« НазадПродовжити »
tion of the various orders of verse, with which his friend has familiarized his mind—the Sonnet, as above cited—the Ode,
Growing, like Atlas, stronger from its load,”
“ of all the king, Round, vast, and spanning all, like Saturn's ring,"
The sharp, the rapier-pointed Epigram,” betokens the justness of perception generally allied with redundant fancy.
These notices have anticipated the period of the termination of Keats's apprenticeship and his removal to London, for the purpose of walking the hospitals. He lodged in the Poultry, and having been introduced by Mr. Clarke to some literary friends soon found himself in a circle of minds which appreciated his genius and stimulated him to exertion. One of his first acquaintance, at that time eminent for his poetical originality and his political persecutions, was Mr. Leigh Hunt, who was regarded by some with admiration, by others with ridicule, as the master of a school of poets, though in truth he was only their encourager, sympathizer, and friend; while the unpopularity of his liberal and cosmopolite politics was visited with indiscriminating injustice on all who had the happiness of his friendship or even the gratification of his society. In those days of hard opinion, which we of a freer and worthier time look upon with indignation and surprise, Mr. Hunt had been imprisoned for the publication of phrases which, at the most, were indecorous expressions of public feeling, and became a traitor or a martyr according to the temper of the spectator. The heart of Keats leaped towards him in human and poetic brotherhood, and the earnest Sonnet on the day he left his prison riveted the connection. They had read and walked together, and wrote verses in competition on a given subject. “No imaginative pleasure," characteristically observes Mr. Hunt,
was left unnoticed by us or unenjoyed, from the recollection of the bards and patriots of old, to the luxury of a summer rain at
our windows, or the clicking of the coal in winter time.” Thus he became intimate with Hazlitt, Shelley, Haydon, and Godwin, with Mr. Basil Montague and his distinguished family, and with Mr. Ollier, a young publisher, himself a poet, who, out of sheer admiration, offered to publish a volume of his productions. The poem with which it commences was suggested to Keats by a delightful summer's day, as he stood beside the gate that leads from the Battery, on Hampstead Heath, into a field by Caen Wood; and the last, “ Sleep and Poetry,” was occasioned by his sleeping in Mr. Hunt's pretty cottage, in the vale of Health, in the same quarter. These two pieces, being of considerable length, tested the strength of the young poet's fancy, and it did not fail. For the masters of song will not only rise lark-like with quivering wings in the sunlight, but must train their powers to sustain a calm and protracted flight, and pass, as if poised in air, over the heads of mankind. Yet it was to be expected that the apparent faults of Keats's style would be here more manifest than in his shorter efforts; poetry to him was not yet an Art; the irregu. larities of his own and other verse were no more to him than the inequalities of that nature, of which he regarded himself as the interpreter :
« For what has made the sage or poet write,
But the fair paradise of Nature's light?
He had yet to learn that Art should purify and elevate the Nature that it comprehends, and that the ideal loses nothing of its truth by aiming at perfection of form as well as of idea. Neither did he like to regard poetry as a matter of study and
iety, or as a representative of the struggles and troubles of the mind and heart of men. He said most exquisitely, that
a drainless shower
He thought that,
“ strength alone, though of the Muses born,
And yet Keats did not escape the charge of sacrificing beauty to supposed intensity, and of merging the abiding grace of his song in the passionate fantasies of the moment. Words indeed seem to have been often selected by him rather for their force and their harmony, than according to any just rules of diction ; if he met with a word any where in an old writer that took his fancy he inserted it in his verse on the first opportunity; and one has a kind of impression that he must have thought aloud as he was writing, so that many an ungainly phrase has acquired its place by its assonance or harmony, or capability to rhyme, (for? he took great pleasure in fresh and original rhymes, rather than for its grammatical correctness or even justness of expression. And when to this is added the example set him by his great master Spenser, of whom a noted man of letters has been heard irreverently to assert "that every Englishman might be thankful that Spenser's gibberish had never become part and parcel of the language,” the wonder is rather that he sloughed off so many of his offending peculiarities, and in his third volume attained so great a purity and concinnity of phraseology, that little was left to designate either his poetical education or his literary associates. At the completion of the matter for this first volume he
gave a striking proof of his facility in composition; he was engaged with a lively circle of friends when the last proof-sheet was brought in, and he was requested by the printer to send the Dedication directly, if he intended to have one: he went to a sidetable, and while all around were noisily conversing, he sat down and wrote the sonnet
Glory and loveliness have passed away,” &c. &c.
which, but for the insertion of one epithet of doubtful taste, is excellent in itself, and curious, as showing how he had already possessed himself of the images of Pagan beauty, and was either mourning over their decay and extinction, or attempting, in his own way, to bid them live again. For in him was realized the mediæval legend of the Venus-worshiper, without its melancholy moral ; and while the old gods rewarded him for his love with powers and perceptions that a Greek might have envied, he kept his affections high and pure above these sensuous influences, and led a temperate and honest life in an ideal world that knows nothing of duty and repels all images that do not please.
This little book, the beloved first-born of so great a genius, scarcely touched the public attention. If, indeed, it had become notable, it would only have been to the literary formalist the sign of the existence of a new Cockney poet whom he was bound to criticise and annihilate, and to the political bigot the production of a fresh member of a revolutionary Propaganda to be hunted down with ridicule or obloquy, as the case might require. But these honors were reserved for maturer labors; beyond the circle of ardent friends and admirers, which comprised most of the most remarkable minds of the period, it had hardly a purchaser; and the contrast between the admiration he bad, perhaps in excess, enjoyed among his immediate acquaintance, and the entire apathy of mankind without, must have been a hard lesson to his sensitive spirit. It is not surprising therefore, that he attributed his want of success to the favorite scape-goat of unhappy authors, an inactive publisher, and incurred the additional affliction of a breach of his friendship with Mr. Ollier.
Mr. Haydon, Mr. Dilke, Mr. Reynolds, Mr. Woodhouse, Mr. Rice, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Hessey, Mr. Bailey, and Mr. Haslam, were his chief companions and correspondents at this period. The first name of this list now excites the most painful associations : it recalls a life of long struggle without a prize, of persevering hope stranded on despair ; high talents laboriously applied earning the same catastrophe as waits on abilities vainly wasted ; frugality, self-denial, and simple habits, leading to the penalties of profligacy and the death of distraction ; an independent genius
starving on the crumbs of unyenial patronage, and even these failing him at the last! It might be that Haydon did not so realize his conceptions as to make them to other men what they were to himself; it might be that he over-estimated his own æsthetic powers, and underrated those provinces of art in which some of his contemporaries excelled ; but surely a man should not have been so left to perish, whose passion for lofty art, notwithstanding all discouragements, must have made him dear to artists, and whose capabilities were such as in any other country would have assured him at least competence and reputation-perhaps wealth and fame.
But at this time the destiny of Haydon seemed to be spread out very differently before him; if ever stern presentiments came across his soul, Art and Youth had then colors bright enough to chase them all away. His society seems to have been both agreeable and instructive to Keats. It is easy to conceive what a revelation of greatness the Elgin Marbles must have been to the young poet's mind, when he saw them for the first time, in March, 1817. The following Sonnets on the occasion were written directly after, and published in the “Examiner.”
With more polish they might have been worthy of the theme, but as it is, the diction, of the first especially, is obscure though vigorous, and the thought does not come out in the clear unity becoming the Sonnet, and attained by Keats so successfully on many other subjects :
ON SEEING THE ELGIN MARBLES.
My spirit is too weak ; mortality