On 3 November 1816, Keats and Charles Cowden Clarke visit Benjamin Robert Haydon and have breakfast in his studio in Great Marlborough Street, underneath the huge unfinished canvas of Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem. In his Memoirs, Haydon wrote:
‘I read one or two of his sonnets, and formed a very high idea of his genius. After a short time I liked him so much that a general invitation on my part followed, and we became extremely intimate. He visited my painting- room at all times, and at all times was welcome.
‘He was below the middle size, with a low forehead, and an eye that had an inward look, perfectly divine, like a Delphian priestess who saw visions…
‘Keats was the only man I ever met with who seemed and looked conscious of a high calling, except Wordsworth.’
Note: There is no illustration to introduce today’s post: (a) the huge (3.96 x 4.57 metre) canvas was very incomplete, as it would take Haydon another four years to finish it, and (b) I have no idea what he would have served at a studio breakfast.
You can see the finished painting at:
Source of quotation
Alexander P D Penrose (ed) The Autobiography and Memoirs of Benjamin Robert Haydon (London: G Bell & Sons 1927) 217, 219
My daintie Davie,
I will be as punctual as the Bee to the Clover — Very glad I am at the thoughts of seeing so soon this glorious Haydon and all his Creation. I pray thee let me know when you go to Ollier’s and where he resides — this I forgot to ask you — and tell me also when you will help me waste a sullen day — God ’ield you —
This would be his first visit to Haydon’s studio, which took place on Sunday 3 November. Keats’s interest in meeting the Ollier brothers shows he was thinking about his first book of Poems which would appear the following May.
To Charles Cowden Clarke (London, October 31, 1816)
On 19 October 1816, Charles Cowden Clarke and Keats walked to the Vale of Health in Hampstead to meet James Leigh Hunt, as well as the manic painter Benjamin Robert Haydon. This is Clarke’s recollection of the meeting:
‘That was a “red-letter day” in the young poet’s life and one which will never fade with me while memory lasts.
‘The character and expression of Keats’s features would arrest even the casual passenger in the street; and now they were wrought to atone of animation that I could not but watch with interest, knowing what was in store for him from the bland encouragement, and Spartan deference in attention, with fascinating conversational eloquence, that he was to encounter and receive. As we approached the Heath, there was the rising and accelerated step, with the gradual subsidence of all talk, The interview, which stretched into three “morning calls,” was the prelude too many after-scenes and saunterings about Caen Wood and its neighbourhood; for Keats was suddenly made a familiar of the household, and was always welcomed.’
Hunt went on to introduce Keats to Charles Lamb, John Scott, Vincent Novello, and Charles and James Ollier (who would shortly publish his first book of Poems).
[Charles and Mary Cowden Clarke Recollections of Writers (1878; Fontwell: Centaur Press 1969) 133]
Leigh Hunt recalled:
We became intimate on the spot, and I found the young poet’s heart as warm as his imagination. We read and walked together, and used to write verses of an evening upon a given subject. No imaginative pleasure was left unnoticed by us, or unenjoyed; from the recollection of the bards and patriots of old, to the luxury of a summer rain at our window, or the clicking of coal in winter-time.
[James Leigh Hunt Lord Byron and some of his Contemporaries (London: Henry Colborn 1828) 409-410]
Around this time Keats resumed writing ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’.
Maker of sweet poets, dear delight
Of this fair world, and all its gentle livers;
Spangler of clouds, halo of crystal rivers,
Mingler with leaves, and dew and tumbling streams,
Closer of lovely eyes to lovely dreams,
Lover of loneliness, and wandering,
Of upcast eye, and tender pondering!
Thee must I praise above all other glories
That smile us on to tell delightful stories.
For what has made the sage or poet write
But the fair paradise of Nature’s light?
In the calm grandeur of a sober line,
We see the waving of the mountain pine;
And when a tale is beautifully staid,
We feel the safety of a hawthorn glade:
When it is moving on luxurious wings,
The soul is lost in pleasant smotherings:
Fair dewy roses brush against our faces,
And flowery laurels spring from diamond vases;
O’er head we see the jasmine and sweet briar,
And bloomy grapes laughing from green attire;
While at our feet, the voice of crystal bubbles
Charms us at once away from all our troubles:
So that we feel uplifted away from the world,
Walking upon the white clouds wreathed and curled…
‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’, lines 116-140.
I stood tiptoe upon a little hill
These are the living pleasures of the bard:
But richer far posterity’s award.
What does he murmur with his latest breath,
While his proud eye looks through the film of death?
‘What though I leave this dull, and earthly mould,
Yet shall my spirit lofty converse hold
With after times. The patriot shall feel
My stern alarum, and unsheathe his steel;
Or, in the senate thunder out my numbers
To startle princes from their easy slumbers…
‘To sweet rest
Shall the dear babe, upon its mother’s breast,
Be lulled with songs of mine. Fair world, adieu!
Thy dales and hills, are fading from my view:
Swiftly I mount, upon wide spreading pinions,
Far from the narrow bounds of thy dominions.
Full joy I feel, while thus I cleave the air,
That my soft verse will charm thy daughters fair,
And warm thy sons!’ Ah, my dear friend and brother,
Could I, at once, my mad ambition smother,
For tasting joys like these, sure I should be
Happier, and dearer to society.
At times, ’tis true, I’ve felt relief from pain
When some bright thought has darted through my brain:
Through all that day I’ve felt a greater pleasure
Than if I’d brought to light a hidden treasure.
