Two hundred years since the death of John Keats. Poor, dear, John Keats. The Romantic underdog. Torn up by talent and petulance, and a mind we have never seen again in the English language.
His short and painful life began at the Hoop and Swan by Moorgate where he was the eldest of three boys and a girl. His father Thomas was a barman who came to manage or even own the pub (now Keats and the Globe for some reason, being nowhere near The Globe).
When Keats was seven he was sent to a school in Enfield, North London. Nine months after he started at the school, John’s father came to visit him and on the way home was thrown from his horse. Thomas Keats’s skull was fractured and he died.
Their mother, Frances, remarried almost instantly but it wasn’t a success and she was forced to move in with her mother in north London. She died in March 1810, leaving her fourteen year old son in the charge of Thomas Hammond, an apothecary.
He shared Hammond’s lodgings, giving him a sense of continuity and an interest in medicine. He became a student at Guy’s Hospital when he was 18 and studied there as a dresser (attending in theatre and dressing the patients’ wounds after surgery).
In 1816 Keats took his apothecary exams, and passed. He was an avid letter writer (although his handwriting was often more ‘doctor’ than 'poet’), rapidly developing a friendship with Leigh Hunt, Ben Haydon and others.
He frequently left off 'spouting Shakespeare’ to go and attend a surgery. In that year, Hunt helped him achieve publication with his first poem, and the following year, a collection of his poems were put before the public, to little success.
During a Scottish summer holiday in 1818 with his friend Charles Brown, Keats developed a cold so severe he could not continue and for the first time began to drop weight. When he came home, it was to the reality of his brother Tom’s full-blown tuberculosis.
Keats nursed Tom, but was probably succumbing to the early stages of TB himself. Their other brother George had left for America (although he would later return to borrow money from John, who was broke anyway and complained that 'He ought not to have asked,’).
Rogue bracket, sorry.
Tom died late in 1818 and by that time Keats had started his own slow decline. He had also started to take laudanum, claiming it eased the tightness in his chest, but it soon became a habit, and one he and Brown fell out over more than once.
The two friends moved to Hampstead, where he met the elusive Miss Fanny Brawne, who would inspire so much of his work. Keats knew himself to be extreme in nature, and it is almost amusing he chose someone so practical and down-to-earth as Fanny to fall in love with.
She was an incorrigible flirt and not just with John, which drove him into furies. He wrote her cruel and often spiteful notes, then others full of contrition. She took them all in her stride and they developed a close relationship which lead to an engagement.
The convention of the day insisted John raise enough money to provide her with at least somewhere to live before they married, but he wished to devote himself to poetry. These hopes were almost dashed in 1819 with the publication of Endymion.
Endymion was savaged by the critics and John was heartbroken. Byron (a proper dick 75% of the his life) sniped at him as a 'Cockney’ and a 'dirty little blackguard’, but then he was genuinely sorry for his fellow poet’s mauling at the hands of the critics. *slow clap there*
John's odd appearance was perhaps one of the factors that drove his unbalanced character. He was of short stature, perhaps no more than five feet tall, and delicately built. He was painfully aware of a mismatch between his mind and his body.
He perceived himself as unattractive. Severn’s early appalling duck-faced, fuzzy-headed portrait remains one of the most popular images of John Keats. Today, of all days. LAZY GOOGLING, MEDIA CLICKBAIT PEOPLE.
Joseph Severn became Keats’ greatest friend, and also his nursemaid. Towards the end of winter in 1820, Keats returned from the City to Brown’s house, thoroughly chilled. He was sent to bed by Brown, who brought him up a glass of spirits. Because, obviously.
Keats coughed once, but blood hit the sheet. He ordered Brown to bring him the candle in order to see the colour of the blood. His surgical training allowed him to recognize it as arterial blood, meaning his lungs were compromised. 'That drop of blood is my death warrant'.
Later that night, he had his first serious lung haemorrhage, his mouth filling with blood. Brown later remembered the calm with which Keats wiped his chin and remarked, 'This is unfortunate'.

This is unfortunate.
He was bled, starved, fattened and opiated. He fretted for Fanny’s company and began to suffer palpitations. Panic attacks, I'd imagine. Knowing what's coming. Finally, the doctors recommended a warm climate. Rome.
Joseph Severn was his companion. Fanny gave John paper that he might write to her and a large marble she used to cool her fingers when sewing. It would rarely leave his reach for the rest of his life.

John and Joseph left England on the 17th of September 1820.
John did not improve in Rome. Severn did not know how to help him, but listened when the poet talked. They employed an English doctor, who encouraged a robust diet and walking. When Keats continued to decline, the doctor confirmed what John already knew: that he would die soon.
Keats became set upon suicide by laudanum, determined not to suffer the loss of dignity his brother Tom had undergone. Severn confiscated Keats’ supply of the drug and John punished him with descriptions of the incontinence, vomiting and raving that were coming.
Their friendship was a rare one. Keats became frightened of the dark, so Severn rigged up a system whereby one faltering candle would light the wick of the next, an invention Keats named 'the fairy lamplighter’.

Yes. If that doesn't break your heart I don't know what would.
Keats became resigned to his fate and encouraged Severn in his nursing: 'Now you must be firm for it will not last long.’ A letter arrived from Fanny, but he would not open it, only asking for it to be placed in his coffin with his lock of her hair.
On the 23rd of February, his lungs began 'to boil’. He asked Severn to lift him up and hold him, resolving to die easily, and soon. So he and Severn sat, hand in hand for the next seven hours, until John Keats died.
He and Severn had agreed that John would be interred in the Protestant cemetery in Rome. Severn followed his body to the grave. His portrait of his dying friend is enough to cut you out at the knees. Not 'duck face' not 'small'. His friend.
He wrote, 'I am broken down from four nights’ watching, and no sleep since, and my poor Keats gone'. The news took a month to reach London, where it was published in The Times on March 23rd, 1821. Writ in water indeed. Happy Tuesday, pals.

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