The Magic Spell

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

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The Magic Spell

Postby Malia » Tue Mar 21, 2006 9:26 pm

I've been thinking about just what is was about Keats the man (and, OK, Keats the poet, too) that attracted his friends--and even passing acquaintances to him.

Keats's friend Haslam (I'm pretty sure it was Haslam! hehe) said once, "If I know what it is to love, I truly love John Keats." Haslam was a family friend--he was in business and had no real interest in literature. That is to say, I don't think he loved Keats because Keats was a poet. The same could be said for Fanny Brawne--his being a poet was no big deal to her. Yet there was something about him.

What do you think that "something" was? What is the "something" about Keats that attracts *you* to him. He definitely has a "magic spell", over many people--throughout many generations--I think.
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Postby Saturn » Wed Mar 22, 2006 1:11 am

From others' reminiscences and his own letters and poems we can see that he was warm, funny, passionate, intelligent and loyal - all this and an amazing writer.

Some people just weave a spell of attraction which draws all sorts of moths to the burning flame. :D
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Postby Fortuna » Wed Mar 22, 2006 12:32 pm

Hello! I hope no one minds I leap into the forum as though I am a friendly regular :).

I envy his close friends when I read some of Keats' letters. How I wish I could have him as a pen pal :D. I think eloquence is a very big flame as I don't know anyone among who I admire who doesn't have some way with words. Particularly in his time when much correspondece was relied on through letters.

Although I am probably getting a little imaginative here... but I have formed the impression that he was generally quite modest and humble and I'm going out on a limb to say that people weren't threatened by him. Some people who might have all those great qualities Saturn mentioned but their dazzling personas arouse more jealousy than admiration. Keats wasn't "6' and a lord" so his warmth, humour, passion, intelligence and loyalty could have been more accessible. :wink:
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Postby Saturn » Wed Mar 22, 2006 12:36 pm

Welcome on board the board :D

Don't lurk in the shadows my friend - we're the friendliest bunch in the world even if I do get a bit pretentious at times :?

Don't be shy - the more the merrier :D
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Postby Fortuna » Wed Mar 22, 2006 1:04 pm

Thank you so much for the warm welcome! I normally show more class than lurking but admittedly, I've done so here for the past few months. Reading all your discussions realy fuelled my obsession for Keats and spurred me to get the old book of his poetry back out again :). Aside from his poetry, I've never gotten my hands on any biographies aside from what is on his website so I am not much more in-depth, informed debate about Keat's life and times although speculative questions like this thread posed by Malia I certainly enjoy :D. I speculate about Keats waaaaayyyy too much.
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Postby Saturn » Wed Mar 22, 2006 2:18 pm

Fortuna wrote:. I speculate about Keats waaaaayyyy too much.


That's what we like to hear :D
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Postby Malia » Wed Mar 22, 2006 6:42 pm

Great to meet you, Fortuna! It is wonderful to meet another Keats fan such as yourself :)

Fortuna wrote:Aside from his poetry, I've never gotten my hands on any biographies aside from what is on his website so I am not much more in-depth, informed debate about Keat's life


If you are ever interested in reading a biography or two of Keats I HIGHLY recommend Aileen Ward's "John Keats, The Making of A Poet" as a first biography. Her writing is poetic and gripping and she focuses a lot on Keats the man and how his life influenced his poetry and philosophies. This was the first bio I ever read--back when I was 16 or 17--and I LOVED it. Still do! The book is out of print, but you can easily find a used copy on-line at amazon.com or at abebooks.com. (I'm sure they deliver to Australia :) ) Can you tell I love this book? :lol:

Also, to get to know Keats better, I recommend reading an edition of his selected letters. (If you haven't already.) His letters are some of the best ever written and are a great way to get to know his personality better.


Fortuna wrote:and times although speculative questions like this thread posed by Malia I certainly enjoy :D. I speculate about Keats waaaaayyyy too much.


