In her ambitious and enthralling first book, Daisy Hay takes the dynamics of friendship among the second-generation Romantics as her unifying theme. She explodes the myth of the isolated, autophagous poet, showing how these predominantly urban writers (scornfully dismissed by a destructive article in Blackwood's as 'the Cockney School', though they were not Cockneys and never a school) drew strength from each other for new and sometimes dangerous experiments in art and living. Hay sums up the importance of their association well: 'sociability – the self-conscious enactment of friendship – was transformed into a weapon in a battle for liberal survival.'
Hay's story begins in 1813 with the imprisonment of Leigh Hunt for writing and publishing seditious libel in The Examiner, the brilliant and wide-ranging journal he edited and his brother John published. Hunt was a privileged prisoner: his wife, Marianne, and children were able to join him in