John Keats, Medicine, and Young Men on the Make

  • Jeffrey N. CoxEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Literature, Science and Medicine book series (PLSM)


Keats worked hard to be able to pursue a career in medicine. It is thus striking that he decided to set aside this career path to pursue poetry. Keats’s choice is most often read within his life story, but his decision fits within a pattern of life choices made by his friends and acquaintances. As Nicholas Roe’s new biography suggests, Keats came of age amidst a group of young men on the make. The question all of them had to answer was whether they wanted to make poetry or make a career. To make poetry was to gamble on immortality. To make a career was not only to earn money but to be able, perhaps, to marry and to make a family. Placing Keats’s decisions within the choices made by figures from Thomas Love Peacock to John Hamilton Reynolds, from Horace Smith to Cornelius Webb enables us to understand not only his personal decision but how his generation of rising young men of promise faced the economic realities of being a writer. We can also see how the poetry of Keats and his circle sought to thematize what Leigh Hunt called the “spirit of money-getting” and what Shelley more simply called “Mammon.”

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA

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