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In the late December of 1817, the two younger brothers of the poet John Keats, George and Tom, came to stay in Teignmouth. It was not to be a lengthy visit nor was it a successful one. Young Tom Keats was already seriously affected by TB, the idea behind the visit to Teignmouth being that he would be helped by the gentler Devonshire climate and specialist care provided by a well-known local doctor.

The brothers rented a good house in Northumberland Place and John Keats joined them in Teignmouth in March 1818. The weather had been what locals call "mixie", and was to remain so throughout their stay - cold winds blowing across the bay, mist rolling up the estuary meeting fog coming in from the sea and non-stop rain pouring down from the moors - typical Spring weather here but very definitely not the gentle climate to benefit an invalid with TB.


Keat's House in Northumberland Place, Teignmouth

The house in Northumberland Place in which John Keats and his brothers lived during their stay in Teignmouth.

© Richard J. Brine


Keats was soon writing about the nature of Devon's weather to his great friend John Hamilton Reynolds:


"Dear Reynolds, 

I escaped being blown over, and blown under, and trees and house being toppled on me. I have, since Brown's accident, had an aversion to a does of parapet, and being also a lover of antiquities, I would sooner have a harmless piece of Herculaneum sent me quietly as a present than ever so modern a chimney-pot tumbled onto my head.


Being agog to see some Devonshire, I would have taken a walk the first day, but the rain would  not let me; and the second, but the rain would not let me; and the third, but the rain forbade it. Ditto fourth, ditto fifth, ditto - so I made up my mind to stop indoors, and catch a sight flying between the showers: and, behold, I saw a pretty valley, pretty cliffs, pretty brooks, pretty meadows, pretty trees, both standing as they were created, and blown down as if they were uncreated.


The  green is beautiful, as they say, and pity it is that it is amphibious - mais! but alas! the flowers here wait as naturally for the rain twice a day as the mussels do for the tide; so we look upon a brook in these parts as you do look upon a splash in your country. There must be something to support this - aye, fog, hail, snow, rain, mist blanketing up three parts of the year. You have the sensation of walking under one great Lamplighter; and you can't go on the other side of the ladder to keep your frock clean."


Keats wrote poetry all the time he was in the town - the piece below he described as "Some Doggerel" which he enclosed in a letter to another friend, Benjamin Robert Haydon. Teignmouth seems to have been growing on him for he told Haydon in the same letter: "Here all the summer could I stay".



by John Keats

For there’s Bishop’s teign
And King’s teign
And Coomb at the clear Teign head -
Where close by the stream
You may have your cream
All spread upon barley bread.

There’s arch Brook
And there’s larch Brook
Both turning many a mill;
And cooling the drouth
Of the salmon’s mouth,
And fattening his silver gill.

There is Wild wood,
A Mild hood
To the sheep on the lea o’ the down,
Where the golden furze,
With its green, thin spurs,
Doth catch at the maiden’s gown.

There is Newton Marsh
With its spear grass harsh -
A pleasant summer level
Where the maidens sweet
Of the Market Street,
Do meet in the dusk to revel.

There’s the Barton rich
With dyke and ditch
And hedge for the thrush to live in
And the hollow tree
For the buzzing bee
And a bank for the wasp to hive in.

And O, and O
The daisies blow
And the primroses are waken’d,
And violets white
Sit in silver plight,
And the green bud’s as long as the spike end.

Then who would go
Into dark Soho,
And chatter with dack’d-hair’d critics,
When he can stay
For the new-mown hay,
And startle the dappled prickets?


Rain coming in to Teignmouth from the moors
  Rain sweeping across to Teignmouth from the moors

© Richard J. Brine


From time to time, Reynolds received other letters:


"Devonshire continues rainy. As the drops beat against my window, they give me the same sensation as a quart of cold water offered to revive a half-drowned devil - no feel of the clouds dropping fatness, but as if the roots of the earth were rotten, cold and drenched".

And again to Reynolds:

"We are here still enveloped in clouds. I lay awake last night listening to the rain, with a sense of being drowned and rotted like a grain of wheat. There is a continual courtesy between the heavens and the earth. The heavens rain down their unwelcomeness, and the earth sends it up again, to be returned tomorrow."


Fog rolling across Shaldon from the sea
  Fog rolling in across Shaldon from the sea

© Richard J. Brine


By early May, the weather was improving and John was beginning to enjoy his visit but  it was plain that Tom was much worse. At first, he had seemed to improve but he now he became feverish and found difficulty in sleeping. They returned home for George's marriage to Georgina Wylie, a Devon girl, and John Keats travelled with the couple to Liverpool to see them start out for a new life in America. On the 1st of December, Tom died and John was left alone. Worse was to come though - in the following year, he himself was taken ill while in the Isle of Wight and he too was diagnosed with TB. In an effort to find an easier climate in which to struggle with his condition as it worsened, he travelled to Rome where he died 23rd February 1821 in his 26th year.


Plaque on the house commemorating Keat's visit

  The commemorative plaque in Northumberland Place

© Richard J. Brine




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