On Monday 17 January 1820 Keats wrote to his sister-in-law Georgiana:
“I know three witty people all distinct in their excellence — Rice, Reynolds, and Richards. Rice is the wisest, Reynolds the playfullest, Richards the out-o’-the-wayest.
The first makes you laugh and think, the second makes you laugh and not think, the third puzzles your head.
I admire the first, I enjoy the second, I stare at the third.
The first is claret, the second ginger-beer, the third crême de Byrapymdrag.
The first is inspired by Minerva, the second by Mercury, the third by Harlequin Epigram, Esq.
The first is neat in his dress, the second slovenly, the third uncomfortable.
The first speaks adagio, the second allegretto, the third both together.
The first is Swiftean, the second Tom-Crib-ean, the third Shandean.
And yet these three eans are not three eans but one ean.”
On Saturday, January 15 1820 Keats wrote to his sister-in-law Georgiana:
It is strange that George having to stop so short a time in England, I should not have seen him for nearly two days. He has been to Haslam’s and does not encourage me to follow his example. He had given promise to dine with the same party to-morrow, but has sent an excuse which I am glad of, as we shall have a pleasant party with us to-morrow. We expect Charles here to-day. This is a beautiful day. I hope you will not quarrel with it if I call it an American one. The sun comes upon the snow and makes a prettier candy than we have on twelfth-night cakes. George is busy this morning in making copies of my verses. He is making one now of an “Ode to the Nightingale,” which is like reading an account of the Black Hole at Calcutta on an iceberg…
Were you now in England I dare say you would be able (setting aside the pleasure you would have in seeing your mother) to suck out more amusement for society than I am able to do. To me it is all as dull here as Louisville could be. I am tired of the theatres. Almost all the parties I may chance to fall into I know by heart. I know the different styles of talk in different places — what subjects will be started, how it will proceed like an acted play, from the first to the last act. If I go to Hunt’s I run my head into many tunes heard before, old puns, and old music; to Haydon’s worn-out discourses of poetry and painting. The Miss —— I am afraid to speak to, for fear of some sickly reiteration of phrase or sentiment. When they were at the dance the other night I tried manfully to sit near and talk to them, but to no purpose; and if I had it would have been to no purpose still. My question or observation must have been an old one, and the rejoinder very antique indeed. At Dilke’s I fall foul of politics. ’Tis best to remain aloof from people and like their good parts without being eternally troubled with the dull process of their everyday lives. When once a person has smoked the vapidness of the routine of society he must either have self-interest or the love of some sort of distinction to keep him in good humour with it. All I can say is that, standing at Charing Cross and looking east, west, north, and south, I can see nothing but dulness. I hope while I am young to live retired in the country.
On Thursday, January 13, 1820, Keats wrote to Georgiana Keats. While George Keats came to England to sort out his finances, she stayed in America looking after their baby daughter.
My dear Sister — By the time you receive this your trouble will be over. I wish you knew they were half over. I mean that George is safe in England and in good health. To write to you by him is almost like following one’s own letter in the mail. That it may not be quite so, I will leave common intelligence out of the question, and write wide of him as I can. I fear I must be dull, having had no good-natured flip from Fortune’s finger since I saw you, and no sideway comfort in the success of my friends. I could almost promise that if I had the means I would accompany George back to America, and pay you a visit of a few months. I should not think much of the time, or my absence from my books; or I have no right to think, for I am very idle. But then I ought to be diligent, and at least keep myself within the reach of materials for diligence. Diligence, that I do not mean to say; I should say dreaming over my books, or rather other people’s books. George has promised to bring you to England when the five years have elapsed. I regret very much that I shall not be able to see you before that time, and even then I must hope that your affairs will be in so prosperous a way as to induce you to stop longer. Yours is a hardish fate, to be so divided among your friends and settled among a people you hate. You will find it improve. You have a heart that will take hold of your children; even George’s absence will make things better. His return will banish what must be your greatest sorrow, and at the same time minor ones with it. Robinson Crusoe, when he saw himself in danger of perishing on the waters, looked back to his island as to the haven of his happiness, and on gaining it once more was more content with his solitude. We smoke George about his little girl. He runs the common-beaten road of every father, as I dare say you do of every mother: there is no child like his child, so original — original forsooth! However, I take you at your words. I have a lively faith that yours is the very gem of all children. Ain’t I its uncle?…
If you should have a boy, do not christen him John, and persuade George not to let his partiality for me come across. ’Tis a bad name, and goes against a man. If my name had been Edmund I should have been more fortunate.
