At Teignmouth (March-May, 1818)
TEIGNMOUTH in South Devon would seem to-day an odd choice for Tom, but a mild climate was held to be essential to the cure of consumption far into the nineteenth century. On his brother's arrival Tom was certainly rather better in health; and had a great fancy to his medical attendant, a Dr. William Turton, M.D., F.L.S., who had made a special study of his disease.1
The cheerful bustle of a busy port too must have been welcome to the sick boy. He might go down to the harbour at the mouth of the Teign and see the ships being loaded for Liverpool with the pipe and potter's clay from the pits at Kingsteignton, the fishing vessels bound for the Mediterranean markets, or the big seines being dragged out of the water by women. The fishing women were picturesquely dressed '& la Hollandaise' and an old guide-book says, in recommending this as a sight of the town, 'the mingled air of satisfaction at the expectation of a large draught of fishes, and the chagrin and disappointment pictured on their sunburnt countenances, when a few crabs make their appearance, would not be an unfit subject for the pencil of a Rowlandson.' Tom would have arrived too late in the year to see the Newfoundland fishing fleet sail for their long sojourn in the West. If he were well enough for a walk he might take an easy stroll along the Teign to neighbouring villages or saunter in the sheltered lanes where the deep hedgerows never lose their hint of spring. For George there were steep climbs over Haldon and towards Dawlish along fine sloping cliffs with the sea below.
The town was then divided into two by a stream, the Tame, which now runs below Wellington and Bank Streets. The pleasantly irregular streets were well-paved. In the Public Rooms there were an Assembly, a reading and a billiard room: there was a theatre, Croydon's Library, pleasure boats on the Teign and the sea and bathing machines 'upwards of twelve in number' which 'may justly boast a superiority over those of any other part of the kingdom.' If you took a machine you were ducked with ceremony by a bathing man or woman and in winter it cost you a shilling; double what was charged in summer. This was probably a survival of the uncomfortable old notion that bathing was only beneficial in winter when the pores of the skin were not so open____________________
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Publication information: Book title: A Life of John Keats. Edition: 2nd Rev.. Contributors: Dorothy Hewlett - Author. Publisher: Barnes & Noble. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1950. Page number: 147.