As to my sonnets, though none else should heed them,
I feel delighted, still, that you should read them…
Continuation of the verse epistle ‘To my brother George’, lines 67-76; 101-118, written in Margate during August 1816 while Keats is on holiday after qualifying as an apothecary, trying to decide whether to devote his life to medicine or to poetry. Keats dreams of poetic fame.
To My Brother George
Around this time Keats writes two verse epistles. This is opening of the one to George Keats:
To my Brother George
Full many a dreary hour have I passed,
My brain bewildered, and my mind o’ercast
With heaviness; in seasons when I’ve thought
No sphery strains by me could e’er be caught
From the blue dome, though I to dimness gaze
On the far depth where sheeted lightning plays;
Or, on the wavy grass outstretched supinely,
Pry ’mong the stars, to strive to think divinely:
That I should never hear Apollo’s song,
Though feathery clouds were floating all along
The purple west, and, two bright streaks between,
The golden lyre itself were dimly seen:
That the still murmur of the honey bee
Would never teach a rural song to me:
That the bright glance from beauty’s eyelids slanting
Would never make a lay of mine enchanting,
Or warm my breast with ardour to unfold
Some tales of love and arms in time of old.
But there are times, when those that love the bay,
Fly from all sorrowing far, far away;
A sudden glow comes on them, naught they see
In water, earth, or air, but poesy…
‘To my brother George’ lines 1-22, written in Margate August 1816 while Keats is on holiday after qualifying as an apothecary, trying to decide whether to devote his life to medicine or to poetry. Another extract will appear for 19 August.
To My Brother George
Around Thursday 8 August 1816, Keats writes this sonnet to his brother:
To my Brother George
Many the wonders I this day have seen:
The sun, when first he kissed away the tears
That filled the eyes of morn—the laurelled peers
Who from the feathery gold of evening lean—
The ocean with its vastness, its blue green,
Its ships, its rocks, its caves, its hopes, its fears—
Its voice mysterious, which whoso hears
Must think on what will be, and what has been.
E’en now, dear George, while this for you I write,
Cynthia is from her silken curtains peeping
So scantly, that it seems her bridal night,
And she her half-discovered revels keeping.
But what, without the social thought of thee,
Would be the wonders of the sky and sea?
Keats celebrated passing his Apothecary’s Exam (25 July) by taking a holiday in Margate with his younger brother Tom. While he was there Keats wrote several poems in which he considered his future — as doctor or as poet. George Keats was living in London.
To My Brother George
On this day John Keats qualifies as an Apothecary:
” July 25th 1816.
Mr John Keats of full age─ Candidate for
a Certificate to practise as an Apothecary in the Country.
An Apprentice to Mr Thomas Hammond of Edmonton
Apothecary for 5 Years.
Testimonial from Mr Thos Hammond.
2 Courses on Anatomy and Physiology.
2 ——— Theory and Practice of Medicine.
2 ——— Chemistry.
1 ——— Material Medica.
6 Months at Guys’s & St Thomas’s
Examined by Mr Brande & approved.”
From the Register of Apothecaries’ Hall, pictured in Robert Woof & Stephen Hebron John Keats (Grasmere: The Wordsworth Trust, 1995) p 60
John Keats writes this sonnet:
To a Friend who Sent me some Roses
As late I rambled in the happy fields—
What time the skylark shakes the tremulous dew
From his lush covert, when anew
Adventurous knights take up their dinted shields—
I saw the sweetest flower wild nature yields,
A fresh-blown musk-rose; ’twas the first that threw
Its sweets upon the summer: graceful it grew
As is the wand that queen Titania wields.
And, as I feasted on its fragrancy,
I thought the garden-rose it far excelled:
But when, O Wells! thy roses came to me
My sense with their deliciousness was spelled:
Soft voices had they, that with tender plea
Whispered of peace, and truth, and friendliness unquelled.
A sonnet to Charles Wells (1800-1879), a school-friend of Keats’s younger brother Tom. The roses were a peace-offering after some disagreement between Keats and Wells. Two years later, there would be far worse disagreements between them.
The sonnet appeared in Poems, by John Keats (1817).
Photograph by Anne Stringfellow.
Around 21 June 1816 John Keats begins gathering ideas for his longest poem to date, ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’:
A bush of May flowers with the bees about them;
Ah, sure no tasteful nook would be without them;
And let a lush laburnum oversweep them,
And let long grass grow round the roots to keep them
Moist, cool and green; and shade the violets,
That they may bind the moss in leafy nets.
A filbert hedge with wild briar overtwined,
And clumps of woodbine taking the soft wind
Upon their summer thrones; there too should be
The frequent chequer of a youngling tree,
That with a score of light green brethren shoots
From the quaint mossiness of agèd roots:
Round which is heard a spring-head of clear waters
Babbling so wildly of its lovely daughters
The spreading blue-bells—it may haply mourn
That such fair clusters should be rudely torn
From their fresh beds, and scattered thoughtlessly
By infant hands, left on the path to die.
At the time he began this, Keats was living two lives; medical student by day, and poetic groupie by night. His first poem had been published in The Examiner (see 5 May 1816), although he had yet to meet the magazine’s editor James Leigh Hunt. Twelve years later, Hunt recalled that the poem had been suggested ‘by a delightful summer-day, as he [Keats] stood beside the gate that leads from the Battery on Hampstead Heath into a field by Caen Wood.'. Keats chose ‘I stood tip-toe upon a little hill’ to open his first collection Poems, by John Keats in 1817.
 James Leigh Hunt (1828) Lord Byron and Some of his Contemporaries (1976 reprint: New York, Georg Olms Verlag) p. 413. Caen Wood is now known as ‘Kenwood’.