Keats, John, 1795-1821

Alternative names
Birth 1795-10-31
Death 1821-02-23
English, German

Biographical notes:

Keats was an English poet.

From the description of Collection, 1814-1891. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 612376586

From the description of John Keats miscellaneous papers and portraits, 1814-1923. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 612730197

From the guide to the John Keats miscellaneous papers and portraits, 1816-1934., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

John Keats was an English poet and literary critic.

From the description of John Keats collection of papers, 1816-1948 bulk (1816-1924). (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122579993

From the guide to the John Keats collection of papers, 1816-1948, 1816-1924, (The New York Public Library. Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature.)

English Romantic poet.

From the description of Letters and fragment, 1818-1820? and undated. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122517236

John Keats (1795-1821) was one of the principal poets of the English Romantic movement. These objects, most of which are on permanent display in the Keats Room at Houghton Library, were acquired at various times and from various donors. Some items were owned by John Keats.

From the description of John Keats portraits and artifacts, ca. 1817-1970 and undated. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 663984953

English poet.

From the description of Lamia : AMs fragment, [1819]. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122489397

From the description of ALS : Kentish Town, to Fanny Brawne, [1820 July 5]. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 86156195

Epithet: poet

British Library Archives and Manuscripts Catalogue : Person : Description : ark:/81055/vdc_100000001296.0x00006c

John Keats, English poet, was born in London, England, on 29 or 31 Oct. 1795. He died of tuberculosis in Italy on 23 Feb. 1821.

In 1810, Keats was articled to a surgeon, T. Hammond, in Edmonton for five years. The contract was broken in 1814 or 1815. He then continued his study of surgery in London, entering Guy's Hospital on 2 Oct. 1815. In 1816, Keats became a dresser at Guy's and on 25 July 1816 passed his licentiate at Apothecaries' Hall. During the winter of 1816-1817, he turned his attention to poetry and abandoned medicine.

From the description of Anatomical and physiological note book : holograph, [1815-1816?]. (College of Physicians of Philadelphia). WorldCat record id: 122632934

John Keats (1795-1821) was one of the principal poets of the English Romantic movement.

These objects, most of which are on permanent display in the Keats Room at Houghton Library, were acquired at various times and from various donors. Some items were owned by John Keats.

From the guide to the John Keats portraits and artifacts, ca. 1817-1970 and undated., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)

The Harvard Keats Collection, like most of the College Library's research collections, has been built up almost entirely through private benefactions. It had small beginnings: two autograph scraps produced by the unfortunate habit of Charles Cowden Clarke and Joseph Severn of dissecting the several manuscripts left in their hands at the poet's death, for the gratification of visitors who expressed their admiration for his works or simply wished to collect autographs. Clarke cut apart an early draft of "I stood tip-toe upon a little hill," from which a slip bearing lines 38-48, 53-60, and 107-110 found its way into the album of James Thomas Fields, the Boston publisher of Ticknor & Fields fame. (It has since been joined by three similar slips from the same manuscript, all from different sources.)

Severn, who accompanied Keats to Rome and outlived him by some fifty years, drew many posthumous portraits of him (several are in the Collection) and for most of the rest of his life distributed fragments of "Isabella: or, the Pot of Basil" and "Otho the Great." A slip bearing IV.ii.128-140 and V.i.18-32 of "Otho" also found its way into the Fields album, which was given to Harvard in 1915 by the publisher's widow, Annie Adams Fields, herself a celebrated Boston hostess.(1) (Six more fragments from "Otho" and five fragments of "Isabella" later came into the Harvard collection.) The album contained many other pieces by American and British writers, most of whom were Ticknor & Fields authors and had been entertained in Mr. and Mrs. Fields's home. It was accompanied by a series of more substantial manuscripts by Dickens and others, the most celebrated of which is the holograph of Hawthorne's The House of the Seven Gables.

