John Keats and Henry Stephens' lodgings

While studying medicine at Guy's and St Thomas' hospitals, John Keats shared lodgings with apothecary and chemist Henry Stephens on this site in London (8 St Thomas Street) in 1815-1816.

The house is just across the street from St. Thomas' Church whose garret hosted the St.Thomas' Hospital's old Operating Theatre where Keats attended the surgical demonstrations of Astley Paston Cooper1.

Previously Keats had lived some time with more senior students, but when they "moved on to other courses, Keats was left alone and to save expense moved in with two other students, George Wilson MacKereth and Henry Stephens. Stephens, who had literary aspirations, is remembered for he later patented the well-known ink called after its inventor. To Stephens we are indebted for the oft quoted 'thing of beauty' anectode delightfully recorded by Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson:

In a room, Mr Stephens told me, he was always at the window, peering into space, so that the window-seat was spoken of by his comrades as 'Keats's place'. Here his inspiration seemed to come more freely. Here, one evening in the twilight, the two students sitting together, Stephens at his medical studies, Keats at his dreaming, Keats breaks out to Stephens that he has composed a new line:

'A thing of beauty is a constant joy'
'What think you of that, Stephens?'
'It has the true ring, but is wanting in some way' replies the latter, as he dips once more into his medical studies.
an interval of silence and again the poet:
'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever'.
'What think you of that, Stephens?'
'That it will live for ever'"2.

This verse ('A thing of beauty is a joy for ever') will be the first line of Endymion, the poem first published by Keats in 1818.

  • Photos by Luca Borghi ti.supmacinu|ihgrob.l#| (July 2011)

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