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.

200 years ago Keats explained where there is no Ode to Darkness

On 8 March 1819 Keats wrote to his friend Haydon:
I have come to this resolution—never to write for the sake of writing or making a poem, but from running over with any little knowledge or experience which many years of reflection may perhaps give me; otherwise I will be dumb. What Imagination I have I shall enjoy, and greatly, for I have experienced the satisfaction of having great conceptions without the trouble of sonnetteering. I will not spoil my love of gloom by writing an Ode to Darkness; and with respect to my livelihood, I will not write for it,—for I will not mix with that most vulgar of all crowds, the literary.

200 years ago Keats described the forerunner to the bicycle

The nothing of the day is a machine called the velocipede. It is a wheel carriage to ride cock-horse upon, sitting astride and pushing it along with the toes, a rudder-wheel in hand—they will go seven miles an hour. A handsome gelding will come to eight guineas; however they will soon be cheaper, unless the army takes to them.

I look back upon the last month, and find nothing to write about; indeed, I do not recollect any thing particular in it. It’s all alike; we keep on breathing. The only amusement is a little scandal, of however fine a shape, a laugh at a pun—and then after all we wonder how we could enjoy the scandal or laugh at the pun.

I have been at different times turning it in my head whether I should go to Edinburgh and study for a physician; I am afraid I should not take kindly to it; I am sure I could not take fees—and yet I should like to do so; it’s not worse than writing poems, and hanging them up to be fly-blown on the Review shambles.

[Professor Richard Marggraf-Turley demonstrates the technique of riding a velocipede at Keats House.]

200 years ago Keats offered words of advice for his young sister

On 27 February 1819 Keats wrote to his sister with tips for coping with the prison-like existence she had with her Guardian Richard Abbey and his family:

“My dear Fanny…
You must pay no attention to Mrs. Abbey’s unfeeling and ignorant gabble. You can’t stop an old woman’s crying more than you can a Child’s. The old woman is the greatest nuisance because she is too old for the rod. Many people live opposite a Blacksmith’s till they cannot hear the hammer. I have been in Town for two or three days and came back last night. I have been a little concerned at not hearing from George—I continue in daily expectation. Keep on reading and play as much on the music and the grassplot as you can. I should like to take possession of those Grassplots for a Month or so; and send Mrs. A. to Town to count coffee berries instead of currant Bunches, for I want you to teach me a few common dancing steps… You did not say a word about your Chilblains. Write me directly and let me know about them—Your Letter shall be answered like an echo.
Your affectionate Brother
John ——”
[the music = the piano]