Keats's Personality, his World and an Experience
RICHARD ABBEY was a man of affairs, one who had practical interests beyond his business of tea-broking. He was a churchwarden at Walthamstow, twice Master of a City Company (the Patten Makers'), and in 1820 we find him recorded in The Times as one of the Stewards for the Annual Examination of the City of London National Schools in the Egyptian Hall, Mansion House ('dinner at 5 o'clock precisely').
In appearance Abbey was, according to John Taylor, 'a large stout goodnatured looking man with a great Piece of Benevolence standing out on the Top of his Forehead.' Unless the bump of Benevolence were merely delusive, this description of him would seem to support the view that, in his personal relations with his wards, he did what he conceived to be his duty, and not unkindly. It was Abbey's misfortune that in at least one of his wards he entertained an angel unawares. He was old-fashioned; up to 1827 still wearing the dress of his youth, 'white Cotton Stockings & Breeches & half Boots,--when for a long Time there had been no other Man on the Exchange in that Dress, & he was become so conspicuous for it as to be an object of attention in the Streets.'
To an elderly man with set ideas the care of four lively young people could not have been an easy one. He must have felt some relief that soon he would be quit of his eldest ward, John, now on the eve of his majority and fitted, by the expenditure of more than his share of the family money, for a prosperous career. Little Fanny was in the charge of his wife and the two younger boys under his eye in the counting- house at 4 Pancras Lane.
Partly to spite Hammond at Edmonton, and partly because the late Mrs. Jennings had been known and respected in the district, Abbey had determined that John should start a practice in the nearby village of Tottenham. 'He communicated his Plans to his Ward but his Surprize was not moderate to hear in Reply, that he did not intend to be a Surgeon.'
Taylor's report of Richard Abbey's words dramatizes the encounter between ward and guardian. The fat tradesman, secure in his authority and probably seated comfortably in a familiar armchair, and the vivid, beautiful boy standing before him.
"Not intend to be a Surgeon! Why, what do you mean to be?"