John Keats: The Apothecary Poet, Page 7|
by Sir William Osler (1908).
He played a medical prank on his friend Brown, who had let his house to a man named Nathan Benjamin. The water which furnished the house was in a tank lined with lime, which impregnated the water unpleasantly. Keats wrote the following short note to Brown:
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Sir,—By drinking your damn'd tank water I have got the gravel. What reparation can you make to me and my family?
Brown accordingly surprised his tenant with the following answer:
Sir,—I cannot offer you any remuneration until your gravel shall have formed itself into a stone, when I will cut you with pleasure.
In a letter to James Rice he tells one of the best maternal impression stories extant: 'Would you like a true story? There was a man and his wife who, being to go a long journey on foot, in the course of their travels came to a river which rolled knee-deep over the pebbles. In these cases the man generally pulls off his shoes and stockings and carries the woman over on his back. This man did so. And his wife being pregnant, and troubled, as in such cases is very common, with strange longings, took the strangest that ever was heard of. Seeing her husband's foot, a handsome one enough, looked very clean and tempting in the clear water, on their arrival at the other bank she earnestly demanded a bit of it. He being an affectionate fellow, and fearing for the comeliness of his child, gave her a bit which he cut off with his clasp-knife. Not satisfied, she asked for another morsel. Supposing there might be twins, he gave her a slice more. Not yet contented, she craved another piece. "You wretch," cries the man, "would you wish me to kill myself? Take that," upon which he stabbed her with the knife, and cut her open, and found three children in his belly: two of them very comfortable with their mouths shut, the third with its eyes and mouth stark staring wide open. "Who would have thought it!" cried the widower, and pursued his journey.'
The estate of Keats's mother was greatly involved, and it does not appear that he received much from the trustee, Mr. Abbey. His books were not successful, and having no love for the ordinary hack work in literature, he was largely dependent upon the bounty of his friends, from whom in several of his letters the receipt of money is acknowledged. Who could resist a charming borrower who could thus write: 'I am your debtor; I must ever remain so; nor do I wish to be clear of my rational debt; there is a comfort in throwing oneself on the charity of one's friends—'tis like the albatross sleeping on its wings. I will be to you wine in the cellar, and the more modestly, or rather, indolently I retire into the backward bin, the more Falerne will I be at the drinking.' We must remember, however, that Keats had reasonable expectations. He says to Haydon, December 23, 1818, 'I have a little money, which may enable me to study and to travel for three or four years.' He had enough wisdom to try to be 'correct in money matters and to have in my desk', as he says, 'the chronicles of them to refer to and to know my worldly non-estate.'
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