« НазадПродовжити »
LIFE OF KEATS.
TRUISM must do duty as my first sentence.
There are long lives, and there are eventful lives : there are also short lives, and uneventful ones. Keats's life was both short and uneventful. To the differing classes of lives different modes of treatment may properly be applied by the biographer. In the case of a writer whose life was both long and eventful, I might feel disposed to carry the whole narrative forward pari passu, and to exhibit in one panorama the outward and the inward career, the incidents and the product, the doings and environment, and the writings, acting and re-acting upon one another. In the instance of Keats this does not appear to me to be the most fitting method. It may be more appropriate to apportion his Life into two sections: and to treat firstly of his general course from the cradle to the grave, and secondly of his performances in literature. The two things will necessarily overlap to some extent, but I shall keep them apart so far as may be convenient. When we have seen what he did and what he wrote, we shall be prepared to enter upon some analysis of his character and personality. This will form
my third section; and in a fourth I shall endeavour to estimate the quality and value of his writings, in particular and in general. Thus I address myself in the first instance to a narrative of the outer facts of his life.
John Keats came of undistinguished parentage. No biographer carries his pedigree further than his maternal grandfather, or alleges that there was any trace, however faint or remote, of ancestral eminence. The maternal grandfather was a Mr. Jennings, who kept a large liverystable, called the Swan and Hoop, in the Pavement, Moorfields, London, opposite the entrance to Finsbury Circus. The principal stableman or assistant in the business was named Thornas Keats, of Devonshire or Cornish parentage. He was a well-conducted, sensible, good. looking little man, and won the favour of Jennings's daughter, named Frances or Fanny : they married, and this rather considerable rise in his fortunes left Keats unassuming and manly as before. He appears to have been a natural gentleman. Jennings was a prosperous tradesman, and might have died rich (his death took place in 1805) but for easy-going good-nature tending to the gullible. Mrs. Keats seems to have been in character less uniform and single-minded than her husband. She is described as passionately fond of amusement, prodigal, dotingly attached to her children, more especially John, much beloved by them in return, sensible, and at the same time saturnine in demeanour: a personable tall woman with a large oval face. Her pleasure-seeking tendency probably led her into some imprudences, for her first baby, John, was a seven months' child.
John Keats was born at the Moorfields place of business on the 31st of October 1795. This date of birth is established by the register of baptisms at St. Botolph's, Bishopsgate : the date usually assigned, the 29th of October, appears to be inaccurate, though Keats himself, and others of the family, believed in it. There were three other children of the marriage-or four if we reckon a a son who died in infancy: George, Thomas, and lastly Fanny, born in March 1803. An anecdote is told of John when in the fifth year of his age, purporting to show forth the depth of his childish affection for his mother. It is said that she then lay seriously ill; and John stood sentinel at her chamber-door, holding an old sword which he had picked up about the premises, and he remained there for hours to prevent her being disturbed. One may fear, however, that this anecdote has taken an ideal colouring through the lens of a partial biographer. The painter Benjamin Robert Haydon—who, as we shall see in the sequel, was extremely well acquainted with John Keats, and who heard the story from his brother Thomas -records it thus: “He was, when an infant, a most violent and ungovernable child. At five years of age or thereabouts he once got hold of a naked sword, and, shutting the door, swore nobody should go out. His mother wanted to do so; but he threatened her so furiously she began to cry, and was obliged to wait till somebody, through the window, saw her position, and came to her rescue.” It can scarcely be supposed that there were two different occasions when the quinquennial John Keats superintended his mother and her belongings with a naked sword-once in ardent and self oblivious
affection, and once in petulant and froward excitement.
The parents would have liked to send John to Harrow school : but, this being finally deemed too expensive, he was placed in the Rev. John Clarke's school at Enfield, then in high repute, and his brothers followed him thither. The Enfield schoolhouse was a fine red-brick building of the early eighteenth century, said to have been erected by a retired West India merchant; the materials “moulded into designs decorating the front with garlands of flowers and pomegranates, together with heads of cherubim over two niches in the centre of the building.” This central part of the façade was eventually purchased for the South Kensington Museum, and figures there as a screen in the structural division. The schoolroom was forty feet long; the playground was a spacious courtyard between the schoolroom and the house itself; a garden, a hundred yards in length, stretched beyond the playground, succeeded by a sweep of greensward, with a "lake" or wellsized pond : there was also a two-acre field with a couple of cows. In this commodious seat of sound learning, well cared for and well instructed so far as his school course extended, John Keats remained for some years. He came under the particular observation of the headmaster's son, Mr. Charles Cowden Clarke, not very many years his senior. He was born in 1787, fostered Keats's interest in literature, became himself an industrious writer of some standing, and died in 1877. Keats at school did not show any exceptional talent, but he was, according to Mr. Cowden Clarke's phrase, "a very orderly scholar," and got easily through his tasks. In the last eighteen
months of his schooling he took a new lease of assiduity: he read a vast deal, and would keep to his book even during meals. For two or three successive half-years he obtained the first prize for voluntary work; and was to be found early and late attending to some translation from the Latin or the French, to which he would, when allowed his own way, sacrifice his recreation-time. He was particularly fond of Lemprière's "Classical Dictionary,” Tooke's “ Pantheon," and Spence's “Polymetis": a line of reading presageful of his own afterwork in the region of Greek mythology. Of the Grecian language, however, he learned nothing: in Latin he proceeded as far as the Æneid, and of his own accord translated much of that epic in writing. Two of his favourite books were “ Robinson Crusoe” and Marmontel's “Incas of Peru." He must also have made some acquaintance with Shakespeare, as he told a younger schoolfellow that he thought no one durst read “Macbeth " alone in the house at two in the morning. Not indeed that these bookish leanings formed the whole of his personality as a schoolboy. He was noticeable for beauty of face and expression, active and energetic, intensely pugnacious, and even quarrel. some. He was very apt to get into a fight with boys much bigger than himself. Nor was his younger brother George exempted : John would fight fiercely with George, and this (if we may trust George's testimony) was always owing to John's own unmanageable temper. The two brothers were none the less greatly attached, both at school and afterwards. The youngest brother, Thomas (always called Tom in family records), is reported to have been as pugilistic as John; whereas George, when