Studies on Specific Subjects
1: Shilston Keate, Thomas Keats of the Swan and Hoop and the Cornwall, London, Guernsey Triangle
Smuggling operations between Cornwall, Guernsey and the open port of Roscoff in Brittany were conducted by families or by share-based companies or by a combination of the two. Legal and financial experts were required by the larger operators. Two of the most distinguished families were the Quillers of Polperro, in south-east Cornwall, and the Carters of Breage-Germoe, a few miles east of Penzance. The Quillers used the steward of the Rev Sir Harry Trelawny of Trelawne, Zephaniah Job of Polperro, as their accountant and legal consultant, while the Carters used Christopher Wallis, the Helston attorney. Information regarding the activities of the Quillers and the Carters is preserved, at least in part, in their records. The Smugglers' Banker by Jeremy Rowett Johns has made the surviving Job material available. Dr Jonathan Couch, Q's grandfather, was physician to Job and the Trelawny family. Q obtained information regarding the Quillers from his father, Dr Thomas Quiller Couch. A description of the Quiller house in Polperro, with its wig-cupboard and lazarette, its false beams and Richard Quiller's quadrant key, is found in Q's Memories and Opinions and in greater detail in some of his stories.
Q celebrates the activities of the Carters in the short story King O' Prussia. This is partly based on Captain Harry Carter's (1749–1809) autobiographical writings which were edited in 1894 by J.B. Cornish, one of Q's Penzance friends, and published under the title An Autobiography of a Cornish Smuggler. An earlier memoir of Carter had appeared in the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine for October 1831. No doubt Dr Jonathan Couch read it. Melissa Hardie in Bronte Territories: Cornwall and the Unexplored Maternal Legacy, 1760-1860 has established the connection between the Carters and near relations of Thomas and Anne Branwell (see 1767), grandparents of the Bronte novelists (pp. 71–2). Maria Bronte née Branwell and 'Aunt' Elizabeth Branwell would have been reared at a time when smuggling would have been relatively normal. That did not change until the close of the Napoleonic Wars. Thomas and Anne Branwell would have known the families of Keats, Cara(h) and Borlase.
In the novel Harry Revel, set in the Rame Head area, Q explains how share-based smuggling companies worked. Each operation was financed by a group of 'venturers' —landowners, merchants, the clergy, magistrates—who bought shares and took the profit or suffered the loss. In the novel the operation is run from the country house of landowner Lydia Belcher. One operation is saved from disaster by local magistrate Jack Rogers who sets a flare off on Rame Head to warn the approaching boats of the presence of Redcoat soldiers.
The landing of contraband was followed by the loading of ponies and a highly organized system of distribution by 'landsmen' along selected routes. In A Singular Adventure of a Small Free-Trader, based on an account delivered to Jonathan Couch by a Breton smuggler, the landing is at Rope Haven on Dodman Point about midnight, and ends in the early morning on the western slopes of Bodmin Moor, above St Breward. All ponies had to be clipped, greased and shod, with the loss of a shoe necessitating recourse to the nearest smith for re-shoeing or concealment. Shilston Keate could hardly have escaped involvement even if he had wished to.
'Free trading' was far from disreputable. Zephniah Job, who was the central figure in the smuggling and privateering companies in Polperro, was steward of the Trelawny estates throughout Cornwall, with instructions, as Jeremy Rowett Johns states, to handle 'all expenditures', including those of Lady Anne Trelawny and the six children (p. 49) He commenced his duties in 1786, three years before the birth of Jonathan Couch, continuing until his death in 1822. In 1800, he arranged a loan of £1,300 for Sir Harry from 'John Quiller the notorious smuggler whose privateering exploits had reaped such rich rewards in prize money' (p. 100). John Quiller was Q's great-great grandfather. John Carter also had distinguished friends. When Davies Giddy or Gilbert was showing Josiah Wedgwood, the pottery manufacturer who moved in dissenting and liberal circles, around west Cornwall in 1797-8, he records in his diary an 'excursion to the King of Prussia's Cove' or John Carter. Davie Gilbert was a member of parliament, a friend of Humphry Davy and later President of the Royal Society.
If Thomas Keats was the son of Shilston Keate or another Keats of Penzance, he would have been reared in the ethos of 'free-trading', fully conversant with its means and methods. Most of the Guernsey smuggling companies held offices in London. When Jonathan Couch went to London to train at the united medical school of Guy's and St Thomas', he would have deposited the fees required with Zephaniah Job and collected them from one of the company offices through a promissory note. Jeremy Rowett Johns has listed entries from the accounts of Job from 1787 to 1816. The main Guernsey merchants listed in London were: De Jersey & Corbin; Jersey & De Lisle; De Carteret & Co; and Nicholas Maingy & Sons. Johns has calculated that between 1788 and 1804, the sum of £100,000 went to just three of the Guernsey firms, either directly to Guernsey or through their London offices. This suggests that Cornish smugglers landed cargoes in London. John also describes a close banking relationship between Job and Christopher Smith, Alderman and Sheriff of the City of London, later Lord Mayor. Job's records reveal a triangle involving Polperro, Guernsey and London and involving persons from all levels of society. What was true of Polperro must also have been true of Penzance.
Motion details in Chapter One but refuses to speculate upon the late financial affairs of John Jennings, father-in-law of Thomas Keats, and on the affairs of Thomas Keats himself. At a time when entrepreneurs are at their most creative Jennings was quiescent. Then in 1774, when in his mid-fifties, a fair age for those days, he marries, leases a stable for ten and then for a further 21 years (until his mid-eighties, a good age today!), rents the adjacent inn, and finally engages in finance; resulting in his buying into the Innholders' Company and receiving the Freedom of the City. It is difficult to reflect upon this without recalling Christopher Smith.
If John Jennings had boat owning relations in Cornwall and Devon, his acquisition of an inn makes business sense, as does his engagement of Thomas Keats as stableman. Stables can hide more than horses. His rise to affluence followed. Each move would have required capital and a source of capital was available.
When Thomas Keats was employed in the apparently humble position of ostler at the Swan and Hoop, Motion suggests the possibility of 'old connections between his family and the Jennings'. Yet although an ostler 'he was well-off' and 'kept a remarkably fine horse'. By the age of 30 he had acquired 'assets of £2,000', a remarkable amount. Motion does not try to explain this. Dealing in contraband certainly does, both for John Jennings and Thomas Keats. It also helps explain, although it is not the main reason, why Thomas Keats gave out little or no information about himself and his background. The less known, the less suspected.
2: The 'Exiles' in Italy: Q's Lecture on Shelley
When John Keats started to publish his verse, as Motion explains, its political message came in for severe criticism. This helped poison any wider appreciation. In his printed lecture Shelley I, Q presents Byron. Keats and Shelley as prophets driven from England apparently on the charge of moral degeneracy, but actually for their political beliefs. They were also driven out because they released the power of creative inspiration into a society ossifying under the repressive hand of a threatened and privileged establishment.
Q opens his lecture on Shelley, given at the New Arts School in Cambridge, apparently in 1921, with the foundering of the Ariel in the Gulf of Spezzia on its return from Leghorne. Q would have known that Cornish fish merchants such as his great-grandfather, Richard Couch of Polperro, had exported fish through Leghorne for generations. J.R. Johns informs us of Sir Harry Trelawny returning from Leghorne in 1793 aboard a Polperro brig, the Richard and Mary, which had just landed a cargo of pilchards (p. 55). The journey back took three weeks.
When describing the foundering of the Ariel in a squall and the discovery of Shelley's body ten days later on the beach by Via Reggio, Q's mind might have wandered to the loss at sea of John Quiller, his great-great grandfather, aboard The Three Brothers in 1804. Bertha Couch relates in her Life of Jonathan Couch how John Quiller had ignored a premonitionary dream, sailed from Roscoff and been wrecked off the north-west coast of Penwith, with the body eventually coming ashore at Newquay (p.31). John Quiller was illiterate, signing his name with a cross, but in the coat-pockets of Shelley were the writings of Sophocles and Keats.
Shelley was not alone on the Ariel, a craft Byron had named Don Juan, when it foundered on July 8, 1822. He was accompanied by E.E. Williams and the boatboy Charles Vivian (1805–1822). Dr Hardie has discovered that Vivian was the son of Andrew Vivian, the managing engineer of Dolcoath Mine at Camborne in Cornwall. He had been a friend of Richard Trevithick and was related to the Carnes and the Branwells of Penzance (Bronte Terr. p. 101).
Q describes to his student audience the pyre built by Byron, Hunt and Trelawny on the sands, with Shelley's ashes coming to rest near the tomb of John Keats in Rome. Keat's inscription read, 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water', a suitable epitaph for the nine Quillers who were drowned at sea, the last two in 1823, a year after Shelley.
A curious fact relating to three of the above, Byron, Trelawny and Keats, is that they possessed Cornish blood. Lord Byron possessed Trevanion blood, while Edward Trelawny was a nephew of Sir Harry Trelawny of Trelawne. On his occasional visits to Trelawne, Jonathan Couch, who was the family doctor, might have met Edward. It now appears that Keats also had Cornish blood. There was another Cornish poet, not present at the beach at Via Reggio, but a frequent visitor to Italy, the chemist Sir Humphry Davy of Penzance. The families of Davy and Keats would have known each other for nearly two hundred years.
In section two of his Shelley lecture, Q contrasts the physical death of the 'exiles' in Italy and Greece with the spiritual death of those who remained and conformed. The result was the extinguishing of the flame of prophetic poetry in Britain. At this point in the lecture, having established his position in relation to the Romantic poets of the post-Napoleonic War period, Q turns to his audience in the manner of John Donne in the pulpit of St Paul's. The students in the Arts Theatre are confronted with the fact that Q is not so much attacking the reactionary government of Sidmouth, Castlereagh and Canning as the Lloyd George-Bonar Law Conservative-Liberal coalition which had been cobbled together in December 1918. An insight into Q's concern can be gleaned from a quotation taken from Simon Heffer's Staring at God. Britain in the Great War, 1917, contained in a review in the Times Literary Supplement of November 2019: Britain had gone 'from being a Gladstonian nation of laissez-faire and individual freedom to one of total war in which every man and woman became a commodity to be exploited by a government fighting for the salvation of the country.'
Q, whose son Bevil had fought for four years on the western front, saw the 'prophetic poets' lying dead in military cemeteries; while at home 'no-one can turn a stone in public life without troubling that large political shelter towards which its revealed vermin scurry'. This leads him to appeal to his student audience to 'uttering thoughts with a freedom at this moment – it is the truth whether you like it or not! - at this moment forbidden to you by Government order...I would exort you to winning back the general right of free speech...'
In section four of the printed lecture, Q develops the theme of poets as prophets. For him the poet Shelley continues to speak with 'incomparable power'. Q, a devout Anglican, is seeing Shelley, Byron and Keats—not the Church leaders, the academics, the scientists—as the inheritors of the prophetic tradition of Isaiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah from the Old Testament, without which a society stagnates.
The argument Q develops in his Shelley lecture he had employed some time earlier in a Byron lecture given at University College, Nottingham, during the dark year of 1918. With their attention riveted on the battles taking place in northern France, Q's audience was possibly surprised, even shocked, to be told that 'Byron needs proclaiming and especially needs it just now.' Later in the lecture Q will draw a contrast between 'Shelley, Keats, Landor, Byron' and the Regency politicians 'Frere, Castlereagh, Gifford, Lockhart', while at the same time comparing the political situation of '1818' with that of '1918'. However, to provide a little calm in the midst of the storm, he employs a lengthy quotation from Matthew Arnold (Cornish on his mother's side) which relates more of what the audience expected to hear.
