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The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817

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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-mi 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.


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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-mi 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.

30 review for The Immortal Dinner: A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London, 1817

  1. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A fascinating slice of social/celebrity history. Many of us have played the Dinner Party Game - who would you invite around for a meal? Maybe Wordsworth, Keats and Charles Lamb? Well maybe not, but artist B R Haydon did so, along with a few other less well known guests on December 28th 1817. The book does not just describe the evening though; it brings the house, the journeys that day of each of the diners, the social and artistic background of the times, bits of gossip and tales of dark deeds, A fascinating slice of social/celebrity history. Many of us have played the Dinner Party Game - who would you invite around for a meal? Maybe Wordsworth, Keats and Charles Lamb? Well maybe not, but artist B R Haydon did so, along with a few other less well known guests on December 28th 1817. The book does not just describe the evening though; it brings the house, the journeys that day of each of the diners, the social and artistic background of the times, bits of gossip and tales of dark deeds, the lives of the guests and host and what was to happen afterwards all to life for the reader. Like any good history book it makes you think about exploring a bit more into some of the characters and events it describes while guiding you through the post-Napoleonic and pre-Victorian period. Nicely and entertainingly written.

  2. 5 out of 5

    F

    An absolute delight. Lovely, endearing, witty and engaging. 100% my cup of tea. Hughes-Hallett truly captures the spirit of the age, and explores a wide range of aspects and scenes of the time in an interesting and truly charming manner: from the price of salmon to Ritchie's travels in Africa or Mrs Siddons' talent. The book is filled with anecdotes to enlighten -and lighten- the thoroughly researched historical information. The author's style, agile and light-hearted, made this a very fun readi An absolute delight. Lovely, endearing, witty and engaging. 100% my cup of tea. Hughes-Hallett truly captures the spirit of the age, and explores a wide range of aspects and scenes of the time in an interesting and truly charming manner: from the price of salmon to Ritchie's travels in Africa or Mrs Siddons' talent. The book is filled with anecdotes to enlighten -and lighten- the thoroughly researched historical information. The author's style, agile and light-hearted, made this a very fun reading. IT'S SO GOOD YOU GUYS.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tessa

    This was an interesting book not only covering the dinner but also the history of the times and the important literary and artistic celebrities of the day. We heard about Wordsworth and Keats and of course Haydon who seemed to be his own worst enemy by quarrelling with his sponsors.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

    When this book was published, I was a book editor and I still read Publishers Weekly. The review in PW caught my eye, as I was in the midst of an intense love affair with 19th century British poetry. Wordsworth and Keats were two stars twinkling in the night. I wanted to know every detail about them, and the premise of this book, that one solitary winter night in London they had sat down at dinner together, set fireworks off in my imagination. What DID they talk about? So I bought the book...and When this book was published, I was a book editor and I still read Publishers Weekly. The review in PW caught my eye, as I was in the midst of an intense love affair with 19th century British poetry. Wordsworth and Keats were two stars twinkling in the night. I wanted to know every detail about them, and the premise of this book, that one solitary winter night in London they had sat down at dinner together, set fireworks off in my imagination. What DID they talk about? So I bought the book...and it sat on my shelf for 20 years. Fast forward to pandemic 2020, I suddenly have time to read this book. And I do. And it is good. Not great, but solid. We get some details about the evening of the dinner and the other guests, the route they traveled to get to Haydon's flat, what they likely ate, that kind of secondary detail. And it is actually that secondary detail where the book gets interesting. Using the dinner as a jumping off point, the author swims out in the world of 1817 London and beyond through the entwined lives of the attendees of this dinner party. And luckily 1817 London is a very interesting place. You will not come away with too many particular insights into the hearts and minds of Keats or Wordsworth, but you will go on a very interesting journey that may spark enough interest in you to go back and read your favorite poets, as I am now doing.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Julie Bozza

