John Hamilton Reynolds made his debut in the
on September 9, 1794, in Shrewsbury, England,
and was baptized September 29, at St. Mary's
Church. He was the second child and only son
of George Reynolds and Charlotte Cox Reynolds.
With his father a respected schoolteacher and
both parents enjoying wide-ranging literary
pursuits, his future literary career would
come as a surprise to no one.
John's recurrent medical problems originated
with a mysterious ailment in the summer of
1808. Doctors were never able to properly
diagnose the condition, which consisted of
sudden weight loss, a severe cough and an
acute bowel disorder. Doctors ordered several
weeks of rest, which allowed him to indulge
his ever-present passion for literature. He
ultimately recovered enough to participate in
sports, but bouts of ill health would continue
to plague him throughout his life.
The first recognition of his literary talent came
in 1808 in the form of a prize from his school for
an essay he'd written. Reynolds won an additional
prize early in 1809 for another essay.
Though his parents offered a loving, comfortable
home and made certain he received a quality early
education, finances were such that they were unable
to provide a higher education for him after he'd
completed his studies at St. Paul's School in 1809.
The fifteen-year-old boy thus took his first job in
March of 1810 as a clerk at the Day newspaper.
He quickly grew restless and found more challenging
work at a Fleet Street insurance company. Still
in his late teens, he was working ten-hour
days, six days a week at the insurance company
while continuing his independent studies and
striving to improve his poetry. He went on to
become well-versed in Latin, Greek, Italian, and
French. Reynolds remained happily in the employ
of the Amicable Society for a Perpetual Assurance
until April 1816.
Reynolds' engaging personality, enthusiasm, and wit,
attracted many friends, including John Freeman Milward
Dovaston, Richard Allen, Ralph Rylance, William and
Frank Squibb, James Rice, Leigh Hunt, John Keats
and Thomas Hood. In addition to being a devoted
friend, John offered literary guidance and encouragement
to both Keats and Hood, while Dovaston acted as a
mentor to Reynolds. Dovaston later became a noted
naturalist and poet, while both Keats and Hood had
celebrated careers as poets.
From the time he joined the group on September 16,
1812, he devoted a good deal of his free time to the
Zetosophian Society. Like the legendary London-based
Rhymers' Club, the Zetosophian Society was a social
club dedicated to offering critique of member's
literary output. In addition to his responsibilities
at the Zetosophian Society, he found time to fish,
play cricket and take in London's theatrical
offerings. The Zetosophian Society dissolved in
1815, the result of a bitter feud between members.
J. H. Reynolds had great admiration for the work
of both Lord Byron and William Wordsworth and was
later delighted when they each offered some degree
of approval for his own poetry.
Before composing his first book-length poem,
Safie (1814), his professional writing
consisted of producing essays, reviews and
short poems for a number of publications. That
first book was met with mild praise from critics,
the public and even Lord Byron. While Lord Byron
offered praise for the young man's work, he also
recognized that the lad had borrowed extensively
from his own previous works and pointed this out
to Reynolds after he'd sent the unpublished work to
him for advice. 1814 also saw the publication of
the poem in which he took the greatest pride:
The Eden of Imagination would remain the single
work Reynolds would continue to view with the
greatest satisfaction throughout his life.
Late in 1815, he took a second job at the Champion
newspaper (previously Drakard's Paper) as their
literary and theatrical editor. He continued doing
double duty at the paper and insurance company for
five months, before focusing solely on his journalistic
career. The paper offered a ready conduit for
Reynolds' poetry and he quickly became the single
largest contributor of poetry to the paper, thanks to a
large stockpile of older, unpublished pieces.
He'd put a good deal of time and energy into his
next effort and had high hopes for The Naiad: A
Tale with Other Poems. Published in 1816, it
received generally favorable reviews, but a largely
negative assessment from William Wordsworth, to
whom he'd sent a copy for evaluation. Despite the
fact that Reynolds had a habit of imitating either
Lord Byron or William Wordsworth and many critics
noted this lack of originality, they still lauded
his talent. The Naiad was notable for its
inclusion of "Margaret," which is considered one
of his finest poems.
By way of an introduction from friend Leigh Hunt
in October 1816, J. H. Reynolds met and became
fast friends with John Keats. Immediately
recognizing Keats' budding poetic genius, Reynolds
offered encouragement, guidance and was a passionate
advocate of his new friend's work. Their close
friendship afforded them the opportunity to openly
and honestly discuss the most intimate aspects
of their lives, in addition to the more obvious
discussions on poetry. When circumstances took
them in separate directions, Keats and Reynolds
maintained a lively, sincere correspondence
until Keats' 1821 death.
Reynolds remained at the Champion until the end
of 1817, when he embarked on a career in law in
hopes of generating sufficient income to comfortably
enter into marriage. He anticipated having ample time
to continue his literary activities in his spare time,
so had little trepidation in making the change.
