The long outdoor walks of the last few days have left us each with an inch of mud caked to the bottom of our shoes (yet the prospect of “mud-larking” still looms in the future--look it up, Dad!). Today I read the class an excerpt from Virgina Woolf as we visited her memorial. A portion of it read: “for in winter the champagne brightness of the air and the sociability of the streets are grateful.” We’ve found Woolf’s sentiments to be true. Although the wind can be astonishingly cold at times, the time spent outside has proven worth it.
Recently, we’ve found ourselves meditating on the deaths of important literary scholars such as Woolf and Keats. On Saturday, we visited John Keats’s house in Hamstead where he generated some of his most famous poetry. Visiting one of the last residences of a young visionary before his untimely death at 25 was a sobering experience for this group of 19-22 year old travelers.
On Friday, we pondered the educations of these young scholars and came to recognize how deeply the class system is engrained in English society. Lord Byron, another young romantic, attended the elite boys school, Harrow, which we had the pleasure of touring. Since the early years of the school in the 16th century, it’s been tradition for enrolled boys to carve their names in the wooden paneling of the main schoolroom (many of us were delighted to discover that this particular space served as one of the many sets of the Harry Potter films).
In contrast, we spent the afternoon at the old operating theatre and hospital at which John Keats trained as a physician out of a serious need to support his family and keep them out of poverty. Learning about 18th century medicine and surgery (not to mention, the utter lack of anesthetics) made some of our stomachs turn. Nevertheless, it provides us with a good look at the early life of John Keats and the inspiration for a lot of his later poetry.