Cornwall successfully parlayed...

  12. Afterword – Afterlives
    (pp. 171-174)

    On 19 March 1821, Cornwall wrote to Byron to keep him abreast of ‘book news’. ‘Poor Keats is at Rome’, he reported – ‘dying, I hear’.¹ Although the news had not yet reached England, Keats was already a month dead. It was Cornwall who composed one of the earliest obituaries, printed in April in Baldwin’sLondon Magazine, a literary journal to which Cornwall regularly contributed. Cornwall appears sensitive to the fact that his own work had received the plaudits that posterity was likely to reassign to his disregarded peer: ‘[Keats] has been suffered to rise and pass away almost without a...

  13. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 175-185)
  14. Index
    (pp. 186-195)