John Keats

(1795-1821)

“From the very beginning Keats knew he wanted to be a poet” (Wu, 2012, p. 1394). Keats was born to middle-class parents, the oldest of four children. The Keats children were orphaned young, with parents dying in quick succession. Upon their death, Keats was well-educated and encouraged to seek a gainful occupation, leading him to train as an apothecary. But, in 1816 he made a definitive decision to be a poet. He told his guardian, Richard Abbey, “I mean to rely on my abilities as a poet” (Wu, p. 1386). Reportedly, Abbey responded by calling Keats a “silly boy”. This would not be the first criticism Keats would face.

The work of the literary critic was often vicious and politically motivated. As mentioned previously, Gordon states, “literary historians worried that early criticism was overly political, subservient to patrons,” (p. 26). This was the case of John Gibson Lockhart and the the Blackwood’s Edinburg Magazine. The well-known periodical was motivated by conservative politics. Lockhart, a brilliant writer, created reviews which helped the magazine elevate in importance. He lumped many of the romantic poets of time into a group labeled the, “Cockney School”. Keats, included in this club, suffered deeply. Lockhart’s poisoned words remained attached to Keats work throughout his life. Below: the Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine and a “Cockney School of Poetry” critical article. (Source: archive.org)

Keats, died quite young of consumption. Upon his death, his contemporary Percy Shelley penned Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats, author of Endymion, Hyperion, etc. (1821; composed between 11 April and 8 June 1821). The work accused literary critics like Lockhart as the reason for Keats young death and the early lose of his poetic genius. In the piece, Shelley first invokes sympathy noting Keats untimely death far from home (in Rome) and then romanticizes the grave, “was buried in the romantic and lonely cemetery” (Shelley, Wu, p. 1248). Next, Shelley directly blames critics for the illness that killed Keats, “The savage criticism on his Endymion … produced the most violent effect on his susceptible mind; the agitation thus originated ended in the rupture of a blood-vessel in the lungs; a rapid consumption ensued” (p. 1249). Then he addresses the critics, “It may be well said that these wretched men know not what they do. They scatter their insults and their slanders without heed to whether the poisoned shaft lights on the heart made callous by many blows, or one like Keats, composed of more penetrable stuff” (p. 1249).

“Bright Star” was John Keats finally poem, which he penned for his fiancé and muse, Fanny Brawne. The poem was found with Keats upon his death. (Pictured above: Fanny Brawne and “Bright Star”).

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