200 years ago Keats received a ‘confounded pinch’

On Monday 14 December 1818 Keats visited the Millars (in Henrietta Street), then Mrs Wylie (in Romney Street).

Writing to Mrs Wylie’s daughter Georgiana (his sister-in-law): ‘I saw your Mother the day before yesterday, and intend now frequently to pass half a day with her — she seem’d tolerably well. I called in Henrietta Street and so was speaking with your Mother about Miss Millar … Miss Millar gave me one of her confounded pinches. N.B. did not like it.’

It seems likely that he visited the Reynolds family in Little Britain as well, and that this was when he accepts Mrs Reynolds’ invitation to spend Christmas Day with them. He would get a more enticing offer from Mrs Brawne a few days later.

‘Mrs. Brawne who took Brown’s house for the Summer, still resides in Hampstead. She is a very nice woman, and her daughter senior is I think beautiful and elegant, graceful, silly, fashionable and strange. We have a little tiff now and then — and she behaves a little better, or I must have sheered off.’

[Quotes from letter to George and Georgiana Keats, 14 December 1818]

200 years ago Keats visited his sister, then had an early night

On Sunday 13 December 1818, Keats and Haslam went to see his sister Fanny. She was 15 at the time, living at Walthamstow with their Guardian Richard Abbey. This was Keats’s first visit since the death of their brother Tom.

‘She was well — she gets a little plumper and had a little Colour. On Sunday I brought from her a present of facescreens and a work-bag for Mrs. D. — they were really very pretty. From Walthamstow we walked to Bethnal green — where I felt so tired from my long walk that I was obliged to go to Bed at ten.’

[Mrs D. is Keats’s new next-door neighbour Mrs Dilke.]

200 years ago Keats was given a Literary Pocket Book, which he promptly re-gifted

Around Saturday 12 December 1818, Leigh Hunt called round to Wentworth Place and gave Keats a copy of his Literary Pocket Book. Keats wrote: ‘Hunt keeps on in his old way — I am completely tired of it all. He has lately publish’d a Pocket Book called the literary Pocket-Book — full of the most sickening stuff you can imagine’. It included two of Keats’s sonnets: ‘Four Seasons fill the Measure of the Year’ and ‘To Ailsa Crag’. Later Keats would give the Pocket-Book to Fanny Brawne.

200 years ago — a theatre trip for Keats?

On Thursday 3 December 1818, theatres re-opened, having being closed since 17 November as part of the mourning for Queen Charlotte. This may have been when Keats and Brown went to see ‘Brutus a new Trageday by Howard Payne, an American — Kean was excellent — the play was very bad.’

Now is the ideal time to buy a copy of the John Keats Bicentenary Diary for next year, available at Keats House Museum, price £15.

200 years ago Tom Keats died, and John Keats moved into Wentworth Place

On Tuesday 1 December 1818, Tom Keats died at 8am. Keats broke the news very gently to their sister Fanny:
‘Tuesday Morn
My dear Fanny — Poor Tom has been so bad that I have delayed your visit hither — as it would be so painful to you both. I cannot say he is any better this morning — he is in a very dangerous state — I have scarce any hopes of him. Keep up your spirits for me my dear Fanny — repose entirely in
Your affectionate Brother
John.’

Keats was too devastated to write to his brother George (in America) that day, and asked a friend to convey the sad news. A fortnight later he was able to write:

‘The last days of poor Tom were of the most distressing nature; but his last moments were not so painful, and his very last was without a pang. I will not enter into any parsonic comments on death — yet the common observations of the commonest people on death are as true as their proverbs. I have scarce a doubt of immortality of some nature or other — neither had Tom.’ <Letter 16 Dec 1818>

Keats moved in to Wentworth Place as Charles Brown’s tenant, as he wrote to George: ‘Brown detained me at his House… With Dilke and Brown I am quite thick — with Brown indeed I am going to domesticate — that is, we shall keep house together.’ <Letter 16 December 1818>
Charles Brown noted: ‘Early one morning I was awakened in my bed by a pressure on my hand. It was Keats, who came to tell me his brother was no more. I said nothing, and we both remained silent for a while, my hand locked fast in his. At length, my thoughts returning from the dead to the living, I said, `Have nothing more to do with those lodgings, and alone too. Had you not better live with me?’ He paused, pressed my hand warmly, and replied, I think it would be better. From that moment he was my inmate.’
Charles Brown `Life of John Keats’ (19 March 1841) Rollins, H. R. (ed.) 1948, Letters and Papers of the Keats Circle, p. II, 64-65

200 years ago Keats received a pleasant surprise

On Monday 9 November 1818, An admirer signing himself ‘Mr P Fenbank’ (possibly a pseudonym for Richard Woodhouse) sent Keats a sonnet which included the lines
‘Star of high promise! — not to this dark age
Do thy mild light and loveliness belong’
— and a £25 note (that’d be nearly £2,000 today).
Lucky Keats!