'These two, Wordsworth and Byron, stand, it seems to me, first and pre-eminent..., a glorious pair, among the English poets of this (nineteenth) century. Keats had, probably, indeed, a more consummate poetic gift than either of them; but he died having produced too little and being as yet too immature to rival them. I for my part can never even think of equalling with them any other of their contemporaries; - either Coleridge, poet and philosopher wrecked in a mist of opium; or Shelley, beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void of his luminous wings in vain. Wordsworth and Byron stand out by themselves.'
In relation to Shelley, Q remarks that 'The only void in which Shelley ever beat his luminous wings in vain was a void in Mr. Arnold's understanding.' The purpose of the quotation is to identify the names of the foremost nineteenth century poets. Interestingly, all of these but Keats had a poetic relationship with a Penzance poet, the chemist Sir Humphry Davy. If Thomas Keats came from a Penzance family, the fact is even more remarkable. And Davy, himself, spent a number of his later years in Italy. Even the Rev Sir Harry Trelawny of Trelane ended his days as a Roman Catholic bishop of Laveno in northern Italy.
In Chapter 52 of his biography of John Keats, Andrew Motion describes how in September 1820, John Keats and his friend Joseph Severn sailed for Italy. They landed at Naples on October 31, the poet's 25th birthday. By November 15 they were in Rome, lodging at 26 Piazza di Spagne. December saw Keats badly coughing blood. In conversation with Severn John Keats reflected: ' I think a malignant being must have power over us over whom the Almighty has little or no influence'.
On his excursions through Rome, Severn became acquainted with a Spanish writer called Valentin Llanos y Guiterrez, as Motion explains in Chapter 53. Hearing of a dying English poet, Valentin, who could speak English, desired to visit. Their last conversation took place shortly before Keats' death on February 23, 1821. The short friendship appears to have been based on common literary and political principles.
When shortly afterwards Valentin moved to London, he carried a letter of introduction from Severn to Fanny Brawne. Through Fanny Brawne Valentin was introduced to Fanny Keats. In 1826, Valentin and Fanny Keats were married and lived most of their married life abroad. Motion makes little of this, maybe unwisely.
3: Fanny Keats and the Spanish Connection
Q's notion of palimpsest, discussed elsewhere in this study, throws light on another aspect of the Keat's story: the possible origin of the family; the late friendship of John Keats and Valentin Llanos Gutierrez in Rome; and the eventual marriage of Fanny Keats to Valentin and their life in Iberia.
Q's notion of palimpsest, discussed elsewhere in this study, throws light on another aspect of the Keat's story: the possible origin of the family; the late friendship of John Keats and Valentin Llanos Gutierrez in Rome; and the eventual marriage of Fanny Keats to Valentin and their life in Iberia.
In the winter of 1820–1, a Spanish political exile called Valentin Llanos Gutierrez (b. Valladolid in Castilla-y-Leon, 16-12-1795; d. Madrid, 14.8.1885) met a dying John Keats in Rome. The Llanos family were natives of Valladolid on the River Pisuerga, in northern Spain. Valentin's father, Luis de Llanos, worked at the Royal Chancery. With the French invasion of February 1808, when a French army of 100,000 men crossed the Pyrenees and a British force under Sir John Moore landed at Corunna or La Coruna, Valladolid was quickly occupied by General Massena and the Spanish forces under General Blake were defeated and dispersed. Later in the year Arthur Wellesley landed in Portugal. In December Valladolid was briefly occupied by Moore's forces but shortly afterwards Napoleon arrived there in person. It was under French occupation until July 1812 when Wellington marched his victorious army through on the way to the French border. At some point Valentin's elder brother, Mateo, was seconded from the army of General Castanos as a liaison officer, on account of his fluent English, or emerged from a guerilla group, to become, in time, a British major. Although there were Portuguese forces under Wellington there were no specifically Spanish ones.
In a series of factually based stories in the mould of Sir Walter Scott and relying heavily on Napier's History of the Peninsula War, Q recounts the progress of Wellington's forces from Portugal to the French border in a number of his stories:
- Harry Revel, novel, from Chapter XXI, the advance through Portugal in the autumn of 1811 to the siege of Ciudad Rodrigo in January 1812;
- 'The Lamp and the Guitar',short story, and 'The Two Scouts', short story, the adventures of British agent Manuel MacNeill or McNeill, a Spaniard with Scottish ancestry, during Wellington's campaigns of 1811 and 1812;
- 'Three Men of Badajoz',short story, the siege of Badajoz in April 1812;
- ''The Cellars of Rueda', short story, Wellington's advance from the River Duoro in July 1812 to Bayonne, in south-east France , in 1814, with special reference to Alan MacNeill.
The novel Harry Revel refers back to the unsuccessful campaign of Sir John Moore in 1808–9. Q centred the short story 'Rain of Dollars' on Moore's retreat over the mountains of Galacia to Corunna in January 1809. At the time Jonathan Couch was training at the united medical school of Guy's and St Thomas' in London. No doubt he followed the daily reports, as did the Keats family.
These Peninsula War stories are re-creations of historical events in the style of Walter Scott, a writer who also influenced Valentin Llanos Gutierrez. The influence of Cervantes is also evident, especially in Q's 'The Lamp and the Guitar'. What is obvious throughout is Q's grasp of the Spanish character and Iberian scenery.
Valentin was born in December 1795, being about 12 in 1808. The French, even if seen as occupiers, brought new and exciting ideas to Valladolid where Valentin was being taught English at the English College. When on September 5, 1812, the British under Anson and Ponsonby arrived, another set of political values entered the city. There can be little doubt that the period of occupation from 1808 to 1812 proved formative in the life of Valentin. The restoration of reactionary Ferdinand VII, in 1814, must have been most unwelcome. Byron, Keats and Shelley felt the same as reaction hardened in Britain after the Congress of Vienna. Q felt a similar hardening after the Khaki election of 1918 and the vindictive Paris Peace Conference of 1919.
DNA analysis has confirmed an idea found in the folk tradition, as explored in Romances and Drolls of the West of England by Robert Hunt, a friend of Q's father, of a migration of peoples into south-west Britain from the south, in fact from south-west France and north-east Spain. This area includes the valley of the Pisuerge on which Valladolid stands. The connection between the two areas cannot be doubted. There appears to be a small number of place names in the south-west of Britain deriving from the original language. The Celtic influence into Britain and Spain followed much later. The Cornish language derives from this. Northern Spain experienced Romanization more fully than Cornwall, possibly more than Devon. Devon also experienced the Saxon influence more than Cornwall, although DNA analysis has not supported the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in suggesting the presence of Anglo-Saxon peoples in Devon. Even as late as the English Civil War, advancing armies west of Exeter, in the absence of proper roads, proved problematic. Using Q's idea of palimpsest, it appears that south-west Britain and northern Spain have their most important racial and cultural layers in common. Q was aware of this, drawing attention to it in his introduction to Cornwall Survey of 1910. He was a lone voice then, he is not now.
Q never wrote about Spain in the post-Napoleonic period, being too concerned with the failure by the British political class to create a fairer and more liberal society. This failure, he believed, sowed the seeds of class division and conflict driven theories later in the century. Byron, Keats and Shelley were the prophets of a new age driven to exile and death by a suffocating establishment. It was Q's hope that the Liberal victory of 1906 would right nearly a hundred years of stumbling progress and blighted vision. But only to see the war of 1914 and the Khaki election of 1918 destroy the dream; hence his call to hear again the voices of Byron, Keats and Shelley.
Q ended his Iberian tales with the abdication of Napoleon and his exile to the island of Elba. In the novel Poison Island, Dr Beauregard of Havana visits Napoleon in Elba, only to be disillusioned at what he found. With the restoration of Ferdinand VII to Spain in 1814, Mateo fled to Mexico, probably sailing not far from the island governed for the Spanish authorities by Dr Beauregard in the novel. Valentin commenced a journey of exile through Europe, which in the winter of 1820–1 takes him to Rome. He meets Joseph Severn who introduces him to the dying John Keats. With his knowledge of the English language and its literature, Valentine quickly establishes a relationship with the poet, apparently being at his bedside three days before the death on February 21, 1821.
Following the death of Keats and in possession of a letter of introduction to Fanny Brawne, Valentin travels to England, where he meets her and Fanny Keats. Thus began Valentin's most creative period, possibly with Fanny Keats as his muse. He wrote the following books in London:
- Representation of the soverign Spanish people on the emancipation of all their colonies in various parts of the globe, published anonymously by Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, London, 1822;
- A Catechism of Spanish Grammar, Whitacker, London, 1824;
- Memoirs of Ferdinand VII. King of the Spains, Hurst, Robinson & Co., London, 1824;
- Don Esteban or, Memoirs of a Spaniard written by himself, H. Colburn, London, 1825, 3 vols (influenced by Walter Scott);
- Sandoval or the Freemason, H. Colburn, London, 1826, 3 vols.
They were not well received by the reactionary government in Spain; he was not permitted to return there and indeed feared for his life.
Valentin was acquainted with Fanny Keats for five years before marriage resulted in 1826. Motion suggests the marriage and the removal abroad to have been an 'escape'. Emigration to America was the 'escape' of George Keats (Intro. XXIV). It was certainly and 'escape' from the fear of exposure and humiliation. Maybe the breakdown in the health of John Keats was the result of negative critical attention allied to the shadows of the family past. Shilston Keate was not alive in 1821. It is likely that Mary Cara was, and indeed the child Georgiana, who would have been John's and Fanny's aunt. Maybe there were others waiting to turn up unannounced on the London doorstep.
Valentin and Fanny moved to Spain in 1833 following the death of Ferdinand VII. In 1835, Valentin was appointed secretary to former exile and leading liberal Juan Alvarez Mendizabel, who was a leading member of the government. Valentin occupied a seat for Valladolid in the Congress of Deputies.
Fanny and Valentin had four surviving children. Juan who was born in London, received lessons at the Academy of Fine Arts in Valladolid and continued his artistic training in Madrid. Q's father, Dr Thomas Q Couch, was an accomplished watercolourist who contributed illustrations to his father's A History of the Fishes of the British Islands of 1860. Juan was accomplished in drawing and oil painting. When Fanny and Valentin were at Valldolid Rosa was born, with Isabel later in Madrid. The youngest was Luis, born when Valentin was consul in Gibraltar. Through her marriage to Valentin, Fanny was more than returning to the social status of her clerical and landowning forebears in the parish of Madron. Motion believed Rosa to have been born in London (p. 4).
Luis could have been a character from one of Q's stories or Q could have been a Cornish Luis. Luis spent from 1853 to 1856 at the Academy of Fine Arts in Valladolid before entering the Diplomatic Corps, later serving in Athens, Rome, Brussels and Bogota, where he died of typus in 1894—a disease Q accurately describes in his novella Ia. Beneath the conventional and respectable exterior resided an imaginative life full of creative thoughts. Writing under the name Miguel Fernandez Losada, Luis fictionalised his life, combining character sketches of those he knew, as did Q in his stories, with events from his own life. He also included unrealised artistic desires and a fear of mental illness. As with Q Luis was exploring levels of consciousness beyond that of the material and immediate.
