On Friday 28 October last year Nicholas Roe, Keats Foundation Chair, spoke at the Plymouth Athenaeum about ‘John Keats, Charles Brown, and Plymouth’, in celebration of the poet’s long association with the city. The poet’s friend Charles Brown settled in a Regency villa in Laira, two miles from Plymouth, on his return from Italy in 1836. For fifteen years Brown had thought about writing a memoir of Keats, but was unable to confront the anguish of doing so. Then, settled at Plymouth in 1836, he made a start. To offset his friend’s ‘disappointment, his sorrows, and his death’, Brown began with Shelley’s Adonais, the great Romantic elegy in which Keats hastens to ‘the abode where the Eternal are’.
On 29 December 1836 Brown gave a lecture at the Plymouth Institution (later the Athenaeum) ‘On the Life and Poems of John Keats’, and published fifteen of Keats’s poems, including ‘Bright Star!’, in local newspapers. He also exhibited his two portraits of Keats by Joseph Severn, the medallion of Keats by Giuseppe Girometti, and Seymour Kirkup’s drawings of Joseph Severn and Brown’s son Carlino. Brown gave the manuscript of his biography to Richard Monckton Milnes, who drew upon it in his Life, Letters, and Literary Remains, of John Keats (1848). In many respects, Brown’s activities at Plymouth, centred on the Institution, marked the beginning of nineteenth-century reassessments of Keats’s achievement – an era in the development of his reputation that still shapes modern understandings of his achievement.
Set back behind trees, Brown’s villa at Laira bears some resemblance to Wentworth Place, the home he had shared for two years with Keats, 1818-20. Many of the original features still survive, including the cooking range — made in Plymouth and dated ‘1820’.
The owners, Carrie and Keith Ansell, welcome enquiries and also offer B&B in Brown’s former home – a must-see location for all Keatsians.