John Keats was born in London on 31 October 1795, the eldest of Thomas and Frances Jennings Keats’s four children. Although he died at the age of twenty-five, Keats had perhaps the most remarkable career of any English poet. He published only fifty-four poems, in three slim volumes and a few magazines. Although he is now seen as part of the British Romantic literary tradition, in his discursive essay formal examinations are necessary lifetime Keats would not have been associated with other major Romantic poets, and he himself was often uneasy among them.
Keats was said to have been born in his maternal grandfather’s stable, the Swan and Hoop, near what is now Finsbury Circus, but there is no real evidence for this birthplace, or for the belief that his family was particularly poor. At the age of eight Keats entered Enfield Academy and became friends with young Charles Cowden Clarke, the fifteen-year-old son of the headmaster. At school, Keats drew closer to the headmaster, John Clarke, and his son, Cowden. He became, in fact, one of Clarke’s favorite pupils, reading voraciously and taking first prizes in essay contests his last two or three terms. In some part this new academic interest was a response to his loneliness after his mother’s death. But he had by then already won an essay contest and begun translating Latin and French. Keats’s sense of the power and romance of literature began as the Clarkes encouraged him to turn his energy and curiosity to their library.
This was the store whence he acquired his intimacy with the Greek mythology. Of course, at this point, when Keats was only fifteen or sixteen, a literary career was not a serious thought. We know little of Keats’s life during these years 1811-1814, other than that Keats assisted Hammond and began the study of anatomy and physiology. Surgery would have been a respectable and reasonable profession for one of Keats’s means: unlike the profession of medicine, the job of surgeon in Keats’s day did not require a university degree. A surgeon, licensed by examination, was a general practitioner, setting bones, dressing wounds, giving vaccinations.