In his twenties, his health suffered another blow
when he was stricken with an extended illness that
is assumed to be rheumatic fever. The first signs
that he might abandon his poetry appeared early in
1818, when his recuperation proved so painful and
lengthy that he addressed that very possibility
Thoughts of abandoning his writing career faded
away as his 1819 parody of William Wordsworth's
Peter Bell proved to be his greatest success.
The attention his Peter Bell: A Lyrical Ballad
received in the press fueled sales to such a degree
that additional editions had to be rushed to print
to meet public demand.
In 1819, his writing moved in a new direction when
he was commissioned to write One, Two, Three, Four,
Five; By Advertisement for the musical theater.
The witty production had a successful run, leading
to additional theatrical assignments, public acclaim
and a significant improvement in his finances.
The Youthful Days of Mr. Mathews -- a collaboration
with Richard B. Peake -- opened March 11th, 1822,
and was a minor hit. He followed this with
the 1822 five-act farcical opera, Gil Blas,
which was a collaboration with Thomas Hood.
Curiously, many later profiles of the man would
completely omit all reference to his notable
Over the years, his work appeared in publications
such as, The Edinburgh Review, Gentleman's Magazine,
European Magazine, London Magazine, The Yellow
Dwarf, Scots Magazine, Westminster Review,
Retrospective Review, New Sporting Magazine,
New Monthly Magazine, Bentley's Miscellany,
Ainsworth's Magazine, Athenaeum, Alfred:
West of England Journal & General Advertiser,
and the Inquirer (a quarterly magazine
published by the Zetosophian Society).
By 1821, in addition to his busy legal career, he
was writing an increasing number of pieces
for London Magazine, and also helping edit
the publication. It was also in the early 1820s
that he and Thomas Hood became close friends.
Hood would later marry Reynolds' older sister
Now a fully qualified solicitor, John Hamilton
Reynolds, continued his double duties at the
Rice and Reynolds law firm and London Magazine.
He served as a theatrical critic for London Magazine
from 1820 till 1824, followed by a stint as one
of the owners of the Athenaeum. By the
time he sold his interest in that publication
in 1831, he'd relocated from Rice and Reynolds
to the law firm of Reynolds and Simmons.
He became a charter member of the Garrick Club
in 1831, and would spend many years socializing
with the group's elite theatrical members. Its
membership also provided him with new clientele
for his law firm, but this did little to
alleviate his increasing financial difficulties.
Reynolds' finances continued deteriorating
throughout the 1830s, forcing him into bankruptcy
The opportunity to serve as editor of New Sporting
Magazine provided desperately needed income
from 1838-40. While the steady income was
certainly welcome, it was rarely sufficient
to cover all expenses. When he was replaced
as editor in 1840, funds again became scarce.
He managed to eke out a living, thanks in
large part to New Monthly Magazine and Bentley's
Miscellany, who continued publishing his
work throughout the 1840s.
While John Hamilton Reynolds would likely have
been the ideal candidate to pen an authoritative
biography on his friend John Keats, that task
ultimately fell to Richard Monckton Milnes.
John provided invaluable assistance to him and
tried to iron out inaccuracies he found in the
manuscript. Unfortunately, the resulting 1848
Life, Letters, and Literary Remains of John Keats
was found to contain more than a few errors
and was generally viewed as a disappointment
by those familiar with Keats.
London served as Reynolds' home for the majority
of his life. Only in his final years would he
finally leave behind metropolitan life for
the countryside. He accepted an appointment
as the assistant clerk of the county court
in Newport, Isle of Wight, in 1847. Reynolds
quickly gained the respect of locals in Newport
and earned their gratitude when he managed to
bring about noticeable improvement to the
inferior mail service that plagued the area,
thanks to his friendship with a postal service
official. It wasn't long after his relocation
to Newport that Reynolds found himself craving
the excitement and stimulation of city life.
Although he continued to function in his
position as assistant clerk of the county court,
his contemporaries report he was habitually
drunk, discontented and dogged by ill health
in his closing years.
November 15, 1852, John Hamilton Reynolds died
at his home at 36 Nodehill, in Newport, on the
Isle of Wight, after a brief final illness. His
obituaries were, for the most part, respectful,
with most making note of his early promise in
the literary world, while avoiding unpleasantness,
such as his bankruptcy, drunkenness and final
broken down years. The majority of obits correctly
report his cause of death as a "sudden attack"
or brief illness. His widow was irritated by one
report from a source that attributed his death
to a "long and painful illness." While he was
certainly plagued by a variety of ailments in
his final years, that aspect of his obituary in
the Athenaeum was inaccurate.
Though his literary output is largely overlooked
today, most critics agree he produced some genuinely
astute parody, witty satire, inventive puns, and
some truly exquisite poetry in a noteworthy, albeit
minor literary career.
