Sticky portrait for Keats and Coleridge in Highgate meeting spot

EVEN with their flourishing imaginations, John Keats and Samuel Coleridge could never have foreseen their chance meeting would be recorded on a piece of chewing gum.

The two leading lights of the English romantic poetry movement are said to have come across each other in 1819 while walking along Millfield Lane, Highgate.

Keats was living in Hampstead at that time, while opium addicted Coleridge was staying at his doctor’s house on the Grove in Highgate.

The story goes that the legendary writers walked together for some two miles when they met and parted company with a handshake – after which Coleridge apparently uttered the prophetic comment, “there was death in that hand”.

Keats died at the tender age of 25 from Tuberculosis.


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Now, more than 190 years on, this historic encounter has been recreated on a piece of chewing gum.

Artist Ben Wilson has immortalised the Keats-Coleridge handshake on a gummy canvas the size of a 10 pence piece following a request from Golders Green author and poet Miriam Halahmy.

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“I came out of the Highgate Literary and Scientific Institute (HLSI) with another writer Judi Sissons about three weeks ago and Ben was there doing one of his paintings,” explained Mrs Halahmy.

“I’ve met him before so I went over to have a chat and asked him if he could do a painting for me.

“He gave me a piece of paper and said draw out your idea and I said started to tell him about Coleridge and Keats meeting here and that I’m a writer.

“And he said you and Judi shake hands and I’ll build the painting around that.”

Mr Wilson then set to work crafting his miniature artwork on the pavement outside the HLSI.

Two hours later his creation was complete and Mrs Halahmy said she was staggered by the results,

“It had everything really – something about the Highgate poets, the fact I came up and worked in Highgate and that Coleridge and Keats met there,” she said.

“I couldn’t believe how much he’d managed to get on it. I think it’s tremendous.

“It’s caused quite a stir and it’s a nice commemoration of Highgate as a centre for writing. I also think the painting encapsulates the strength and focus of poetry in and around Highgate – that’s why I feel so proud being part of it because Coleridge and Keats are such great icons.”

Meanwhile, Mr Wilson said he jumped at the chance of taking on Mrs Halahmy’s story along with that of Keats and Coleridge.

“For me it’s nice to do something for somebody or a group that has a context to a place,” he said.

“It’s outside the HLSI so the painting has a relationship to the people who are writing there. Often the images you see in the public domain are lots of advertising and have nothing to do with people.

“But everyone’s got a story and I wanted to reflect some of that in an immediate way.”

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