April 10 1816: Byron and Coleridge

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“The single, momentous meeting between the two poets took place on 10 April 1816. Byron was at his most winning: he flattered, praised and joked, making remarks – not recorded – that Coleridge said were “enough to make one’s hair bristle”. He convinced Coleridge to do what he had put off for a decade, to publish “Christabel” in its unfinished state. He also somehow charmed out of him the story of “Kubla Khan” and got him to recite the poem in his drawing-room. When Coleridge dismissed it as “a psychological curiosity”, Byron waved the objection aside and urged him to publish that too.7 Quite unknown to Coleridge, this recital was witnessed by another writer waiting in a next-door room – none other than Leigh Hunt. Hunt later recalled: “He recited his ‘Kubla Khan’ one morning to Lord Byron, in his Lordship’s house in Piccadilly, when I happened to be in another room. I remember the other’s coming away from him, highly struck with his poem, and saying how wonderfully he talked. This was the impression of everyone who heard him.”

The enchantment was mutual, for Coleridge in turn was dazzled by Byron, his wit, his physical beauty, and the extraordinary expressiveness of his features. “If you had seen Lord Byron,” he later wrote, “you could scarcely disbelieve him – so beautiful a countenance I scarcely ever saw – his teeth so many stationary smiles – his eyes the open portals of the sun – things of light, and for light – and his forehead so ample, and yet so flexible, passing from marble smoothness into a hundred wreathes and lines and dimples correspondent to the feelings and sentiments he is uttering…”

On Byron’s recommendation, John Murray came round to arrange a publishing contract at Norfolk Street two days later on 12 April. He indicated his willingness to become Coleridge’s general publisher. In the first instance he wished to publish a slim volume, sixty-four pages octavo, containing “Christabel”, “Kubla Khan”, and a third opium poem, “The Pains of Sleep”, to be issued with Prefaces as swiftly as possible the following month.”

— Coleridge: Darker Reflections by Richard Holmes

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