John Keats’s poetry was inspired by the classical world, as experienced through translation and popular dictionaries of myth; but as this book shows, it was also closely connected to the literary culture of its time. 

Who wrote it? 

William Hazlitt was a painter, journalist, essayist and, through books such as The Spirit of the Age (1824), a literary portraitist of the great thinkers of the day. Keats thought that Wordsworth’s The Excursion, the paintings of Benjamin Haydon, and Hazlitt's critical ‘depth of taste’ were the three things to be prized in that age. The two men met in January 1818. 

What does it contain? 

This book collects together lectures on English poetry Hazlitt delivered at London’s Surrey Institution in 1818, ranging from ‘On Poetry in General’, through acknowledged classics such as Chaucer, Spenser and Shakespeare, and on to ‘The Living Poets’. 

How do they help us understand Keats’s work?

Though he missed the first, and was late for the second, Keats was present for the majority of these lectures. The fourth directed him to Boccaccio’s Decameron, the source material for ‘Isabella; or, the Pot of Basil’.

When the sixth lecture seemed to dismiss the poetic achievements of Thomas Chatterton – to whom Keats had dedicated Endymion (1818) – Keats remonstrated with Hazlitt, who qualified his comments in his seventh lecture. The eighth, ‘On the Living Poets’, focuses on Wordsworth, praising his originality while stressing the ‘egotism’ of his poetry. This forms an important contrast with what Keats had earlier called the ‘negative capability’ of writers like Shakespeare.