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Chance Encounters in the Museum 4

Here we resume a series of posts detailing some of the unanticipated intersections of interest that museum visitors bring to our notice from time to time. Regular readers may recall that the first in the series concerned a scholar who came a considerable distance solely to see Cauis Gabriel Cibber’s statues of ‘Raving and Melancholy Madness’. Many others have beaten a path to our door for the same reason, among them Nicholas Roe, Professor of English at the University of St Andrews. His new biography of John Keats is published this month by Yale University Press.

The publisher’s blurb states that “Roe is the first biographer to provide a full and fresh account of Keats' childhood in the City of London and how it shaped the would-be poet”, and that “the mysterious early death of Keats' father, his mother's too-swift remarriage, living in the shadow of the notorious madhouse Bedlam - all these affected Keats far more than has been previously understood”. Readers of the biography will discover that Professor Roe locates the intersection between the life of the poet and the life of the Hospital precisely at the foot of Cibber’s statues, in the shadow of which Keats spent his childhood, and which (according to Roe) “lingered deep in his memory as gigantic embodiments of anguish, awaiting their summons to reappear as the fallen Titans in Hyperion”.1

“Instead of thrones, hard flint they sat upon, Couches of rugged stone, and slaty ridge Stubborn’d with iron. …

Dungeon’d in opaque element, to keep Their clenched teeth still clench’d, and all their limbs Lock’d up like veins of metal, crampt and screw’d; Without a motion, save of their big hearts, Heaving in pain, and horribly convulsed…”2

Those who are captivated by Cibber’s statues will be interested to know that our Archivist is delivering a public lecture about them at St Bartholomew’s Hospital Pathology Museum on the evening of Wednesday 14 November (the talk is sold out, but demand has been such that we aim to offer a similar session in our Saturday lecture series for 2013); and those who are equally captivated by Keats may visit the Facebook page for the new book.