Alethea Hayter’s Romantic Imagination

I almost didn’t look at this weirdly short article from the NYT’s Sunday Book Review, but it was a slow moment at work so I glanced through it. There isn’t a lot there I’ve read, though it’s always great to see Patrick Hamilton’s fantastic, darkly funny The Slaves of Solitude get a mention. What really caught my eye, though, was James Parker’s endorsement of a book by Alethea Hayter.

hayterFor years I kept an eye out in used bookstores for Hayter’s Opium and the Romantic Imagination. It’s just the perfect title — the only way I could find it more alluring is if it were called Opium, Pumpkin Pie, and the Romantic Imagination. I finally found it at Magus Books here in Seattle over the summer, in near perfect condition despite its 1970 printing. So far I’ve only read random passages but just having it on the shelf is a thrill.

The only other book of Hayter’s I’d heard of before today is The Wreck of the Abergavenny, about the death of William Wordsworth’s sea-captain brother in the title tragedy. Again, perfect: I’ve been completely intrigued by this incident ever since I first saw a mention of it in college, but I’ve never seen more than a sentence or two about it.

I’m not sure I’ll ever read the book Parker calls out, Voyage in Vain: Coleridge’s Journey to Malta in 1804 — Vol. 1 of Richard Holmes’s Coleridge biography (which I just finished last month) ends with Coleridge boarding the ship that will take him to Malta, so presumably Vol. 2 will cover the whole jaunt pretty well. We’ll see — maybe Holmes will pique my interest. Parker makes a pretty good case for it:

Over 40 years old, this book; but very contemporary in its speculations and zoomings-in. Disheartened, opium-entangled, the great poet suffered terrible shipboard constipations while brooding beautifully in his notebook on the shapes of waves and sails and clouds.