John Keats: The Apothecary Poet, Page 3
by Sir William Osler (1908).
What attraction could the career of an apothecary offer to a man already much 'travelled in the realms of gold', who was capable at twenty of writing such a sonnet as that on Chapman's Homer? So far as we know he never practiced or made any effort to get established; and in 1817 he abandoned the profession, apparently not without opposition. In a letter to his friend Brown, dated September 23, 1819, he says, 'In no period of my life have I acted with any self-will but in throwing up the apothecary profession.'
During the next four years he led, to use his own words, 'a fitful life, here and there, no anchor. While a student he had made friends in a literary circle, of which Leigh Hunt and Haydon, the artist, were members, and he had a number of intimates—Brown, Taylor, Bailey, Dilke, and others—among the coming men in art and science. From his letters to them, to his brother George (who had emigrated with his wife to America), and to his sister Fanny, we gleam glimpses of his life at this period. His correspondence reveals, too, so far as it can, the man as he was, his aspirations, thoughts, and hopes.
The spirit of negative capability dominated these years—the capability, as he expresses it, 'of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable searching after fact and reason.' The native hue of any resolution which he may have entertained—and we shall learn that he had such—was soon sicklied o'er, and he lapsed into idleness so far as any remunerative work was concerned. A practical woman like Mrs. Abbey, the wife of the trustee of his mother's estate, condoned his conduct with the words 'the Keatses were ever indolent, that they would ever be so, and that it was born in them'. In a letter to his brother he uses the right word. Here is his confession:
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'The morning I am in a sort of temper, indolent and supremely careless—I long after a stanza or two of Thomson's Castle of Indolence—my passions are all asleep from having slumbered till nearly eleven and weakened the animal fibre all over me to a delightful sensation about three degrees this side of faintness. If I had teeth of pearl and the breath of lilies, I should call it languor; but as I am, especially as I have a black-eye, I must call it laziness. . . . This is the only happiness and is a rare instance of the advantage of the body overpowering the mind.'