200 years ago Keats had money worries … for himself and for a friend

On Tuesday 13 April 1819, Keats had a scolding letter from Benjamin Robert Haydon (who had been hoping since the previous December to benefit from Keats’s share of  Tom’s inheritance): “Why did you hold out such delusive hopes every letter on such slight foundations?—You have led me on step by step… if you could not have commanded it you should have told me so at once.”

Keats’s reply:
“My dear Haydon
“When I offered you assistance I thought I had it in my hand… The difficulties I met with arose from the alertness and suspicion of Abbey: and especially from the affairs still being in a Lawyer’s hand—who has been draining our Property for the last six years of every charge he could make. I cannot do two things at once, and thus this affair has stopped my pursuits in every way… I find myself possessed of much less than I thought for and now if I had all on the table all I could do would be to take from it a moderate two years subsistence and lend you the rest… It has not been my fault. I am doubly hurt at the slightly reproachful tone of your note and at the occasion of it.”

200 years ago Keats predicted his sister’s triple chins

On Monday 12 April 1819 Keats wrote to his sister:
“I ordered some bulbous roots for you at the Gardener’s, and they sent me some, but they were all in bud—and could not be sent—so I put them in our Garden. There are some beautiful heaths now in bloom in Pots—either heaths or some seasonable plants I will send you instead—perhaps some that are not yet in bloom that you may see them come out…
I have not been lately through Leicester Square—the first time I do I will remember your Seals.”
[These were the Tassie seals which she had expressed an interest in a month earlier].
“I have thought it best to live in Town this Summer, chiefly for the sake of books, which cannot be had with any comfort in the Country—besides my Scotch journey gave me a dose of the Picturesque with which I ought to be contented for some time. Westminster is the place I have pitched upon—the City or any place very confined would soon turn me pale and thin—which is to be avoided. You must make up your mind to get stout this summer—indeed I have an idea we shall both be corpulent old folks with triple chins and stumpy thumbs.”
[Keats spent most of the summer in Shanklin and Winchester, though he did get to Westminster for about a week in the autumn.
The image (from pinterest.com) shows Fanny Keats Llanos in later life. Count the chins.]

Keats House; (c) City of London Corporation; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

200 years ago Keats met Coleridge

On Sunday 11 April 1819 (Easter Day) Keats met Coleridge:
“I took a walk towards Highgate and in the lane that winds by the side of Lord Mansfield’s park I met Mr. Green our Demonstrator at Guy’s in conversation with Coleridge—I joined them, after enquiring by a look whether it would be agreeable—I walked with him at his alderman-after-dinner pace for near two miles I suppose. In those two Miles he broached a thousand things—let me see if I can give you a list—Nightingales, Poetry—on Poetical Sensation—Metaphysics—Different genera and species of Dreams—Nightmare—a dream accompanied with a sense of touch—single and double touch—a dream related—First and second consciousness—the difference explained between will and Volition—so many metaphysicians from a want of smoking the second consciousness— Monsters—the Kraken—Mermaids—Southey believes in them —Southey’s belief too much diluted—a Ghost story —Good morning—I heard his voice as he came towards me—I heard it as he moved away—I had heard it all the interval—if it may be called so. He was civil enough to ask me to call on him at Highgate.”

Matthew Coulton (as Keats) and Andrew Ashmore (as Coleridge) are re-creating the walk on Thursday 11 April 2019.

About 200 years ago Keats began reading ‘The Anatomy of Melancholy’

In the spring 1819 Keats began studying The Anatomy of Melancholy by the Elizabethan philosopher and magician Robert Burton. If it came out today you’d find it under Mind-Body-Spirit, and it would be called Coping with Depression. He read suggestions for coping with Love Melancholy, including crystals — very New Age. Next to the section about their therapeutic effects, Keats wrote:

‘Precious stones are certainly a remedy against melancholy: a valuable diamond would effectively cure mine.’

[Quote from Keats’s annotated copy of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, from Janice C Sinson John Keats and the Anatomy of Melancholy (London: Keats-Shelley Memorial Association 1971) 21]
[Image from metamute.org]

200 years ago the Brawne family moved in to live next door to Keats

On Sunday 4 April 1819, Mrs Brawne moved in to half of Wentworth Place with her children Margaret, Samuel … and Fanny. They would live in the right-hand side of the house, sharing the garden with Keats and Charles Brown.

