Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

  • 1794: Keats’s parents marry, October; arrest of radical in England; Robespierre executed; France invades Holland; Godwin publishes Caleb Williams; Coleridge meets Southey; Erasmus Darwin,Zoonomia
  • 1795: Keats born, Finsbury, 31 October, Swan and Hoop Livery Stables, 24 Moorfields Pavement Row, London; France abolishes slavery; famine issues in England; laws against assemblies in England; Wordsworth regularly meets with Godwin; Hannah More publishes her Cheap Repository tracks; Coleridge marries Sara Fricker; death of James Boswell; Southey publishes Joan of Arc
  • 1797: brother George born, 28 February; death of Edmund Burke; birth of Mary Godwin and death of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft; Coleridge’s second edition of Poems; Ann Radcliff’s The Italian; discovery: diamonds are made of carbon
  • 1799: brother Tom born, 18 Nov; family moves to Craven Street, London; Wordsworth and sister, Dorothy, move to Dove Cottage, Grasmere; British government bans unions and political societies; Napoleon invades Syria, becomes First Consul; Rosetta Stone found
  • 1801: brother Edward born, 28 April (likely dies Dec 1802); first census of England/Wales; General Enclosure Act; Battle of Copenhagen; ultra violent radiation discovered; first use of the pie chart; patent on first continuous paper-making machine; Lord Elgin begins to bring back to England parts of the Greek Parthenon
  • 1802: maternal grandparents retire and Keats’s father takes over their business; truce (Peace of Amiens) with France (ends 1803); Letitia Landon born; first electrochemical cell
  • 1803: sister Fanny born, 3 June; with George, Keats boards at school in Enfield, run by Rev. John Clarke; eventually does well at school, winning some prizes (he leaves Clarke’s academy 1811 for medical training); truce with France ends; Hazlitt paints Wordsworth and Coleridge; uprising in Ireland
  • 1804: Keats’s father (age 30) dies in midnight riding accident, 16 April; mother hastily remarries a young bank clerk, William Rawlings, 27 June; children live with maternal grandparents at Ponders End; William Blake tried/acquitted for sedition; Corn Laws enacted for protectionism; Napoleon plans to invade England; Napoleon proclaims himself emperor; war declared on Spain; deaths: Joseph Priestly, Immanuel Kant; first steam locomotive built
  • 1805: maternal grandfather John Jennings dies, leaving considerable funds; children move to Edmonton with maternal grandmother Alice Jennings; Napoleon declared King of Italy; Battle of Trafalgar, major victory for the British Royal Navy; Napoleon defeats Russian/Austrian armies; Hazlitt’s first book, An Essay on the Principles of Human Action
  • 1806: Keats’s mother leaves Rawlings; born: Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Stuart Mill; Napoleon defeats Prussians, wants to blockade Britain; carbon paper patented
  • 1809: Keats’s mother ill and returns to her mother’s home; Keats devoted to her care; Byron, English Bards and Scotch Reviewers; Napoleon arrests the Pope; born: Charles Darwin, Edgar Allan Poe
  • 1810: Keats’s mother dies of tuberculosis, March; guardians Abbey and Sandall appointed for the Keats children, July (Sandall passes away 1816); Walter Scott publishes The Lady of the Lake; born: Frédéric François Chopin, Robert Schumann, Elizabeth Gaskell
  • 1811: Keats leaves Clarke’s Enfield school; works on prose translation of Virgil’s The Aeneid; takes up apothecary apprenticeship, Edmonton, with Thomas Hammond, initially for five years, but cut short, perhaps out of difficulties with Hammond; Shelley expelled from Oxford; controversy with Lord Elgin wanting to sell the Elgin Marbles to the British Government; established: the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church in England and Wales; Prince of Wales declared Regent after George III declared incompetent; Luddite uprisings; Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility; Leigh Hunt, The Feast of the Poets; Mary Tighe, Psyche; the Great Comet discovered; Mexican wars of independence
  • 1814-1816: Keats trains at Guy’s and St. Thomas’ hospitals, and though association and some training extends into 1817
  • 1814: Keats’s maternal grandmother, Alice Jennings, dies; first evidence of Keats writing poetry, perhaps spurred by reading Spenser 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; Napoleon exiled to Elba; Byron publishes instant hit, The Corsair; Cary’s translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy; Wordsworth publishes The Excursion; Percy Shelley elopes to Europe with Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin
  • 1815: Leigh Hunt released from jail; Keats 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, with other medical students; begins to write poetry about wanting to write enduring poetry; Apothecaries Act prohibits unlicensed medical practice in the United Kingdom; Napoleon escapes from Elba; Napoleon defeated at Waterloo

1803-1811: Enfield & Clarke’s Academy: Setting Keats’s Progress

Enfield, Clarke’s Academy

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

With his younger brother George, Keats (aged 7) attends Reverend John Clarke’s excellent and progressive boarding school for boys (sometimes called Enfield School or Academy), which has a strong dissenting, nonconformist tradition. No doubt at least some republican (and therefore radical) sympathies filter through to its students, which would have been a touchy standpoint given Britain’s ongoing war with France, which is more or less continuous, 1792-1815. Keats’s youngest brother, Tom, will later attend. The school greatly encourages students to pursue all forms of knowledge and, at times, to set their own consequences for negative behaviors or indifferent commitment. The idea is to produce freethinkers and free thinking—and toleration. That some of Keats’s poetry comes to challenge accepted tastes (and in particular conservative or neoclassical tastes) and that he develops an independent voice is not surprising. The boys were fully encouraged to take responsibility for what they learned, and this becomes extraordinarily significant in the narrative of Keats’s poetic progress, where he often makes it clear that he needs to deliberately study poetry in order to achieve what will become lofty ambitions.

