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Biography of John Keats

Portrait of John Keats

John Keats was a Romantic Poet who died tragically young of tuberculosis.

When and Where was he Born?

31st October 1795. London, England.

Family Background:

John Keats was the son of Thomas Keats a stable keeper and Frances Jennings. Keats was the first of five children. In 1802 his father took over the management of Frances’s father’s livery stable and Inn and died in 1804 in a riding accident.

Education:

John Clarke’s School, Enfield, London.

Timeline of John Keats:

1797: Birth of his Brother George on 28th February.

1799: Birth of his Brother Thomas on the 18th November.

1801: Birth of his brother Edward on 28th April.

1802: The Keats family moves to the Swan and Hoop Inn on London Wall to take over Keat’s grandfather’s business. Death of his brother Edward.

1803: Birth of his sister Frances Mary (known as Fanny) on 3rd June. Keats goes to John Clarke’s school in Enfield with his brother George.

1804: Death of Keats’s father Thomas in a riding accident on the way home from seeing his sons at school. His mother disappears and remarries to William Rawlings on the 27th June. The schoolboys have to stay with their grandparents in Ponders End during the holidays.

1805: Death of his Grandfather. His grandmother moves to Edmonton taking the children with her.

1809: His mother returns to Edmonton and asks to live with her mother and children but she is seriously ill with tuberculosis and Keats looks after her personally and reads out loud to her.

1810: His mother finally dies in March and Keats hears of the loss whilst at school in Enfield and is grief stricken. He is apprenticed to an Apothecary Dr Hammond in Edmonton. George is apprenticed to Richard Abbey who has been made one of the Keats children’s guardians.

1813: Charles Cowden Clarke the son of his former headmaster loans Keats a copy of Edmund Spenser’s play “The Fairy Queen” and he is enthralled by it. Clarke himself has aspirations to be a poet.

1814: Keats writes his first poetry, “Imitation of Spenser”, “On Peace” and “Fill for me a brimming bowl”. His Grandmother dies in December.

1815: Due to the new Apothecary Act in July Keats has to study at a hospital before he can run his own business. He goes to Guy’s hospital in London in October in the hope of one day becoming a surgeon. He studies a variety of subjects including anatomy, physiology, dissection and chemistry. 

1816: His first poem “Oh Solitude” is published. Keats becomes a licensed Apothecary. He enters wholeheartedly into the life of a student both in and out of the hospital and attends bear-baiting, boxing matches and cock fighting with his friends. He meets Joseph Severn through a mutual acquaintance from Enfield.

1816: Keats starts work as a dresser, whose job was to dress wounds after a surgeon had performed his (often gory) operations. He also has to work night shifts and sometimes has to do his own operations. He has a poem published in Leigh Hunt’s periodical “The Examiner” in May and begins to believe he should change his career to become a poet. He takes lodgings in Hampstead, London. In July he passes all his professional exams to become a Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries. During the summer he goes on holiday with Tom who is already in poor health. Keats meets Percy Bysshe Shelley for the first time in the autumn and Shelley persuades him not to publish his existing poems. In November he moves to 76 Cheapside to stay with his brothers George and Tom. Keats also meets the critic William Hazlitt. In December Hunt publishes “On First looking into Chapman’s Homer” and Keats decides to give up on becoming a doctor.

Keats House, London
Keats House in Hampstead, London. The building on the right is now the local library. (copyright Anthony Blagg)

1817: In March Richard Abbey is furious when he finds out that Keats wants to give up his medical studies to become a poet and the two stop talking to each other. Haydon takes Keats to the British Museum to see the Elgin Marbles. His first volume of poetry is published in March. Keats and his brothers move to No. 1 Well Walk, near Hampstead Heath. He visits the Isle of Wight alone where he begins “Endymion”. In April the bothers move temporarily to Margate. He meets Benjamin Bailey at Oxford in September. In October he has a bout of illness for which he takes mercury and in December he is introduced to William Wordsworth. He also sees the actor Edmund Kean play in Shakespeare’s “Richard the Third” at Drury Lane.On the 28th December he attends what has since been termed “the Immortal Dinner” where many notable literary guests are present such as Charles Lamb and William Wordsworth.

1818: In March Keats stays at Teignmouth nursing his sick brother Tom. In June his brother George leaves for the USA and Keats goes on a walking tour of Scotland with Charles Armitage Brown. In July and August he goes on a walking tour of Scotland with Brown. He meets Fanny Brawne, a neighbour, for the first time in Hampstead in August. Death of his brother Tom on 1st December at the age of nineteen. He moves to Wentworth Place, Hampstead.

1819: Keats visits Chichester, West Sussex in January with Brown and stays with the parents of his friend Charles Dilke in Eastgate Square. Whilst lodging there he begins to write “The Eve of St Agnes” and he was probably inspired to write the poem by the ancient buildings and passageways of Chichester Cathedral which he visited. In April he begins to write “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”. He becomes ill again in July with the first signs of tuberculosis and returns to London and takes rooms in the City. He moves back to Hampstead in October and becomes secretly engaged to Fanny Brawne. Keats meets Samuel Taylor Coleridge on a walk on Hampstead Heath. His brother George visits England.

1820: George returns to England to raise some money and Keats gives him all his funds from his Grandmother’s settlement. He begins his last illness in February and moves to lodgings in Kentish Town. He moves in with Leigh-Hunt after a major Haemorrhage on the 22nd June. He moves into the Brawne household in the August for a month and is nursed by Fanny. Keat’s final volume of poetry, “Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes and Other Poems“, is published to very good reviews. On doctors advice that his lungs will not survive an English winter he sails to Italy on the 17th September with his friend, the painter, Joseph Severn. The ship arrives in Naples and they have to spend ten days in quarantine moving on to Rome where they eventually arrive on the 15th November. The pair take up lodgings at at 26 Piazza di Spagna, next to the Spanish Steps.

Spanish Steps, Rome
The Spanish Steps, Rome.  Keats died in the building on the right which is now a museum. (copyright  Anthony Blagg)

1821: Joseph Severn nurses him until his death.

(Note): Fanny Brawne later moved to France and 12 years after Keats death she married Louis Lindo(n) and bore three children. 

When and Where did he Die?

23rd February 1821. Rome, Italy of tuberculosis. (known as consumption at the time).

Age at Death:

25.

Written Works:

1814: “Imitation of Spenser”. “On Peace”. “Fill for me a brimming bowl”.
1816: “O Solitude”. “On First looking into Chapman’s Homer”. “I stood tip-toe upon a little hill”. “Sleep and Poetry”.
1817: “This Pleasant Tale is Like a Little copse”. “Poems”.
1818: “Endymion”. “Isabella, or the Pot of Basil”.
1819: “Ode to the Nightingale”.
1820: “Lamia”. “Isabella”. “Eve of St. Agnes”. “Hyperion.”
(1878): “Letters to Fanny Brawne”.

Marriage:

Never married though engaged to Fanny Brawne.

Site of Grave:

English Protestant Cemetery, Rome, Italy.

Places of Interest:

CUMBRIA:

Dove Cottage and Museum, Grasmere, LA22 9SH. (Wordsworth Trust).
Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick. (described in “Hyperion”).
Tun Inn, Ireby.

DORSET:

Lulworth Cove composed “Bright Star” after a sailing trip.

LONDON:

Keats House, Wentworth Place, Keats Grove, Hampstead, NW3 2RR.

WEST SUSSEX:

Eastgate Square and the Cathedral Cloisters, Chichester.

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