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

August 1814: Keats Visits the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens

Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, London

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

Keats goes to the extremely popular Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a place that no doubt makes an impression on 18-year-old Keats, who in is the final year or so of being a medical apprentice, which he begins in 1811. [For more on Keats’s medical training, see 15 October 1815.] The gardens came into existence in 1770, and were sold to developers in 1859.

In Keats’s day, it was advertised as a place to which busy Londoners might retreat, and in particular, those of the so-called middling classes. As the Morning Post of 8 August describes the Gardens, it is a place of splendid amusements. Here the crowds, all dressed up, gathered to view the novelties of fountains and fireworks, to watch acrobatics and to dance, to listen to both domestic and exotic music; to celebrate military achievement and nationalism (keep in mind Britain is at war); to drink, mix, and take in the glitzy vendors, the impressive decorations, and some of the commercial life of the times; to parade the latest fashions. There were even balloon flights. And of course there were more transgressive behaviours both lurking and on show. In short, it was a place to see and be seen while promenading about the various pavillions, stalls, and sites—a place of what we sometimes call autovoyeurism.

Vauxhall Vittoria Fete Dress, 1813 (British Museum 1853,0611.32). Click to
Vauxhall Vittoria Fete Dress, 1813 (British Museum 1853,0611.32). Click to enlarge.

And Keats does see: he gets a glimpse of a beautiful young woman, and she ends up enduring in Keats’s thoughts. In a resulting poem he writes soon after, he employs what today we might call a male gaze, since in his fantasy he naively imagines her as both whore and ideal woman, which in some ways is typical of Keats’s often conflicted picturing of women. In the poem (Fill for me a brimming bowl), he claims he wants to avoid lewd desiring, but, as he notes, with his wandering thoughts this is in vain: he writes of her breast, earth’s only paradise! The poem’s description of her—The melting softness of that face — / The beaminess of those bright eyes —is, in its overly poeticized manner, not altogether convincing or original, and the poem leaves us with his beating, smarting heart and the halo-covered, indelible memory of her. Angel or object of physical passion? Keats will have to work on this.

Fashionable Women at Vauxhall to celebrate a military victory, 1813/1814 (Museum
        of London 2002.139/2294). Click to enlarge.true
Fashionable Women at Vauxhall to celebrate a military victory, 1813/1814 (Museum of London 2002.139/2294). Click to enlarge.

However, the woman must have made quite an impression! Keats returns to her in two poems written a few years later, and most strikingly in the February 1818 Shakespearean sonnet Time’s sea has been five years at its slow ebb. In his sweet remembering of her, Keats writes that he was fully captured: snared and tangled by her beauty—and, in particular, by her ungloved hand, her eyes, her cheeks, and her lips. She’s the conflated construction of imagination, memory, and desire; but the poem does not quite muster the complex play in Keats’s master model—Shakespeare’s love sonnets—where testing words and ingenious phrasing are often thrown our way to complicate both speaker and subject. But it is far better than his August 1814 effort, and demonstrates the direction of Keats’s attempt at mastery of form that will fully emerge in 1819.

1814, then, marks the year in which we have first evidence of Keats’s earliest poetic aspirations, though we know he wrote some verse before this year. What we have is not altogether memorable. It includes poetry to and about writers like Byron and Spenser, indicating he is, quite naturally, on the lookout for models and inspiration. Infatuation with Spenser’s imaginative world in The Faerie Queene particularly draws his interest (he reads much of it with Charles Cowden Clarke, the son of Keats’s former headmaster, and eight years older than Keats.) He also writes a confused but touching poem on the passing of his maternal grandmother, Alice Jennings (As from the darkening gloom a silver dove). She took loving care of him when his mother could not. Her death—after earlier deaths of his father (1804), grandfather (1805), and mother (1810)—represents the loss of his last strong connection with the elders of his family.

There is some suggestion that Keats perhaps begins his medical training (or at least some form of informal association with the London teaching hospitals) by mid-1814, though we do know that he formally registers at Guy’s hospital in October 1815 for a year-long course that would qualify him with the Royal College of Surgeons.

The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, 1821 (Museum of London ID no. A1819)
The Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, 1821 (Museum of London ID no. A1819)

Fill for me a brimming bowl

  • Fill for me a brimming bowl,
  • And let me in it drown my soul:
  • But put therein some drug design’d
  • To banish Woman from my mind.
  • For I want not the stream inspiring,
  • That fills the mind with lewd desiring;
  • But I want as deep a draught
  • As e’er from Lethe’s waves was quaff’d;
  • From my despairing heart to charm
  • The image of the fairest form
  • That e’er my rev’ling eyes beheld,
  • That e’er my wand’ring fancy spell’d!
  • In vain! away I cannot chace
  • The melting softness of that face —
  • The beaminess of those bright eyes —
  • That breast, earth’s only paradise!
  • My sight will never more be blest,
  • For all I see has lost its zest;
  • Nor with delight can I explore
  • The classic page — the muse’s lore.
  • Had she but known how beat my heart
  • And with one smile reliev’d its smart,
  • I should have felt a sweet relief,
  • I should have felt “ the joy of grief ”!
  • Yet as a Tuscan ’mid the snow
  • Of Lapland thinks on sweet Arno;
  • So for ever shall she be
  • The halo of my memory.

Time’s sea hath been five years at its slow ebb

  • Time’s sea hath been five years at its slow ebb;
  • Long hours have to and fro let creep the sand,
  • Since I was tangled in thy beauty’s web,
  • And snared by the ungloving of thy hand:
  • And yet I never look on midnight sky,
  • But I behold thine eyes’ well-memoried light;
  • I cannot look upon the rose’s dye,
  • But to thy cheek my soul doth take its flight:
  • I cannot look on any budding flower,
  • But my fond ear, in fancy at thy lips,
  • And hearkening for a love-sound, doth devour
  • Its sweets in the wrong sense. — Thou dost eclipse
  • Every delight with sweet remembering,
  • And grief unto my darling joys dost bring.

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?

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!

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. “August 1814: Keats Visits the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology. Edition 3.8 , University of Victoria, 18 January 2021.

Chicago Style: Note

G. Kim Blank, “August 1814: Keats Visits the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens,” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.8 , last modified 18th January 2021.

Chicago Style: Bibliography

Blank, G. Kim. “August 1814: Keats Visits the Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.8 , last modified 18th January 2021.