    If the Doctor were ever to show up with the Tardis, and no one needed saving right that moment, I would suggest we have some fun instead, and gatecrash the Immortal Dinner on 28 December 1817. It was hosted by artist Benjamin Haydon, and his guests included John Keats, William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, and the soon-to-be explorer Joseph Ritchie. There was a great deal of intellectual and political discussion, hilarity and general merriment - and also some rather unfortunate teasing of an officia If the Doctor were ever to show up with the Tardis, and no one needed saving right that moment, I would suggest we have some fun instead, and gatecrash the Immortal Dinner on 28 December 1817. It was hosted by artist Benjamin Haydon, and his guests included John Keats, William Wordsworth, Charles Lamb, and the soon-to-be explorer Joseph Ritchie. There was a great deal of intellectual and political discussion, hilarity and general merriment - and also some rather unfortunate teasing of an official who had been invited to attend after the dinner in order to be introduced to Wordsworth. What larks! Accounts of the dinner in biographies of Keats always make it sound like so much fun, so I was interested to read more about it and attend virtually if not for real. Hence me reading this book. Unfortunately, it was rather a disappointment. There was nothing about the Immortal Dinner itself that I hadn't already read elsewhere - and what there was was doled out in tiny snippets between Hughes-Hallett's excursions through the context of it all, the biographies and histories and futures of the people involved, directly or in. I did learn some things, and read some interesting details (about Lamb and Haydon in particular) which have assuaged my curiosity about them. But that's not what I came here for. The volume is written with a light touch and a friendly style, and I think many people would find it interesting and certainly easy to read. I understand that Hughes-Hallett was the first to write about Ritchie's letters to his friend back home, some of which concerned Keats. Ritchie had taken a volume of Keats' Endymion to Africa with him - and Keats himself reflected happily in a letter that his poems had reached the wilds of America with his brother George as well as being headed for Timbuktu! So this is intriguing stuff to explore a little further (pun unintended). But, still. That's not what I came here for.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Richard Smith

    One of the reasons, a silly one, I read this book is because it was written by the mother of somebody I know. I’ve also read a book, Pike, by his sister, a much better book. I liked to the idea of basing a whole book on one dinner party, one that took place on 28 December 1817 in Lisson Grove, London. It was immodestly called the Immortal Dinner by its host, Benjamin Haydon, because it included Wordsworth, Keats, Charles Lamb, and Joseph Ritchie, a young surgeon who was soon to die on an expedit One of the reasons, a silly one, I read this book is because it was written by the mother of somebody I know. I’ve also read a book, Pike, by his sister, a much better book. I liked to the idea of basing a whole book on one dinner party, one that took place on 28 December 1817 in Lisson Grove, London. It was immodestly called the Immortal Dinner by its host, Benjamin Haydon, because it included Wordsworth, Keats, Charles Lamb, and Joseph Ritchie, a young surgeon who was soon to die on an expedition to Africa. Haydon, one of Britain’s leading historical painters, was also well known, and the dinner party took place against the backcloth of his enormous painting of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem, which included portraits of Wordsworth, Newton, Voltaire, and Haydon himself. I imagined that the book would comprise mostly an account of what was said at the dinner, but mostly it writes around the characters and roams far. It would be fair to call the book rambling, which I liked but some might find irritating. The book lead to two blogs: https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/... https://richardswsmith.wordpress.com/... But I took only two quotes from the book, a poor haul. Dream not, Coleridge, of having tasted all the grandeur and wildness of fancy till you have gone mad. Charles Lamb ‘What a lass that were … to go gipsying through the world with.’

  7. 5 out of 5

    Stephen Goldenberg

    The dinner in question is held by Benjamin Haydon, the painter, in his London studio. Among the guests were Keats, Wordsworth and Charles Lamb. The dinner is used as a focal point for the author to explore a wide range of aspects of the social and literary life at the time. It succeeds in giving a genuine insight into life in literary and artistic London in the years immediately following the Napoleonic wars. It ranges through the new age of scientific discovery by the likes of Davey and Faraday The dinner in question is held by Benjamin Haydon, the painter, in his London studio. Among the guests were Keats, Wordsworth and Charles Lamb. The dinner is used as a focal point for the author to explore a wide range of aspects of the social and literary life at the time. It succeeds in giving a genuine insight into life in literary and artistic London in the years immediately following the Napoleonic wars. It ranges through the new age of scientific discovery by the likes of Davey and Faraday, doomed journeys of exploration in Africa, the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade, the treatment of the insane (I.e. Charles Lamb's sister, Mary), the gory details of the surgical techniques at the time, the supplying of bodies by grave robbers to anatomy classes and the lives and work of the guests at the dinner. Haydon himself is probably the most interesting character, being the least well-known; his life a series of ups and downs due to his money troubles and disputatious nature. As a lifelong Londoner, what I found equally interesting we're some of the day to day details of London life at the time, including the journeys each of them made to get to the dinner