On Wednesday 12 January 1820 John Keats and his brother George dined with John Taylor (Keats’s publisher).
On Tuesday 11 January 1820 Keats and his brother attended
“a pianoforte hop” given by his former neighbours Mr & Mrs Charles Dilke. Describing it to his sister-in-law:
“There was very little amusement in the room, but a Scotchman to hate. Some people, you must have observed, have a most unpleasant effect upon you when you see them speaking in profile. This Scotchman is the most accomplished fellow in this way I ever met with. The effect was complete. It went down like a dose of bitters, and I hope will improve my digestion…
George has introduced to us an American of the name of Hart. I like him in a moderate way. He was at Mrs. Dilke’s party — and sitting by me; we began talking about English and American ladies. The Miss Reynolds’ and some of their friends made not a very enticing row opposite us. I bade him mark them and form his judgment of them. I told him I hated Englishmen because they were the only men I knew. He does not understand this.”
[The Miss Reynolds’ = Jane, Marian and possibly Eliza and Charlotte. Keats was on very friendly terms with the family until he fell for Miss Brawne in December 1818.]
On Sunday 9 January 1820 Keats and his brother George dined with Mrs Wylie (George’s mother-in-law). It must have been a challenging time for the brothers: it had been 18 months since they last saw each other. Back then they had both been full of hope — for John’s success as a poet with ‘Endymion’, and George’s success as a pioneer farmer in America. The reality for each of them was very different.
Also dining at Mrs Millar’s (Mrs Wylie’s sister) were Charles Wylie and Lacon (a Milliner of Albermarle Street). Writing to his sister-in-law Georgiana Keats:
“Last Sunday George and I dined at Millar’s There were your mother and Charles with Fool Lacon, Esq., who sent the sly, disinterested shawl to Miss Millar, with his own heathen name engraved in the middle. Charles had a silk handkerchief belonging to a Miss Grover, with whom he pretended to be smitten, and for her sake kept exhibiting and adoring the handkerchief all the evening. Fool Lacon, Esq., treated it with a little venturesome, trembling contumely, whereupon Charles set him quietly down on the floor, from where he as quietly got up. This process was repeated at supper time, when your mother said, “If I were you Mr. Lacon I would not let him do so.” Fool Lacon, Esq., did not offer any remark. He will undoubtedly die in his bed. Your mother did not look quite so well on Sunday. Mrs. Henry Wylie is excessively quiet before people. I hope she is always so.”
On Sunday 8 January 1820 George Keats arrived at Wentworth Place without warning. He had travelled from America to sort out his finances (something which Keats had been unable to do).
Around December 1819, Keats wrote these lines on a blank space in ‘The Cap and Bells, or The Jealousies’ (the poem he was composing at the time):
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.
[This could have been Keats practising his dramatic style—or possibly expressing his anguish over Miss Brawne. He would live for another 14 months, but, as his biographer Walter Jackson Bate noted, these were ‘the last serious lines he was ever to write.’]
On Saturday 25 December 1819 Keats and Charles Brown spent Christmas Day in Westminster as guests of Mr and Mrs Charles Wentworth Dilke.
Brown and Dilke seem to have spent much of the day writing fairy tales together. It is not clear how Keats amused himself, but this Christmas must have been very different from that of 1818, when he had just moved into Wentworth Place (as Brown’s lodger and the Dilke’s next-door neighbour), and was invited to spend Christmas Day at Elm Cottage by Mrs Brawne (whose daughter Fanny would later write that it was ‘the happiest day I had ever then spent’).
In April 1819, the Brawnes moved in to what had been the Dilkes’ side of Wentworth Place — but it seems that Keats was not invited to spend Christmas Day with them. Was the relationship between him and Miss Brawne too stormy? Was arranging to spend the day 3½ miles away one of Brown’s attempts to wean Keats from his infatuation?
On Wednesday 22 December 1819 Keats wrote to Fanny Keats: ‘I promised to see you before Christmas day. I am sorry to say I have been and continue rather unwell, and therefore shall not be able to promise certainly.’
[His last visit had been on 18 November. He didn’t get to see her before Christmas — or ever again. Six weeks after he wrote this his sore throat worsened, with the first episode of coughing blood marking the start of his fatal illness.]