The previous night, Keats had been at a claret feast held to say farewell to Mr and Mrs Charles Wentworth Dilke, who were moving to Westminster to be near their son Charley’s new school. Keats later described the party to his brother George:

“We had a claret feast some little while ago. There were Dilke, Reynolds, Skinner, Mancur, John Brown, Martin, Brown and I. We all got a little tipsy—but pleasantly so—I enjoy Claret to a degree.”

200 years ago Keats wrote about Socrates and Jesus

On Friday 19 March 1819, Keats wrote to his brother George & sister-in-law Georgiana:

‘I have no doubt that thousands of people never heard of have had hearts completely disinterested: I can remember but two—Socrates and Jesus—Their histories evince it. What I heard a little time ago, Taylor observe with respect to Socrates, may be said of Jesus—That he was so great a man that though he transmitted no writing of his own to posterity, we have his Mind and his sayings and his greatness handed to us by others. It is to be lamented that the history of the latter was written and revised by Men interested in the pious frauds of Religion. Yet through all this I see his splendour. Even here, though I myself am pursuing the same instinctive course as the veriest human animal you can think of, I am, however young, writing at random, straining at particles of light in the midst of a great darkness, without knowing the bearing of any one assertion, of any one opinion. Yet may I not in this be free from sin?…

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced—even a Proverb is no proverb to you till your Life has illustrated it.

200 years ago Keats got a black eye

On Thursday 18 March 1819 Keats “got a black eye—the first time I took a Cricket bat—Brown who is always one’s friend in a disaster applied a leech to the eyelid, and there is no inflammation this morning though the ball hit me directly on the sight—’t was a white ball—I am glad it was not a clout—This is the second black eye I have had since leaving school—during my school days I never had one at all—we must all eat a peck before we die.”

200 years ago Keats wrote of verse, fame, beauty … and death

Around 17 March 1819, Keats wrote this sonnet:

Why did I laugh tonight? No voice will tell:
No God, no Demon of severe response,
Deigns to reply from Heaven or from Hell.
Then to my human heart I turn at once.
Heart! Thou and I are here, sad and alone;
Say, wherefore did I laugh? O mortal pain!
O Darkness! Darkness! ever must I moan,
To question Heaven and Hell and Heart in vain.
Why did I laugh? I know this Being’s lease,
My fancy to its utmost blisses spreads;
Yet could I on this very midnight cease,
And the world’s gaudy ensigns see in shreds;
Verse, Fame, and Beauty are intense indeed,
But Death intenser—Death is Life’s high meed.

200 years ago Keats wrote of his favourite things

On Saturday 13 March 1819 Keats wrote to his sister:
Tell me … if you want any particular Book; or Pencils, or drawing paper—anything but live stock. Though I will not now be very severe on it, remembering how fond I used to be of Goldfinches, Tomtits, Minnows, Mice, Ticklebacks, Dace, Cock salmons and all the whole tribe of the Bushes and the Brooks: but verily they are better in the Trees and the water—though I must confess even now a partiality for a handsome Globe of gold-fish—then I would have it hold 10 pails of water and be fed continually fresh through a cool pipe with another pipe to let through the floor—well ventilated they would preserve all their beautiful silver and Crimson. Then I would put it before a handsome painted window and shade it all round with myrtles and Japonicas. I should like the window to open onto the Lake of Geneva—and there I’d sit and read all day like the picture of somebody reading.

200 years ago Keats gave a portrait of the poet at work

On 12 March 1819, gave this description of himself  in a letter to his brother:

The candles are burnt down and I am using the wax taper—which has a long snuff on it—the fire is at its last click—I am sitting with my back to it with one foot rather askew upon the rug and the other with the heel a little elevated from the carpet—I am writing this on the Maid’s tragedy, which I have read since tea with Great pleasure.
Besides this volume of Beaumont and Fletcher—there are on the table two volumes of Chaucer and a new work of Tom Moore’s called “Tom Cribb’s Memorial to Congress”—nothing in it.
These are trifles but I require nothing so much of you but that you will give me a like description of yourselves, however it may be when you are writing to me. Could I see the same thing done of any great Man long since dead it would be a great delight: As to know in what position Shakspeare sat when he began “To be or not to be”—such things become interesting from distance of time or place. I hope you are both now in that sweet sleep which no two beings deserve more than you do—I must fancy you so—and please myself in the fancy of speaking a prayer and a blessing over you and your lives—God bless you—I whisper good night in your ears, and you will dream of me.