The Harvard Library had not previously been remarkable for its collection of literary manuscripts. Indeed, up to that point librarians had been reluctant to accept manuscripts of any kind, though they had acquired a number of medieval codices used as teaching aids in the classics, and several large historical archives such as those amassed by the German historian Christoph Daniel Ebeling (but his collection had been purchased mainly for its printed material), the papers of Jared Sparks and Charles Sumner, and a few others. Ten years were to elapse before the bequest of the poet Amy Lowell (1874-1925) provided the solid foundation that underpinned the Keats Collection and led to much more.

Miss Lowell was born into an affluent and distinguished Boston family, an intellectual, if conservative, milieu. Her brothers were Abbott Lawrence Lowell, who became President of Harvard University in succession to Charles William Eliot, and Percival Lowell, traveller and astronomer, founder of the observatory at Flagstaff, Arizona, where he hoped to be able to verify Giovanni Schiaparelli's theory of the existence of canals (and possibly life) on Mars. Amy Lowell was educated privately and encouraged to travel widely in Europe, developing a taste for art and literature, especially poetry. At home in Brookline she had the run of the large family library, where she read extensively.

At the age of fifteen she came upon the works of John Keats and was immediately captivated; as her biographer S. Foster Damon said, Keats was "the poet predestinate to her discovery." In her late twenties she determined to make poetry her life work, and she also began to collect first editions and manuscripts of English, American, and French writers, forming an impressive library eventually bequeathed to Harvard along with the income of a trust that makes substantial additions possible. After her death and until the Houghton Library was built, her books were housed on the top floor of Widener Library, in the northwest corner next to the Woodberry Poetry Room and the Child Memorial Library. Her Keats material is now kept in the Keats Room, and in the Amy Lowell Room nearby is the bulk of her large library, notable for long runs of first editions, association copies, and manuscripts of her favorite British authors: Jane Austen, the Brontes, the Brownings, George Eliot, Sir Walter Scott, and many more.

Damon has said that her Keats collection began when she "bought all the Keats material in the Locker-Lampson sale [in 1905]." That may have been a defining moment, but in fact she started earlier. Her first important acquisition seems to have been a letter from Keats to Fanny Brawne (4 July [?] 1820; Rollins 270) at the G. I. Ellis sale in 1902. Next she acquired some twenty-five letters, most of them to the poet's publishers Taylor & Hessey, through Quaritch at the Taylor family sale in 1903, with two more at a supplementary sale the next year.

It was a year later that she swept up most of the Keats material in Frederick Locker-Lampson's famous Rowfant Library. This had been purchased en bloc by the American collector E. Dwight Church, who kept only selected items and disposed of most of the rest through the New York booksellers Dodd, Mead & Co. Many of the greatest collectors of the day divided the spoils. Almost all of the Keats books and manuscripts went to Amy Lowell, including seven more letters, the holographs of "The Eve of St. Agnes" and the sonnet "On First Looking into Chapman's Homer," and the second of three leaves of the final draft of "I stood tip-toe" (the first leaf was joined to it in 1947 by the Friends of the Harvard College Library, and the third and last was presented by Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., in 1951). She missed only one Keats letter in the Rowfant Library (to Joseph Severn, 1 November 1816; Rollins 9), which Locker had selected for what he called his Great Album; this, containing many important letters and manuscripts dating from the Renaissance to the late nineteenth century, was sold by Dodd, Mead to Paul M. Warburg and passed to his son-in-law, Samuel Grimson, who deposited it in the Houghton Library in 1952; his widow presented it to Harvard eight years later. It is instructive to note how the magnetism of a strong core collection attracts other significant resources.

Miss Lowell went on adding books and manuscripts whenever possible, until in 1924 she could write, "as far as I can make out, I have one of the largest, if not the largest, collection of Keats material now in existence." As she remarked, the only other private collection that might rival hers was that formed by Keats's first biographer, Richard Monckton Milnes, which had descended to the Marquess of Crewe and, as we shall see, eventually joined hers at Harvard through the generosity of Arthur Houghton. In 1921 her friend Elizabeth Ward Perkins had given her yet another great manuscript, the ode "To Autumn" that George Keats had presented to Anna Barker Ward; and her last major acquisition was the verse letter to George Keats (Margate, [1816]; Rollins 5), which she bought at the W. H. Arnold sale in 1924.

