Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology

Mapping Keats’s Progress
A Critical Chronology

  • Jan: Keats’s younger brother George returns from America, seeking family money; Upon the whole I dislike Mankind; I am very idle; Otho the Great rejected for early production, now submitted to Covent Garden, to be turned down; T wang-dillo-dee; feels the vapidness of the routine of society; poem: Ode on a Grecian Urn published
  • Feb: George returns to America; hemorrhage: Keats worries it is a death-warrant; to Fanny Brawne: a rush of blood came to my Lungs . . . at that moment thought of nothing but you; thinks about annulling engagement to Fanny; I am recommended not even to read poetry much less write it. I wish I had a little hope; I have left no immortal work behind me—nothing to make my friends proud of my memory—but I have lov’d the principle of beauty in all things; claims he has not had a tranquil day for six months; fevered, depressed, and anxious
  • Feb-May: Keats’s longing and sometimes agonizing letters to Fanny Brawne: to Fanny in Feb: all we have to do is be patient; to Fanny: How illness stands as barrier betwixt me and you!
  • March-April: fever, heart palpitations, tight chest, anxiety, nervousness, depression
  • March: Brown: Poor Keats will be unable to prepare his Poems for the Press for a long time; Brown reports that Keats desires to be remembered; poem: works a little on Lamia
  • April: doctor tells Keats there is nothing the matter with me except nervous irritability and a general weakness of the whole system which has proceeded from my anxiety of mind of late years and the too great excitement of poetry
  • April-May: Keats: tight chest; bad medical diagnosis: illness is due to anxiety associated with writing poetry, not a real illness
  • May: poem: La Belle Dame sans Merci published; moves to Kentish Town; to Fanny Brawne: I am greedy of you
  • June: Keats: serious hemorrhages; moves to live with Leigh Hunt, to be taken care of; entertains taking up medical profession; upset with preface to final collection, written by others; increasing money difficulties
  • July: publication of Keats’s last collection; great worries about his health; advised to relocate to Italy
  • July-Aug: jealous, fevered feelings about Fanny Brawne: I have been occupied with nothing but you . . . You are to me an object intensely desirable . . . I cannot live without you; Nothing is so bad as want of health
  • Aug: the world is too brutal for me; acknowledges the kindness of the Hunts; moves back to Wentworth Place, cared for by the Brawnes; in a very anxious condition and precarious health; makes a will; A winter in England would . . . kill me; decides to go to Italy, hopes Brown can go with him July; Shelley invites Keats to winter in Italy with him, Keats declines; has hopes of cheating the Consumption; My Imagination is a Monastery and I am its Monk; to Shelley: an artist must serve Mammon—he must have self concentration selfishness perhaps
  • Sept: positive reviews of Keats’s last volume are appearing; assigns copyright of his three volumes to Taylor & Hessey, receives some money; Keats: I wish for death every day and night to deliver my from these pains; sails to Italy, with Severn; pained by separation from Fanny Brawne, wishes for death
  • Oct: Keats: his condition declining, more hemorrhaging; arrives in Naples, Italy, with Severn; I do not feel in the world; O what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints; his ship quarantined
  • Nov: Keats: fears, anxiety, unrelenting fever; arrives in Rome, takes rooms with Severn; I will endeavor to bear my miseries patiently [ . . . ] It surprised me that the human heart is capable of containing and bearing so much misery; I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence; despair is forced upon me as a habit; last known letter (to Brown) ends, I can scarcely bid you good bye even in a letter. I always made an awkward bow. / God bless you! John Keats
  • Nov-Dec: Ke dats extremely ill, suffering, vomiting blood; Severn, increasingly stressed, exhausted, cares for Keats
  • Dec: according to Severn, Keats says the continued stretch of his imagination has already killed him
  • 1820: death of King George III—his son, the Prince Regent, becomes George IV; trial of Queen Caroline so that George IV can divorce her (acquitted); failure of the Cato Street Conspiracy and other civil unrest, including the Radical War; London Magazine first published; Hunt publishes The Indicator; general election increases Tory majority; Regent’s Canal completed; Shelley publishes Prometheus Unbound and writes To a Skylark; Blake completes his prophetic books; Wordsworth tours Switzerland and Italy, publishes The River Duddon, Miscellaneous Poems (4 vols.), and second edition of The Excursion; Florence Nightingale and Friedrich Engels born; revolts in Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Greece; Antarctica discovered; first digital mechanical calculator patented (the Arithmometer)

12 August 1820: Keats: Excessively Nervous & Cheating the Consumption

Wentworth Place, Hampstead

Click the map to see a larger versiontrue
Click the map to see a larger version

Wentworth Place, Hampstead: After about seven weeks staying with his friend and one-time mentor Leigh Hunt and Hunt’s somewhat hectic family (with five children running around) at Mortimer Terrace in Kentish Town, Keats on 12 August returns to Wentworth Place in Hampstead to stay with the Brawne family: a widowed mother and her three children, one to whom Keats is betrothed. Her name is Fanny, and Keats wears her ring. Keats had formerly stayed in the other half of Wentworth Place (a detached double-house, which, in English terms, can be called a villa). It has been a wet summer, and poor Keats is not in very good shape, and the sympathies and care of Mrs. Brawne are considerable.

