200 years ago (14 December 1816) Keats had his Life Mask made

life-mask-webImage: National Portrait Gallery Shop A replica of Keats’s life mask.

On Saturday 14 December 1816, the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon made a life mask of Keats (so he could include him as one of the onlookers in his massive painting Christ’s Entry into Jerusalem). Fellow-poet John Hamilton Reynolds watched the procedure: Keats’s face was greased with fat, straws were put up his nose so he could breathe, and his hair was bandaged. Then he lay on his back and Haydon daubed his face with plaster of Paris, which was left to set for ten minutes or so. Before the invention of photography, this was the only way to get an exact likeness of someone’s face.

It was a busy time for Keats. Three days earlier, he had met Shelley at Leigh Hunt’s. In his autobiography. Hunt wrote:
“I had not known the young poet long, when Shelley and he became acquainted under my roof. Keats did not take to Shelley as kindly as Shelley did to him. Shelley’s only thoughts of his new acquaintance were such as regarded his bad health, with which he sympathized, and his poetry, of which he has left such a monument of his admiration in Adonais. Keats, being a little too sensitive on the score of his origin, felt inclined to see in every man of birth a sort of natural enemy.”

Source of quotation
https://archive.org/stream/leighhuntautobio00hunt/leighhuntautobio00hunt_djvu.txt    (Chapter xvi)


200 years ago (early December 1816), Keats wrote about a late-night winter walk

leafless-night200 years ago Keats composed this sonnet after one of his evening visits to Leigh Hunt (when he’d finished work at St Thomas’s Hospital he would often walk the six miles from Cheapside to Hampstead, for evenings of poetical talk).

Keen, fitful gusts are whispering here and there
Among the bushes half leafless, and dry;
The stars look very cold about the sky,
And I have many miles on foot to fare.
Yet feel I little of the cool bleak air,
Or of the dead leaves rustling drearily,
Or of those silver lamps that burn on high,
Or of the distance from home’s pleasant lair:
For I am brimful of the friendliness
That in a little cottage I have found;
Of fair-haired Milton’s eloquent distress,
And all his love for gentle Lycid drowned;
Of lovely Laura in her light green dress,
And faithful Petrarch gloriously crowned.


Keen, fitful gusts are whisp’ring here and there

200 years ago (1 December 1816) Leigh Hunt launched Keats’s career as a poet

keatsLeigh Hunt launches Keats’s poetic career with this article in The Examiner:

No. 466. SUNDAY, DEC. 1, 1816.

The object of the present article is merely to notice three young writers, who appear to us to promise a considerable addition of strength in the new school…

The last of these young aspirants whom we have met with, and who promise to help the new school to revive Nature and
“To put a spirit of youth in every thing,”—
is, we believe, the youngest of them all, and just of age. His name is John Keats. he has not yet published any thing except in a newspaper; but a set of his manuscripts was handed us the other day, and fairly surprised us with the truth of their ambition, and ardent grappling with Nature. In the following Sonnet there is one incorrect rhyme, which might be easily altered, but which shall serve in the mean time as a peace-offering to the rhyming critics. The rest of the composition, with the exception of a little vagueness in calling the regions of poetry “the realms of gold,” we do not hesitate to pronounce excellent, especially the last six lines. The word swims is complete; and the whole conclusion is equally powerful and quiet:,—

Much have I travel’d in the realms of Gold,
And many goodly States and Kingdoms seen;
Round many western Islands have I been,
Which Bards in fealty to Apollo hold;
But of one wide expanse had I been told,
That deep-brow’d Homer rul’d as his demesne;
Yet could I never judge what men could mean,
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold.
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies,
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like a stout Cortez, when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific,—and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise,—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
Oct. 1816. John Keats.

One of Keats’s fellow students at Guys, Henry Stephens, recalled:
I remember his showing me the Examiner in which was an article under the title `the Rising Poets’ or `the Young Poets’ or some such title, in which the names of several were inserted with a brief sketch of them and a specimen of their poetry, and the name of John Keats appeared among them, with that of Shelley.
This sealed his fate, and he gave himself up more completely than before to Poetry.

Source <of context>
Letter from Henry Stephens to George Felton Mathew, March (?) 1847, in Rollins, H. R. (ed.) Letters and papers of the Keats Circle (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press 1948) II, 208-211

Source <of Examiner article>

200 years ago this month, Keats began his first long poem


Around this time in November 1816, Keats began writing ‘Sleep and Poetry’.

