The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Some Facts About Hampstead: Its Birds and Buildings.
A Lantern-slide Lecture to Children.

By Mrs. Maxwell Y. Maxwell.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 93-103

Part II.

(Continued from page 200.)

Leaving Lord Chatham's house at North End, we must pass the quaint little Bull and Bush Inn with its tea-gardens, and its bulging bay windows on each side of the door--the stone step of which now down-trodden with age was so frequently traversed by Addison and Hogarth--and must walk on under the high roofing of branches down the road of Golders Hill, Hendon Lane. But stop when it comes at right-angles with Finchley Road, for this is the place to hear skylarks! Not in the Bishop's Wood, where we boasted just now of our large variety of birds, but here in the open fields we shall find them. Trees have no charm for skylarks, for their claws are not made, like those of other birds, to grip round the branches, and they roost where they fear no fall. In the spring I have counted five or six at once in these fields at the cross-roads, some in descent, some in ascent, and one so high that it diminished from a pin's point to nothing. A person of four years old who was watching it with me said: "I think it can see God now," and to judge from the way it was singing--

       "A flood of rapture so divine,"

it was a very natural supposition on the part of that person of four. There is a mysterious inspiration about the music when the maker of it is received up into the pure ether of infinite space and, though invisible, calls on our hearing and sympathy still.

The poet Shelley wrote about this marvelous bird:--

       "Like a star in heaven
       In the broad daylight
       Thou art unseen; but yet I hear thy shrill delight.""

I like to suppose that the skylark which inspired Shelly may have been a Hampstead one, for it was in 1820 that he wrote that beautiful poem; and a little previous to that time he was staying in lodgings in Pond Street to be near to his brother poet, John Keats, who, after trying various places at the sea for his health, was now spending the last three or four years of his life near our Heath.

Keats and two of his brothers lodged in Well Walk in 1817, at the cottage of the Hampstead postman, Benjamin Bentley, who tells us that his good wife "did for the young gents." After the poet had become famous old Benjamin was proud to talk of his having lived there; though we are left to judge how well his wife "did" for them by the fact that poor Tom Keats died in her cottage, and George, the eldest of the three brothers, went off to America. John, who had been at all times sensitive and delicate, became, after his brother's death, so overwrought and depressed that his friends agreed he must not remain longer alone, and Armitage Brown kindly carried him off to live with him at his own house, then called Wentwort Place, but known to us now as Lawn Bank, at the bottom of John Street. Wentworth Place, afterwards made into one house by an actress who bought it, was at that time composed to two adjoining villas, in the other of which lived Fanny Brawne, the lady whom Keats loved and would, if he had not died so young, have undoubtedly married. Here he lived three years with as much comfort as his health would allow, cared for by Fanny Brawne and her mother, who, being such close neighbors, were constantly in and out of his house, as he was also of theirs.

The poet was, at the time of his coming to this home, about twenty-two years old, with the brightness and charm of a little child, and possessed by a genius of poetry which would have been extraordinary at any age.

"Endymion" and the "Eve of St. Agnes" were written in Well Walk; and at Wentworth Place also he produced many of his best poems, all except one of his six famous odes being dated from there. The mulberry tree under which he composed his ode to the "Nightingale" is still in the garden, probably he had heard the bird's sweet song as he lay, depressed by the weakness of his ill-health, between sleeping and waking in the night, and that its nocturnal music had merged into a beautiful dream.

       "Thy plaintive anthem fades past the near meadows, over the still stream,
       Up the hillside; and now 'tis buried deep in the next valley-glades
       Was it a vision or a waking dream?
       Fled is that music: do I wake or sleep?"

He repeated this ode to his friend Haydon the painter, as they strolled in the Kilburn meadows.

During his life at Hampstead, Keats spent much of his time in the Vale of Health, at the house of the poet and essayist Leigh Hunt, a picturesque little place with a balcony overgrown with creepers; and it was here he wrote his poem beginning--

       "To one who has been long in city pent
       'Tis very sweet to look into the fair
       And open space of heaven, to breathe a prayer
       Full in the smile of the blue firmament."

