Life of Keats and Keats as a Poet, Page 1|
by Sidney Carleton Newsom (1900).
LIFE OF KEATS
"The publication of three small volumes of verse," writes Houghton in his life of Keats, "some earnest friendships, one profound passion, and a premature death . . . [are] the only incidents of his career." This statement accurately summarizes this admirable biography, but is far too brief for those who would know that life in its fulness.
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John Keats was born in 1795 and died in 1821. His father, Thomas Keats, born and bred in the country, came to London when a boy and secured the place of head hostler in a livery stable owned by a Mr. John Jennings. As time progressed, he married the daughter of his employer; and later, upon retirement of his father-in-law from active affairs, assumed entire control of the business management. Keats's mother, whose temperament he inherited, has been described as "a lively, clever, impulsive woman, passionately fond of amusement." Besides the poet, the eldest child, there were four children, three brothers and a sister. The youngest son died in infancy, and the father was killed by a fall from his horse in 1804. The family, thus reduced to the mother and four children, continued their residence at the old home for little more than a year, Mrs. Keats marrying, in the meantime, a Mr. Rawlings who had succeeded her husband in control of the livery stable. The second marriage was unhappy, and Mrs. Rawlings with her children went to the home of her mother, Mrs. Jennings, who lived at Edmonton.
Very little is known of the home life of the family. Both father and mother were devoted to their children, and before the father died, John, with the brother George, next to him in age, were sent to the private school of the Rev. Mr. Clarke at Enfield. Upon the removal of the family to Edmonton, the residence of John at Enfield, with that of the younger brother, Tom, was still continued. The account given in later years by his schoolmates there is the chief source of information concerning Keats, and indirectly concerning his family.
He passed five years (1805-1810) of his boyhood in the school at Enfield. At first he showed little aptitude for his books, but during the last terms, in his fourteenth and fifteenth years, he became unusually studious and easily took the prizes offered by the school for excellence in literature. In addition to the regular course he began a translation of the Æneid into prose, and read books of history and Ancient mythology. "In my mind's eye," writes Cowden Clarke, son of the principal of the school and one of Keats's warmest friends, "I see him at supper, sitting back on the form from the table, holding the folio volume of Burnet's History of My Own Time between himself and the table, eating his meal from beyond it."
His schoolboy friends seem to have been chosen on the score of their courage and fighting propensities. "He himself would fight any one—morning, noon, and night," writes a classmate; and another observes that he had "a highly pugnacious spirit, which, when roused, was one of the most picturesque exhibitions—off the stage—I ever saw." With the same unanimity it is recorded that he was the favourite of all. The generosity and highmindedness of his character were no less evident than his pugnacity, and especially fine was the zealous care with which he protected his younger brother.
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