O Poesy! for thee I grasp my pen
That am not yet a glorious denizen
Of thy wide heaven; yet, to my ardent prayer,
Yield from thy sanctuary some clear air,
Smoothed for intoxication by the breath
Of flowering bays, that I may die a death
Of luxury, and my young spirit follow
The morning sunbeams to the great Apollo
Like a fresh sacrifice…

O for ten years, that I may overwhelm
Myself in poesy; so I may do the deed
That my own soul has to itself decreed…

And they shall be accounted poet-kings
Who simply tell the most heart-easing things.
O may these joys be ripe before I die…

Will not some say that I presumptuously
Have spoken? that from the hastening disgrace
Twere better far to hide my foolish face?
That whining boyhood should with reverence bow
Ere the dread thunderbolt could reach?  How!
If I do hide myself, it sure shall be
In the very fane, the light of Poesy:
If I do fall, at least I will be laid
Beneath the silence of a poplar shade;
And over me the grass shall be smooth-shaven;
And there shall be a kind memorial graven…

Charles Cowden Clarke recalled:
It was in the library at Hunt’s cottage, where an extemporary bed had been made up for him on the sofa, that he composed the frame-work and many lines of the poem on Sleep and Poetry — the last sixty or seventy being an inventory of the art garniture of the room, commencing,—
It was a poet’s house who keeps the keys
Of Pleasure’s temple.

Source <of context>

Source <of poem>
‘Sleep and Poetry’ lines 47-61, 96-98, 267-280

Sleep and Poetry

200 years ago, Keats wrote to the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon

On 20 November 1816, Keats wrote to Benjamin Robert Haydon, with the first draft of a sonnet:

My dear Sir—
Last evening wrought me up, and I cannot forbear sending you the following —
Your’s unfeignedly John Keats.

Great spirits now on earth are sojourning;
He of the cloud, the cataract, the lake,
Who on Helvellyn’s summit, wide awake
Catches his freshness from Archangel’s wing:
He of the rose, the violet, the spring,
The social smile, the chain for Freedom’s sake:
And lo! — whose stedfastness would never take
A meaner sound than Raphael’s whispering.
And other spirits there are standing apart
Upon the forehead of the age to come;
These, these will give the world another heart,
And other pulses. Hear ye not the hum
Of mighty workings in the human mart?
Listen awhile ye nations, and be dumb.

Removed to 76 Cheapside.

After an evening of intense and manic discussion and encouragement at Haydon’s studio in Great Marlborough Street, Keats was inspired to write this sonnet praising three Great Spirits of the age (Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt and Haydon). Haydon replied the same day, promising to send the sonnet to Wordsworth, and suggesting that the last four words of line 13 be cut. Keats replied straight away.

Thursday Afternoon, November 20, 1816.
My dear Sir
Your letter has filled me with a proud pleasure, and shall be kept by me as a stimulus to exertion — I begin to fix my eye upon one horizon. My feelings entirely fall in with yours in regard to the Ellipsis, and I glory in it. The Idea of your sending it to Wordsworth put me out of breath — you know with what Reverence I would send my Well-wishes to him.
Yours sincerely
John Keats.


To Benjamin Robert Haydon (London, November 20, 1816)

200 years ago, Keats writes a poem on his brother’s birthday

Flames courtesy of Jon and Clare Penny
Flames courtesy of Jon and Clare Penny

Keats celebrates his brother Tom’s 17th birthday on 18 November 1816. The three brothers (John, George and Tom) are now sharing a second-floor apartment at 76 Cheapside.

To my Brothers

Small, busy flames play through the fresh laid coals,
And their faint cracklings o’er our silence creep
Like whispers of the household gods that keep
A gentle empire o’er fraternal souls.
And while, for rhymes, I search around the poles,
Your eyes are fix’d, as in poetic sleep,
Upon the lore so voluble and deep,
That aye at fall of night our care condoles.
This is your birth-day Tom, and I rejoice
That thus it passes smoothly, quietly.
Many such eves of gently whisp’ring noise
May we together pass, and calmly try
What are this world’s true joys,—ere the great voice,
From its fair face, shall bid our spirits fly.


To My Brothers

200 years ago today Keats had breakfast with the painter Benjamin Haydon

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

200 years ago, on his 21st birthday, Keats wrote to Charles Cowden Clarke


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 —
J— K—

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)

200 years ago, Keats met his hero Leigh Hunt

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]

John Keats writes 200 years ago, around Sunday 26 August 1816


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