On Wednesday 12 January 1820 John Keats and his brother George dined with John Taylor (Keats’s publisher).
On Tuesday 11 January 1820 Keats and his brother attended
“a pianoforte hop” given by his former neighbours Mr & Mrs Charles Dilke. Describing it to his sister-in-law:
“There was very little amusement in the room, but a Scotchman to hate. Some people, you must have observed, have a most unpleasant effect upon you when you see them speaking in profile. This Scotchman is the most accomplished fellow in this way I ever met with. The effect was complete. It went down like a dose of bitters, and I hope will improve my digestion…
George has introduced to us an American of the name of Hart. I like him in a moderate way. He was at Mrs. Dilke’s party — and sitting by me; we began talking about English and American ladies. The Miss Reynolds’ and some of their friends made not a very enticing row opposite us. I bade him mark them and form his judgment of them. I told him I hated Englishmen because they were the only men I knew. He does not understand this.”
[The Miss Reynolds’ = Jane, Marian and possibly Eliza and Charlotte. Keats was on very friendly terms with the family until he fell for Miss Brawne in December 1818.]
On Sunday 9 January 1820 Keats and his brother George dined with Mrs Wylie (George’s mother-in-law). It must have been a challenging time for the brothers: it had been 18 months since they last saw each other. Back then they had both been full of hope — for John’s success as a poet with ‘Endymion’, and George’s success as a pioneer farmer in America. The reality for each of them was very different.
Also dining at Mrs Millar’s (Mrs Wylie’s sister) were Charles Wylie and Lacon (a Milliner of Albermarle Street). Writing to his sister-in-law Georgiana Keats:
“Last Sunday George and I dined at Millar’s There were your mother and Charles with Fool Lacon, Esq., who sent the sly, disinterested shawl to Miss Millar, with his own heathen name engraved in the middle. Charles had a silk handkerchief belonging to a Miss Grover, with whom he pretended to be smitten, and for her sake kept exhibiting and adoring the handkerchief all the evening. Fool Lacon, Esq., treated it with a little venturesome, trembling contumely, whereupon Charles set him quietly down on the floor, from where he as quietly got up. This process was repeated at supper time, when your mother said, “If I were you Mr. Lacon I would not let him do so.” Fool Lacon, Esq., did not offer any remark. He will undoubtedly die in his bed. Your mother did not look quite so well on Sunday. Mrs. Henry Wylie is excessively quiet before people. I hope she is always so.”
On Sunday 8 January 1820 George Keats arrived at Wentworth Place without warning. He had travelled from America to sort out his finances (something which Keats had been unable to do).
Around December 1819, Keats wrote these lines on a blank space in ‘The Cap and Bells, or The Jealousies’ (the poem he was composing at the time):
This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou would wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calm’d—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.
[This could have been Keats practising his dramatic style—or possibly expressing his anguish over Miss Brawne. He would live for another 14 months, but, as his biographer Walter Jackson Bate noted, these were ‘the last serious lines he was ever to write.’]
On Saturday 25 December 1819 Keats and Charles Brown spent Christmas Day in Westminster as guests of Mr and Mrs Charles Wentworth Dilke.
Brown and Dilke seem to have spent much of the day writing fairy tales together. It is not clear how Keats amused himself, but this Christmas must have been very different from that of 1818, when he had just moved into Wentworth Place (as Brown’s lodger and the Dilke’s next-door neighbour), and was invited to spend Christmas Day at Elm Cottage by Mrs Brawne (whose daughter Fanny would later write that it was ‘the happiest day I had ever then spent’).
In April 1819, the Brawnes moved in to what had been the Dilkes’ side of Wentworth Place — but it seems that Keats was not invited to spend Christmas Day with them. Was the relationship between him and Miss Brawne too stormy? Was arranging to spend the day 3½ miles away one of Brown’s attempts to wean Keats from his infatuation?
On Wednesday 22 December 1819 Keats wrote to Fanny Keats: ‘I promised to see you before Christmas day. I am sorry to say I have been and continue rather unwell, and therefore shall not be able to promise certainly.’
[His last visit had been on 18 November. He didn’t get to see her before Christmas — or ever again. Six weeks after he wrote this his sore throat worsened, with the first episode of coughing blood marking the start of his fatal illness.]
