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

2-4 February 1815: Leigh Hunt Sentenced & 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 status—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 proprietor of The Examiner (but often titled as the journal’s printer) is also jailed, though elsewhere. Both are fined 500 pounds—a sentencing that reflects the judicial political sentiments of the day.

The sentencing of John and Leigh Hunt by Justice Le Blanc, in The Morning Chronicle, 4 February 1813 (click to enlarge) true
The sentencing of John and Leigh Hunt by Justice Le Blanc, in The Morning Chronicle, 4 February 1813 (click to enlarge)

Although initially conditions in Horsemonger Lane Gaol in Surrey are difficult (involving his wife and two children staying with him), by April 1813 Hunt is given more room (in an infirmary area) and access to a garden; and, as a subtle act of resistance to the political forces that put him in jail, he consciously fashions a kind of salon, library, and receiving area for his many and continuous guests, a number of them famous—e.g., Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Sir John Swinburne, Jeremy Bentham, Henry Brougham, Thomas Moore, John Scott, Maria Edgeworth, Benjamin Robert Haydon, and Lord Byron. Hunt manages to decorate his prison digs with pictures, blinds, bookcases, musical instruments, couches, vases, and flowered wallpaper, and he also delightfully cultivates the garden space. 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.

As suggested, one side effect of Hunt being imprisoned was to focus even more attention on Hunt as the centre of wide grouping that will, by some, be denounced as the Cockney School (of both politics and poetry); Hunt, however, will eventually come to be proud of his Cockney nomination, since it branded him apart from other, more repressive and conservative forces of his age. For better and sometimes worse, then, Hunt always saw himself as an independent outsider, ready to figure himself as the embodiment of dissent; this also becomes entangled with a brand or style of Huntian aesthetics that (not always successfully) challenges the established genteel with what others would see both impertinent and vulgar.

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, limited connections, and (via his schooling at Enfield) his attraction to freethinkers. And no doubt Keats’s first genuine poetic mentor, Charles Cowden Clarke, talks to Keats about Hunt, and he 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. [For more on Keats’s meeting with Hunt, see 10 October 1816.]

Leigh Hunt, pencil sketch by Thomas Charles Wageman, 1815 (National Portrait
        Gallery, NPG 4505)
Leigh Hunt, pencil sketch by Thomas Charles Wageman, 1815 (National Portrait Gallery, NPG 4505)

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 limit 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 suburban 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 (whom, ironically, he meets through Hunt) will urge Keats to uncouple himself from Hunt’s influence. In short, although Keats’s political sympathies generally align him with Hunt, Keats strives to have his own poetics and poetic development not revolve around or directly address the contemporary political scene. Keats is thinking bigger, greater, deeper.

So in writing his Ode to Apollo this month, we see first hints of Keats finding ways to parade his poetic predecessors, basically just by listing them and providing somewhat 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
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.

🗙 Cite this page:

MLA Style: Works Cited

Blank, G. Kim. “2-4 February 1815: Leigh Hunt Sentenced & Imprisoned: A Hero for Keats.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology. Edition 3.8 , University of Victoria, 18 January 2021.

Chicago Style: Note

G. Kim Blank, “2-4 February 1815: Leigh Hunt Sentenced & Imprisoned: A Hero for Keats,” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.8 , last modified 18th January 2021.

Chicago Style: Bibliography

Blank, G. Kim. “2-4 February 1815: Leigh Hunt Sentenced & Imprisoned: A Hero for Keats.” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.8 , last modified 18th January 2021.