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He began Hyperion, but had given it up in September, 1819, because, as he said, “ there were too many Miltonic inversions in it.” He wrote Lamia after an attentive study of Dryden's versification. This period also produced the Eve of St. Agnes, Isabella, and the odes to the Nightingale, and to the Grecian Urn. He studied Italian, read Ariosto, and wrote part of a humorous poem, The Cap and Bells. He tried his hand at tragedy, and Mr. Milnes has published among his “ Remains,” Otho the Great, and all that was ever written of King Stephen. We think he did unwisely, for a biographer is hardly called upon to show how ill his biographee could do anything.
In the winter of 1820, he was chilled in riding on the top of a stage-coach, and came home in a state of feverish excitement. He was persuaded to go to bed, and in getting between the cold sheets, coughed slightly. 66 That is blood in my mouth, he said. Bring me the candle; let me see this blood.” It was of a brilliant red, and his medical knowledge enabled him to interpret the augury. Those narcotic odors that seem to breathe seaward, and steep in repose the senses of the voyager who is drifting toward the shore of the mysterious Other World, appeared to envelop him, and, looking up with sudden calmness, he said, “I know the color of that blood; it is arterial blood; I cannot be deceived in that color. That drop is my deathwarrant; I must die.”
There was a slight rally during the summer of that year, but toward autumn he grew worse again, and it was decided that he should go to Italy. He was accompanied thither by his friend, Mr. Severn, an artist.
After embarking, he wrote to his friend, Mr. Brown. We give a part of this letter, which is so deeply tragic that the sentences we take almost seem to break away from the rest with a cry of anguish, like the branches of Dante's lamentable wood.
- I wish to write on subjects that will not agitate me much. There is one I must mention and have done with it. Even if my body would recover of itself, this would prevent it. The very thing which I want to live most for will be a great occasion of my death. I cannot help it. Who can help it ? Were I in health it would make me ill, and how can I bear it in my state ? I dare say you will be able to guess on what subject I am harping: you know what was my greatest pain during the first part of my illness at your house. I wish for death every day and night to deliver me from these pains, and then I wish death away, for death would destroy even those pains, which are better than nothing. Land and sea, weakness and decline, are great separators, but Death is the great divorcer forever. When the pang of this thought has passed through my mind, I may say the bitterness of death is passed. I often wish for you, that you might flatter me with the best. I think, without my mentioning it, for my sake, you would be a friend to Miss when I am dead. You think she has many faults, but for my sake think she has
If there is anything you can do for her by word or deed, I know you will do it. I am in a state at present in which woman, merely as woman, can have no more power over me than stocks and stones, and yet the difference of my sensations with respect to Miss and my sister is amazing : the one seems to absorb the other to a degree incredible. I seldom think of my brother and sister in America ; the thought of leaving Miss is beyond everything horrible, the sense of darkness coming over me, - I eternally see her figure eternally vanishing; some of the phrases she was in the habit of using during my
last nursing at Wentworth Place ring in my ears. Is there another life? Shall I awake and find all this a dream? There must be, we cannot be created for this sort of suffering.”
To the same friend he writes again from Naples, (1st November, 1820):
“The persuasion that I shall see her no more will kill me.
My dear Brown, I should have had her when I was in health, and I should have remained well. I can bear to die; I cannot bear to leave her. Oh, God! God! God ! Everything I have in my trunks that reminds me of her goes through me like a spear. The silk lining she put in my travelling-cap scalds my head. My imagination is horribly vivid about her; I see her
- I hear her. There is nothing in the world of sufficient interest to divert me from her a moment. This was the case when I was in England; I cannot recollect, without shuddering, the time that I was a prisoner at Hunt's, and used to keep my eyes fixed on Hampstead all day. Then there was a good hope of seeing her again Now !-( that I could be buried near where she lives! I am afraid to write to her to receive a letter from her — to see her handwriting would break my heart -- Even to hear of her anyhow, to see her name written, would be more than I can bear. My dear Brown, what am I to do? Where can I look for consolation or ease ? If I had any chance of recovery, this passion would kill me. Indeed, through the whole of my illness, both at your house and at Kentish Town, this fever has never ceased wearing me out.
The two friends went almost immediately from Naples to Rome, where Keats was treated with great kindness by the distinguished physician, Dr. (afterward Sir James) Clark.* But there was no hope from the first. His disease was beyond remedy, as his heart was beyond comfort. The very fact that life might be happy deepened his despair. He might not have sunk so soon, but the waves in which he was struggling looked only the blacker that they were shone upon by the signal-torch that promised safety, and love, and rest.
* The lodging of Keats was on the Piazza di Spagna, in the first house on the right hand in going up the Scalinata. Mr. Severn's Studio is said to have been in the Cancello over the garden-gate of the Villa Negroni, pleasantly familiar to all Americans as the Roman home of their countryman Crawford.
It is good to know that one of Keats's last pleasures was in hearing Severn read aloud from a volume of Jeremy Taylor. On first coming to Rome, he had bought a copy of Alfieri, but finding on the second page these lines,
Misera me! sollievo a me non resta
Altro che il pianto, ed il pianto è delitto, he laid down the book and opened it no more. On the 14th February, 1821, Severn speaks of a change that had taken place in him toward greater quietness and peace. He talked much, and fell at last into a sweet sleep, in which he seemed to have happy dreams. Perhaps he heard the soft footfall of the angel of Death, pacing to and fro under his window, to be his Valentine. That night he asked to have this epitaph inscribed upon his gravestone,
HERE LIES ONE WIOSE NAME WAS WRIT IN WATER."
On the 23d, he died, without pain and as if falling asleep. His last words were, “ I am dying; I shall die easy ; don't be frightened; be firm and thank God it has come!
He was buried in the Protestant burial-ground at Rome, in that part of it which is now disused and secluded from the rest. A short time before his death, he told Severn that he thought his intensest pleasure in life had been to watch the growth of flowers; and once, after lying peacefully awhile, he said, “I feel the flowers growing over me.”. His grave is marked by a little head-stone, on which are carved somewhat rudely his name and age, and the epitaph dictated by himself. No tree or shrub has been planted near it; but the daisies, faithful to their buried lover, crowd his small mound with a galaxy of their innocent stars, more prosperous than those under which he lived.
In person, Keats was below the middle height, with a head small in proportion to the breadth of his shoulders. His hair was brown and fine, falling in natural ringlets about a face in which energy and sensibility were remarkably mixed up. Every feature was delicately cut; the chin was bold; and about the mouth something of a pugnacious expression. His eyes were mellow and glowing, large, dark, and sensitive. At the recital of a noble action, or a beautiful thought, they would suffuse with tears, and his mouth trembled.* Haydon says that his eyes had an inward Delphian look that was perfectly divine.
The faults of Keats's poetry are obvious enough ; but it should be remembered that he died at twentyfour, and that he offends by superabundance and not poverty. That he was overlanguaged at first there can be no doubt, and in this was implied the possibility of falling back to the perfect mean of diction. It is only by the rich that the costly plainness, which at once satisfies the taste and the imagination, is attainable.
Whether Keats was original or not we do not think it useful to discuss until it has been settled what originality is. Mr. Milnes tells us that this merit (whatever it is) has been denied to Keats, because his poems take the color of the authors hé happened to be reading at the time he wrote them.
* Leigh Hunt's Autobiography, ii. 43.