About John Keats by John Dennis (page 2)

            He was born in 1795, and received all the education he ever gained at school, from the father of Charles Cowden Clarke, who had a seminary at Enfield. There he studied in his own way with great ardour, but his acquirements were limited, and the poet who was influenced above all others in our century by the romantic mythology of Greece, never learnt Greek. At the age of fifteen he was apprenticed for five years to a surgeon at Edmonton, and long before they ended, the boy, thanks partly to Chapman’s Homer, and more to the “Faerie Queene” of Spenser, had discovered the bent of his genius. Sympathetic and gifted friends recognized it also, and on removing to London to walk the hospitals he found an intimate associate in Leigh Hunt The influence of this friendship is evident, as it was natural it should be, in Keats’s earlier poems. Other men of genius and talent welcomed the poet with open arms, and life for a short time glowed with the “purple light” of youth and hope. Medicine and poetry did not agree together in the case of Keats, and to the latter, poor though he was, he became wholly devoted. His brightest days were spent at Hampstead, where, in the Vale of Health, then a spot of rural beauty, Leigh Hunt had a cottage, and there, too, occurred some of the saddest, for Love, alike passionate and hopeless, seized the young poet with iron grasp at the very time when Death, with a hand still stronger, turned all his love to pain. He knew his doom long before the end came, and in resolving for a last chance of life to try the air of Italy, he felt, as he said, “the sensation of marching up against a battery.” At Rome the artist Severn watched over the dying poet with the tenderness of a sister. The struggle for life was terrible. Keats believed in immortality after the fashion of a virtuous pagan, but he knew nothing of the “good hope” which sustains a Christian, and oftentimes does more than sustain him, when passing through the dark valley. His mind, like his body, was diseased. “His imagination and memory presented every thought to him in horror.” When letters came to him from home he dared not read them. One from the woman he loved, to quote the emphatic language of Severn,” tore him to pieces; ” and he adds, “He did not read it he could not but requested me to place it in his coffin.” The delirium of fever disappeared on the near approach of death, much to the relief of the friend who had been “beating about in the tempest of his mind so long.” “I feel,” said the poet, “the flowers growing over me; “and he begged that this inscription should be placed on his tombstone: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”

            “Keats was buried in the Protestant cemetery at Rome, one of the most beautiful spots on which the eye and heart of man can rest.” (1)


(1) –  Lord Houghton.


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