At Burford Bridge (November--December, 1817)
AT Burford Bridge Keats lodged at the Fox and Hounds (now the Burford Bridge Hotel), a quiet retreat probably recommended to him by Hazlitt whom he had met fairly frequently at Hunt's, Haydon's or the Reynoldses. For that singular man, whose views strongly influenced his own, Keats had a great respect and admiration, though he does not seem ever to have become intimate with him. In the Philosophy of Mystery by Walter Cooper Dendy, there is an improbable conversation between Hazlitt and Keats which takes place on the top of Box Hill, but we have no proof that the two men ever did walk together there.
The hotel stands in a garden of two acres at the foot of the Hill, on the steep side of which the evergreens, firs, box and yews make a background darkly green and restful to look upon. In Keats's day the box and yews invaded the garden half-way across the lawn to the house. The bedroom shown as his looks out on to this lawn on which are fine trees he must have admired; a beech and a Scotch cedar which was even then full grown. Near the window is a tall pine which may have delighted him in its tender youth. The garden was covered in a shrubbery, a tangle of nooks and 'Gothick' arbours that lured to the inn many newly married lovers.
The inn, lying on the old Portsmouth Road, has housed many famous people. Nelson spent his last night in England there before the Battle of Trafalgar. That Keats had the room next to the one he occupied must have both pleased and interested him. He had retained his boyhood's interest in the hero. At Teignmouth a few months later we find him taking a copy of a letter written by Nelson.
In his marginal notes to Paradise Lost, against Book 1, lines 318-21, Keats wrote:
There is a cool pleasure in the very sound of vale. The English word is of the happiest chance. Milton has put vales in heaven and hell with the very utter affection and yearning of a great Poet. It is a sort of Delphic Abstraction-- a beautiful thing made more beautiful by being reflected and put in a Mist. . . .
Was the valley of Mickleham at the back of his mind when he wrote this? There is a dream-like feeling about this vale of Avalon where