Thomas Keats was apparently short and stocky, a build common to Cornwall and Iberia. Maybe this was true of Valentin. Mousehole, two miles west of Penzance, was well known locally for the Iberian features of its natives. If Thomas Keats or Keate hailed from Penwith, he and Valentin might have shared psychological and cultural characteristics. Once Fanny had accommodated herself to Valentin, Spanish life seems not to have fazed her, while Valentin blossomed under her influence. Q's notion of palimpsest provides a way of understanding the relationship.
4: Q on Fanny Brawne
If much modern verse is written out as prose it comes out as prose and mediocre prose at that. Try it with Dylan Thomas and Charles Causley and the poetry remains. Q's address at the opening of Keats' house in Hampstead was written as prose for the Studies in Literature series, but it has all the rhythm and intensity of poetry.
Q starts the address with a concern that the simplicities of Keats' scholarship are becoming confused in complexities. Keats' house in Hampstead brings the scholar back to fundamentals. At the time of the address, May 9, 1925, the house was still situated on the margin between town and country, urban and rural. It was still 'fragrant' with an English spring. The house and its surrounds provided a solid foundation for the 'ghosts, thoughts and memories' of the 'musing mind'. Q had a mind which distrusted abstract thought and speculation for its own sake. The intangibles needed to be grounded in the tangible.
The first solid fact about the address is the date, May 9, 1925; the second is that the subject of the address, the poet John Keats, is dead. In 1925, Q's temporarily failing eyesight led him to believe, wrongly as it turned out, that his life's work was done. What appears today in printed form must have been delivered from memory and dictated to Miss Winifred Hutchinson for typing.
John Keats was born in London on October 31, 1795, when Q's grandfather, Jonathan Couch of Polperro, was six years old. Q's son, Bevil Quiller-Couch was born at Fowey in October 1891. Keats died aged 25. When Bevil was 25 he was commanding a battery of artillery on the Western Front, with Q expecting daily the dreaded telegram from the War Office. Having survived the war, Bevil died in the pneumonia outbreak of 1919 and was buried at Cologne. His marriage to May Cannon was fixed for June of that year. John Keats died in Rome with his wedding fixed for a time following the return of his health. Fanny Brawne was his intended. Q addressed the gathering at Keats' house just over four years after the death of Bevil. Both John Keats and Bevil Quiller-Couch died with promise unfulfilled.
Following the introduction in section one, section two reflects upon the scenes of love and sorrow the house had witnessed. In looking for a symbol Q chooses the nightingale heard by Keats in the garden.
'Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales awake;
For Death he taketh all away: but them he cannot take!'
Q contrasts our transitory material existence against the realm of the spirit. This realm, signified by the nightingale, is that to which the true poet aspires in moments of vision, hence making mortality tolerable, if only just.
In sections three and four, Q confronts the vexed question of Keats' relationship to Fanny Brawne. The question was particularly vexed following the publication of Fanny's letters to John Keats. Commentators suggested her response to him as being cool or even cold. Q was approaching somewhat delicate ground as Fanny's grand-daughter was one of his audience.
Q did not see Fanny Brawne as the woman for John Keats, nor did he see Keats' passion directed at the woman she happened to be. Keats was in love with a woman of his imagination which could have been directed at a dozen others. He intimates that Fanny's feminine intuition discerned this, with the contents of the letters showing her good sense.
It was said of Humpry Davy's grandmother that she possessed 'a fervid and poetical mind' (Humphry Davy, p.5). In Keats this Celtic mind appears to have been allied to the passions of Shilston Keate. As a consequence, as Q relates, the 'torture' of his desire for love in 'any passionate flame' broke his health. He was no blacksmith beating the iron with muscles of knotted rope. Q compares Keats' fantasy to that of Dulcinea del Toboso and Don Quixote in its inexplicable nature. However, the Penwith background gives us some understanding.
In sections five and six, Q compares Keats to the Roman Catullus. Both with Catullus and Cervantes the direction is towards Iberia and Italy. Gaius Valerius Catullus (c. 84–c.54 BC) was a Roman love poet whose best known works were directed to a married woman. Mary Cara, the lover of Shilston Keate, was not a married woman; but others might have been. Was one the mother of Thomas Keate?
For all the faults of Keats and Catullus, Q maintains that their finest works were of the purest inspiration; making an early death in each case an unmitigated tragedy.
In the penultimate section Q chooses to quote five lines of Hyperion:
'”High Prophetess,”said I, “purge off
Benign, if so it please thee, my mind's film” -
“None can usurp this height,” returned that Shade,
“But those to whom the miseries of the world
Are miseries, and will not let them rest.” '
Q was one who could not rest for the miseries of the world. His political, educational and literary activities were aimed at this mitigation.
Q concludes the address by acknowledging Keats' house as the home, in former times, of genius and he applauds the people of Hampstead for preserving it.
5: Davy, Keats and Bronte
Penzance at the close of the eighteenth century does not seem an auspicious town for the creation of genius. Fishing, mining and smelting; the landing and distribution of contraband; farming the slopes of Penwith Moor; these appear to cover the aspirations of the native population. Yet from its soils sprang the Davy scientists, most notably chemist and poet Humphry Davy, Maria and Elizabeth Branwell, mother and aunt of the Bronte novelists, and, apparently, the father of John Keats, Thomas Keats. To these could be added a group of lesser figures discussed elsewhere on this website.
One reason for this could be its freedom from bureaucracies and establishments, with individuals feeling the confidence to explore and express themselves without the need to conform. Humphry Davy was the epitome of the genius who performs indifferently in the classroom but brilliantly outside of it. One wonders how well or badly he would fare in the exam and degree cram system of today.
Davy arrived in London in 1801 confident enough to take the establishment by storm; Q was a successful novelist with an income from his sales when he became a professor at Cambridge in 1912 and feared not to give free rein to his political and literary opinions. John Keats and the Bronte sisters were in a far more vulnerable position.
Dr John Davy informs us of how his brother met ' Many men of genius' while working with Dr Beddoes at the 'Pneumatic Institute' in Clifton, including the Nether Stowey poets. His friendship with Coleridge and Southey opened the door to others such as Wordsworth and Byron (Life, pp 52–2). When Davy transferred to the Royal Institution in London, commencing his public lectures in 1801, he became a central figure in the life of the capital. No doubt some from outside London who attended his lectures stayed a night at the Swan and Hoop, discussing in the tap-room what they had seen and heard.
Davy established a warm relationship with Walter Scott. He met Byron in Wordsworth's company in London in 1813, and at Lucca in Italy six years later. Davy was not without sympathy for the politically liberal views of Byron, Keats and Shelley, as the section 'Political Reflections, 1816' from his notebook demonstrates (Life, pp 229–234). Humphry Davy was sufficiently important to be mentioned in T. Allsop's Letters, and recollections of S.T. Coleridge of 1858 and Lockhart's Memoirs of Sir Walter Scott, Edinburgh, 1845. And all this time he was writing verse. Biographies of Davy the Scientist tend to see the verse as peripheral and of no consequence to the real business of science, as though the mind can be compartmentalised. In John Davy's Life we have the whole mind.
In time Humphry was joined in London by his Penzance cousin Edmund Davy and by his younger brother John, who was training in medicine. All three would have known or known of Shilston and Ursula Keate, Mary Cara and Georgiana, and the Thomas Keate or Keats who went away. In a small and enclosed community like Penzance, it was possible that they were in some way related if only in the distant past.
Edmund Davy, F.R.S., was born to William Davy of Penzance in 1785 and died in 1857. John Davy, M.D., F.R.S., was born in 1790. Humphry and John were the sons of Robert Davy and Grace Millett and the grandsons of Edmund and Grace Davy. Robert Davy owned the family farm at Varfell, between Penzance and Marazion. Robert was born in 1741, two years before the first visit of John Wesley, and died in 1796. He saw the first phase of the Industrial Revolution in west Cornwall. Grace Millett was born in St Just in 1751 and died aged 75 in 1826. Grace's father and mother would have had Cornish as their second language, as would Edmund and Grace Davy.
The Industrial Revolution brought many Cornish people to London for financial, legal and political reasons. For reasons of patent, 1802 saw Richard Trevithick and Andrew Vivian, whose son was later to know Shelley, in London, with Trevithick returning in 1808 to construct a railway. This was the year Jonathan Couch entered the combined medical school of Guy's and St Thomas and John Keats was at school in Enfield. Previous to his visit of 1802 and two years before the death of Thomas Keats, Richard Trevithick had lodged with a Mrs Dennis at Madron while constructing an engine at Ding Dong mine. Trevithick would certainly have become acquainted with the Madron smith, Shilston Keate. Mrs Dennis remembered Trevithick as 'a good storyteller', something John Keats was in verse (Life of R.T., pp. 60, 72).
In the dispute with Boulton and Watt regarding patent, Trevithick and Vivian were represented at the Court of Common Pleas in Westminster Hall by Christopher Wallis, Attorney-at-law and Master of Trevarno, near Helston. The father of Christopher Wallis was Nicholas Wallis(h), from 1737 the schoolmaster at the Daniel charity school in Madron, now St Maddern's Church of England primary school. Nicholas could well have taught Shilston and Thomas.
According to Nancy M. Wallis, in the RIC publication of 2003, 'Christopher Wallis', Christopher was born in 1744 and died in 1826. He was born thirteen years after Shilston Keate and died eleven years after im. As an attorney he represented the local mining interest in London, often being in the capital for weeks or months. He also represented the smuggling and privateering interest, particularly the Carters, but also on at least one occasion Captain Quiller of Polperro, a forebear of Q. In June 1793, he spoke before Chief Justice Eyre on behalf of Trevithick and Vivian regarding the infringement of patent at Ding Dong mine, Humphry Davy had previously been consulted.
That Thomas Keate or Keats should have gone from Cornwall to London surprises no-one. The relationship between the far west and the capital was remarkably close. It is likely that Thomas had contacts and did not arrive unknown.
The Davy farm at Varfell lies in the parish of Ludgvan and the Davys would have attended the same church as the Keates or Kitts. As Robert Davy was born in 1741, he would have known William Keat or Kitt of Ludgvan who made his second will in 1758. He would also have known the John Kitt and John Kitte of the Madron register who were both married in 1743. Shilston Keate's forge would probably at times have been used by Robert.
The families of Davy and Cara(h) would also have been acquainted. The John Cara of Madron who was married in 1758 was a clothier who might have clothed young Humphry, Robert Davy would have known Mary Cara, while Humphry, Edmund and John Davy would have known Georgiana providing she survived infanthood.
Another family of note was that of Thomas Branwell and Anne Carne who married in 1767, the same year as Shilston Keate and Ursula Stokes. Dr Melissa Hardie has explored the connections between the families of Branwell and Davy in Bronte Territories: Cornwall and the Unexplored Maternal Legacy, 1760–1860, EER, 2019, building on K. Hill's The Bronte Sisters and Sir Humphry Davy, Jamieson, 1994. Elizabeth Branwell, the aunt Elizabeth of Haworth rectory, was born in Penzance in 1776, two years before Humphry, and nine before Edmund. Maria Branwell, who became Maria Bronte, was born in 1783. Elizabeth was four years older than Georgiana Cara and Maria was three years younger.
