200 years ago Keats was troubled by his attitude towards women

On Saturday 18 July 1818 Keats was at Inverary, where he wrote to Benjamin Bailey:
“I am certain I have not a right feeling towards women — at this moment, I am striving to be just to them, but I cannot — Is it because they fall so far beneath my boyish Imagination? When I was a schoolboy I thought a fair woman a pure Goddess; my mind was a soft nest in which some one of them slept, though she knew it not. I have no right to expect more than their reality — I thought them ethereal above men — I find them perhaps equal — great by comparison is very small.”

200 years ago Keats wrote a sonnet in Burns’s cottage

On Saturday 11 July 1818 Keats and Brown had breakfast at Kirkoswald, then visited the remains of Crossraguel Abbey and Baltersan Castle. They spent the night at Ayr, where Keats wrote a sonnet in Burns’s cottage.


“One song of Burns’s is of more worth to you than all I could think for a whole year in his native country. His Misery is a dead weight upon the nimbleness of one’s quill — I tried to forget it — to drink Toddy without any Care — to write a merry sonnet — it won’t do — he talked with Bitches — he drank with Blackguards, he was miserable — We can see horribly clear, in the works of such a Man his whole life, as if we were God’s spies.”

This mortal body of a thousand days
Now fills, O Burns, a space in thine own room,
Where thou didst dream alone on budded bays,
Happy and thoughtless of thy day of doom!
My pulse is warm with thine own barley-bree,
My head is light with pledging a great soul,
My eyes are wandering, and I cannot see,
Fancy is dead and drunken at its goal:
Yet can I stamp my foot upon thy floor,
Yet can I ope thy window-sash to find
The meadow thou hast tramped o’er and o’er,
Yet can I think of thee till thought is blind,
Yet can I gulp a bumper to thy name —
O smile among the shades, for this is fame!

[A thousand days takes us back to 7 April 1815, which was around the time it’s believed that Keats wrote ‘O Solitude, if I must with thee dwell’ – which would be his first published poem.]
[photo: https://media-cdn.tripadvisor.com/media/photo-s/08/09/67/10/burns-cottage.jpg]

200 years ago Keats was in Dumfries & Galloway

On Saturday 5 July 1818 Keats wrote to his brother Tom:
“the country is very rich, very fine, and with a little of Devon. I am now writing at Newton Stewart, six miles into Wigtown. Our landlady of yesterday said very few southerners passed hereaways. The children jabber away, as if in a foreign language; the bare-footed girls look very much in keeping, I mean with the scenery about them. Brown praises their cleanliness and appearance of comfort, the neatness of their cottages, etc. — it may be — they are very squat among trees and fern and heath and broom, on levels slopes and heights — but I wish they were as snug as those up the Devonshire valleys.”

Image: Newton Stewart: Visitscotland.com




The Bicentenary Keats Diary 2018-2019 lets you plan and record your days alongside what Keats was doing 200 years earlier. It is available now at Keats House, Hampstead, London NW3 2RR. Price £15.

200 years ago Keats wrote a sonnet in praise of Edmund Spenser

On Thursday 5 February 1818, Keats wrote to his publisher John Taylor ‘I have finish’d coppying my Second Book [of Endymion] but I want it for one day to overlook it.’

He also wrote a sonnet praising Edmund Spenser, who was one of his literary heroes at the time.

Spenser! a jealous honourer of thine,
A forester deep in thy midmost trees,
Did last eve ask my promise to refine
Some English that might strive thine ear to please.
But, Elfin Poet, ’tis impossible
For an inhabitant of wintry earth
To rise like Phoebus with a golden quell,
Fire-winged, and make a morning in his mirth.
It is impossible to escape from toil
O’ the sudden and receive thy spiriting:
The flower must drink the nature of the soil
Before it can put forth its blossoming.
Be with me in the summer days and I
Will for thine honour and his pleasure try.

Christmas Eve 200 years ago (Wednesday 24 December 1817)

Keats’s brothers George and Tom were away in Teignmouth, so Mr and Mrs George Reynolds invited him to spend Christmas Eve with them at 19 Lambs Conduit Street. Keats spent the evening with them and his good friends Jane, Mariane, Eliza, Charlotte, the fellow-poet John Hamilton Reynolds — and their cat (to whom Keats would dedicate a sonnet the following month).

The family’s generous hospitality must have added to the slight they felt the following year when Keats had accepted their invitation for Christmas Day, but then turned them down after receiving a more enticing offer from Mrs Brawne to spend the day with her — and her daughter (Fanny Brawne).

