Year
1818

Keats returns from walking tour

On this day, 22-year-old John Keats returns from a strenuous walking tour of the Lake Districts and Scotland with friends. On the tour, he begins to show symptoms of the tuberculosis that will kill him within three years.

Keats, the eldest of five children born to a lower-middle-class family in London, was a highly spirited boy known for fistfights and roughhousing at his private school. Keats’ schoolmasters encouraged the boy’s interest in reading and later introduced him to poetry and theater.

When John was eight, his father fell off a horse and died, launching a long economic struggle that would keep Keats in poverty throughout his life, despite a large inheritance owed to him. His mother quickly remarried, and the five Keats children were sent to live with their maternal grandparents. The marriage failed, and their mother soon joined them. However, she died in 1810, and John’s grandparents died by 1814. The Keats children were kept from their money by an unscrupulous guardian, and John was apprenticed to a surgeon in 1811. Keats worked with the surgeon until 1814, then went to work for a hospital in London as a junior apothecary and surgeon in charge of dressing wounds.

In London, Keats pursued his interest in literature while working at the hospital. He became friends with the editor of the Examiner, Leigh Hunt, a successful poet and author who introduced him to other literary figures, including Percy Bysshe Shelley. Although Keats did not write his first poem until age 18, he quickly showed tremendous promise, encouraged by Hunt and his circle. Keats’ first book, Poems, appeared in 1817. After that, Keats devoted himself entirely to poetry, becoming a master of the Romantic sonnet and trying his hand at epic poems like Hyperion.

In 1818, the same year Keats’ health began to fail, his financial difficulties deepened as his brother Tom also battled tuberculosis and another brother’s poor investment left him penniless in Kentucky. The one bright spot in his life was his fiancee, Fanny Brawne.

From January to September 1819, Keats produced an outpouring of brilliant work, including poems like “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” “Ode to a Nightingale,” and “La Belle Dame Sans Merci.” But in early 1820, Keats’ tuberculosis worsened. Hoping a warm climate would ease his condition, he traveled to Italy, where he died in February 1821, only 25 years old.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Emiliano Zapata born

Emiliano Zapata, a leader of peasants and indigenous people during the Mexican revolution, is born in Anenecuilco, Mexico.Born a peasant, Zapata was forced into the Mexican army in 1908 following his attempt to recover village lands taken over by a rancher. After the revolution ...read more

Nixon resigns

In an evening televised address, President Richard M. Nixon announces his intention to become the first president in American history to resign. With impeachment proceedings underway against him for his involvement in the Watergate affair, Nixon was finally bowing to pressure ...read more

Vice President Agnew under attack

Vice President Agnew branded reports that he took kickbacks from government contracts in Maryland as “damned lies.” Agnew had taken a lot of heat in the media when he assumed a lead position as Nixon’s point man on Vietnam. He frequently attacked the student protest movement, ...read more

Lights go on at Wrigley

On this day in 1988, the Chicago Cubs host the first night game in the history of Wrigley Field.The first-ever night game in professional baseball took place nearly 60 years earlier, on May 2, 1930, when a Des Moines, Iowa, team hosted Wichita for a Western League game. The ...read more

Nixon resigns

On this day in 1974, President Richard M. Nixon resigns in the wake of the Watergate burglary scandal. He was the first president in American history to resign.In a televised address, Nixon, flanked by his family, announced to the American public that he would step down rather ...read more

General Nelson Miles is born

Nelson Miles, one of the most successful but controversial officers in the Plains Indian Wars, is born on a farm in Massachusetts.Unlike many of his future colleagues in the army officer corps, Miles was not born into a life of privilege. As a teen, Miles worked as a clerk, ...read more

Fire traps 262 miners

A coal-mine fire kills 262 workers in Marcinelle, Belgium, on this day in 1956. This highly publicized disaster was the worst ever in a Belgian mine and led to many policy changes.The disaster itself was typical of coal-mine tragedies. A fire broke out in the coalface underground ...read more

Truman signs United Nations Charter

President Harry S. Truman signs the United Nations Charter and the United States becomes the first nation to complete the ratification process and join the new international organization. Although hopes were high at the time that the United Nations would serve as an arbiter of ...read more

Lee offers resignation

In the aftermath of his defeat at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, Confederate General Robert E. Lee sends a letter of resignation as commander of the Army of Northern Virginia to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.The letter came more than a month after Lee’s retreat from ...read more

Battle of Amiens

On this day in 1918, the Allies launch a series of offensive operations against German positions on the Western Front during World War I with a punishing attack at Amiens, on the Somme River in northwestern France.After heavy casualties incurred during their ambitious spring 1918 ...read more