200 years ago Keats asked his brother to “Think of me, and for my sake be cheerful.”

On Saturday 31 October 1818 Keats wrote to his brother George and sister-in-law Georgiana in America:
“By the time you will receive this you will have I trust passed through the greatest of your fatigues. As it was with your Sea Sickness I shall not hear of them till they are past. Do not set to your occupation with too great an anxiety — take it calmly — and let your health be the prime consideration. I hope you will have a Son, and it is one of my first wishes to have him in my Arms — which I will do please God before he cuts one double tooth. Tom is rather more easy than he has been: but is still so nervous that I cannot speak to him of these Matters — indeed it is the care I have had to keep his Mind aloof from feelings too acute that has made this Letter so short a one — I did not like to write before him a Letter he knew was to reach your hands — I cannot even now ask him for any Message — his heart speaks to you. Be as happy as you can. Think of me, and for my sake be cheerful.
“Believe me, my dear Brother and sister,
“Your anxious and affectionate Brother
“John.
“This day is my Birth day.
“All our friends have been anxious in their enquiries, and all send their remembrances.”

200 years ago Keats wrote about the Poetical Character

On Tuesday 27 October 1818, Keats wrote to his friend Richard Woodhouse:
My dear Woodhouse — Your letter gave me great satisfaction, more on account of its friendliness than any relish of that matter in it which is accounted so acceptable to the “genus irritabile.” The best answer I can give you is in a clerklike manner to make some observations on two principal points which seem to point like indices into the midst of the whole pro and con about genius, and views, and achievements, and ambition, et cætera. —

1st. As to the poetical Character itself (I mean that sort, of which, if I am anything, I am a member; that sort distinguished from the Wordsworthian, or egotistical Sublime; which is a thing per se, and stands alone,) it is not itself — it has no self — It is everything and nothing — It has no character — it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated — It has as much delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. What shocks the virtuous philosopher delights the chameleon poet. It does no harm from its relish of the dark side of things, any more than from its taste for the bright one, because they both end in speculation. A poet is the most unpoetical of anything in existence, because he has no Identity — he is continually in for and filling some other body. The Sun — the Moon — the Sea, and men and women, who are creatures of impulse, are poetical, and have about them an unchangeable attribute; the poet has none, no identity — he is certainly the most unpoetical of all God’s creatures. — If then he has no self, and if I am a poet, where is the wonder that I should say I would write no more? Might I not at that very instant have been cogitating on the Characters of Saturn and Ops? It is a wretched thing to confess; but it is a very fact, that not one word I ever utter can be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical Nature — how can it, when I have no Nature? When I am in a room with people, if I ever am free from speculating on creations of my own brain, then, not myself goes home to myself, but the identity of every one in the room begins to press upon me, so that I am in a very little time annihilated — not only among men; it would be the same in a nursery of Children. I know not whether I make myself wholly understood: I hope enough so to let you see that no dependence is to be placed on what I said that day.

In the 2d place, I will speak of my views, and of the life I purpose to myself. I am ambitious of doing the world some good: if I should be spared, that may be the work of maturer years — in the interval I will assay to reach to as high a summit in poetry as the nerve bestowed upon me will suffer. The faint conceptions I have of poems to come bring the blood frequently into my forehead — All I hope is, that I may not lose all interest in human affairs — that the solitary Indifference I feel for applause, even from the finest spirits, will not blunt any acuteness of vision I may have. I do not think it will. I feel assured I should write from the mere yearning and fondness I have for the beautiful, even if my night’s labours should be burnt every Morning, and no eye ever shine upon them. But even now I am perhaps not speaking from myself, but from some Character in whose soul I now live.

[The John Keats Bicentenary Diary 1818-1819 is on sale at Keats House, price £15.]