On 20 December 1819 Keats wrote to his sister:
My dear Fanny—
When I saw you last, you ask’d me whether you should see me again before Christmas. You would have seen me if I had been quite well. I have not, though not unwell enough to have prevented me—not indeed at all—but fearful lest the weather should affect my throat which on exertion or cold continually threatens me.—By the advice of my Doctor I have had a warm great Coat made and have ordered some thick shoes—so furnish’d I shall be with you if it holds a little fine before Christmas day.
I have been very busy since I saw you, especially the last Week, and shall be for some time, in preparing some Poems to come out in the Spring, and also in brightening the interest of our Tragedy.—Of the Tragedy I can give you but news semigood. It is accepted at Drury Lane with a promise of coming out next season: as that will be too long a delay we have determined to get Elliston to bring it out this Season or to transfer it to Covent Garden. This Elliston will not like, as we have every motive to believe that Kean has perceived how suitable the principal Character will be for him. My hopes of success in the literary world are now better than ever.
Mr. Abbey, on my calling on him lately, appeared anxious that I should apply myself to something else—He mentioned Tea Brokerage. I supposed he might perhaps mean to give me the Brokerage of his concern which might be executed with little trouble and a good profit; and therefore said I should have no objection to it, especially as at the same time it occurred to me that I might make over the business to George—I questioned him about it a few days after. His mind takes odd turns. When I became a Suitor he became coy. He did not seem so much inclined to serve me. He described what I should have to do in the progress of business. It will not suit me. I have given it up…
I received a note from Mrs. Dilke a few days ago inviting me to dine with her on Xmas day which I shall do. Mr. Brown and I go on in our old dog trot of Breakfast, dinner (not tea, for we have left that off), supper, Sleep, Confab, stirring the fire and reading… On Tuesday I am going to hear some Schoolboys Speechify on breaking up day…
This moment Bentley brought a Letter from George for me to deliver to Mrs. Wylie—I shall see her and it before I see you. The Direction was in his best hand written with a good Pen and sealed with a Tassie’s Shakspeare such as I gave you—We judge of people’s hearts by their Counten-ances; may we not judge of Letters in the same way?—if so, the Letter does not contain unpleasant news—Good or bad spirits have an effect on the handwriting… This is close muggy weather as they say at the Ale houses.
In late November 1819 Charles Brown encouraged Keats to write a satirical poem in the style of Byron, ‘The Cap and Bells, or The Jealousies’, which would lampoon the Prince Regent’s flagrant love life and notoriously unhappy marriage. Here are the opening stanzas:
In midmost Ind, beside Hydaspes cool,
There stood, or hover’d, tremulous in the air,
A faery city ’neath the potent rule
Of Emperor Elfinan; fam’d ev’rywhere
For love of mortal women, maidens fair,
Whose lips were solid, whose soft hands were made
Of a fit mould and beauty, ripe and rare,
To pamper his slight wooing, warm yet staid:
He lov’d girls smooth as shades, but hated a mere shade.
This was a crime forbidden by the law;
And all the priesthood of his city wept,
For ruin and dismay they well foresaw
If impious prince no bound or limit kept,
And faery Zendervester overstept;
They wept, he sinn’d, and still he would sin on,
They dreamt of sin, and he sinn’d while they slept;
In vain the pulpit thunder’d at the throne,
Caricature was vain, and vain the tart lampoon.
Which seeing, his high court of parliament
Laid a remonstrance at his Highness’ feet,
Praying his royal senses to content
Themselves with what in faery land was sweet,
Befitting best that shade with shade should meet:
Whereat, to calm their fears, he promis’d soon
From mortal tempters all to make retreat,—
Aye, even on the first of the new moon
An immaterial wife to espouse as heaven’s boon.
[Hydaspes: thought to refer to the River Ganges.
Elfinan: one of the Lords of Fairy in Spenser’s Faerie Queene.
Zendervester: the Zend-Avesta is the sacred book of Zoroastrianism.]
On Thursday 18 November 1819, Keats met his sister (16) at the office of her Guardian Richard Abbey, in Pancras Lane. Although Keats lived for another 15 months, this would be the last time they would ever see each other.