John Keats (31 October 1795 – 23 February 1821) was the latest born of the great Romantic poets. Along with Byron and Shelley, he was one of the key figures in the second generation of the movement, despite publishing his work over only a four-year period. During his short life, his work was not well received by critics, but his posthumous influence on poets such as Alfred Tennyson and Wilfred Owen was significant. The poetry of Keats was characterised by sensual imagery, most notably in the series of odes which remain among the most popular poems in English
literature. The letters of Keats are among the most celebrated by any English poet.
What is most interesting to Austen scholars is the apparent link between Jane Austen’s work and the influence it may have had on Keats’ poetry.
The lives of both these writers overlap almost perfectly and as Katie Mastrucci writes in An Imitation of Spenser—comes in 1814, when Keats was
nineteen. In 1815, Keats registered as a medical student at Guy’s Hospital (now part of King’s College London). Within a month of starting, he
was accepted for a “dressership” position within the hospital—a significant promotion with increased responsibility and workload, taking up
precious writing time and increasing his ambivalence to working in medicine. Strongly drawn by an ambition inspired by fellow poets such as Leigh Hunt and Byron, but beleaguered by family financial crises that continued to
the end of his life, he suffered periods of deep depression. His brother George wrote that John “feared that he should never be a poet, & if he
was not he would destroy himself”. In 1816, Keats received his apothecary’s licence but before the end of the year he announced to his guardian
that he had resolved to be a poet, not a surgeon.
Though he continued his work and training at Guy’s, Keats was devoting increasing time to the study of literature. In May 1816, Leigh Hunt,
greatly admired by Keats, agreed to publish the sonnet O Solitude in his
magazine The Examiner, a leading liberal magazine of the day. It is the first appearance of Keats’s poems in print and Charles Cowden
Clarke refers to it as his friend’s “red letter day”, first proof that John’s ambitions were not ridiculous. In the summer of that year he went
down to the coastal town of Margate with Clarke to write. There he began Calidore
and initiated the era of his great letter writing.
In October, Clarke personally introduced Keats to the influential Hunt, a close friend of Byron and Shelley. Five months later Poems, the first volume of Keats
verse, was published. It was a critical failure but Hunt went on to publish the essay Three Young Poets (Shelley, Keats and Reynolds),
along with the sonnet on Chapman’s Homer, promising great things to come. He introduced Keats to many prominent men in his circle, including
editor of The Times Thomas Barnes, writer Charles Lamb, conductor Vincent Novello and poet John Hamilton Reynolds, who would become a
close friend. It was a decisive turning point for Keats. He was established in the public eye as a figure in, what Hunt termed, ‘a new school
of poetry’. At this time Keats writes to his friend Bailey “I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of
the imagination — What imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth”. This would eventually transmute into the concluding lines of Ode on a Grecian Urn ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’ – that is all / you know on
earth, and all ye need to know”.
Endymion, on its eventual publication, was also damned by the critics, giving
rise to Byron’s quip that Keats was ultimately “snuffed out by an article”. One particularly harsh review by John Wilson Croker appeared in the
April 1818 edition of The Quarterly Review:
…It is not, we say, that the author has not powers of language, rays of fancy, and gleams of genius – he has all these; but he is
unhappily a disciple of the new school of wha
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