John Keats’ Childhood Struggles:
Born to Thomas and Frances Jennings Keats, John Keats was the eldest of 5 sibilings. Tragedy struck their family early on, when his brother, Edward, passed away at age 1 in 1802 (Colvin). Keats suffered a lifestyle filled with multiple inconsistent caretakers. His father, Thomas Keats, died in April of 1804 in a horse riding accident and leaving Keats and his siblings under the sole care of his mother, Frances Jennings (“John Keats”). Slightly over two months later, she got remarried to a minor bank clerk named William Rawlings. However, overly consumed with his desire to become rich, Rawlings proved to be a poor husband and father figure as the marriage ended in disaster John Keats: Chronology). Keats and his siblings were then sent to live with Jennings’ mother. After the death of Keats’ mother in 1810 and his grandmother in 1814, a merchant named Richard Abbey became his primary caretaker (Smith). Abbey strongly disregarded the interests and welfare of the Keats children as he often kept their family’s money from them. Despite Keats’ interest in poetry, Abbey forced him into an apprenticeship with a surgeon in order to learn to become a doctor.
John Keats achieved literary success from a young age. Keats was receiving his education from Enfield academy when he became very close with the headmaster, John Clarke, and his 15 year old son,
Charles Cowden Clarke. He earned the headmaster’s approval by winning multiple essay contests and by demonstrating his skill in Latin and French (“John Keats”). Clarke’s school is where Keats began to study literature extensively. Keats was very in touch with his imagination at this time. Inspired by the tragic death of his father, Keats read and studied literature substantially. His love for reading and writing also fueled his vigorous studies.
The Cause of the Keats Family’s Financial Troubles:
One year after the death of Keats’ father, Keats lost his grandfather, John Jennings, to old age. John was a kind and generous man but was also prone to be taken advantage of. He unknowingly hired a con-artist to take care of his will which resulted in disastrous consequences for the Keats family. The man wrote John Jenning’s will in a way which was very vague and difficult to understand. Therefore after his death, there were disputes over where his fortune be distributed. The family ended up losing a significant portion of their wealth ensuring financial troubles for many years to come. Citation?
Medical Career and Transition to Poetry:
Keat’s medical career began after he left Enfield academy, when his guardian Richard Abbey forced him into an apprenticeship under a prestigious surgeon, Thomas Hammond. His job as a “dresser” at Guy’s Hospital, entailed him to complete tasks such as holding back patients during surgery and bandaging their injuries and wounds. Although the position of surgeon would have led to a respectable salary, and would not have required him to attain a college degree, witnessing such graphic human suffering proved to be too traumatic for Keats. During his time as a “dresser”, he became very depressed, and was also unable to devote much time to writing (Chenault and Carlson). He did go on to earn the the Licentiate of the Society of Apothecaries (Smith), but after the 5 year apprenticeship he decided to leave the medical field and pursue his literary talents (Barnard 7). During this time, Keats became acquainted with poet Leigh Hunt, who convinced him he could survive without his surgeon salaries, and focus solely on his poetry (“John Keats”). In March of 1816, Keats published his first volume of poetry, titled Poems, although it did not receive favorable reviews (Colvin). This did not stop Hunt from publishing Keats’s work, such as
“On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,” a sonnet about his reaction to George Chapman’s translation of Homer. Although Keats achieved some literary success at the start of his career, the years of 1818 and 1819 boasted his most accomplished works, specifically his series of odes, such as Ode to a Grecian Urn and Ode to a Nightingale. His release of “Endymion” in 1818 did not yield as favorable of reviews, with many critics implying that he should return to his career as a surgeon (Chenault and Carlson). Keats continued to write, despite the harsh criticism, and the final volume of poems he lived to see published was Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes, and Other Poems in 1820. It attained favorable responses from many of his peers, but by this time Keats was growing progressively ill, and was more consumed with his declining health (“John Keats”).
Romantic Relationship with Fanny Brawne:
It is speculated that Keats met his longtime lover, Fanny Brawne, in 1818 when he moved into Wentworth Place (now known as Keats House). Much of the elaborate details regarding their relationship remain a mystery, largely because he burned the majority of her letters, only preserving a few of her final letters, which he had buried with him. From the writings of Keats and Brawne that have been salvaged, it is apparent that their love affair was tumultuous, due to his struggle with tuberculosis, and concern with attaining success in the literary field. In a letter Keats wrote to Brawne in 1818, he expresses how his approaching demise and his deep love for Brawne are the main focus of his thoughts, “I have two luxuries to brood over in my walks, your Loveliness and the hour of my death. O that I could have possession of them both in the same minute.” (Keats, Scudder, and Forman 384-385). Other examples of his adoration for Brawne can be found in his poem “Bright Star,” which he wrote in 1819. The last time the couple saw each other was before Keats departed for Rome to seek medical treatment.
Battle with Tuberculosis/Final Years of John Keats:
After being diagnosed with tuberculosis, a disease that had afflicted many of his family members, Keats traveled to Italy in hopes of finding treatment (Smith). Keats died at the mere age of 25, in 1821, and was laid to rest at Protestant Cemetery in Rome (“John Keats: Chronology”).
House in Rome where Keats died in 1821
Alteri, Ginsburg, McGraw, Rodino, and Cooper
Timeline of Literary Works
Here is a listing of Keats’s poems and letters. You can click on any of the titles to read the full text.
Barnard, John. John Keats. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Print.
Chenault, Libby, and Katherine Carlson. “Presenting John Keats: A Celebration of Six Million Volumes.” The Life and Legacy of John Keats. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, March 2009. Web. 16 May 2012. <__http://www.lib.unc.edu/rbc/keats/the-life-and-legacy-of-john-keats.php__>.
Colvin, Sidney. “Birth And Parentage: Schooldays And Apprenticeship.” John Keats: His Life and Poetry, His Friends, Critics and After-Fame.
“John Keats.” Poetry Foundation. Web. 16 May 2012. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/john-keats.
Keats, John, Horace Elisha Scudder, and Harry Buxton Forman. The complete poetical works of John Keats. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2007. 384-385. eBook.
Smith, Hillas. “John Keats: Poet, Patient, Physician.” Oxford Journals. (1983): n. page. Web. 16 May. 2012. http://cid.oxfordjournals.org/content/6/3/390.abstract.