  8. 5 out of 5

    Brian Willis

    The dinner described here is a legendary meeting of Romantic era minds, primarily remembered through the anecdotes of the private correspondence of the participants, the most recognized of which are William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Charles Lamb. The stories are intriguing, and Hughes-Hallett fleshes out the conversation of that legendary dinner by exploring the ideas discussed: Haydon's latest painting, Christ's Entry Into Jerusalem, still unfinished but featuring likenesses of several of the The dinner described here is a legendary meeting of Romantic era minds, primarily remembered through the anecdotes of the private correspondence of the participants, the most recognized of which are William Wordsworth, John Keats, and Charles Lamb. The stories are intriguing, and Hughes-Hallett fleshes out the conversation of that legendary dinner by exploring the ideas discussed: Haydon's latest painting, Christ's Entry Into Jerusalem, still unfinished but featuring likenesses of several of the attendees; the importance of scientists and philosophers such as Newton and Voltaire; the tragic news of Mungo Park, a Scotsman lost (and dead) in Africa; government patronage (of which Wordsworth was about to rely on); and medicine. The author also details the neighborhoods of London through which the attendees passed on their walk to Lisson Grove (near Marylebone) as well as the rural Hampstead Heath. I'm not sure I learned anything revolutionary here about the famous subjects, but it did bring vivid life to a famous night in London, December 28, 1817. If this famous dinner is on your radar, you certainly will love to read it. Brisk and amply illustrated, it evokes a moment in time, frozen forever in 1817.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Frumenty

    This is a long ramble concerning some mildly interesting early 19th century artistic and literary figures. I know Wordsworth and Keats are both supposed to be men great genius, but their effusions have never roused much more than a yawn in me. To my mind Charles Lamb is the most sympathetic figure at the so-called "Immortal Dinner". I read his Essays of Elia with pleasure as a child, though I remember almost nothing of them today. I should read them again. In this book I admired him for his devo This is a long ramble concerning some mildly interesting early 19th century artistic and literary figures. I know Wordsworth and Keats are both supposed to be men great genius, but their effusions have never roused much more than a yawn in me. To my mind Charles Lamb is the most sympathetic figure at the so-called "Immortal Dinner". I read his Essays of Elia with pleasure as a child, though I remember almost nothing of them today. I should read them again. In this book I admired him for his devotion to his sister Mary, who suffered from bipolar disorder (apparently) for most of her adult life. As a snapshot of English manners and culture at a certain moment in history it is worth reading, but that's all.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I give up. I managed to read about 60% of the book so I think I have the right to say I have read it. I might finish the last three chapters at some point in the future, but I found this to be such a dry read I could not finish it. The cover of this is really pretty and I was excited to learn about the Immortal Dinner but the book went too into detail on background information about the time period which made it lack a structure.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chiefdonkey Bradey

    I saw myself, in the company of poets, one moment laughing, the next, my eyes brimming with tears

  12. 5 out of 5

    Victoria Jackson

    Excellent read, very interesting anecdotes and discussions by Wordsworth, Keats, Lamb.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jane Massy

    Great web of tales around a dinner in 1817 given by Robert Haydon with Keats, Wordsworth, Hunt and Lamb as guests.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Fiona

  15. 4 out of 5

    David Lewis

  16. 5 out of 5

    Teresa

  17. 4 out of 5

    Katy

  18. 5 out of 5

    Francis Baraan IV

  19. 5 out of 5

    Aysha Taryam

  20. 4 out of 5

    Philip Procter

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paul Duffy

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ashley

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brian Robbins

  24. 4 out of 5

    Marlee

  25. 4 out of 5

    Good-

  26. 4 out of 5

    Miriam Bennett

  27. 5 out of 5

    Emilie

  28. 5 out of 5

    Christine

  29. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Carvell

  30. 4 out of 5

    TΞΞL❍CK Mith!lesh

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