Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

  • 1794: Keats’s parents marry, Oct
  • 1795: Keats born, Finsbury, 31 Oct, Swan and Hoop Livery Stables, 24 Moorfields Pavement Row, London
  • 1797: brother George born, 28 Feb
  • 1799: brother Tom born, 18 Nov
  • 1801: brother Edward born, 28 April (dies Dec 1802)
  • 1802: maternal grandparents retire, Keats’s father takes over their business
  • 1803: sister Fanny born, 3 June; with George, boards at school in Enfield, run by Rev. John Clarke; does well at school, winning some prizes (he leaves Clarke’s academy 1811)
  • 1804: father (age 30) dies in midnight riding accident, 16 April; mother hastily remarries, 27 June; children live with maternal grandparents
  • 1805: maternal grandfather dies, leaving considerable funds; children move to Edmonton with maternal grandmother
  • 1809: mother ill, Keats devoted to her care
  • 1810: mother dies of tuberculosis, March; guardians Abbey and Sandall appointed for the Keats children, July (Sandall passes away 1816)
  • 1811: leaves Clarke’s Enfield school; works on prose translation of Virgil’s The Aeneid; takes up apothecary apprenticeship, Edmonton, with Thomas Hammond
  • 1813-1815: trains as surgeon at Guy’s and St. Thomas’
  • 1814: first evidence of Keats writing poetry, perhaps spurred by reading Spencer with Charles Cowden Clarke (son of Rev. John Clarke); notable poems: Imitation of Spenser and On Peace; poem: Keats writes poem expressing his feeling, As from the darkening gloom a silver dove; poem: To Lord Byron; death of maternal grandmother, December
  • 1815: begins to write more poetry; poem: Written on the Day That Mr. Hunt Left Prison.; February; poem: Ode to Apollo; buys Wordsworth’s 2-volume collection of poems; registers to become student at Guy’s Hospital, October; as medical student, lives St. Thomas’s Street, London, October; begins to write poetry about wanting to write enduring poetry

December 1802: Solidly Middle Class & Dispelling the Myth of Keats

Swan and Hoop, 24 Moorfields Pavement Row, London

Click the map to see a larger version.
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Click the map to see a larger version.

Keats’s family moves to the Swan and Hoop, where Keats’s father, Thomas, initially pays rent to his father-in-law, and will take over property taxes the following year. Thomas, in taking over the business, subsequently establishes Keat’s [or Keates’s] Livery Stables, Pavement, Moorfields. From all accounts, the fairly large business is successful. Keats’s maternal grandparents now retire from the business and move to Ponders End, Middlesex.

Importantly, family money that eventually comes down to Keats and his siblings after the death of his parents (his father in 1804; his mother in 1810) and his maternal grandparents (John Jennings in 1805; Alice Jennings in 1814) is significant enough that Keats will not have to work in order to support his poetic ambitions, which fully declare themselves over 1815-1816, just as he is completes about five years of medical training. However, his primary guardian and estate trustee, Richard Abbey (the other guardian dies in 1816), at times seems to keep Keats and his siblings in the dark about family money, and it appears Abbey might not be aware of further funds available to Keats via his grandfather (not known about until after Keats dies). Keats constantly (and sometimes agonizingly) has to meet and deal with Abbey in order to get haphazard installments (later there were also chancery issues with the estate), based on credit from his legacy (this seems to run dry about mid-1819).

That Abbey greatly disapproves of Keats’s decision to be a poet probably does not help Keats in his dealings with the practical, business-driven Abbey, whose main employment is in tea sales—and this seems to prompt Abbey to protect Keats’s younger sister, Fanny, from Keats’s sphere of influence, which comes to frustrate Keats in his final years. Keats’s brothers, George and then Tom, both have stints working for Abbey.

Ponders End, Edmonton, and Enfield
Ponders End, Edmonton, and Enfield

The somewhat popular idea that Keats is from the lower or disadvantaged classes is a nice thought, but far from the truth. With his family’s status and money, his excellent education at Enfield (Clarke’s academy), his training in the medical profession, and with the remarkable set of people he easefully associates with through Charles Cowden Clarke, and later through poet and celebrity journalist Leigh Hunt after October 1816, Keats is solidly middle class. This does not stop some conservative critics from severely looking down their Tory noses at young Keats when his poetry comes before the public, but this cultural and political pegging of Keats mainly comes from his immediate association with Hunt’s liberal-reformist camp and Hunt’s highly visible public politics, mainly trumpeted via Hunt’s paper, The Examiner.