The fame of her collection was such that in 1921 she was invited to deliver the centenary lecture on Keats at Yale. While preparing her paper, she wrote to William Lyon Phelps, "I know so much about that man that I do not know what other people know and what they don't. I do not think I ever felt as though I knew any one--any historical character, I mean--as well as I know Keats. He is as clear to my senses as though he were one of the contemporary poets of today, but can I get all that into a lecture? There's no saying."(2)

Although she was untrained in the techniques of scholarship and biography, surely the idea of writing a new life of Keats had already crossed her mind. In particular she felt that earlier biographers had dealt shabbily with Fanny Brawne, dismissing her as a heartless flirt. The lecture set her off on the project that was to occupy her remaining years, work that also brought her closer to other Keatsians in New England.

They were in general lesser collectors, not having Miss Lowell's means, but not without importance. Some of the things they gathered have also come to the Houghton Library. One member of this circle was Fred Holland Day, the eccentric photographer and publisher, partner in the publishing house of Copeland & Day, who owned two letters that have since been added to the collection: one to Charles Cowden Clarke ([London, 8 or 11 November 1816]; Rollins 10), which he left to the Dedham Historical Society from whom it was purchased for Harvard by Mr. Houghton in 1974, and one to Mrs. James Wylie ([Hampstead, 24 [?] March 1820]; Rollins 253), which passed into the collection of E. Hyde Cox of Manchester, Massachusetts, and was acquired by Harvard in 1948. In Miss Lowell's view, perhaps his most important possession was a series of thirty-one letters from Fanny Brawne to Keats's sister, Fanny Keats Llanos, which went far to vindicate Miss Brawne's sincere affection and admiration for the poet. But since acquiring them in 1889, Day withheld from public view all but a few tantalizing excerpts, while continually promising an edition that never materialized; and his will contained restrictions so that they were not published until 1936, eight years after his death. Amy Lowell yearned to see and to quote what she rightly suspected was corroboration of her opinion of Fanny Brawne. Day, a master of procrastination, delighted to tease and torture her with a prospect that was never fulfilled.(3)

Amy Lowell found a more generous enthusiast in Louis A. Holman, for years dean of Boston print dealers, who had gathered an extensive collection of iconographic material and ephemera bearing on the life and works of Keats. He gave her free access for the illustration of her biography. The Holman Collection was purchased for Harvard in 1940 by Arthur A. Houghton, Jr., where it has proved to be a basic resource for students. Other members of the circle collected information and secondary materials that have also enriched Harvard's resources.

It was the gift of the Houghton Library building by Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. that provided the catalyst for great growth. The Keats Collection doubled in size overnight, and attracted still more gifts from many sources. Mr. Houghton had begun collecting Keats shortly after he left Harvard College in 1929, and continued vigorously when opportunity offered. By 1940, when the Houghton Library was in the planning stage, he had determined to place his Keats material there on permanent deposit, and to allow scholars access to it on the same terms that governed the use of other collections in the Harvard Library. Over a period of years he presented various segments of the deposited collection while adding still more. He completed his gift in 1971.

In an article on Arthur Houghton's private library,(4) the present writer described his Keats collection as it then stood: "The letters and papers deposited by Mr Houghton include three noteworthy groups: first, the Crewe Papers, representing the collections made by Monckton Milnes for his work on Keats; second, the Keats-Haydon correspondence, an exchange of seventeen letters on either side; and third, the Paradinas Papers, containing the correspondence of Fanny Keats Llanos and the American branch of the Keats family. Besides these many individual pieces were acquired by Mr Houghton from various sources. There are holograph drafts and fragments of some eighteen poems, and transcripts and commonplace books (the sole authority for some of the texts of Keats) by Woodhouse, Brown, Haydon, Reynolds, and others, together with much of the great mass of material on the Keats Circle so ably edited by Hyder Rollins. One important Keats holograph was in the autograph album of Emma Isola, Lamb's adopted daughter, which also contains contributions by Wordsworth, Lamb, Hunt, Landor, and others. Four copies of the 1817 Poems include presentations to Reynolds, Severn, and Wells; five of Endymion include Keats's own annotated copy and one he inscribed to Shelley; five of Lamia include a presentation to Lamb and the corrected proof-sheets, which range beside four pages of the holograph early draft and the complete finished draft as sent to the printer. Most interesting among fourteen books from Keats's library are the seven annotated volumes of his Shakespeare."