If Thomas Keats came from Penzance, which seems most likely, he sprang from richer literary soil than is obvious. Furthermore, it is soil of considerable depth as Dr A.M. Kent shows in Looking at the Mermaid. A Reader in Cornish Literature, 900–1900. Little of Celtic survived the transfer of language to English except for a number of Medieval miracle plays, the last being Gwreans an Bys or The Creation of the World which was written in Helston, some miles to the east of Penzance, by William Jordan in 1611 and was translated into English at the request of Sir Jonathan Trelawny, Bishop of Exeter, a forebear of the Rev Sir Harry Trelawny, by John Keigwin (1641–1716) of Mousehole. Keigwin was born two years before the death of Sir Sidney Godolphin. He lived to the west of Penzance and could look across Mounts Bay to Godolphin Hill. The Keates families of Madron and Ludgvan would have been known to him. He would also have known John Boson (1665-c1720) whose poem Ma Canow vee wor Hen en Cock ha Rooz reveals the continuing relationship between Cornwall and the Mediterranean.
The most noted late Cornish poet was James Jenkins (c. 1700) of Penzance, although little of his output has survived except for Ma leeaz Greage, which uses internal rhyme, and Cousow do ve che dean more ferre, which uses rhyming couplets. At nearby St Just John Jenkins was also producing verse in the language.
The most intriguing late work, in fact the last example of verse in Late Cornish, was A grankan, a grankan/ A mean o gowaz o vean. According to Kent the poem contrasts the infertility of Crankan against the fertility of an area which includes Varfell, the family farm of the Davy family. John Davy (1812-91) of Boswednack, near Zennor, who heard it from his father 'who had a good knowledge of Cornish', passed it on to the historian J. Hobson Matthews. Q used Matthews, History of St Ives in a number of his stories, although according to A.L. Rowse, Q had little knowledge of Cornish.
It is a known fact, although little regarded, that Humphry Davy was imbued with an extensive knowledge of the folk traditions of Penwith 'from old people... particularly from his grandmother Davy; — a woman of a fervid and poetical mind, of a retentive memory, and who had at command a rich store of traditions and marvels.' (Life, p5). Humphry's interest in the folk tradition can be contrasted against his disinterest in formal education. His poetical mind came from and was stimulated by his grandmother. As Humphry was born in 1778, at the close of spoken Cornish, his grandmother must have been young when it was still used and Celtic traditions were still available. Aunt Elizabeth probably passed on to her sister's children, during long evenings in Haworth rectory, the same traditions, echoes of which can be heard in Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights. Thomas Keate or Keats was also reared at this transitional time and could not have escaped its influence. John Keats' 'fervid and poetical mind' looks back more to Penwith than to London.
John Davy provides an account of Humphry's largely although not completely self-educated mind and of his early philosophical, moral and theological writings. Humphry's A Defense of Materialism presumably pertains to the 'cold region of materialism' which was inhabited 'for a very short time'. (Life, pp. 15-6). Humphry was fortunate in being associated with the distinguished Borlase family, who were highly educated and non-materialists. Other early pieces are 'some verses and the beginning of a romance called An Idyl, in prose, in the form of a dialogue; the characters, 'Trevelis, a warrior, and friend of Prince Arthur, and Morrobin, a Druid;' the scene, 'a cliff at Land's End, Cornwall' '. To anyone familiar with Penwith folklore, the heading contains a deal of information, which opens a window into what Humphry heard from his grandmother.
Cornwall as a whole is generally seen as a location for stories about King Arthur. In The Kingdom of Dumnonia Susan Pearce disposes of this myth. In a map on page one hundred and fifty-three, she identifies 'Locations of Arthur and Tristan Stories' in south-western Britain, only one of which occurs in west Cornwall. The greatest density is the region between Dartmoor and the Fowey-Camel in mid-Cornwall.
The folklorist Robert Hunt also found little memory of a King Arthur in west Cornwall. Robert Hunt (1807–1887), F.R.S., was born in Devonport but moved to Penzance at the age of seven. His mother had been baptised at St Levan, not far from the Land's End. In his Romances and Drolls of the West of England, he includes the story of 'The Battle of Vellan-Druchar' (mill-wheel) in which the reader encounters a 'Prince Arthur', which later in the story is confused with a 'King Arthur' and later again, in a second tale, with 'Arthur' and the 'Saxons'. A 'Prince Arthur ...of Trereen Castle' who fought a Danish force aiming to ravage the monastic community of St Buryan is clearly the foundational story with King Arthur and the Saxons being added later. Interestingly, Hunt informs us of arrow heads still being ploughed up on the battle site. Trereen Castle is Treryn Dinas, a headland fort in the parish of St Levan. The Danes were said to have landed in Genvor or Gwynver Cover in Whitesand Bay, about the only safe place in West Penwith, and burned Escalls, the village immediately above. From there they would have proceeded along what is now the A30 and then the B3283, then cattle tracks through a wilderness, to attack the monastery at St Buryan from the east, thus preventing any escape. Descending Lamorna valley they encountered Prince Arthur and his forces who had moved along the coast track with the open ground of the Merry Maidens and The Pipers as their chosen battle ground. The folk tale of a thousand years ago still makes sense.
Davy's warrior 'Trevelis' is a combination of an old Norman family called Levelis, the last being Arthur Levilis, who died in 1671 and as an ardent Royalist would have been known to the Keate families, and their estate of Trewoofe. 'Morrobin, a Druid' is Merlin, who at the conclusion of the 'Battle of Vellan-Drucher' proclaims eight lines of verse.
The forebears of the families of Branwell, Cara, Davy and Keate on the female side, probably fought in the battle, This provided them with a sense of time and continuity unavailable in a city. Folk tales gave to people the history of their area, however much despised, until recently, by the academic historian whose only interest resided with lines on paper, even if the product of a propaganda document such as the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
Penwith in the latter half of the eighteenth century was undergoing radical change. The families of Branwell and Carne, Davy and Keate, Stokes and Cara, were all, in different ways, affected. Firstly, there was the demise of the Anglican- landowning gentry, such as the Keates or Kitts of Madron and Ludgvan. Secondly, there was the rise of intelligent working people, the Branwells in business and the Carnes in banking and industry. The Davys saw an opening in medicine and science, aided by the possibility of out-migration. Shilston Keate, who on the marriage register is called a 'blacksmith', shows both a fall in social status and the possibilities latent in that fall. He may well have started shoeing horses, but he possibly finished engineering small parts of mining machinery. He might have died a modestly wealthy man.
In religion, the post-Reformation Anglican consensus, which had suffered a shock in the Civil War, was further eroded by the rise of secular materialism on the one side, and Wesleyan Methodism on the other, with the Revds Walter and William Borlase, supported by families such as the Davys, endeavouring to hold the line. The moral decline evident in Shilston Keate, and the use of 'base' and 'bastard' on baptismal registers, show the state of sexual morality. Interestingly, Shilston Keate is the only adulterer actually named.
The counter influence came from 'Mr. Wesley's people', such as the Branwells and Carnes. There was also 'Old Dissent', a small but solid body stemming from those who had supported the puritan vicars ejected from their parishes following the Restoration. Thomas Keats and the Jennings family of London appear to have been sympathetic to this cause. 'Old Dissent' emphasised the importance of formal education from which John Keats benefited. Even Fanny Keats was ensured an education because of this.
There can be little question that Humphry Davy's scientific interests were less the product of formal education than in observations of mines and quarries, drowned landscapes and raised beaches, cromlechs and stone circles, and the conversation of smelters and metal workers. The thump of the mine stamps, the steam of the engine-house or jingy, and the heat of the smelter, convinced him of the possibility of material progress through experiment and observation, not the theories of text books.
Thomas Keate or Keats would have been familiar with the same scene and the same people; as would Maria and Elizabeth Branwell. They did not leave Penzance with their minds empty or with the idea that they were about to enter superior cultures. The Industrial Revolution was taking place at home and home had direct trading connections with America and the Mediterranean. But perhaps the greatest gift Penwith passed on to Humphry Davy and Maria and Elizabeth Branwell, was that of grandmother Davy and her kind, 'a fervid and poetical mind' (Life p. 5). With this Humphry Davy enthralled audiences at the Royal Institution for a decade; and Elizabeth Branwell enthralled her nephew and nieces in Haworth parsonage. Maybe this explains the poetic gift of John Keats. If not what did?
Davy did not only possess a particular type of mind, he recognised it in others. Some of the leading literary figures of the day, such as Coleridge, Wordsworth and particularly Walter Scott, felt in Davy a kindred spirit; just as Valentin Llanos Gutierrez did in John and then Fanny Keats.
A figure Humphry Davy felt a remarkable affinity for was the moral outcast Lord Byron. This affinity for Byron was also felt by the Bronte sisters and to a lesser extent by John Keats. Byron's grandmother on his father's side was Sophie Trevanion. Over many years the Byrons and Trevanions had married and indulged in extra-marital affairs. Byron's mother was Scottish heiress Catherine Stewart. Apart from the 'Celtic' link, Davy and Byron could not have been more different, one the product of farming stock only recently having learned to speak in English, the other a child of privilege educated at Harrow and Cambridge.
Humphry Davy first appears to have met Byron, along with William Wordsworth, in London in 1813, at about the time of Davy's association with young Michael Faraday, whose portrait was to hang in Einstein's study. In 1819, when Byron was working on Don Juan, set in Seville, Davy met him at Lucca in Italy.
About this time Keats had turned somewhat against Byron, 'the poet who had dogged him during his depression' according to Motion (p. 376). When Keats started reading Don Juan on his journey to Italy in 1820, he 'was reduced to fury' (p. 545). By 1823 Davy had come to consider Byron 'this great genius living' (Life, p. 284); an opinion similar to that given by Q during his Nottingham lecture nearly a hundred years later.
Following Humphry Davy's death, John Davy discovered two poems to Byron written in one of his brother's 'note-books' (p. 284). These poems were written to a 'genius' shortly before and shortly after the poet's death in 1823. What Davy meant by 'genius' is explained in a note-book of 1816. The 'genius of man... belongs to a moral and intellectual scheme of things wholly different from the physical' with its insights as 'Revelations' of the 'universal mind' (p. 229). Hoffman and Dukas give a curiously similar view from Albert Einstein in their biography of the scientist: 'He said that Beethoven created his music but Mozart's music was so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.' (H & D, p. 252). In his lecture on 'Herbert and Vaughan', printed in Studies in Literature I, Q developed similar ideas at some length. The task of the true poet is to 'apprehend' and convey to ordinary mortals 'messages between the outer mystery of the Universe and the inner mystery of the individual soul;' (p. 126).
It is salutary to contrast this with the view of contemporary reductionists who see the universe as material and meaningless, who deny the reality of the soul, and who see mind as brain and brain as a computer to be programmed in an exam factory.
Davy and Q saw Byron as a morally flawed genius. In the poem Lord Byron of 1823, Davy described the mind of the poet as a fusion of spiritual vision and moral depravity. Davy presented the contrast in terms of 'strange blossoms an' and 'poisonous weeds'. Twelve species are included. Although what Davy meant by the 'orange flower' is obscure, the rest are all found in Penwith and as the poet describes.
'From all the fairest, sweetest flowers of spring,
Yet some strange blossoms and some poisonous weeds
Were mingled with the jasmine and the rose,
And the sweet orange flower; and thy dark locks
In curling ringlets seem'd a Sybarite's,
Well fitted for the odours strong and strange,
And for the colours varying, where the bay
Was mingled with dark anemone;
And where the birch and the deadly night-shade mix'd
Their leaves incongruous with the lily pale,
And humble violet, that tranquil hangs
Its dewy head in shade.........'
