Keats200 - Medical Training

2021 marks the bicentenary of the death of Romantic poet John Keats. This online exhibition by Keats House, Hampstead celebrates his life and works for the #Keats200 bicentenary programme.

Medical Training: ‘a poet is a sage; A humanist, physician to all men’

Keats left school aged 14 to begin a career in medicine. He was apprenticed to Dr Thomas Hammond in Edmonton,who taught Keats to diagnose illnesses, prepare remedies and perform minor surgery.  

At the end of his apprenticeship, Keats returned to London to continue his medical training at Guy’s Hospital. Keats was a good student and was awarded the prestigious role of surgeon’s dresser,which involved assisting at amputations and dressing wounds. Witnessing operations performed before anaesthetics and antibiotics influenced his later writing on human suffering. 

Two pages from a notebook covered in handwriting.
Two pages from Keats’s medical notebook. 1815. Image courtesy of Keats House, City of London Corporation, K/MS/01/002.

He passed his medical exams in 1816 at the age of 20, but was becoming increasingly drawn to a career as a poet. While studying at Guy’s he met the influential journalist Leigh Hunt, who was to become a great friend of Keats, and champion of his poetry. Keats’s first published poem, ‘To Solitude’ appeared in Hunt’s journal The Examiner in May 1816, two months before passing his medical exams. 

By the end of 1816 Keats could no longer balance both his work at the hospital and his writing. He chose poetry. While his guardians were appalled, Keats began to find support in a new circle of writers, artists and journalists living in Hampstead.  

O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,    Let it not be among the jumbled heap    Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep, – Nature’s observatory – whence the dell, Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,    May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep    ’Mongst boughs pavillion’d, where the deer’s swift leap Startles the wild bee from the fox-glove bell. But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,    Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,    Whose words are images of thoughts refin’d, Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be    Almost the highest bliss of human-kind, When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.  ‘To Solitude’, 1816

Find out more

Each day until 23 February, marking 200 years since Keats's death, we will share a new story related to periods in his life.

Introduction to Keats and Keats200

Early life

Medical Training

Wentworth Place

Fanny Brawne

Poems of 1819

Critical Responses

Keats and Consumption

Death and Legacy

The Keats200 bicentenary is a celebration of Keats’s life, works and legacy, beginning in December 2018 through to February 2021 and beyond. It is led by three major partners – Keats House, Hampstead, The Keats Foundation and the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association – and is open to all individuals and organisations who have an interest in Keats or poetry. The bicentenary of Keats’s most productive years as a poet, and the period when he found inspiration, friendship and love, is an exciting opportunity to (re)discover and enjoy his works as well as engage with poetry and its ongoing relevance to us all today.

Find out more about #Keats200 by following Keats House on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.