John Keats: Poet, Father Of Romanticism Who Peaked When He Was Young

Posthumous portrait of John Keats by William Hilton. (National Portrait Gallery/Wikimedia Commons)

During his life, John Keats was far from the most important poet of the Romantic movement. In fact, he had only been serious about poetry for six years, and the few volumes of his that were published earned deeply unfavorable reviews. At the time of his death in 1821 at age 25, he was certain that his work was destined to be forgotten. Thankfully, Keats was wrong.

Keats's Early Life

John Keats was born in London on October 31, 1795 into a romantic doom-and-gloom lifestyle. When he was eight years old, his father died after falling off a horse, and as the oldest of four children, Keats did his best to watch over his younger siblings when his mother died of tuberculosis six years later in 1810. Following his mother's death, Keats's maternal grandmother appointed two men, Richard Abbey and John Rowland Sandell, as the family's guardians.

Abbey briefly convinced Keats to pursue a career in medicine, apprenticing under an apothecary and surgeon at 15, but he preferred reading the classics and mythology. He found medicine far too gruesome for his disposition, and though he received his apothecary's license in 1816, he abandoned the medical profession shortly thereafter. Financially, it was a bad move, gore or no: He should have received £800 from his grandfather's trust when he turned 21, but likely due to Abbey's poor guardianship, he never saw it. Thanks to his mother, he had some money to split with his siblings, but it wasn't enough to afford him the privilege of lying around writing poetry all day.