I'm so glad you love to speculate because I do too! Speculate all you want. What in particular about Keats do you speculate most about? I'd love to know! :D
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Postby Malia » Wed Mar 22, 2006 7:53 pm

Fortuna wrote:Although I am probably getting a little imaginative here... but I have formed the impression that he was generally quite modest and humble and I'm going out on a limb to say that people weren't threatened by him.


I get that impression, too, Fortuna. One of his acquaintances, Barry Cornwall (another poet) said he'd visited Keats after Keats had had his first hemorrhage and though we know that Keats was extremely ill and stressed out, believing at least part of the time that the bleeding from the lungs spelled certain doom to his love, career and life he still received Cornwall into his home graciously and gentlemanly. In fact, Cornwall said in a rememberance that he was struck by how simple and gentlemanly--and "unaffected"--Keats was. He set out to make those around him comfortable. He believed in friendship to the highest degree even when he, himself, was miserable.

I was reading through his letters today and came across a statement Keats made to his brother George that says a lot about Keats, I think. He said: "Now the first political duty a man ought to have a mind to is the happiness of his friends." I think that says a lot about how much importance he placed on being a good friend to others.

Another point that comes to mind is when Keats was on his deathbed--though illness and depression caused him to be cruel to Severn at times--at the very end of his life during his last moments his thoughts were mostly of his friend who had come all the way to Italy with him and got into "so much danger and trouble" for Keats. (Keats was always alive to what Severn had to endure for him.) Some of his last words were: "Don't be frightened," thinking of Severn who had never seen a man die. Keats, barely able to breathe, wishing for death with every tortured breath, *still* thought of his friend and what his friend might be going through. Talk about thinking of others!

I admire that aspect of Keats's personality very much.
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Postby Saturn » Wed Mar 22, 2006 10:55 pm

One of the main reasons Keats is my favourite poet is because of his personality, even at times more than his writings.

I feel like I share so many ideas about friendship and loyalty and care for others with him and how he thought and acted in his all too-brief life.

Keats had a huge heart and wasn't afraid to tell people how he felt about them, even if it meant hurting them, or himself.

I can relate to that completely - to my cost, but I always try to remain true to my heart and my feelings.

Is it possible to feel a kind of ethereal kinship with someone you've never met and never will?

Speaking personally, I truly believe in this, not just in the case of writers, musicians and artists I admire, but even some people I only know or have known from my online 'conversations'.
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Postby Credo Buffa » Thu Mar 23, 2006 5:02 am

I agree with everything you've all said.

I think on the simplest level, Keats was just a good person. He was friendly, he was loyal, he was funny, he was interesting. . . all the things that people value in their good friends. Furthermore, I think that he had a complexity that was attractive to people, the same way that we find him such an intriguing person through his letters and life story. Everyone likes a person that is a bit of a challenge, someone to keep them on their toes, and Keats seems like he was that kind of person. . . someone you wouldn't easily get bored with, someone who would always keep you guessing.

Saturn wrote:Is it possible to feel a kind of ethereal kinship with someone you've never met and never will?

Oh, definitely! I know exactly what you mean.
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Postby Fortuna » Thu Mar 23, 2006 8:16 am

Thank you Malia, I will absolutely look into finding a copy of that book. I scoured a few second hand bookshops too this afternoon on my way home but couldn't find anything on Keats. When it comes to biographies, there is such a sense of satisfaction in having the book as opposed to a digital softcopy because of little notes you can make in the margins, post-it notes you can stick for the parts you enjoyed the most, etc. I'd also love to be able to pick up a pocket-sized book on his poetry which I could carry around with me just for moments when I feel the most in need of a good dose of Romantic imagery. :)

Malia wrote:I'm so glad you love to speculate because I do too! Speculate all you want. What in particular about Keats do you speculate most about? I'd love to know! :D


Well, mostly this topic of discussion on his character! :D It's amazing how Keats' warmth and charisma can transcend time to people all over the world who have never met him and still be touched by his personality. His poetry and his letters exude two different characters and its reconciling the two that makes for such entertaining thought at times. I can hardly help myself but I do often indulge in the "what if" fantasies of what if he had lived longer... would his poetry have only gotten better or would his talent have plateaued and he lived to see himself become a has-been? Would he have married Fanny Brawne? Would it have lasted? Would he have become wealthy through the belated success of his writings? How would all those things have changed John Keats as we know of him now?