(Lord Byron, 3-14)
Davy's poem reveals close observation of Byron's head and of the flowers mentioned. The 'dark locks' of line six and the 'curling ringlets' of line seven are paralleled and contrasted with the 'humble violet, that tranquil hangs its dewy head' of lines thirteen and fourteen. Davy also has an exact knowledge of the original meaning of 'Sybarite', an inhabitant of Sybaris in southern Italy. This opens the second contrast which is between Davy's home area and the 'odours strong and strange' normally associated with a Mediterranean climate in spring. Yet many of the plants mentioned are found in Cornwall and Italy.
Q's father produced two botanical studies, based on the methodology of M. Quetelet of the Academy of Brussels. Thomas Q. Couch produced the first, The Botany of Polperro and Its Neighbourhood, before entering Guy's Hospital in London in 1849, and the second, On the Observation and Record of Natural Periodic Phenomena; with a Calendar Kept at Bodmin' after establishing himself as a doctor in Bodmin. The observations of Thomas Q. Couch supported those of M. Quetelet that the spring opens earlier in Cornwall than in northern Italy but by May Italy has overtaken. Davy's poem reveals botanical observations in Cornwall, where he grew up, and Italy where he met Byron in 1819.
No-one has described the 'odours strong and strange' of the Mediterranean better than Q in chapters twelve and thirteen of the novel Sir John Constantine. Constantine's craft the Gauntlet approaches the island of Corsica and while two miles from the shore encounters the scent of the 'macchia'. 20 years before Constantine had spent time on Corsica and his clothes still smelt of it. In the next chapters Q sets the action of the novel against the exact botany and topography of the island. To fully appreciate Q's novel and Davy's poem, the accuracy of the botany needs to be realised. A John Clare or a Thomas Hardy would have immediately grasped the precision of Davy's work, and how the botany reveals the appearance and character of Byron.
With Keats, as in the poem To Autumn, images from nature are used for their emotional effect, with the natural world romanticised and idealized. The poem tells more of the poet than the subject. Similarly with the sea. Keats is no Joseph Conrad or Charles Causley R.N. The knowledge is to an extent second hand and not intimate. Yet neither is it totally urban. There is still an intuition of the unity of nature as found particularly in Celtic poetry and folklore. The poem The Song of the Nightingale by Alun (1797–1840), The Mountain Stream by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832–1887) and The Storm, which uses images from Greek mythology, by William Thomas (Islwyn) (1832–78), give us nature free from idealization, mysticism or romanticism, but of pure vision and precise description. At the root of Keats' anguish is not his health or his frustration regarding Fanny Brawne, agonising as these must have been, but a sense of spiritual exile—although it is never so intense as that found in the writings of the Bronte sisters.
Both Davy and Keats, as with Jonathan Couch and his three sons, began their professional lives as apprentices to a surgeon-apothecary. All four Couches went through Guy's hospital in London, as did John Keats. Davy moved into chemistry but longed to return to medicine. Some of his closest friends were doctors at Guy's and other London hospitals, including lectures at Guy's when Keats was there. Davy and Keats parted company on the subject of religion, with Davy embracing Christianity and Keats abandoning it.
In relation to the content of the poetry there are remarkable similarities and profound differences. Keats' poetry reveals a personality longing for a free and innocent sensuality which seeks its fulfilment in Nature and human love, yet threatened by time and death. This personality is sensitive to spiritual forces, a force of good symbolised in characters from Greek mythology, and a force of evil, identified as 'Fate', whose end is disillusionment and oblivion. ('Fate' derives from stoicism, a school of Greek philosophy).
As with Davy there are dramatic tension between the material and the spiritual and between good and evil. At the close of his life Keats saw evil as having triumphed over good, using the gnostic idea of the power on Earth as a demi-urge over whom the power in heaven has no control. Motion quotes from a conversation of December 24, 1820, when Keats says: 'I think a malignant being must have power over us, over whom the Almighty has little of no influence _' (p. 559). Keats appears to have come to view Byron, with his sexual libertinism and cynicism, as an instrument of the demi-urge, ;perverting sex and love. Maybe beyond Byron is the shadow of Shilston Keate, who in 1820 had only been dead for five years.
Davy's poetry is based on a very different understanding of the world, as can be seen in the poem of July 25, 1827, On the Fall of the Traun (Lake Gmunden).
Davy presents the waterfall from Lake Gmunde:
as material nature:
'Rocks, trees, before thee, e'en the mighty pine,
Rending the mountain, through a new torn vale,' (13-14)
as an image:
'In thy bright azure depth, and when thy foam
Sinks into quietness, I seem to view
That season of our life when pleasure fades' (19-20)
as material reality from which the mind ascends to the spiritual:
'My thoughts are lost, and pass to future time,
Seeking the infinite, and rolling on
Towards the sea eternal and unbounded
Of the all-powerful, omnipresent mind !' (30-34)
On November 30, 1820, Dr Wollaston announced Humphry Davy as the elected President of the Royal Society in London. John Keats and Joseph Severn, having arrived in Rome on November 15, were on that day settling into their lodgings at 26 Piazza di Spagna. As Keats lay slowly dying of consumption, Davy set about reorganising the Royal Society, in addition to conducting experiments in electricity. Davy would have encountered many cases of consumption when training with Bingham Borlase as it was rife in the Penwith mining communities. Consumption was to feature centrally in Dr Richard Q. Couch's internationally famous study, A Statistical Investigation into Mortality of Miners' of 1857 to 1860.
Davy paid his last visit to Penzance in the winter of 1821. The occasion would still have been fresh in the memory of friends and relations when Richard arrived in 1844-5 to establish a medical practice at 10 Chapel Street, having left Guy's hospital a couple of years before. Still residing in the memory of some would have been the last years of Shilson or Shilston Keate, who had died in 1815 aged eighty-two. It is not impossible that elderly Georgiana Cara was one of Richard's patients. In 1853, Richard married Lydia Penneck Pearce, whose mother-in-law was possibly the granddaughter of John Penneck, vicar of Gulval, who had baptised Georgiana Cara and identified the father as Shilston Keate. It is possible that Q knew more about John Keats than appears in his writings. However, in the years following the arrival of Richard in Penzance, the main talking point would have been the novels of the Bronte sisters, the daughters of Maria Branwell, who had been reared a hundred yards down from Richard's surgery.
Humphry Davy's two poems to Lord Byron of 1823 and 1824 endeavour to analyse Byron's character and penetrate his 'genius'. He had come to know the poet through various meetings, some in his own house. By 'genius' Davy meant something which can only be appreciated from reflections John Davy later discovered in his brother's notebooks. Humphry did not see 'genius' as intellectual cleverness or as an accumulation of information, nor did he see it as free expression or uninhibited exhibitionism, but as direct contact with a timeless realm of 'infinite wisdom' (p. 221) or Spirit.
'May it not be imagined that the monads or spiritual germs which animate or create organic forms have no relation to space, and pass from systems to systems, wholly unlike matter...'. Such '...a monad, or one perceptive atom or principle...plays...round different arrangements in the brain, and which acts in its own little world, as the great diffuse monad does in the universe.' (p 222).
'Persona of very exalted talents and virtues may be said to derive their patent of nobility directly from God;' (p 212)
Such ideas will prove anathema to the materialist, the determinist and the exam-factory educationalist, but have to be appreciated for any meaningful understanding of Davy's thinking.
Davy not only questioned the idea of space but also of time: ' To infinite wisdom the past, present and future are alike;' (p 221). Einstein was later to think similarly: '… the distinction between past, present and future is only an illusion, even if a stubborn one.' (E. p 258).
Coming from a culture thousands of years old where cromlechs and stone circles had been constructed by his own forebears (and the forebears of the Branwells and the Keates or Keats), and from a geographical area where even at that time scale paled into insignificance; and from long reflections upon the 'rich store of traditions and marvels' (p. 5) related to him by 'grandmother Davy' (p. 5); Humphry Davy possessed the imaginative equipment to question what others took, and still take, as absolute certainties. Emily Bronte did something similar in Wuthering Heights.
Furthermore, coming from the most humble of backgrounds as with the Branwells, but not the Byrons and Keats, Davy could have sympathised with what Einstein was hinting at when he said: 'He who finds a thought that lets us penetrate even a little deeper into the eternal mystery of nature has been granted great grace.' (E. p. 253).
Davy found in Byron, as did Q, not just a great poet, but a political radical courageous enough to challenge the political establishment. Q would have fully endorsed Davy's statement: ' Everything good in society has arisen from gradual reform and progressive change.' (p. 231). It was 'gradual reform and progressive change' which Q had hoped the Liberal victory of 1906 would have effected; only to see the Conservative opposition in the House of Lords, the war of 1914 and the Conservative-Liberal coalition government of Lloyd George and Bonar Law from 1916 destroy his expectations, leading to his call for the voices of Byron and Shelley to be heard once more. Q lamented that the voice of Keats was silenced before it had fully matured.
In his address 'Opening of Keats' House, Hampstead' of May 9, 1925, Q quotes from Roger Bridges:
'If one English poet might be recalled to-day from the dead to continue the work which he left unfinished on earth, it is probable that the crown of his country's desire would be set on the head of John Keats.' (no reference).
Q calls this 'speculation' yet identifies in Keats' Hyperion a door opening to a 'larger vision'.
' “None can usurp this height,” return'd that Shade,
“But those to whom the miseries of the world
Are miseries, and will not let them rest.” '
Davy saw the same miseries and invented the miners' safety lamp to remedy one of them and to experiment with anaesthetics to help remedy another. Q saw in Keats one whose voice was silenced before effectiveness in the realm of poetry.
No doubt Q saw in the former radical Lloyd George a parallel to the poets of the post-Napoleonic period who remained in reactionary England and conformed, with the inevitable loss of their inspiration.
None of Davy's poems more clearly illustrates the imagination of the people from which he, and of course Maria Branwell and Thomas Keats, derived than the one he wrote on hearing of Byron's death while staying at Westhill on April 19, 1824. Byron's death, fighting for Greek independence, is not described in images of Earth, plants and flowers, but in images of the heavens, planets, comets and the sun. Yet there is the same ambiguity as in the poem of 1823, the same dramatic tension between virtue and vice, material and spiritual.
Towards the end of Keats' life, he became more cognizant of Byron's vices than his virtues. Keats' antipathy was strengthened on becoming aware that one derogatory stanza in Don Juan was aimed at him personally. Although Byron acknowledged the aspiring youngster as a 'very fiery particle', the rest of the stanza dismisses Keats in' an unforgettable image of feebleness', as Motion expresses it. Part of the dismissal relates to Keats use of Greek mythology (M. p. 570–1).
Tragically, Keats had inherited the 'fervid and poetical mind' of his people but without the cultural context. London failed to provide him with what he required. Q endeavoured to settle in London in the early 1890s, but suffered a mild nervous breakdown which necessitated his return to his cultural and creative roots in Cornwall. If Keats had settled in Italy as a well man, he might have fulfilled his promise, even in outshining Byron himself.
Motion also draws attention to an article in Blackwood's magazine of March 1822 where the poet's name is spelt 'Keates'. Maybe this is not the misspelling Motion assumes. No doubt there were those in London who knew something of the family background.
