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John Keats (1795-1821)

Portrait of John Keats

Portrait of John Keats in Rome, shortly before his death from tuberculosis in February 1821, by his friend Joseph Severn, Ashley MS 4165, f.v
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John Keats, one of the greatest English poets and a major figure in the Romantic movement, was born in 1795 in Moorfields, London. His father died when he was eight and his mother when he was 14; these sad circumstances drew him particularly close to his two brothers, George and Tom, and his sister Fanny.

Keats was well educated at a school in Enfield, where he began a translation of Virgil's Aeneid. In 1810 he was apprenticed to an apothecary-surgeon. His first attempts at writing poetry date from about 1814, and include an `Imitation' of the Elizabethan poet Edmund Spenser. In 1815 he left his apprenticeship and became a student at Guy's Hospital, London; one year later, he abandoned the profession of medicine for poetry.

Keats' first volume of poems was published in 1817. It attracted some good reviews, but these were followed by the first of several harsh attacks by the influential Blackwood's Magazine. Undeterred, he pressed on with his poem `Endymion', which was published in the spring of the following year.

Keats toured the north of England and Scotland in the summer of 1818, returning home to nurse his brother Tom, who was ill with tuberculosis. After Tom's death in December he moved into a friend's house in Hampstead, now known as Keats House. There he met and fell deeply in love with a young neighbour, Fanny Brawne. During the following year, despite ill health and financial problems, he wrote an astonishing amount of poetry, including `The Eve of St Agnes', 'La Belle Dame sans Merci', `Ode to a Nightingale' and `To Autumn'. His second volume of poems appeared in July 1820; soon afterwards, by now very ill with tuberculosis, he set off with a friend to Italy, where he died the following February.

Keats and his friend Joseph Severn arrived in Rome, after an arduous journey, in November 1820. They found lodgings in a house near the Spanish Steps. Keats rallied a little at first, and was able to take gentle walks and rides, but by early December he was confined to bed, extremely ill with a high fever. Severn nursed him devotedly throughout the next few distressing and painful weeks. Keats died peacefully, clasping his friend's hand, on 23 February 1821.

Keats' house in Rome

Keats' house in Rome
Copyright © Colin Wight


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John Keats (1795-1821)
Keats' Hyperion Keats' Hyperion
'Ode to a nightingale' 'Ode to a nightingale'
Keats' letter to his sister Keats' letter to his sister
Keats' literary reputation Keats' literary reputation
Keats' first publication - 'To solitude' Keats' first publication - 'To solitude'
   

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