Haha, plenty to occupy my mind!
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Postby Fortuna » Thu Mar 23, 2006 8:31 am

Saturn wrote:I feel like I share so many ideas about friendship and loyalty and care for others with him and how he thought and acted in his all too-brief life.

Is it possible to feel a kind of ethereal kinship with someone you've never met and never will?


I know I am still very much so a newbie among these boards but I do feel the magnetism of Keats' character reflected here too! There are fans out there of his work with a book or two of his poetry on their bookshelves, but those of us who are really drawn by Keats, the man, must share some of his values of loyalty and kinship in this fast-individualising (Western) world we're living in. I think it's very nice to be able to find like-minded people... Keats himself probably experienced a lot of frustration and loneliness when his generosity towards his friends were sometimes met with disregard and disrespect. (If I'm not mistaken, I remember reading one of his letters where he talked about a friend unable to pay him back on a loan and worse still, seeming to be completely uncaring and unapologetic about it, despite Keats desperately needing the money.)
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Postby Malia » Thu Mar 23, 2006 4:28 pm

Fortuna wrote: I do often indulge in the "what if" fantasies of what if he had lived longer... would his poetry have only gotten better or would his talent have plateaued and he lived to see himself become a has-been? Would he have married Fanny Brawne? Would it have lasted? Would he have become wealthy through the belated success of his writings? How would all those things have changed John Keats as we know of him now?


Great speculative questions, Fortuna! And I--as well as I think most Keatsians--have considered them myself.

Would he have become a has-been?
Assuming he either recovered from TB or never got sick with it in the first place (we have to use a flight of fancy, there) I really don't think he would have. I think he would have gone on to write plays which was his greatest ambition. For some reason, I see him becoming more overtly political with his writing--being kind of the "Charles Dickens" of playwrites. For some reason, I have the idea in my head that as he turned into the Victorian era, he'd have become more like Dickens--at least as far as writing about social issues is concerned.

Would he have married Fanny Brawne?
Hmm. . .that's an interesting question. If he had never gotten ill, I'm not sure he would have even fallen in love with her in the first place--and I think his sickness was in large part responsible for his feverish, obsessive desire for her. He later thought that if he could only have "had her" sexually, he wouldn't have died from consumption. I tend to wonder if he hadn't lost Tom if he would have even fallen in love with her in the first place. His love for her--many say--was in part a response to the death of his brother. He'd been in such close proximity to death for the months he'd nursed Tom that he craved vitality and life to such a degree that he fell for her. But, I'd have to give Keats more credit than that--there were other women haunting his mind during Tom's last illness, but it was Fanny that made the most lasting impression--I'm sure for a good reason.

I tend to wonder if he and Fanny would have made a good match, though. She liked the social scene and flirting with men--Keats was *extremely* jealous in nature (not at all healthy for a relationship). I would guess that much of the jealousy he felt was rooted in his illness (the fever sharpening his feelings) but a lot of it also had to do with his admittedly ambivalent feelings toward women in general. He didn't have a "right feeling" about women and he admitted as much in a letter to Bailey during his walking tour. Those kinds of feelings don't generally lend themselves to a healthy married life.

Would he have become wealthy?
Who knows? Would he have become famous without his tragic "promise cut short/doomed to die alone in Italy/killed by the reviewers" story? Impossible to say. Though I think his work would eventually speak for itself--the idea of him as the "tragic artist" went a long way toward furthering his posthumous career.

