The nineteenth-century painter Benjamin Robert Haydon was convinced that his best works rivalled the masterpieces of the Renaissance – a judgement facilitated by his near-blindness. Standing in front of one of them, his noble, ugly face masked by several pairs of spectacles, he exclaimed: ‘What fire, what magic! I bow and am grateful.’ Wordsworth, who also suffered from poor eyesight, called Haydon ‘the first painter in his grand style of art that England or any other country has produced since the days of Titian’. Few have heard of him now.
When he was not painting, Haydon found time for literature and socialising, two interests that he combined on 28 December 1817, when he threw a dinner party at his house at 22 Lisson Grove, Paddington, to which he invited the poets Keats and Wordsworth. Also among the company were the