Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness...

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel ; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells. 

Over the last few months, we've been blogging about famous artists and writers on their birthday. It is hard to find a more tragic figure than today's: John Keats, born on this day in 1795. To Autumn, from which the above verses are taken, was written by Keats in 1818. Literary scholars also refer to this time as 'The Great Year', where Keats produced his most critically acclaimed work for which he is now recognised as one of the most famous English Romantic poets.

'Poems by John Keats', illustrated by Robert Anning-Bell and introduction by Walter Raleigh. London Chiswick Press, 1898  (BADDA3025, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

In that auspicious year Keat's was living in obscurity not far from MoDA in Hampstead, North London (the house is now preserved as a Museum and open to the public). Over the three years he was in Hampstead, Keats battled with poor health, struggled to make his way as a writer and fell in love with the girl-next-door, Fanny Brawne to whom he had no prospect of marrying until his economic situation picked up.The story of Brawne and Keats was recently the subject of a film, Bright Star (2009).

But theirs was no "Happy Ever After" love story. On advice from doctors, Keats moved to Rome in seek of a warmer climate and in 1821, at the tender age of 25, died from tuberculosis in the arms of his friend Joseph Severn. Severn was a painter who captured this portrait of his friend on his death bed.

John Keats on his deathbed by Joseph Severn, 1922 (Image courtesy of The Keats Shelley Memorial House)

MoDA holds two books of Keats' poetry which are both beautifully illustrated by Robert Anning Bell; a British designer and artist who was part of the Arts and Crafts scene in London. We wrote about Anning Bell earlier this year in regards to some of our illustrated Shakespeare books.

Details from Poems by John Keats, illustrated by Robert Anning Bell and introduction by Walter Raleigh. London: Chiswick Press, 1898  (BADDA3025, MoDA)

Details from The Odes of John Keats, illustrated by by Robert Anning Bell. London: George Bell & Sons, 1901. (BADDA3049, MoDA)

Though at opposite ends of the nineteenth century, the poems of Keats and the illustrations of Anning Bell seem very well suited. Perhaps it is some of the shared values from the cultural movements by which they were influenced. The early nineteenth-century Romantic movement was a reaction against scientific rationalisation whilst the late-nineteenth century/early-twentieth century Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction against industrialisation. Both shared a similar fascination with nature, and a longing for the apparent simplicity of the past.

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