The Life of John Keats

Published: 2021-06-29 06:54:02
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Category: Biographies

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John Keats's literary career amounted to just three and a half years. It began in July 1816 after he passed the apothecaries' examination at Guy's Hospital and lasted until late 1819.
Keats wrote 150 poems, but those upon which his reputation rests were written in the span of nine months, from January to September 1819. This intense flowering of talent remains unparalleled in literary history.
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Keats published three books of verse in his lifetime. The first volume, Poems, was published by C and J Ollier in March 1817. It was dedicated to Leigh Hunt and contained thirty-one works, including 'Sleep and Poetry' and 'On first looking into Chapman's Homer'. His second volume, Endymion, was published by Taylor and Hessey in April 1818. It was savagely reviewed and sold poorly. His third volume, Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St Agnes, and Other Poems, was published by Taylor and Hessey in June 1820. It contained thirteen works, including the great odes of 1819 (though not the 'Ode on Indolence') and 'Hyperion'.


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Brown was Keats's closest friend. His Life of John Keats, revised and completed twenty years after the poet's death, offers unique insight into Keats's life.
Brown made three notations in this memoir. They are marked in the text; scroll to the bottom of the page to read them.
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A note on the memoir: After Keats's death, many of his friends were determined to write memoirs of the poet. But as early as September 1821, Joseph Severn recognized Brown's unique role in Keats's life, writing to Brown that he was 'the only one to write Keats's Memoir--at least to describe his character'. For Brown, however, grief was too near. It was only in 1829, after much consideration, that he began the work. 'I am resolved,' he wrote to their mutual friend Dilke, 'seeing that Keats is better valued, to write his life.' And, a few months later, 'My motive for writing Keats' life is that he may not continue to be represented as he was not; possibly I ought to add another motive,- that of revenge against Gifford and Lockhart,- aye, and Jeffrey.'
Sadly, however, Brown and Dilke soon quarreled and their lifelong friendship ended. Likewise, Brown had no use for Keats's brother, George, whom he blamed for taking the poet's money. Since George possessed many of Keats's most important letters, this removed a large source of material for Brown. George also threatened legal action if Keats's then-unpublished poems and letters were printed without his permission. The end result? Brown procrastinated for several years; the task was complicated by his deep and abiding grief over Keats's death. In 1836, his draft was finally completed. And in 1841, George Keats finally waived his legal rights, thus allowing publication. However, Brown and his son now planned to emigrate to New Zealand.
Brown wished to leave his Keats memorabilia, including his memoir, in England. He cast about for capable hands, and eventually chose Richard Monckton Milnes. An admirer of Keats, Milnes had never met the poet. But he and Brown had been acquaintances for several years and Brown had dismissed all of the Keats circle as potential biographers. Mr Milnes, he wrote to Severn, 'is a poet himself, an admirer of Keats and, in my mind, better able to sit in judgment on a selection for publication than any other man I know.'

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