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John Hamilton Reynolds

John Hamilton Reynolds was an English poet, critic, journalist, playwright and satirist, who's best known for his friendship and influence of celebrated poet John Keats.

Reynolds showed early promise for a brilliant literary career on a par with that of Keats, but never achieved anything close to the success his close friend enjoyed. Although the quality of Reynolds' writings was uneven, he is still regarded as a noteworthy satirist and poet. Peter Bell: A Lyrical Ballad (1819) was a major success for him and remains his most widely read work, while "Devon" and "Margaret" are generally considered to be his finest poems.

Biographical fast facts

Date and place of birth: September 9, 1794, Shrewsbury, England *

Date and place of death: November 15, 1852, at 36 Nodehill, Newport, Isle of Wight, England

Spouse: Eliza Powell Drewe (m. August 31, 1822 - November 15, 1852) (his death)
Wedding took place at Holy Trinity Church, in Exeter, England.

Siblings: Jane Reynolds (older sister, born 1791)
Marianne Reynolds (younger sister, born 1797)
Eliza Reynolds (younger sister, born 1799)
Charlotte Reynolds (younger sister, born 1802)

Daughter: Lucy Reynolds (died at the age of ten)

Father: George Reynolds (a schoolteacher)
Mother: Charlotte Cox Reynolds (d. May 13, 1846)

Burial site: Church Litten, Newport, Isle of Wight, England

Error correction or clarification

* A number of sources erroneously report Reynolds was born in 1796. Birth, baptismal, and school records all confirm his September 9, 1794 birth.

A couple of sources erroneously report The Eden of Imagination was published in 1815. The actual publication date was August 23, 1814.

NOTE: Reynolds presented quite a challenge to researchers trying to properly attribute writing credits given the fact that much of his work was published anonymously under a number of different pseudonyms such as, Ned Ward, Jr., Peter Corcoran, Caius, John Hamilton, and Edward Herbert.

Biography - Writing credits - Residences - Hobbies/sidelines

John Hamilton Reynolds made his debut in the world 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 with Keats.

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 theatrical writings.

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 Jane.

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 in 1838.

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.

Married life
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:
Safie (1814)
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"
"To Ella"
"Lines to a Valley"
"A Romantic Walk with Two Friends"
"Boswell's Visit"
"Reproach Me Not"
"Mr. Wordsworth's Poetry"
"To Wordsworth" (1816)
"Devon" (1817)
"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"
"Winter. Bath"
"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"
"Exmouth Wrestling"
"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"
"Spring Song"
"Ode to the Printer's Devil"
"A Chit Chat Letter"
"Vauxhall Reminiscences"
"Remonstratory Ode, From the Elephant at Exeter Change to Mr. Mathews"
"Four Sonnets Composed during Ascot Race Week"
"Walking Stewart"
"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"
"The Cathedral"
"The Wall"

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 his life.
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)


The most in-depth of more than two dozen sources consulted in preparing this profile, was the 1984 biography, The Life of John Hamilton Reynolds, by Leonidas M. Jones.

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