Plymouth and its Athenaeum had vital roles in the development of John Keats’s posthumous fame, transforming him from a luckless Cockney rhymester to the great Romantic poet we admire today.
It was at Plymouth Athenaeum on Tuesday 27 December 1836 that Keats’s friend Charles Armitage Brown presented a lecture based on his biography of the poet. Brown, with whom Keats lodged at Hampstead from 1818 until 1820, had been living in Plymouth since 1835.
He had recently resolved to complete his ‘life of the poet’, and this extraordinary Keatsian ‘first’ at the Plymouth Athenaeum was followed by the first ever publication of Keats’ famous ‘Bright Star’ sonnet in the Plymouth and Devonport Weekly Journal on September 27, 1838.
Plymouth, we could say, helped to ‘make’ John Keats.
This talk will range over Brown’s friendship with John Keats, aspects of his life in England, Russia, Italy and New Zealand, and the significance of his first life of the poet.
Nicholas Roe is Professor of English at the University of St Andrews and Chair of the Keats Foundation. He lived as a child at Yelverton and Clearbrook, and recalls post-war Plymouth from those early days.
His acclaimed biography John Keats. A New Life appeared in 2012.