Leigh Hunt's cottage was the frequent resort and meeting-place of Byron, Shelley, Haydon, Hazlitt, and Coleridge; and when it had to be pulled down, owing to old age, the window-pane of the parlour was preserved, for on it was written by Byron, scratched in the glass by a diamond, the words of the poet Cowper--

       "Oh for a lodge in some vast wilderness,
       Some boundless contiguity of shade."

The site of Leigh Hunt's cottage can be identified now by South Villa which stands in its place. It was in a little lane between there and the path to Highgate, when the leaves were red and yellow in the September sun, that Leigh Hunt and Coleridge shook hands with Keats to bid him good-bye when Keats--in consumption--was about to winter in Italy, and turning away from him to Leigh Hunt, Coleridge whispered, "There is death in that hand."

But the fatal nature of his weakness was by no means a secret from the victim of it. Before Keats had discovered his power of poetry he had been educated for medicine, and was able now to recognize only too well the unmistakable symptoms of his disease. Not long before this time--which was the autumn of 1820--he had arrived home late one night from the top of the Hampstead stage-coach in a state of unwonted excitement, saying he had taken a severe chill; and in his bedroom at Wentworth Place, when he was coughing, called to his friend Armitage Brown to bring him a candle.

"I know the colour of that blood," he said with sudden and solemn calm, "it is arterial! That drop is my death warrant, I must die."

Delightful as the prospect of his first visit to Italy would have been under other circumstances, it presented itself to him now as a positive dread, the thought of it indeed would wake him in the early morning and prey on his mind the whole day. To be separated from his friends, and above all from the one whose presence was the only alleviation to his suffering, was to this sensitive soul inexpressible pain. But the devotion of Arthur Severn, the gifted young artist, here came to the rescue; and the loneliness of the poet was to be relieved by the care of a friend who, at the moment when fame and distinction had come to him, would leave London and the pleasing sounds of success for the feverish moans of the patient, and six months of night and day nursing in Rome. Keats was now enduring acute mental as well as physical prostration owing to the inappreciation of his poems by the public, the certainty of his fate, and the final separation from all who were dear to him in England. Shelly, who was living at this time at Pisa, promised him every comfort and care if he would remove thither from Rome. But the dying man would take no other journey, until the following February when he was twenty-five and a half years old and it was Severn's last act of tenderness to lay him beneath the flowers of which Keats, in his later and quieter moments, said he could already feel them growing in the ground above his head, and that the intensest joy in his life had been to watch the exquisite flowers unfold.

And there, though fifty-eight years later, Severn was laid by his side--twin graves within the same small enclosure; an inscription with the name on that of the artist and British consul: an inscription with no name on that of the--

       "Young English poet
       Whose name was writ in water."

Thus John Keats, on his death-bed and in the bitterness of his soul, wished it said, when he was sinking under the weight of his disease, and, as he thought, crushed by the "malice of his enemies."

But we know now that his name was writ, not in the unimpressionable water, but in the everlasting memory of man.

Shelly mourned most bitterly the fate of his friend, which he believed had been hastened by the cruel criticisms in Blackwood's Magazine and the Quarterly Review: and vigorously he defended the ill-prized genius of his brother poet by writing "Adonais" as an elegy on his death. When he visited Keats' grave, near the tomb of Cestius, he wrote, "The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies," and he adds these strangely prophetic words: "it might make one in love with death to think of being buried in so sweet a place." Very soon afterwards in his little yacht, on his way to meet Byron and Leigh Hunt, near Leghorn, Shelly was drowned. His body, however, with a copy of Keats' poems in his pocket, was afterwards washed ashore and was burned by the civic authorities; only the heart being preserved, which was taken to Rome and buried not far from the grave of his friend. This was in July, 1822, only seventeen months after the death of John Keats, and when Shelley himself was not yet quite thirty years old.

Thus the Protestant cemetery in Rome holds all that is mortal of two of our great English poets; the one adding to his poetic qualities those of politician and reformer; the other remaining poet, pure poet, from beginning to end of his nature.