Someone who shared Keats' antipathy towards Byron was the Cornish poet and novelist Jack Clemo (1916–94). towards the end of his life, and through the kind offices of Fr Benedict Ramsden, a priest of the Russian Orthodox Church, Jack and Ruth Clemo made a number of visits to Italy, resulting in an 'Indian Summer' of creative inspiration. Following a visit to the Armenian monastery of San Lazzaro, where Byron recuperated from his bouts of dissipation, Clemo wrote in the poem San Lazzaro:
'Cowled monks will labour, praying for the soul
Of the satyr-bard who lodged here
Without a mistress, wooed by a viceless peace.' (II, 1-3).
Jack Clemo's creative inspiration came through a union of the spiritual and the feminine, which in Byron he saw polluted. It is possible that in Fanny Brawne Keats found something similar and in Byron something antipathetic. Fanny Brawne's influence on Keats, therefore, possibly lay at the centre of his creativity. She was his muse as Ruth Clemo was to Jack.
There is another possible parallel, the similarity of Reggie Clemo, who was drowned aboard HMS Tornado in 1917, Jack Clemo's father, and Shilston Keate, who died when John Keats was twenty. It is possible that both saw in Byron a family shadow, How much John Keats knew of his grandfather is unknown, but the desire for recognition and the sense of threat were possibly projected by Keats onto Byron. Fanny Keats certainly knew enough to be able to identify the Land's End peninsula as the home area of the Keats family. It is hardly likely that someone as responsible as Fanny Keats would write a deliberate lie on her daughter's baptismal record and there are now grounds for believing that she told the truth.
Davy met Byron as an equal. The poem On the Death of Lord Byron is not so much to a man, and is certainly not a lament, but to a 'genius', flawed as may be. Interestingly, Davy first likens Byron to a figure from the Celtic tradition, a 'bard', which looks back to the Druid Morrobin of Land's End in the juvenile An Idyl. The 'Bard' is a 'powerful spirit' who, like Satan, was once a 'child of light', but has similarly fallen and has become 'A chained slave, around the master sun!' (I. 8).
In the prologue to Q's last and unfinished novel, Castle Dor, based on the Cornish myth of Tristram and Iseut, which he had started in 1925 to study seriously, (see letter to H.F. Stewart, April 9, 1925, in Brittain's biography), Dr Carfax stands in an October night on the ancient earthwork of Castle Dor, near Fowey, feeling the 'vast dome' spinning beneath his feet and the stars, with Sirius over the distant sea and the Pleiades over Bodmin Moor, above his head. In a moment Carfax becomes aware of the valley of the River Fowey as a 'palimpsest' He hears the battle sounds of the Parliamentary army in its capitulation to the Royalists in 1644, he sees Roman ships at anchor in the estuary, and he senses some ancient love story being enacted in the valley woods.
In the second stanza of Davy's poem, there is a similar vision of the heavens as seen from some mighty dome, with a 'great comet', various planets and the 'glorious sun'; with Byron,
...like a king
Of void and chaos, rising up on high
Above the stars in awful majesty.' (II, 6-8).
Whether Davy had the granite dome of Penwith, surrounded to the north and west by a 'void and chaos' of waters, in mind when composing this is unknown, but Davy and the Keates would have known the scene by day and night; along with the earthworks of Chun Castle, the neolithic village and fields of Bosporthennis and the cromlech on Mulfra Hill.
In stanza three, Davy interprets Byron in terms of Spirit, that which gives meaning and purpose to life. If there is a theological influence in the stanza, it is that of Origen (c 185-c 254), who taught in the catechetical school at Alexandria when middle Platonism was in fashion.
The poem ends with one of the most remarkable images Davy ever conjured.
…; a broken lamp should stand
Beside him, on the ground its naptha flowing
In the bright flame, o'er earthly ashes glowing.' (IV 6-8).
Maybe it is an image applicable to Shilston Keate, and better than the curtain of silence behind which Thomas Keates endeavoured to build respectability in London.
If we wish to know from where and from whom the genius of John Keats derived, the answer is clear: it was the Belerion of the ancient Greeks, the hill country of the lost land of Lyonesse in Cornish mythology and the West Penwith of today; it was also the 'Arthur' and 'Tristan' country of north-east Cornwall. There could be no richer soil. Humphry Davy, the Bronte novelists and Charles Causley, in one way or another, drew from the same deep source. Whatever images Keats used, few of which came from London, the creative consciousness was Celtic, or more properly Iber-Celt.
Constructed Chronology for Keate, Jennings, Bronte, Davy etc.
John Jennings, father-in-law of Thomas Keats, baptised in London
Ambrose Shilston Keate baptised at Madron
Birth of Robert Davy, father of Humphry and John
First visit of John Wesley to Penwith
Birth of Grace Millett in St Just, mother of Humphry and John
M Ambrose Shilston Keate & Anne Kemp
Bp. Mary, dau. George Carah and Joan, Gulval
M. Shilston Keate, blacksmith and Ursula Stokes of Penzance, by licence at Madron
Effective close of the Cornish language as a native tongue
Birth of Thomas Keate or Keats to Shilston Keate and probably Ursula Keate, née Stokes
John Jennings becomes the leaseholder of the Swan and Hoop at Moorgate in London
Frances Jennings, mother of John Keats, baptised in London
Birth of Elizabeth Branwell to Thomas and Ann Branwell née Carne
Birth of Humphry Davy in Penzance to Robert and Grace Davy
Bp. Gulval, December 24, Georgiana dau. of Mary Cara(h), reputed father Shilston Keate of Madron. Mary Cara 19 years old
Ambrose, son of Sampson Keate, gent., dies aged 89
Maria Branwell born to Thomas and Ann Branwell née Carne
John Wesley stays with the Carne family in Chapel Street, Penzance.
Birth of Edmund Davy to William Davy of Penzance
The French Revolution
Birth of Jonathan Couch in Polperro
Thomas Keate or Keats leaves Penzance and settles in London as ostler at the Swan and Hoop owned by John Jennings
John Davy born to Robert and Grace Davy
Thomas Keats of Penzance marries Frances Jennings, daughter of John Jennings in London
Humphry Davy apprenticed to surgeon and apothecary Bingham Borlase in Penzance.
John Keats, poet, born to Thomas and Frances Keats in London
Humphry Davy writes his first published (1798) poems
Humphry Davy abandons a career in medicine for the Pneumatic Institute at Clifton, near Bristol, run by Dr Beddoes
Humphry Davy meets Coleridge and Southey in Nether Stowey
Humphry Davy appointed to the Royal Institution in London and commences his public lectures
Humphry Davy elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in London
Birth of Frances (Fanny) Keats to Thomas and Frances Keats in London
John Keats enrolled at the Clarke School in Enfield
Death of Thomas Keats of Penzance in London
Shilston Keate recorded as Madron blacksmiths
Jonathan Couch of Polperro enters the united medical school of Guy's and St Thomas' in London. Instructed by Astley Cooper and Henry Cline
John Keats leaves Clarke's School in Enfield and starts his medical apprenticeship under Hammond of Edmonton
Byron's Corsair sells 10,000 copies
Jonathan Couch completes his medical training at Guy's and St Thomas' in London and returns to Polperro
The Irishman Patrick Bronte marries Maria Branwell of Penzance
Frances (Fanny) Keats enters an Academy in Walthamstow
The earliest surviving poem by John Keats written
Shilion (Shilston) Keate of Churchtown, Madron, buried 14 Feb., aged 82
John Keats enters Guy's and St Thomas' in London to be instructed by Cline, Cooper and Babbington (friend of Humphry Davy)
Elizabeth Bronte baptised
End of the Napoleonic Wars
Birth of Charlotte Bronte
John Keats becomes a 'dresser' at Guy's
First published poem by John Keats
Birth of Emily Bronte
John Keats meets Fanny Brawne
John Keats and Fanny Brawne become engaged
Birth of Anne Bronte
Humphry Davy elected President of the Royal Society
John Keats sets sail for Italy owing to consumption
Elizabeth Branwell travels to Haworth from Penzance
John Keats meets Valentin Llanos y Gutierrez in Rome
John Keats dies in Rome
Maria Bronte, née Branwell, dies at Haworth. Elizxabeth Branwell or Aunt Elizabeth becomes step-mother to the Bronte children.
6: Q on Keats the Poet
Q's lectures on Byron and Shelley were amongst the most important he had printed. What appears on Keats is meagre by comparison. In the three Studies in Literature publications Keats is almost a footnote. In volume one he is briefly referred to in studies of Hardy and Swinburne. The second volume contains one lecture on Byron and three on Shelley, with Keats mentioned ten times. The third contains no lecture on Keats, but almost as an afterthought the address at the 'Opening of Keats' House in Hampstead', given on May 9, 1925, to the Mayor of Hampstead and a group of Keats' enthusiasts.
Q was convinced of Keats' forebears as having come from Cornwall and Devon., possibly having more knowledge than he was prepared to make public. There were Keats in his home area of Bodmin when he was young. His uncle, Dr Richard Q. Couch of Penzance would have known direct or indirect descendants of the Revds John and Henry Keate who arrived at Madron and Gulval before the English Civil War. Some were probably on his books.
In his lecture on Byron, given at University College, Nottingham, Q quotes from Matthew Arnold in relation to Wordsworth, Byron and Keats:
'Keats had probably, indeed, a more consummate poetic gift than either of them, but he died having produced too little and being as yet too immature to rival them.' (p. 1).
Later in the lecture, Q lists Shelley, Keats, Landor and Byron as rebels whose names should be weighed against the politicians Frere, Castlereagh, Gifford and Lockhart. Q links this to his own time, as we can link it to our own. The poets became exiles and died exiles because of their opinions. (p. 18). The lecture on Shelley almost commences with the inscription Keats wrote for his own tombstone in Rome, 'Here lies one whose name was writ in water'. Q does not say this, but another exile in Rome, one who met Keats and later married his sister Fanny , was Valentin Llanos y Gutierrez from Valladolid in Spain.
The deaths of the 'exiles' were a double tragedy in that they were still creatively active (p. 32). Interestingly, when the Reform Act was passed in 1832, greatly to the pleasure of Dr Jonathan Couch, Keats would only have been thirty-seven and Shelley three years older (pp. 31–2).
Q symbolises Shelley's regard for the dead Keats by mentioning the volumes of Keats and Sophocles found on the body of Shelley after his drowning (p 64). He symbolises his own regard in a series of short quotations indicating how Keats had the ability, as had Dante and Shakespeare, of choosing the most appropriate word to express his thoughts, a gift adding power to the idea.
'The moving waters at their priestlike task—'
'A laughing schoolboy, without grief or care,
Riding the springy branches of an elm.'
'High prophetess, said I, purge off
Benign, if so it please thee, my mind's film.'
'Solitary thinkings, such as dodge
Conception to the very bourne of heaven.'
'To cease upon the midnight with no pain.'
In a later lecture on Milton, Q refers to this ability as the product of 'direct inspiration'. His lecture on the metaphysical poets ascribes 'inspiration' to the spiritual realm, even if the actual image is material. As a result the meaning is more than the sum total of the words, opening up unexpected vistas.
Maybe for this reason Q concludes his third and last lecture on Shelley with words by Keats.
