1795-1821 - John Keats
'To one who has been long in city pent,' the young Keats wrote of Hampstead's fresh air and open spaces, "Tis very sweet to look into the fair and open face of heaven.' Hampstead was then a secluded village. This house was built in 1815-16 as a pair of semi-detached residences with a shared garden. The unity of the frontage, as seen from the gate, was preserved by placing one of the entrance doors to the side. Keats came to live here in 1818 and his sitting room, with French windows and verandah, remains very much as it was in his day. What would Hampstead's main attractions have been to a Romantic poet of this period?
The Romantic poet was a guest in this house for rather less than two years, but it has become inextricably associated with him and is to this day suffused with his presence. Outwardly at least, surprisingly little has changed - many of the fixtures and fittings are those Keats would have known and the shutters of the French windows that lead from his sitting room into the garden are still secured at night with the same stout iron bar that he would have fastened into position many times. On a May morning in 1819 he wrote 'Ode to a Nightingale' in that very garden, inspired by birdsong from the surrounding trees. Next door - the house was semi-detached, and did not become one dwelling until 1839 - lived Fanny Brawne, the great love of Keats's life. It is tempting to regard his years here as the happiest of his brief existence, for it was in that spring and early summer that five of his six great Odes were written. By the winter he was troubled by financial worries and the onset of the pulmonary illness that, barely a year later, led to his premature death in Rome. Though he had lived in it for such a short time, the house always retained its associations with Keats, and very quickly became a place of pilgrimage. Thomas Hardy sensed the shade of Keats when he visited the house in later years:
|O Poet, come you haunting here
Where streets have stolen up all around,
And never a nightingale pours one
Will you wake wind-wafts on these stairs?
Swing the doors open noisily?
Show as an umbraged ghost beside
Your ancient tree?