It is only natural to hope that the heart-broken young poet understood after death the noble defence of his merits which "Adonais" contained; for Keats, who thus possessed in Shelley so courageous a champion, had been during his life-time distinguished by this characteristic himself. Having usually a manner of extraordinary gentleness, John Keats would burst into torrents of indignation at the sight of oppression or injustice. On one occasion when a falsehood was repeated and dwelt upon respecting young Severn, he left the room saying he should be ashamed to sit with men who could utter and believe such things. Another time, hearing of something base he exclaimed, "Is there no human dust-hole into which we can sweep such fellows?"

In Hampstead village one day he saw a butcher ill-using a boy, and firing instantly into strength he flung off his coat and gave the man the most unpoetic pommelling he had ever enjoyed! Even as a little child between three and four years of age John planted himself as a sentinel outside his mother's sick room, and on one occasion stood there for three hours with drawn sword, threatening death to anyone who should disturb her.

1795 was the date of Keats' birth, and on the centenary of that date, 1895, a bust of him--the first public memorial in England--was put up in Hampstead church, in memory of his having lived for the last four years of his life in this parish. It is to the devotion of the Americans that we owe this beautiful representation of our poet, for it was they, and not we, who placed it there. Their well-known appreciation of John Keats may possibly have been brought about by the fact of George Keats and his descendants settling in America; for John sent to his eldest brother the manuscript of each poem before it was published. However that may be, at the ceremony of unveiling the bust there was a distinguished assemblage of poets, authors, and actors, from both sides of the Atlantic, to do honour to the young genius whose poetry, if he had lived, would probably have been second to none in our language.

The house of the poet still stands at the bottom of John Street, inhabited, and in good state of repair, with a round red tablet on the wall of the house, and the subsequent name of Lawn Bank, on the gate. Wherever we see a round tablet of this regulation pattern it always means something interesting. There is on in the High Street, on Sir Harry Vane's house, next to the Soldiers' Orphanage; one on Mrs. Siddons' house in Upper Baker Street; another on that of Turner, the landscape painter, in Queen Anne Street, Cavendish Square; on Byron's in Holles Street; and many more.

It was on his seat at the end of Well Walk that John Keats used to sit looking across the valley for Coleridge to come, and anticipating the marvelous talk which was that philosopher's ablest mode of expression, far surpassing that of his pen.

To explain the frequent appearance in Hampstead of Samuel Coleridge, it must be remembered that he lived from 1814 to 1834 in the neighbouring village of Highgate, where Dr. Gilman having received him at first as a resident patient, became, like all who knew Coleridge, so fascinated by his character that he was not willing to part from him. The tablet put up to his memory in the Highgate Church, by James and Ann Gilman, though so highly laudatory to his character, was a genuine expression of their feeling for the poet-philosopher after twenty years of daily intercourse with him.

An innkeeper, who was a complete stranger to Coleridge, refused payment from him, while accepting it from his companions, saying, "The pleasant gentleman might stay there for nothing."

We like to think how often he walked over to the Vale of Health to Leigh Hunt and to poor Keats, and though he has, strictly speaking, no right to a place in the palace of our Hampstead celebrities, we will say, with the innkeeper, that he may "stay here for nothing."

Thomas Carlyle said that he, Coleridge, "had among young enquiring men, a higher than literary, a kind of prophetic character. He knew the sublime secret of believing by the reason what the understanding had been obliged to fling out as incredible; and could still, after Hume and Voltaire had done their best and worst with him, profess himself an orthodox Christian." Carlyle tells how Coleridge would talk for three hours at a time, that he did not like to be interrupted or questioned, adding that "listeners must sit like passive buckets and be pumped into, whether they consented or not." "A sublime man," says Carlyle, "who alone in those dark days had saved his crown of spiritual manhood, escaping from the black materialism's and revolutionary deluges, with 'God Freedom, Immortality' still his."

He also goes on to describe at some length the view from the poet's window, on the brow of Highgate Hill, "where Coleridge sat looking down on London and its smoke-tumult, like a sage escaped from the inanities of life's battle; attracting towards him the thoughts of innumerable brave souls still engaged there." "Waving, blooming country of the brightest green separated Highgate, with its sweep of flowery leafy gardens, from the olive-tinted haze under which the illimitable ocean of London, with its domes and steeples, big Paul's hanging high over all." [Life of John Sterling , chap. viii.]

(To be continued.)

Typed by KimGrace, June, 2023; Proofread by LNL, June, 2023