Beginning early May, Keats has been living at 2 Wesleyan Place, Kentish Town, around the corner from Hunt. After a bout of blood-spitting (technically, hemoptysis) on 22 June, the next day by invitation Keats moves in with the Hunts at 13 Mortimer Terrace so that his condition can monitored. While at the Hunt residence, Keats becomes very upset when he discovers that a letter to him from Fanny is opened (unintentionally, it seems) by someone in the Hunt household, and so he leaves in a distraught state. Not long after, Keats apologizes for his exaggerated response; he lets Hunt know as much, and that he feels genuinely touched by Hunt’s patience and many sympathies (letters, 13 Aug).

With medical advice and the support of others who are very worried about him, Keats since early July seriously considers a move to Italy in an attempt to restore his sinking health. Those close to him note his extremely poor and increasingly emaciated state. By mid-August, it is determined that he will go to Italy. Keats writes, another winter in England would, I have not a doubt, kill me (letters, 14 Aug). But beyond this vague hope, Keats almost certainly knows enough that his days are numbered; as mentioned below, his knowledge of the illness—consumption—is considerable, given both his family history and medical training.

Keats will somehow need to raise the money as well as find someone to accompany him. He hopes to go with his very good friend Charles Brown, with whom he has previously lived and travelled. By the end of the month, Keats asks for money from the often inflexible trustee of the family money, Richard Abbey; Abbey refuses to give him anything, claiming his own financial shortcomings (letters, 23 Aug). Keats barely manages to get by with loans from generous friends like John Taylor and Brown. Keats seems to have spent up the capital he was aware of, having lived for a couple of years based on credit from that capital, inherited from his maternal grandmother. He is unaware that a significant sum (perhaps about 800 pounds) is actually available to him via the courts (Chancery), left to him by his maternal grandfather (in today’s terms, perhaps approaching 80,000 pounds). It appears Abbey is also unaware of this money, which has been building with interest.

Keats understandably displays and expresses anxieties: witnessing his own mother and younger brother, Tom, die from consumption no doubt burdens him. Yet, on 13 August, Keats says that he half believes his illness is not yet Consumption, and ten days later he expresses some hopes of cheating the Consumption. This, though, goes against the direction of his symptoms, and especially the hemoptysis and what appears to be increasing physical incapacity. Hope can be delusive. The so-called wasting disease—pulmonary tuberculosis—seldom lets go, and the decline of its victims can often take more than a year to resolve itself in a horrible end. In short, Keats has grave doubts about his immediate future: mid-August he composes a short will that stipulates that Brown and John Taylor be first paid from his estate, and that his books be divided among my friends. At age twenty-four, you don’t make a will unless you believe there are problems.

Wentworth Place, c.1931, bedroom & sitting room, overlooking garden, from The
        Illustrated London News, 25 July 1931
Wentworth Place, c.1931, bedroom & sitting room, overlooking garden, from The Illustrated London News, 25 July 1931

Keats’s situation and pronounced nervous state both magnify and twist his regard for Fanny Brawne. Over July and into August, Keats in fatalistic terms tells her that he cannot live without her. He is possessive and jealous in the extreme, and, by throwing out frantic ultimatums, he emotionally manipulates her by attempting to control her behavior and feelings. I am sickened at the brute world which you are smiling with, he writes to her. I hate men and women more. The world, he says, is too brutal, and he says that only in the grave might he have some rest. Keats’s feelings for Fanny have fallen into and merged with other parts of his distressed state and situation, so much so that at moments despondency and anger take command over his emotional life.

At the end of August, Keats hemorrhages again, and his prospects and strength decline further. He reports a couple of times that his chest is tight and agitated. Everything, it seems, taxes and tires him. These are, of course, symptoms of his illness and corresponding state of mind. To his sister (from whom he often shelters his more dire thoughts) he writes, I am excessively nervous (13 Aug). One of Keats’s friends, the young painter Joseph Severn (who will eventually accompany Keats to Italy), reports that in July Keats’s appearance is shocking, and that it reminds him of how Keats’s younger brother, Tom, looked before he died of consumption in December 1818. Poor Tom becomes poor Keats.

