Enjoy an evening of Romantic poets – Keats, Shelley and Byron. By Shevaun Wilder.
All three poets died young and within three years of each other.
Stars of stage and screen will read Josephine Hart’s introductions to, and selections from, their poetry as part of the Mayfair & St James’s Literary Festival.
Join us on Tuesday October 29 at the May Fair Hotel, Stratton Street, from 6.30-8.45pm.
See our Events Listing for tickets.
John Keats (1795-1821)
When Keats was just 10 years old, his father died and his mother remarried within weeks.
She left her new husband shortly afterwards and died of tuberculosis in 1810.
Thereafter, Keats became a savage playground fighter.
He fell passionately in love with, and was loved by, Fanny Brawne. But sadly, for fear of infecting her with TB, their relationship remained unconsummated.
Keats explored death and haunted beauty in La Belle Dame Sans Merci and When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be.
When Endymion was published in 1818 he was devastated when the critic Lockhart mocked him as the “Cockney poet”.
Nonetheless, he wrote his great odes at this time.
Seriously ill, and to escape another English winter, he set sail for Italy in September 1821 and died in Rome, aged 25.
His gravestone there reads; “This grave contains all that was mortal of a young English poet who on his death bed… desired these words to be engraved on his tombstone: ‘Here lies one whose name was writ in water.'”
History has proved otherwise.
Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)
“I always go on until I am stopped. And I am never stopped.” Ode to the West Wind.
At Eton, Shelley was known as mad Shelley and, mercilessly bullied, became a savage fighter like Keats.
At Oxford, he was sent down for writing The Necessity of Atheism.
As an advocate of free love, his Queen Mab was infamous.
Shelley lived a passionate and often tragic life. He ran away with Harriet Westbrook when she was 16 and they had two children.
Later, he fell madly in love with, and married, Mary Godwin, daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
While staying with Shelley at Byron’s Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva, Mary Shelley famously wrote the gothic masterpiece, Frankenstein.
Having achieved fame with, among others, his great verses Adonais, The Mask of Anarchy and Ozymandias, Shelley was in the midst of writing The Triumph of Life when he joined his boat, the Don Juan, named in honour of Byron.
It went down in a storm in the Bay of Lerici in 1822. He was just 29 years old.
When his body was recovered he was cremated on the sands but his heart wouldn’t burn.
He’s buried beside Keats in Rome, where his gravestone bears the words Cor Cordium (“heart of hearts”).
George Gordon, Lord Byron (1788-1824)
Byron, born with a club foot, to Catherine Gordon and “mad” Jack Byron, had a beloved half-sister Augusta.
Aged 10, he inherited the gothic Newstead Abbey.
At 16, he said, “I will cut a swathe through the world or perish in the attempt.”
At 24, he said, “I found myself famous” – this on the publication of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage.
A great seducer with many adoring fans, he married brilliant mathematician Lady Annabelle Millbank.
During his infamous affair with Lady Caroline Lamb, she declared him “mad, bad and dangerous to know”.
Her later accusation against him of homosexuality, a serious criminal offence at the time, forced him to flee England.
Byron died in 1824, aged 36, from a fever at Missolonghi during an heroic attempt to free Greece from Turkish rule.
He was mourned all over Europe.
However, because of his scandalous past, he was refused burial at Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s.
He was finally laid to rest in the family vault at Newstead Abbey and thousands thronged the streets to see his funeral procession.