The Voyage to Italy (September--November 1820)

THE favourable reception of his book in literary circles, Tory and Liberal, aroused outside his immediate circle a new interest in Keats. It is likely that he received many invitations which, both from ill-health and disinclination, he refused. One, however, was accepted, and, so far as we know, it was the last engagement he fulfilled; to spend the day with Horace Smith at his house in Elysium Row, Fulham, then in the midst of open country, nursery gardens and orchards. During the afternoon Smith took his little daughter into the garden and drew her attention to 'a rather thin, pale and ill-dressed gentleman' sitting in the shade of a wide-spreading ilex tree.

"Do you see that man?" he said, "that's a poet."

The familiars of his circle came to dine at an earlier hour than usual so that they might enjoy a long evening out of doors in exceptionally beautiful weather. James and Leonard Smith were there and also the 'literary dry-salter,' Thomas Hill of Sydenham. Hill had been allowed as an especial favour by his host to send over in Keats's honour a dozen of his favourite beverage, 'some quite undeniable Chateau Margeaux', and this was enjoyed in the garden.

As the weeks drew on towards the shorter days the thought of the voyage to Italy weighed more and more on Keats's mind. 'This Journey,' he wrote to Taylor on August 14th, 'wakes me at daylight every morning and haunts me horribly. I shall endeavour to go through it with the sensation of marching up against a Battery.'

The financial aspect was worrying him. Mr. Abbey had promised that if no money came from George he would make a loan, but when Keats wrote for it he answered formally: 'You know that it was very much against my will that you lent your money to George. . . . Bad debts for the last two years have cut down the profits of our business to nothing, so that I can scarcely take out enough for my private expence

--It is therefore not in my power to lend you any thing--I am Dear Sir Yrs--Richd Abbey. When you are able to call I shall be glad to see you, as I should not like to see you want "maintenance for the day."'1

In a further letter to Taylor about the voyage Keats enclosed without comment a note of how he wished to dispose of his property

At the time (see Appendix I) there was lying to Keats's account unclaimed in the Court of Chancery at least £700.


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A Life of John Keats


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