The other Keatsian myth to be dispelled revolves around the idea of Romantic poet as a self-secluded, sky-gazing, fauna-fawning figure. In fact, the story of Keats’s poetic progress (as reflected in this site) is largely determined by Keats being extraordinarily social during the three or so years leading to his great poetry of 1819—Keats meets and interacts with a remarkable range of poets, artists, playwrights, writers, scholars, critics, journalists, and publishers, and learns much from them. Going to the theatre, exhibitions, and lectures mix with almost non-stop wining, dining, dancing, card-playing, and just hanging out with his London pals and associates. He also associates with solicitors, business people, and civil servants. Part of Keats’s intriguing personality is that he is socially at ease (in seeking others and in being sought out), though of course there are moments when he also craves being alone in order to reflect, read, and write.

Finally, the other myth to put aside is the idea that Keats’s extraordinary poetic talents are mainly an inexplicable gift from the muses or the result of overflowing, organic genius. Often overlooked is how hard Keats studies literature (and at times art, philosophy, and criticism). He does so very deliberately in order to come to close and mainly original critical insights on how, for example, Milton uses description, Shakespeare uses character, Wordsworth uses subjectivity to explore philosophical depth; he even arrives at ideas about what is wrong with the major sonnet forms. In short, we come to a simplified equation: milieu + innate talent + opportunity + hard work = Keats’s progress. What may, at bottom, be more inexplicable is Keats’s oft-expressed desire to pursue the principle of beauty (though its too easy to say that everything is cultured). What Keats actually perceives and feels is not completely rare, but his persistent desire to explore and represent this pursuit is—and so is his actual poetic execution of this desire in his matured work.

🗙

Imitation of Spenser

  • Now Morning from her orient chamber came,
  • And her first footsteps touch’d a verdant hill;
  • Crowning its lawny crest with amber flame,
  • Silv’ring the untainted gushes of its rill;
  • Which, pure from mossy beds, did down distill,
  • And after parting beds of simple flowers,
  • By many streams a little lake did fill,
  • Which round its marge reflected woven bowers,
  • And, in its middle space, a sky that never lowers.
  • There the king-fisher saw his plumage bright
  • Vieing with fish of brilliant dye below;
  • Whose silken fins, and golden scales light
  • Cast upward, through the waves, a ruby glow:
  • There saw the swan his neck of arched snow,
  • And oar’d himself along with majesty;
  • Sparkled his jetty eyes; his feet did show
  • Beneath the waves like Afric’s ebony,
  • And on his back a fay reclined voluptuously.
  • Ah! could I tell the wonders of an isle
  • That in that fairest lake had placed been,
  • I could e’en Dido of her grief beguile;
  • Or rob from aged Lear his bitter teen:
  • For sure so fair a place was never seen,
  • Of all that ever charm’d romantic eye:
  • It seem’d an emerald in the silver sheen
  • Of the bright waters; or as when on high,
  • Through clouds of fleecy white, laughs the coerulean sky.
  • And all around it dipp’d luxuriously
  • Slopings of verdure through the glassy tide,
  • Which, as it were in gentle amity,
  • Rippled delighted up the flowery side;
  • As if to glean the ruddy tears, it tried,
  • Which fell profusely from the rose-tree stem!
  • Haply it was the workings of its pride,
  • In strife to throw upon the shore a gem
  • Outvieing all the buds in Flora’s diadem.
🗙

On Peace

  • O Peace! and dost thou with thy presence bless
  • The dwellings of this war-surrounded isle;
  • Soothing with placid brow our late distress,
  • Making the triple kingdom brightly smile?
  • Joyful I hail thy presence; and I hail
  • The sweet companions that await on thee;
  • Complete my joy — let not my first wish fail,
  • Let the sweet mountain nymph thy favourite be,
  • With England’s happiness proclaim Europa’s liberty.
  • O Europe! let not sceptred tyrants see
  • That thou must shelter in thy former state;
  • Keep thy chains burst, and boldly say thou art free;
  • Give thy kings law — leave not uncurbed the great;
  • So with the horrors past thou’lt win thy happier fate!
🗙