Virtually nothing is known about his first sweetheart,
though he addresses her untimely death in early
works such as "To *.*. ******." and "The Hand."
His future wife, Eliza Powell Drewe, also knew
her and was present in John's life around the
time of the young woman's circa 1813 death. He
and Eliza grew closer and were engaged in 1817,
though their marriage was delayed until his
financial footing was a little more secure. They
exchanged vows on August 31st, 1822, at Holy
Trinity Church, in Exeter. Eliza and John had
but one child, Lucy Reynolds, who sadly died
at the age of ten.
Shrewsbury School, Shrewsbury, England (January 24, 1803 - 1805)
St. Paul's School, London, England (March 4, 1806 - September 10th, 1809)
Reading, fishing, hunting, swimming, cricket,
and in his youth, he raised pigeons and rabbits.
Selected writing credits:
The Eden of Imagination (1814)
An Ode (1815)
To Ella (1816)
The Fairies (1816)
The Naiad: A Tale with Other Poems (1816)
Peter Bell: A Lyrical Ballad (1819)
One, Two, Three, Four, Five; By Advertisement (1819)
The Fancy (1820)
The Garden of Florence (1821)
The Romance of Youth (1821)
The Princess of Moonland
The Youthful Days of Mr. Mathews (a collaboration with Richard B. Peake)
Gil Blas (a collaboration with Thomas Hood)
Odes and Addresses to Great People (a collaboration with Thomas Hood)
Miss Kelly's New Entertainment entitled Dramatic Recollections (1833)
Confounded Foreigners (1838)
Oriana and Vesperella (1844)
"The Reflections of Mirth, On the Eve of the Breidden Festival, for the Year 1813"
"Ode to Friendship"
"The Lover's Dream"
"The Warriour's Departure"
"Sappho's Address to the Evening Star"
"On the Character of Hamlet"
"Stanzas to *.*. ******"
"The Hand" (1815)
"Stanzas Written Under an Oak That Grows in Bradgate Park"
"Lines to a Valley"
"A Romantic Walk with Two Friends"
"Reproach Me Not"
"Mr. Wordsworth's Poetry"
"To Wordsworth" (1816)
"Pulpit Oratory" (1818)
"The Pilgrimage of the Living Poets to the Stream of Castaly"
"To E_____, With the Foregoing Sonnets" (1818)
"Sweet Poets of The Gentle Antique Line"
"Farewell to the Muses"
"To F____ B____. Aged Three Years" (1818)
"Were This a Feather from an Eagle's Wing"
"Sonnet on a Picture of a Lady"
"The Ladye of Provence"
"A Literary Gem. Original Dramas, by James Plumtre"
"King Tims the First: An American Tragedy"
"The Fields of Tothill"
"What is Life?"
"The Jewels of the Book"
"Boswell Redivivus, A Dream"
"Living Authors, A Dream"
"Think of Me"
"Letter from Mr. Humphrey Nixon"
"The Champion's Farewell"
"Go Where the Water Glideth Gently Ever"
"Faithless Sally Brown" (a collaboration with Thomas Hood)
"A Bachelor's Soliloquy"
"Don Giovanni the XVIII"
"Ode to a Sparrow"
"A Parthian Peep at Life, an Epistle to R[ichard] A[llen]"
"Stanzas to the Memory of Richard Allen"
"Ode to the Printer's Devil"
"A Chit Chat Letter"
"Remonstratory Ode, From the Elephant at Exeter Change to Mr. Mathews"
"Four Sonnets Composed during Ascot Race Week"
"Stanzas on Revisiting Shrewsbury"
"Sir Thomas Parkyns' Progymnasmata" (1825)
"The Letters of Edward Herbert, New Series, No. I"
"Farewell to Charles Kemble"
"Some Passages in the Literary Life of Olinthus Jenkinson, Barrister-at-Law"
"A Hazy Night"
"A Legend of a Committee of Paviours"
"Stanzas on two fox-hounds in the pack of J. C. Bulteel, Esq., M.P."
"Greenwich and Greenwich Men" (1840)
"The Mouser-Monarchy" (1845)
"On the Opening of the Ports of St. Paul's Cathedral and Westminster Abbey"
Residences of John Hamilton Reynolds:
Note that these residences may no longer exist, and it's
possible the addresses have changed over the years.
This is not to suggest that J. H. Reynolds owned each and
every one of these structures. We're only reporting the
fact that he called them home at one point or another in
19 Lamb's Conduit Street, London, England (1815-1818)
Christ's Hospital, Little Britain, England (1818-1819)
18 Portland Street, London, England
24 Great Marlborough Street, London, England
27 Golden Square, London, England
10 Great Marlborough Street, London, England
10 Adam Street, Adelphi, London, England
36 Nodehill, Newport, Isle of Wight (1849-1852)