A Blupete Biography Page

Sorrow, Love and the Writing of Poetry, Part 6 to the Life & Works of
John Keats

After his Scottish tour, in 1818 John Keats went back to nursing his brother and continued to do so until Tom's death that December. Tom died of tuberculosis. Whether the family had a propensity to come down with consumptive disease, I do not know; though, it certainly seems so. What we do know is that tuberculosis is a contagious disease, thus it is likely that the brotherly love extended during the last few month's of Tom's life, was to be the death of John Keats. Tom having died, for all practical purposes, Keats was left alone without family. His parents were dead; Tom was now dead at the age of only 20 years; George had departed for America; and "his girlish sister [was] a permanent inmate of the household of Mr. and Mrs. Abby at Walthamstow."45 In February of 1819, Keats wrote George, "I am still at Wentworth Place -- indeed I have kept in doors lately, resolved if possible to rid myself of my sore throat."46

It is now time for a brief note on Fanny Brawne: As already mentioned, Wentworth Place had on the other side another dwelling which, in May of 1819, was to see new tenants move in: a widow, Mrs Brawne and her three children. One of these children was a young woman, Fanny Brawne, with whom Keats was to fall hopelessly in love. Keats began writing love letters to Fanny in July: "I almost wish we were butterflies and liv'd but three summer days - three such days with you I could fill with more delight than 50 common years could ever contain." As for Fanny, well, she did not seem to be quite as keen for John Keats as he was for her. However things did progress to the point where the couple declared that they would marry. "This [the engagement] was contrary to Mrs. Brawne's liking. They appear to have contemplated -- anything but willingly on the poet's part -- a tolerably long engagement; for he was a young man of twenty-three, with stinted means, no regular profession, and no occupation save that of producing verse derided in the high places of criticism."47 It could be that Mrs. Brawne required a cooling off period but just as likely it was because Keats calculated it was time to refill his poetic vessel with the experiences to be gained by further travel: Keats separated himself from Fanny for a period of time.

In the early part of the summer of 1819, Keats traveled to the Isle of Wight, a place he had chosen to start out with when he solely traveled about in 1817, and which led to the production of his first major work, Endymion. There at Shanklin he shared rooms, at first, with a friend James Rice who was later replaced by his hiking friend Charles Brown. In a letter to his sister dated July 6th he sets out his reason for his stay at Shanklin, "to try the fortune of my pen once more ... Our window looks over house tops and Cliffs onto the Sea ... We have Hill and Dale forest and mead and plenty of lobsters." Further, "I would rather be here alone at my desk than in the bustle and hateful literary chitchat." It is here, at Shanklin, that Keats writes Lamia. At some point before August 14th, Keats and Brown leave the Isle of Wight.

"We removed to Winchester for the convenience of a library and find it an exceeding pleasant Town, enriched with a beautiful Cathedrall and surrounded by a fresh looking country. We are in tolerably good and cheap Lodgings. Within these two Months I have written 1500 Lines, most of which besides many more of prior composition you will probably see by next winter. I have written two tales, one from Boccaccio call'd the Pot of Basil [Isabella]; and another call'd St. Agnes' Eve on a popular superstition; and a third call'd Lamia -- half finished -- I have also been writing parts of my Hyperion and completed 4 Acts of a Tragedy [Otho The Great]."48
Keats continues to write poetry at Winchester at a furious rate, as if he knew that his time for such activity was short and soon to come to an end. He continued to stay on at Winchester until October. By November of 1819, Keats was back at Wentworth Place (Hampstead)49 and was feeling increasingly unwell, as a dreary winter seeped in all around him.

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Peter Landry

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2011