mementos | locks of Keats’ hair

It has been (and perhaps still is?) common practice for people to keep a lock of hair from a loved one as a memento. John Keats’ friend Leigh Hunt was particularly interested in doing so.

There are two locks of Keats’ hair that I know of, both taken by Hunt.

One lock is on display at the Keats-Shelley Memorial House in Rome. I’m afraid my photo of it is a tad out of focus, as of course it is kept safe under glass, but this will give you an idea!

I was particularly struck by the reddish tint still obvious in his mid-brown locks. Keats’ personal beauty was often remarked upon by his friends, and here is proof enough that his thick head of curly / wavy hair was indeed attractive. Mind you, I always did have a thing for redheads.

Locks of Shelley’s (left) and Keats’ (middle) hair, February 2013.

A second lock taken by Hunt was included in an album he owned, along with twenty other locks from authors and public figures. This album is now held by the University of Texas in Austin, USA. I am very grateful to the University for making the whole album viewable online – this link will take you to the exact page.

There are notations, presumably by Hunt, that he took “two locks” and that this one is “the later lock”. I am not sure that we have exact dates for either, but will look into it. The album included a (supposed) lock of Milton’s hair. Keats was inspired by viewing this to write the poem “Lines on Seeing a Lock of Milton’s Hair”, so he would have been delighted to have his own lock included in the same album.

The page includes a print of the drawing Severn did of Keats on his death bed in Rome, with the caption, “The last life sketch of Keats, by his friend Joseph Severn.” (Note that Keats’ year of birth, which was 1795, is given incorrectly here as “1796”.)

Again, the reddish-brown colour of this lock is striking. This was the generation before photographs became widely available – but these locks of hair, along with the life and death masks taken of Keats, enable us to feel confident of his appearance. You probably realise by now that I think he was a handsome fellow! ♥

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