200 years ago Keats dined with Wordsworth

On Monday 5 January 1818 Keats wrote to his brothers:
“This day I promised to dine with Wordsworth, and the Weather is so bad that I am undecided for he lives at Mortimer Street. I had an invitation to meet him at Kingstons’s — but not liking that place I sent my excuse — What I am thinking of doing to day is to dine in Mortimer Street (Wordsth) and sup here in Feathersne Buildg as Mr Wells has invited me. On Saturday I called on Wordsworth before he went to Kingston’s and was surprised to find him with a stiff collar. I saw his Spouse and I think his Daughter.”

We know that he carried out his plan: on 10 January 1818 he wrote to his publisher John Taylor:
“I have seen Wordsworth frequently — dined with him last Monday.”

200 years ago Keats was ‘witty and full of Rhyme’

On Sunday 4 January 1818, Charles Wells and Joseph Severn dined with Keats.
“We had a very pleasant day. I pitched upon another bottle of claret — Port — we enjoyed ourselves very much were all very witty and full of Rhyme — we played a Concert from 4 o’clock till 10.”

Charles Wells was a school-friend of Keats’s brother Tom (who would later torment Tom by sending fake love-letters  purporting to be from ‘Amena’).
Joseph Severn would be Keats’s final companion in Rome in 1821.
The ‘Concert’ was one in which each of the inebriated guests imitated an instrument of the orchestra. Keats usually took the bassoon part. It was almost certainly more fun for those taking part than for anyone who had to hear it.

200 years ago, Keats attended Haydon’s ‘Immortal Dinner’

On Sunday 28 December 1817, Keats attended The ‘Immortal Dinner’ given by the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon in his studio. Wordsworth was guest of honour. They drank a toast ‘Newton’s health, and confusion to mathematics.’

Keats described the evening to his brothers:
“there was Wordsworth, Lamb, Monkhouse, Landseer, Kingston and your humble servant. Lamb got tipsy and blew up Kingston — proceeding so far as to take the candle across the room, hold it to his face, and show us what a soft fellow he was. I astonished Kingston at supper with a pertinacity in favour of drinking, keeping my two glasses at work in a knowing way.”

John Keats: parts of a letter to George and Tom Keats, Monday 5 January 1818.
John Kingston was ‘Comptroller of Stamps’ in the tax office, and effectively Wordsworth’s line-manager in his duties as ‘Distributor of Stamps’ (= tax-collector) for Westmoreland.
Thomas Monkhouse (1783-1825) a merchant, was a cousin of Mrs Wordsworth.
John Landseer (1768-1832) was a painter.

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.