As from the darkening gloom a silver dove

  • As from the darkening gloom a silver dove
  • Upsoars, and darts into the eastern light,
  • On pinions that nought moves but pure delight;
  • So fled thy soul into the realms above,
  • Regions of peace and everlasting love;
  • Where happy spirits, crown’d with circlets bright
  • Of starry beam, and gloriously bedight,
  • Taste the high joy none but the blest can prove.
  • There thou or joinest the immortal quire
  • In melodies that even heaven fair
  • Fill with superior bliss, or, at desire
  • Of the omnipotent Father, cleavest the air,
  • On holy message sent. — What pleasures higher?
  • Wherefore does any grief our joy impair?
🗙

To Lord Byron

  • Byron, how sweetly sad thy melody!
  • Attuning still the soul to tenderness,
  • As if soft Pity, with unusual stress
  • Had touch’d her plaintive lute; and thou, being by,
  • Hadst caught the tones, nor suffer’d them to die.
  • O’ershading sorrow doth not make thee less
  • Delightful: thou thy griefs dost dress
  • With a bright halo, shining beamily;
  • As when a cloud the golden moon doth veil,
  • Its sides are ting’d with a resplendent glow,
  • Through the dark robe oft amber rays prevail,
  • And like fair veins in sable marble flow.
  • Still warble, dying swan, —still tell the tale,
  • The enchanting tale —the tale of pleasing woe.
🗙

Written on the Day That Mr. Leigh Hunt Left Prison

  • What though, for showing truth to flatter’d state,
  • Kind Hunt was shut in prison, yet has he,
  • In his immortal spirit, been as free
  • As the sky-searching lark, and as elate.
  • Minion of grandeur! think you he did wait?
  • Think you he nought but prison walls did see,
  • Till, so unwilling, thou unturn’dst the key?
  • Ah, no! far happier, nobler was his fate!
  • In Spenser’s halls he strayed, and bowers fair,
  • Culling enchanted flowers; and he flew
  • With daring Milton through the fields of air:
  • To regions of his own his genius true
  • Took happy flights. Who shall his fame impair
  • When thou art dead, and all thy wretched crew?
🗙

Ode to Apollo

  • 1
  • In thy western halls of gold
  • When thou sittest in thy state,
  • Bards, that erst sublimely told
  • Heroic deeds, and sang of fate,
  • With fervour seize their adamantine lyres,
  • Whose chords are solid rays, and twinkle radiant fires.
  • 2
  • There Homer with his nervous arms
  • Strikes the twanging harp of war,
  • And even the western splendour warms,
  • While the trumpets sound afar;
  • But, what creates the most intense surprise,
  • His soul looks out through renovated eyes.
  • 3
  • Then, through thy temple wide, melodious swells
  • The sweet majestic tone of Maro’s lyre;
  • The soul delighted on each accent dwells, —
  • Enraptured dwells, — not daring to respire,
  • The while he tells of grief around a funeral pyre.
  • 4
  • ’Tis awful silence then again:
  • Expectant stand the spheres;
  • Breathless the laurell’d peers,
  • Nor move, till ends the lofty strain,
  • Nor move till Milton’s tuneful thunders cease,
  • And leave once more the ravish’d heavens in peace.
  • 5
  • Thou biddest Shakspeare wave his hand,
  • And quickly forward spring
  • The Passions — a terrific band —
  • And each vibrates the string
  • That with its tyrant temper best accords,
  • While from their master’s lips pour forth the inspiring words.
  • 6
  • A silver trumpet Spenser blows,
  • And, as its martial notes to silence flee,
  • From a virgin chorus flows
  • A hymn in praise of spotless chastity.
  • ’Tis still! wild warblings from the Aeolian lyre
  • Enchantment softly breathe, and tremblingly expire.
  • 7
  • Next thy Tasso’s ardent numbers
  • Float along the pleased air,
  • Calling youth from idle slumbers,
  • Rousing them from pleasure’s lair: —
  • Then o’er the strings his fingers gently move,
  • And melt the soul to pity and to love.
  • 8
  • But when thou joinest with the Nine,
  • And all the powers of song combine,
  • We listen here on earth:
  • The dying tones that fill the air,
  • And charm the ear of evening fair,
  • From thee, great God of Bards, receive their heavenly birth.