' “High Prophetess,” said I, “purge off,
Benign, if so it please thee, my mind's film.”-
“None can usurp this height,” return'd that shade,
“But those to whom the miseries of the world
Are misery, and will not let them rest.” '
In the printed lecture The Poetry of Thomas Hardy, we have a prose work to equal the verses of Keats. We have a lecturer as steeped in the natural world as Hardy himself, one who can hear the cadences of Dorset speech and feel the rhythms of the farming year. It needs to be remembered that although a Professor of English Literature at Cambridge, Q's roots lay in the folk tales and dialect knowledge of his father, Dr Thomas Q. Couch of Bodmin, and in the workings of his grandfather's farm at Abbotskerswell, as he recounted in chapter one of Memories and Opinions. Q could read Hardy from within, something almost unique amongst academics.
With Keats, as in the poem To Autumn, images from nature are used for their emotional effect, with nature idealized and romanticised. The poem tells the reader more about the poet than the subject. Keats understanding of the country is not that of a countryman, such as Hardy and Clare, nor his understanding of the sea that of a seaman, like Joseph Conrad or Charles Causley, R.N. Yet neither is it of an urbanite with no feel for the subject. There is still an intuition of the unity of nature, however severed by city life, as found particularly in Celtic poetry and folklore. It is worth comparing John Keats to Thomas Hardy.
If the poem by Keats:
'I stood tip-toe upon a little hill
The air was cooling, and so very still,
That the sweet buds which with a modest pride
Pull droopingly, in slanting curve aside,
Their scanty leaved, and finely tapering stems,
Had not yet lost their starry diadems
Caught from the early sobbing of the morn.' (I Stood Tip-toe, I. 1-7)
is set beside one of Thomas Hardy:
'I Leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-gray,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.' (The Darkling Thrust, I. 1-8)
'The two were silent in a sunless church,
Those mildewed walls, uneven paving stones,
And wasted carvings passed antique research;
And nothing broke the clock's dull monotones.' (Her Dilemma, I. 1-4)
it is obvious who is looking from without and who is looking from within. Q establishes his own rootedness in the poem The Planted Heel, set in Talland churchyard where his ancestors lay, and presumably some of my own.
In the first of the eight sections of the lecture on Thomas Hardy, Q disclaims the right of age to comment on contemporary verse, with the poetry of Hardy as the one exception. Q viewed the Dorset poet, who came to the publication of poetry after abandoning the novel, as one steeped in the past while writing for the present. Any claim of Hardy's 'melancholy' as a bar to contemporary appreciation is rejected. Melancholy, Q sees as a feature of youth throughout time.
In section three, Q points to the melancholy of Shelley and Byron, of Yeats and the younger Irish poets, concluding his point with a quotation from Keats.
'She dwells with Beauty — Beauty that must die;
And Joy, whose hand is ever at his lips
Bidding adieu; and aching Pleasure nigh,
Turning to poison while the bee-mouth sips:
Ay, in the very temple of Delight
Veil'd Melancholyhas her sovran shrine,
Though seen of none save him whose strenuous tongue
Can burst Joy's grape against his palate fine;
His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung.' (Ode on Melancholy, 3–1-10)
Anyone who has dealings with the young will recognise the timelessness of the condition, only today we call it depression and treat it with insidious drugs.
While Q acknowledges Hardy's 'pessimism' as a challenge, he does not see it as an insuperable one. In fact, late inspiration in true poets, Hardy being an example, has a special quality to it. This can be seen in the later work of Jack Clemo. Clemo's father, who died in 1917, was a clayminer on the St Austell moors of mid-Cornwall, the same granite boss which four hundred years before had provided a living for the tin-streamer John Kyte. Clemo's Christ in the Clay-pit and The Excavator of the 1940s, was followed forty years later by Late Honeymoon and Casa Guidi, works suffused with Italian light and warmth. It is a tragedy that John Keats was too sick a man, at the time of his arrival in Rome, to find his own Italian inspiration.
Section five of the lecture returns to the theme of Hardy as a Dorset writer, with his roots deep in the chalklands. Q saw Dorset as a palimpsest. Hardy's verses can be seen therefore as inscribed on the top sheet, below which are other sheets—'Norman, Dane, Saxon, Celt, Iber' (Iberian), even to 'tribes beyond history'. The conclusion of Q's argument is clear: Hardy cannot be understood simply within the parameters of 1840 to 1928, but in an historical and cultural milieu reaching back to before Roman times.
When Thomas Keate or Keats was helping in his father's smithy in Madron churchtown, with the waters of Mounts Bay glittering below and Madron Carn rising above, he was learning techniques and hearing tales older than the time when the Greek and Phoenician tin traders had moored beyond St Michael's Mount, and the Roman legions had constructed their military outpost at Exeter. When Q mentions 'mines', 'Sidon' and 'Carthage' and 'dead empires', he must be thinking more of Cornwall than Dorset.
Interestingly, in relation to melancholy, Q identifies this as a feature of contemporary Irish poetry. Irish influence was in the period 350-600 particularly strong in north-east Cornwall, the Tamar valley and West Penwith, as evidenced by Irish ogam stoones and grass marked pots. These are the areas associated with the Keate family.
In the penultimate section of the printed lecture, Q reflects upon the nature of Hardy's pessimism by comparing the portrait of Napoleon in Hardy's The Dynasts to Tolstoy's in War and Peace.
Tolstoy and Hardy both see Napoleon as a puppet under Heaven —as Plato pronounces Man to be 'at his best a noble plaything of the gods'. ' While Tolstoy saw this as purposeful, Hardy dismissed it as purposeless. 'For all he can see, God works —if he works—a magnipotent Will'.
'Like a knitter drowsed,
Whose fingers play in skilled unmindfulness
The will has woven with an absent heed
Since life first was; and ever will so weave.'
One of the rare references to the person of Napoleon in Q's novels comes in Poison Island. In chapter eighteen, Dr Beauregard of Mortallone informs Harry Brooks that he has just visited the exiled Napoleon Bonaparte on the Isle of Elba. The reader is provided with no more information until the thirtieth and last chapter, where Beauregard informs Lydia Belcher 'the gods themselves cannot hep a man born in bastardy, as I was, or born with a vulgar soul, as was Napoleon.' The only 'chance of redemption' lies in the love of a particular woman, Lydia Belcher in Beauregard's case.
Although Q could not have had John Keats in mind when writing Poison Island and Harry Revel , if the poet did have questions about his father's legitimacy, this passage gives a possible insight into his mind. What Beauregard failed to realise was that Lydia Belcher was herself the product of a liaison involving the local Earl and one of his cottagers, as it says in chapter thirteen of Harry Revel. Q's novels give an accurate description of the morals and behaviour of Napoleonic and pre-Napoleonic times. The Keate family record fits neatly into the general picture.
At the conclusion of his life, as a letter from Keats to John Taylor reveals, 'I think a malignant being must have power over us, over whom the Almighty has little or no influence—. Motion follows this quotation with: 'During his final days with Fanny in England, “his most ardent desire” had been “to live to redeem his name from the obloquy cast upon it”. ' (Motion, pp. 559—60).
Maybe there is more to this than Motion suspected, or maybe not: 'Was her (Fanny Keats') father illegitimate, for instance, as some have suggested when pointing out that his baptismal records do not survive?' (Motion, p. 4) . And maybe Q did as well, with intimations from his Penneck and Couch relations in Penzance.
In seeing the country as a palimpsest, Q was aware of how old ideas pass silently from one generation to the next to appear in literature or science as though newly discovered. He concludes his lecture on Hardy with the hypnotic dirge, 'William Dewy, Tranter Reuben, Farmer Ledlow late at plough.' which evokes the contemplative timelessness or rural life; the palimpsest built up page by page as each generation rises and fades, having contributed a few strokes of thought, feeling and activity.
Maybe the real reason for the 'pessimism 'of Hardy, which Q sees as a challenge to youth and never a commonplace, is his sense of a 'magnipotent Will'.
'Like a knitter drowsed,
Whose fingers play in skilled unmindfulness
The will has woven with an absent heed
Since life first was; and ever will so weave.' (p. 209)
Hardy's poems, coming from the latter part of his life, present him no more as a participant in the life of rural Dorset, but as a semi-detached observer isolated within the confines of his own mortality. His life which when young was governed by the wheeling seasons, by sowing and reaping, ploughing and milking, sabbath and festival, as part of an ancient and continuing culture, is in middle age dislocated, resulting in elderly melancholy and victimhood.
The poem which concludes Q's lecture on Hardy is an hypnotic dirge.
'William Dewy, Tranter Reuben, Farmer Ledlow late at plough,
Robert's kin, and John's, and Ned's,
And the Squire, and Lady Susan, lie in Mellstock churchyard now!'
Yet Farmer Ledlow could drive his plough-team past the churchyard with but a fleeting concern regarding his mortality, while William Dewy and Tranter Reuben could raise a glass in the village inn without overmuch remorse for 'Squire, and Lady Susan'. For them it had always been so and always would be. There was no call to, in the words of Dylan Thomas, 'Rage, rage against the dying of the light'. The removal of Thomas Keate from West Penwith, no doubt for excellent reasons, not so much dislocated but completely severed John Keats from his roots and from his native culture.
In his lectures on 'Some Seventeenth Century Poets', also found in Studies in Literature I, Q speaks of the order and harmony of the Universe, a system independent of any 'magnipotent Will' or as expressed in a more recent scientific or pseudoscientific metaphor, 'blind watchmaker': 'The Universe is not a Chaos but a Harmony' . He saw the 'function of all true art, and in particular of poetry... is to harmonise the soul of man with the immense Universe surrounding him.' The poet does not try to 'comprehend' using the 'military road of logic', but to humbly 'apprehend', as with Donne, Herbert, Vaughan and Traherne. Q concludes section two of his lecture on Thomas Traherne with the following: 'I distrust generalisations: but there would seem to be something here in “the Celtic spirit”.'
This 'Celtic spirit' of vision is possibly best seen in an oral poetess whose recorded fragments he is unlikely to have encountered in proper translation, the Welsh Ann Griffiths (1776–1805). The life of Ann Griffiths, who died at the age of 29, four years longer than John Keats, almost parallels the life of Thomas Keate or Keats. In 'Welsh Verse', with an introduction and translations by Tony Conran, we learn how Ann Griffiths' spoken verse was memorised by Ruth Hughes and written down by Ruth's literate husband. Although Conran claims the fragments to be virtually untranslatable, he includes Expecting the Lord, Rose of Sharon, and the incomparable Full of Wonder. Griffith's work is free of self-consciousness, self-interest and self-promotion. It is the 'Celtic spirit' at its most pure.
Although coming from the same culture, Ann Griffith's poems can be contrasted in some respects with those of Dafydd ap Gwilym (fl. 1340–70). Dafydd's desire for sensual freedom, within the context of sacred nature, is very similar to what is found in the poems of John Keats, although Dafydd is much more a part of nature than John Keats. He does not people the Welsh language with Greek gods and goddesses. There are two sides to Daydd. There are the poems of romantic passion to Morfudd, like His Affliction and The Seagull, which are not dissimilar to those of John Keats for Fanny Brawne. There are others, such as Trouble at a Tavern, of uninhibited sexual desire, possibly more appropriate to the taste of Ambrose Shilston Keate. Finally, there is The Ruin, whose melancholy for the passing of youth and love is Hardy at his most poignant.
The alienation of Thomas Keats from his home area, with its ancient culture and industrial vitality, freed Thomas Keate from the miseries of his childhood, at least in part, but severed the root from which poets such as Thomas Hardy, Q Humphry Davy, and more recently Charles Causley and Greorge Mackay Brown, drew their inspiration. In the introduction to the Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown, the editors write: 'His principle subject matter is of course the place and the people of Orkney, with their long and frequently turbulent history reaching back beyond the Viking era to the Stone Age and their great treasure house of lore and legend.' (Intro. XII).
