« НазадПродовжити »
HIS UNFORTUNATE CHOICE OF A SUBJECT.
joyous delirium, the promptings of reason and judgment, is visible throughout; but the luxuriance of the highest poetic faculty was in itself a pledge sufficient of the poet's future eminence. For the reasons already given, the essential beauty of the structure was overlooked by the arbiters of the day in their eagerness to expose the grotesqueness, and, it may be, the absurdity of the ornament.
a huge mistake, but time alone was required to correct it. To attempt the annihilation of genius because of its exaggerations and imperfections, is the most fruitless of all efforts. The exuberant tree must not be upbraided with sterility simply because it needs pruning. In his choice of a subject we believe Keats to have been unfortunate. Against the opinion of his present biographer we are disposed to assert that his first steps would have been safer had they been not on classic ground. Unacquainted with Greek, and deriving his inspiration and knowledge not directly from the primitive sources, a tone and stamp were given to characters and subjects that startled by their novelty, and provoked irresistible mirth from the associations which they suggested. Scholars were offended, and the uninitiated were puzzled. Whilst Lemprière's Dictionary lent blocks, John Keats furnished the clothing. The skeleton of Pagan mythology looked strange enough in its modern garb, and the kindly disposed might be pardoned for their smile of wonder as they watched the august visitor of antiquity taking his splendid airing in the Hampstead fields. The minor faults of the composition were certainly not few. It was evident to the lightest reader that the author of Endymion, instead of
adapting rhymes to his subject, very frequently indeed compelled his subject to bend obsequiously to his rhymes. The effect of this high dereliction of the poet's sacred duty is too visible. But sum up all the vices of style, and all the faults inseparable from the nature of the subject, and there remains behind a poem that will live, because it bears the impress of undoubted originality and power, and is redolent of the stuff which makes Milton and Jonson, Fletcher and Shakspeare, the household gods they have become.
The affecting modesty of the preface to Endymion was not crushed by the fate to which the poem
itself was immediately doomed. The Quarterly and Blackwood fell upon Keats as an infuriated bulldog might fasten upon the neck of some lone child. A letter, signed "J. S.” appeared in the Morning Chronicle of October 3, 1818, remonstrating against the tyranny of the reviewers, and an eager friend sent the newspaper to Keats to console the stricken poet in his misfortune. Hear the poet's answer :
“9th Oct., 1818. “My dear Hessey.—You are very good in sending me the letter from the Chronicle, and I am very bad in not acknowledging such a kindness sooner. Pray, forgive me. It has so chanced that I have had that paper every day. I have seen to-day's. I cannot but feel indebted to those gentlemen who have taken my part. As for the rest, I begin to get a little acquainted with my own strength and weakness. Praise or blame has but a momentary effect on the man whose love of beauty in the abstract makes him a severe critic on his own works. My own domestic
HIS OPINION OF HIS OWN POWERS.
criticism has given me pain without comparison beyond what Blackwood or the Quarterly could inflict; and also, when I feel I am right, no external praise can give me such a glow as my own solitary re-perception and ratification of what is fine. "J. Siis perfectly right in regard to the 'slipshod Endymion.' That it is so is no fault of mine. No; though it may sound a little paradoxical, it is as good as I had power to make it by myself. Had I been nervous about it being a perfect piece, and with that view asked advice and trembled over every page, it would not have been written; for it is not in my nature to fumble. I will write independently. I have written independently, without judgment; I may write independently, and with judgment, hereafter. The genius of poetry must work out its own salvation in a man. It cannot be matured by law and precept, but by sensation and watchfulness in itself. That which is creation must create itself. In Endymion I leaped headlong into the sea, and thereby have become better acquainted with the soundings, the quicksands, and the rocks, than if I had stayed upon the green shore, and piped a silly pipe, and took tea and comfortable advice. I was never afraid of failure ; for I would sooner fail than not be amongst the greatest.”
Hear this sagacious detector of personal weakness, this proudly humble man again! He is writing to his brother in America :
My poem has not at all succeeded. In the course of a year or so I think I shall try the public again. In a selfish point of view I should suffer my pride and my contempt of public opinion to hold me
silent, but for your and Fanny's sake I will pluck up my spirit and try it again. I have no doubt of success in a course of years if I persevere ; but I must be patient." And yet again !
- I have proceeded pretty well with Lamia, finishing the first part, which consists of about 400 lines. I have great hopes of success, because I make use of my judgment more deliberately than I have yet done ; but in case of my failure with the world, I shall find my content."
In the year 1820, less than two years after the publication of Endymion, the poem of Hyperion appeared with other compositions. The journey was all but accomplished. The earlier poems of Keats had exhibited striking vigour shrouded in obscurity, and the sinews of thought, though sadly encumbered with fervid mystification. A leap of years had been made in the interval. For simplicity, beauty, grandeur, and the deepest pathos, Hyperion is scarcely to be surpassed in the language. With one spring the rejected, but inspired boy had placed himself where he had long hoped and prayed to be. “I think,” he says in one of his letters, “I shall be among the English poets after my death."
Keats wrote no more! On the 23rd of February, 1821, he died at Rome—not “snuffed out by an article,” as the tradition goes, but the victim of a disease which had already destroyed his mother and his younger brother. It may be seen from the glimpses we have given above that the effect of malignity was not to depress the poet, but rather to
HIS PERSONAL HISTORY.
rouse him, as a criticism had already roused Byron, to the vindication of his genius, and to the putting forth of his strength. There was nothing of death in the arrows that came from the reviewer's quiver. Had no "article" ever been written, we question whether Keats, with his foredoomed tendency to physical decay, could at any time of his life have passed muster at a life insurance office; consumption had marked him for her own. He lingered but little, and, after death, the only wonder was that he had lingered so long. Who knows how closely allied, in the case of Keats, were the mother's inheritance and his own intellectual pre-eminence.
The personal history of poor Keats may be summed up
in few lines. His father was in the employ of Mr. Jennings, a livery-stable keeper in Moorfields, and, marrying his master's daughter, became a partner in the business. He died from the fall of a horse in the year 1804, and at the early age of thirty-six. His mother, “a lively and intelligent woman, was supposed to have prematurely hastened the birth of John by her passionate love of amusement.” She died of consumption in the year 1810. His brothers wereGeorge, older than himself, and Thomas, younger. He had also a sister, youngest of all. The elder brother married and settled in America; the younger died of consumption in the poet's arms. The devotion of John Keats to this suffering invalid, during the whole of his protracted illness, constitutes a fair feature in his short and fiery life. The poet was born on the 29th of October, 1795. When about five years old he was sent, with his brothers, to the school of Mr. Clarke at Enfield, and he quitted the