QUOTE: The mental fever of making poems was, for Keats, a medical issue. When he fell ill, beginning in 1817, the doctors always tried to stop him from writing poetry. One physician kept dosing Keats with mercury, hoping to cure his recurring sore throat and perhaps a case of venereal disease, for which mercury, a dangerous substance, was a standard treatment at the time. And every doctor — even Keats himself, who had medical training — advised the use of laudanum, a tincture of opium in alcohol. Keats had given it to his brother Tom in late 1818 to ease his pain and suppress his tubercular cough when he was dying, and Keats had used it to help himself sleep during that terrible time. For someone as ill as Keats would be, it was a palliative, not a hallucinogen. That he used it makes no difference at all to our estimate of the man or his poems.
As Nicholas Roe writes in his new biography of Keats, “it is difficult to appreciate how commonplace an opium habit was in Keats’s lifetime.”
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