During the Age of Enlightenment , when Europeans became fascinated with the culture of the Ancient World , scholars, travellers, artists and explorers set out on what became known as The Grand Tour of Mediterranean and Near East destinations.
Italy was a favoured destination given its historic role at the centre of the Roman Empire, and more than a thousand years later, the Renaissance.
A group of young English Romantic poets were among those making the pilgrimage – their names were John Keats , Percy Shelley and Lord (George) Byron . All had made a name for themselves and had invited controversy with their ground breaking prose.
None of these young Romantics would ever return to England .Both Byron and Shelley had gone into exile for their so called enlightened views while Keats came to Rome in the hope that it’s milder climate would aid his recovery from tuberculosis .All three would meet up in Italy.
“Oh for a beaker full of the warm South”
Keats took accommodation in his now famous apartment next to Rome’s Spanish Steps .He died here a few months after arriving and the apartment is now a museum. The bedroom where he died has been left virtually as it is was.Keats was buried in Rome’s non Catholic cemetery.
“Thou Paradise of exiles. Italy!”
Percy Shelley was a well to do Englishman who fell out with his Whig politician father . He went to Eton and Oxford but his radical political and atheist views led to him to leave England never to return
Shelley drowned in a boating accident off the coast of Tuscany , near Pisa , after a visit to Byron..
Because he was not a Catholic his body could not be shipped to Rome for burial , as was his wish . Instead friends burnt it on a Tuscan beach , and his ashes were later interred in the same cemetery as Keats.
“ Here let me live and die. In my adopted land, my country, Italy”
Shelley’s wife Mary ,who wrote famously wrote Frankenstein ,survived him by 30 years
“”Oh Rome! my country! City of the soul!”
The English and Scottish aristocrat and peer, Lord Bryon, spent time in Italy as part of his Grand Tour. Bryon stayed in Pisa before departing for Greece where he would become deeply involved in the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire . Bryon bitterly opposed the pillaging of the Parthenon Sculpures by Lord Elgin . He died in Greece at the age of 37 and is still revered as a hero by the Greeks.
Today the small and intimate museum in the Keats Shelley House by Rome’s Spanish Steps celebrates the lives of these young English Romantics.Although they died young, their work and poems live on.