Life of Keats and Keats as a Poet, Page 3|
by Sidney Carleton Newsom (1900).
His circle of friends was growing larger. He met Lamb, Hazlitt, Coleridge, and Wordsworth. Hazlitt was delivering a series of lectures on literature at Surrey Institute, and he and Keats became good friends, though Hazlitt does not seem to have recognized fully Keats's greatness. Mention is made of "an immortal dinner" given by Hayden, where Wordsworth quoted Milton and Virgil "with fine intonation" and Lamb perpetuated absurd jokes. Later Wordsworth invited Keats to his home. Keats recited the Hymn to Pan (Endymion) and Wordsworth patronizingly observed that it was "a pretty piece of Paganism."
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Endymion, begun a year before, was published early in 1818. Immediately thereafter, in company with a friend, Keats started on a walking tour through northern England. They visited the lake region, but missed seeing Wordsworth, who happened to be away from home. Keats was in excellent spirits, and at first thoroughly enjoyed the rugged scenery and the novelty of his daily experiences with the country people. But before his tour was half finished he began to suffer from exposure. Several times he was drenched to the skin, and climbing mountains was too much for him. In a letter he complains of "a slight sore throat," and adds that he has over-exerted himself. He became feverish, and finally decided, upon the advice of a physician whom he consulted, to return to London by boat, leaving his friend to complete the tour alone. From this time on Keats's health steadily declined. His inherent tendency to consumption was undoubtedly strengthened by his indiscretion and thoughtlessness.
Immediately upon his return to London there appeared a brutal criticism of Endymion in the periodical, Blackwood. Later the Quarterly contained an article hardly less savage. Keats was too fully conscious of his own integrity and of the meanness of motive behind these criticisms to be seriously affected by them. In a letter to a friend he observes, "When I feel I am right, no external praise can give me such a glow as my own solitary re-perception and ratification of what is fine." It is not probable, as once was thought, that the criticisms of these periodicals hastened in any large measure his death.
The remaining incidents of Keats's life need not be recited in detail. His best poetry—the six odes—was yet to be written, but misfortunes of one sort or another made his last days wretched. His invalid brother, Tom, to whom he was devotedly attached, after a lingering illness died. George, the companion brother of his boyhood days, had emigrated to the United States, and Keats himself, in addition to his declining health, was in financial straits that pressed him greatly. He attempted to find work on the press in London, but failed.
In the midst of these disappointments he became despondent and careless of his health. Fresh exposure resulted in renewed hemorrhages, and in company with his friend Severn he took passage for Italy in September, 1820. Shelley, immediately upon hearing of Keats's sickness, had written from Pisa urging him to make his home there. But Severn and Keats had both decided upon Rome and it was too late to alter plans. The voyage and the climate of Italy proved beneficial and for a time Keats rallied. Severn entertained strong hopes of his recovery, but the improvement was deceptive. A second relapse was followed by his death, on February 23, 1821. "Three days later his body was carried, attended by several of the English in Rome who had heard his story, to its grave in that retired and verdant cemetery, which for his sake and Shelley's has become a place of pilgrimage to the English race forever."
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