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John Keats: A Literary Biography, Page 39
by Albert Elmer Hancock (1908).



While the phantom of "Johnny Keats" was a farcical dumb-show in the public imagination, the reality was a gracious companionable young man, known among his intimates as "Junkets." The nickname was a tribute to his prevailing good-humor. Great men, long after death, are usually set in a rosy limelight and written about sentimentally. Keats deserves his aura of fame. But let us, for the moment, hold hero-worship in abeyance and see him in the common light of day,—as one who ate mutton chops, walked down Cheapside, climbed into stage coaches; chatted, bantered and took his diversions with his friends. Of all the English poets—the genus irritabile—he was one of the pleasantest to live with.

"I got to the stage half an hour before it set out," he writes his sister, "and I counted the buns and tarts in a Pastry-cook's window and was just beginning with the jellies." He found interest in her many trifles. He asked her to keep a diary of all her little doings; and he dreamed of the days when he should have a home for her and the two could read this diary together. The devotion of Keats to this orphan child is one of the grace notes in his character. The pure warm affection for his brother George's wife is another.

The letters are full of amusement derived from the domestic details; Mrs. Dilke's medicine, Mrs. Hunt's skill in tearing linen, Mrs. Shelley's deftness in cutting bread. But Keats was no lady's man. He had no youthful romances. He felt, as a rule, uneasy in the presence of women. They had no power over his mind. Bluestockings he detested particularly. Keats was a man's man wholly. He loved to smoke. He drank wine with relish; sometimes until he was "pleasantly tipsy." Unlike Lamb he committed no indiscretions in his cups. Claret—"'t is the only palate affair I am at all sensual in"—made him feel peaceful. He enjoyed rough sports. He went to a bear-baiting. He saw the prize-fight between Randal and Turner. And he fought a man himself for some act of brutality. His favourite joke was a Dogberry touch from one of the novelists. "Some one says to the serjeant: 'That's a non sequitur,' 'If you come to that,' replies the serjeant, 'you're another.'" Occasionally he would indulge in a practical joke. That on Brown and his tenant is surely excusable,—too good to forget.

Keats' normal vein of humor was sportiveness. He amused his fancy by conjuring up such grotesque images as Voltaire in steel armor, Alexander in a nightcap and Socrates trying a cravat. The letters are often revels of jest and merriment, heaped-up jocularities about trivial matters. He had a real gift for extracting the spirit of fun from the commonplace. One instance must suffice, the description of a Scottish dance:—

PAGE 39 OF 81.

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