200 years ago: Keats’s review of Edmund Kean’s return to the stage

“Kean! Kean! Have a carefulness of thy health, an in-nursed respect for thy own genius, a pity for us in these cold and enfeebling times! Cheer us a little in the failure of our days! For romance lives but in books. The goblin is driven from the heath, and the rainbow is robbed of its mystery!”

John Keats: part of a review published in The Champion 21 December 1817

200 years ago Keats saw Benjamin West’s painting ‘Death on a Pale Horse’

On Saturday 20 December 1817 Keats saw Benjamin West’s painting ‘Death on a Pale Horse’ (‘It is a wonderful picture, when West’s age is considered; But there is nothing to be intense upon; no women one feels mad to kiss, no face swelling into reality’ — letter to George and Tom Keats 21 December 1817).

The radical pamphleteer William Hone (who had attacked the government in parodies of the Catechism, the Creed and the Litany) was acquitted in a blasphemy trial. To celebrate, Keats wrote the sonnet ‘Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream’.

Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream

Before he went to live with owls and bats
Nebuchadnezzar had an ugly dream,
Worse than a housewife’s when she thinks her cream
Made a naumachia for mice and rats.
So scared, he sent for that ‘Good King of Cats’,
Young Daniel, who straightway did pluck the beam
From out his eye, and said, ‘I do not deem
Your sceptre worth a straw—your cushion old door-mats.’
A horrid nightmare similar somewhat
Of late has haunted a most valiant crew
Of loggerheads and chapmen—we are told
That any Daniel though he be a sot
Can make their lying lips turn pale of hue
By drawling out, ‘Ye are that head of Gold.’

[Naumachia is a mock sea-fight.]

200 years ago, Keats and the actor Edmund Kean

On Wednesday 17 December 1817, Keats ‘dined … with Horace Smith, and met his two brothers … They only served to convince me how superior humour is to wit, in respect to enjoyment. These men say things which make one start, without making one feel; they are all alike; their manners are alike; they all know fashionables; they have a mannerism in their very eating and drinking, in their mere handling a decanter. They talked of Kean and his low company. “Would I were with that Company instead of yours,” said I to myself!’
[John Keats: Part of a letter to George and Tom Keats 21 (?) December 1817.]

On Thursday 18 December 1817, Keats saw Edmund Kean play Luke in Sir James Bland Burges’s play ‘Riches: Or, The Wife and Brother. A Comedy’.

200 years ago, Keats saw Edmund Kean playing Richard III

On Monday 15 December 1817, Keats saw Edmund Kean perform as Richard III at Drury Lane, which he reviewed for The Champion:


“Mr. Kean

“‘In our unimaginative days,’ — Habeas Corpus’d as we are, out of all wonder, uncertainty and fear; — in these fireside, delicate, gilded days, — these days of sickly safety and comfort, we feel very grateful to Mr Kean for giving us some excitement by his old passion in one of the old plays. He is a relict of romance; — a Posthumous ray of chivalry, and always seems just arrived from the camp of Charlemagne. In Richard he is his sword’s dear cousin; in Hamlet his footing is germain to the platform. In Macbeth his eye laughs siege to scorn; in Othello he is welcome to Cyprus. In Timon he is of the palace — of Athens — of the woods, and is worthy to sleep in a grave ‘which once a day with its embossed froth, the turbulent surge doth cover.’ For all these was he greeted with enthusiasm on his re-appearance in Richard; for all these, his sickness will ever be a public misfortune. His return was full of power. He is not the man to ‘bate a jot.’ On Thursday evening, he acted Luke in Riches, as far as the stage will admit, to perfection. In the hypocritical self-possession, in the caution, and afterwards the pride, cruelty and avarice, Luke appears to us a man incapable of imagining to the extreme heinousness of crimes. To him, they are mere magic-lantern horrors. He is at no trouble to deaden his conscience…

“Kean! Kean! Have a carefulness of thy health, an in-nursed respect for thy own genius, a pity for us in these cold and enfeebling times! Cheer us a little in the failure of our days! For romance lives but in books. The goblin is driven from the heath, and the rainbow is robbed of its mystery!”

John Keats: extracts from a review published in The Champion 21 December 1817 (he told his brothers ‘I undertook the “Champion” [review] for Reynolds, who is at Exeter’). Edmund Kean had been absent from the stage for several weeks because of illness. Habeas Corpus had been suspended since February 1817.