Perhaps Keats’s greatest (or only) relief about this time is that his 1820 volume Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems (1820) is published between 26 June and 3 July. It receives decent reviews with what Keats calls the literary people (letters, 14 Aug); sales, he believes, are moderate (letters, 14 Aug, to Brown). A few of Keats’s friends believe the volume displays vast power and genius, and more favorable reviews begin to appear. Those who study and recognize his gifts and originality are right, and the collection will become one of the strongest in the English canon, capping Keats’s halted progress. Most of the thirteen poems in the volume possess a style, voice, and thematics that can profitably be called Keatsian. His voice of independence and remarkable originality—sensual intelligence? intelligent sensuality? restrained intensity? intense restraint?—is, in many of the poems, expressed in clear, uncluttered, dramatic, and enduring ways.

Notice of the forthcoming 1820 collection in The
          Morning Chronicle, 27 July 1820. Note William Hazlitt (one of Keats’s critical
        mentors) is also advertised.
Notice of the forthcoming 1820 collection in The Morning Chronicle, 27 July 1820. Note William Hazlitt (one of Keats’s critical mentors) is also advertised.
🗙

Ode on a Grecian Urn

1.

  • Thou still unravish’d bride of quietness, 
  • Thou foster-child of silence and slow time, 
  • Sylvan historian, who canst thus express 
  • A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme: 
  • What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape 
  • Of deities or mortals, or of both, 
  • In Tempe or the dales of Arcady? 
  • What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? 
  • What mad pursuit? What struggle to escape? 
  • What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?

2.

  • Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard 
  • Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; 
  • Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d, 
  • Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone: 
  • Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave 
  • Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare; 
  • Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, 
  • Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve; 
  • She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, 
  • For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

3.

  • Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed 
  • Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; 
  • And, happy melodist, unwearied, 
  • For ever piping songs for ever new; 
  • More happy love! more happy, happy love! 
  • For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d, 
  • For ever panting, and for ever young;
  • All breathing human passion far above, 
  • That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy’d,
  • A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. 

4.

  • Who are these coming to the sacrifice? 
  • To what green altar, O mysterious priest, 
  • Lead’st thou that heifer lowing at the skies, 
  • And all her silken flanks with garlands dressed? 
  • What little town by river or sea shore, 
  • Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel, 
  • Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn? 
  • And, little town, thy streets for evermore 
  • Will silent be; and not a soul to tell 
  • Why thou art desolate, can e’er return.

5.

  • O Attic shape! Fair attitude! With brede 
  • Of marble men and maidens overwrought, 
  • With forest branches and the trodden weed; 
  • Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought 
  • As doth eternity. Cold Pastoral! 
  • When old age shall this generation waste, 
  • Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe 
  • Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st, 
  • “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all 
  • Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

[Text based on the published version in Keats’s 1820 collection.]

🗙

La Belle Dame sans Merci:
A Ballad

I

  • Oh, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
  • Alone and palely loitering?
  • The sedge has withered from the Lake,
  • And no birds sing!

II

  • Oh, what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
  • So haggard and so woe-begone?
  • The squirrel’s granary is full,
  • And the harvest’s done.

III

  • I see a lily on thy brow,
  • With anguish moist and fever-dew,
  • And on thy cheeks a fading rose
  • Fast withereth too.

IV

  • I met a Lady in the Meads,
  • Full beautiful, a faery’s child,
  • Her hair was long, her foot was light,
  • And her eyes were wild.

V

  • I made a Garland for her head,
  • And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
  • She looked at me as she did love,
  • And made sweet moan.

VI

  • I set her on my pacing steed,
  • And nothing else saw all day long;
  • For sidelong would she bend, and sing
  • A faery’s song—

VII

  • She found me roots of relish sweet,
  • And honey wild and manna dew,
  • And sure in language strange she said—
  • I love thee true.

VIII

  • She took me to her elfin grot,
  • And there she wept and sigh’d full sore,
  • And there I shut her wild wild eyes
  • With kisses four.

IX

  • And there she lullèd me asleep,
  • And there I dream’d—Ah! woe betide!—
  • The latest dream I ever dream’d
  • On the cold hill side.

X

  • I saw pale kings, and princes too,
  • Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
  • They cried—‘La belle dame sans merci
  • Thee hath in thrall!’

XI

  • I saw their starv’d lips in the gloam
  • With horrid warning gapèd wide,
  • And I awoke, and found me here
  • On the cold hill’s side.

XII

  • And this is why I sojourn here,
  • Alone and palely loitering,
  • Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
  • And no birds sing.

🗙 Cite this page:

MLA Style: Works Cited

Blank, G. Kim. “12 August 1820: Keats: Excessively Nervous & Cheating the Consumption .” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology. Edition 3.5 , University of Victoria, 18 October 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/1820-08-12.html.

Chicago Style: Note

G. Kim Blank, “12 August 1820: Keats: Excessively Nervous & Cheating the Consumption ,” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.5 , last modified 18th October 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/1820-08-12.html.

Chicago Style: Bibliography

Blank, G. Kim. “12 August 1820: Keats: Excessively Nervous & Cheating the Consumption .” Mapping Keats’s Progress: A Critical Chronology, Edition 3.5 , last modified 18th October 2020. https://johnkeats.uvic.ca/1820-08-12.html.