KEATS, JOHN (1795-1821). —Poet, son of the chief servant at an inn in London, who married his master's daughter, and died a man of some substance. He was sent to a school at Enfield, and having meanwhile become an orphan, was in 1810 apprenticed to a surgeon at Edmonton. In 1815 he went to London to walk the hospitals. He was not, however, at all enthusiastic in his profession, and having become acquainted with Leigh Hunt, Hazlitt, Shelley, and others, he gave himself more and more to literature. His first work—some sonnets—appeared in Hunt's Examiner, and his first book, Poems, came out in 1817. This book, while containing much that gave little promise of what was to come, was not without touches of beauty and music, but it fell quite flat, finding few readers beyond his immediate circle. Endymion, begun during a visit to the Isle of Wight, appeared in 1818, and was savagely attacked in Blackwood and the Quarterly Review. These attacks, though naturally giving pain to the poet, were not, as was alleged at the time, the cause of his health breaking down, as he was possessed of considerable confidence in his own powers, and his claim to immortality as a poet. Symptoms of hereditary consumption, however, began to show themselves and, in the hope of restored health, he made a tour in the Lakes and Scotland, from which he returned to London none the better.
The death soon after of his brother Thomas, whom he had helped to nurse, told upon his spirits, as did also his unrequited passion for Miss Fanny Brawne. In 1820 he published Lamia and Other Poems, containing Isabella, Eve of St. Agnes, Hyperion, and the odes to the Nightingale and The Grecian Urn, all of which had been produced within a period of about 18 months. This book was warmly praised in the Edinburgh Review. His health had by this time completely given way, and he was likewise harassed by narrow means and hopeless love. He had, however, the consolation of possessing many warm friends, by some of whom, the Hunts and the Brawnes, he was tenderly nursed. At last in 1821 he set out, accompanied by his friend Severn, on that journey to Italy from which he never returned. After much suffering he died at Rome, and was buried in the Protestant cemetery there.
The character of Keats was much misunderstood until the publication by R.M. Milnes, afterwards Lord Houghton, of his Life and Letters, which gives an attractive picture of him. This, together with the accounts of other friends, represent him as "eager, enthusiastic, and sensitive, but humorous, reasonable, and free from vanity, affectionate, a good brother and friend, sweet-tempered, and helpful." In his political views he was liberal, in his religious, indefinite. Though in his life-time subjected to much harsh and unappreciative criticism, his place among English poets is now assured. His chief characteristics are intense, sensuous imagination, and love of beauty, rich and picturesque descriptive power, and exquisitely melodious versification.
See also: "Keats," by James Russell Lowell.
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