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Memoir Of Keats.

The parents of John Keats were Thomas Keats, and Frances, daughter of Mr. Jennings, who kept a large livery-stable, the Swan and Hoop, in the Pavement, Moorfields, London. Thomas Keats was the principal stableman or assistant in the same business. John, a seven months' child, was born at the Swan and Hoop on 31 October, 1795. Three other children grew up—George, Thomas, and Fanny, John is said to have been violent and ungovernable in early childhood. He was sent to a very well-reputed school, that of the Rev. John Clarke, at Enfield: the son Charles Cowden Clarke, whom I have previously mentioned, was an undermaster, and paid particular attention to Keats. The latter did not show any remarkable talent at school, but learned easily, and was 'a very orderly scholar,' acquiring a fair amount of Latin but no Greek. He was active, pugnacious, and popular among his school-fellows. The father died of a fall from his horse in April, 1804: the mother, after re-marrying, succumbed to consumption in February, 1810. Before the close of the same year John left school, and he was then apprenticed, to a surgeon at Edmonton. In July, 1815, he passed with credit the examination at Apothecaries' Hall.

In 1812 Keats read for the first time Spenser's Faery Queen, and was fascinated with it to a singular degree. This and other poetic reading made him flag in his surgical profession, and finally he dropped it, and for the remainder of his life had no definite occupation save that of writing verse. From his grandparents he inherited a certain moderate sum of money—not more than sufficient to give him a tolerable start in life. He made acquaintance with Leigh Hunt, then editor of the Examiner, John Hunt, the publisher, Charles Wentworth Dilke who became editor of the Athenaeum, the painter Haydon, and others. His first volume of Poems (memorable for little else than the sonnet On Reading Chapman's Homer) was published in 1817. It was followed by Endymion in April, 1818.

In June of the same year Keats set off with his chief intimate, Charles Armitage Brown (a retired Russia merchant who afterwards wrote a book on Shakespeare's Sonnets), on a pedestrian tour in Scotland, which extended into North Ireland as well. In July, in the Isle of Mull, he got a bad sore throat, of which some symptoms had appeared also in earlier years: it may be regarded as the beginning of his fatal malady. He cut short his tour and returned to Hampstead, where he had to nurse his younger brother Tom, a consumptive invalid, who died in December of the same year.

At the house of the Dilkes, in the autumn of 1818, Keats made the acquaintance of Miss Fanny Brawne, the orphan daughter of a gentleman of independent means: he was soon desperately in love with her, having 'a swooning admiration of her beauty:' towards the spring of 1819 they engaged to marry, with the prospect of a long engagement. On the night of 3 February, 1820, on returning to the house at Hampstead which he shared with Mr. Brown, the poet had his first attack, a violent one, of blood-spitting from the lungs. He rallied somewhat, but suffered a dangerous relapse in June, just prior to the publication of his final volume, containing all his best poems—Isabella, Hyperion, the Eve of St. Agnes, Lamia, and the leading Odes. His doctor ordered him off, as a last chance, to Italy; previously to this he had been staying in the house of Mrs. and Miss Brawne, who tended him affectionately. Keats was now exceedingly unhappy. His passionate love, his easily roused feelings of jealousy of Miss Brawne, and of suspicious rancour against even the most amicable and attached of his male intimates, the general indifference and the particular scorn and ridicule with which his poems had been received, his narrow means and uncertain outlook, and the prospect of an early death closing a painful and harassing illness—all preyed upon his mind with unrelenting tenacity. The worst of all was the sense of approaching and probably final separation from Fanny Brawne.

On 18 September, 1820, he left England for Italy, in company with Mr. Joseph Severn, a student of painting in the Royal Academy, who, having won the gold medal, was entitled to spend three years abroad for advancement in his art. They travelled by sea to Naples; reached that city late in October; and towards the middle of November went on to Rome. Here Keats received the most constant and kind attention from Dr. (afterwards Sir James) Clark. But all was of no avail: after continual and severe suffering, devotedly watched by Severn, he expired on 23 February, 1821. He was buried in the old Protestant Cemetery of Rome, under a little altar-tomb sculptured with a Greek lyre. His name was inscribed, along with the epitaph which he himself had composed in the bitterness of his soul, 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water.'

Keats was an undersized man, little more than five feet high. His face was handsome, ardent, and full of expression; the hair rich, brown, and curling; the hazel eyes 'mellow and glowing—large, dark, and sensitive.' He was framed for enjoyment; but with that acuteness of feeling which turned even enjoyment into suffering, and then again extracted a luxury out of melancholy. He had vehemence and generosity, and the frankness which belongs to these qualities, not unmingled, however, with a strong dose of suspicion. Apart from the overmastering love of his closing years, his one ambition was to be a poet. His mind was little concerned either with the severe practicalities of life, or with the abstractions of religious faith.

His poems, consisting of three successive volumes, have been already referred to here. The first volume, the Poems of 1817, is mostly of a juvenile kind, containing only scattered suggestions of rich endowment and eventual excellence. Endymion is lavish and profuse, nervous and languid, the wealth of a prodigal scattered in largesse of baubles and of gems. The last volume—comprising the Hyperion—is the work of a noble poetic artist, powerful and brilliant both in imagination and in expression. Of the writings published since their author's death, the only one of first-rate excellence is the fragmentary Eve of St. Mark. There is also the drama of Otho the Great, written in co-operation with Armitage Brown; and in Keats's letters many admirable thoughts are admirably worded.

As to the relations between Shelley and Keats, I have to refer back to the preceding memoir of Shelley.

Contributed by Rossetti, William Michael


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