If one were to single out any item not mentioned above, it would be the great journal-letter to George and Georgiana Keats ([Hampstead], 14 February-3 May [1819]; Rollins 159), containing drafts of eleven poems. Amy Lowell's collection had included one leaf; the other twenty-eight, all now known, were given by Mr. Houghton. It might be noted, too, that among the Crewe Papers there was also a handful of manuscripts forged by the notorious Major Byron, which Monckton Milnes almost persuaded himself were genuine; they are thus permanently retired from circulation while providing a useful object-lesson for students.

Among the other gifts attracted by Mr. Houghton's creation of the Keats Room and housed there from its inception is the comprehensive collection of editions of Keats's works formed by the sculptor John Gregory, from the first collected Galignani edition to the latest, providing both an overview of the transmission of Keats's text and a gallery of publishers' bindings from the early nineteenth century to the present day. The most important accession in recent times is the extensive manuscript journal of Benjamin Robert Haydon, from which the Keats-Haydon correspondence had been extracted earlier. It was presented in 1977 by Willard B. Pope in memory of his wife, Evelyn Ryan Pope. Professor Pope edited and published the text of the journal (5 vol., 1960-63), but reproduced only a selection of Haydon's lively drawings and the many letters by other hands that are inserted in it.

Significant accessions can appear in unexpected places. Several years ago the Library began to collect modern Latin American literature in a systematic way. It became known that the most mysterious and desirable text to many scholars was yet unpublished: Imagen de John Keats by the Argentinian author Julio Cortázar (1914-1984). Arthur Houghton was consulted, and he encouraged the library to pursue it. "Don't pay too much for it," he cautioned. Negotiations with the Cortázar estate were protracted, so the typescript and accompanying annotated copies of Keats texts did not arrive in Cambridge until after Arthur's death. They are part of the Keats Collection today, gift in 1991 of the Friends of the Harvard College Library in honor of Arthur A. Houghton, Jr.

Since its establishment the Keats Room has been kept up to date with the latest definitive editions and other published work on Keats, so that it is and will remain a comprehensive working library for research. The printed books are listed in the Harvard College Library catalogue. The collection of manuscripts is unlikely to grow dramatically in future years. Barring some unexpected discovery, almost all are now in permanent collections, with the largest concentration at Harvard. We are grateful to all who chose to place these resources here, where we hope that they will be a fruitful source of scholarship for many years to come.

NOTES: (1) Although not herself a Keatsian, Mrs. Adams belonged to a group chronicled by Hyder E. Rollins and Stephen M. Parrish in Keats and the Bostonians (Cambridge, Mass., 1951). Members of this circle were responsible for bringing to New England much primary and secondary material about the poet, and several of them will appear presently in this short history. (2) Rollins and Parrish, p. 22. (3) He bequeathed the letters, with other primary and secondary Keatsiana, to the Hampstead Public Library for Wentworth Place. His will actually specified that they could not be published until 1961, but a loophole was provided by British copyright law; see Rollins and Parrish, pp. 49-53. Fragmentary proof sheets of his abortive edition, completed by typed transcripts prepared for him, survive in a unique set at Harvard. (4) The Book Collector, Spring 1957, pp. 38-39. Catalogue of the Harvard Keats Collection John Keats.

From the guide to the John Keats collection, 1814-1891., (Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University)


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  • English literature--19th century
  • Human anatomy
  • Bones
  • Absorption (Physiology)
  • Blood
  • Manuscripts, English--20th century
  • Muscles
  • Nervous system
  • Human physiology
  • Ligaments
  • Poems
  • Calligraphy--Specimens
  • Illumination of books and manuscripts--Specimens
  • English poetry--19th century
  • Poets, English--19th century--Correspondence
  • Blood-vessels


  • Poets


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