Charles Causley drew from the 'treasure house' of the upper Tamar Valley, in part the home are of the Keate family, with his writings steeped in references and allusions to tales ancient and modern. Causley, Brown and Q were in themselves repositories of lore.
From all this John Keats was separated except for the perilous door of his father. In endeavouring to establish his family in London, providing the education and the material comforts he never had, Thomas must have seen himself as a progressive and positive influence. However, it is noticeable that John died in Italy, George in America and Frances in Spain. In his poetry, John Keats was forced to use an idealized nature which he people with figures from a dead culture, something which brought upon his head the contempt of Byron.
A statement by John Keats to Joseph Severn on Decmber 24, 1820, two months before he died shows the poet afflicted by an intuition similar to Hardy's.
'I think a malignant being must have power over us, over whom the Almighty has little or no influence...I cannot believe in your book—the bible.' (p 559-60).
The Early Fathers of the Church, as Q would have known, taught the doctrine of creation by a good God ex nihilo, as against pantheism—God and matter are the same —and gnostic dualism—a good God and an evil demiurge. Evil was explained as the absence of good. Keats and Hardy tend to a dualism, wherein human affairs fall under the auspices of a 'magnipotent Will' or 'malignant being'. In Hardy this led to a generalised pessimism, while in Keats the 'malignant being' is personal and interventionist.
It is possible to see Keats struggling with this intuition of a 'malignant being', in the context of Greek mythology, in the extended poem of 1818, Hyperion.
For me, dark, dark,
And painful vile oblivion seals my eyes:
I strive to search wherefore I am so sad,
Until a melancholy numbs my limbs;
And then upon the grass I sit, and moan,
Like one who once had wings. O why should I
Feel cursed and thwarted, when the liegeless air
Yields to my step aspirant? why should I
Spurn the green turf as hateful to my feet?
Goddess benign! point forth some unknown thing.' (B. III 86-95)
Keats' intuition is captured in: 'painful vile oblivion', 'melancholy', 'cursed and thwarted' and 'hateful'.
The Cornish working class poet Jack Clemo experienced a similar intuition throughout his afflicted early life, culminating in deafness and blindness in 1955 when he was thirty-nine. Jack Clemo was well aware of the source of his afflictions, his father Reggie Clemo and the Clemo family which he depicts in the novel published after his death called The Clay Kiln.
John Keats had sufficient reason for believing an evil providence had blighted his life. The death of his father, mother and brother Thomas, the scenes of suffering he had witnessed at Guy's (discussed elsewhere on the website), the adverse critical reception of his published verse, and consumption.
Below the statement of Keats to Severn, Motion includes Keats final instructions to his publisher: there should be no reference to him in any newspaper and no engravings made of his portrait: 'his most ardent desire' had been 'to live to redeem his name from the obloquy cast upon it.' When in Rome, according to Motion, he claimed only to want what he felt it had been his fate to receive: nothing; his life and its effort utterly annihilated.' (p. 560).
An understanding of the Madron background enables us to see that John Keats' desire to 'live to redeem his name' was referring not just to himself but to his family line. He must have known of the shadow overhanging his father and how Thomas had worked to re-establish the family name with dignity and prosperity. As the oldest son, John Keats had the responsibility of fulfilling this. In his own eyes he has spectacularly failed. Those who knew of the Madron family would shake their heads in sad agreement.
7: Reflections on Q's Introductions to Isabella by John Keats
In 1914, OUP published a booklet entitled John Keats' 'Isabella' with an Introduction by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and Notes by M. Robertson. Isabella was published in 1820. The booklet contains two introductions, the first called Introduction and the second Introduction to 'Isabella'.
The first gives a summary of the life of John Keats. Q gives the birth as October 29 or 31, 1795, the second now generally accepted. His father was Thomas Keats and his mother Francis, spelt with an ' i' although an 'e' is now usually employed for a female. Thomas was said to have hailed from Cornwall or Devon. Presumably, Q had known of a number of Keate or Keats families in his home area. In 1819, after making the acquaintance of Fanny Brawne, Keats attained the height of his young powers; but in February he noticed arterial blood in his phlegm, a fatal symptom. According to Charles Brown:
'He came into the house in a state that looked like fierce intoxication. Such a state in him, I knew, was impossible...'
There is no record of Thomas Keats ever having been fiercely intoxicated. The child of a father who suffered from intoxication either follows the same path or reacts against it. Whether Shilston Keate over-indulged in the King William IV in Madron, across the road from the smithy, is unknown.
In the closing paragraph of the short introduction Q identifies Keats' 'sensuous apprehension of beauty' and his 'young gift of song' as central to his genius. This lyrical and melodic quality is common to all Celtic poets writing in English, as it is to Q's prose writings. It is the product of English grammar and lexis imposed upon the rhythm and intonation of Celtic. The result is a contrapuntal quality, as can be heard in the verse of Michael Longley, Thomas Kinsells and Seamus Heaney, and the plays of J.M. Synge; it can also be heard in the poetry of Dylan Thomas and Charles Causley. In Keats the counter-point is largely absorbed into the melodic line, but the sensitivity to rhythm remains.
Celtic languages invariably have penultimate stress, except in the north-west of Scotland, while in English the stress falls on the first strong syllable. In late Cornish, as it was spoken in Penwith and the St Austell moors, Celtic and English stress combined, producing what is called 'sing-song'. The early poetry of Jack Clemo from the St Austell moors is intensely stressed, more so than what is found in Charles Causley from Launceston in the Tamar valley, where the stress falls to the back of the word and the line, especially in the early poems. Thomas Keats would have had 'sing-song' as would the Branwells.
In Keats the stressing is more standard English. The counterpoint is frequently transferred to a deeper level. For instance, below the 'apprehension of beauty' is a deep spiritual unease. In the English mind tragedy and comedy, light and shadow, tend to be held at a slight distance from each other. Poems and plays can be categorized as comedy or tragedy, love or religious, pastoral or elegy, but that cannot be done with, for instance, the plays of Sean O'Casey or J.M. Synge. It has been said of O'Casey, a working-class playwright, that his works flash with the many facets of an emotional diamond. It can be summed up in the simple Irish saying, 'happy-come-sad'.
Keats is at his most English in To Autumn and Ode to Melancholy where there is one theme. However, love and death, nature's beauty and decay, time and timelessness, spiritual and material, play against each other in many works. This can be seen in Endymion. Book I opens with:
'A Thing of beauty is a joy for ever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness;...'
Words such as 'beauty', 'loveliness', 'green world' and 'musk-rose blooms' establish a main theme, but it is subverted as the word 'nothingness' creeps innocently into line three, to be followed later by 'despondency', 'inhuman dearth' and 'dark spirits'. The main theme and the subsidiary theme play against each other in creative tension. There is also tension between time and timelessness with: 'joy for ever' and 'fountain of immortal drink' against 'nothingness', 'dooms' and 'dead'. Lastly there is the tension between the material and the spiritual: 'the sun, the moon, Trees old and young' against 'immortal drink' from 'the heaven's brink'.
This may not be the many faceted diamond but it is Keats moving rapidly between conflicting images and ideas, with emotion shifting quickly and at times unexpectedly, as in Celtic speech and writing.
In the Introduction to 'Isabella', Q makes the observation that in 'spirit' Keats was 'Akin to the Greeks', while in 'soul' he tended to the Medievals. Isabella is based on the fourteenth century Boccaccio's Decameron, a collection of one hundred Italian stories. Keats was attracted to its 'passion', as to what characters 'think and feel'. Q then quotes a passage where love and death are juxtaposed. Isabella shows Keats delineating the character of the heroine with 'supreme power and insight'.
It is remarkable to see that Keats, as with many others mentioned in this study, look to Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean world for meaningful material, taking solace in ancient themes.
The short biography of John Keats which the booklet contains consists of the standard material. Yet it is possible that Q knew more than he reveals, as has already been intimated. Q was born in Bodmin where his father was a doctor trained at Guy's hospital in London, as was Keats. The Keate family originated from a series of parishes just to the north and north-east. The name Keate would have been familiar to him. Whether he was in possession of the tradition accessed by Ivan Raby and included in The Book of St Columb and St Mawgan connecting the poet to the Keates of St Columb is unclear.
From the 1880s Q visited the descendants of his uncle, Dr Richard Quiller Couch of Penzance. Richard's wife was Lydia Penneck Pearce. It was the Rev John Penneck snr who had baptised Georgiana Cara, whose father was reputedly Shilston Keate, blacksmith, of Madron. John Penneck was superceded in 1773 by his son, John Penneck jnr, who was vicar of Gulval until 1789, the year of Jonathan Couch's birth. If Georgiana Cara lived to be seventy, she would have died in 1830, about ten years before the arrival of Richard at his practice in Chapel Street. Shilston Keate died in 1815. Many in the 1840s would have known him and Thomas Keate or Keats. If Q did have private information he preferred to keep it private, discretion being a part of his nature.
8: George Keats
In his biography of John Keats, Andrew Motion presents George and Fanny Keats as subsidiary to the main character. For George he draws on material from N.J. Kirk's The Life of George Keats, an unpublished manuscript of 1933 which lies in the Carpenter Library of Columbia University.
George was born in London in 1797. At the time Jonathan Couch was training at Guy's and St Thomas', George was at Clarke's school in Enfield. Later George became a clerk in the city and started to court Georgiana Wylie.
In 1818, for no obvious reason, George Keats decided to purchase a 1400 acre plot in Illinois, even though he had no knowledge of farming (Motion p. 257). The decision appears inexplicable apart from one factor, the opprobrium falling upon his older brother, John Keats. By 1818 hostile reviews had started to appear in literary journals aimed at the poetry of John, with particular reference to the Keats' family and its low origin.
This is curious. Thomas Keats had been the leaseholder of a very profitable business at the Swan and Hoop. In 1803 he had been admitted into the Innholders' Company and had become a freeman of the City. Many poets and reviewers have risen from more humble beginnings than John Keats. The truth was that hostile reviewers knew or surmised that the 'Cockney poet' came from a questionable Cornish background. In 1818, Shilston Keate had been only three years dead and there were those in London who had known him. The reviewers were using this knowledge to silence John Keats because of his political and social views, with George catching the backwash.
George must have realised that emigration provided the best escape for himself and his wife from the gossip and abuse, even if it involved a considerable gamble— farming a wilderness with no practical knowledge. That in the face of considerable setbacks he made a success of the venture shows the strength of character of the Keate family.
By 1825 George Keats had a 'large grey stone mansion' on Walnut Street, Jacob's Wood (Motion p. 493), a 'Nanseglos' on the Ohio river. His extensive business affairs appear to reflect a desire to re-establish the Keats' name and fortune, even if overcompensation somewhat for the humiliations of the past. In emigrating he had escaped from the 'malignant being' which John Keats felt at his death to have haunted him and probably the rest of the family (Motion p. 559).
If so George was premature. Overcompensation led him to overreach in the underwriting of a loan for a friend which resulted in near bankruptcy. As the sole remaining son of Thomas Keats with the full weight of family expectations upon his shoulders, he must have confronted the reality of failure. His health quickly deteriorated and by the end of 1841 he was dead. Georgiana Keats was left with seven surviving children. It is a curious coincidence that another Georgiana was the daughter of Mary Cara and Shilston Keate.