His Birth, Parentage and Early Childhood
ON the 31st of October, 1795, at the Swan and Hoop Livery Stables, 28 Finsbury Pavement, John Keats was born.
Finsbury Pavement, outside the precincts of the City of London, faced a wide stretch of flat fields, the Moorfields. Within the City narrow streets were thronged with life both commercial and domestic: the majority of City tradesmen still lived over their shops. But London was beginning to spread outwards and the stables were on the fringe of the growing suburb of Finsbury. Near by were the new and stately Square and Circus, now the last remnant of the living green of Moorfields.
With the bustle of the prosperous stables, the ring of hooves on the cobbled yard, the jingle of harness and the shouts of ostlers, it must have been a cheerful and stimulating environment for a lively baby. The legend goes that he was a seven-months' child but there seem to have been none of the characteristic signs of delicacy about him.
Thomas Keats, the poet's father, head ostler to John Jennings, the proprietor of the Swan and Hoop, married his master's daughter. It is said that in addition to owning the livery stables Keats's grandfather ran a line of coaches. He was certainly a man of substance. At his death, in March, 1805, he left a fortune of over thirteen thousand pounds.
We know little of Keats's mother and still less of his father. One account of him suggests that he was a boorish fellow unduly elevated by his rise in the world, apt to carouse with jolly companions, that 'he did not possess or display any great accomplishments.' The second account gives him as 'a man of remarkably fine common sense and native respectability' with 'a lively energetic countenance'. The first is in the reported words of Richard Abbey, afterwards guardian to the Keats children, and the second that of Charles Cowden Clarke, son of the headmaster of the school at which the boys received their education. Abbey's account of Keats's parentage is, on certain points, of proved inaccuracy.
In 1827, six years after Keats's death, his publisher, John Taylor, intending to write a memoir of the poet, asked Abbey for particulars of his origins and early years. These Taylor wrote down in a letter to his friend, Richard Woodhouse. Abbey, he said, came from the same