Hampstead, the Isle of Wight, and Oxford (March-November, 1817).
A steeple issuing from a leafy rise,
With farmy fields in front, and sloping green,
Dear Hampstead, is thy southern face screne,
Silently smiling on approaching eyes.
Within, thine ever-shifting looks surprise,--
Streets, hills, and dells, trees overhead now seem,
Now down below, with smoking roofs between,--
A village revelling in varieties.
( LEIGH HUNT.)
THE modern suburb of Hampstead still retains much of the flavour of that old village, though it and the houses, farms and scattered hamlets to be seen from its church-crowned height are now all joined up into long arms of bricks and mortar embracing the Heath which, happily, no builder can touch.
The Heath itself is but a pale shadow of the Heath Leigh Hunt loved. In the midst of open fields and meadows and as yet undrained, it was wild, natural country. There were stretches of marsh and bog. Buck bean, kingcups, anemones, crowsfoot, marsh and dog violets, ragged robin, stitchwort, wild geraniums and vetches grew in a sweet abundance; and bryony, pennywort, speedwell, nightshade and yellow loosestrife. There are a few hawthorns left of its ancient spring glory, and a little gorse, but in 1817 there were wild cherries, pears, crabs and bullace plums. A myriad of small life crept and scrambled in the tangled grass and bushes; red admirals, brimstone and yellow butterflies fluttered in the sight.
All this country quiet and loveliness was within easy walking distance of London (as distances were judged in those walking days) and a fare to the Bank was only one shilling outside the coach and one and sixpence in.
Keats and his brothers took lodgings in Well Walk, a wide, pleasant road on the height, leading on to the Heath and bordered with ancient limes. The Walk is now sleepily restful in its old age, but once it was gay and bustling with leisured life, for there was a mineral spring there and the Hampstead Spa was a rival to Tunbridge Wells. In 1817 its heyday was over. The flying coaches were carrying people in summer to a newer attraction, the sea: to Hastings, Weymouth, South End,