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

2 February 1815: Leigh Hunt Imprisoned: A Hero for Keats

Horsemonger Lane Gaol (Surrey)

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

Where Leigh Hunt, co-editor and writer of The Examiner, is imprisoned for (officially) seditious libel of the Prince Regent. Hunt is imprisoned for two years, beginning February 1813, and his celebrity (as a reformer, journalist, editor, poet, independent thinker, and the centre of a kind of artistic and political coterie) grows with his imprisonment. John Hunt, Leigh’s brother and co-editor of The Examiner, is also jailed, though elsewhere.

Although initially conditions in jail are difficult (involving his wife and two children staying with him), by April 1813 Hunt is given more room and access to a garden, and he creates a kind of salon, library, and receiving area for his many and continuous guests, many of them famous (e.g., Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Jeremy Bentham, Henry Brougham, Thomas Moore, and Lord Byron). Nevertheless, later separation from his family, his children’s illness, and financial issues plague him, while he still keeps up with his work on The Examiner.

On 2 February 1815, Keats—who had never met Hunt, but was aware him even as a student at Enfield—writes a sonnet to celebrate Hunt’s release from prison: Written on the Day That Mr. Hunt Left Prison. In the poem, Hunt’s fame, immortality, and genius, as channeled through Spenser, Milton, and even the sky-searching lark, will never be impaired by his detractors—so croons the young Keats. Keats will sing a different tune by mid-1817.

But in 1815 over into 1816, Hunt is a living martyr, model, and hero for aspiring Keats, which would be understandable given Keats’s age, lack of experience, and limited connections. And no doubt Keats’s first genuine poetic mentor, Charles Cowden Clarke, talks to Keats about Hunt, and certainly praises Hunt’s progressive, independent voice (Clarke had visited Hunt in jail). After Keats meets Hunt in October 1816 through Clarke, Hunt also becomes a close friend and assumes the role of Keats’s mentor—Hunt recalls that the two were instantly intimate. Life at that point changes for Keats.

Leigh Hunt pencil sketch by TC Wageman, 1815.
Leigh Hunt pencil sketch by TC Wageman, 1815.

Extraordinarily important in terms of Keats’s poetic progress, Hunt almost immediately introduces Keats into a remarkable network of important friendships and connections—writers, artists, poets, journalists, critics, scholars, lecturers, and publishers. Despite Hunt’s support and reputation, after 1816 it does not take Keats long to realize that Hunt’s diverse and uneven literary qualities as a poet limits his own abilities and aspirations, and that Hunt’s self-assessment as great poet is inflated, if not, according to Keats, a little delusional.

For his part, Hunt will not mind being viewed as Keats’s mentor, given that he clearly recognizes Keats’s considerable poetic potential; and, in truth, we could say that Hunt both discovers and promotes Keats—Hunt is the first to first publish Keats, in May 1816 in The Examiner (O Solitude). But association with Hunt also ends up publicly pigeonholing Keats as a mere Huntian devotee, and thus a producer of the kind of poetry (of sociability and good cheer, of fancy, of poetry for its own sake) disdained in certain influential reviewing circles. Moreover, connection with Hunt pegs Keats politically, squarely putting him on the liberal/reformist side of the question, though Hunt’s politics might best be characterized as independent. Keats will want much more from the poetical character he goes on to develop over the following years; he will want more than vague social or political relevance. A few of Keats’s closer friends (which, ironically, he meets through Hunt) will urge Keats to uncouple himself from Hunt’s influence.

In writing his Ode to Apollo this month, we continue to witness Keats finding ways to parade his poetic predecessors, basically just by listing them and providing saccharin annotations of their poetic worth: Homer (twanging harp), Virgil (sweet majestic tone), Milton (tuneful thunders), Shakespeare (inspiring words), Spenser (Wild warblings), Tasso (ardent numbers)—all golden bards with solid rays and twinkle radiant fires (5). Yes, Keats wants to be just like them.

Leigh Hunt in Jail, from the cover of Edmund Blunden’s 1930 book on
        Hunt
Leigh Hunt in Jail, from the cover of Edmund Blunden’s 1930 book on Hunt
🗙

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?
🗙

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell

  • O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
  • Let it not be among the jumbled heap
  • Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep,—
  • Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
  • Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
  • May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
  • ’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap
  • Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell.
  • But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
  • Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
  • Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d,
  • Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
  • Almost the highest bliss of human-kind,
  • When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.
🗙

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.
🗙

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.