Keats' thoughts on Shelley?

The life of John Keats the man: his family, his friends, and his contemporaries.

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Keats' thoughts on Shelley?

Postby BrightStar » Sat Nov 13, 2004 7:25 am


I am new to this board, but have been interested in Keats and Romantic poetry since visiting the Keats house in Rome several years ago. I just came across this website tonight, however.

I was wondering if anyone knew how Keats felt about Shelley both as a poet and/or person. One always heres of these two mentioned simultaneously when reading about romantic poetry, and I know letters exist between them, and my impression is that Shelley seemed to have admired Keats. Was this admiration reciprocated? Just curious as to thoughts on this. Thanks!

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Postby Saturn » Sat Nov 13, 2004 9:38 pm

My warmest welcome to the Forum :D :D :D :D :D :D

He certainly admired his work, but seems to have had reservations against Shelley in person - he thought he was quite shrill, excitable, unmanly and offensive at times.

The letter Shelley sent to Keats offering to put him up in Italy when Keats was about to go on his last journey Keats thought was somewhat patronising and rejected the offer.

On Shelley's part, he alone of his contemporary poets seems to have recognised the true extent of Keats' genius and the great promise he had.
Also, Shelley actually had a copy of Keats' poems in his jacket when he drowned - it was the only item which was able to positively identify him.
"Oh what a misery it is to have an intellect in splints".
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Re: Keats' thoughts on Shelley?

Postby SnuggleKeats » Sun Oct 12, 2008 9:20 pm

Found a few snippets in the Gittings bio (am currently re-reading it) that might help!


At Hunt's the circle had now expanded to include its most startling member, on the brink of the most devastating experience in a life full of crises. Shelley, separated from his wife Harriet and their two children, was living with Mary, the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, at 5 Abbey Churchyard, Bath, where she was nursing their own baby. Among the complications of his life, which included Mary's step-sister Claire, now with child by Byron, he found time to follow up his large gift to Hunt with a long and generous letter enclosing a small personal present, and announcing himself as 'an outcast from human society.' This was written from Marlow, where he was staying with Thomas Love Peacock. On Wednesday 11 December, he came up to London for a brief visit to Hunt, not knowing that on that very day inquest was being held on Harriet's body, found drowned in the Serpentine. Mercifully ignorant, he took pleasure in Hunt's unfeigned admiration and in the company assembled at the Hampstead cottage. Two of its members had met for the first time while waiting for Shelley to arrive from Marlow; these were Keats and Horace Smith. Keats had been hoping to make Smith's acquaintance for the past two months, but the witty parodist, full of a recent reading of Shelley's work, and anxious to see a poet with such a remarkable reputation, seemed hardly to notice the young man whose sonnet he had once picked out for praise. In any case, Shelley, once arrived and introduced, soon began to dominate the conversation, though he seems to have winced politely at some of Hunt's facetiousness. On a walk across Hampstead Heath in the fine weather, Smith deliberately sought out Shelley, and the two tall men, striding out together, soon left Keats and the rest of the company behind.


Now, visiting Hunt on Wednesday 18 December, Keats found the cottage caught up in a new and agitating atmosphere, created by Shelley. Shelley was everywhere, darting to and fro in the agony of his fears that his dead wife's relatives would withdraw her children from him, or even that some action might be started to deprive him of his child by Mary Godwin. He dashed from Hunt to his lawyer's, to Mary's step-mother and back to Hunt again. He guaranteed to marry Mary and to put the children temporarily in the charge of Hunt; in both of these actions he had Hunt's approval and sympathy which, he wrote to Mary, 'sustained me against the weight and horror of this event.' In some obscure self-defensive way, Shelley felt he was doing battle with Church and State, with religious bigotry and political oppression, over what was a purely personal matter, and this feeling was intensified to certainty when his dead wife's family made the children subject to a Chancery suit. His atheistical anti-clericalism, always militant, was therefore even more strongly expressed than usual at this time; he impressed it on those around him like an obsession, swamping the mild agnosticism with which Hunt used to tease his orthodox friends. Keats never seems to have treated Shelley with anything more than reserve; as one who had early known real tragedies in life, he may well have found Shelley's dramatic attitudes and self-justification hard to take.


In spite of Haydon's efforts, it was with Hunt that Keats was mostly to be found during the next month, very often in company with Shelley and Mary Shelley, to whome he introduced George. They were evenings of fiercely radical talk. Shelley's hopes of his children by Harriet now depended on the Chancery of Lord Eldon, who, as he too rightly feared, would not be favourable to him. Hunt was attaching the Church thanksgiving that had followed an incident when stones were thrown at the Prince Regent, and, even more bitterly, the suspension of Habeas Corpus that also followed the incident. Keats sat imbibing revolutionary phrases.


His [Keats'] feebler sonnets, such as 'Kosciusko' and 'After dark vapours', loyally printed by Hunt in The Examiner, aroused doubts in experienced literary friends of Shelley, such as Peacock and Hogg, who next month frankly told Mrs. Shelley that Hunt ought to stop printing them. Sometimes too, Shelley himself, on one of their walks on Hampstead Heath, tactfully tried to persuade Keats to delay publication until he had a better collection. The lack of ease that Keats always felt with Shelley, whether it sprang from differences of social status, physique or their views on poetry, made him ignore a suggestion which his own self-criticism must often have put before him. Even though, as Hunt said, 'Keats did not take to Shelley as kindly as Shelley took to him', there was more self-protection than resentment in the feeling. Keats had been a silent spectator of the way Shelley could turn the lives of others upside-down both in admiration or in opposition. Still unsure of himself and his own poetic achievement, though equally sure that he had something unique to offer, Keats felt it urgent not to be swamped, even by kindness. Shelley had now arranged to rent a house at Marlow, where he had often stayed, and with his fondness for pseudonym was already 'The Hermit of Marlow' in a pamphlet printed by the Olliers, henceforth his publishers also. He invited Keats to stay with him there, but Keats refused 'that I might have my own unfettered scope.'
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