I don't think Keats would ever be wealthy simply because he was terrible with money matters and would probably lend most of it to friends who would take him for everything he had if they could. Keats was the kind of guy who could have benefitted greatly from a patron who could take care of his financial needs so he could devote all his time to his work.
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Postby Despondence » Thu Mar 23, 2006 9:22 pm

Malia wrote:Would he have become a has-been?
Assuming he either recovered from TB or never got sick with it in the first place (we have to use a flight of fancy, there) I really don't think he would have. I think he would have gone on to write plays which was his greatest ambition. For some reason, I see him becoming more overtly political with his writing--being kind of the "Charles Dickens" of playwrites. For some reason, I have the idea in my head that as he turned into the Victorian era, he'd have become more like Dickens--at least as far as writing about social issues is concerned.

Maybe, though that would have been terrible, imo.
As Shelley invited Keats to Pisa, he confessed to "nurturing a competitor that will far surpass me". If Keats had lived, I think Shelley would have too (don't ask me why, just a hunch), and between the two I would have hoped that another romantic metamorphosis might have taken place, Keats himself altered after his brush with death. He wrote at the completion of Endymion that he wished to "try once more" (meaning Hyperion, I presume), and had he lived, maybe he would have taken up Hyperion again for a third revision. Who knows what that would have been, but I'm sure it would have become his master piece. With the support of Shelley, never a has-been :) And also I would have been very interested to see what would have come out of a friendship between Keats and John Clare (which would have been likely, as they would have shared the same publisher, and their personalities strongly suggest that at least Keats should have taken to Clare very easily). Might have sent sparks of genius flying..

Malia wrote:Would he have married Fanny Brawne?
Hmm. . .that's an interesting question. If he had never gotten ill, I'm not sure he would have even fallen in love with her in the first place--and I think his sickness was in large part responsible for his feverish, obsessive desire for her. He later thought that if he could only have "had her" sexually, he wouldn't have died from consumption. I tend to wonder if he hadn't lost Tom if he would have even fallen in love with her in the first place. His love for her--many say--was in part a response to the death of his brother. He'd been in such close proximity to death for the months he'd nursed Tom that he craved vitality and life to such a degree that he fell for her. But, I'd have to give Keats more credit than that--there were other women haunting his mind during Tom's last illness, but it was Fanny that made the most lasting impression--I'm sure for a good reason.

I tend to wonder if he and Fanny would have made a good match, though. She liked the social scene and flirting with men--Keats was *extremely* jealous in nature (not at all healthy for a relationship). I would guess that much of the jealousy he felt was rooted in his illness (the fever sharpening his feelings) but a lot of it also had to do with his admittedly ambivalent feelings toward women in general. He didn't have a "right feeling" about women and he admitted as much in a letter to Bailey during his walking tour. Those kinds of feelings don't generally lend themselves to a healthy married life.

I'm sure he would have married her - what else, they were engaged! As to his not so "right feeling towards women", how could he have any "right" feelings with no experience? He was just expressing his ignorance on the matter. Maybe he and Fanny both were rather immature concerning connubial matters, and it might look like they wouldn't fit together. But hey, people learn as they go along, don't they? I have to think so anyway, or I'm stuffed.. :lol:
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Postby Fortuna » Thu Mar 23, 2006 10:40 pm

I really enjoyed reading both your thoughts Malia and Despondence!

I have never thought about Keats become more political in his works although that is certainly a likely path. I've always thought at least from 'where we left off', Keats had some way to go before coming to terms with his own financial issues and being able to write about social issues like poverty objectively.

What political and social issues interested Keats by the way? I am not very familiar with his ideas beyond his poetry, love life and friendships and I am extremely curious. Actually, I think if I were given a chance to meet Keats, I'd probably spend most of our meeting grilling him on his values!
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