Physically, the school (on Nags Head Road, Enfield Town) was apparently fairly pleasant, and by no means gloomy, with its large, airy rooms. Outside there was a good-sized playground, as well as a very big garden where some of the boys at the school were allowed to cultivate their own little plot of land. And beyond the school grounds stretched some accessible meadows.

Keats, then, receives a very good, if not exceptional, education at the academy. Moreover, Keats, after a somewhat undirected beginning at the school, eventually becomes a prize-winning student and is known for his stamina as a reader and for after-hours study. According to the recollections of the headmaster’s son, Charles Cowden Clarke, it seems Keats reads most, if not all, of the books in the library, and he often reads during meals. He is especially taken with Greek mythology. So, too, on occasion, is Keats known to be feisty, not easily physically intimidated, and ready and willing to battle (which he does), despite his small stature (at adulthood Keats stands a bit over five feet, but is otherwise very physically sturdy).

Enfield Church, 1813. Click to enlarge.true
Enfield Church, 1813. Click to enlarge.

In his final year at school, Keats is formally rewarded for his scholarship, some of which revolves around him translating Virgil’s epic, The Aeneid, from Latin, and he continues working on it when he is pulled out of school in 1811. With the project, Keats is introduced not just to the mechanics of translating of classical work, but in the process he evaluatively examines what he translates, thus developing his own critical tastes and ideas; Cowden Clarke recalls that Keats, barely a teenager, actually finds flaws in Virgil’s narrative structure! Importantly, Keats’s ability and desire to study is set at Enfield; more than once, years later, when Keats is utterly determined to become an enduring poet, he mentions that his progress will require deliberate study, what he will call the drinking in of Knowledge, which can only be gained through application study and thought (letters, 24 April 1818).

The school takes copies of Leigh Hunt’s Examiner, an independent, progressive, and controversial newspaper formative in Keats’s career in ways that Keats, as a schoolboy, could hardly have imagined: his first published poem—O Solitude—will be in The Examiner (May 1816); and Hunt, as its editor, is central to Keats’s working out of his initial poetic direction—for better and then for worse—but, more importantly, in connecting Keats with a wide network of artists, poets, writers, publishers, and critics. This network is a crucial component of Keats’s poetic progress.

Imagined: Clarke’s Academy in better days
Imagined: Clarke’s Academy in better days

Charles Cowden Clarke, eight years Keats’s senior, encourages and directs Keats’s early poetic tastes (and seems to have encouraged and supervised Keats’s translation of The Aeneid), and they are close friends up until 1817. It is Clarke, in fact, who introduces Keats to Hunt in October 1816, thus, as mentioned, immediately connecting Keats with an important faction of London’s intellectual and artistic network. Clarke’s interest in Keats, along with meeting Hunt, are two early key moments in setting Keats’s direction as a poet. And so Keats’s poetic progress has its origin at Enfield School, and Clarke is the person responsible for making Keats’s first contact with and the introduction into an important faction of London’s literary society.

Clarke’s Academy, before demolition in 1872, after serving as a railway station,
        from a photo by E. E. Leggatt at the Victoria & Albert Museum (no.324-1907) and via the
        Enfield Society.*true
Clarke’s Academy, before demolition in 1872, after serving as a railway station, from a photo by E. E. Leggatt at the Victoria & Albert Museum (no.324-1907) and via the Enfield Society.*

Keats’s September 1816 epistle to Clarke expresses Keats’s somewhat immature desires to be an enduring poet, but it also thanks Clarke for first teaching him all the sweets of song (53). At this point, these aspirations are both insecure and a little pretentious, which, given Keats’s age and experience, is to be expected: that is, Keats is nowhere close to finding anything like a relatively mature poetic voice—one that is less concerned with fame and poetic affectation and more concerned with capturing something universally deep, clear, and original.

Clarke’s Academy is also significant inasmuch as it may be the one continuous, predictable part of Keats’s life between 1803 and 1811, the period during which his father dies (1804), his mother quickly remarries badly (1804), he has to live with maternal grandparents (1804), his maternal grandfather passes away (1805), and his mother dies (1810)—and his access to family finances (his inheritance money) becomes blurred, as does his future direction.

*My sincere thanks to Leonard Will and Dave Cockle of the Enfield Society for images and information about the school and its location. Something about the building: According to the Victoria & Albert Museum, the frontage of the school-house was based on designs by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723): The station was demolished in 1872; the façade however was saved, and originally purchased for the Structural Collection of the Science Museum, then part of the South Kensington Museum […] The acquisition of the façade is recorded in a contemporary publication about Enfield by Edward Ford. He noted: …it was taken down brick by brick, with the greatest care, all being numbered and packed in boxes of sawdust for carriage. Nothing could exceed the beauty of the workmanship, the bricks having been ground down to a perfect face, and joined with bee-wax and rosin, nor mortar or lime being used. In this manner the whole front has been first built in a solid block, the circular-headed niches, with their carved cherubs and festoons of fruit and foliage, being afterwards cut out with the chisel. The building also came to be known as THE OLD HOUSE.


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.

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.

🗙 Cite this page:

MLA Style: Works Cited

Blank, G. Kim. “1803-1811: Enfield & Clarke’s Academy: Setting Keats’s Progress.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology. Edition 3.8 , University of Victoria, 18 January 2021.

Chicago Style: Note

G. Kim Blank, “1803-1811: Enfield & Clarke’s Academy: Setting Keats’s Progress,” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.8 , last modified 18th January 2021.

Chicago Style: Bibliography

Blank, G. Kim. “1803-1811: Enfield & Clarke’s Academy: Setting Keats’s Progress.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.8 , last modified 18th January 2021.